Santa Cruz, CA. (USA).

Somewhere between San Francisco and LA on the California coast is Santa Cruz. Before visiting the place I had never heard of it, or if I had it was quickly forgotten. However having now been a couple of times I thought I’d share this charming Oceanside town with you.

Downtown Santa Cruz is a charmingly cosmopolitan and stereotypically Californian ‘hippy’ feeling highstreet of independent shops and cafes. As wiki puts it: ‘Pacific Avenue serves as an outlet for the artistic and unique culture that Santa Cruz possesses.’ You can always find a locally made gift, for both yourself and others, here – with prices ranging from the upper end of budget friendly to the lower end of eye-watering for a millionaire and you can always find a high quality dirty mocha chai latte in generous sized glasses in any number of cafes. There are also usually some street performers and other things to produce a pleasant and vibrant atmosphere. So a thumbs up here.

Whenever I’ve been here I’ve ended up downtown after visiting one of the other beautiful spots that are in and around Santa Cruz first.

Perhaps the most popular of these is Natural Bridges State Beach. This state park is a nice sized piece of Californian coastal beauty. The main beach offers a cove of golden sands, sun and stunning views across the bay. And, whilst this is on offer in much of the surrounding area also, this particular beach has the added feature of the natural bridge. In the old days this was ‘bridges’, but sadly now the archways across the sand and ocean have fallen away to leave a single remaining true arch. However this is still a lovely sight with it regularly attracting a constant stream of people taking selfies – often beautiful people in swimming costumes; though often not so beautiful people in swimming costumes – and when the sun sets and you capture it at the right angle this can be truly spectacular… so I am told… but I have never been here at that time of day :/

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The state beach is also a dedicated area for wildlife and there’s always an abundance around you to see. Well, there has been on my few trips there anyway. The list includes mammals like the whales, seals and sea otters which can be glimpsed from the beach often on the horizon, and a plethora of little critters to see in the rock pools/tide pools. The main draw, however, is the monarch butterflies. I have mentioned these before when writing about Pacific Grove so I won’t go into too much detail. But here in Santa Cruz at the state park is a second reserve for their winter migration and they get up to 150,000 butterflies come to their reserve for protection each year. Whilst PG has the reserve tucked away in the town, here it is in the state park near the beach meaning you’ll often see them fluttering around you as you sunbathe which is just lovely.

The second area I wish to talk about is a little different, though it does still have the stunning backdrop of golden sand, blue ocean and brilliant sun – the beach boardwalk. This is California’s oldest surviving amusement park and is beautifully located along the oceanfront 😍. Opened in 1907 it still has classic carnival games and an old wooden roller-coaster nestled amongst newer rides and experiences. And of course there are booths selling all the sorts of food you would expect at a place like this – most popular of these when I’ve been seemed to be potato on a stick… odd. What’s great about the amusement park is that you can pop in and out of it between swimming and sunbathing on the beach – meaning you’re not always stuck with the rides and noise and can come and go as you please, thus alternating sun with screams. Having said this the ocean can be pretty chilly so you do get screams sometimes when people first dive in. Its very entertaining and made me feel as though I was back home in Britain.

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So there you have it. Santa Cruz. A town with a lovely feeling and well stocked highstreet, natural beauty and a delightful amusement park on the perfect sands. If you’re ever in the area I recommend you pop on by 👍🏻.

Oh, and, Happy New Year!

Matt.

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Tech and Travel.

Whilst we at budget budgie are money conscious and like to grab a bargain and save money where we can, we still like our tech when we travel. I can’t find it now as I’m away on fresh travels and not at home, but somewhere there’s a photo of all three budgies on a train travelling through Poland with us listening to music on one device and playing Fifa on an ipad using phones as the controllers. No doubt with a couple of cameras handy to the side too in case a particularly good shot appears out the window. During a ‘back in my day’ sort of conversation with my parents over coffee, it occurred to me that even in my very youthful life technology has changed significantly since I started travelling. So I thought I’d share a few ways where modern tech is a great plus for the budget traveller.

1. The research and planning. This is maybe a no brainier as in this day and age it is farcical for anyone to imagine planning and organising a holiday without using the internet and price comparison sites and the like. But let’s not take this for granted. Also this isn’t just useful for the preplanning stage, but also for planning whilst you’re out there and doing stuff. The ability to use your phone as if you were at home is incredibly useful for maps, looking up things to do nearby and for Instagram and keeping in touch. We thank you the gods of the internet 😍.

2. Travel entertainment. Often the budget option of a journey is longer and less comfortable than the more expensive version. Be this a bus instead of a train, or the local train instead of a fast commuter one, or cramped second class instead of standard or first. Therefore it’s great to have something to keep you entertained. And here comes the tech. I’m a great lover of books. Of feeling the page. Of having something real. Of smelling the ink. However for travelling this sucks, as if you’re going away for a while you either need a huge book or several standard ones. This is all weight and clutter. So an Ereader is your friend. Or audiobooks on your phone which take up even less space. Or games on your phone. Or music. Or podcasts. Or, well you get where I’m going here – tech brings you joy to ease the tedium. It can also bring you some comfort with better noise cancelling tech than ever before and cooling eyemasks and all sorts of sleep aids.

3. If you don’t have a budgie Al with you on your travels who is highly educated and skilled at languages, then tech is a fantastic tool her with translation aps and websites so you can both learn before you go, and translate whilst you’re there. Whoop

4. Photography. There are a few points to make here, but the two key ones for me are about the great advances in storage of photos and battery life. In the old days I’d have to carry a few memory cards with me. Now I have one huge one which does a full months travelling for me without needing to delete 😍. And I’d have a few batteries too and a bulky charger. And still have annoyances at times of the battery dying. Now, however, my camera is some sort of miracle worker as the battery in my DSLR has currently lasted me two different holidays spanning a few months and over 3,000 photographs. I don’t dwell on this and I don’t ask why – I simply thank whatever god it is enabling this to happen. Asides from this and stepping away from DSLRs which aren’t necessarily budget friendly, the phone cameras are now insanely good. At times my phone pics beat my big camera and it’s fancy lenses. This is just simply brilliant.

5. And five. The ability to both easily share your travels with others via blogs like this and read about other people’s travels is just swell ✌🏻👌🏻.

So there we have it – 5 quick budget budgie thoughts on tech and travel.

Have a good one,

Matt.

Budget budgie at the Aquarium

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been to two different aquariums in two different continents (yes, I am indeed bragging). The first was in Lisbon, Portugal, and the second in Monterey, America. As I was walking around the second yesterday and observing how packed it was, I began to wonder about aquariums as tourist destinations and thought I’d write a post and share some photos.

Firstly, I’m a big animal lover – I have never eaten meat or fish and when I picture my future I picture a cat and not a partner or family. As a result, for me a zoo or aquarium in this day and age has to be about conservation and not money. These boxes are ticked with these two aquariums:

“The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.” And Lisbon’s website says that “As a modern aquarium, it is committed to continuously developing educational activities aimed at encouraging people to learn more about the oceans and marine species. The Oceanário also focuses on its mission and seeks to draw people’s attention to current environmental issues. In this sense, it collaborates with several institutions with a view to promoting ocean sustainability, by supporting scientific research and marine biodiversity conservation projects.”

Essentially, they do good work for conservation and education and remind people who have watched finding nemo that these are great living things to look out for, and not to look at in a tiny bowl on our side tables. Rant and moral speech over. Onto the tourism side and some pretty photos!

So, are they worth going to on your days of leisure and on your travels? Well, seemingly many of us believe so. Like I said in the opening, they always seem to be packed! According to Wikipedia Monterey has an average attendance of 1.8 million a year and Lisbon has a million. These are big numbers- for example the iconic stone henge apparently gets around 1.3m a year! But anyway, yes, why are they nice visits?

Well, for one thing, they’re inside. So whilst the fish are wet, you can remain dry on a rainy day. Like the final day budgie al and I were in Lisbon – it was raining heavily and this contributed to our decision to go and visit the indoor aquarium instead – incidentally, this is apparently the biggest indoor aquarium in Europe.

And, as for seeing the fish, there are so damn many of them. Again returning to Wikipedia, Monterey aquarium apparently has 35,000 animals and over 500 species, whilst Lisbon has 16,000 and 450.

This isn’t limited just to fish, however. There are all sorts of water based critters to see, including mammals (like sea otters) and reptiles (like sea turtles).

And, whilst some of the animals are viewed in the way we perhaps more picture zoos and the like with a single viewing space looking at one type of interesting critter like this

for me, the main attraction of aquariums are the larger tanks with multiple viewing sections and a plethora of different things to look at. At the best aquariums these tanks are huge and you can spend an age gazing into them. At Monterey aquarium the largest tank of such a type is their ‘open sea’ exhibit which has a huge 90 foot window and a raised seating area so you can just sit and watch the sea go by. In the tank are majestic turtles, the dumbly evolved looking sunfish, stingrays and lots lots more.

Meanwhile, the Oceanário de Lisboa is centred around their huge central tank which the other sections lead off of. This 5 million litre tank has around 100 species in and can be viewed from all sorts of different windows – both large scale and individual little views and from different heights allowing you to see those that prefer to laze on the floor, those who sore high and then those who think the middle is just right. A particular favourite of mine in this tank are the sharks, including the Sandbank and the sand tiger, and when these starts swimming straight at you you can’t help but hear the jaws music in your head.

Monterey’s website has a few live cameras on offer so you check out for yourself what I am on about. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams/open-sea-cam

Yes. Well, as it’s off hours as I’m writing this it played me a prerecorded video instead which reminded me of a negative of Monterey aquarium: the bloody music!! It’s on a constant loop with each area having a different annoying bad instrumental track going on and on and on and on and on. Whenever I go alone I will always have headphones in. Even if I’m not actually playing anything. So far anyone who sees me and judges, I am not being a dick walking around listening to music and not taking in the place, I am simply attempting to block out the constant annoyance of the music!

And as we are talking negatives here, a biggy is the vast numbers who go. For one thing this means the prices can be pretty steep – why charge less when people are willing to pay? But secondly, it means that there’s a chance you won’t get to see everything in the zenful manner you may wish with children running around and people bumping into you as they try and push to the front of the window or elbow you as they take a selfie. Though this can offer some entertainment. For instance I once watched a gentleman with an expensive camera and VERY expensive lens lean forward and zoom in to take a photo of a jellyfish and smash his lens and then his face into the glass because he was so focussed on his photo he forgot where the glass was. That was fun. But yes, overall, like with pretty much everything in life, the people make the experience worse.

But ignoring them and focusing on the animals and the zenful calmness of the water and the peacefully moving critters I fully recommend everyone to visit an aquarium at least once in their life and I am very pleased to have gone to the lisbon one with Al as it was his first time. It’s always good to pop Al’s cherry on a trip and widen his eyes.

Anyway, here are a few more photos. I hope you have enjoyed the post and will come back soon to read more of our stuff :).

Take care, Matt.

Stunning Yosemite. (On a Budget)

A few years back Budgie Al and I (Matt) managed to get a few weeks holiday in America. Whilst based in the Bay Area of San Francisco we wanted to make the most of the trip and travel around and one place we were desperate to visit was Yosemite. For those that don’t know, the National Park is in Northern California covering a huge area of 746, 956 acres across the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range and the surrounding area. It’s a huge tourist attraction with well over 5 million visitors last year. And, as you may then expect, it can be an extortionately expensive holiday destination! So how did we manage it the Budget Budgie way?

First up – Transportation: 

Whilst the train system in the states isn’t ideal, it was our friend on this occasion. I’m writing this on a Sunday, and to book this route for tomorrow would cost me $32. Not bad at all. So of course with advanced planning and booking you can nab this for a bargain. The journey isn’t the simplest it’s true, with a couple of changes, however it was perfectly pleasant. Having said that, I don’t remember it being quite as nice a journey as the Amtrak site suggests…

“You’ll see the state’s premier agricultural region from the comfort of your seat and roomy train interior. Grab a snack and sit back as you watch the coastal mountain ranges pass by on your way to Yosemite National Park . After a quick stop in Merced, CA and a scenic Thruway bus ride in through Mariposa and El Portal, Yosemite National Park greets you with a spectacular sight. Waterfalls, giant sequoias, scenic overlooks and winding trails throughout 1,169 square miles of parkland are just a few of the things that await.”

As it says, you have to change and get a bus once you’re at Merced. However they ran regularly and we didn’t have to wait too long at all – which was a good job as shade was lacking and refreshments were limited to a machine which spewed boiling black water it called coffee. The shuttle busses were also incredibly convenient as they took you around the larger and most popular hotels, hostels and camp sites. Which leads us to…

Accommodation: Yosemite Bug. Rustic Mountain Resort. 

Without camping gear Al and I needed a bed, or two, and as such we unfortunately had to pay a premium. There are no ‘cheap’ places in this area. Having said that, the Bug offered very good value for the area. I can’t remember the exact prices we paid back then, but it is now $28 a night for what we had – a male shared dormitory. This was basic. Bunk beds, snoring hikers and an open bathroom with shower curtains which stick to your whatnots. However it’s located great for the bus from the station and the bus into the visitor centre area of the park with them running regularly in both directions. And, after you’ve spent a day in the park doing hikes in the sun all you want is a functional shower and a bed to collapse onto.

IMG_0668Also it’s in a pretty setting with walks in that area too and hammocks and table tennis etc spread around. There’s a very decent food hall too with unlimited coffee by the pint glass and burrito breakfasts. So yeh, certainly can recommend to anyone and would use again. And by would I mean I hope to.

 

Yosemite Valley itself. 

The shuttle bus is free!!! I can’t stress enough how great this is. This is after all Budget Budgie and therefore the word free should always be accompanied by fireworks. The shuttles are supplied to reduce car traffic and are excellent. The drivers were all incredibly knowledgeable and they give fantastic views of the stunning scenery and take you to the start of the different hikes and sections. Bliss.

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Some of the trail routes are for the hardcore hiker only so make sure you read up before you pick your pathway. For instance, the Half Dome Day Hike is a 16 mile round trip with elevations of almost 5000 feet and involves cables you have to climb up a near straight rock face. Budgie Al and I dressed in shorts and Sports Direct trainers did not do this or other similar trails. Instead we chose those listed ‘easy’ on the useful map from the information centre. These are up to around 3 miles and are perfect for those with just trainers, a bottle of water and a camera. They also mean you can do a few different ones leisurely during the day and thus see many different areas of the park with the aid of the shuttle bus. Did I mention that’s free?

So what sort of things can be seen? Well, quite simply, breathtaking things. One trail we did took us to Vernal Fall:

“Climb along nature’s “giant staircase,” where you are rewarded with close-up views of two waterfalls and numerous geologic features (depending on how far you choose to hike). Powerful and turbulent, these two waterfalls will soak you in spring and entice you year-round”

 

Yes, we truly did get soaked – The power of Vernon’s spray was quite phenomenal! This trail was tough on the knees with the ‘giant staircase’ taking you up high with stunning views over the terrain. However, who cares if you’re out of breath if this view is the reward! Woodland. Waterfalls. Mountain Ranges. Sun. Clouds. Birds. Animals. Everything. Nature can be truly breathtaking.

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Other trails though are more relaxed and give you more of a ground level experience of Yosemite with rivers and meadows. If you’re not much of a walker and just want to do one, then the ‘Cook’s Meadow Loop’ is often recommended:

“Walk through the heart of it all! Enjoy views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Royal Arches from the center of Yosemite Valley as you saunter through this large open meadow.”

For Al and I it offered stunning views, great photo opportunities and spots for food breaks. And I can’t stress this enough, Al requires many many many food breaks. If he doesn’t get them then he becomes a more fearsome animal than you’ll find anywhere else in the national park.

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Whilst there are many, many other activities that can be done in the park ranging from biking and ice skating through to kayaking and horse riding, Al and I chose the walking because it’s free, can be done at your own pace with a million breaks and, with the free shuttles, gives you the chance to see an incredible amount of beauty in just a short time. And, sadly, we didn’t have too much time. Just a day and a morning. Having said this, it was fully worth the travel and expense. Which leads to…

Summary: 

Do it! Go there! 6/5.

Thanks for reading,

Matt.

On Margate Sands. 

Today I am off to Margate to meet my Nan who is visiting there on a coach trip with her social club. Whilst she is travelling several hours to get here, I’m just popping a little along the coast on the train for a few quid return. So. My question here is: Is Margate worth a visit? Either for £3.80 return, or a few hours stuck in a coach enduring (though she seems to enjoy it) bingo. 

The title comes from T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘the wasteland’ where:

“On Margate Sands.

I can connect

Nothing with nothing.

The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.

My people humble people who expect

Nothing.”

 

I’m not going to go into an analysis of this here, but even for someone who hasn’t taught lectures on it and seminars and spoken to reading groups (yes. I know. I’m very cool) it’s probably clear that this isn’t an overly positive happy reference. ‘Nothing with nothing. ‘Dirty hands’ etc. 
Well, does this have a resonance with Margate today? Others seem to think so. Or, at least, did think so.

Take this article for example: 

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2009/nov/09/ts-eliot-waste-land-margate

Boarded up windows and a complete lack of inspiration. Since then, however, the town has seen lots of money pumped into it and a regeneration. The (new) old town is quaint with (new) old English pubs where sawdust strategically adorns the stools and floor and the local guest ales scream tradition and greatness. However; this alone is enough to scare me off entering today as well as the fact that antique shops in this area are selling simple old deck chairs for 45 pounds(!!!!) making me question the cost of lunch… and lunch is on me. So. Onwards we go… 

… To the pier! The pier is full of eateries and bars with the great added bonus of having communal seating – meaning one of the group can get a salad from one end, another can get cheese smothered fries from a different shop and the third person can get a local ale (or two) from the pub and skip the wasted carbs of solids. Then of course there’s the view out from this seating. It’s lovely. It’s sand, it’s sea, it’s little boats, its sunsets, its birds soaring. It’s the coast. You can sit here for hours of relaxation with a pint connecting nothing with nothing as you simply enjoy your surroundings and detach yourself from the world’s stresses. See what I did there? I twisted the words and made them positive. Isn’t English literature fun? 

If you want to laze on golden sand and enjoy the sun and go for a refreshing, invigorating, English swim and have ice cream or fish and chips whilst stared at intimidatingly by seagulls then be my guest. Margate appears the perfect destination for this and there hundreds doing just this today. 

This isn’t for me though. I’m more likely to be up on the pier with the raised up view and the pint wondering after a while if there is anything more to see as I get a little bored. And now that I’ve had lunch up here with my Nan I am wondering just this. Should I just go home now? Or is there other stuff to see whilst I’m here? 

Well, there is other stuff! Of a sort. There are footpaths that seem to stretch all along the Kent coast meaning I could get from here along to other haunts like Ramsgate or Whitstable. But it’s half 4 and I only have 12% battery. So not today. There’s also the Turner Contemporary gallery which has a fabulous view out to sea from the safety of its inside cafe. Fully recommended for a winter’s day. All the food is local. And the delightfully camp chap behind the counter is always a charmer. The gallery itself can also be wandered around for free with rotating exhibitions occasionally worth looking at. Sadly, today they are not worth looking at. And I’m out of here by 4:36 – Which included a stop at the toilets and a perusal of the gift shop. 

There are also a few quaint streets around the old town worth a stroll with nice old buildings and the like and coffee shops etc away from the coast. 

So maybe this is indeed a destination centred on the beach and its views. But then, it’s the seaside… so I guess this is in fact ok! The beach is clean, the water is the colour English coastal water should be – greeny bluey brown, and there are plenty of places to eat and drink with coastal views. For my £3.80 I am more than pleased! 👍🏻. For the price and access from Canterbury I’d give it a 4/5. Travelling from further afield for a day trip then I’d say there are better places. But if you’re already holidaying nearby or if you’re in London and want a day at the coast then here is perfectly good. 3.5/5. 

HOWEVER if you are fortunate enough to come on a day with a gorgeous sunset then this is a 5/5 star destination! Check this out! 

So there we have it :). Next month I’ll be having a similar day meeting Nan for her coach trip to Ramsgate. So keep your eyes peeled for a similar post of there. 

Peace out, 

Matt. 

Relaxing Geneva

The Budgies who are responsible for this wondrous blog have surprisingly few things in common (which each of us fervently believes is for the best), however we are all currently experiencing varying levels of stress we are simply not accustomed to (which isn’t much to be honest, we generally have no upheaval in life). And so, pondering philosophically our various situations, my mind turned to travel, which is one of the few things we all agree on as being a good thing. Travel can also be stressful, but once you have reached a new place it is wondrous to feel the stress rinse off you. Travel, simply, is a cure for many problems.

So, following this line of thought, my mind went back to my visit to Geneva in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Geneva is probably the most relaxed, calm and reassuringly untroubling place I have ever been. Its setting is perfect; the grand buildings arching lazily around a large pristine lake, surrounded by dreamy alpine scenery and the snow-glazed mountains of the Alps. Just being outside is an excellent way to unwind and forget your troubles.
Now, avid readers will no doubt recall that I have a thing for mountains (which is not uncommon), and Geneva nestles snugly among those colossal structures, so of course I find it more endearing for that. But the lake which patiently laps at the city’s feet is Geneva’s great source of serenity and beauty. I spent many hours walking along the shoreline, staring out over the sparkling waters and appreciating the almost sensual beauty of the place. In summer you can even take a dip in those glassy, placid waters. The lake also boasts a giant fountain which casts a glorious rainbow when the light hits it, creating a 140 metre jet of disco light colours crashing through the crisp Swiss air. It’s glorious to creep as close to it as you can, feeling its cool spray biting at your face as you stare up in awe. If you want an escape from hustle and bustle then Geneva’s glorious lake is an ideal place to start.

Geneva does not just offer the lake and the mountains which are studded around. The city itself is prosperous, elegant and refined, and offers a range of museums and galleries in which to lose yourself. The streets are lined with expensive, tasteful shops boasting the pinnacle of refinement and class (as the prices clearly show). The more historical centre also has some lovely, warm and cozy cafes to enjoy some crepes and Swiss mulled wine, while warming yourself from the chill of outside. I really enjoyed walking around the beautiful streets and salubrious buildings until I could no longer feel my face, and then ducking into a small corner cafe for some hot spicy wine and a bite to eat (boiling melting cheese with bread is highly recommended).

Geneva’s downside is unfortunately the price of things. I paid €20 for some brioche and a cup of coffee (both delicious I admit) which was quite steep, and when I innocently asked about a short train journey to a nearby town I was told it was €180, which is a bit much for a half hour train ride for a day trip. Geneva is relaxing, but if you are trying to forget your money problems maybe try somewhere else.  Poland, for example. Krakow is calm, beautiful and cheap.

Most of all though I like Geneva because it feels authentic, and proud of what it is; a calm, sophisticated place that takes itself seriously. I love that. So many places try and be cool”, and have an edge, or have something that’s new and exciting to put in their brochures. Geneva didn’t build a load of clubs or put jet skis on the lake, they built a jet fountain that makes a rainbow in the light, for people to enjoy the spectrum of colours and the pretty splash. How can you not love a place like that?

Why Travel? Building on a discussion in the pub… 

Anyone who has been to any sort of socialising event will no doubt have come across the well travelled person who loves to talk not necessarily about where they’ve travelled, but about how it has changed them. How it has made them find themselves and made them realise what truly matters. I was recently positioned with such a person at a gathering, with them the least-worst option of mingling, and it got me wondering… if this person’s view of travelling/oration of travel experience annoys me so much, why do I personally then travel? After all, it’s expensive and takes up a lot of time so there must be a damn good reason why I like it so much AND why I choose to spend my free time blogging on it too. 

Well, straight up the thing that comes to me is simply that you get to see beautiful sights. I’ve been lucky enough to get to see some of the world’s most travelled to locations, from the natural beauty of The Grand Canyon to the manmade impressiveness of cities like Rome and its colosseum. But what is it that makes me compelled to go see these things? It can’t simply be the superficiality of ‘these things are beautiful’ – can it? Well, yes, actually, it can. Why does a sight have to change you. Why does an experience have to be valued based on how it impacts you, not on simply how enjoyable it is. 
From browsing pyschologytoday and brainyquotes quotes on beauty it seems that most ideas revolve around the eye of the beholder and about beauty not being skin deep and simply visual. However for me Keats has got it right: 

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness.

– John Keats, Endymion

It’s not why something is beautiful that matters, simply that it is and to enjoy it. Take for example this photograph taken by me of Budgies J and Al walking in the Swiss mountains. 


The location was stunning and together we got to stroll through this stunningness for many hours: Stopping on the side of a secluded waterfall for a packed lunch, resting on the sheer rockface for a drink of water and simply stopping for no reason at all to just admire the view. This stopping and admiring is key. Stopping to admire the beauty around us. When do we get this chance when we are not in ‘travelling’ mode? Yet when we travel we get to to do it a lot and this is what is special about travelling. 

For example, budgie Al is a clinical, cold, rational Slytherin of a man whose heart is barely in his body yet alone on his sleeve. Yet, when I’ve been travelling with him I’ve seen him physically stop in his tracks and moan out a ‘wow’ from a view: a hidden and surprise lake on Mount Tamalpais for example and the first glimpse down into the Grand Canyon come to mind. He’s also said these very words which I think sum up in many ways what I’ve been saying: “let’s just stop and look. No photos, no phones. Let’s just look and admire.” (Said whilst looking out from the Golden Gate Bridge). 

And yes, there is a part of me now concerned that this is potentially crossing into the ‘travel changed me’ areas with me realising that beauty is awe inspiring and makes you stop and think… But no, let’s face it, this is still actually quite shallow. I’ve always known that I’m attracted to attractive things. I didn’t need to travel to realise this. It’s just that travelling is one of the only times when you’re allowed to appreciate beauty and that allows you to see it. So I guess this post’s message is twofold. 

1) appreciate beauty because it’s beautiful. 

2) don’t feel ashamed of the fact that you simply want to travel to see beautiful things. Just because others (genuinely or not) talk of their life changing experiences from travelling doesn’t mean that this is the correct way to travel. It’s just as important to stop and smell the roses. 

Thanks, 
Matt (the beautiful). 

Ibiza: an island with a lot to offer

Whenever the Spanish island of Ibiza is mentioned, it is difficult to dissociate it with images of hordes of drunken, drugged up young people jumping around in clubs and sprawling on the beach in all their pink sunburnt youthfulness. Ibiza is of course famed for its clubs, of which it has several world-renowned ones, like Pacha, and for the excess which goes with it. But since reaching the lofty age of 25, clubs and all that stuff have lost any appeal they once had with me (if they ever did, I’ve never been too sure about them).

As my girlfriend is from Ibiza I have visited the island several times now, in all the seasons, and I’ve made an effort to see the other side to the island that is so often ignored, and discovered that this hot, humid, pleasingly green island is rich in history and blessed with great natural beauty (which everyone, from tourists to developers seems fairly determined to destroy). It has a lot to offer a traveller who is interested in an experience that won’t leave your head ringing like it had been used to chime the bells of a cathedral.

First of all, exploring Ibiza off-season is quite a strange experience. From June until September the island, and especially the towns of Ibiza and San Antonio, burst into life, but in the other months many of the shops, restaurants, bars and hotels shut up shop and curl up into blissful hibernation. The streets are pretty empty and the atmosphere is sleepy, and it offers a great opportunity to explore the towns and countryside unmolested. From my experiences, late September or mid-spring are ideal times to visit, as the crowds have dissipated but it is warm enough to enjoy the beaches and sea, and most of the places are still open. Take a walking or cycling tour of the hills in the island’s interior in spring to enjoy the lovely blossom colours, while the ground is carpeted in striking yellow flowers. It’s a good time to explore as there are very few cars, and most of the reckless rental cars with drivers unaccustomed to driving in the right hand side that plague the summer have moved on.

Ibiza’s rich history is also there to be appreciated. It has passed through the hands of, among others, the Phoenecians, the Romans, the Muslims, Catalans, and Castilian Spanish, and they have all in some way left their mark. The town of Ibiza has a Phoenician necropolis which can be explored: there is always something to be gleaned about a civilisation by seeing how they treated their dead, so it’s worth visiting. Meanwhile, the necropolis sits in the shadow of Dalt Vila, with its large defensive structures sprawling high over the town, and can be seen from all around. Its streets and structures take you through some of the story of Ibiza. Developed by the Muslims who ruled the island, it was conquered by the Catalans, whose breach through the walls has been saved and preserved. They, and later the Spanish, built the battlements and bastions which today stand to offer exceptional views to us pink, crisping tourists. The streets are steep, cramped and deliciously atmospheric, and exploring the warren of white buildings and old facades is certainly worthy of your time. There is also a large medieval market in May, which is fun.

Aside from history and walking, there are of course the beaches, and there are many to choose from. I shall here give a very quick review of the ones I’ve been to, having visited purely for research (I know, I know, the sacrifices I make for you, dearest readers):

Playa D’en Bossa is where all the drunk people go on the south-east side of the island

Talamanca, which is quite peaceful, in the south

Figueretas, which is ok but not the most luxurious location

Las Salinas, by a natural park, and one of the more pristine beaches. Nice place to walk too

Benirras, which is quite small and secluded, and has utterly breathtaking water that is so clear the boats look like they’re levitating

Sa Caleta, which is surrounded by orangey cliffs and very secluded. Small and a bit stony though

D’hort, a lovely beach with views out to a rocky island jutting from the sea. Go early as parking is a challenge

Of course, there are many others, and I shall in the name of research try and add to this list in the future.

 

From many of the beaches and towns you can get boat rides, a thoroughly relaxing way of spending time. There is something so intoxicating about boats and gliding effortlessly over the waves, and the boat slipping its way through the swelling, sparkling sea (I really want a boat, ugh why is this Budgetbudgie and not Mega-rich budgie?). One nice option is to hop on a sea bus that takes you from Ibiza town to some of the nearby beaches. It’s a good way to get around, and you get the views of the coastline while you go (and you get to be on a boat, the best thing in the world. Yay boats). Or take a boat to Formentera for the day.

Now, for the night, should you wish to do the sensible thing and refrain from clubs, food is a perfect alternative. Ibiza, being an island, does seafood very well, and of course try paella (a few places will even do vegetarian ones). One place I would also recommend is Can Bass, near San Jose (the sans, or saints, are everywhere in town names in Ibiza; it’s exhausting and confusing, and also kind of endearing). The atmosphere there is so relaxed, and the place is beautifully designed. It’s a little pricey, but to spend an evening outside in pleasant surroundings it’s worth it. Also, in Ibiza town, try the pincho and tapas bar Can Terra Ibiza. It gives you a bit of a taste of Basque cuisine, and the wine is excellently cheap (so cheap I could save enough money for that boat in maybe 500 years instead of 1000, which isn’t so bad). Wherever you go, make sure you have some bread and ali oli, a garlicy sauce which is very typical of the Balearic islands.

Ibiza really has a lot to offer, and isn’t just a summer island for clubbing. Its beaches are diverse and beautiful, it has history to explore, and beautiful countryside to roam. The food isn’t bad either, and there’s the bountiful joys of the sea to enjoy too. Maybe it’s time to take back this island from the young club people, and appreciate the many other pleasures it has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam: The Sleazy City

I believe Amsterdam has the potential of being appealing to anybody: to the historians, the artists and the culturists. However, on my third visit to the city, I feel these qualities are all overshadowed by the city’s sleazy underbelly.

I do honestly believe that people should have freedom of choice to explore new ‘horizons’ and sample new ‘experiences’. However, after a couple of days in Amsterdam I longed for a cleaner, purer, environment. I’m pretty sure the city’s atmosphere is along the lines of: 50% nitrogen, 25% cannabis, 15% oxygen, 8% guilt, and 2% other gases.

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The city can be quite eye opening for the first-time visitor. Take a stroll down the old-town canals, and your nostrils will flare with the earthy sweet smell you’ll quickly become accustomed to. FACT: Cannabis is in fact illegal in The Netherlands. Whilst law enforcement is pretty relaxed when it comes to personal use, there are strict restrictions on the amount coffee shops can have in stock at any one time.

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The Red Light District is arguably Amsterdam’s biggest tourist attraction. At night, the narrow alleyways flanking the city’s canals emit a sultry red glow. In a world in which women now command the same social standing and respect as their male counterparts, you might feel shock, disappointment and disgust that sex is still used for subsistence.  Whilst it may not be fully apparent how many of these women act with total autonomy, for those who do, The Netherlands’ approach is refreshingly liberal. High income, combined with excellent healthcare, union support and tight security are  appealing factors in any line of work.

Walking down the narrow alleyways with scantily clad women pressing their bosoms against their ‘office’ windows evokes a bashful curiosity. Whilst groups of ‘lads’ prowl the streets, egging their mates to take the plunge, you will also find families and kids wandering around. You might be mistaken in thinking that you were at a zoo. I saw a child with an ice-cream in one hand asking her mother why the lady behind the glass in front of her looked so sad. Personally, I am not convinced this is an appropriate environment for children.

The RLD is the place to go for a night out in Amsterdam. Hit the canals, and you’ll find an abundance of bars, clubs, strip clubs, and sex-shows on offer, all willing to take your hard-earned cash.  Sadly however, I felt rather unsafe. Packs of young men charged about like hyenas on heat. No-nonsense bouncers filled doorways, making nowhere look particularly inviting. Miserable prostitutes stared at you as you pass, with glassy dead-eyes and pained smiles. I didn’t want to stay long.

Things to See and Do

1. Canal cruise – a must-do in my opinion when visiting Amsterdam. For a reasonable fee you can enjoy an interesting insight into the city’s history whilst your boat navigates the narrow canals. The city is very charming from its waters, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. Warning: in high summer it is like sitting in a greenhouse, as the boats are approximately 95% glass!

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2. Heineken Museum – this was a really enjoyable experience. You get to see how the beer is made, with a self-guided tour and numerous interactive sections. A personal favourite was the machine which tries to teach you how to pour the perfect pint. Safe to say that I will not make a good barman. Finish the tour in spectacular fashion with a pint on the roof top terrace with panoramic views of the city.

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3. Sex Museum – right in the centre of the city, 500 meters from Central station, you’ll find the Sex Museum. Offering a crude insight into sexual activities past and present, from the relatively tame to the damn right gruesome. Thankfully scatology and necrophilia are not referenced. However, if you want to see pornography from the 1800s, bizarre sex toys and photographs of the largest penis in the world, then pop along for €5.

4. Walking Tour – we took part in a 3h walking tour which took you to all of the city’s hotspots. The tour was free, but donations are expected. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about the city’s history and see some of the city’s lesser known attractions. A personal highlight was sampling goat’s cheese on a bridge adjacent to the city’s narrowest house. My girlfriend unfortunately did not agree with me, as she appeared to suffer an allergic reaction to the cheese resulting in red blotches appearing on her arms. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?

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5. The iconic ‘IAMSTERDAM’ sign – if you like taking photographs of big letters, then grab a photo here.

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Summary

I’m not a huge fan of Amsterdam. Once you’ve gotten over the novelty of the Red Light District, the cannabis, and the brazen attitude to sex, the city seems dirty and rather sleazy. The city’s residents quite clearly despise its tourists, and who blames them? A large number are drunk, high, loud-mouthed youths on heat, away from controlling mummy and daddy for the first time in their lives. Whilst undoubtedly the tourism is excellent for the city’s economy, I can’t help but feel that outlawing prostitution, and stamping down on the use of drugs would do wonders for the city’s dignity, respect and international image.

Budget Budgie Rating: 2.5/5

 

 

 

 

Bank Holiday travels! London. 

Today I’m off to see budgie Al for some quality bank holiday Monday time in the big London! Admittedly I’m the one making all the effort here as he was in London anyway for football whilst I’m traveling all the way in just for him. (Our regular readers will no doubt see a theme of me being the nice one who has to do everything)

So what’s the train situation like? We’re always warned against traveling on a bank holiday as its ‘hell’ with the delays and rail works and busyness. Well, here’s my experience: 
I deliberately left later to prove to housemate I would get the train on time cos he’s a slow sod and I’m a speedy god – With me having the secret plan of using the back entrance he doesn’t know about which is closer and the right side of track for train. I arrive dead on time as the train is pulling up. Perfect! But then the gate was locked and couldn’t get in. So just had to watch the train leave without me. Then I sprinted to station other end of town to catch the fast train instead dropping with sweat and my shorts halfway down my backside as despite leaving late I forgot a belt. And when arrive I realise it was at 25 past and not 9 past and that I could have crawled and made it and didn’t need to sprint. Great morning. But, none of that is the train’s fault arguably… so I suppose on that score bank holiday travelling is ace today and all seamless! Though now I’m on the tube there are a few too many people who were clearly in a hurry and thus weren’t generous enough with their morning roll-on. (Reading fans I’m looking at you)

At some stage in future one of us, probably me, shall do a proper entry for London as it is a world class, perhaps even world beating (?), city which I know well from student days here and from numerous day trips like this one. But, for now as just a random additional post to our usual weekly in depth brilliance, here’s a quick report on what we did and some handsome photos of the two of us out for the day in little Venice!