Dias Rest (AKA the White Monkey Guest House) is maybe not the most accessible of places but it is an ideal base for the independent traveller and for anyone who really wants to get away from it all, this has become my favourite Rest House in Sri Lanka and if I had a book to write I would write it here.
Due to a derailment I arrived at the Guesthouse quite late but I had telephoned ahead and Dias was waiting with the warmest of welcomes and dinner was ready. Because I arrived in the dark I was totally unprepared for the sight that hit me when I emerged from my room on that first morning. I like my superlatives but I was honestly lost for words to describe the views from this place.
There is a cottage with two double beds and a lived-in feel to it, I preferred the simply furnished family rooms (also two double beds) all have bathrooms with shower and toilet. It is incredible value for money - I questioned the bill because I thought Dias had simply not charged me enough.
It's not the Ritz and the mountainside position makes access difficult for anyone with heavy luggage or mobility problems but I cannot speak highly enough about this place.
Tell them Mark sent you!
Clinging to a steep mountainside 3km outside the hill town of Haputale, if you are travelling light the walk from Haputale is worth the effort, otherwise a three wheeler from the town will cost around Rs 200.
People go to Agra for the Taj Mahal. But do not forget to go to Fatehpur Sikri. An ill-fated city built by Emporer Akbar, it was discarded as soon as it was built, because of lack of water. Amazing architecture. Good views.
Near Agra, Uttar Pradesh
The Port Hills sit above Christchurch and give you amazing views across the city, the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps. Stunning sunsets. You can drive, hike or cycle up... and there is some great mountain biking tracks as well as rock climbing - all 20mins from the centre of the city.
South of the City Centre - you can't miss them.
The town of Clifden, famous for the first Trans-Atlantic flight having landed there, is a thriving cosmopolitan town with new apartments being built and the pubs and restaurants full.
The old railway station has been carefully incorporated into apartment blocks next to the station hotel. Remnants of the old platform have been kept as part of the walkway, and the old lines, sleepers and signal switches are embedded into the pedestrian area. The locomotive shed and stationmaster’s house are part of the development and even the new block of shops has been sensitively dealt with in the design process. The whole effect works well with vernacular references to the railway, which played a significant part in Clifden’s development.
The area has walks for all abilities in the Connemara National Park.
Going to Clifden is worth it, not only because of the town, but the actual journey is so spectacular with the barren rock landscape surrounded by drowned peat hags fringed with reeds.
The statue of the famous raising of the flag on Mt Suribachi, Iwo Jima, is walking distance from Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn Metro. Go on Saturday and speak to Marine veteran Gordon F Ward, who fought and was injured on Iwo Jima, and now volunteers his time on Saturdays to speak to tourists and school groups about Marine history. There is also a great view back down the National Mall, with the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Capitol Building all in a line.
Arlington VA, near the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Cowes, main town on Phillip Island. Use it as a base for visiting the penguins or Seal Rock ... or maybe the Phillip Island motor racing circuit, home of the Australian motorcycle GP.
Or while at Cowes, buy the best fish'n'chips and go eat them on the beach!
Cowes, Phillip Island
1½hrs drive from Melbourne
This was an experience that everybody should have in their lifetime. A day trip to see the wild whales and orca in the Canada Straight, leaving from Granville Island is undoubtably the best whale watching experience from Vancouver. The tour encompasses natural whale watching with total respect for the natural habitat of the whales and their co-habitants, harbour seals, sea lions and bald eagles in their natural scenic environment cruising through the gulf islands.
The tour was guided by a naturalist, very knowledgeable about marine life and the area, using underwater hydrophones to capture the noise of the whales in their pods communicating with each other. There were also related books and articles from the National Geographic on board. You get plenty of time to walk around and stand in the back part of the un-enclosed boat and watch the whales and the otherwise unreachable parts of Canada's coastline.
I recommend this tour wholeheartedly. There are many whale watching tours advertised in Vancouver, most of them picturing speedboats with tourists in wetsuit outfits! If your thing is more laid back, to walk about the boat and photograph what you see, appreciate the stunning environment and relax (in your own clothes!) then this is the tour for you.
We were lucky enough to see three pods of whales travelling close to each other, killer whales and sea lions (respecting the regulations of distance of boats by law) and part of the money you pay for the tour goes to the research and protection of these amazing creatures.
My top tips: hats, gloves, a bottle of water and a snack bar for your pocket (you travel a long way out and are gone a few hours), leave the digital camera at home in favour of your old APS film camera (I had much better pictures on that than my mum on her digital camera- the shutter speeds are too slow on digital to capture the best of shots). And on that note, as our guide poignantly pointed out - don't miss what you are seeing because you are watching it through the camera lens. You can download brilliant pictures from the website!
I did this trip with my mum. I am planning to return to Vancouver and would happily do this excursion alone as a single traveller so don't be put off...
The Seven Stories is an ongoing project that preserves original manuscripts and artwork from renowned childrens' authors such as Allan and Janet Alberg, JK Rowling, Tony Ross, Michael Bond. This is a fun, interactive environment for children and adults that subtley encourages reading and learning through play.
Also there are regular events where authors and illustrators will visit, give a reading of their work and sign books for visitors too. The ground floor is also host to an excellent bookstore dedicated to the very best in children's literature.
Workshops are regularly available throughout the summer and the cafe is well worth a visit for a quick refuelling and a nice view of the river! Or if a big lunch is required pop along to the Cluny, where they do a mean handmade beef burger, with handcut chips and salad.
See www.sevenstories.org.uk for information about events, and detailed directions.
Seven Stories 30 Lime Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 2PQ.
Close to Byker Metro Station, but if you are feeling energetic take a good walk along the Quayside or get off at the very last stop on the Q2 bus (Runs Haymarket-Quayside) and ask your driver for further directions.
Tucked away next to The Barbican, this museum 'does what it says on the tin'; it's about the history of London, from prehistory to modern times. I've been coming here, on and off, since I was 13; my son is now that age, and loves it as much as I do!
All Londoners should visit here at least once, to help your understanding of what makes London the unique world city we live in. With lots of interactivity for the children, and well laid out exhibits for the rest of us!
Just one tip; the Museum Cafe is good for a cup of coffee and a sticky bun, but I wouldn't recommend it for lunch.
Nearest Tube, Barbican or St Pauls
An independant Arndale centre where the conventions of society are subverted and allowed to be sampled in any other form you may require. A number of retro clothes shops mean that a healthy boho atmosphere is achieved and perpetually reinvented by each year of subsequent students looking to find their own identity, although usually only achieved when working within strictly defined parameters. Find so much here, it is worth a full day out in itself.
Reach Piccadilly from Arndale and turn left.
Cafe del Mar is, like its namesake in Ibiza, a cocktail/lounge bar, spread across the top of the 17th century defensive wall surrounding Cartagena. A wonderful place to have a drink and watch the sun set into the Caribbean - and a good place to get out of the city heat and find a breeze.
Centro Historico, Baluarte Santo Domingo;
tel: (+57 5) 6646513;
It is the oldest part of town and the highest. Its walls nad bastions are mostly still intact. You can start by climbing the stairs of one of the two remaining marble-white watch towers, Torre di San Pancrazio (Saint Pancras' tower). From the top of the tower you have a full view of the old town, which looks like a boat on the sea. After that you can wander in the narrow streets of the town that has changed little since the middle ages. You will find many artesan workshops and scenic views. You can then end your walk in one of its cafes: I recommend Libarium Nostrum, close to the other watch tower, Torre dell'Elefante (Elephant Tower), where you can sip your drink with a stunning view of the sunset on the eastern lagoon from an old fortified bastion overlooking the lagoon, the sea, and the old Stampace neighborhood.
You will see it from every point of the town. Local buses from central Largo Carlo Felice.
It was exciting to visit such a beautiful harbour, including the Opera House, especially as I had come all the way from Europe. The rest of the city though is quite ordinary and has no real history unlike the great cities such as London, Paris, St Petersburg and Rome to mention only four. The Blue Mountains nearby are not really worth a visit. The mountains of the south island of New Zealand are far far better. My visit to Australia overall was a case of been there, done that but I am glad I went.
Bay of the Descending Dragon ... do not miss out on the opportunity to visit Ha Long Bay, it is incredible.
Your hotel can put you in contact with local tour operators. (I think it was less than £10 per person). Price includes transport (minivan), boat and lunch.
It's about 2 -3 hours drive from Hanoi. www.vietscape.com/travel/halong/
The Villa Gaia Hotel is situated in the historic center of Taormina, just 30 meters from the Duomo, and offers a magnificent view of the crystal-clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea! I've been here with my wife and had a very pleasent stay.
High up in the limestone cliffs along the edge of the Mekong is the Buddhist pilgrimage site of the Pak Ou Caves. Accessible only by boat, the two caves have been filled with thousands of Buddha figures of all shapes and sizes over the years, apparently by local people who wanted to get rid of them but didn’t want to destroy them. Very atmospheric with spectacular views of the river.
25km from Luang Prabang, a 2-hour boat trip along the Mekong;
On top of "Plabutsch" (the high hill behind Eggenberg Palace) on the western edge of city. From snacks to a full blown meals, all food and drink is locally sourced or homemade (including homegrown Venison!) Not easy to find but has the best views over the whole of Graz. The centre of Graz has a market town feel, so guests are always surprised to see that it is much bigger than it seems, especially after dark when the green suburbs light up and visitors look down on a sparkling sea of lights... There is a viewing platform above the restaurant.
8051 Graz, Fürstenstandweg 100; tel: 585 700;
Open: Wedneday-Sunday 11am-11pm (but closed in winter as the road is very steep!);
Access: It is a lovely but tiring walk to the top of the Plabutsch. (take a map!)
Car/Taxi: Only way up is a minor road (Fürstenstandweg) branching off from the Steinbergstrasse, if driving yourself you will need a city map.
Google map: tinyurl.com/o9f2ys
The road from Sorrento to Amalfi hugs the cliff as it curves around vertical rock faces with the tail of the bus swinging out over the edge and bringing visions of the Afterlife to those passengers sitting on the right hand side. Be thankful that this observation is from a large air-conditioned, soft-sprung, reclining seat in the front of a Mercedes coach and not from the small hire car that is between this coach and another in front.
Coach drivers consider it a matter of pride to be as close as possible to everything including the cliff edge. Every corner is blasted peremptorily by the wind-horn and coaches give way to nothing. It is small consolation that the casual manner of the driver comes from driving this coastline several times a day and that he sleeps soundly in his bed at night.
The final plunge into Amalfi some ninety minutes later leaves the traveller in a melee of coaches parking, baffled tourists and drivers arguing.
South of Sorrento
Formerly a 1920s French hill station, Bokor was abandoned in the 1970s. It's now a conservation area and at about 1000m, the views across to the coast are fantastic and the ruined hill station buildings, now turned rust-coloured by a covering of lichen, make it feel like a ghost town. You can explore the ruined church, villas and fantastic Bokor Palace Hotel with its old ballroom. Very atmospheric, especially as they are often surrounded by mist.
South east of Sihanoukville and around 40km from Kampot – a 2 hour drive by 4WD up very rough roads to the top. $5 entry to the National Park.
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