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Amsterdam – Sept 2017

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My best friend had moved away during the Summer of 2017, however, we’d stayed in touch and I had been up to see her in Bath which is a beautiful city. We had also booked to go to Amsterdam for a few days for my birthday. City breaks aren’t usually my ideal holiday but for my friend it was right out of her comfort zone …I’m not sure we thought too much about that when we booked.

We had booked a lovely apartment just to the west of Rembrandtpark. It was a little away from the centre but that kind of suited us being away from the hustle and bustle of the city whilst at the same time, only a short metro ride away from Central Station.

My birthday itself was lovely. We arrived at our apartment at around 8pm and headed straight out to a nearby square where there were bars and restaurants. We only had a few drinks but it was lovely sitting outside on a fairly mild evening finally having a drink to celebrate my birthday.

Amsterdam was one of the busiest cities I have visited …I guess I mean in terms of the chaotic way trams, cars & bikes came at us from all directions. We had both gone our separate ways on our first morning there as I wanted to visit Ann Frank’s house whilst my friend wanted to just relax after the journey. We met up in the afternoon and soon realised we needed some sort of plan or we’d end up spending the next few days wandering around aimlessly. She came up trumps there coming up with a list of things we thought we might want to see which I added to. This became our defacto ‘mission’ if you like, to tick off as many things as we could and it gave us some focus. Of course I wouldn’t want it to be thought this was some rigid military operation ….we had some fun in the evenings frequenting the various bars and coffee shops in the city as well.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was Ann Frank’s house, although we both really enjoyed the Van Gogh museum and the viewing tower known as ‘A’dam Lookout.

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Madcool, Madrid – July 2017

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My next trip abroad was something my friend Natalie and I had planned for a few months now. I think we’d booked it all up in a matter of a few days towards the end of the previous year. The plan had been for a few of us to find a festival abroad with a decent lineup and get something booked. In the event, it wasn’t clear that anyone else was coming so Natalie rang me up one day with details of this new festival in Madrid with a fantastic lineup. By the end of that day we’d booked flights and hotel. It’s not normally the way I do things and it wasn’t until I got home that evening that I realised that we hadn’t really done any research on the place ….planning went right out of the window and I was a little out of my comfort zone.

We had been a little worried that we were in the middle of nowhere and might have problems getting to and from the festival. In the event, although our hotel was in the middle of nowhere (think Bates motel without the psychotic murders and scary music), there was a good bus service to central Madrid and the metro was pretty easy to navigate. Another thing that I was a little wary of was that we were sharing a room. Now anyone who knows me knows that I like my own space on holiday ….I do not share a room. However, Natalie and I have shared before and I’ve known her a long time so I went with it. In fact, I would probably share with her again if necessary. She’s probably the only person I would share with and it was fine in the end.

The festival was pretty special. We had been to Bennicasim the previous year, a big crowd of us but this was better. The lineup was out of this world ….the likes of Green Day, Manic Street Preachers, Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon were highlights.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great. It rained pretty much from the minute we arrived until the day we left so with the festival beginning early evening until the early hours, we spent much of our time in the room. I think we had one and a half days of sunshine. We went into Madrid on the last day to have a look round and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed with the place. It’s not somewhere I would chose to go on holiday usually, put it that way.

I left Madrid before Natalie as she was heading to Benicassim to meet up with friends for the festival there. I was a bit jealous as it would have been nice to catch up with everyone although the lineup wasn’t that good this year.

Cyprus twice

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A year ago almost to the day, I returned from an amazing trip to Cuba. Having blogged my way through the holiday, I seemed to disappear ….well, at least I stopped writing about my adventures. I guess i get a bit lazy so I’m going to try and play catch-up in this post. When I think back I still had a fair amount of trips during the rest of the year. In fact, I had five more trips abroad last year ……that’s a total of six holidays, something that I know I’ll never better, at least not while I’m still working.

So how exactly did my year pan out in terms of travelling? On my return from Cuba, I got straight into looking for a new destination. I wanted somewhere else I hadn’t been to ….a new country to tick off. I already had a festival in Madrid booked for July and a trip to Amsterdam for my birthday in September, both places I had been to before. I needed somewhere to go to in May. In the end I plumped for Cyprus. I had tried booking Cyprus a few times but never found anywhere I was totally happy with and as a solo traveller, I am exceptionally fussy. I tend to think that if I’m going away with a friend, it won’t matter too much where I’m staying as there will be less chance of getting bored. Bored? On holiday? Yeah I know, but I’ve always been a bit paranoid that I’ll end up with nothing to do and bored of my own company. It happened when I went to Malta ….I absolutely hated it and couldn’t wait to leave ….so I always look into everything meticulously. Anyway, I had booked myself a nice hotel fairly near the seafront in Paphos …..the Avlida Hotel. In the event, I had a fantastic time and met so many people. Of course there was Russiagate ….yep, for some reason the Russians insist on attempting to exert their supposed superiority wherever they go. Fortunately, I was with a good crowd who backed me up although it nearly saw the start of world war 3. I also met a girl over there who I hit it off with. I did nearly miss my plane home though having stayed at her flat the night before travelling home. It was quite funny as I got back to my hotel in the morning and ran the gauntlet of comments from people I’d met who realised I hadn’t slept in my own bed. But I made my flight home in the end. One thing that I have to say is that the Cyprus sun is the hottest I have ever felt, and I say that having experienced something like 50 degrees in Morocco.

Now my next holiday was due to be the Madcool Festival in Madrid in July, however, I had this mad idea that it would be fun to go and visit my ‘friend’ in Cyprus …..for a weekend. It was a crazy idea and the flights were very expensive though of course I didn’t have to pay for accommodation. So the plan was to fly out early on the Thursday and fly back on the Sunday/Monday overnight flight, going straight into work from the airport. Again the weather was extremely hot and Cyprus didn’t disappoint, although I definitely drank too much that weekend.

It’s kind of strange going so far for such a short period ….I like to try these things once but not sure I’d do it again. I was pretty much shattered when I got back and didn’t make it into work on the Monday, choosing instead to go home and sleep.

Hasta la vista Cuba

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It’s now Thursday morning and after 7 days of fairly mixed weather, I’m now on my way to the airport to get my flight home, and I can honestly say this holiday has been one of the best I’ve been on.

I went on a two day tour to the south of the island at the weekend including a visit to Che Guevara’s memorial at Santa Clara, a hotel stop over near Cienfuegos and then a quick tour around Trinidad. The memorial was absolutely beautiful with plaques on the wall depicting the faces of all the members of Che’s troop …it was a really fitting tribute to a legendary revolutionary who dedicated his life to fighting for the people of South America.

Cienfuegos was not very special really but when we moved onto Trinidad the next day, we got a glimpse of the real Cuba with its narrow cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, albeit very old. Trinidad is the oldest city in Cuba and is well worth a visit.

During this trip we also went on a 4km hike through the hills and forests around Trinidad which form Parque Guanayara The centre piece of the park was a spectacular waterfall and beautiful lake.

The hotel I stayed at in Varadero was Brisas del Caribe, as mentioned in a previous post. When I first arrived, I was struck by the amount of Russians staying there. In fact for most of the week I was the only Brit staying at the hotel, not that this was a problem, I made friends with a lovely group of Canadiians. Canada is only a three hour flight away so Cuba is a destination of choice for many and I must say, in all my travels I haven’t met a more friendly bunch of people, so laid back and down to earth.

Having had no major dramas all holiday, two hours before I was due to leave the hotel, I somehow managed to fall forward onto a red hot BBQ grill and, instinctively putting my hands out to brace myself, gave.myself a nasty burn, which was compounded by the fact that I initially couldn’t seem to get the hotel nurse to give me anything to relieve the pain without payment. Eventually, an intervention by the hotel manager, got me seen to although I now have a nice little blister forming on the palm of my hand. At least the pain is beginning to subside. Not really what I wanted before a ten hour flight.

As we head for the airport, my disappointment at leaving this beautiful country really can’t be put into words. I don’t think there’s any doubt that I’ll be back soon.

Varadero

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Firstly, after reading some quite scathing reviews of my hotel, Brisas del Caribe on Trip advisor, I was pleasantly surprised on arrival on Thursday morning. The layout of the hotel is really nice and the pool area and gardens are perfectly designed. The food was ok, but I wasn’t that hungry really despite having only eaten two proper meals since arriving in Cuba …..so far so good.

I think you have to.understand that Varadero is very much a tourist spot. You will not get proper Cuban culture here and in fact I’d find it hard to understand anyone coming to Cuba solely for Varadero. Everyone should make the effort to sample some of the real culture or you might as well spend a week in the Costa del Sol.

I booked an overnight trip to Santa Clara, Cienfuegos and Trinidad so that I could see a bit more of Cuba. I understand that the memorial to Che Guevara is at Santa Clara so I look forward to seeing that.

I took a 2km walk to Plaza America, which as the name might suggest is a tourists shopping mall with a few souvenir shops, clothes shops, restaurants and a supermarket. One thing I did notice was how expensive everything is compared to Havana ….real tourist prices and in many cases more expensive than in the UK.i did buy a bottle of Santiago de Cuba rum which is quite rare in the UK due to export issues in Cuba.

After a breezy and chilly start to life in Varadero, the weather has picked up nicely so here’s to the next few days being the relaxing, Sunny holiday I planned.

Beautiful Havana

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It is now Thursday lunchtime and, having just boarded the bus to Varadero, it’s time to say goodbye to Havana, such a beautiful city with beautiful people. The guides will tell you that Cuba is the safest country in Latin America and I can well believe it. I can honestly say I have felt safer in Havana than at times in London or Portsmouth.

I did manage to get to do my tour in the end and our guide Raphael was magnifico. The tour was called ‘Old man and the City’ and if you ever visit Havana I’d recommend this tour which involved part bus and part walking, visiting places such as Revolution Square and Ernest Hemingway’s house in the south of the city before heading back to the old town for a walking tour of some of the historical elements that make up this wonderful city, and god there is so much to see here. 

Cuba has suffered much from trade embargos placed on the country by America prior to Obama’s administration. Obama had begun a process of renewing relations with Cuba, although that seems set to change during Trump’ s administration, though much is unknown and I’d best steer clear of the politics of the situation, not being an expert in such matters, it’s very much an area of history that interests me though.

I met a lovely Cuban girl on my first night here and it was lovely to spend time with her, especially when out to dinner last night, avoiding the usual tourist hotspots and instead eating at the restaurant where she works, a traditional Cuban restaurant called, Familia. If ever you’re in Havana try it out. The food is gorgeous and there is traditional live music. Cuban music seems so upbeat and you can’t help but want to.get up and dance. Bethi was a very good dancer and took me Salsa dancing, although much as I think I’m a good mover back home, there was no way I would have been able to compete here. I mean, this is proper dancing. Incidentally when I say I’m a good mover, you can probably take that with a pinch of salt.

I am sad to say goodbye to Bethi but we will stay in touch and if, or should I say when, I return, I hope my spanish will have improved so that we can converse much more easily. Mostly we just enjoyed each other’s company.

So all in all, Havana was a success, and I really wish I could have stayed longer. I hope Varadero isn’t an anti-climax. I will of course look forward to a relaxing week and the weather has greatly improved. I’ve added a few random unedited photos below but they dont really tell half the story of this vibrant city. Ciao for now.

Havana – first impressions

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As I write this, it’s a very breezy Tuesday evening. Of course I can’t be sure when I’ll get to publish due to the difficulty finding Wi-Fi anywhere near my hotel, although to be honest it’s not been a major drawback so far. It’s pretty amazing how these days we have come to rely on these things so much even while on holiday.

The last twenty four hours since arriving in Havana have been a bit of a mixed bag. I really love Havana itself and I think I could probably do with more time to see everything, however, I seem to invite problems whatever I do and wherever I go. I guess I should get a few of the negatives out of the way first, starting with being over charged last night for drinks in the hotel bar. I won’t go into detail but I think the barman took full advantage of a guy who was a bit tired and quite frankly would have paid anything to get a couple of drinks before going to bed (I think £18 for two vodkas is a bit much. Then this morning came the shower with cold water. This was followed this afternoon by the tour guide I’d booked not turning up. I’d actually made several attempts to contact the company to ensure that they would be picking up at the hotel but c’est la vie, I’ve arranged something else for tomorrow morning instead. All this kind of detracts from the main event of these few days which is Havana itself. In my previous post I did allude to the fact that I’d be much happier wandering about at my own pace and that’s definitely been the case.

I don’t normally bother with holiday welcome meetings and with my welcome meeting taking place at a big hotel about a mile away I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be up for that. That said, I was awake quite early so decided it would be quite nice to take a walk and get a feel for the city. It was actually a really nice leisurely stroll through Havana’ s less tourist centric back streets. Whilst it was warm, it was quite cloudy so just right for walking and thanks to one of my favorite holiday apps, Maps.me, I found the hotel in no time stall and also managed to hook up to the hotel’s Wi-Fi ….I mean I’ve gotta get my fix right? One thing which had been quite noticeable walking over was the lack of convenience stores and when I did find a shop later, my simple request for a packet of crisps was met with blank looks ….it seems my favorite holiday snack is not something Cubans are familiar with. I’ve since found out that, possibly due to rationing, they don’t tend to go in for the multitude of different snack types that we do. In fact the meccanado that I found was quite bare with very limited essentials.

We had a minor rain shower around lunchtime but it was nothing like we get back home ….it lasted about an hour but the temperature remained high so was not much of a problem. I’d be more bothered if we hit rain when I’m in Varadero when I’ll be wanting to be sunbathing but I think the weather is going to improve by then.

I had met a young couple with two young children on the plane over and by chance they were staying at the same hotel so I met them for a bite to eat before having another wander round the old town. I actually love just walking around new places even if I’m not actually doing much ….just the occasional small talk with locals or other tourists and browsing for nic-nacs in local shops.

Anyway, like I say, i really like Havana and I’m looking forward to doing a proper tour tomorrow. Here’s hoping for no rain.