The hill temple at Pimbura is not a particularly impressive structure, more a ramshackle collection of shrines and associated outbuildings spread out on the top of a ridge. In fact the nearer you get to the temple, the more you feel like you are in Nepal rather than Sri Lanka, but the setting, the atmosphere and the fact that you are almost certainly the only visitor makes up for any shortfall in the architecture. You need to explore this place and just when you think you have seen it all there is yet another path to something else.
The views from the top are magnificent, which means it is quite a climb (but I am fat and 40 and I made it ok) so you will need good shoes and plenty of water and do not go too late in the day, the track is steep, rocky and unlit. For the naturalists amongst you there are birds, bats and even monkeys. There is only one monk in residence, he will be surprised to see you and will no doubt welcome your generous donation.
You can take the train from Colombo to Aluthgama and then take the bus to Agalawatta via Matugama. From Agalawatta pick up the Horana bus or a three wheeler (approx Rs150). There is only one road worthy of the name running through Pimbura, the track to the temple leads off to the left (if you are travelling north) just past the district hospital, ask anyone. There is an alternative route up and down the hill so you can make a round trip. There is another temple in Pimbura (which is not on a hill).
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.
Everybody, of course, goes to Universal Studios in Hollywood. Fair enough, it is the biggest but is it the best? It used to be but, alas, no longer. Now try the Warner Bros. studio tour and you'll see the difference, especially if you are a film buff like me.
Warners is far smaller but it is quieter and it is a working studio but most of all the moment you go round the back lots you can immediately see the sets for the familiar 30's and 40's films like Jimmy Cagney's 'Public Enemy', Bogart's 'Maltese Falcon' and Flynn's 'Robin Hood'. While these will mean nothing to the 'Sponge Bob' or 'The Shrek' generation, who will doubtless prefer to enjoy the hussle and bussle of the Universal tour, old fuddy-duddies like me will enjoy the 'WB's. They don't make'm like that anymore. Go enjoy!
Also, don't miss the small movie and TV museums on Sunset, Hollywood and Vine either. Many sadly do, you'll never forgive yourself.
Warner Bros. Studio is at Burbank. Universal Studios is at Universal City (on the way to Burbank). Hollywood Museum, Movie and TV Museum and Max Factor's old make-up palace (now also a museum) are all on or just off Hollywood Blv.
A picturesque fishing port on the border of Spain and Portugal, at the far western end of the Costa de la Luz. Great for seafood, golf, bowling, kitesurfing, sailing ... phew!
Nearby Isla Canela is where the Spaniards go for THEIR holidays, but the rest of Europe seems to have missed it!
Experience the hustle and bustle of Delhi street life, with seemingly non-stop markets, livestock roaming free and every type of chancer and laughably inept con man trying to engage you..top notch, and puts the sedate connaught place to bed.
Near New Delhi train station
Visit Lalit Kala Akademi. See all the art on the walls. Then head down to Bengali Market to sample some of the best chaat in Delhi. (Chaat is vegetarian street food.) Try either of the Bengali Sweet House or Nathu's Sweets. Both are good and are in healthy competition.
Lalit Kala Akademi
Rabindra Bhawan, Ferozshah Road,
New Delhi 110001
Bengali Market, New Delhi
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.
If you want a two-hour-long, food/beer-sozzled route to see a Manchester City game, as well as a chance to feed some geese, this is my dream route to my seat in the East Stand lower tier from Piccadilly Square: from Piccadilly, with your back to 1960s megalith, Piccadilly Plaza, you head up Tib Street to the YADGAR curry house. If you're veggie, you can get rice and three curries for £3.00 - same price as a pint in some of the Northern Quarter bars. £3.90 and you get lamb or chicken toppings too. Best tarka dhal in Manchester.
After that, you could go further up Tib Street and drink in Centro and then have another pint in the Copper Kettle, a pub whose restoration ran out of money - look at the ceiling on one side of the pub, and then the other. One side was restored, the other remains as it was when the building was almost derelict. However, if you choose to hit Great Ancoats Street at this stage, all there is from there is street and no canal. Instead, after Yadgar, I suggest you go back towards Piccadilly and locate the Mother Mac pub, on a side street off Oldham Street. This, I imagine, will remain like something out of Victorian times even long into another era in which Manchester aspires to make its eastern central section resemble a damper, rainier New York.
From Mother Mac's, you could stock up on samosas at Marhaba, one of the other remaining low-price curry houses in the city centre, or maybe buy some bread and head towards the canal - there's an entrance on to the towpath on Ducie Street, which is the road bearing left as you reach the ramp leading towards Piccadilly Station. Once on the canal, the geese are very 'people-friendly' - in other words, mind your fingers.
Continuing up the canal, you'll reach steps at Great Ancoats Street. Following crowds towards the ground, my final stop is the Bank Of England pub. It's not just a no-frills pub - it's a no-stitching-at-all pub. The toilets are signposted by a male and female pointing figure silhouette shapes, but the male silhouette says 'women' on it and the female one 'male' - everyone turns the wrong direction the first time, like one of those psychological tests where they write 'blue' on a red-coloured board. Once you've survived this delightful obstacle course, remember, you've still got a football match to watch, and the return leg into town afterwards to negotiate. As is often said of Manchester City, it's the 90 minutes in the middle that ruins the experience.
Between Manchester Piccadilly and Sportcity.
It's an easygoing exploration of the architectural sights of Manchester city centre. Will also take you past some very nice bars, restaurants and shops.
Be spontaneous if you can and pick a sunny day, start at about 11am. Manchester doesn't get much more rain than most of the Southern English cities (and certainly less than Wales, Scotland and South West England) so there should be plenty of opportunities!
Start at Sackville Street and explore that area first. There are some magnificent buildings and if you are new to the city you will find yourself confused - it often reminds me of continental European cities (particularly northern Europe) with its mix of rich Victorian and gothic styles. Walk through Canal Street (Gay Village) as well, not far from Sackville Street and make your way towards Oxford Road.
Take a look at the magnificent Palace Hotel and have a drink at the Cornerhouse bar (on the first floor) which also gives a good view of the surrounding hustle and bustle. Then head towards the Central Library (the round pantheon-like building next to the Town Hall) and have a good look at the surroundings. You will be stunned by the variety of styles and ages of the architecture. Explore the various side streets around there and the Town Hall.
Then head to Cross Street and walk down towards Victoria Station from the top of Cross Street (where it crosses Princess Street/John Dalton Street). You will go past the various shops and bars. But when you first get to Cross Street, have a coffee at Caffe Nero near the start: to me it feels like Milan in Manchester!
Once you get to the end of Cross Street you are at the heart of the city centre main shops: Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, all that is in that area. Have a look at Urbis and Victoria Station, which you can spot from the area behind Selfridges (it has a big screen across a shopping centre called the Triangle). If you are hungry by then, try a late lunch at Wagamama (outside the Printworks, across the road from Urbis). From there walk past Harvey Nichols which is by the Manchester Cathedral and head towards St Anne's Square to take in the continuing varied architecture. You have a medieval looking church (St Anne's I think) in the middle of a Victorian architecture shopping centre.
Just before the church is the Royal Exchange Theatre in the middle of the square to the left. Go in and have a look. When you are inside the main building and look up at the very tall ceiling, you will be stunned! I won't spoil the surprise though. Anyway, go up to King Street past the Church, explore the boutiques and then take a right and head to Deansgate (a few yards’ walk) and then turn left and head towards the new Beetham Tower skyscraper.
Once you get there, there is a nice restaurant called Dimitri's that does Spanish and Greek Food. If it's summer sit outside at the back. It's lovely. And then finally finish your architectural walking tour by transporting yourself thousands of years back to Roman times at the Roman ruins and remains of the old wall just off Liverpool Road (which is where the Museum of Science and Industry is). From Deansgate, if you are tired of walking, you can get the number 2 free bus that takes you back to just outside the Cornerhouse - not far from where you started at 11 am!
A coffee farm with nice traditional rooms (but with bathrooms, 2 pools, a bar and restaurant, and a number of activities on site including presentations on coffee growing and processing (including picking your own coffee berries, preparing and roasting them), horse riding through the coffee groves and the largest canopy in Colombia - 7 zip line rides over the trees.
Very friendly staff who are happy to organise outings to the National Coffee Park, a trip down the La Vieja river on a bamboo raft, or up to the mountains to go walking.
Near to Quimbaya, in Quindío province, 27km from Armenia.
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.
Set in jungle about an hour outside of Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si waterfall is a spectacular series of cascades and clear turquoise pools. Quite a climb to the top but you can cool off with a swim in the pools.
30km from Luang Prabang - can be reached by road or boat
Evening tours of the city. Carmen takes you on a singing tour of the city, visiting many of the places mentioned in Bizet's opera (the tobacco factory is now the University). She has a wonderful voice and makes the place come alive. Does not perform every night.
Departs daily except Tuesday and Sunday at 7pm from the corner of Calle Sto. Thomas and Calle Miguel Mañara, near the Alcazar entrance. What you pay is up to you. For more details check with the main tourist hotels.
The alleyways of the Santa Cruz district wind between typical Andaluz houses with flowers on the balconies and cafés where flamenco is danced. Try and avoid the tacky tourist shops and restaurants and just wander around this former Jewish district of Seville to discover your own tranquility in the many plazas of this friendly and village-like district.
East of the Cathedral and the Alcazar
I was a student for a year at La Escuela Superior de Ingenieros, based within one of the old pavilions for the Expo (92, I think). This part of the town down the north-west bank of the river seems to be largely abandoned but, as with la ESI, has some re-population following the exhibition. It is essentially a disused amusement park with a number of colourful pavilions, bridges, towers and structures that have been left, but they have a derelict, out-dated and unloved charm... not everyone's cup of tea, but they appealed to me. This project, which must have taken so much effort, has not really achieved its long-term target - I guess I felt sorry for them. The Expo pavilions from the 1929 exhibition (Parque Marie Luisa) are very popular landmarks, but the nineties versions won't last so well I suspect. They offset the traditional flamenco culture of the city centre (that can get a little too much sometimes) and make a nice hour-long walk (start at Plaza de Armas - up the east bank - over Puente Alamillo - through the Expo site - then return over Puente de la Barqueta). Or get the circular bus.
North of Triana.
This huge beach (some say 18km, some say 23) is beautiful. I have never been to such a peaceful secluded beach in the Med - lovely.
If you are feeling energetic take a walk from the 'town' centre past the bread and water restaurant and follow the road. Eventually you come to the sand dunes. Time it right and take a bottle of wine to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
Named after Christopher Columbus, this river plays host to tourist steamers and pedal boats. On the weekends, the enchanting paseo is bustling with couples enjoying a romantic stroll and Spanish families dressed in their Sunday best. The scenic view across the river offers Andaluz houses with wrought-iron balconies.
Don't just admire the stunning Rangitoto in the middle of the harbour - paddle there! A guided round trip takes 6 hours including a climb to the summit for great views of the city and harbour. For extra credibility try the evening option. It was amazing paddling back across the harbour in the dark, just a row of little lights bobbing across the silent water with the city around us. Fantastic.
Guided tours with Fergs Kayaks depart Okahu Bay on Tamaki Drive;
tel: 09 529 2230; www.fergskayaks.co.nz
Skye has Britain's most spectacular mountains by far, the Cuillin. But what is less well known is that it also has probably Britain's most beautiful coastline. Could there be a better walking destination? The following website has a good guide to walks.
Croagh Patrick looms over the surrounding land, brooding and massive with its memory of the saint who prayed here for forty days and nights in 441A.D. Every year on the last Sunday of July around 60,000 people struggle on a pilgrimage to the summit.
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