Making time for Liechtenstein

One of the world’s smallest countries deserves more than just a couple of hours of your time

Malbun, Liechtenstein
Sareis Bergrestaurant, Malbun

How do you define “visiting” a country? A layover in an airport? Going through passport checks? Spending a certain amount of time there? My definition has always been; getting your feet on the ground on the other side of the border. This would stretch the idea of a ‘visit’, but it does allow me to include Lithuania in my list of visited countries.

Liechtenstein is one of those countries where some may think that, because their train passes through it, they have fully experienced it. While the view from the Feldkirch, Austria to Buchs, Switzerland train is filled with marvellously mountainous scenery, there are rarely any stops in Liechtenstein. I recommend that you come to this 160 km2 country for at least a few hours.

Malbun, Liechtenstein
View of Malbun, Liechtenstein

Disembarking the train from Zurich to Sargans with us was a couple doing just that; taking a brief self-guided tour of the capital, Vaduz. Together we found the #24 bus, which took us to the edge of this small city – population 5,696 (many of whom seem to work in the banking sector) – where we walked to the Alte Rheinbrรผcke (Old Rhinebridge), a covered wooden footbridge that stretches the width of the immense Rhine and which was built in 1871.

Fortunately the bridge is just a 10 minute walk from the bus stop, from where we caught the #21 to Malbun. How powerful these bus engines must be; from the 455m altitude of Vaduz we were transported through Triesenberg (where many Walser people live) and up to Malbun at 1600m. Being so high up, Malbun is Liechtenstein’s only ski resort, but when we visited in early summer we saw that it also makes for an excellent hiking destination.

From Malbun leads a variety of trails, ranging from white-knuckle cling-to-ridges scrambles, to gentle strolls along valley floors. If I ever return here I’d be keen to undertake the two-day hike down to Vaduz. Malbun features a chairlift that operates year-round, from the top you can see the huge peaks of Austria and Switzerland, and enjoy refreshments in the friendly cafรฉ, on the terrace of which patrons can gaze at panoramic views.

Watch highlights of my visit to Liechtenstein

After a day of walking it was a joy to discover that our hotel (Hotel Turna) had a modern and peaceful spa in the basement. It was even more of a joy to realise that one of the very few (possibly only) restaurants open at this time of year had been decorated to look like a cave. Someone had gone to huge efforts to mould stalagmites, stalactites and little nooks from what must have been tonnes of plaster. The pizza served here was rather good too.

Instead of taking the bus directly back to Vaduz we opted instead to walk down the valley to Steg. Although the trail never strayed far from the road, there were so few vehicles that peacefulness prevailed. Here and there were little waterfalls, mountaintops constantly loomed above. At Steg is a man-made lake and yet more opportunities for long-distance hikes.

Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein
Vaduz Castle looking over Vaduz

Because our time in Liechtenstein was almost up, we opted to return to Vaduz and have a quick look around this tiny capital. The highlight here is Vaduz Castle which sits high above the city, and which can be reached via a pleasant and well-signposted walk. The castle is home to Liechtenstein’s royal family and so you can’t actually go inside, but the view of and from the castle is well worth the steep climb.

Back in town and the main attractions here are the KunstMuseum (which also has a great cafรฉ) and the Liechtenstein National Museum. Nothing here can be described as cheap and so, before we completely blew a two week budget in two hours, we walked to the Parkplatz Rheinpark Stadion where the national and local football team plays. Here we caught a Flixbus for the 35-minute journey to Chur, Switzerland.


๐Ÿจ

We stayed at the Hotel Turna in Malbun, which was well located for the bus, cable car and hiking

๐Ÿš…

Sargans is a 55-minute train journey from Zurich. From Sargans buses leave from the station and cross into Liechtenstein

๐ŸšŒ

Vaduz is on Flixbus’s line from Munich to Milan and is an easy and affordable way of getting in and out of Liechtenstein

27 hours in Hamburg

How to make the most of a brief stay in Hamburg, including 5 useful tips

Hamburg’s Rathaus town hall

I arrived into Hamburg on a cruise ship and was immediately told that it’s impossible to walk into the city. It is entirely possible, and in fact quite pleasant to walk into Hamburg from the cruise terminal, a route which involves walking through the 111-year-old tile-lined Elbe pedestrian/bicycle tunnel.

Elbe pedestrian/bicycle tunnel

In an attempt to stick to a small budget I stayed in a hotel just east of the main train station. The area in which it was located felt a little unsafe, but busy enough to not cause too much concern.

Tip 1: If you have the budget, I recommend staying in Hamburg City Centre, on the side of the train station where the Rathaus is located.

Reeperbahn

The Reeperbahn is a street in the St Pauli area that has a horrendous four-lane busy road running down the middle of it and which, during the day, feels enormously seedy and depressing. It may be more interesting at night, but it was far enough away from the city centre and was covered in so much trash and sleaze that I had absolutely no desire to return (plus I was exhausted!).

The posh part of town

View down Alsterfleet

Between MรถnckebergstraรŸe and GroรŸe Bleichen is a lovely collection of streets interrupted by two charming waterways running between the Elbe River and Alster Lake. The architecture here is more interesting and it’s one of the few picturesque parts of the city, albeit inhabited by prohibitively expensive shops.

In the centre of this area is the Rathaus, the city’s grand town hall adorned with statues of men who for the most part have impressive beards. Nearby is the Alster Lake, which is a pleasant place to circle or take a boat trip on.

Tip 2: Frittenwerk Hamburg is one of the cheapest places to eat in this part of town and offers OK dishes such as currywurst.

Perhaps the world’s best attraction

Miniatur Wunderland is a wonderland of miniature scenes from around the world, threaded together by 16km of model railway track. I spent 2 hours here, I could probably have done with another hour before kick-out time

Tip 3: Tickets for entry 2 hours before closing time are discounted by 20%, reflecting the time needed to see the entire attraction

The location of this attraction is in two of the red brick buildings of Speicherstadt, the world’s largest warehouse district which is worth strolling around and is easily walked to from the city centre.

Tip 4: Miniatur Wunderland has a LOT of buttons to push. Press the button by the mini chocolate factory and a little Lindt chocolate will be produced just for you

The warehouses of Speicherstadt

Where to get some views

At the western end of HafenCity, just next to Speicherstadt, you’ll not be able to miss the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Its glassy, wavy edifice looks out over the Elbe and it’s well worth riding the curved escalator up to the viewing platform which runs around all four sides of the building.

Tip 5: You can get to the Elbphilharmonie viewing platform for free. Get your ticket from ticket office on Am Kaiserkai (you may not be able to gain immediate access during busier times)

A lot of fuss is made about the views of the city from the water. I wasn’t hugely impressed, but the ferries are a pleasant way of getting from A to B. Short journeys are priced at โ‚ฌ1.80 and I enjoyed route 62 from Landungsbrรผcken Brรผcke 3 to Altona (Fischmarkt). The Fischmarkt building itself is worth seeing, both inside and out, and nearby there’s a U-Boot Museum if you’re into that sort of thing.

Inside the Fischmarkt

Cafรฉs

Hamburg has a wealth of cafรฉs. Some are of the relatively-bland-but-good-value-chain variety, such as LE CROBAG. Others blend delicious hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker and so hot choc quality is very important to me) with captivating views – the coffee shop looking down Bleichenfleet being a good example.

Chilehaus, dating from the 1920s

Perhaps the best cafรฉ I visited was one that was recommended to me by Carolin from Solo Travel Story. Klein Und Kaiserlich on Am Kaiserkai is an elegant Austrian-style establishment where I tucked into a rich and perfectly-flavoured apfelstrudel for the reasonable price of โ‚ฌ5.80. I understand that the coffee here is pretty good too.

Speaking of coffee, if you’re anywhere in the warehouse district then the chances are that, at some point, you’ll be blessed with the scent of roasting beans drifting from Speicherstadt Kaffeerรถsterei, surely a must-visit destination for you avid coffee drinkers.


Visit Hamburg as part of this free 13-day Germany itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)

๐Ÿจ

I stayed in STAY! Boardinghouse, which was a good value and comfortable hotel, albeit in a not particularly interesting area

โœˆ๏ธ

Hamburg Airport is an easy 25-minute train journey from Hamburg HBF

Reading to Oxford hike

Description of the 42-mile Thames path from Reading to Oxford

Where the Thames Path disappears into a tunnel of trees

Having previously walked from the source of the Thames to Oxford, and in need of another low-key adventure, I decided to complete the next section of the Thames Path, but in the other direction: from Reading to Oxford

Day 1: Reading to Dorchester-On-Thames

It didn’t help that, upon stepping off the train in Reading, I started walking towards the wrong stretch of water (the Kennet and Avon Canal also goes through Reading). Having lost half an hour I now had to increase my pace so as to reach Goring on time.

The Thames at Reading is wide and, on one side, lined with luxurious houses raised above the frequently-flooded river. Here the path is close enough to road and rail to not be particularly peaceful. It then passes through a rather dull suburb before, thankfully, returning to bucolic countryside. At Pangbourne the walk at last becomes particularly serene and scenic.

In Pangbourne Kenneth Grahame, the author of The Wind in the Willows, once lived. Upstream of the village the path passes through some woods and at one point is high above the river, which flows at the base of steep forested slopes. Having made up time, I reach Goring (which has a train station with direct links to London) for a late lunch at the excellent Pierreponts Cafรฉ.

I had packed a headtorch and so I wasn’t too concerned about the darkening skies, but I continued to keep the pace up anyway. The Thames here feels far tamer than the wilder countryside in which it begins, and the frantic city towards its end. There were still plenty of high-end waterside homes for me to covet all the way up to Dorchester-On Thames, which I reached shortly after traversing the lovely town of Wallingford, once home to the immense 11th-Century Wallingford Castle (remains of which can still be seen).

Shortly before I got to my final stop for the day I had to cross and walk along a horribly busy main road just the other side of Shillingford, which was probably a lowlight of the walk.

My room for the night: The George in Dorchester-On-Thames

Day 2: Dorchester-On-Thames to Oxford

After a lovely stay at The George in Dorchester-On-Thames and a quick visit to ancient Dorchester Abbey – founded in 1140 – I took some much-needed painkillers and continued on upstream. There were more stretches where road, rail and aircraft were far enough away to leave no sound but the gurgle of water and songs of birds. I saw numerous cormorants, storks, and maybe even a kingfisher.

Shortly before getting to Abingdon, just upstream of Clifton Hampden, the river splits in two at Clifton Cut. It wasn’t always like this. Before 1822 river traffic was charged a premium to navigate this stretch of water, but having overcome strong local opposition a ‘cut’ was dug, shortening the journey and taming the river thanks to the newly-built lock.

There are many points along the upper Thames where ferrymen operated. Poor people couldn’t afford horses and it (as I experienced) could be a very long walk to the nearest bridge. You’ll often see place names or pubs that reflect the heritage of ferrymen along the river.

Abingdon-On-Thames is another place where its long history is evident in various buildings dating back to 1180, although many of the old-looking edifices only date back to Victorian times when Trendell erected various follies. The 1680 County Hall building is particularly splendid, and this is a good town in which to stop for lunch.

This walk was undertaken at the end of October and I was very lucky with the weather. The path was only muddy in one place – just outside of Abingdon – and the trees were putting on their colourful Autumn show.

The closer I got to Oxford the more rowers I saw. Boats with one, two, four or eight people zoomed past, often accompanied by their coach yelling from a megaphone. And yet this only added to the serenity of the river, at least until I approached Sandford Lock.

At last I staggered into Oxford. I recognised the boathouses where my wife once coxed during her university days and thought that I was nearly at journey’s end. But no, still another 45 minutes walking through the city’s pretty environs, the Thames my constant companion. At last I saw Osney Bridge, just the other side of which is the train station and my ride back to London.


Trip details

Total length: roughly 42 miles
Total walking time: 12 hours
Trains to Reading: direct from London Paddington and take on average 44 minutes
Trains from Oxford: direct to either London Paddington or London Marylebone and take on average 1h 13m
Where I stayed: The George, Dorchester-On-Thames (book here)

8 Top Hoi An Hostels and Budget Hotels

My top picks for Hoi An, based on location, dorm and private rooms, bathrooms and shared facilities

Hoi An Hostels and Budget Hotels
Hoi An, Vietnam

This is a must-see city when visiting Vietnam…plus it has a gorgeous sandy beach. Here are my top Hoi An hostels and budget hotels picks:

Hoi An Love.ly Hostel

Hoi An Hostels: Hoi An Love.ly
Hoi An Love.ly Hostel

๐Ÿ“ 9 minutes’ walk away from Cau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious and clean dorms (no bunks) with air con
๐Ÿšฟ Bathrooms attached to each room
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Good value on-site restaurant with free breakfast, free beer Mon/Wed/Fri
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ No private rooms


The Imperfect Downtown Hoi An

Hoi An hostels: The Imperfect Downtown Hoi An
The Imperfect Downtown Hoi An

๐Ÿ“ Perfectly located on An Hแป™i island
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious 3, 4, and 5-bed dorms with air con
๐Ÿšฟ Good bathrooms but floor can get very wet
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Breakfast included. Bar and small swimming pool
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Entire dorm rooms can be reserved ahead


The Seaside Bungalow

Hoi An hostels: The Seaside Bungalow
The Seaside Bungalow Hoi An

๐Ÿ“ Just a couple of minutes walk to Ha My Beach
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Bright and roomy 4- or 8-bed dorms
๐Ÿšฟ Good bathrooms, nicely designed
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Bar and restaurant, free breakfast, free drink on Wednesday
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Beautiful private rooms


Hoi An Life Homestay

Hoi An hostels: Hoi An Life Homestay
Hoi An Life Homestay

๐Ÿ“ Located in a quiet suburb 26 minutes’ walk from Cau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorm rooms, max 4 per private room
๐Ÿšฟ All rooms have en-suite bathrooms with free toiletries and towels
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Free breakfast and bicycle rental. Best thing here: the gorgeous pool
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private 2, 3, or 4-bed rooms


Blue Clouds Homestay

Blue Clouds Homestay Hoi An
Blue Clouds Homestay

๐Ÿ“ 10 minutes’ walk to Vau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Private rooms sleeping up to 3 people
๐Ÿšฟ Simple bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Breakfast available at extra cost, small outdoor terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Well-appointed ensuite rooms with either 1 or 2 beds


Melody Boutique Villa

Hoi An budget hotel: Melody Boutique Villa
Melody Boutique Villa

๐Ÿ“ Located between downtown and Ha My Beach
๐Ÿ›๏ธ 4-bed dorms with no bunks
๐Ÿšฟ Clean and modern bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Rooftop terrace, no restaurant or kitchen
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Variety of private ensuite rooms sleeping up to 4 people


Cheerful Hoi An Hostel

Cheerful Hoi An Hostel
Cheerful Hoi An Hostel

๐Ÿ“ 19-minute walk to Cau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious 4- and 8-bed dorms with simple bunks
๐Ÿšฟ Most rooms have simple ensuite bathroom
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Free breakfast, nice outdoor dining area
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Ensuite private rooms for up to 3 people


Coral Riverside

Hoi An hostels: Coral Riverside
Coral Riverside

๐Ÿ“ Great location on the River Hแป“ and just 5 minutes’ walk to the beach
๐Ÿ›๏ธ 4-bed dorms with privacy curtains, air con, fans and reading lights
๐Ÿšฟ Luxurious ensuite bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Kitchen and free breakfasts
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘Excellent private rooms with ensuite bathrooms and private balconies


If you’ve been inspired by Hoi An’s top hostels then get your free Vietnam itinerary below, as well as a link to the best flight deals:

FREE travel plans

Visit Vietnam with this FREE 14-day itinerary

Although Da Nang is the nearest international airport to Hoi An, I recommend flying to Hanoi and travelling down through the country. Click the button for the best current deals

#ShareTravel – top travel content Jun-Aug 2022

Some of the best travel content I’ve read in Jun-Aug 2022

It’s been too long since I last wrote one of these posts. There has been some particularly compelling travel content written recently, here’s some of the best that caught my eye:

Camino Portuguese – @SoloTravelStory

Whenever the time comes to pick a pilgrimage route to Santiago, Carolin’s site will be my first stop. This exemplary post contains so much useful detail, but presented in an easy-to-read way. I appreciate Carolin’s honesty, as well as her enthusiasm for places I’ve never heard of before but would now love to see for myself.

Tibet’s Amdo region – @spartanwanderer

I was made aware of this blog post thanks to Carolin sharing her favourite interactions of the week. Seth’s blog is one of the most beautifully-presented I’ve seen and the topic – Tibet – is one that I’m particularly interested in. Seth does a wonderful job of weaving in the colours, patterns and phrases he saw in Tibet to create some lovely artwork. My desire to visit this remarkable place has never been stronger.

Finland’s Saimaa region – @rhondylou

Just when I thought I knew where I’d like to go in Finland, a piece like this comes to my attention and I find myself needing to re-write my itinerary. Rhonda has a way of writing that transports me from my hot metropolis to the cool and peaceful forests of Finland. Perfect. I’m a big fan of the Great Outdoors and so it was fun to learn about the Saimaa region and the various ways to experience it.

Mali Losinj – @RJonTourUK

It was during a recent intense 2-week trip to France, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Italy that we realised we need a more relaxing escape. Croatia is a country that never disappoints, but with such a vast choice of tempting places where should we go? Cue RJOnTour’s post on Mali Losinj. Full of fascinating facts and useful info, this helped me to make my mind up about visiting this town on the island of Losinj. Reading it again now and I cannot wait to get there.

Pack rafting in Lapland – @cassamlooch

I’m a keen hiker, kayaker and rafter. But it’s never been all that easy to combine all three, which is why I’ve long been excited about the idea of pack rafting (a pack raft is a super-light inflatable boat that can be carried on a hike and used for short journeys on water). Cassam’s recent tweet of his pack rafting experience in Lapland renewed my excitement for this way of seeing the wildernessc, and I look forward to him writing about his experience.


Pirates and ex-KGB bosuns: Freighter travel adventures

A freighter travel tale, with details on how to book

Freighter travel: Malaysia to India
Sunset from the bridge of M/V Tiger Breeze

When you begin and end a freighter travel trip it’s likely that you’ll find yourself in insalubrious surroundings. Port Klang was just such a place. It’s Malaysia’s main port and one of the busiest container ports in the world. The passengers on the train there from Kuala Lumpur seemed confused about why two backpackers were on this unlikely route.

We were confused, too, when we arrived, until we saw someone holding a sign with my name on. First we were taken to get our passport departure stamps, and then by car across the immense port to our ship. M/V Tiger Breeze (now called the Hong Yuan 02) was a 188m-long freighter that travelled back and forth across the Bay of Bengal.

Dressed in his white uniform, the captain greeted us at the top of the rickety gangway. We were shown to our cabin and told that someone would be along shortly to show us around.

Cabin and tour

Freighter travel: Malaysia to India
Loading up in Port Klang

Freighter cabins tend to be massive. At some point in our cabin someone clearly got bored of trying to fill the space with furniture, but it had a sofa, desk and double bed. It also had a spacious but basic bathroom (no tub). Two of the freighter crew had the non-stop work of helping in the kitchen and keeping all rooms clean and tidy, which ours certainly was. Although comfortable, the rest of the ship was more interesting.

The captain introduced us to a tall, thin man who was bearded, balding, and had unreadable eyes. Peter (not his real name) was the ship’s bosun and therefore responsible for deck operations, supplies and deckhands. Originally from Georgia, he was the only one out of the senior crew not from the UK or Ireland.

Peter took us along the side of the ship to the bow where we could stare straight down into the clear blue Andaman Sea. He told us what to do in case pirates attacked. Of course, we didn’t take this seriously until he then showed us the cages around the outside door designed to foil unwanted boarders. Apparently these busy waters are popular with pirates and, although surrounding nations have taken strong action, shipboard defence methods are still recommended.

Being in Peter’s presence was, however, reassuring. After he had shown us the noisy engine room he took us to his cabin for a friendly chat. He had once been in the KGB but, having been blown up, decided on a career change after he was discharged from hospital many months later. Dressmaking was his next chosen occupation, which he enjoyed until deciding to join the merchant navy. To say that this man was full of captivating tales would be an understatement.

Food and fun

By the time we boarded Tiger Breeze we had been travelling through Russia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia for several months. Having mainly British and Irish officers, the food served in the officer’s mess was very much designed for our bland palates (with the exception of delicious borscht). It was a much-welcome taste of home.

Sadly I wasn’t able to enjoy the food on day two. The ship had sailed out into open waters and there was now a very steady, constant roll. Cruise ships have stabilisers to reduce the motion of the ocean, freighter ships do not have this luxury and, much to the hilarity of the crew, I was suffering as a result.

I was able to maintain my sea legs for long enough to visit the ship’s bar. Yes, despite only having about 20 crew, the Tiger breeze had its own lounge area complete with TV room and bar – fair enough, I suppose, if you spend your life at sea. This was a great opportunity to better get to know the crew, although they all mainly seemed interested in our travels so far. It seemed as though they only occasionally met passengers who had arrived here via the road less travelled.

Freighter travel: Malaysia to India
The pool, and the fastest way off the ship

At the stern, beneath the lifeboat, was a pool. It was a small pool, with not particularly warm water, and nowhere to rest your pina colada. It was also mainly occupied by the two people who cleaned our room and who did not seem to care for company outside of work hours. Anyone who expects freighter travel to be like a cruise ship will be sorely disappointed.

Unconventional booking

Purchasing a cabin on a freighter ship isn’t a case of picking a route and clicking a button. The general expectation is that you’ll be on board for weeks at a time. However, the few agents that handle freighter travel bookings are expert at what they do and can usually get you on whatever section you’re hoping to experience. These are, in my opinion, the best freighter travel agents out there:

Although the freighter travel prices aren’t particularly cheap, remember that you get transport, accommodation and food for that price.

Reluctant arrival

After living in pampered comfort for five days, we weren’t quite ready to step off into Chennai just yet. The captain graciously allowed us to stay on board one more night and so we watched as the derricks swung the massive containers off of, and then on to Tiger Breeze’s deck.

The following morning we were more than ready to continue the adventure. Thanking the friendly and welcoming crew, we disembarked and made our unconventional arrival into India. This had been an important part of the plan to travel from London to Nepal without flying and it had worked perfectly.

Here’s a short video of our Malaysia to India freighter journey:


11 Top Istanbul Hostels

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a BIG city, and a must-see for any traveller to Turkey. Here are my 11 top Istanbul hostels recommendations:

Bahaus Guesthouse

Istanbul top hostels: Bauhaus
Bahaus Guesthouse Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ 6 minutes’ walk away from the Blue Mosque
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Dorms are spacious and clean, bunks are basic and have simple privacy curtains
๐Ÿšฟ New, clean bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Excellent breakfast is included in your stay. No kitchen, but superb terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Doubles and twins with shared bathrooms


Cheers Lighthouse

Istanbul top hostels: Cheers Lighthouse
Cheers Lighthouse Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ 5 minute walk to the Blue Mosque
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Modern dorms with sturdy bunks and amazing views
๐Ÿšฟ Plentiful, clean bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Terraces overlooking the Marmara Sea. Excellent Turkish breakfast included
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private rooms for 1-4 people, plus suite with sauna and Jacuzzi


Cheers Hostel

Cheers Hostel Istanbul
Cheers Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ Steps away from key sights Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious 6, 8 and 10-bed dorms with air conditioning
๐Ÿšฟ Good condition bathrooms on each floor
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Good value bar and restaurant on site
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private rooms available in separate building


Wabi Sabi Hostel

Istanbul top hostels: Wabi Sabi
Wabi Sabi Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ 5 minutes from Taksim Square
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Excellent, new dorms with comfy bunks featuring reading lights
๐Ÿšฟ Nicely designed bathooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Free breakfast, rooftop bar and cafe with city views
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private rooms with shared or en-suite bathrooms


Cheers Prive

Cheers Hostel Istanbul Prive
Cheers Prive Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ Very close to Cheers Hostel, and so also amidst all the action of the Old City
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Good bunks in spacious, light 6, 8 and 10-bed dorms
๐Ÿšฟ Stylish bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Breakfast included, really lovely bar
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Twin or 3-bed en-suite rooms in separate building


Jumba Hostel

Istanbul top hostels: Jumba
Jumba Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ 10 minute walk to Taksim Sq, 18 minute walk to Galata Tower
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Good bunks in 4 or 6-bed dorms. Characterful building
๐Ÿšฟ Plenty of bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Small kitchen, gorgeous communal areas
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private rooms with shared bathrooms


Stay Inn Taksim

Stay Inn Taksim
Stay Inn Taksim Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ 10 minute walk to Taksim Square
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Superb bunks with individual lights plus privacy curtains
๐Ÿšฟ Decent bathrooms for each room
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Free breakfast, great cafe on site, outdoor terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Double rooms with private or shared bathrooms


Bucoleon Hostel

Bucoleon Hostel
Bucoleon Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ Located in Old Town, 5 minutes from Ayasofya
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Large range of dorms. ‘Party’ hostel…
๐Ÿšฟ OK bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Good common areas, lots of organised fun, terrace with awesome views
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘Good value private rooms


Paris Hotel & Hostel

Paris Hostel Istanbul
Paris Hotel & Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ Just steps to the Blue Mosque
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Most shared rooms have beds, not bunks. Some are a bit cramped
๐Ÿšฟ Every room has a shower and toilet
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Bar, cafe and breathtaking rooftop terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Some small private rooms


Cheers Vintage

Cheers Hostel Istanbul Vintage
Cheers Vintage Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ Next to the Blue Mosque
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Most dorms have OK bunks, but some dorms are a bit cramped
๐Ÿšฟ Clean, modern bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Excellent communal area, small terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Good value private rooms with en-suites


HANCHI Hostel

HANCHI Hostel Istanbul
HANCHI Hostel Istanbul

๐Ÿ“ Historic area of Kumkapฤฑ
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Modern dorms with private lights and sockets
๐Ÿšฟ All rooms have stylish bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Various communal areas, including kitchen, bar and roof terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Comfortable private rooms


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Luxembourg’s gorgeous gorges

Find out about Luxembourg’s surprisingly dramatic Mullerthal Trail

Mullerthal Trail
Beginning of Mullerthal Trail section 2 near Echternach

I was surprised as you may be to learn that there’s a long-distance trail in relatively small country of Luxembourg. I was pleasantly surprised to discover first-hand that it’s 112km of dramatic scenery and excellent infrastructure, and which is very easy to reach.

Free public transport

Luxembourg is the only country in the world which has free public transport. I was walking section 2 of the Mullerthal Trail and to get to the beginning I needed to take a tram in Luxembourg City to the Thรฉรขtre stop, then a 110 bus to Echternach on the German border. From Echternach the trail begins, and rises steeply into the woods.

Mullerthal Trail
Gorges du Loup, near Echternach

So far, so free. Later this year Malta is also planning to introduce free public transport and you’ll also be able to travel for free in Tallinn and Dunkirk (where bus passenger numbers have spiked).

As a tourist it was a wonderful relief to not have to worry about prices, methods of payment or reservations. Simply turning up and stepping onto buses, trams and trains was a liberating experience.

What the average Luxembourgian taxpayer feels about free public transport I know not, but hopefully they appreciate the freedom too – it’s hard to know for sure because of the pandemic impact, but early signs were positive.

The terrific Mullerthal Trail

Having climbed from Echternach into the hills I found myself on a trail that passed through old forests, and then into a deep gorge. This was the Gorges du Loup, or Wolf’s Gorge. On either side steps had been built, or hewn from the rock, so that hikers can get a view over frosted forests from the top of the gorge.

Little bridges spanned gaps between the rocks, this was a sign of the excellent infrastructure I was to find all along the trail. The route gently curved around an escarpment, delving in and out of gorges and taking awestruck hikers past waterfalls.

As the day progressed I caught occasional glimpses of the surrounding countryside and was pleased to see my slope-climbing efforts had paid off. The total altitude gain along this 21km section is 700 metres; this isn’t a gentle stroll.

Mullerthal Trail
Huel Lee stone mine

At one point the Mullerthal Trail ducks through a series of gaps cut from the rock. Looking up I noticed the shape of concentric circles – this is where millstones were chiseled out from the sandstone during the Middle Ages. Beyond these old mines is the town of Berdorf, a not particularly notable location and so I pressed on and followed the signs down into yet another gorge

Caves and bridges

Bridges had been constructed through this next gorge, so that hikers can easily pass through them. Once again I was blown away by the effort put into providing easy passage for those hiking through this challenging terrain. Emerging from this gorge I was treated to another stupendous view over fields and forests.

There was plenty to amaze me below ground too. Caves could be found all along the trail, many accessible without any special equipment apart from a torch. These aren’t the grandest caves you’ll ever see, but it’s fun nonetheless to plunge so deep into the ground.

You’ll find plenty of opportunities to go spelunking along the trail, and at one point it even passes through a long cave (don’t worry, claustrophobes, there’s another way around).

Mullerthal Trail
Caves and rock formations

My one, fairly big disappointment on this trail was that there’s nowhere to grab a bite to eat from. I naively expected the village of Mullerthal to at lest have a cafe or two, however there was nothing but a tourist information office selling cold drinks from a fridge. So don’t make the same mistake that I did, be sure bring your own food and drink.

Back to the city

I was surprisingly tired by the end of the walk (possible because I hadn’t had anything to eat), but was still appreciating every detail I saw. Big cliffs, serene pine forests, pitch-black caves, and the Mullerthal Trail winding through them all.

It’s possible to complete the circle and return to Echternach, but I chose to leave the trail at Hersberg. Even on a Sunday there were regular buses back to Luxembourg City. I sunk heavily into the free seat and enjoyed the passing scenery, reflecting on what was an amazing, easily-accessible day hike.

Mullerthal Trail
One of the many streams along the trail

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Luxembourg City is the best place to find accommodation, particularly as it’s so easy to reach the rest of the country from here

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Fly direct to Luxembourg City from dozens of cities worldwide

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I travelled to Luxembourg by train from London, which was a simple and good value journey via Paris


Why I โค๏ธ Ecuador

A 3-minute read about the many reasons why I love Ecuador.

Sunset in Misahuallรญ, Ecuador

In 2008 the Ecuadorian government recognised the right for nature to grow and flourish, for humans to petition or protest on behalf of nature, and for the government to protect nature. Although this noble act hasn’t been followed perfectly in preceding and subsequent years (oil exploration is still an important part of Ecuador’s economy), it is a reflection of the exceptional natural wonder of this country.

Bears with spectacles, sharks with hammers

Head up into Ecuador’s cloud forests and you may, if you’re lucky, encounter a spectacled bear. When I worked in Ecuador’s cloud forests near the Colombian border in 2000 I sadly never saw these rare bears, although there was always plenty of evidence of their presence, mainly in the form of smashed frailejones up on the Pรกramo.

One of Jatun Sacha’s tremendous trees

Having worked in the 3100- t0 3600m-high Pรกramo, I then moved down to the Amazon rainforest, where there’s more than double the number of bird species as there are in North America. Here there are also uncontacted indigenous tribes, as well as forests teeming with wildlife.

I worked near the village of Misahuallรญ and returned 20 years later to see if the Jatun Sacha project was still succeeding in holding back developers and oil companies. Thankfully it is, which means you can still experience this intact natural wonderland.

The 200,000 km2 marine miracle

From highlands to tropical lands to under the sea, which is the best place from which to enjoy the Galapagos islands. Ecuador’s government recently announced a 60,000 km2 expansion to the marine reserve. You’ll probably be only to see a tiny snapshot of this, but what a snapshot it will be.

The very first time I put my head under the water, on my very first trip to the Galapagos, there beneath me was a hammerhead shark. I looked up and managed to squeak my disbelief to the guide, who just smiled knowingly back at me.

Everything you have heard about the Galapagos being an exceptional place for wildlife spotting is true. Very little effort is required to see turtles, seals, marine iguana, sharks, rays, and seahorses. On land and in the air are vast numbers of frigate birds, boobies, lizards, tortoises, crabs, penguins and finches.

White-tipped reef sharks

A concentration of wonders

Ecuador is roughly the same size as the UK, or Uttar Pradesh, or Wyoming, yet it packs in the lofty forests and plains of the Pรกramo, 15 volcanoes over 4,000 metres high, hot springs, thick Amazon rainforest, ancient cities will well-preserved colonial centres, fascinating indigenous markets, beautiful tropical beaches, and Incan ruins. And that’s just the mainland.

Take a bus through Ecuador and you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular shows on Earth. My favourite routes are through the Avenue of Volcanoes (no further description necessary), from Quito to Tena (stopping at the colourful Otavalo Market), and from Quito to Baรฑos via Misahuallรญ – if you can keep your eyes open along the precipitous roads then you’ll see vast hills covered in rainforest, raging rivers and numerous waterfalls.

If you’ve the money then the Tren Crucero offers views of this stupendous country from the luxury of an opulent train (sadly they no longer allow you to ride the roof along the switchbacks of the Devil’s Nose section). But it’s on the plentiful buses where you meet Ecuadoreans and where I’ve enjoyed long conversations. Such friendly, welcoming people.

A peek at the Tungurahua above Baรฑos

So, this is a country with natural wonders and a transport system which, if at times may seem chaotic, also allows you to travel everywhere on a tiny budget. Although it could do better at preserving the environment (see below the change in the landscape along the Napo River since 1984 – Jatun Sacha takes up the bottom-left quarter and just to the right of centre an airport appears), there’s also an appreciation of the value of nature. It may not be a big country, but it sure does pack an awful lot in.

Change in the landscape along the Napo River, 1984-2020

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Sharjah Safari

Although it’s possible to replicate a safari, nothing can beat the genuine experience. In this 2-minute read I express concerns and hopes for replica safaris.

Cheetah, Serengeti

Last week the ruler of Sharjah opened the $272 million Sharjah Safari, described as the largest safari in the world outside Africa. There are many ‘safari’ parks outside of Africa, here in the UK we have six. But they’re not really safaris, are they? To me, the use of the word ‘safari’ (which is Swahili for ‘journey’) is an example of cultural appropriation, and that nothing would ever come close to the experience of a real safari in Africa.

Rainbow continent

‘Safari’ is too often interpreted as driving around in open-top vehicles among lions, zebra and giraffes. But the type of safari available in Africa is as diverse as the continent itself.

Elephant, Addo National Park

In Botswana you can embark on a watery safari through the Okavango Delta. In Uganda a safari can take you through the forested mountains of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. In Namibia safaris take you over the impressive dunes of the Namib desert. The landscapes and animals you can see on an African safari are hugely diverse and go far beyond what we typically think of as a ‘safari’.

Of course, there are also safaris which involve open top vehicles, lions, zebra, giraffes etc. But when you are on such a safari in Africa there is no doubt whatsoever that you are in Africa. The sky is quintessentially African, the landscape is pure Africa, put your hand on the ground and feel soil that is somehow, undoubtedly African.

It’s not just the animals and landscapes that make a safari in Africa incomparable. The people you meet also create an experience that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Arabian safari

Let’s take another look at that word ‘safari’. Yes, it’s a Swahili word, but its origins are actually from the Arabic word ‘safar’, which also means ‘journey’. The Sharjah Safari may not be guilty of cultural appropriation after all. But why import 288 African animals and pretend to be something you’re not? There’s nothing necessarily wrong with zoos (although many are abhorrent), and many, like Sharjah Safari, help to preserve rare species. But there’s a risk that they encourage people away from genuine experiences. I’m not ignoring the fact that many can’t afford to travel, and that a zoo may be the only way in which they can come face-to-face with exotic creatures. But if you can afford it, why not do the real thing?

Sharjah also offers visitors the chance to visit the Sharjah Desert Park. Here you can see Arabian leopard, as well as that beautiful and rare creature the oryx (which features on the Qatar Airways tailfin). The park has a breeding centre for endangered Arabian wildlife and anyone who visits will experience a slice of the rich Arabian culture – the real thing -, which is surely why many come here in the first place.

Sossusvlei, Namibia, many years ago…

I’m sure there are many good reasons for why the Sharjah Safari has been created, and any aim to preserve wildlife is a worthy one. My main concerns are that it will divert people away from Africa, that tourists won’t have genuine experiences, and that the idea of ‘Africa’ is reduced to simply its animals rather than the magnificent, rich cultures to be found throughout its 54 countries.

Market in Lalibela, Ethiopia

I hope that the people who visit safari parks outside of Africa feel motivated to go and experience the real thing, in much the same way that I hope that those who visit museum exhibits from far off and fascinating places also get the urge to see where they came from. But places such as Sharjah Safari have, I feel, a responsibility to promote the real Africa, and that what they offer, while impressive, is just a facsimile.


I’ve not taken many safaris in Africa, but my favourite so far is the one I experienced in Tanzania, which you can do as part of this 18/19-day itinerary

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Find the best value flights to Tanzania here (I recommend flying into Kilimanjaro and out of Zanzibar for the full Tanzania experience)


Please do let me know your comments on this article. Did I get it wrong? Have you experienced particularly good/bad safaris (in Africa or elsewhere)? I’d be interested to know your thoughts!