Nice.

I was part of a group of about 15 randomly connected individuals (so much so, that no one person on this trip new every other person on this trip, before we all arrived) that went on a trip to Nice in May 2012, organised by an Aussie friend of mine. Its was definitely a big party, but Nice is a great destination itself. Nice airport is pretty close to the town, and its very straightforward to get a bus in. There is also a monorail that operates in the town.

Nice (town).

We didn’t find there was a huge deal to do here, other than wander around the old town and soak up the atmosphere and see ‘the sites’ (mostly statutes and monuments). Disclaimer being that I didn’t plan of lead this adventure – so its highly possible there is more to this town that we didn’t discover. There are so many amazing bars, cafes, resturnats and geltaterias that are worth a look. I’d also recommend going to the Cours Saleya Markets – they have all sorts of flowers and fresh produce. Walk up and around the Monument aux Morts (War Memorial) and see the port on the other side. We also (quite creepily) visited the famous cemetery, Le Cimetiere du Monastere de Cimiez, where Raoul Dufy, Roger Martin du Gard and Henri Matisse are buried.

Some pretty cool street art:

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The beach is a must, however this is not the most appealing of beaches – its rather rocky and unpleasant, but an ok place for some sun and sea if that’s what you desire. However, head out of Nice (see belwo) and the beaches are much better, although all that we came acrss were pebbles (not sand).

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For a night out, there are lots of places to go. The best, by far, for the backpacker and young traveller crowds is Wayne’s Bar, in town. On the same street as Waynes are plenty of other choices though, if that doesn’t take your fancy. Trashy music and cheap drinks abound. If you end up at a bar on the ocean front, I’d also highly recommend post-bar swims before returning home. We stayed at Villa Saint Exupéry Gardens – great hostel, great for a big group and a good bar – but quite far out of town so be prepared to pay for taxi’s.

Baie de Saint Laurent.

This was possibly my favourite part of this trip – the day we spent on the beach in this bay. The bay is part way between Nice and Monaco, and best accessed by bus from nice. You walk through a small town, and then down A LOT of stairs to find yourself on a somewhat deserted pebble beach, other than the row of amazing resturants at the back of the beach area. The waters are crystal clear and amazing for swimming, and you can also hire pedal boats to play on. I’d recommend eating at one of the resturants here too – although I cant remember which one we ate at, I’d choose one with couches, as I remember relaxing on them for quite a while after. This was the best day of R&R in quite some time!

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Sidenote – this is another town we stopped at, between Nice and the bay. Also worth a look-in, if you happen to pass through. No idea of the name though, but it’s on the bus route. Some cool markets also:

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Monaco.

Monaco, the second smallest country in the world I believe (second only to Vatican City), is ridiculously expensive. An early-ish flight out of Nice meant that we didn’t get to spend a great deal of time here, only a short walk around. Monaco is well serviced by regular trains from Nice. Best thing to do on exiting the train station is to head down to the pier and have a look at all the ridiculous superyachts. From there, you can continue up towards the casino, which is perhaps the focal point of Monaco – you pass through a pretty impressive designer shopping area where my years salary wouldn’t even buy a single item in one of those shops. The casino is amazing to marvel at from the outside, check out the gardens and take some pictures. Unfortunately we were there before opening time, so we didn’t get to make it in – the square behind the casino will no doubt be filled with fancy cars and fancier people. I wouldn’t recommend stopping for coffee, prices are ludicrous.IMG_0484 IMG_0481 IMG_0473Top Tunes.

1. Welcome to St Tropez – DJ Antoine

2. Starships – Nicki Minaj

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Corfu.

In order to recover from Glastonbury Festival, and to get some sun (as we werent sure that Glasto would come through with that), my friend and I booked a 6 day trip to Corfu for some R&R departing the Monday after Glasto. Having already been to the Greek Islands, this island, the largest in the Ionian Islands was a place we hadnt explored yet.

Accomodation.

We booked into the Pink Palace, after hearing a lot of stories about this place. It’s on the other side of the isalnd to the main town, and is relatively isolated. If you are after a boozy, backpacker experience with lots of young Americans, this is the place for you. It includes breakfasts and dinners and has its own club – the downside being that admittance is only to guests of the ‘Palace’. In hindsight, I dont think this was quite the experience we were looking for, but the food was good and the rooms were clean, and there was a bar, a beach and sun loungers – so we still got the R&R we required.

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The Pink Palace also runs the infamous Booze Cruise. Although a lot of debauchery went on onboard, the ‘cruise’ did give us the opportunity to spend a day on a boat and see the coastline from the sea – the scenery is amazing, and it was a great day to spend on a boat.

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Activities.

I spent a day scuba diving through the Achilleon Dive Centre. Two dives were included in the day trip. Although a bit wary of diving in foreign centres without recommendations, this company I found to be extremely professional, with a priority on safety and compentent in communicating (in English) and I would be happy to dive there again. Of the two dives, the second dive at The Hole of Ha I found amazing – read a description of this site and others here. Suprisingly, even in July the water temperature here was quite cold, and wetsuits and hoods were needed. I did struggle to stay warm. This dive center is located in Paleokastritsa, a beautiful bay with bars and restaurants and quite a nice beach to spend a day on – and you can also (relatively easily) sneak into the pool area at the Akrotiri Beach Hotel. The infinity pool there is a nice place to spend some time. It’s definitely worth a visit to this part of the island, whether you plan to dive or not. Here’s some shots from Paleokastritsa:

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We also hired a quad bike for one day and spent the day exploring the island. I’d highly recommend this. The majority of Corfu town itself wasnt anything too amazing, but it was cool to wanter around the fortress and through the streets of the old town. Great frozen yoghurt here too, and some amazing photo opportunities. A good way to spend the day exploring though, and some great views driving around the island. Some shots of the town:

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Top Tips.

Definitely look into what part of the island you want to stay on. It is quite large, and if I was to do this again, I’m not sure I would stay at the Pink Palace (wasnt quite the experience I was looking for).

Stockholm and Helsinki.

To do something different for a Bank Holiday Weekend in May 2013, we planned a trip to Stockholm and Helsinki, including an overnight ferry between the two cities. Scandinavia, although expensive, is perhaps not as popular as Western Europe, but the Scandinavians are lovely and we were keen to experience some of their culture.

Stockholm.

Our trip started here, and we had a day to explore the capital before needing to catch the ferry. I’d recommend starting with a walking tour with Free Tour Stockholm. It’s worthwhile and gives you some good history and context on the city. Spend the rest of your time exploring the Old Town, get lost in the cobbled streets there and admire the buildings. Stockholm is a city that I think is best soaked up by simply wandering around and exploring. It’s very picturesque and very ‘Scandinavian’.

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The Ferry.

We took an overnight ferry with Viking Lines, if you’re in a group of 4 and you book well in advance your cabin works out to less than 20 Euros each, so possibly the cheapest overnight transport/accommodation ever. These ferry crossings have a bit of a reputation for being a wild party, which somewhat prompted this trip. Although it seems like a great idea, as you can go out, drink, go to the nightclub and then just have to make it back to your cabin on the same boat – we soon learnt that the only people we had to spend the evening with were those also on the same boat. The boat had two different clubs, a gambling area and several bars and floor shows – it made for an interesting experience. I’d never been on a cruise ship before, and it certainly wasn’t as glamourous as I expected – but, interesting all the same. 

I’d definitely recommend doing the buffet dinner on this boat. Its was roughly 30 Euros, all you can eat and also also you can drink for your two hour sitting. The food was varied and great, we left feeling so so full. But 2 hours of free flowing wine and beer definitely got our night on board off to a great start.

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Helsinki.

Is a much smaller city than I expected, and was quite cool in May. You can do basically the whole city on foot, and to maximise our time we again did a walking tour, through this group. Again, a picturesque Scandinavian city, and the walking tour takes you through all the key sites in the town. We did a little more exploring in our own the next day, but I there really wasn’t too much else to it. We were fortunate enough to be in town when the World Ice Hockey Championships were on, and to get tickets to a game – an experience in itself, and quite a popular sport in these countries.

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Top Tunes.

There are a lot of great artists from Scandanavia. I cant go past these 3 songs though:
1. Wake Me Up – Avicii
2. Candyman – Aqua
3. Silhouettes – Avicii

St Anton.

I once had this place described to me as ‘heaven on earth’, and I don’t think that’s at all inaccurate. My experience of ski resorts isn’t vast, but I don’t think I could comprehend a ski holiday that tops this – so much so, I’ve been back about 4 times ( it’s a really simple and easy trip from Vienna, which is where I lived for a bit). Ski trips will always be expensive, but I don’t think it’s too bad here, relatively speaking. The Austrians are friendly, everyone speaks English and it’s generally all fun times. Great skiing and great partying too.

Slopes.

The lifts here are amazing, run smoothly and get people up the mountain in the morning pretty fast. They’re friendly enough to novice ski/boarders that you don’t have many stacks getting on or off them. There’s so much piste to explore, I don’t think you’d ever be short of runs – and I’m told the off-piste is good too. I’d recommend working your way over to Stuben one day, I’ve always found that there is a lot more powder to play in over that side of the mountain. Spring skiing there is great, breathtaking views. You’ll soon learn the home runs through happy valley to the best après ski – just follow the crowds from about 3pm onwards.

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Apres Ski.

St Anton isn’t short of options – both up and down the mountain. The two main bars up the mountain on the home run are Krazy Kangaruh (start here for a few warmup drinks), and the famous Mooserwirt. Silly music, silly dancing and an even sillier DJ/singer to be found here. Definitely check this out, it’ll probably be like something you’ve never seen before.

There’s something a little crazy about having a few too many beers and mulled wines up the mountain, and then having to find your ski’s/board and make it down another 400m of piste in the dark before reaching the town. It’s a recipe for disaster, yes, but a lot of fun. Worst case, you can always walk down – and there is also a bus that gets reasonably close if you want to drop your gear at the bottom first and bus back up. There’s a ski room where you can check your gear for a couple of euros – I’d recommend this, I’ve heard of people returning and their stuff having gone missing.

Back in town, you can hit up base camp or the underground, if you don’t fancy drinking up the mountain. The underground is a great little chilled out bar with amazing live tunes.

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Food.

The food up the mountain is all much of a muchness in the cafeteria style places. Mountain restaurants, I’d try Griabli (Opposite Mooserwirt – also can get a little crazy for après ski on days when they have a band and an air guitar….) and also Taps (Above Krazy Kangaruh).

There are lots of choices in town, but I can never go past Scotty’s Pizza. An English-run establishment, has the greatest pizza I think I’ve ever tasted. Get the Scotty’s special, you won’t regret it. Pomodoro is also good for pizza. There is a SPAR supermarket in town too, if you opt to cook instead – as well as an abundance of other eateries.

Bars.

St Anton surely isn’t short of these, they line the whole of the Main Street and will go all night. Bobo’s has karaoke nights, and Scotty’s can be a lot of fun (especially on theme nights). Also try Postkellar-Piccadilly and the Bar Cuba.

Accommodation.

I’d strongly suggest staying in St Anton and not St Jakobs or St Christophs – its so much nicer to be able to walk into town for meals and drinks, and to be walking distance to the main lifts. This site, run by a great English guy, has a variety of options and is worth checking out. Note most appartment-type accomodation is only available on a weekly basis – if you’re looking for something shorter I would try Haus Monika – Monika is lovely too! Once you’re in town, you won’t need any transport either. St Anton train station is also in the centre of town, making arriving by train very simple.

Top Tips.

If you need to hire gear, book it in advance online for a discount. If you’re planning a trip here, lock it in early – transport and accomodation books up and gets expensive. Also check out the Sidney Reilly site for a whole heap more information and recommendations about the place.

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Top Tunes.

St Anton plays a lot of silly German Apres Ski music, and has a bit of a soft spot of Shakira. These would be my top 3:

1. Hey, Wir Wollen Die Eisbaeren Sehen – Sound Convoy

2. Hangover – Taio Cruz

3. Waka Waka (This time for Africa) – Shakira

Iceland.

Is an amazing country, with landscapes like those I’ve never come across before. Visiting in early December meant that the country was dusted with a layer of snow, but not entirely covered in all places so you could still see the land peeking through. It also meant that it was very, very cold, and horrendously windy this weekend – the windchill was nearly unbearable so we spent a lot of time indoors and in the car. Daylight was roughly 11am – 4pm, which is another thing to factor in if you are visiting in the winter months, as you will have limited time to see the sights.

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The Golden Circle.

I’d highly recommend hiring a car and driving this route. In places you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and the landscape is breathtaking. We hired a car from here for the weekend, which came with much-neede Garmin GPS system – life would have been very difficult without it. I found this blog incredibly helpful when planning our route, and we visited all the sites outlined here – I’m not going to recount what is already written very well here, so take a look. Note also that entry to all these sites (including the National Park) is free. The landscape was vastly different for us though, which was very suprising – the landscape, loneliness and barren nature was amazing. I don’t think we saw a single tree throughout our stay. Some snaps of the Golden Circle attractions, in winter:

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Reykjavik.

Is a picturesque, but sleepy little town. Be aware that opening hours of a lot of places here are limited (well, in winter at least). Given Iceland as a whole only has a population of 300,000, it’s no surprise that their capital city isn’t huge. Have a wander up and down the streets (and admire the Christmas lights, if it’s the right time of year). Visit the church, which is perhaps the most significant attraction in the town. We had a brilliant meal at Tapas, which I would thoroughly recommend if you are visiting – book ahead! You can get a 6 course Icelandic tasting menu (including Puffin and Whale) for approximately 60,000kr, and if that’s not quite your style (it wasn’t mine) then they do a variety of other a la carte meals, tapas, and have fantastic vegetarian options (seriously, I was VERY impressed with the vegetarian tapas tasting menu for approximately 50,000kr). The place is cozy and the staff are lovely. Can’t recommend this enough. Dont try and go out for breakfast though – Iceland doesnt do breakfasts in a big way, and after a walk around town one morning we just ended up back at the hotel eating the breakfast there…

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 Blue Lagoon.

Another must on a visit to Iceland. Located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, and perhaps a little pricey, sitting in the baby blue geothermal baths with the steam rising up around you is fairly surreal. There is a sauna, steam room and swim up bar also, as well as buckets of mud full of cleaning properties for you to give yourself a scrub with. I’d suggest taking your own towel, and opting for the cheapest package as it’s all you need. You can purchase drinks, snacks and sandwiches at the cafe, but it’s nothing fancy.

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Northern Lights.

In order to see the Northern Lights, you need to have had high activity from the sun that day, coupled with a clear night and no cloud cover. You also need to be right out of the city in darkness. We went for a long drive at night into complete darkness in the countryside, but unfortunately conditions weren’t in our favour and there was a lot of cloud cover – so we didn’t see the lights on this trip.

 Hot tips.

Don’t bother withdrawing any Icelandic Kronas if you visit – everywhere takes card, even for the smallest amounts. Be aware that food and drink are pricey here too. Our trip was made so much easier by hiring a car, and the fact we had someone who was willing to drive all weekend – if you can do that, do. The landscape is vastly different in summer and winter – I’d like to go back in summer and see what it’s like then too (when it would be far more pleasant to spend time outdoors).

Top tunes.

1. Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men

2. Sunny Road – Emiliana Torrini

3. Anything by Sigur Ros