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.

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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! 

Edinburgh: The Grey City

By Jamie

When I think of how best to describe Edinburgh, it is hard not to simply say “grey”. From my experiences of this city, the first thing you really notice is the absence of colours: the walls are grey, they sky is grey, the wintry, haunting fog is grey, the sea is definitely grey, and most of the people aren’t too far off grey either. But this plethora of greys, while undeniable, doesn’t paint the true picture of this noble, cultured, buzzing city of castles, hills, churches, pubs and history. The grey mist is swirled in mystery, the grey castle glows with pride, and the people obstinately sprout orange hair beneath their grey wooly hats. You quickly come to realise that Edinburgh isn’t grey, it’s a whole palette of wondrous colours and intrigue. And once you finally spy a break in the clouds, every stone in the city shines with excitement.

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities. From the castle which lords over the city atop an extinct volcano, to the wilderness of Holyrood Park left unexpectedly untouched in the middle of the city, to the New Town in all its ordered rigidity, it is a city which can offer most things to most people. There are some world-famous attractions in Edinburgh, one of which is the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. The two festivals, which coincide in August, are stupendously popular these days, and it would be quite some achievement to find a place to stay in the city during August. It is the biggest arts and cultural event in the world, and every venue in the city has some form of music, comedy, theatre or dance performance. During the festival weeks, the city is deluged with culture, and the place is awash with people from all over the world. Should you have the funds and the opportunity, it is definitely a great event.

Edinburgh Castle is physically the most imposing attraction the city has to offer, as it rises high above the city and can be seen for miles. The views from the top, over the city and across to the sea and the distant mountains, are really worth the effort expended in getting up there. The castle itself is packed with museums of varying quality, and, though quite pricey, it is something that should be visited. I found its mix of views, history and bold architecture to be quite an intoxicating mix. The castle is also the site for the Edinburgh Tattoo, a kind of military music and flag-waving event that takes place during the Edinburgh Festival. Expect lots of kilts, drums and bagpipes.

This leads me to my inevitable section of complaint, a small moment where I can tuck away my natural positivity and general sunny outlook on life to reflect upon those things that annoy me ever so slightly. Previous editions have been about appalling airports or Alan’s toddler tantrums and general annoyingness, but Edinburgh, and sadly all of Scotland, has something even worse: bagpipes. I hate bagpipes, the impossibly loud sound of a cat being deflated by the engine of a steam train, a sound that doesn’t vibrate through the air to your ear, but pierces through the screaming atoms of the atmosphere to crash into your terrified ears and crawl up inexorably to your brain, which in turn desperately wishes to cease all functions if it means ending that horrible noise. In Edinburgh, especially when there are many tourists, the sound oozes around the city like a plague from the Old Testament, seeking innocent victims as they walk unsuspectingly around. The sound is worse than a baby crying, Matt singing or a nail scratching down a blackboard. So, if you have any kind of refined taste (as I’m sure you do, dearest reader) then beware the bagpipe lurking on every corner, especially on the Royal Mile.

The Royal Mile, while we are on the topic, is the road leading from the castle at the top of the hill down to Holyrood Palace at the bottom. On this stretch there are many shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as street performances, a wool mill, a cathedral, and the impressively ugly Scottish Parliament building, which must have been designed by a very angry child who just scribbled aggressive lines randomly on a piece of paper. It is here you can find a chip shop that sells deep-fried mars bars (delicious), and, if you fancy something quite quaint, baked potato shops, both of which I would recommend because they are not something you find everywhere. The palace at the bottom is grand and brimming with history: it was built in the 16th century, was the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots, and has a ruined 12th century abbey in the grounds to wander around.

Beside the palace is something wholly unexpected in the middle of a city: a large expanse of wilderness left almost untouched that forms Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. The park boasts rugged cliffs, dramatic hills, romantic ruins and mini lochs, and showcases the raw, aggressive beauty of the Scottish countryside, just a short walk from the Old Town. There are several pathways that can be explored for a refreshing walk, although as the weather is quite often rubbish in Edinburgh the paths can be slippery and muddy, and the blustery winds add some drama as you get higher. To escape the confines of the city for a while, and to get a taste of Scottish countryside it’s certainly worth exploring. The beautiful, wild landscape locked so unexpectedly in the middle of a city, with views of the buildings, sea and country stretching in all directions from the top makes it one of the real highlights (except for the mud, which I hate, bit it’s a small price to pay). There’s also an ice cream van bravely positioned at the bottom regardless of the weather to offer refreshments, which I think goes some way to show how ice cream really isn’t just for summer.

 

Just walking the streets and taking in the iconic architecture is a good pastime, and the different areas of the city feel quite distinct. The Old Town is grand and brimming with history, while the New Town is ordered and regal, and has a range of pubs and restaurants to enjoy. There are several museums and art galleries around the centre, so there are great options to sooth your cultural yearnings. A climb to the top of Carlton Hill will reward you with several monuments to see, and some good views too.

Scottish cuisine also offers some interest. Aside from typically British food like fish and chips (with especially fresh fish as the fishing boats are based in Scotland), there are endless pies, pastries, the previously-mentioned deep-fried mars bars (did I mention they are delicious?) and of course haggis. Despite being made from parts of a sheep I would prefer not to think about too much, haggis is a strange, oddly spicy parcel of deliciousness which is particularly nice if you don’t think about what’s in it. While I am far from the bravest person where food is concerned, I liked it from the first moment, and even went to sample a deep-fried variety, which is one of the most stereotypically Scottish things one can do. While Scottish food is generally quite heavy, it does serve to keep you warm, for which you will invariably be grateful for in a country that doesn’t warm up. I concede, though, that I live in Madrid so everything is cold to me, but it really is cold all year, honestly.

Pursuing the culinary theme a little more, Scotland is also the home of all the greatest whiskies, so I’m reliably informed. Having never warmed to the drink, I can’t vouch for the truth of this, but as whiskey is stacked high in every shop it must have something about it that’s good. I tried some, but apparently I’m too young and too unsophisticated to appreciate any real differences, except in price.

Edinburgh then has the feel of a friendly, cultural place that also knows how to enjoy itself. It’s a city crammed with things to see, tastes to be suspicious of and then enjoy immensely, and wildernesses to roam. I would definitely recommend it, especially as part of a longer journey around Scotland (on which Matt will soon elaborate in a future post). If you don’t mind the weather it is a place that can be visited any time of the year, and who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and see those grey clouds rolling away and the riot of colours Edinburgh has to offer will sparkle in the Scottish sunshine while you feast on its many pleasures.

Budgie rating: 4.8 / 5

 

 

 

 

Traveling with a Camera.

A large part of traveling for me is about seeing new things and capturing it on my camera. Yet, as I sit down now and think about it, carrying around a large expensive DSLR seems an unnecessary and silly thing to do. So, rather than write a blog piece for you with tips on travel photography like intended, I’m going to write a stream of consciousness style discussion with myself trying to justify my decision to always have my camera as the first thing in the bag.

For anyone interested, this is the camera in question.

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For anyone that’s backpacked or hiked etc, you’ll know that you become a snail with your bag the all-important, all antagonising, centre of focus be it when you’re trying to cram everything in initially, to worrying about its security when on a train or in your bed at night or when you’re despising every thread of its being as you lug it around upon your sweaty, cramping, crippled-over-never-to-feel-the-same-again back. And therefore, having all these extra things to fit in there is a nightmare.

And, there’s the accompanying stress from the risk of theft or simply losing it. Without naming a price, it’s fair to say that the collective cost of this stuff is more than I’d care to lose and if you are traveling around a lot there’s an increased risk of theft. Take this terrifying opening para from Kathryn Walsh’s article in USATODAY for example:

“One second of inattention is all it takes to lose your camera to an opportunistic thief. Camera theft can happen anywhere, but it’s particularly common in many European cities. The European travel expert Rick Steves recalls the summer when four of his travel companions had their cameras stolen and warns that some Spanish thieves will even smash the windows of your car — while you’re in it — to grab a camera. Protecting your camera isn’t merely about holding onto the device itself, but keeping the photos of your European adventure safe.”

Walsh goes on to give a number of sensible suggestions on preventing such, so check it out if you’re intrigued. Looking back on my InterRailing ventures in my teens, I can safely say that I did none of these things. I didn’t have a protective sleeve for the camera, let alone a nondescript one, nor an anti-theft strap, it was simply in my side shoulder bag alongside half eaten bags of sweets, my wallet and leaking sun cream. No doubt a lot of luck came into me never having any issues with theft on any of my many travels and looking back now this is concerning. Especially when I think of all the times when I’ve had ‘even one second of inattention’. For example, recently over Christmas when I went to California I left my camera on a rock just off the path whilst I set it on a timer for a series of egotistical vanity shots of me sat in a tree. (The photos were rather striking though it must be said)

Then there’s the actual photos themselves. We probably all have a very decent quality camera on our phones and you can pick up a compact one for a decent price which is strong, good quality and slips into your pocket. Take our Instagram page for example (SHAMELESS PLUG: @budgetbudgie). Whilst many of the photos are taken by me with the Pentax, and I personally feel them to be far superior incredible images worthy of likes in the thousands, they rarely receive any more acclaim than those taken on phones or with a compact. So what’s the point of bothering lugging it around if the end result for me gets the same acclaim and same reward as ones taken on another device? Thinking about that now it is rather frustrating. Infuriating even.

So where’s that bring us so far? 1) Extra heavy things to lug around in the limited retail space available when traveling. 2) High risk of theft and/or simply losing it or it getting damaged. 3) The photos don’t get any more favorable attention on Instagram than those taken on phones or compacts. Negative. All negative. But, no doubt you see where this is going? After all, I said at the start that I always take the camera with me and I have no intention of stopping. So, now there must indeed be positives to justify why I do.

Well, the first of these exposes a vulnerability to you here dear readers, so please don’t use it as my undoing. My memory is god awful. Like, truly, truly bad. For example, I was a part of the InterRail travels J brilliantly wrote about in his two blog posts – check them out if you haven’t done so already – and more than that, I was more than a third (more than two thirds) responsible for the planning and organising of the trip, and yet I remembered nearly nothing of what he outlined to happen. The photos are therefore essential for me so that I know in the years that follow that I did actually go to these places and that I had a good time.

Next up, traveling is expensive and buying souvenirs is too. And, most of the time, they’re not actually that good – though can be fun to browse the shops for. Photos meanwhile make fantastic souvenirs and you can do whatever you want with them once home. For example, brag to others you’ve been by posting them on social media, get them printed in a nice photo book or print the odd one and blutack them around your room. Here are a few pics of my travels which hopefully shows their worth as souvenirs:

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(SF Port from a ferry. Swiss mountains with Al and J. Monarch Butterfly cluster in California. Yosemite National Park)

Finally, I just enjoy taking the damn photos! And having fun on your travels is the main goal and main point. So, in a lovely hippy conclusion:

Do what makes you happy my friends. Do what makes you happy x

 

Corfu: The Emerald Island

By Jamie

As we are fast-approaching summer and minds start to turn towards where to escape to this year, I thought it would be the perfect moment to review one of my favourite summer destinations. A few summers ago I had the pleasure of going to the Greek island of Corfu, a hot but surprisingly green island snuggled up against the shores of Albania in the Ionian Sea. Corfu has traditionally been an escape of the mega-rich, and still caters for people with outrageous wealth to the north of the island. However, if you are not among the ultra-wealthy (and as you’re reading Budget Budgie we can safely assume this) there is also a wealth of options for a more palatable budget.
Before I begin my praise of Corfu’s serene landscapes, exquisite food and general excellence, I shall come in quick and hard with my big complaint, and that is with the airport. While I accept that all airports are similarly boring, involve queuing and waiting, and are not exactly the kind of place you voluntarily spend vast amounts of time, Corfu Airport is frankly awful. It is tiny, old and completely unfit for dealing with the number of people that head to the island. My personal experience is of being told to queue outside in the sun with no shade, to then join a queue for check-in, witness a poor woman in her first day in the job do everything wrong, to then join a queue for security, again outside at first, then join another line of happiness and love to have your passport checked, realise how pointless it was when the person behind you gets through holding the wrong passport, and then see the plane is delayed and have nowhere to sit for the next five hours. And, finally, your flight almost leaves without any passengers because the announcement system is broken. Do bear in mind I’m an inherently unlucky person, the kind of person who hangs his washing outside after three months of no rain to then witness a deluge, so maybe your experience will be better. The airport, however, is awful.

Aside from the airport, Corfu is a real island gem; a glistening, starry jewel surrounded by warm azure seas. I went in August and the weather was perfect: hot, but not so oppressive that you can’t do things during the day. There is a refreshing sea breeze that provides moments of coolness and the evenings, though humid, are not unbearable. Despite the constant sun the island is a luscious dark green and is covered with 3 million olive trees, many of which were planted during Venetian rule of the island 400 years ago. They are left to grow to their full height, and create a welcome canopy of shade. The island is beautiful, with rolling mountains, a turquoise coastline, with idyllic golden beaches dotted with rocky inlets. The colours of this island are really something: it is like an eccentric artist simply threw some paints at an olive-green canvas. Sunrises and sunsets should not be missed either (you can nap in the day if you find yourself missing sleep to see them, it’s worth the effort). It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

Besides the climate and the natural beauty, the food is very impressive. I have found that islands have a very understandable tendency to have mainly fish and seafood, and Corfu has a noble range of former sea life for your pleasure. It also offers a delicious range of typical Greek cuisine, like meat kebabs, moussaka (my favourite), pitas, cheeses and everything a person could want. I happily ate my way into the night and, after an excruciating waddle up the hill to get home, eagerly anticipated repeating the meal the next day. Travel should involve sampling good local food, and I took this belief to heart (and to my stomach). This was the first time I had tried Greek food, and I was an instant convert.

On the subject of delicious food, I also came to the realisation that I am utterly irresistible. Well, when I say that, I do of course mean irresistible to the mosquitoes that unfortunately plague the nights. The various buzzing things were generally annoying, some were quite frightening, like the hornet that I watched attacking a swarm of wasps, successfully, and of course my mosquito chums, who took quite a liking to me. Insects come with the warm territory, but I found they were more belligerently bitey and brave than anywhere else I’ve been. I honestly think it’s because I tasted better as a result of the amazing food I’d been having, but for whatever reason they were a pain, so if you go there try and find a way of scaring them off, like burning anti-mosquito incense or standing next to me to be safe.

Generally speaking, the north of the island is where the mega-rich congregate to trade gossip and compare the size of their enormous, cosmetically-stretched super-yachts (and whatever else they do), while the south is more focussed upon package holidays and modestly-priced hotels. I stayed somewhere between the two, in a small village called Nissaki. it was a basic place, with a small shop, a local beach and some tavernas of various quality. It was quite a peaceful place, although you need a car to get there (and it is probably advisable to have one to get around the whole island to appreciate it fully).

The main lure of the island is the beach, of which there are mainly delightful ones, and the sea, which is warm, calm and lovely to soak in. There are, however, many other things to do, thanks partly to its tumultuous history, and partly because of its natural beauty. Taking a drive to the centre of the island, where life has remained relatively untouched by tourism, is a great experience (as is picking up a friendly hitchhiker and having no idea what he says to you or where he wants you to take him.), and the old villages and surrounding olive groves are serene. There is also Pantorcrator (great name) the highest point on the island. You can drive or hike up to it to enjoy the sensational panoramic views from the top. Perched right at the summit is an old monastery which still has a solitary monk living there, but, right next to and actually in the grounds of the peaceful monastery is an array of masts and pylons which give the island communication signals. There is even one that stretches high above the monastery, and looks strangely reminiscent of an Eiffel Tower that has been built by someone who has never seen it but had it described to them by a child: similar, bit at the same time really missing something. Depending on your viewpoint, these communication masts either ruin the monastery or add something quite unique and memorable. I’m undecided whether I liked it or not. It had a weird cold-war, Bond-villain feel to it, and is probably more memorable than it would otherwise have been. It’s worth going to just for the views.

Another thing to do is to explore Corfu Town, the capital. Corfu has a rich history of invasion, occupation and cultural upheaval, and as a result there are several forts, ruins and museums to visit. The Old Fort, built on a rock right on the seafront, is good, exhibiting military buildings and fortifications, as well as an old lighthouse right at the peak of the rock, which provides great views across the town and the coast. There is also the New Fort, which, despite being the newer of the two is also the more decrepit. It has decent views at the top although it is mainly empty, but is free so worth visiting. There are also several local museums, such as the museum of Asian Art. Corfu Town also has bustling shops and narrow streets, and it is fun to get lost in the labyrinthine network.

You can also find several other forts, towns and castles scattered around the island. There are byzantine castles, venetian buildings, palaces and ancient ruins to be found and explored, so culturally there is a whole history to explore. The sea also provides entertainment if you wish to scuba dive, take a boat trip, water ski or any other of the usual activities.

Overall I loved Corfu, despite the airport and the mosquitoes. It was beautiful, warm, delicious, interesting and very relaxed. It was an ideal place to escape for summer, and offers so many different things for different people. I would highly recommend.