It is almost that time of year again for barge loads of sand to float down the Seine and transform the riverbanks of Paris into an urban beach. Beginning on the 20th July and lasting for one month, the Paris Plage offers the complete beach experience … almost. The creators don’t seem to be fazed by the lack of sea as they put together what could be best described as a caricature of a beach, complete with palm trees, over-sized deck chairs, ice-cream sellers and beach volleyball. The latest addition to the beach at Bassin de la Villette offers free pedalos and rowing boats from which you can float along and enjoy the games of pétanque, giant sand castles, free concerts, and everything else that’s going on beside the Seine-side, beside the Seine!
Pont Neuf to Hotel de Ville (right bank of the Seine), Bassin de la Villette
Google map: bit.ly/LwXCYr
Wherever you go in the world on your gap year, my advice would be to not just flit from place to place but to stay in the places you enjoy the most for as long as you can to really get a sense of the people and place - you'll appreciate it way more. You can do this by finding a job in the local community that can fund your stay and future travels. If you speak English, then teaching is the obvious option, or work on a farm or whatever you like (see organizations like WWOOF, or meet locals by coach surfing). Also, take one set of smart clothes for when you're away, you never know what you might be invited to (I was invited to a wedding in India by the headmaster at the school I was working in). Finally, avoid the agencies if you can, organizing it independently is cheaper and gives far more options and freedom.
Fancy trying your hand at teaching English abroad without the cost of some "volunteer" gap-year projects, or the hassle of completing a TEFL course? I wanted to stay in a community in India for longer than just a fleeting few days.
I sent a few emails and chose the Marshall school in Dehra Dun. Not only did they offer free accommodation and meals, but the location was ideal: in the foothills of the Himalayas and well off the beaten track (I was the only white face I saw in the three months I was there and the only white person most of the children had ever seen outside of movies). I got to know the place and people intimately and had an unforgettable experience... I'm heading back next year.
Now while there may not be anything at all unusual or quirky about a maritime museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool is home to a rather peculiar and completely unique collection. ‘Seized! The Border and Customs Uncovered’ is a permanent gallery displaying the methods used to smuggle drugs, weapons and other contraband across our borders. They range from the slightly weird (drugs inside a garden gnome), to the highly ambitious (over a ton of cocaine concealed in drums of bitumen!). You can even try your hand at playing border patrol with an interactive console that lets you control your own Cutter, while the kids can go ‘rummaging’ through a ship to see if they can spot any signs of smuggling.
Merseyside Maritime Museum
0151 478 4499
Last summer as I was walking west along the Devizes-Newbury stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal, I came across quite a peculiar pub perched on the bank. Situated in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside, overlooked by the White Horse of Alton Barnes, is the Barge Inn: the ‘crop circle centre of the universe’. The walls and ceilings were crammed with an array of pictures and murals of recent crop circles, all appearing within a 10-mile radius of the pub.
The pub is as old as the canal itself and offered a fascinating and charming rest stop with a refreshing pint and an interesting conversation.
The Barge Inn, Honeystreet, Pewsey, Wiltshire
01672 851 705, the-barge-inn.com
Way up in the far reaches of northern Finland, amid the snow cloaked forests of lapland, there lies an igloo village. I had travelled with my girlfriend to the home of Father Christmas for a winter break at the Kakslauttanen holiday village; a cluster of cosy log cabins and ice and glass igloos deep within the arctic circle.
We never did see Santa, though lying in bed beneath the glass roof of our igloo we were treated to a phantasmagoric light show like we’d never seen. Shimmering between stars that I never even knew existed was the spectacular aurora borealis, a sight more magical than seeing the old man himself!
Sightings of the Northern Lights can never be guaranteed, though in one week in winter we were treated to six nights of this spectacle.
Hotel and igloo village Kakslauttanen, 30 minute transfer from lvalo airport.
I stopped in Stockbridge for a walk over the picturesque water meadows in the heart of the Hampshire countryside and came across a most quintessentially English scene. After following the stream towards the centre of the village I reached a terrace perched on the riverbank nestled amongst the water lilies.
The friendly staff served me a pot of fine tea and a plate of delicious scones oozing with homemade jam and cream. Before I left I fed the crumbs to some passing ducks- feeling I should share such an experience with at least something…
High Sreet, Stockbridge, Hampshire, SO20 6HF
Driving onto the ferry at the port of Palermo in northern Sicily, we headed straight to the top deck and settled down into the deckchairs to take in the late afternoon sun. The sun sank slowly and magnificently into the Mediterranean Sea, its last rays silhouetting the North African coastline as we pulled into port ten hours later at Tunis.
The scene that greeted us in Tunis could not be further from the quiet life of Sicily: the hustle and bustle of street markets lining the pavements, lively malouf music and the smell of burning incense and fragrant spices drifting in through the car windows... this ferry ride to the other side of the Mediterranean might just as well be to the other side of the world!
We turned up at the port at Palermo and bought our tickets on the same day as the boat's departure, though there are only two sailings weekly so it could be safer to book at www.directferries.co.uk
At the southern end of the three mile stretch of sandy beach in Studland is a secret rock pool cove, cut off by cliffs on both sides. Wait until the tide slides out before skirting round the cliff face and you’ll find yourself in a hidden world of crabs, fish, barnacles, snails and weird looking worms.
My favourite way to get a closer look at these pool dwellers is with an old detergent tablet net with a bit of chicken or meat inside tied to the end of a stick. Wait a bit for whatever creature is enticed and carefully lift it out of the water, its weight will close the net behind it so it can't climb out- just take care when letting the blighters go!
Studland Bay, Swanage, Dorset
At the southern end of the three mile stretch of sandy beach is a secret rock pool cove, cut off by cliffs on both sides. Wait until the tide slides out before skirting round the cliff face and you’ll find yourself in a hidden world of crabs, fish, barnacles, snails and weird looking worms.
My favourite way to get a closer look at these pool dwellers is with an old detergent tablet net with a bit of chicken or meat inside tied to the end of a stick. Wait a bit for whatever creature is enticed and carefully lift it out the water, its weight will close the net behind it so it can't climb out- just take care when letting the blighters go!
Studland Bay, Swanage, Dorset
Route 1 takes you on a breathtaking road trip right around the coast of Iceland. Driving along the coast you witness a wilderness so baron and beautiful it feels as though you are driving into a post card. A landscape crafted by volcanic eruptions and glacial slides, unspoilt by civilization.
Along the south coast the road reaches round remarkable waterfalls, geysers and sleeping volcanoes. Snow capped mountains share the horizon with frozen lakes and black sand beaches.
Driving at night is no less spectacular, with the northern lights baffling and amazing you as they flicker in the sky above between a blanket of stars, unspoilt by light pollution.
Places to stay along the way range from 4 star resorts to rustic farmhouses though for the most authentic roadtrip, camp and live out of the car!
Rent a car at the airport (Keflavík), skip Reykjavik and just start driving!
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