Sunday, 27 November 2011

Strolling through the cliffs and ancient sites of Cornwall

120km in 4 days walking on the extreme southern coastal paths of Cornwall and exploring the numerous archaeological sites of the Iron and Bronze age. 

Day 1 – Penzance to Porthcurno

We took the South Costal Path - Penzance to Mousehole: the worst part of the entire journey. Mousehole to Lamorna: great views-you walk through a colourful natural reserve and stunning cliffs. Lamorna has a beautiful and rich flora that hides ancient mills and 18th century country houses. Near Lamorna we saw the very popular archaeological site of Merry Maidens. On the way to Porthcurno through internal paths you can see many other standing stones, the Tregiffian Barrow (about 3000 BC tomb) and then on the coast again you meet the fabulous village of Penberth. The last 3 miles of the path are quite strenuous and steep.
Dinner: Cable Station Inn Pub (the only restaurant in the area) - decent food.
Overnight: Sea View  B&B – nice and clean place and friendly owners.

Day 2 – Porthcurno to St. Just 

Some of the best views and locations of the entire walk, including: Porthgwarra bay, little sandy beaches coves and the protected local bird Red Billed Chough. From the touristy Lands End (1 hotel and 1 shopping centre) onward, the scenery is much rockier and with less interesting vegetation even you still see amazing cliffs. Sennen Cove is a surfers paradise, offering a huge and windy beach. Walking through internal paths, we explored the Iron settlement of Carn Euny, famous for its beehive shelter and its underground passage, both perfectly preserved. Beware from here to St. Just it’s very easy to get lost as many of the pathways are not very well maintained.

Dinner: The King's Arms – Good but overpriced food.
Overnight: Wellington Hotel – AVOID THIS PLACE! – Noisy, dirty, rude staff and very expensive hotel-pub.

Day 3 – St. Just to St. Ives 

We took the internal Tinners Way. Again, the path signs are very bad kept. Bring a good map and compass with you at all time. You can’t miss: Tregeseal Stone Circle, Carn (rocky hill) Kenidjack, the holed stones, Chun Quoit, Chun Castle, the infamous Men an Tol (the legend says that it’s connected to a fertility ritual), and also many 18th century mines.
Dinner - The Loft: romantic fish restaurant.
Overnight - Sea Forth B&B: luxury see view B&B, featuring extremely friendly and caring owners. Highly recommended.

Day 4 – St.Ives to Marazion

We followed the St. Michael’s Way (the route used by the Irish pilgrims to France and Santiago de Compostela). Very relaxing and easy paths. Green hills and kettles all around. At the end of the St. Michael’s Way it is possible to admire St. Michael’s Mount, a little isle with a hunting medieval castle in front of Marazion that it’s connected to the coast only during the low tide (Must see).

Dinner The Victoria Inn: great country gastro pub, serving delicious but expensive food. Reachable only via cab (ask for the funny Jolly Roger) or car.
Overnight The Old Vicarage B&B: huge and comfy 18th century style room. The owner is a grumpy old horse breeder.

Practical tips:

- Best time of the year: May to September.
- Mind the internal paths, very bad signs.
- Don’t miss: Lamorna, St. Ives and almost all the archaeological sites.
- Try the Cornish Ales.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Great Glen Way: 73 miles on foot

The Great Glen Way is a long distance walk that takes you from the East to the West coast of Scotland touching three beautiful Lochs (lakes).
This is the diary of our trail.

Day one:
Difficulty: easy
Fort Williams -  Gairlochy: 11 miles ( + extra)
A long and pleasurable walk on a flat land along the river Lochy.
We stayed at Stronaba in the beautiful Springburn B&B, 4 miles uphill on the right side of the path. The owners were extremely helpful and friendly. Lovely place.

Day two:
Difficulty: easy/medium
Gairlochy - South Laggan: 12,5 miles (+ extra)
First Loch (Lochy) of the trip. Beautiful views. Quiet and unspoilt scenery. Plenty of cows and goats all around!
We stayed in South Laggan at the basic Great Glen Hostel. Bunk beds. No breakfast available and no chance to get it anywhere around.
Nearest pub is a bunk house 1 mile away. Fun place and good ales.

Day three:
Difficulty: easy
South Laggan - Fort Augustus: 10 miles
On the trail you will find the mysterious Invergarry castle on the other side of the Loch and an haunting abandoned house from the 19th century.
We stayed at Bank House an old style B&B managed by a real cheerful Scottish man telling stories about Loch Ness.

Day four:
Difficulty: medium
Fort Augustus - Invermoriston: 9,5 miles
Less miles but a bit uphill. Beautiful wild life. Once you arrive at Invermoriston you have the chance to do fabulous walks around the area. You must see the Thomas Telford bridge, built in 1813, which crosses  the spectacular river Moriston falls.
We stayed at Bracarina House, cosy and comfortable B&B. Great breakfast and foot spa available for your tired feet!
Be aware that the village has one hotel and one newsagent. The hotel's restaurant serves good food (especially game)

Day five:
Difficulty: difficult
Invermoriston - Drumnadrochit : 14,5 miles (+ extra)
The trail at times can can be a bit steep. The last part near Drumnadrochit is characterised by plain fields.
We stayed at Knowle B&B managed by a friendly Dutch couple. Beautiful but about 2 miles away fro the main path.

Day six:
Difficulty: hard
Drumnadrochit - Inverness: 19 miles
It was the longest and hardest distance to cover and we found a blizzard of snow followed by heavy rain all day long (in April)
The only warm oasis of the day was at Abriachan Eco-Campsite & Cafe featuring the extravagant and ultra friendly Rory (...but do not expect luxury). Boring and disappointing sceneries apart for last 5 miles.
We stayed at Bazpackers hostel....devastating experience (dirty sheets, smelly room, really old structure that needs refurbishment and very rude and uncaring receptionist....avoid this place).

-always bring plenty of water and snacks with you.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The magical atmosphere of Priene

Admission TL 3
Opening hours: 8.30 - 18.30 May-Sept; 8.30 -17.30 Oct-Apr

Priene, an ancient city of Ionia in south-western modern Turkey, was one of the most important commercial and cultural centre during the Hellenistic and Roman era. It passed then into Byzantine and finally Turkish hands until it was completely abandoned around the 13th century.

The city is located on a dramatic and spectacular hill at the feet of Mykale mount. It looks like a ghost town and has a mystic and magic vibe. The silence and atmosphere that we encountered in this site is something very difficult to find in any other archaeological site in Turkey.

The Hellenistic theatre is one of the best example of its kind and very well preserved. It is characterised by 5 armchairs seats decorated with anthropomorphic figures and has beautiful back stage constructions partially intact, which is extremely rare.
Behind the theatre you will find the hidden rests of a Byzantine church with a partly damaged pulpit.

The Temple of Athena has only 5 columns still standing up but the scenic view of the valley below that you can get from it, it's astonishing.
All around there is an extended network of streets and residences surrounded by what is left of the walls of the city and the 'usual' large Agora (or market).

Once left this impressive ruins we strongly suggest to visit the village of Doganbey with its picturesque 19th century Ottoman houses.
From there within half an hour drive you will find yourself in a peaceful lagoon on the southern side of the Dilek peninsula.
Carry on until the end of the coastal road where the military zone starts and stop for a meal at the delicious Karina fish restaurant directly on the beach (but do not forget mosquito repellent).

Sunday, 30 October 2011

20 Maya ruins in 20 days

If you are visiting Southern Mexico you can't miss to visit some ancient Maya sites. Here you can find useful info on what we have seen in 20 days around the Yucatan peninsula and Chiapas.

1. Coba' (extended site)

Open 8-17 Ticket: 51 mex pesos
A bit touristic. Great pelota ball court. Highest pyramid in Yucatan peninsula (accessible for visitors) with dramatic views from the top. Bicycle taxis available.

2. Chacchoben (small site)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 41 mex pesos
Perfectly kept. Very friendly and helpful manager. Not touristic at all. Peaceful.

3. Kohunlich (medium sized site)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 49 mex pesos
Best preserved and most beautiful decorative masks (mascarones) we have ever seen. Magical and scary atmosphere due to a tropical storm.

4. Dzibanche' (large site)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 42 mex pesos
Stunning tropical jungle and spider monkeys all around (django). A few carvings on the pyramids. We found a lot of workers restoring parts of the site.

5. Kinichna' (very small)
Open 8-17 Ticket: entrance included with the ticket of Dzibanche'
Mostly not excaveted. Only one pyramid to see. Stunning jungle all around. Quite isolated.

6. Calakmul (extra large)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 56 mex pesos
Outstanding sub-tropical journey into the jungle. Amazing, huge pyramids. Plenty of stelaes to see (most of them not in good conditions). Strong mosquito repellent required. this site is rich in flora, birds chirping, parrots, spider monkeys and colourful butterflies.

7. Balamku (very small)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 30 mex pesos
Great and well preserved stucco masks in a small tunnel inside one of the temples.

8. Chicanna' (medium-small site)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 30 mex pesos
Large, impressive doorway with hideous fanged visage that gives the name to the site (Chicanna': House of the Serpent Jaws). This site is a little gem of Rio Bec style Maya art.

9. Xpuhil (small)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 37 mex pesos
Famous for its Rio Bec style three towered building. Entertaining gardener on site.

10. Becan (large site)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 41 mex pesos
Huge main palace and extended tunnel network. Walls all around the site partially excavated.

11.Bonampak (a small jem)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 41 mex pesos plus transportation costs (75 pesos pp with little van)
Very well preserved stelaes. Unmissable rare and colourful Maya murals in little temple. One of the rooms was under under restoration therefore not visitable (Oct '11)

12. Yaxchilan (medium)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 41 mex pesos but reachable only by boat (approx. 1 hour trip). Transportation costs depending on the amount of people (700 pesos for 2). Entrance tickets can be bought only at the nearest village (Frontera Corozal) where you can also arrange the boat trip.
Site located on the shore of  the  Usamancita river, natural border with Guatemala. Haunting labyrinth inhabited by bats and insects of all kinds (bring a torch if you dare to adventure inside!). Huge ancient trees adorning the site. Best lintels we have seen and fantastic stelaes. Massive stone stair into the jungle leading to the Great Acropolis characterized by imposing statues and carvings.

13. Palenque (very large)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 51 mex pesos plus 25 pesos park entrance fee
Very touristic. A few bazaars inside the site, which make it quite unpleasant. Small cascades. Stunning temples with carvings; one of them - the most important - not visitable. unique tower, perfectly preserved, again not accessible. Series of tunnels under the main palace. Very rude guardians and dodgy ticky-tacky vendors at the entrance  (some of them offering hallucinogenic mushrooms)

14. Edzna (big)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 40 mex pesos
Relaxed site full of huge iguanas. Large plaza dominated by a massive temple (not accessible). Couple of masks found in the early '90s.

15. Sayil (medium-small)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 37 mex pesos
On the Ruta Puuc. Big palace in Puuc style decorated with columns and anthropomorphic stone masks. You need to walk almost 1 Km to reach the various buildings. Big god of fertility statue with impressive penis.

16. Xlapak (very small)
Open 8-17. Free entrance (Oct '11)
Site under restoration and excavation. Puuc style palace.

17. Labna' (medium size)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 37 mex pesos
Outstanding Puuc style decorations. Big temple with hidden masks. Beautiful observatory (el Mirador). Unique arch.

18. Dzibilchaltun (medium size)
Open 8-17 Ticket: 109 mex pesos - including cenote
White Maya roads. Huge arch 'Arc de Triomphe' style! Magic and peaceful where you can chill out for hours. Entrance with food and drinks not permitted.

19. Chichen Itza' (huge)
Open  8-17 Ticket: 116 + 51 mex pesos
Confusing double ticket to pay (one for the government and one for the state...unbelievable). Over crowed (even in low season) site with extremely rude staff. Ultra-touristic. This is a 'bazaar site' not an archaeological. Not possible to climb the pyramids or palaces. Beautiful skull-decorated sacrificial platform Toltec style. Sacred cenote not remarkable. Interesting display of columns dedicated to the Maya warriors. Stunning and well preserved pyramid surmounted by temple. Due an interesting architectural design, if you clap your hands between the platform and the 'El Castillo' you can hear a very funny and unusual sound effect. 'Palace of the Nuns' on the outskirts of the site not to be missed. Pelota ball court, big as an American football ground, closed for restoration (Oct '11)

20. Isla Mujeres temple
Only a small  and almost destroyed temple on the beautiful cliffs of the island.