A Travellerspoint blog

Ephesus - The Capital of Awesome Ruins

sunny 35 °C

Just a short journey away from the Aegean resort of Kusadasi lay the most impressive ruins I have ever seen. ‘Ruins’, at times, is actually misleading, since some of the constructions seem so intact that it’s easy to form a picture of the opulence of the old roman port. Much quieter than the ever popular Coliseum and Forum of Rome, and the dramatic Acropolis of Athens, Ephesus provides an awe-inspiring historical day out, allowing us to travel back in time and gain a real insight into how the ancients lived.

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There, scenes of Maximus Meridius spring to mind along with images of toga-clad characters amid exotic hustle and bustle. Vine engulfed pillars here and there shroud the place in mystery, leaving behind traces of a glorious past that has long disappeared and we can’t help but wonder what may have stood there before. Uneven stony streets and echoes of abodes may now be shadows of what they once were, but as we wander through them our minds are filled with snapshots of the past – clamorous market places offloading fresh fish and bread; bearded, scholarly men baring white flowing robes; and laurel-wreathed royals simply doing Bacchus proud.

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Further along, the almost flawless façade of the old roman library, set against the backdrop of a sapphire blue sky, is picture perfect, and must surely be one of the most beautiful ancient ruins in the world. And it’s easy to imagine the famous philosophers hard at work on their masterpieces if it was that they were greeted with such inspiring edifices as this. What’s particularly interesting about a visit to Ephesus, and which differs to other similar places, is that, for better or worse, we are able to get up close and personal with the ruins. There are no ropes cordoning tourists off which allows us to really experience and investigate how the city may have been in its day.

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Perhaps one of the best things to do in Ephesus is to climb to the top row of the amphitheatre. From there we get a real sense of the sheer size of the construction. The drama and spectacle of what must once have taken place there fill the air, and tension, glory and catastrophe still whisper in the aisles. It feels as though we are on the set of Gladiator, but it is truly incredible to think that this grand complex is real. Our imaginations run wild and we are transported to scenes of brutal battles, tragedy, euphoria and roaring crowds.

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Although today these crowds may come in the shape of tour groups, bum-bags and SLRs faithfully accompanying them, Ephesus has managed to preserve its grandeur. The vivid historical show offered by the ruins is awesome, and is able to bring out the Roman in all who venture to this part of Turkey.

Posted by lauracerys 05:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged athens turkey port rome roman aegean ephesus kusadasi toga amphitheatre gladiator Comments (0)

Mykonos Town

sunny 30 °C

Mykonos town was how I’d always imagined a Greek island to be – idyllic. Gleaming whitewashed houses, vivid turquoise shores, hidden squares decorated with abundant bougainvillea and narrow alleys positively confirmed what I had always wondered – whether Mamma Mia type scenes were actually real.

As I arrived in the port I was dumbstruck by the beauty of the place. It has managed to maintain a timeless charm, and despite the hoards of visitors in summer months, has not succumb to the ugly demons of mass tourism – crammed high-rise hotels, British bars with all day fry-ups, and lady booze cruises. Instead Greek tavernas perched practically in the sea, quaint market stalls selling fish straight from the net, and chic boutiques lead the way.

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Restaurants serving up freshly prepared seafood, mouth-watering souvlaki and rich juicy moussaka waft their fine aromas down old cobbled streets, enticing passers by to stop for and Aegean feast. Later, as we browse the colourful trinkets for sale, we find ourselves enchanted by cute bottles of olive oil and thoughts of taking up Mediterranean cooking when we return home.

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As we loose ourselves in the maze of unbelievably photogenic streets, we can’t help but be in awe of how somewhere has managed to preserve itself to be so magically picturesque. Quaint azure-trimmed houses and bobbing fishing boats make us dream of romantic island life and seriously consider doing a Shirley Valentine. In the distance we see the giants, peacefully imposing over the town – the old windmills, unchanged for centuries and oozing in rustic charm. And as hydrofoils leave the port bound for alluring and sensational destinations, a sense of excitement and adventure fills the air. And we make a mental note to ourselves – the Cyclades undoubtedly need to be further explored.

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Posted by lauracerys 05:01 Archived in Greece Tagged sea greece mykonos greek cyclades tavern taverna mammamia Comments (0)

Om mani padme hum and yak wool blankets...

Musings on Kathmandu

sunny 25 °C

Kathmandu, put simply, is brilliant. There is so much to see and do you can easily fill ten days, and there seems to be plenty there to suit all tastes, be they trekking, extreme sports, history, haggling, spas or bars there is something for everyone. The valley is a great place to gain an insight into a vastly different culture, often seemingly untouched by western influences, relatively easily. There doesn’t appear to be the same sense of chaos often found in other parts of Asia, but instead a much calmer atmosphere, and one very much able to cope with tourism. The multitude of sights and sounds, colours and flavours on offer create an exciting playground for foreign visitors to explore and culminate in an unforgettable stay in Kathmandu.

Wandering around tourist ghetto Thamel, (and every other attraction of the Kathmandu Valley come to think of it), we are greeted by kitsch Buddhist chanting on a nauseating yet amusing loop, which if nothing else fills the air with a sense of identity far removed from our own. The words 'Om mani padme hum’ and twee tea-field melodies invade us from every corner, forming the anthem of Kathmandu and forever acting as the soundtrack to our stay there. On top of this we are tantalised by a never-ending array of Yak wool delights. Countless blankets big and small and of every colour combination call for our attention with their bold fluffy designs and we can’t help thinking to ourselves “Yes, maybe I could do with one…”. And we are faced with the same feeling in tea houses, trinket shops, paper emporiums and scarf grottos. One way or another, having allowed Thamel to work its magic over us, we’ll end up buying something we don’t need.

Putting aside the kaleidoscope of shopping, Kathmandu boasts some fantastic cultural sites. Durbar square is like an historical theme park. Once recovered from the extortionate price western visitors have to pay to enter, we are delighted by dramatic Newar attractions. Beautiful pagodas pose for cameras displaying their wonderful spectrum of vivid reds, strange statues of mysterious beings bring a smile to our faces, and dark temples give us a glimpse of a deep and ancient culture. Some visitors are even lucky enough to see the living goddess Kumari who resides in the Kumari Ghar temple.

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A short walk outside of the city centre leads us to Swayambhunath, one of the most important Buddhist complexes in Nepal and a must for any visit to Kathmandu. The walk up to the stupa is steep, with a seemingly infinite number of steps, but persevering to the summit is certainly rewarded. There we are greeted by a fantastic panorama of the Kathmandu Valley, a vista stretching for miles, embracing city and mountains alike, and apart from that, a truly spectacular religious site. To us western visitors, Swayambhunath seems so magical, so exotic, and so shrouded in mystery. The wonderful colours of the prayer flags dance in the breeze and contrast perfectly against the white body and golden crown of the temple, offering endless picture perfect moments. And as Swayambhu's secretive eyes gaze out across the city we wonder what they may have witnessed in years gone by.

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It’s a similar story a short drive from the city centre at Boudhanath stupa, which although does not boast magnificent views of the valley, is this time an even bigger religious landmark. Walking the perimeter of the temple gives you a sense of its dramatic size, truly demonstrating its status as one of the chief Buddhist sites in the world, and as a key centre for Tibetan culture. And as the potent yet sweet scent of incense, the hum of worshipers, and the rhythm of the giant prayer wheel fill the air we can’t help but be enchanted by them. Boudhanath really is a great day trip from Kathmandu.

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Further afield, the old city state of Bhaktapur is not to be missed. Although, once more, western tourists have to pay a ridiculous amount to be allowed in, it is a brilliant place to visit. Flooded with history it is instantly fascinating from the moment you pass through the city gate. It is full of charming wandering streets filled with stories and marvellous temples whispering of a glorious past. There are four picturesque squares to amuse visitors, each different and engaging in their own way. Taumadhi square boasts a tall, charming pagoda that is now a quaint restaurant and a perfect place to pause and take in the lovely atmosphere of Bhaktapur.

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So, although many may argue that Kathmandu is busy, polluted, prone to powercuts and full of tourist tat, and although that may be somewhat true, I firmly believe that it is an awe-inspiring place to visit. The city itself is able to entertain for days and by venturing just a little further into the valley we are rewarded with truly amazing experiences. Ultimately, the Nepali capital has it all.

Posted by lauracerys 07:28 Archived in Nepal Tagged asia nepal himalaya kathmandu bhaktapur patan thamel boudhanath buddist swayambhunath durbar newar Comments (0)

The peculiarities of Indian train travel.

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Wide inquisitive eyes. Dangling feet. Blaring chai wallahs and rickety carriages with a million tales. Indian train travel is in itself a unique experience.

The first thing that strikes you is the buzz and roar of the train station. Uncountable families and individuals fill every nook and cranny of the platform floor, waiting, chatting, eating, napping, even living. Intermittently a food vendor rattles his pans and bellows to gain the attention of anyone he can to offer an array of hot local delicacies, and street children hover hopefully pulling on your heart strings with pleading open hands.

The grumble of an engine and the wail of a horn signify the arrival of a never-ending train. This train already looks full to the naïve outsider, however hoards of people beg to differ. Passengers scramble on three at a time into crammed doorways, limbs flailing around, and the unique combination of desperation, determination and optimism, convincing that there is still plenty of space onboard.

If you have made a reservation you will eventually find your seat, which may or may not be empty, and fellow travellers will gaze at you in amazement, smirking at your damp brow, oversized backpack and stressed demeanour. Personal space is not an understood concept, so you will no doubt be wedged in-between any number of people, them, dressed in brilliant sari’s and long tunics, you, probably in sweaty clothes that are unlikely to make it to the end of your trip.

Your journey begins, and you are filled with an awkward, guilty feeling as you pass by the railway slums, and although you know you will see them, and although you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, nothing quite prepares you for this devastating reality found across India. Soon you will be out into open countryside and very different pictures will flicker by of local people tending to their rural lives in the varying landscapes of India, each astounding in their own way. And meanwhile vendors scamper up and down the train aisles selling no end of tea and samosas. You may also be lucky enough to receive a performance of the mini tambourine’s greatest hits – initially amusing, ultimately annoying.

Given the immense size of the country, you could find yourself on the train for hours on end, passing away the time deep in thought, reflecting upon your trip so far – so many experiences, so many unique moments, so many memories made. Until finally you arrive at your destination and are faced once again by a mad rush of people fighting their way off and onto the train – at the same time – and dozens of men fervently competing to ensure you that their rickshaw is indubitably the best priced whilst you try your very best not to trip over the swarms of people sat on the platform floor.

And finally, having battled your way through the railway circus, you make it out of the station in one piece, eager to take on the next chapter of your Indian adventure.

Posted by lauracerys 03:00 Archived in India Tagged travel india train station railway journey Comments (0)

Pushkar - A bite sized burst of Indian culture.

sunny 30 °C

When we think of India, scenes of vibrant saris, meandering cows, exotic cuisines and almost theatrical religious practises spring to mind. In many places around the country however, our perhaps romantic notions of an ancient and exuberant culture are overshadowed by the harsh reality of what can only be described as organised chaos. An ear splitting cacophony of sound, death defying traffic, stifling heat, filth and poverty mean that many towns and cities can be simply overwhelming, and it’s easy to miss the beauty and fascinating history of the place when faced with such unappealing features. One place however, is able to offer us a calmer, manageable environment, providing us with a colourful and pleasant bite sized burst of Indian culture – Pushkar.

This Rajasthani lakeside town is an important Hindu pilgrimage site that it is always bursting with activity around its numerous ghats. However, this hustle and bustle never seems to become too much for the foreign visitor. Large groups of Hindu families gather around the shore, the ladies displaying and array of vibrant, majestic clothing, to perform mysterious religious ceremonies and bathe in the lake. At sunset, a soundtrack of bells and chanting takes over the town as Pushkar comes alive with the strange contradiction of clamour and spirituality which makes up the evening prayer. Heading to one of the many roof top restaurants which boast views of the moon shimmered lake makes for a perfect way to while away the twilight hours.

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The main bazaar provides a fairly relaxing shopping experience offering the usual Aladdin’s cave type goodies of intricate sequined throws, baggy pantaloons and elephant-shaped everything. The haggling is friendly enough and there are sufficient colours, shapes and sizes to keep even the most fervent shopaholic satisfied.

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By venturing a little further afield up some of the back streets, visitors are rewarded by some architectural gems, frozen in time. Beautifully designed palatial buildings, which in Europe would surely be tourist attractions, lay forgotten and empty, except for the odd monkey or two, who there in those princely mansions truly are the jungle v.i.p. The weathered facades and intriguing shadows add to the bewitching mystery surrounding these buildings which can’t help but allure and bewilder passers-by.

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Of course, this is still India, so we are confronted by dazed cows, lunatic drivers and unnerving smells. But, for a destination that offers an authentic insight into the enchanting India we long for, Pushkar truly is an unforgettable place to spend a few days.

Posted by lauracerys 10:31 Archived in India Tagged india lake rajasthan pushkar Comments (0)

The Rustic Mediterranean

Cinque Terre - Italy

sunny 25 °C


Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Poised upon breathtaking cliff tops, the picturesque haphazard villages of Cinque Terre fix their gaze upon the amber horizon of the balmy Genovese sunset. A postcard of the rustic Mediterranean Italy, these secret costal enclaves appear frozen in time. They offer an impression of mamma’s Italia, with an enchanting ambience of longstanding local tradition. Fishermen, in their quaint blue-green wooden boats, rise before the sun everyday in order to bring in the menu of the day, which, without a doubt, will be meticulously prepared according to timeless recipes of each family’s grandmother. Here and there sound a vespa or two wandering the labyrinth of narrow colour-splashed streets, which along with lapping sea-shores, the chit-chatter of the older generation and a passionate shrill from a member of the younger, form a perfect soundtrack to the quintessential Italian experience.

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The five Ligurian villages which make up the area of Cinque Terre, have always been important in terms of wine production and since the days of the Romans, their hair-raising cliffs have housed intricate terraced vineyards. In 1276 Cinque Terre became part of the Republic of Genoa which instigated the beginning of large scale agricultural commerce. The exchange of products with neighbouring communities and towns and cities further afield proved extremely advantageous for the area, and lead to a large extension of the vineyards and an important increase in maritime trade. Still today the prized wines of Cinque Terre, Sciacctera and Limoncino are produced in the area following a centuries old technique ensuring their exquisite flavours, and a glass or two is a must for every visitor to the area.

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The best way to reach Cinque Terre is by train. From the nearby port city of La Spezia you can take a local train directly to the villages. Tickets are available there and then from the station. Accommodation is not particularly easy to find in Cinque Terre due to its relative isolation and limiting cliff-top position. However the lack of mass tourism is precisely what gives Cinque Terre its Dolce Vita charm. Many tourists take a day trip to the area rather than stay for a conventional coastal holiday, and stroll along the dramatically beautiful hillside paths which link the five villages together. From there the terracotta, lemon and rosey rustic houses so oozing of stereotypical Mediterranean charm look their finest, and on a warm summers eve the sunset squeezes out every shade of colour throwing them against the shimmering azure sea. Although perhaps lacking in the fame of nearby Portofino and its southern rivals of Amalfi and Capri, Cinque Terre is the perfect destination for anyone seeking the romantic Italy of years gone by.

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Posted by lauracerys 09:41 Archived in Italy Tagged italy wine italian mediterranean vespa genova rustic lemons Comments (0)

In Search of The Inca Footprint

Machu Picchu

all seasons in one day

Swirling veils of mysterious mist. Majestic, domineering heights. Violent, winding rivers. And above all, the promise of an unforgettable moment. I will never forget the journey from Cusco to the timeless jewel of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu. Upon leaving the city, you notice at once, traces of a once glorious past, of a lost kingdom. Through exotic flora you catch a glimpse of broken ruins that whisper of times of opulence.

As you climb higher and still higher again, it feels as though you are about to reach the summit of the world, and the distance between earth and the vast grey-blue canvas above seems increasingly shorter. Low, moody clouds enchant us visitors and the dramatic shadows of dawn compete for our attention. They tell us that we have nearly arrived. That soon we will lay our eyes upon it. That just a little further on, a giant awaits.

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And all of a sudden she appears, her majesty, Huayna Picchu. She guards her city with her head held high and congratulates the humble traveller. Like a well loved sovereign she poses for the cameras of her loyal subjects and greets them with grace. ‘Welcome to my kingdom’, she announces, ‘my beloved Macchu Picchu, my Inca footprint’.

And there, us visitors spend the day amongst echoes of an empire, where mysterious and wonderful pieces of the past paint a picture of the splendour that once was. Vast boulders suggest a mighty fortress and empty houses a vibrant population. Sun dials and strange shapes delineate a powerful, mysterious and unfamiliar culture.

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Here and there wander a lama or two, who today are well accustomed to their daily audience. Their bored expressions have a pompous air about them and their posture demonstrates proudness in knowing that it is now they who govern this ancient imperial throne.

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Visitors have the option of climbing to the highest point of the landmark, the peak of Huayna Picchu. From there, you have what seems like an infinite view of the world. You feel as though you are sitting at God’s side with the sky at your fingertips, gazing at the world below. You can see for miles and miles, and in a sense you can see for centuries as you contemplate how the history of the area has unfolded. And as you sit at the summit the dream of you and many more adventurers comes true, as you look out and in awe, and feel that you too have now experienced a part of the great Inca footprint.

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Posted by lauracerys 09:23 Archived in Peru Tagged peru machu_picchu cusco empire inca andes peruvian huayna_picchu Comments (0)

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