Month: July 2016

Evening & Morning in Frieburg.


I’ve always loved hill walking and my happiest times are always wandering through trails on hillsides and in forests (with perhaps the odd stop off for a pint).

Nikki and I had heard of a company called Inn Travel who do luxury walking holidays and theyd just launched a new trip in the Black Forest.

I’d always wanted to go trekking there, so off we went.


We flew Easyjet from Manchester.


The nearest airport was called Basel-Mullhouse, which is right on the border between Germany, France and Switzerland.


A nice glass of wine at the airport as we sit in the sunshine and wait 20 minutes for the airport bus to take us to Frieburg.

It was air conditioned and very comfortable.


We stayed at the InterCity hotel.

It was run with usual German efficiency, the staff were charming and we had this amazing view.


Although a German town, I found it to be relatively laid back.

La Pepa, a Tapas restaurant I’d found online, was really quirky and mellow.

They had no website, and I had to book using their Facebook page.

Lovely food and wine, and some nice German beer. A cracking start to the trip.


Most of the buildings in Frieburg were old but the University library was modern and I’d been told to visit it at night.

A few more drinks around the town and then back to our hotel.


We were travelling into the Black Forest late afternoon, so that gave us some time to explore the town.

9am on Sunday morning, the streets were pretty quiet but the sun was out.


I saw this C&A shop.

A constant fixture of my youth, they completely withdrew from the UK market in 2000.


Frieburg Minster, built in the 1200’s in the Gothic style.


Inside Minster square, a whole row of old buildings.

The red one, is the historical merchants hall.


Frieburg’s new Town Hall.


We found a nice cafe in the square by a souvineer shop.

The chap serving spoke practically no English, so we were unable to order breakfast, and instead just had coffee.

Was really nice to sit out in the square and relax.


But we couldn’t relax for long, as I really wanted to see the place and we were running out of time.

One last photo of the Minster and were off exploring.


The Whale house, Frieburg tourist information.



Had lovely old buildings and antique shops.


Along the way, the Wolfshole restaurant, the best in the city and fully booked months in advance.


Some bars next to the Canal.

Still unable to find breakfast, we just waited a while and then had Pizza for lunch.


The stone Crocodile statue in the Industriekanal.

It weighs 400kg and somehow some of the 30,000 students there managed to turn it around to face the other way as a prank (its since been turned back).


Martinstor, the gateway to the black forest.


Out of time, but in high spirits we jump onto the bus to Feldberg and the Black Forest adventure begins.

Day in Bern.


One of my favourite scenes in Iron Man 3, is where he’s re-united with Dr Ho Yinnsen from the original film.

The whole scene takes place in Bern, Switzerland. Bern had never been on my radar before but as I looked it up, I realised it was pretty cool and I wanted to go there.

As we were on a walking tour of the Black Forest, Bern was just a short train journey away, with some advice from Lyndsay Lomax and a day to spare, off I went.


We were staying in Basel, so decided to get the train.

Swiss trains are legendary around the world.

It ran on time, was spotlessly clean and comfortable, and everyone had a seat.


Unfortunately, the weather was appalling.

Luckily, we found this walkway, so we could get around the city without getting completely soaked.


Our intention was to find some coffee and plan our route around the town.

Before that could happen we find ourselves right next to one of Lyndsay’s must see places, so we went “ad hoc”.

Einstein’s house.


You pay to go in, and just like a normal town house, its 3 stories high.

On the first floor is the sitting room, which is exactly as it would have been when he lived there with his family.


On the floor above, were various boards about Einstein’s time at school, his family life and his scientific work.

One thing that jumped out at me, was he had failed and failed time and again in his life and each time just carried on.


A 30 min video in a nearby room, discussed Einstein, friends he made, associations he’d joined, qualifications and honours he’d received and all sorts of stuff like that.


A coffee shop right next door provides us with a venue for our plans.

The superb complimentary map privileged by Bern tourist information came into use.


The Zytglogge clock tower

Built in the 13th century its a main meeting place in the city.


Wandering further around the town, its has a really authentic.


Kafigturm medieval tower, with modern trams next to it.


Back through the side streets. Spotlessly clean.


Nydeggkirche, a reformation church.


Town hall.

A stereotypical Swiss building.


We stop for lunch at this amazing Thai restaurant on the main street, Fugu Thai.

Shared tables, amazingly atmospheric. We eat out well most of the time, but this was an unusually cool dining experience.

Nikki had a glass of wine, I had 2 pints and we had a main course each. The cost £70 !.

Truth is things are done properly in Switzerland, but it isn’t cheap.


The Barengraben or Bear pitt.

Home to 3 brown bears, the symbol of Bern.


Bears not always so highly regarded.

In an antique shop I passed nearby, an awful picture of a bear hanging in a butchers shop !.


Across a bridge, the Bern historical museum.


Permanent Einstein exhibit at Bern historical museum.

Had a massive amount of information about Einstein’s life, and a series of video’s that tried to simply explain his theories (which I still couldn’t understand).


A desktop map of Bern as it existed 500 years ago.


All kinds of other historical facts about Switzerland, including mention that the very first Bond girl, Ursula Andress was Swiss !.


View across the river from the museum bridge.


Around the federal palace forecourt.


The Federal Palace where the Swiss government sit.


View of the river Aar from Federal Palace grounds.

A really interesting place to visit, I only wish the weather had been better.

5 days in Dubrovnik.


I’d had my eye on Dubrovnik for a while, but the cost always seemed outrageously expensive.

Having saved up for a couple of months, I decided I could afford it, so got everything booked.


Dubrovnik is part of Croatia, has an average temperature of 29oc and is featured extensively in game of thrones (if you were expecting a more traditional summary of the country, you should remember your at 🙂


We had some difficulties finding accommodation initially.

On hostel world there were rooms but didn’t seem to be an address of a specific hostel. We eventually found somewhere.

Determined not to waste a minute of the trip, we jumped out of our taxi and headed for our accommodation.

We wandered around an alleyway, pressed the doorbell and nothing happened. We continued walking and a guy about 25 introduced himself and asked us to follow him.

He took us to a small studio flat and said we’d be staying here for our first night and somewhere else for the rest of the trip.

We put our bags down and headed out for the evening.

The Citadel at night. There are few places in the modern world that capture the atmosphere of a medieval town so well.

The Strada is the main walkway through the town.


It’s a lot quieter than I expected, and as we explore the back streets, we find this nice pub where we have a couple of drinks.

Then off home for a good nights rest.

Up first thing, and some nice breakfast at a cafe near our accommodation.

Sightseeing in the daylight this time, we come up on the Onofria fountain.


Dubrovnik Cathedral.


And the town hall, which now contains a museum.

On the other end of the town, is the harbour.

We wandered around for a bit more, as the weather was fantastic.


After wandering around and orienting ourselves to our new home, we stopped for a few drinks in the shade.

Ok so we’ve got 3 more nights and 4 days here, time to plan out our adventure in more detail.

We assembled our guidebooks, various leaflets and notebook, and set about planning our itinerary.

We’d spend the rest of Friday exploring, and that evening attend a walking tour about the siege of Dubrovnik and the war

Saturday we’d do the 3 Islands tour, Sunday go to Mostar, Monday visit Montenegro and on Tuesday see anything we’d missed, before flying home.

Altogether, 3 pints of lager put to excellent use.

That evening we attended the war stories walking tour, which had been advertised all over the city.

I’ll be honest. I thought the walking tour would have things like “in this doorway…”.

Instead, a girl (who I think was called Naomi, but Glenn and I can’t remember for sure) met us at the arranged spot, with a few other people, and walked us around the city.

I have to say, that the tour was all about the politics of how the war started, which didn’t interest me (I can find that out, on the internet).

Let me say, straight away, that I’m not coy or clever about war (the things I’ve seen while travelling around the world have shocked me, and I’ve never gotten used to them even after repeated exposure).

That said, I wanted to hear first hand, what it was like to live in Dubrovnik during the siege. What did people eat ?, did they have to put blankets over the windows while the room was lit with a candle ?

Instead, none of that, but a fairly biased account (but then in that region, it would be a challenge to find one that wasn’t biased) from someone who had been 5 years old during the war, and had been sent away by her relatives !.

It ended with a visit to the memorial to people who had died in the war. It was a very moving experience, and a video presentation (one of many I’d see during my trip) told the story of the war.

One thing that I distinctly remembered, was our guide talking about relations with neighbouring countries, and on 2 occasions, people who were passers by in the museum, coming over and challenging her on it, based on their experiences.


I’d heard enough, so headed out for some refreshment. Glenn has more patience than me, so stayed to the end, and we met up in the Gaff Irish bar and listened to an Irish band (who were actually from Switzerland, but really good anyway).


The next day, were up, picked up by mini bus and taken to the harbour to begin our 3 Islands tour.

The Elaphite Islands we’d visit were Kolocep, Sipan and lopud.

Our boat was quite comfortable and had cooking facilities onboard for our complimentary lunch, to come later.


We all boarded and got comfortable.

I want to say loads of exciting things about the trip, but the reality was we sat relaxing in the sunshine on a really comfortable boat. Just the antidote for what had recently been quite difficult and stressful times.

The ocean was crystal clear and you could see the fish just by looking over the side.


We arrive at an Island called Lopud.

The Sun bay is located on the other side of the Island. We could walk, but hey, were on holiday so we hire a golf cart and driver to take us.


A few people I’ve read reviews of, said the beaches were boring.

I felt the complete the opposite. Because it was quiet, because nobody went there, they were beautiful and peaceful


More Island and complimentary lunch, which didn’t blow me away.

At one point, we found this beautiful ocean side restaurant and had a couple of nice beers.

Then we set sail for home.


In our new accommodation, it was obviously the home of an elderly couple.

Glenn had the bedroom and I was in the living room which had a bed in it.

I found out later, that in the summer, a lot of local residents move in with family members outside the city. In 6 weeks, they can make enough money to manage for the year.


Ok, so now to the fun part.

One evening, were walking back to our accommodation.

right near where were staying are these cliffs near the Lovrijenac.

Glenn suggest wander around the shallow edge of the water, and sitting in the doorway, while he takes a picture of me.

I decided not to, but something felt strangely familiar about the whole place.


Back home in the UK and I review various episodes of Game of Thrones.

Episode 2, Season 2, the search for the kings bastards.

The scene happens in exactly the same spot near we were standing (I could tell from the unique shape of the doorway).


We went on 2 day tours to Mostar and Montenegro.

An interesting thing happened on the Montenegro tour. The guy sat in front of Glenn was chatting about an amazing luxury hotel from the communist era that had been abandoned. It was just outside Dubrovnik and you could wander around it.

Glenn was hooked. I wasn’t sure, but it sounded too interesting not to give it a try. After getting directions from a few locals, it was 2 miles out of town (and turned out to be the highlight of the trip for me).

Glenn standing in the entrance to the Belvadere hotel.

During the war, officers had been stationed here and it had suffered sustained bombing.

But you can see from this picture of the pool just how luxurious it must have been.


Wandering around, its hard to capture with a few photo’s just how big the site was.

It featured its own beach, is own harbour, tennis courts and just about everything you’d expect to find in a Los Vegas hotel.


Wandering around inside was like a modern day Indiana Jones experience.


Exploring the accommodation.

You could see how big the private balcony/forecourt was for just one room.


Inside one of the many derelict bars and restaurants.


I found a menu typed on a typewriter with a individual date of 1985.

Looking around further I found this insignia jacket one of the waiters would have worn.


Obviously people were trying to get some scrap value from the place.

Glenn described this as the place where baths go to die 🙂


Finally, this area, a five aside football stadium with terraces.

With the help of a bit of CGI, this is where the duel between the Mountain and Oberon took place in Game of Thrones.


Just a few hour left now, so we explore the city walls.


I live in Chester, so city’s with wall’s aren’t new to me.

What was amazing was the size and scale.

We walked around the entire wall (I was a bit surprised that you had to pay) then Glenn and I went back to the Irish bar for a quick drink, picked up our bags and then headed for the taxi to take us home.

Another fab trip over with some really surprising highlights.

Bruges and Euro-rail.


I’d wanted to visit Bruges for some time (it has the resources of a City, and the atmosphere of a village) and I’d always wanted to travel on the Euro-rail.

I was due to go on the Euro-rail about 18 years ago to Paris with my friend Frank.

A fire prevented it, so we went on a coach and got the ferry.

It stayed with me, and I’ve always been determined to travel at 200 miles an house under the English channel.

Obviously, the first leg of the trip involved the virgin train from Chester to London Euston.

Great thing about it, was unlike airports, there’s no messing about with Taxi’s as I live walking distance to Chester station.


Arriving at London Euston, its about half a mile to the beautifully refurbished St Pancras station.

The “check in” is fully automated then you have to show your credentials to French passport control.

A bit of continental breakfast and nice coffee, and then its time to board.


It’s hard to believe that the Euro-rail has been running for nearly 20 years (remember when it featured in the first Mission Impossible film, or the Saint).

More expensive than comparative budget airlines but once in a while its ice to travel with a bit of style.


A quiet carriage with loads of room, we’d upgraded to bigger seats and complimentary drinks and food.

I’d stocked up on magazines for the journey (Viz and FHM, with Nikki saying “your such a child” again).

One thing I’d always wanted to do, was travel at 100 mph, under the English channel, while drinking champagne.

I pour out the Champagne Nikki has bought me just before we disappears into the tunnel and under the sea.


Our train arrives in Brussels, and from here, its an easy trip by train (90 mins) from Brussels to Bruge.

A short walk into the town, and above, our first sight of the Markt (main square).

Also in the photo are some bicycles which are everywhere in Bruges. Most people there dont put on cycling clothes, nor have special bikes.

It was common to see someone peddle into town for dinner, on a 50 year old bike, wearing a jacket, slacks and polished shoes.

Part of me thinks, that’s how cycling should be done.

To quote the now discredited Lance Armstrong, in a different context: Its not about the bike !.


First thing, get to our 15th century hotel, Ter Brughe and drop off our bags.

While there we see our beautiful hotel room for the first time (not much in Bruges was cheap, but practically everything was lovely).

But were not here to sit around in hotels, we head straight out to explore (and the weather is fantastic).

A nice bar in Bruge that was closed

We find a nice spot in the sun and have a few drinks while we review our guidebook and decide where to go next.

Superb quality Belgian beer as expected.


We have lunch in a nice cafe outside the art gallery.

This art installation entitled “Undercurrent” looks like a power pylon has collapsed into the river.

There was a real arts culture to Bruges.


Standing in the Markt (main square).

On the left of the photo is the Historium. Its an interactive museum of the history of Bruges.

It uses live video as you “walk through” a love story of a student of Jan Van Eyck, who goes to pick up Anna and a green bird from the docks…


We had to put on headset, and watch/listen to set peice events as the story unfolded.

After each set piece, a door would open and we could continue to the next.

I honestly found it fascinating and a brilliant way to tell the story. Much better that a “normal” tourist centre with just pictures a written exhibits.

Above picture shows all the characters. At this point, I hadn’t realised the significance.

At the end of the interactive stuff, there was a more traditional museum, and the picture above.


The exhibition finishes with a nice bar and a terrace with spectacular views across the Markt.

They serve amazing Belgium beer and a chalk board showing how to classically pour the beer for optimum taste.


The first bit of bad news on the trip.

The Gruuthuse museum showing all kinds of artefacts from between the 15th – 19th century was closed for a refit and wouldn’t open for 9 months.


We decide to go on a boat tour of the city.

It gives the best possible view of the Church of our Lady and everyone photographed it.


The Groeningemuseum (not to be confused with the guy who does the Simpsons, although he’s pretty good at art as well 🙂

It has loads of amazing pictures especially by the Flemish masters.

When I saw this picture, I realised that the characters from the Historium, were all taken from this original Jan Van Eyck picture Madonna with the Canon van der Paele. One of the most famous pictures in the world 🙂


This picture interested me.

It shows Lord Byron on his death bed.


Another museum, this time Sint Jans hospitall or old st John’s hospital.

Built in the 1100’s its one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in the world.

It was filled with fascinating art and sculptures.


Upstairs was more contemporary art.

In quite austere surroundings, the exhibition: Right, before I die.

It showed photographs of about 40 people in a hospice about to die. They were interviewed, and each asked a similar set of questions like have you ever been in love ?.

Quite thought provoking, considering I’d entered the bulding expecting to see classic old paintings.


The queue for the belfry is ridiculously long, so the next day we got there first thing.

The view from the top is worth the money (and the effort of walking all the way up there).

The bell tower

Some of the timbers have been replaced, but the Bell’s are original.

A rotating wheel with holes in it, is used to “program” the different tunes to be played.

Outside, I’d been looking for a souvenir of Brussels since we arrived.

Eddy Merckx is a famous cyclist and synonymous with Brussels, so I bought a small model of him cycling.


The archaeological museum was a bit tame to be honest.

The one part I thought was really interesting was the display above which shows how dinner was layed out in the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s.

I think the place was mainly aimed at Children, as there were boxes with dressing up clothes and stuff like that.

We were the only people there and the woman selling tickets seemed delighted someone had visited.


We finished off with a tour of De Halve Maan a 500 year old brewery.

We were shown how the grain and hops are selected, given a tour of the vats and how the beer is fermented and even given a talk on the history of the family that runs the brewery.

There were balconies showing amazing view of the city, and our guide explained that the water for the beer did not come from the river, but delivered in tankers.

A crowd-fund project had been set up, to have pipes constructed underground so water cold be pumped there directly :).

The tour came with a ticket to get a drink at the end in a really atmospheric bar.We got some lunch and head back to the station, our trip over.

Madrid in winter.


Dan had moved out of Chester a while before and we were due a catch up.

Its late in the year and starting to get cold in the UK, so Dan and I decide to head of to “sunnier climes”.

Madrid’s a place I’ve not been too before, and since is “Spain” we reason that it will be really warm.


Easyjet lay on a plane for us, and were away (Eating pringles and drinking a third of a pint cans of beer for £3).

Madrid airport is really impressive. I’m almost sorry we’ll be passing through it so quickly.

The Bus is really cheap, but we decide on a taxi. It takes 15 minutes and costs less than a tenner.


We arrive at our accommodation.

Hostel Rober, is a suit of rooms in what would have been a rented office.

Mum, dad & 20 something daughter live here, and have some extra rooms which they let out.

Spotlessly clean, on suit bathroom, tv and balcony. Everything I needed and more for £23 per room per night.

A bargain.


Not just that, but the location was fab too (this is the view from my balcony).

Right next too the Puerta del sol and 5 mins walk from the Royal Palace.


Madrid is a renowned centre for the arts and has many museums and gallerys.

Dan comments, that he’s only prepared to visit one (and its his trip as well, so why not).

Above is a picture of the world famous Prado


Since it’s a one shot thing, and just to be different, we decide to visit theThyssen Bornemisza museum.

Not as famous, but its got loads of cool contemporary art that I wanted to see (and they did nice coffee at a reasonable price for Dan).


Inside, its the usual sort of art gallery stuff.



The picture I’d heard about and really wanted to see was this one, The Hotel Room.

Painted by Edward Hopper in 1931 it shows a person in their hotel, with bags packed.

But it implies a sort of fear of the unknown, about to embark on an adventure, an implied fear of what might happen.

And inevitably, a yearning for security and comfort. To just stay where you are.

I’m not an art critic but I know all of these feelings and emotions, as I’ve experienced them all while travelling.

I bought a copy of it, and it hangs in a nice frame in my living room (although its a bit smaller than the real thing :).


Were not just interested in big buildings.

Monument of the fallen is built on the place where General Murat ordered teh execution of numerous Spaniards after the 1808 uprising. Since then, its been re-inaugurated as a moment to all those who have given their lives for Spain.

An gas flame burns on the front of the monument.


We’ve been walking around for a while now, and we find a nice Irish bar called Ulysses.

Its quiet (its 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon) but has a good atmosphere.


It gives us a chance to catch up (at one time we would see each other every night in the Frog & Nightingale, today were lucky if we meet up 4 times a year).


Couple of pints later, we head back out exploring.

The Puerta del sol is the main area of Madrid. All the shops are here and its where everything happens.

Behind dan is the famous Statue of the bear and strawberry tree the symbol of Madrid.


It Means gate of the sun and originated as one of the gates of the city from the 15th century when walls surrounded it.

Although it was sunny, it was also very cold.


Nearby, the Plaza major, the main square of Madrid and right near our hotel.


The Spy Shop.

Nothing much to do with Madrid, but they had some really cool gadgets in here.

In the windows, they had a dummy made up as a private eye, and inside had pens with recorders and clocks with cameras in them.


Cybele palace named after the Roman goddess of nature.

It had previously been the headquarters for all of Madrid’s telecommunications.

From a professional perspective, its the nicest data-warehouse I’ve ever seen.


Louise from Phonak really liked Madrid, and had recommended some places to see.

I’d printed a map from google, and she’d circled a place called Montaditos.

It was no OS map, but we managed to find the place all the same.


Inside it had a distinct Spanish feel with Tapas and stuff like that.

We weren’t hungry so had a couple of pints of San Miguel.


Speaking of which, Louise had also mentioned a really modern food market.

Just around the corner it was actually called San Miguel market.

Spend some time soaking up the atmosphere of the market, then back to our hotel to get cleaned up and out for the evening.


Dan suggested, since we both like steak that we should try a Brazilian steak house.

As I’d done all the organising of the trip, he bought dinner, which I thought was a really nice gesture.

I had a couple of beers, but when the steak hit the table I switched to a Chilea’n Merlot.


The place wasn’t too posh, but really nice and the food, drink and service were superb.

Just for fun, I used google to translate its name “En La Vaca”.

The result was quite suprising.


Next day, wandering around, we come upon the Acala gate.


The boating lake on Buen Retiro Park.

In the background you can see the monument to King Alfonso XII.


We wandered around the park.

You can see from Dan’s face, that the sunshine we’d come here to see wasn’t happening and it was really cold.


Elsewhere inside the park, the Palacio de Cristal or Crystal Palace.

Built in the shape of a Greek cross, it was designed so it could be dismantled and re-put up.

This actually happened to its “sister” in the UK, but this one has remained here ever since.

Its no longer used as a greenhouse and now used for art exhibitions.


Next to the park, Cuesta de Claudio Moyano, popular for its many book stalls.


On a more contemporary note and just for fun, I loved this cash machine, which even had a keyboard so you could send letters to the bank.

We saw a more direct approach from some pensioners who arrived just as a bank was opening and standing just outside the door blew whistles all at the same time. A hundred people can make some serious noise like this (its was a protest about reduced pension payments).


Speaking of cuts, we passed this hospital building.

Whilst I sympathise with their cause, I think the person concerned should stick to the field of healthcare, and never again attempt to draw scissors.


On our last morning, since were so close (and since its raining) we head for the Royal Palace.

Hard to take a picture which captures it, I decide on thsi shot from the plasa del a la almeria.


Inside were the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a palace.

They also had an armoury, and there was just 1 security guard and us, and he kept looking at us as if we were going to steal one of the suits of armour (he obviously had no idea how much it costs to check in baggage on Easyjet if we want to get it home).

You dont hear much about the Spanish royal family. Although they conduct official ceremonies here, they live in much more modest accommodation in the outskirts of Madrid.

Well, that’s it.

We go back to our hotel, pick up our bags, get in a taxi and off we go to our “loser class” seats on Easyjet.

Skopje, Macedonia


Travel “trends” come and go, sometimes there’s a place everyone is talking about and a year later nobody is talking about it at all.

It’s always nice to “get in on the ground floor” and see a place which is only just emerging as a top travel destination.

Macedonia is so “new” that Dorling Kindersley don’t even make an Eyewitness guide for it yet.

Nikki and I had been on weekends away, this was our first holiday together and I was really looking forward to it.


And when I say emerging destination, I’m not joking.

It was hard to get money from these ATM’s, which had been like this for some time 🙂


We get a taxi to hotel Anja in the middle of the main street of Skopje.

They have a DOS hotel booking system with a normal monitor and even a floppy disk drive (I haven’t worked professionally with that kind of tech in close to 20 years).

But that didn’t matter, they were really friendly and helpful.


We stayed in on suite rooms above the restaurant, a bit cosy, but very clean and had air conditioning.


We wander along the water front, near our hotel.

Its a beautiful day.


Describing a travel destination as a contradiction is a bit of a cliche these days.

But how do you describe this. They have brand new palatial buildings next to half built road.

I read that Macedonia is one of the 8 poorest countries in the world.


Some sort of street art.

Didn’t do anything for me, but I thought I’d take a picture of it anyway.


The Stone bridge is a national monument and a major meeting place in Macedonia.

It traverses the Vardar river in the centre of town and connects the new area (where we were staying) with the old town.


They are still finding their feet in terms of tourism, as you can see from this street-side map and its unfortunate circumstances.


Warrior on a horse statue in Macedonia square.

It features Macedonia’s most famous son, Alexander the Great on horseback.


In the early evening, we wander out of town and climb to the top of this hill, with views of the river and the Philip II arena.


As we wander back down, Kale fortress is lit up.


We wander into the old town, to get something to eat.

The chicken and lamb kebabs were really nice, but whenever I got a burger, it was more like a sort of “Findus grill steak” from my early teens.


Still fairly early and we wander back through the clothes shops and the place is practically empty.


Up early and its time for breakfast.

We’ve decided to go walking today, so we’ll need our energy.

We both have Omelets with tomatoes, cucumber…

Oh, and lots of coffee.


Were heading out to climb mount Vodno.

On the way out of town, we see Memorial house of Mother Teresa.

She never actually lived here, its built on the site of the chapel where she was baptised.


A short walk along a busy road, and we find the route.

Basically, the bottom half of the route, is either a road, or a path in the forest that zig/zags near the road.

Obviously we walked up the path.


Its a hot day, but we reach the half way point fairly quickly.

There’s a cable car station here and they sell refreshments.

I get a bottle of Skol, a drink unavailable in the UK for 30 of years.


We were making good time, but the cable car promised spectacular views, so we opted for that.


We arrive at the top of Vodno and see the Milenium cross – Celebrating 2000 years of Christianity.


From here we head off over the back of the mountain in search of adventure.

Apparently, there’s a canyon somewhere around here, but as we have no maps, we just follow the obvious trail.


Although the country is quite poor, they have lots of natural resources and plenty of people who know how to work them.

It was nice to sit down somewhere cool and have lunch (and it looked pretty waterproof for days when it rains).


The countryside turns forestry here and a take a photo of this small deer.


Further along, remnants from the cold war, this area must have been used for storing tanks or some other kind of heavy ordnance.

Nearby were some underground tunnels and stuff like that. I love that kind of thing.


One last surge uphill through the brush and then we head down the other side of the hill.

Not long after we find a road with a few houses and farms nearby.

We’re exhausted and dehydrated and have only a rough idea where we are (on the opposite side of Vodno from Macedonia town centre).


A bus comes along which is quite full. He speaks no English, we mention Macedonia and he gestures us to sit down. We offer to pay for a ticket but he just gestures to sit down. What a relief, were heading home.

As we get to the bus station, I’m so grateful, I offer him the equivalent of a tenner with a “get yourself a drink gesture”. He declines. Some people are too kind for their own good 🙂

Reminded me of a quote about buses from the guidebook.


As we wander back in the daylight, we see signs for a wine festival.

I’ve pretty much worked out what we’ll be doing that evening.

Back to our hotel, a quick bite to eat, shower and changed and then wine festival it is.


It was pretty smart, and they even had a live band.

Macedonia doesn’t have a great reputation for its wine, which is wrong as we both thought it was really good.


Our last day. We visit the Museum of the Macedonian struggle.


Its Sunday afternoon.

We find a really nice tavern in the old town with lots of people relaxing.

There’s live music, more Macedonian wine for Nikki and more Skol for me.

Chicken kebab for dinner then more drinks by the river. Off to bed and our adventure in Macedonia is over.


In the morning, its Macedonia bus station and were off to Ohrid.

Tallinn 2.


Later on, the weather heads south.

I visit St John’s church (well, I look at it from outside, I’ve been inside churches all over the world).


A typical street in the old town.


In old times, this was a meeting place for unmarried merchants called the brotherhood of the blackheads.

There are symbols on the outside, but I understand having a black head, was a reference to working hard, and any ethnic group (with money) was allowed to join.


Walking down another traditional street. It was like being back home in Chester.


This stone marks the independence of Estonia in 1991.

During the revolution that ended the cold war, this rock was one of many manoeuvred onto key roads to stop tanks and other vehicles from entering the city.


The parliament building.


One thing I found fascinating, was in the middle of the cold war, they had built a modern western style hotel called Viru.

The idea had been that foreign people doing business would stay in the hotel and bring badly needed currency into the country.

In reality the hotel had to be booked through Moscow, and the money went to Russia.


The hotel had a significant cold war history, so they had set up a section of it, as a living museum.


Our guide took us up in the lift and we were allowed to go on this special viewing platform. More a talk than a museum she pointed out that the KGB would have spotters here with binoculars to track people and see where they were going.


As we walked up the stairs, our guide showed us some pictures from the cold war era.

At the time, she said working at the hotel had been popular. The hotel had all the nicest cakes and after an event, staff could smuggle some out.

The black market was such that a mechanic’s daughter might be having a birthday party, and he might have held back some key parts that he was prepared to trade for the cake.

It was said that in those days, it was better to have 100 friends than 100 roubles.

People were so poor that many local woman would dress up and try to get into the bar to meet western women.

Some were prostitutes, others looking to meet a husband and travel abroad and many somewhere in between.

The hotel had a printed list of known “culprits” who were not allowed in the bar (they had removed the surnames, as many of the women still lived in Tallinn,  and had married and moved on with their lives).


So strong was the fear and propaganda of the communist’s that putting a sign on a door that said “There is nothing here” was all that was needed to near guarantee compliance.

On one occasion a cleaner had accidentally wandered into the room and had a pistol pointed at him (at which point he left).

In 1991 a few days after the cold war ended, the staff wandered upstairs to see what was in the “special rooms” on the top floor.

The Russians had flown the coup, and the room was filled with listening equipment (the entire hotel was bugged).


There was a joke at the time, that an American had been in his room, and commented to his wife that the towels in the bathroom had not been changed.

Within 5 minutes there was a knock at the door with a staff member with towels. Pretty obviously they’d been listened in on.

On of the people on the tour had stayed there in the 1970’s. He said the staff had been friendly, but there had always been a bit of an atmosphere around the place.


Desk setup with memorabilia. Two newspaper front pages, with identical articles about someone, but the pictures were different (so a made up story).

The tour ends in the hotel bar, where I buy a souvenir, have a drink and then its off out exploring.


Back out in the open air, we wander through the main entrance into the old town.


We head to St Catherine’s passage, one of the oldest places in the Mediaeval old town.

There were lots of artisans and crafts for sale (basically a tourist trap).


Old shrines and tombstones are built into the wall.

Not something I wanted to be photographed next too.


The way out of the tunnel.

Considering it was built hundreds of years ago, I thought it was pretty impressive.


Our last evening.

We end our trip to a traditional Communist bar.

So Tallinn:

Low cost of travel and accommodation.
Loads of history both medieval and communist.
The chance to visit Helsinki, this really is a top destination.

Fantastic place, highly recommended, go there this weekend.

Tallinn 1.


Eastern Europe and the Far East are my 2 favourite travel destinations.

I’d been running numbers on some trips and Tallinn looked a good fit.

The way I do it is:

Calculate the cost of the flight.

Calculate the cost of accommodation.

Calculate the cost to/from the airport at both ends (I call this the 3rd cost).

The 3rd cost is the one too watch. It constantly surprises me when people find a flight for £60 and then end up spending £40 to get from the airport at the other end because they’ve chosen “cheap” accommodation in the middle of nowhere.


Our accommodation was quite cheap (it used to be some sort of embassy I was told).

They also played a bit of a trick on us, that I’d not seen before. On our 3 rooms were quoted as having “private” bathrooms.

This is normally the same thing as an en-suit bathroom, but in this case they’d been flexible in the use of language.

There were several central locked doors, with 4 rooms in each 1. Each of these main rooms had a bathroom, so it was private to the 4 people in these rooms.

Basic accommodation, but in every other way perfect for our needs.


We get checked in and head out for the afternoon.

Our first stop is the port. Since were so close to Helsinki, we’ve decided to spend the following day there. It will be an early start so we decide to buy the tickets the day before.

This area near the booking office, really captured the “communist concrete” theme of yesteryear.


The nice thing about Tallinn is it also has an amazing old town with some fantastic things to see as well.


We wander back through the town and the sun has come out.


The Margaret wall <details>


View from the top of the Margaret Wall.


It’s thirsty work wandering around in the sunshine, so we stop for a few drinks.

Everywhere we went (and I mean EVERYWHERE) had free wifi.

Tallinn is a very innovative and technology centric city after all. Skype was invented here.


The following day were off to Helsinki, but the day after were up early and back exploring Tallinn.

We kick off with a walk around Kadriorg park.


A few of the “must see” sights are calling us to photograph them.

St Nicholas Church.


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.


St Mary’s Cathedral.


We wander over to Tallin town hall.


Raekoja plats, is the square next to the town hall, and the main social centre of the town.


A lovely day and lots of people were was relaxing in the square.

We decided to join in and have a couple of drinks.

Each of the chairs came with a woolly fleece for people who were cold.


Time for a deeper dive into the country and its history. The museum of occupation.

I grew up during the cold war, so communism, the former soviet union and the Warsaw pact have always been interesting to me.

The building is very modern and contemporary and features a lecture theatre.

It explained a lot about the 2nd world war. I didn’t fully understand but something about before the war some of the young men had been sent off to support Hitler. Later, the Soviets invaded and many of the men from Tallinn went off to fight the Nazis.

Due to geopolitics, many Estonian’s fought each other during 2nd world war.


Some old soviet cars.

An example of where something that sounds quite romantic is, in reality nothing of the kind.

When Glenn and I visited Budapest, we spoke to the woman who ran our hostel. The conversation turned to a Trebant which she had.

I said it looked quite cool and retro. She said to drive it was awkward and difficult and she hated it.


Tallinn is on the coast, and there was a section about fishing.

When the communists took over, all fishing boats were “owned” by the state.

If you had a fishing boat, it would be locked up at night and the soldiers would unlock the boat house in the morning to allow you to go out for the days catch.

When you came back, all your fish would be confiscated and you would be paid a tiny wage by the government.

From what I read people were really unhappy, but what could they do.


Some artefacts from the communist era like clocks and radios.


Afterwards we head to a local bar for a few drinks (this is after all, and I’m no David Attenburough ).

Perhaps because of its location so close to Skandenavia, Ice Hockey is a very popular sport there and everyone was watching it.

Ohrid, Macedonia.


So I’m having a pint with Mike Delafield one evening and he starts telling me about a lake in Macedonia.

I forgot about it. Several months later, Nikki discusses an adventure holiday in Macedonia and it clicks.

Were going to Macedonia and we’re going to see “Mike’s” lake.


Back to the coach station as we head for Ohrid.

This is hardly luxury coach travel, but there are 2 areas where they succeed and the UK doesn’t always.

1. They are reliable. after spending quite a lot of time at the coach station, I’ve not seen a single one break down.

2. At every stop there’s somewhere to get some coffee or a soft drink and something to eat for a reasonable price.


Arriving in the town, we check into our accommodation (a very reasonably priced on suite room in someone’s house).

Unfortunately, the woman who lives there and looks after us, doesn’t speak a single word of English.

The owner, Phil, speaks perfect English, but he’s out of town.

Every time we need something like the wifi code, he’s called from the house phone and the phone is passed back and too.

We wander to the water front. Its disappointing as the weather that afternoon is pretty awful.


I suggest we find a nice pub on the front and relax indoors. Nikki thinks we should ignore the rain and go exploring.

We had a nice afternoon exploring.


It rained all afternoon but my spirits weren’t dampened (well actually they were, but I know well enough to keep my mouth shut).


The ancient theatre.

They do live performances here in the summer (which is pretty cool when you think that the theatre is 2200 years old).


We walk back through the town.

There’s actually quite a lot going on in the town including a market that sold practically everything.


After a while we find somewhere nice and get something to eat. Most of the food I ate in Macedonia was mediocre (I dont say that to be mean, it was rather bland, a bit like Cuba).

This place isn’t like that at all, a really tasty local stew.

Also like Cuba, they have a local beer. I wash it down with a bottle of Skopsko (Nikki has tried the local wine and decides its quite nice).


Next morning, the view along the water front is fantastic.

Out across the lake is even better, which is good as we’ve booked a boat trip.

One side of lake Ohrid is in Macedonia, the other in Albania.I’d originally asked if we could “sail” to Albania.

The boatman looked at us with shock and disgust and explained that it wasn’t possible.


Instead, were going to visit a monastery to called Sveti Naum and a few places along the way.

The monastery is right next to the border but I was advised not to try and cross it.


We got some breakfast and wandered over to our boat.


It’s a beautiful day so we found a seat on the top dock to enjoy the weather.

I’ve taken lots of water with me which turns out to be a good idea considering the heat.


The view back towards Ohrid.


A modern re-creation of a traditional reclaimed village on stilts in a place called the the Bay of Bones.


The huts and buildings were really authentic, made with sticks and clay.

The wooden platform the village was built on, was a feat of primitive engineering.


We disembark and head on our way.

Nikki and I decide to sit downstairs in the shade and relax.

We were having a really nice time.


Another view across the lake to the village of Peshtani.


I use the time to review my notes and guidebook (and have a cold can of Skopsko).


We’ve arrived at Sveti Naum 29k from Ohrid.

Its a bit touristy, and in the photo, is an expensive restaurant which we chose not to visit.


The Monastery itself has peacocks.

Even more entertaining was watching an American woman try to photograph one with an ipad 🙂


The actual Monastery itself which I really like.

Loads of people were selling tourist tat, but we just avoided them.

St Naum was apparently blessed with the ability to cure mental illness !.


Lake Ohrid is fed by the Crn Drim river.

There was a nice cafe, with tables out on pontoons.


I had some really nice fishcakes.

In the background of this picture, you can see boats that take you out to the source of the river.


The adventure over, we head back to our boat, for the relaxing ride back to Ohrid.

Dinner in the town, then some shut eye.


Following day, we explore the town in the sunshine.

In the background you can see one of the minarets of the Ali Pasha mosque.


Lunch by the lake in perfect sunshine.


With one afternoon left, its time for some hard core exploring in the afternoon.

The Church of Saint Sophia.


We also visit the church of St John. There were a lot of churches, I thought 2 was enough to be going on with.


The battlements of Samuil’s fort.

Our final evening in Ohrid, we have dinner by the lake and some nice local wine.


In the morning, we bid Ohrid farewell and back to the bus station.

W have coffee at this charming place called “Bake and Cake”.

Bitola, Macedonia.


As part of our trip to Macedonia, we decide to visit Bitola and the Pelister national park.


As before, coaches are the main form or travel in Macedonia.

As we climbed on board the coach from Ohrid, I saw a tv mounted on the ceiling above us.

I wondered if there might be a film or something with subtitles for us to watch on the journey.

Unfortunately, it just showed the times of connecting coaches (but wasn’t updated dynamically).

I cant really read in cars and on buses without feeling ill, so ipod, Happy Mondays and I’m back in 1986.


A statue to Stevan Naumov.

Local partisan leader who fought in the 2nd world war.

Ataturk trained at the military academy here.


We decide to explore the town (it was lunchtime and our hotel was high in the mountains so unlikely to be much going on there).

We wander along Sirok sokak street.


We find this lovely restaurant where we have lunch and a couple of drinks.

The weather is lovely and the people really friendly.


And then were off.

The hotel is 15k from Bitola on a steep windy road, so we take a taxi.


Hotel Molika.

Up high in the mountains of the Pelister national park and originally built in the 70’s for communist party members to go on holiday.

I absolutely loved it here. In the middle of nowhere, it had everything you needed with fantastic country air.


Inside the furnishings were dated, but in perfect condition (reminded me of something from a James Bond film when Roger Moore wore flares).

My favourite quirky thing, was a radio built into the cabinet next to my bed.

It said digital radio. As DAB is a fairly recently thing I thought it must have been refitted.

In reality, it was actually a digitally tuned radio (ie it had red numbers that said 11:52 when you moved the dial).


There were some things I didn’t like.

These toilets were a bit strange.

Also, an odd thing with a double bed, but we each had a single quilt and when I asked about it, they said they didnt have any double quilts, but could get me a taxi back to Bitola if I wanted to buy one 🙂

We spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hotel and wandering around outside, checking out the paths and exploring the forest.

In the evening we have dinner and drinks, then get an early night as we have ambitious plans for the following days trek.


We decide on a circular route taking in Pelister peak.

The paths are steep, but in good condition and the weather report on my laptop (the hotel has really good wifi as we were the only guests at the time) said it would be nice all day.


Further along the path, the forest gets denser.

I can see a section which has been used for mountain biking and check for signs that there’s a race on (there isn’t, someone has just left the tape there).

It’s made of plastic so should rot away on its own in about 300 years !).


We stop for a break by a nice stream.


Although we have no map, theres a rough board outside the hotel with basic directions up the mountain.

It mentions a place called Kopanki resort/mountain house. I’ve got the image on my camera, so we head there hoping to get some coffee.

But there’s nobody there and its been practically destroyed by fire.


The ski slope nearby. Obviously in summer it wasn’t doing much.

I dont know much about ski-ing, but Nikki said it was quite a short run.


We had been give 2 packed lunches, so we’d carried 1 each.

When we stopped for lunch we realised one of us had all the bread, the other all the cheese. One of us all the apples, the other some disgusting chocolate.

Overall, it was a nice sort of picnic affair and we were both really starting to relax.


So much so, that I found a comfortable rock and decided to have a rest/nap.

Nikki very helpfully took this photograph.

Up to this point, the paths had been in pretty good condition so we got by with cross trainers.


Our stated goal was still the Pelister peak, and the weather was just right for an ascent.

These days the hotel now provide maps, but at the time we couldn’t get hold of one.

We came to these rocks. I was convinced we could navigate around them, but without a map it would be next to impossible.

Scrambling up the rocks we decided to see how far we’d get.


After an hour of exhaustive scrambling, we came to this viewing point.

We decided this would be our peak and we sat on the platform and enjoyed the view and a drink.


Wandering back down the hill.


We come to a clearing and this nice rock formations.


Just as well we retired for the day when we did.

The weather changes quickly as it can easily do in the mountains and were forced to trot down the hill to our hotel to avoid the worst of it.


Beer, hot bath and a change of clothes, then down to the restaurant for dinner.

Nikki loved it here, as they had an extensive wine list (although I found it a bit cold and preferred the bar which was warmer, but you couldn’t get any food there).

Overall, a fantastic stay. The following morning we have breakfast and its a taxi back down the hill.


Back to the bus station for our journey back to Macedonia.

I took this picture of the coach station waiting room, as it reminded me of the kind of place I used to sign on near Hague Street when I was 16.