Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Her name is Rio

Rio De Janeiro is just an amazing place and that's that!I don't think I was quite expecting such a vibrant mix of beach, city, shops, buildings and more beach! There is so much to explore in this wonderful place that I would have like to have stayed a week longer. But I am a sun lover so the beaches were where it was at for me and they are exactly how you imagine them to be. Lots of women leaving very little to the imagination and men flexing their muscles. There are also lots of beach gyms and people playing volleyball. I read a lot about people being nervous on the beach because of pick pockets and criminal activity. It's not worse than any other beach in Europe. Just keep your wits about you, don't take stupid amounts of money and expensive technology with you, then you'll be fine.

I stayed in the Ipanema region of the city which is popular with tourists as it is slightly cheaper than staying near the Copacabana. Having said that accommodation is pretty pricey wherever you go. I stayed in the Lighthouse Hostel which was friendly and reasonably priced. The kitchen is quite small but I visited in low season so there weren't that many people there using it. Also you can arrange an airport pick up through the hostel if you are arriving late, otherwise there is an airport bus which goes frequently along the beach which is good. In the city there are also tours to the Favelas which you can go on but I thought that was a bit odd so didn't do it. I did go to a football match at the Maracana Stadium which was brilliant.

Plus you have Sugarloaf mountain, the 'big jesus' as I call it - otherwise known as the Christ the Redeemer statue and the colourful steps 'Escadaria Selaron'. I really enjoyed the juice drink called Acai juice made out of the berries. It's lovely. It's got quite an unusual flavour so It's not to everyones taste.

Rio is a laid back but vibrant city. So much going on, so colourful and just amazing.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Tango Country

Buenos Aires is a very European city and extremely cosmopolitan. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants are in abundance. There are also lots of currency touts that shout 'cambio' who want your American Dollars to change to Argentinian Pesos. Be warned though, if you change your money then want to change Pesos before you leave Argentina, a lot of places won't change it for you or if they do, they need a receipt of your transaction.

Buenow Aires is great city to walk around and discover. You can go visit the Boca Stadium. You can walk to the stadium from the city centre if you have a free morning or afternoon. The official tours are pretty prices so unless your a die hard footy fan I wouldn't bother if you're on a budget.

Calle Florida is the place to be on a Sunday. The street just goes on and on and is full of little pop up shops and street sellers all interlaced with impromptu tango dancers. Great if you want a few bits and pieces before you fly home. Also a great night out is a Tango show. It sounds cliche but they are fabulous. I booked my ticket through Tango Tix  and went to see a show at El Querandi. I booked a dinner and dance show and it was fabulous. You get a three course meal and a bottle of wine. The food is lovely and there is a good selection, all tastes catered for. I would recommend going for the house trifle as it's not really a trifle and tastes truly magnificent. From all the Tango shows / Tango dinner nights, this one looked the most reasonable and it certainly exceeded my expectations. Here is a taster...

The sound of the city:

Saturday, 7 September 2013


I had heard a lot about North Patagonia's biggest city before visiting. How it's lake was the centre piece of an Andean dream.When I arrived it did not disappoint. I stayed at Hostel Penthouse 1004 near the centre.Even though I arrived at night in the pouring rain,I awoke to find a stunning view from the hostels balcony and a welcome touch of home made bread and jam to start the day.

The view:
The bread:

Bariloche itself is saturated with chocolate shops and ski shops. In summer it attracts people for hiking,kayaking and biking. In the winter the slopes are the main event.

There is a bus from Bariloche you can get to the ski resort. At the bottom of the slopes you can hire ski gear which you can pick up everyday you ski. I went skiing for a couple of days and I think to hire skis and poles for two days was about £80 and then a ski pass for two days was about £80 too. The view from the top of the mountain is beautiful and slopes are vast and white. There are also plenty of bars and cafes dotted about the slopes with lovely fires too. If you are in the season and go skiing, it's well worth it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


El Calafate in Patagonia, Argentina, is where the journey to Patagonia for most people starts. It's a fairly small town but has everything you need. On the recommendation of another traveller I stayed at the America del Sur hostel. It's a short walk just out of the main town centre and it's situated on top of a hill so the views are brilliant. It's clean, friendly, really warm and the staff are really friendly. The people who work there will also help you book tour and buses to other parts of Argentina. I walked into town to see if we were going to be paying more by booking it through the hostel but it wasn't the case. A tip for Argentina is take lots of American Dollars. It's easier to pay for things in dollars and the rate is generally better if you change dollars.

Apart from changing currency, the first on the list was the Perito Moreno Glacier. There are boat trips that take you to see lots of glaciers but there are also day trips that let you see the Perito Moreno Glacier and then go walking on it. I opted for the day trip which included the glacier hike. The actual glacier is breathtaking. The sheer size of it is just phenomenal. There are viewing platforms opposite the glacier so you can really appreciate its size and beauty. I saw a pice of ice fall away from the side which was magnificent. Take a look for yourself...

Day tours cost around £70 but the whole day is worth it, especially if you go walking on the glacier. You get a little treat of whiskey at the end of the walk which was sublime!

Another great place to visit n Southern Argentina is El Chalten. It's a smaller town than El Calafate so if the weather is bad you can't really do anything. But from El Chalten you can do lots of walks. There are paths leading out of the town up to lakes and mountains. Monte Fitz Roy is a huge mountain which dominates the landscape and it is beautiful. I went in winter so I was lucky with the weather. If you get a bad snow storm or it's overcast you can still walk but the views aren't as great. The best thing about this area is that all the walks are free and getting into the National Park around El Chalten is free.

 As I was there in the winter there weren't that many people in the town but I can imagine that in the summer the paths are packed with tourists from abroad and Argentina. Depending on the weather I would spend about 2 nights in El Chalten in winter. You could camp and stay for about a week or so in summer I should think.

I found it was hard to find travel information during the winter months in Patagonia. There are buses but the routes and times are limited during winter. It's also worth noting that most buses from the south go from Rio Gallegos. So if you want to travel from El Chalten up to Bariloche, you would have to go back to Rio Gallegos to get a bus, rather than travel up the middle of Argentina. I think the roads are open during the summer so it's easier, but in the winter, some of the roads are shut.

Visiting El Chalten and El Calafate was a highlight of my South America trip. It is more expensive in Southern Argentina than other places but it's worth it.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The End of the World

I travelled to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas in Chile which is about 16 hour bus journey.Including a ferry crossing,border control and some of the most diverse landscapes I have seen,it's a long but rewarding journey. I travelled with Techni Austral and even though the bus was cold and you don't get any food on the journey,you are escorted through the border which is pretty good.

Ushuaia has a lot to offer. I stayed in Ahnen Hostel which turned out to be one of the best places I've stayed. My room was upgraded at no extra cost to a self catering small house!It was brilliant!I cooked a bit of a roast and apple crumble-bliss.

Ushuaia itself is fairly small but a busy place with lots of shops and lots of tour operators offering whatever the weather allows you to do.I went on a boat trip. I was due to go in the morning but the weather was too bad and the sea was rough so I had to cross my fingers hoping the weather would clear.Luckily it did and at 1500 I was off on a boat with four Argentinians.

It's hard to recreate with words the magical scenes the Beagle Channel has to offer.I just couldn't get out of my head that Antarctica was just over 1000km away. The Beagle Channel is not the only thing to be named after the infamous ship.Beagle beer is another delight.It's a lovely pale ale and accompanies the rigid landscape beautifully.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Salar de Uyuni

The Salt Flats of Bolivia lie near the border to Northern Chile. You can book tours to go and visit them from La Paz and other Bolivian towns. Some of the most popular are three day tours which leave from Uyuni. You can get buses to Uyuni quite easily. I got an overnight bus from La Paz and stayed in Uyuni for the night. Be prepared though, hostels are more expensive here and it is cold!

The actual tours, you go in a small group of four or six in a 4x4 and spend the entire tour with those people.As you travel at your own pace, you don't really see many other people when you are driving over the flats and through the mountains.

There are not many things that separate the different tours and it really is hit and miss as to who it turns out. The one that I was on, the second night there was no hostel booked for our group so we had to stay in a really horrible hostel. I was feeling very well either so I was not impressed when we got told we had no where to stay. The guides you have don't necessarily speak English so try and make sure you travel with someone who is fluent in Spanish. Even if the tour operator says the guides are bilingual it isn't necessarily so.

You do go through some stunning countryside, it's a shame you can't get out and walk around a bit more. You are pretty much in the 4x4 all the time. I opted to get a tour which dropped you in Chile which was good. You got picked up at the border and taken to a near by Chilean town.

I thought the tour was a really good way of seeing the sights and crossing the border. I wouldn't do anymore than the three days though.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Machu Picchu

A magical place at the top of a very long flight of stairs!

Being there for sunrise was breathtaking.Watching the clouds and mist clear to unveil the ruins is a fabulous sight. Below is a little video of some of the workers restoring the site.

My guide Nilton finishing off his guided tour of Machu Picchu

Before I went to Peru I booked my trek to Machu Picchu well in advance because I saw all the warnings about tickets being booked up in advance, people not getting onto tours etc. This is incorrect. I did a five day Salkantay Trek which ended up at Machu Picchu and included a tour. I booked it through Go To Peru - DO NOT USE THIS SITE. We were told incorrect information about what we should take on the trek, how much baggage we could bring etc which meant us forking out more than we thought. Also, even though we had paid for the trek 3 months in advance, they had failed to book our return journey transport from Machu Picchu back to Cusco.

Agua Calientes is the town at the base of Machu Picchu and you can only leave by train; there are no roads in or out. The trains go to Ollantaytambo which is fairly close to Cusco or Hydro Electric, no where near. We had to get a bus from Hydro Electric back to Cusco. So what should have been a five hour journey turned into a 12 hour one. Even though, when we paid for our trek, we were told our train tickets to Ollantaytambo had been booked, not the case.

It was a real shame because after such a great trek and meeting lots of cool people, it was spoilt because on the last day, we had to stay up until about midnight sorting out our train tickets with our guide. And because we could only get a train to Hydro Electric and then a bus to Cusco it meant we had only a couple of hours to look around Machu Picchu rather than the whole day. Gutted.

All the other people on our trek managed to get train tickets and most had only booked a week in advance or even days and paid a lot less than we did. Best way to play it if you don't want to get screwed over, get to Cusco and sort it out from there. Talk to other people in hostels about treks they've been on. Even if you have to stay in Cusco a few days to get on a trek, it's worth and there is plenty to do anyway.

Watch out for the old altitude sickness too. It's worth trying to get something in the UK to take over. I felt rotten and was vomiting a lot because I hadn't got used to the altitude. It was only for a few days but I felt I missed out a bit.

This all sounds negative but it's not meant to be. The actual trek was one of the best adventures of my life. Loved it. The mountains are breath taking and the walk took me through such varied countryside it was amazing.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


Cusco is vibrant and buzzing place. It's the gateway to all treks to Machu Picchu. There are lots of tour operators that provide various packages to go and see the historic site. I wouldn't worry about booking a tour until you're in Cusco, just haggle a bit to get a good price and make sure they have booked you onto the train out of Aguas Calientes and then from Ollantaytambo to Cusco.

I stayed in couple of hostels in the town. The first was El Tuco which has a little way out of the centre but it was quiet, clean and friendly. There is a small kitchen where you can cook and there is a fairly large supermarket just a little way down the road. It's also not very far from the bus station which if it's light you can walk but it's fairly cheap to get a taxi there in the dark. The second hostel was the Pariwana Hostel which is a big hostel. It's a clean and the staff are helpful and friendly. There is no kitchen but there is a fairly cheap restaurant there which serves European food. There is also a good range of rooms if you wanted to treat yourself to one with a bath! It's quite nice after a trek to Machu Picchu! Also, just down the street there is a good laundry service which is cheaper than the one at the hostel.

Around the main square in Cusco there are lots of shops and restaurants. I went to Jack's Cafe which I thought was going to be a bit cliche but actually it was really good food, large portions and fairly priced. As you walk around Cusco you will stumble on many delights. Markets, street artists and music.

Friday, 26 July 2013


This is the view from the Bothy Hostel in Arequipa.It's near the main square and provides a serene sanctuary to the busy streets of Peru. It's clean and tidy. The breakfast is bread and jam (standard) and the people running it are really friendly.

The volcanoes surrounding Arequipa are stunning. There are three; Misti,Pichu Pichu and Chachani. Apparently Misti means triangle because that is the shape of it! 

When I was there, there was some kind of military parade. I found out that Arequipa was/is quite a revolutionary city.It likes to do things its own way! So I think the parade was something to do with that. There always seems to be something going on when you're in South America anyway - no quiet days!

I joined one of the free walking tours which was great. I always think they are a good introduction to any place as you can find your feet and have a bit of a feel for the place afterwards. We walked down one of the streets which had some really old leather workshops and also a huge guitar shop which had all sorts of stringed instruments. Not sure what instrument this was but it sounded good.

Arequipa was the first place I visited in South America and I think it's a good place to start. It's not that big and there is a supermarket on the main plaza so you can't get lost and you won't go hungry! There are also loads of tour operators if you wanted to visit any of the surrounding area. I wanted to go to the Colca Canyon but there had been some earth tremors so some of the roads were shut but hey ho, you can't plan everything!

New York

Landed in New York to a hot and sticky city. Nothing can take away from the magic of the city.This time around I went to see Chicago which was brilliant.Also managed to watch the recording of The Late show with David Letterman.Cate Blanchett was the celebrity and she was pretty funny.

One of my highlights was chatting to a proper New Yorker called Richard who I met in a place called Zarbar's.He always referred to ladies as 'pussy cats' what a legend! Here is a little sound of the stage...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Wuthering Heights

I'm slightly obsessed with Kate Bush which means I'm slightly obsessed with the book Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Which means I'm slightly obsessed with the Bronte's, anyway you get the idea. So me and some of my friends decided to visit Haworth in Yorkshire where the Bronte family grew up. It's an extremely picturesque village folded into the Yorkshire moors. It feels like quite a barren and desolate place when you get there so one can only imagine what it was like when the Bronte's were living there.

I stayed at the Black Bull pub because I saw it on an episode of the television show Most Haunted. They visited the pub because apparently the ghost of Patrick Bronte, the father of the Bronte sisters and Branwell Bronte the lesser known brother. Firstly I can say the pub is a let down. It's not a very well kept pub and the owners obviously don't want it to be a Homage to the Bronte's. It's tasteless and any ounce of charm that still remains is over shadowed by the loud pop music and quite vulgar clientele. I will say no more.

Luckily Haworth and the surrounding villages are jam packed full of lovely country pubs with warm welcoming log fires. In Haworth you can visit the house which the Bronte's grew up in which is now a museum.  It's about £8 for adults but it's really interesting and well worth it. One of the things I couldn't get over is that they had one of the sisters dresses, I can't remember which, but it look like the clothing of a small child- it was unbelievable!

Getting back to the Wuthering Heights obsession, just a short walk out of Haworth you can visit the Bronte Waterfall and Top Withens. Top Withens is thought to be the inspiration to the farmhouse in Wuthering Heights. However the plaque when you get to the crumbling barn says otherwise which makes me laugh.

Regardless I had a Kate Bush inspired dance around the barn to make the most of my Wuthering Heights trip, I suggest you do the same. If you haven't seen Kate Bush's moves, shame on you.

Monday, 15 April 2013


Barcelona has to be one of my favourite cities in Europe. It's not as busy as Paris so it feels more relaxed and chilled out which I love. It also has the great combination of city and beach, not to mention all the amazing art and architecture the city has to offer. On my last visit I stayed near the University which was close enough to Las Ramblas to still feel in the thick of it but just out of the centre so it was a less touristy come the evening.

Barcelona is world famous for the work of Antoni Gaudi which dominates the street of the city. The Sagrada Familia is probably the most well known of all his work. It rises out of the small streets of Barcelona and dominates the sky line. A great place to view it is from is Park Guell. In the north of the city you can get to it by bus, metro link or my preferred method of walking! A can of Estrella will set you back about 80cents, some nice bread 60cents and some cheese, meat and olives from a local shop will only cost a couple of Euro's. My advice, bag it all up and have a lovely picnic. The Park does get busy but if you walk into the Park a little bit more than stopping at the giant mosaic seat you can find some great picnic spots.

In the centre of Barcelona Las Ramblas is the main road which runs to the beach. It's lined with restaurants, galleries, museums and cathedrals. There is lots to explore and a definite must is the Boqueria Market which will assault all your senses in the best possible way. Take a look for yourself...

The restaurants peppered around the market are brilliant. Sit and have a glass of red wine with a big bowl of muscles. No better way to spend a lazy afternoon. Barcelona is a city that keeps on giving and I will happily go back again and again. I cannot begin to explain and write about all things I experienced on my visits. Don't be put of by the talk of pick pockets and crime, it's no worse than any other city. All you have to do is eat, drink and enjoy.

Monday, 18 March 2013

I'm sorry caller...

Which? campaign to stop nuisance calls and texts. They say in the last three months, 7 out of 10 people have received received unsolicited calls and four in ten (40%) an unwanted text. 

Which? want to set up a 'joint task force' to tackle the problem. This is what my brother did when he received a phone call for my mum. They were trying to sell a will writing service but they didn't quite get the real lady of the house...

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Drifters

I went to watch The Drifters as part of the Diamond Dynasty Tour at The Wyvern Theatre in Swindon which was a treat. The group has had 65 members over the 60 years they have been around. Whilst watching the latest line up perform,you get a slide show history lesson of The Drifters story. Learning about who was in the band and over what period of time was actually pretty interesting and the fact people are still singing their songs today is a credit to them. With classics like 'Saturday Night at the Movies', Sweet for my Sweet and 'Up on the Roof' the whole audience was happy. A little extract of another familiar hit is below...

I always associate The Drifters with sixties 'doo wop' so it was slightly strange seeing four men reincarnate the group to appeal to a new audience. There was a moment when I thought one of the group members was going to start singing an R Kelly song or something by Usher. But nonetheless all of them sang their hearts out, did the retro all in one dance moves and got 70 year old men and women up on their feet. Job Done.

If the band have been around for 60 years and are still going, who knows I may be watching them when I'm in my seventies which is good 40 years away from now!