Mass transit in the sky

This short article showcases the magnificent La Paz cable car system, and how it has made a huge difference to the city. Don’t miss the sublime video at the end!

La Paz cable car
La Paz cable car, Bolivia

It sounds like something from a futuristic fantasy book. People floating above the city on their way to work, or to go shopping, or for a night out. Even though Medellรญn, Colombia was the first city to use cable cars for mass transit, it’s La Paz in Bolivia which has made them the backbone of the city’s public transport system.

Plus รงa change

I first visited La Paz in the year 2000. At the turn of the century the city was heavily reliant on buses to whisk people around the city. ‘Whisk’, however, is probably the wrong word for commutes which could take up to 3 hours, one way.

View from La Paz cable car system Mi Telefรฉrico
View from Mi Telefรฉrico

The La Paz metropolitan area has sprawled so far that it has absorbed the city of El Alto. Formed in 1903 and with a population approaching one million people – almost all of whom are Amerindian -, El Alto is La Paz’s poorer cousin. A strongly socialist president (Evo Morales) decided to help the people of El Alto feel more of a part of La Paz. And so, in 2014, Mi Telefรฉrico was opened.

Returning to La Paz in 2018 I noticed that the city hadn’t changed all that much. Ladies in bowler hats still sold piles of produce in Mercado Rodrรญguez. The 18th century Basรญlica de San Francisco still stood grandly over Plaza San Francisco. Poverty was still apparent. But some things had changed.

It was no longer possible to take an unofficial tour of San Pedro prison. A hideously ugly new presidential palace in the form of a glass skyscraper had sprouted above the historic centre. And cable cars had appeared. Everywhere.

Flying high

When you’re in La Paz you’re already standing pretty high up in the air. 3,640 metres, to be precise. El Alto is even higher. At 4,000 metres it’s the highest major city in the world. If the altitude doesn’t take your breath away, then the views from the cable cars certainly will.

There are 11 La Paz cable car lines stringing together the various parts of the city. My favourites were the Sky Blue, Green and Purple lines. First the Sky Blue line lifted me from the bustle of Prado and between the downtown skyscrapers. Below the pollution-choked Choqueyapu River glooped through the city.

La Paz cable car passengers
People in traditional dress on cable car

12 minutes later, at Chuqui Apu (which is also the Aymara name for La Paz), I switched to the Green Line. The station names have both Spanish and Aymara names (Chuqui Apu station is called ‘Libertador’ in Spanish) and are modern and shiny new. In fact, this modernity provides a wonderful juxtaposition to the locals in traditional dress

The Green Line sails over some small hills, on which are spread large houses and mansions. Apparently many of the wealthy inhabitants of these properties have moved out, not wanting to be looked down on by the travelling public. For me, the view into luscious lawns and azul pools was part of the attraction of this line (sorry, wealthy La Pazians).

La Paz cable car
View of one of the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods

From the highest point of the Green Line I could see beyond the city, where the desert takes over. At the end of this line is Irpawi station. I hadn’t intended to come here to see anything in particular, and the fact that the military museum here was closed helped that endeavour. For me the main attraction was the cable car system itself, or rather the views from it. And I had saved the best ’til last.

A near miss

Back in the centre of the city I sought out Lรญnea Morada, or the Purple Line, which departed from Utjawi station. This was the line which connected El Alto to La Paz, and was perhaps partly responsible for El Alto’s growth. With around 250,000 people/day travelling by cable car, the Purple Line has certainly prevented road congestion from getting much worse and has reduced the commute to minutes for people living away from the centre.

La Paz is clustered in a canyon, and El Alto is on the rim. It is spread out along the altiplano and it’s where you’ll find the international airport, although the cable car system sadly doesn’t go there. From Utjawi the gondola is hoisted up and up and up out of the canyon. Below you can see Mercado Rodrรญguez, then the prison, then the blocks of housing clinging onto cliffs. You can also see all the way across La Paz to the point where the city disappears around a distant canyon corner.

Not having any plans today for fully exploring El Alto, I disembarked at Tiquira station. It had been one of the most dramatic public transport journeys I’ve ever taken, and it cost me only about $0.30. In fact, I enjoyed the journey so much that I wanted to see what the view was like at night.

View over La Paz from a cable car at night
La Paz cable car at night

Beneath a full moon I returned to the Purple Line. I paid my 3 Bolivianos and boarded the gondola. These little cabins can accommodate about 6 people comfortably, but I was always able to find one all to myself. At night the city takes on a fascinating new look from above. The constellation above is mimicked by myriad artificial lights below. Down there is a football match being played under floodlights, or someone struggling up steep steps lit orange by streetlights.

At Tiquira station I realised that I had made a mistake. I had just stepped off of the last cable car of the night. It was only 9pm, but at that time on a Sunday night (in 2018, at least), this particular line stopped for the day. Thankfully the lovely station staff agreed to run one more car down and, relieved, I enjoyed the view all over again. This experience did, however, make me face the prospect of an hours-long bus journey back to the centre, and it was only then that I fully appreciated how important this amazing cable car network was to the population far beyond the centre.


Take 5 minutes out of your day to watch this surprisingly relaxing footage I took of the Mi Telefรฉrico system during both the day and night, and featuring several of its lines.


With the launch of the Gold Line Mi Telefรฉrico is now complete. You can experience this incredible car car system as part of this FREE 14 day Bolivia itinerary

๐Ÿจ

I stayed at the wonderful Loki Boutique. La Paz has a great choice of accommodation, view deals by clicking the button

โœˆ๏ธ

Fly to El Alto International Airport and either take a bus downtown to Prado, or a cheap taxi


7 Top Rome Hostels

Top Rome Hotels
Rome, Italy

Travel to Italy and you have to see Rome. Thankfully there’s a wealth of great value accommodation in the Eternal City, but with some being better than others I’ve sought out the very best. Here are my 7 top Rome hostels recommendations, with the 8 best guesthouses below:

The Beehive

Top Rome Hostels - The Beehive

๐Ÿ“ Two streets away from Rome Termini train station
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Basic bunks with private reading lights. Lockers in dorms. Female-only dorms
๐Ÿšฟ Clean, modern bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Kitchen available for self-catering, plus small and great value cafe
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ 7 private rooms with 5 shared bathrooms, plus some private rooms with private ensuites


Free Hostels Roma

Top Rome hostels - Free Hostels Roma

๐Ÿ“ 20 minute walk to the Coliseum, 18 min walk to Termini
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Cleverly designed stylish dorms with extremely private ‘nests’
๐Ÿšฟ Each dorm has its own bathroom (max. 6 beds), free towel use
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Relatively new kitchen, common areas include outdoor terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private double rooms with ensuite bathrooms


Yellowsquare Rome

Top Rome Hostels - Yellowsquare Rome

๐Ÿ“ 8 min walk to Termini, 38 min walk to the Pantheon
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Sturdy bunks, some with privacy curtains and reading lights
๐Ÿšฟ Bathrooms are…OK
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Cheap bar, loads of common areas, music venue, new coworking space, not quiet!
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Small private rooms with ensuite bathrooms


RomeHello hostel

Top Rome Hostels - RomeHello Hostel

๐Ÿ“ 16 min walk to Trevi Fountain, close to Termini
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Sturdy bunks with reading lights and sockets in spacious 4, 8, and 10-bed dorms
๐Ÿšฟ Each room has good-sized bathroom
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Lovely, modern kitchen, terrace with table tennis and foosball, bar with live music
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Twin, double and triple en-suite private rooms


Roma Scout Center

Top Rome Hostels - Rome Scout Center

๐Ÿ“ 6 minute walk to Bologna metro station
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Stylish 4-bed dorms (female, male, and mixed) with private reading lights
๐Ÿšฟ Large shared bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Breakfast included, good value restaurant/bar, but no kitchen
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Doubles, twins and mini-suite, all with ensuite bathrooms


La Controra Hostel

Top Rome Hostels - La Controra Hostel

๐Ÿ“ 14 minutes from both the Trevi Fountain and Termini station
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious dorms with up to four beds, towels included
๐Ÿšฟ Plenty of modern bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Small kitchen and communal areas
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private rooms with ensuite bathrooms


MEININGER Roma Termini

Top Rome Hostels - MEININGER Roma Termini

๐Ÿ“ 8 minute walk to Termini
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Usual good quality dorm bunks and beds (319 in total!), with private reading lights
๐Ÿšฟ Chic ensuite bathrooms with all dorms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Relatively small kitchen, but great value bar/restaurant
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Plenty of spacious private rooms with ensuite bathrooms


…and here are Rome’s 8 best guesthouses:


Blue Hostel

Top Rome Guesthouses - Blue Hostel

๐Ÿ“ Once a 17th century convent, located 8 min walk from Termini
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, largest configuration room is for 3, plus a 4-bed apartment
๐Ÿšฟ Each room has beautifully designed private bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No common areas or kitchen, apart from in the apartment
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘All of the boutique rooms are private and well-designed


Trani B&T Rooms

Top Rome Guesthouses - Trani B&T Rooms

๐Ÿ“ Just steps to Termini
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, four private rooms one of which can accommodate up to 8 people
๐Ÿšฟ Some room share a bathroom
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No common areas
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ All rooms are private and, although somewhat dated, amazing value


Hostel Mosaic Central

Top Rome Guesthouses - Hostel Mosaic Central

๐Ÿ“ 10 minute walk to Termini, 16 minute walk to the lovely Villa Borghese
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, max. 3-bed basic rooms
๐Ÿšฟ Clean shared bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No kitchen, small lounge area, complimentary breakfast
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Double rooms available


Dreaming Navona Rooms

Top Rome Guesthouses - Dreaming Navona Rooms

๐Ÿ“ Conveniently located 10 mins to the Pantheon and 18 mins to St Peter’s Sq
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, 2-, or 4-bed rooms, tastefully decorated, in characterful old building
๐Ÿšฟ All rooms have basic bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No communal areas
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ All rooms are private


Night And Day

Top Rome Guesthouses - Night And Day

๐Ÿ“ Just five minutes from Trevi Fountain
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms
๐Ÿšฟ Rooms have clean, spacious bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No communal areas
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Rooms can sleep up to four people


Downtown Accommodation

Top Rome Guesthouses - Downtown Accommodation

๐Ÿ“ Superbly positioned within easy walking distance to the main sights
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, air conditioning is an extra charge, good soundproofing
๐Ÿšฟ All rooms come with an ensuite bathroom
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No communal areas
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ All six rooms are double, some can accommodate an extra bed


Campanella3

Top Rome Guesthouses - Campanella3

๐Ÿ“ Perfectly located for exploring Vatican City
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, five tastefully decorated rooms
๐Ÿšฟ All rooms come with an ensuite bathroom
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Small kitchen and dining area, breakfast included
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Most rooms are double, some can accommodate up to four people


Agnes Roma B&B

Top Rome Guesthouses - Agnes Roma B&B

๐Ÿ“ Located in the Trieste area, known for its nightlife
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorms, elegant and clean rooms
๐Ÿšฟ Clean bathrooms (towels included)
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ No guest kitchen, free breakfast in dining room
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Double and twin rooms, all with private bathrooms


If you’ve been inspired by Rome’s top hostels and guesthouses then get your free Italy itinerary below, as well as a link to the best flight deals:

FREE travel plans

Visit Italy with this FREE extensive 16-day itinerary

Cheap flights to Rome are available from most major cities worldwide, click the button for the best current deals

7 memorable airline logos

Airline logos are too often dull and forgettable, but these select few really stand out for their design, or sheer creativity.

This airline name has been resurrected like a phoenix from the fire, but the bird featured is a hummingbird, common in Ecuador. The sleek dark blue, yellow, and aqua blue bird appears to fly at speed over a modern font with an “A” that reminds me of the country’s many volcanoes.

Memorable airline logos - Ecuatoriana
Memorable airline logos - Air New Zealand

The Mangลpare is the Mฤori symbol for hammerhead shark, and features prominently in Air New Zealand‘s logo. It also makes me think of ๐ŸŒฌ๏ธ emoji; a gust of wind up there where aircraft fly. I also love the bold, confident font.

A legendary airline with a legendary logo, which first began to take this form in 1955 (28 years after the Pan Am’s formation). Representing the globe and its meridians, combined with the speedy font this logo screams travel even 30 years after the airline ceased operations.

Memorable airline logos - Pan Am

This memorable airline logo features a flying elephant called Skypower. How could you possibly miss those oversized ears on the runway? Nigeria Airways (which ceased operations in 2003) had, of course, the Nigerian flag as its background.

Back to modern times, and this neat logo from Qatar Airways. It packs in large text, the airline’s name in Arabic, a roundel featuring shrinking lines that denote speed, and an elegant Arabian onyx. Impressive. I also like the use of sophisticated burgundy, befitting this 5-star airline.

Memorable airline logos - Niki

Well, this is certainly bold. It also reminds me of the Intel logo. It’s actually the logo of now-defunct low-cost Austrian airline Niki, and stands out thanks to its unusual (for airline logos) ellipse, handwriting font and thick lines.

This is Sir Turtle. He’s the best part of the Cayman Airways logo (I’m not a fan of the outdated font). Originally created by designer Suzy Soto for a holiday resort and sold to the Cayman Islands government for a bargain $1, at first glance it appears as though Sir Turtle has a peg leg and sword. On closer inspection he does actually have a peg leg and sword, plus natty red flying scarf added in 1978.

Memorable airline logos - Cayman Airways

20 years of Middle Earth

The first Lord Of The Rings movie was released 20 years ago. How has it changed New Zealand, and what is the best way to see this country?

New Zealand's Mount Ngauruhoe
Mount Ngauruhoe AKA Mount Doom

The first Lord of the Rings film came out in December 2001. After the final movie in the trilogy was released, tourism to New Zealand – where all three movies were filmed – had risen by over 30%. Having taken my now wife to the second film in the series on our first ever date, we were both inspired by the incredible landscapes on the big screen.

Although New Zealand didn’t have Hobbits, orcs, and other such figments of Tolkien’s imagination, the creatures we saw there were equally magical. In fact, I think that the LOTR director Peter Jackson missed out some of the best parts of this incredible country. To be fair to him, though, it would be hard to fit places such as the stellar glow worms of Waitomo Cave into the original tale.

Yeah, but is it really that good?

Near Milford Sound, New Zealand
On the road to Milford Sound

No, it’s even better. Jackson did an admirable job of showcasing his country, as is evidenced by the increase in tourist numbers there. Maybe it was because of the LOTR trilogy that we decided to spend so long (about 7 weeks) in New Zealand. Even that wasn’t enough time.

Instead of Gandalf’s trusty steed we travelled the country in an old Toyota Hiace, converted to function as a small campervan. Our agenda was to see New Zealand’s most dramatic sights, some of which happened to include LOTR locations.

A landscape made for epic tales

We visited New Zealand in 2008, almost 5 years after the final movie premiered. I had been expecting LOTR-themed everything. Hobbit Hikes, LegolasLand, Walks with Orcs etc. But there were in fact very few mentions of the movie. This is a country where the landscapes are more than capable of attracting visitors without Hollywood making a fuss over it.

Even though visitor numbers have grown strongly since the LOTR movies were released, they had already been growing exponentially since the mid-80s. The franchise did, however, help numbers reach a plateau that didn’t drop off during the 2008 crash.

New Zealand's Forgotten World Highway
Not the Gates of Moria, but a tunnel on the Forgotten World Highway in New Zealand’s North Island

Find your own pace

As you may have by now realised, this post isn’t going to be a list of LOTR filming locations. There are many, many other sites which have already covered that. What I wanted to do with this post is celebrate a movie which I love and in which the main star is a country that is best enjoyed without an agenda.

Te Anau, New Zealand
Nets are a necessity in parts of the South Island where sandflies thrive

Some planning is necessary, particularly when visiting popular locations, and even more particularly when embarking on the incredible multi-day hikes. But the prevalence of fantastic Department of Conservation campsites means that, more often than not, you can just rock up somewhere and decide to spend the night in a landscape so spectacular you can’t quite believe that Hollywood has yet to discover it. This is an experience we had over and over again.

Before the pandemic hit, visitor numbers to New Zealand had risen to almost 4 million. Despite the LOTR hype, and despite the (until recently) sustained rise in tourists, this remains one of the least densely-populated countries in the world, with just 18 people per square kilometre. As you stand alone looking at Mount Ngauruhoe, or paddling along the Waiau River, it’s easy to imagine a Hobbit wandering by.


Visit New Zealand’s South Island with this free 20-day itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers).

Home to many of the Lord of the Rings locations, explore North Island with my free 17-day itinerary for all budgets.

๐Ÿจ

I’ve detailed the very best hostels and hotels in the itineraries above, but if you are able to hire/purchase a campervan then I believe that this is the best way to see New Zealand. If you do want to book accommodation then, for the best value, I can recommend both Trivago and Hostelworld.

โœˆ๏ธ

Find the best flight prices to New Zealand on Skyscanner (if you’re flexible with dates then you can find some good deals).


How I saved ยฃ468 on a ยฃ1031 holiday

Big savings are possible if you know the tricks…and have some patience

Travel money saving tips: Paris
Montmartre, Paris

In February we’re spending 3 nights in Luxembourg and 1 night in Paris on the way back. We’ll be travelling by train and staying in highly-rated 4* hotels in central locations. Here’s how I saved ยฃ468 on this 4-night holiday for 2 people (don’t miss my travel money saving tips at the end):

ItemHow I savedSaving
EurostarNovember saleยฃ162
Paris hotelExpedia Member Pricing (free to create account) -20%ยฃ37.54
Luxembourg hotelExpedia app booking -10%ยฃ36.60
Paris hotel8% discount codeยฃ10.92
Luxembourg hotel8% discount codeยฃ26.25
Luxembourg hotel2,386 Expedia points gainedยฃ17.04*
Paris ><Luxembourg trainSNCF railcard sale (โ‚ฌ25 instead of โ‚ฌ49) saving 1/3 on French ticket priceยฃ38.17**
Paris hotel19,494 Expedia points appliedยฃ139.25
TOTAL SAVING:ยฃ467.77

*The ยฃ17.04 can only be used on a future trip
**This is the saving after I’ve deducted the cost of the railcard

In addition to the above I will get a free bottle of wine and room upgrades (subject to availability) as an Expedia VIP. For a 4-night trip to Luxembourg and Paris, staying in 4* hotels and including all transport, I’ve paid a total of ยฃ281.86 per person.

My travel money saving tips

  1. Choose an online travel agent and stick with them to gain points over time (Expedia are my favourite because they offer points, member savings, and VIP benefits)
  2. Wait for sales (Black Friday, Boxing Day, end of December-January for flights, January for cruises)
  3. Get the Shopping in Microsoft Edge addon, which will show you any applicable voucher codes
  4. Book via apps, which tend to offer additional savings and loyalty points
  5. If your train journey is looking expensive then see if buying a domestic railcard would, overall, save you money
  6. Sites such as Trivago often show the best prices across a range of sites

Do you have any travel money saving tips? Please share below!

Black Friday Travel Deals

The best Black Friday travel deals 2021

I’ve trawled through hundreds of Black Friday Travel deals and curated some of my favourites below. Please note: some of these links are to my affiliates which, if you purchase with them, will really help to keep this blog going.

Hotels and Hostels
Flights
Rail
Tours and holidays

๐Ÿจ Black Friday Hotel Deals + Hostels

Trip.com
ยฃ20 hotel coupon

Trivago
Usually picks up the best hotel offers

Expedia
Sign up and get 30% or more off hotels, and 4x reward points on app. Also, use code EXPEDIA15OFF


Hostelworld Sale
300+ hostels offering savings of up to 55%. Top 5 destinations:
1. Madrid
2. Prague
3. Budapest
4. Barcelona
5. Cancun

โœˆ๏ธ Black Friday Flight Deals

Skyscanner have put together this handy page to find the best deals. I will be adding below some of the best prices I find on the day

DestinationFromAirlinePrice

๐Ÿš† Black Friday Rail Deals

SNCF Railcard
Reduced from โ‚ฌ49 to โ‚ฌ25

Interrail
10% off + FREE refunds (save up to โ‚ฌ120)

๐Ÿ–๏ธ Tours and holidays Black Friday Deals

G Adventures
Up to 30% off 2022 holidays

Trip.com
15% off tours

Black Friday travel deals correct as of 18:32 Nov 17 2021

Why cruising is cool

2-minute read about why there’s nothing shameful about enjoying something which enhances your holiday experience.

Cruising past the Olympic Peninsula, WA, USA

Hi. My name’s Olly and I’m a backpacker. And a luxury tourist. And a cruise fan. In fact, I enjoy travel in just about all of its many, many forms, but too often I read or hear that you have to be a travel purist. Apparently you can’t fully appreciate hostel culture if you also like to stay in 5* hotels. Well, b*llocks to that.

My conversion

When I first started travelling independently (a long, long time ago), I didn’t have the budget to see the world in anything other than chicken buses and staying in very basic accommodation. And then I got a job working for a cruise line. One day, on a ‘familiarisation trip’*, I found myself alone in a luxurious spa located at the very front (or ‘bow’ – see, I really did work for a cruise line) of a brand new ship looking out high above Naples. It was then that I realised that this world can be appreciated from various aspects. Sometimes it’s best enjoyed in a particularly well-located hostel, sometimes nothing can beat experiencing it than from the deck of a cruise ship.

Glacier Bay, Alaska

Take Alaska, for example. Yes, I’d love to stay in a boutique remote lodge, or hike through the extreme wild of Gates of the Arctic National Park, but to fully appreciate the size of Glacier Bay it’s best seen from the sea. Experiencing those mammoth icy cliffs with a cocktail in hand, or from the waters of a hot tub can, perhaps, make the event even more special.

What I find missing from an experience such as that is the satisfying sense of achievement. My recent hike across the Cairngorms reaffirmed how memorable (in a good way) it can be to be self-sufficient in the wilderness, and that bedding down in a warm tent in the middle of nowhere, having successfully made a delicious hot meal, can be supremely enjoyable.

Enhancing the experience

When luxury gets it right, it really, really gets it right. The best luxury hotels, for me, enhance the travel experience. The Grand Tatras Kempinski, for example, doesn’t look inward to its opulent rooms and spa, but rather makes use of large windows to bring the views of the mountains into the hotel so that you feel you are experiencing the Tatras from the tasteful confines of your room, or the bar, or the magnificent spa.

Of course, the best hostels are also the ones which enhance your experience. They often do this by having common spaces which encourage socialising, but without disturbing those that actually want to sleep. The best hostels help you to make the most of the destination you’re in, whether that be through advice, useful noticeboards, tours, or discounts.

View from Grand Tatras Kempinski room

Some hostels have views which are better than any you’d get from even the best hotels in town. One which immediately springs to mind is Hospedaje Penthouse 1004 in Bariloche, Argentina, which has astounding views of the lake and surrounding mountains from ten stories up.

View from Hospedaje Penthouse 1004

Of course, cruise ships don’t just offer amazing views from the sea. Many are destinations in themselves, where passengers can enjoy go-karting, or ice skating, or surfing, or any number of fantastic activities. And then there’s the restaurants. On the world’s largest cruise ship – Symphony of the Seas – there are 65 (65!) restaurants, cafes, bars and lounges, some of which are found in a huge park with real trees.

Although it’s absolutely worthwhile stepping out of your accommodation, or off of your ship, to experience somewhere, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the highlight being the accommodation/ship itself. Just don’t let anyone try to put you in a box and judge you accordingly. You may even be lucky enough to experience that magical combination of experience-enhancing accommodation/ship in an already-perfect destination. If so, I’d love to hear about it…


*Familiarisation trips are where a travel agent/someone working for a travel company is sent to experience a destination/ship/holiday product so as to then be more effective at selling/marketing it. They are/were a massive perk of working in travel.


The witch of Triglav

A 3-minute story about my adventures in Triglav National Park, Slovenia, along with tips on how to experience this for yourself.

Triglav National Park - Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj

Being on the path of Romans, Franks, Slavs, and possibly even Dracula, Bled in Slovenia has some fascinating myths and legends baked into its churches and castles. But have you ever heard of the witch of Triglav?

Into the wild

Encompassing a large part of the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park is named after this mountain range’s largest peak (which reaches 2,864m/9,396ft). On the edge of both the park and the mountains, Ribฤev Laz can be reached by direct bus from Ljubljana in just under two hours. When the bus passed through Bled I dialled a number I’d been given by the National Park. Franci spoke just enough English to tell me where to meet him and, sure enough, he was waiting for me in Ribฤev Laz beside his 4×4.

Triglav National Park's Vogar Hut
Vogar Hut

Minutes later it became obvious why a 4×4 was necessary. Franci was a National Park ranger, and he’d been tasked with driving me up to the mountain hut I’d rented in the tiny hamlet of Vogar. To get there required a drive up a very steep track which twisted through a huge pine forest. When at last we emerged into a clearing we passed a few simple wood huts.

‘If you want dinner then knock on that door.’
‘OK. Who lives there?’
‘A witch.’

Now I hadn’t been in Slovenia long enough to assess the local sense of humour, but I wasn’t entirely certain that Franci was joking. When he drove away, leaving me beside my hut, irrational thoughts began to seep into my head, in the way they can do when you’re standing in a remote mountain clearing by a lonely hut.

The hike

My mood wasn’t improved when I discovered a scorpion in the bathroom (it was subsequently yeeted far into the twilight). Grateful for the daylight which appeared the next morning, I embarked on a long hike which I thought I had planned carefully. However, good plans don’t necessarily mix well with poor maps.

I had bought the best map of the park that I could find in Stanfords, but even this didn’t provide sufficient detail. Although there weren’t many paths to follow, when the one I was on split in two I went the wrong way and ended up, miles later, at the top of some very high cliffs. Hundreds of metres below me were the frigid waters of Lake Bohinj. A stunning view, but one I couldn’t enjoy due to having to follow a particularly precarious route (I refused to give up and turn back).

Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park

Fortunately the path eventually turned away from the cliffs and I was rewarded with a view of snow-capped mountains. A little further on was a small collection of rustic mountain huts, all of which appeared to be uninhabited. When planning this hike I knew that at some point I had to get down to the lake. My hopes that it would be a nice sedate descent were dashed when I saw a series of ladders and narrow metal steps screwed into the rock.

View of the Julian Alps in Triglav National Park
The Julian Alps

Managing to not look down once, I white-knuckle climbed down and down and down. It was an impressive via ferrata, which I managed to fully appreciate once I was back on terra firma. Here was my sedate path which led to the lake shore. Relieved to be on flat ground, I walked a little over 2km along Lake Bohinj, before turning uphill to return to Vogar.

A magical dinner

The one eatery in the vicinity was closed for the season, hence why Franci had pointed out the witch’s home. Hence why, that evening, I found myself timidly knocking on her wooden door. I was welcomed in by an attractive lady in her 40s, as well as two handsome men who were sat at a rustic table inside.

‘Dinner?’ she asked.
‘Ja, hvala,’ I replied.

She smiled and shooed the men away into another room. From the ceiling hung a cornucopia of drying herbs, on shelves were jars of pickles and jams and chutneys. My host quickly put together a wooden board overflowing with cheeses, salamis, bread, vegetables and herbs. This was accompanied with a mug of delicious herbal brew.

Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park
Lake Bohinj from the cliffs

We conversed in that awkward way that two people with barely any shared language do, but she (and the men who had crept back in) was excellent, friendly company. With a full belly, topped off by a fiery home-brewed spirit, I found my way back to my hut through the dark.

If my host really had been a witch (and I did spy a cauldron, although I expect it was used for cooking something considerably more palatable than eye of newt), she was one who knew how to expertly concoct a delicious meal from local delicacies. Besides, I always thought that witches got a bad rap. If anyone can pull the tastiest food from the earth, they surely can.

Under the spell of being well-fed, I slept the satisfying sleep of someone who survived perilous cliffs, and who had been bewitched by Triglav’s wild beauty.


Visit Triglav as part of this 12-day Slovenia & Croatia itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)

๐Ÿจ

I stayed at Vogar Hut, which can be booked via the National Park site. In Lake Bled I stayed in Hotel Astoria, and in Ljubljana I stayed in the Central Hotel.

โœˆ๏ธ

Fly to Ljubljana, take the airport bus into the city to connect with buses/train to the rest of the country.

๐ŸšŒ

Buses to Lake Bohinj run hourly between 05:18 and 21:03 from Ljubljana Tivoli.


Lightweight equipment review

Lightweight hiking equipment review

In this post I described how I was taking a whole bunch of lightweight equipment to try out on a 3-day Cairngorms hiking trip. Below I’ve scored everything I actually used out of 10, and briefly explained why it received this score. Please note that I haven’t been paid to use or write about any of this.

Questions? Lemme know below!

Hyke & Byke Quandary -10 Degree C Down Sleeping Bag

Score: 8/10
Price: ยฃ119.97
Good value for such a warm bag at a relatively light weight. There are cheaper bags out there, but none at this weight.

Inov8 Roclite G 286 GTX

Score: 3/10
Price: ยฃ116.88
Not particularly expensive, extremely light boots. But they let water in, and the sole is so thin you can feel every stone.

TBS Army Firesteel & Fire Dragon alcohol fire lighters

Score: 7/10
Price: ยฃ4.95+ยฃ3
Great combination. Firesteel produces lots of sparks when used correctly (!), gel lights immediately and can burn for 10 mins. Not so good in breezy conditions

Luci inflatable solar light

Score: 8/10
Price: ยฃ14
Worked really well in the tent, very easy to use. After charging on overcast day for 8 hours it only produced 45 mins of bright light.

Thermarest Neoair Xlite R

Score: 8/10
Price: ยฃ144
Kept me very warm and comfy, quick to inflate, and packs down very small. Expensive, so I hope it lasts many years!

SwissPiranha BF120 Tent Pegs

Score: 5/10
Price: ยฃ14.99 for 10
Managed to keep the tent pitched during very strong wind. Saves a few grams, but hard to push into ground, and pulls out a lot of mud in teeth.

Fizan Compact Ultralight Trekking Poles

Score: 10/10
Price: ยฃ50.96
Wow, such great value. Incredibly light, yet robust – even held a tarp up during a storm!

Lightweight hiking equipment

EVERNEW Titanium UltraLight Pot 1.3L

Score: 9/10
Price: ยฃ41.67
Really not cheap, but very tough and light, and holds more than enough for feeding 2 people

Salomon XUltra3P GTX

Score: 10/10
Price: ยฃ78
These are so comfortable and light that they’ve become my regular shoes. Despite all that use they don’t look worn and are still waterproof

Lightweight hiking equipment

J-Creater Portable Lightweight Stainless Steel Stove

Score: 7/10
Price: ยฃ44.99
Perhaps a bit flimsy for the price, and a pain to clean, this stove is easy to assemble, and makes great use of lightweight firelighters/wood. Double wall burns most of the smoke too

FORCLAZ 2 Seasons Tarp 900

Score: 7/10
Price: ยฃ49.99
Tough, despite being light – survived being bashed about in a storm. For this price I would expect more hooks/holes for poles/pegs.

Lightweight hiking equipment
Lightweight hiking equipment

TITECOUGO Titanium Spork +Snow Peak Titanium Trek Bowl

Score: 9/10
Price: ยฃ7.99+ยฃ15.99
Spork was comfortable, and a good length for both cooking and eating. Bowl is 20fl oz and so plenty for a decent meal

One of my favourite sites for buying and researching equipment is Ultralight Outdoor Gear. Great selection of products, competitive prices, and very fast delivery. Reminder: I’m not paid to promote anything here!

A Cairngorms hike

Description and pictures of a 3-day hike from Blair Atholl to Aviemore

This 3-day hike through the heart of the Cairngorms began at Blair Atholl station, after a sleepless night on the overpriced Caledonian Sleeper train. On our backs was lightweight camping equipment (see review here), food, plenty to keep us warm, and a carrier for Bounty the dog, should his little legs get tired. Our target was Aviemore where, if we timed it right, we’d arrive before the sleeper train back to London.

Arriving before dawn, we donned headtorches and set off. After a short jaunt along a road we were on a forest track that followed the River Tilt, raging in the canyon below. The first day’s walk was around 18 miles long and took us through valleys and past waterfalls. The calls of rutting stags echoed off the slopes of mountains.

Amazingly we only passed one other person that first day. We were going to camp by the ruins of Bynack Lodge, but after a very cold barefoot crossing of a river we were invited to set up our tent beside the Red House bothy, which was being restored and should re-open soon.

Blair Atholl to Aviemore hike
Caledonian Sleeper cabin

The older man who had invited us was staying at the bothy, despite it being a building site. He was waiting to be housed and so was living in bothies until he once again had his own roof over his head. He was also very generous with his beer and whisky.

Images from day 1

There had been a pretty strong wind overnight and so we didn’t get much sleep. I had also made the mistake of quenching my previous day’s thirst with whisky. Hungover, I helped Anna pack up camp before we trudged off along the track to the River Dee. After crossing this we turned left up a path through the heather and began the climb into the mountains. Soon after, the weather worsened considerably.

The gusts were so strong that, at one point, Anna was knocked off her feet. Fortunately our waterproof clothing held out and we were able to enjoy the experience of being amidst gloomy mountains. We were even happier to see Corrour bothy in the distance.

Nestled beneath the imposing Devil’s Point, Corrour bothy is perhaps one of Scotland’s best known. Like all other bothies it had a fireplace, a wood floor to sleep on, and not much more. Despite being basic, it was a welcome refuge against the storm.

Blair Atholl to Aviemore hike
Typical, easy-to-follow path

Two Belgian men, and two intrepid Scottish women were at the bothy when we arrived. Despite the inclement weather the women marched out to bag a munro (a munro is a peak over 1,000 metres, Scotland has 282 munros), leaving us to chat with the lovely Belgians. Having bagged the munro, the women returned at dusk but then decided to continue on back to Braemar, many miles away. Just before the four of us turned in I noticed three lights in the darkness. 20 minutes later 4 people stumbled in – amazingly they’d walked all the way from Blair Atholl in one day, but were now exhausted, drenched, and possibly on the verge of hypothermia. One hot meal later and they, too, were ready for sleep in the cosy – and somewhat cramped – bothy.

Images from day 2

What a glorious day to wake to. Blue skies and snow on the peaks. Having heated up an energising breakfast (I’d pre-mixed oats, sugar, cinnamon, raisins and powdered milk) we set off from Corrour bothy and up towards Lairig Ghru pass. Despite a constant upwards slope, this was a much easier walk than the one we’d endured the day before through a storm. And hangover.

It took us a few hours to reach the Pools of Dee at the pass. Just over the other side we stopped for lunch. Although still far away, Aviemore was now in view. From here it was a constant descent, first through a large heathland at the edge of a deep canyon, and then into a serene pine forest.

Eventually we found ourselves at a track and, 6 hours into the walk, we passed the first people we’d seen since setting out. The walk out through the forest near Colyumbridge seemed to go on forever.

Blair Atholl to Aviemore hike
Corrour bothy

Eventually, though, we got to the road and, 30 minutes later, we were in Aviemore. Our equipment had held out through storms and freezing conditions, our legs were aching but had carried us here, and Bounty the dog had, all along, bounced along beside us. If we had wanted to catch the sleeper train back to London we would have arrived into Aviemore with at least 5 hours to eat, drink and relax before the train departed.

Images from day 3