India – Part 2 (The Chills and Thrills)

Jumping all over the place with my posts just to keep all 8 of you guessing!! We are back to the sub-continent, back to India. In the last post, we got to Baga and experienced some horrible people. You’ll be pleased to know there are more horrible people in this post.

We need to cover off the southern part of our trip to Goa and then Mumbai. I’ll jump right in to it.

Our taxi journey from The north of Goa to the south of Goa, which took us nearly three hours, only cost about 30 quid, so cheap. As we got closer to our beach that we were staying on “Patnem” the taxi drivers vocabulary became very restricted it seemed he could only say the word “Patnem” he proceeded to drive round and stop at every person he saw wound down the window and he said “Patnem” we’d see another local 100 yards down the road and do the same again. It was quite amusing for us.

A particular highlight of the journey was a monkey which ran across the road, it went as quick as it came and we never got to take a picture.

In the south we were staying at a hostel/B&B called Namaste. It was idyllic, it was on the beach front and only about 20 venues on the whole beach. We each had a room and mine and Jacks over looked the ocean. We couldn’t wait to explore.

There is a clear difference in the “vibe” (please excuse my use of that word) between the north and south, I think the best way to describe it would be that the North is More like Benidorm in India and the south is chilled out and feels like one big yoga retreat, this is enforced by a bunch of people doing Yoga across the beach every morning. We even had a go ourselves

Us practising our Yoga!

Our days followed a similar pattern, wake up have breakfast on the beach, get a taxi to another beach and then come back have 5 minutes in the room before getting ready and going out and not forgetting to speak to Gary before going out to make sure he left some beers in an ice bucket for when we returned the the hostel later that night.

One night when we were sitting on the beach at about 2 o clock in the morning we were approached by two girls and a boy, they started sitting with us and being the polite guys we are we offered them a beer. Not willing to open beers for strangers with my teeth I told them they’d need to find a way to open the beers themselves, so one of the girls rummaged around in her dreadlocks and had a bottle opener weaved in to her dreadlocks…..I hope that paints enough of a picture of the kind of people we were dealing with. Now that we are all drinking together I tried to progress the conversation when I hit a stumbling block, I was met with the response of “woah, why do you need to know that let’s not get political” to the question “what is your name”. The conversation was not fruitless however when they told us the story of a backpacker who was killed last night walking the streets. Sounded like a urban legend but to save confrontation we decided to let them have this. After a few more beers they went on their way and we went to bed.

It really was Hippy central, that’s not a bad thing but it is a bad thing when you’re made to feel like the odd ones out because you’re on a two week holiday and not some trust fund paid for hiatus from work. Anyway the next night the beaches all suffered a black out so we started to head home from the beach, we couldn’t see where we were walking but knew the terrain underfoot had changed it went from definite sand to a harder more “crunchy” surface. I reached for my phone to give some light and found to all of our disgust that we had been walking on a pathway of spider crabs and we must have sadly and completely unintentionally killed a few. It was a weird situation there were hundreds just on the beach so naturally we were all like “what are they doing that’s weird” when a bloke from behind us chimed in “they’re dying man” thanks Random dude it was rhetorical. Horrible experience. As we continued to walk much more cautiously now the lights came back all of a sudden which meant the night could continue.

We are clearly approachable guys, as we were summoned by a girl who said “can I follow you” so we let her. It turns out the waiter at the bar she was in was being a bit creepy so we let her join us. She came with us for a few drinks then back to our hostel. It got late so we tried getting her a Tuk Tuk to which there were none available so we walked her to her hostel, her hostel was guarded by security. We had no trouble getting through security….he was very sleeepy! We then managed to get a Tuk Tuk home.

A day or so later we were sitting on a beach minding our own business when an aging club promoter approached us offering tickets to a silent disco. Being the absolute lads that we quite clearly are we said yes and planned for a big night out. First big night out since garlic naans at 4am, we were ready. The party turned out to be decent and we stayed out as late as possible and headed home around 12 or 1. It was only when we were leaving that we realised the Grant was no where to be found, he’s a big boy so we decided to head home without him, sure that he’d find his way back to Patnem beach. Jack, Alex and I were sitting having a beer a few hours later when my phone began to vibrate, it was Grant, he was asking whether I could meet him at the entrance of the beach with money. Curiosity got the better of me and so I headed there with money in multiple pockets. The situation turned out to be a lot less exciting than I had hoped and he just needed me to pay for his taxi, it was the second thing I’d given him that night. Grant is very coy about that night and his location for much of it but nevertheless I am sure it was a night to remember. We were leaving Goa the following day.

Checkout at Namaste Hostel was a bit weird, we needed to pay for our accommodation and the beers that we had nightly! We stood at reception and told them we were checking out and they took our keys and were like “bye” and we were like excuse me but we need to pay and they were like “yeah yeah yes very good sir” and we continued to stand there and were trying to push them along to take our payment because our car to airport was waiting for us….still they were like “yessir good sir” so in the end we had had enough and started to walk out the moment we turned to walk away we had workers around us telling us we needed to pay, happy to give them our rupees we went on our way next stopped Mumbai……

We arrived in Mumbai and got a taxi to Hotel Apollo in the Colaba region of Mumbai. We had a couple of planned activities we wanted to do afternoon tea at the Taj Hotel, we wanted to go to a rooftop bar on the top of the Four Season hotel and visit the “slums” we had three of four days to do this we knew it would be ok.

A personal highlight from Mumbai was our hotel, this isn’t a glowing review and I’m not slating the place either it’s a highlight because it was funny. The staff out our hotel outnumbered the guests it seemed, it was a 24 hour hotel but if you returned late at night the staff would be asleep in the corridors and would make half an attempt to get up and open the doors for you, we would tell them all to go back to sleep it was just a bit surreal being surrounded by sleeping workers. We had one staff member join us in the room to watch the cricket for half an hour and another man who told us his shift in the elevator was 12 hours but because he needed the money he was going to pull a double shift! I’ll end the blog with us leaving this hotel.

The Taj Mahal Palace

The world famous 5 star hotel was splendid and surprisingly cheap, the afternoon tea was only 15 quid. We weren’t their usual clientele, probably a bit too loud and more active than the 70+ aged residents none the less the staff were more than amenable to us, even topping up our plates with dishes they thought we’d like, just ask Alex!

We didn’t know at the time but afternoon tea was not the last time we were going to visit the Taj Hotel. We had to go there after our evening/night at the the four seasons.

AerFour Seasons

Aer is the four seasons rooftop bar. It gives some amazing views of the city and is a always a recommendation of mine when speaking about this trip.

We went to the Four Seasons twice. On night one we turned up and found out it was a “Red Day” which meant some bars, including this one, would not be serving Alcohol. So on the first night we had a very expensive non alcoholic cocktail and left, the highlight of the night being Alex and Jack wearing shorts and being forced to swap their shorts for some of the staffs Ill-fitted trousers before they were allowed to enter the bar! The lack of alcohol was the reason we ended up back at the Taj, one of the only hotels allowed to sell alcohol on the anniversary of Gandhi’s death (I’ll circle back to this).

The second night, in the four seasons, we all came appropriately dressed, picture this four young guys sipping on a cocktail in a relatively empty bar, relatively empty apart from another group of what looked like work colleagues. Anyhow the sole female in this group approached us and asked us in her American accent, guys are you staying here for a few drinks? Amazed that a girl would approach us, between us we managed a timid “yes” she told us she’d go and get changed and come back and have a drink with us. We spent the next hour deciding who had the best chance to get to know this lady and we hadn’t really come to decision when she came back done up clearly ready for a night out, we on the other hand weren’t so instead of having a drink with this lady we basically all just ran out on her we finished our drinks and was like…..bye. Not sure why we didn’t that really as we didn’t head home we went to an Irish bar in a local shopping mall. The bar man mugged me off for nine pound when he gave me a fake Guinness, I drank it and swiftly moved on to a cheaper beer. After a few more drinks we decided it was home time and as walked through the shopping centre we heard a band playing and so decided to check it out. There was about 100 people watching this band and no one was dancing or clapping or anything they were just watching, so I took it upon myself to get the party started and went up and danced, eventually I was joined by my friends and we got a couple of others up on the dance floor as well. The people who didn’t dance were now at least smiling, we then headed. Back to our hotel filled with joy as we walked past our sleeping hosts.

Grant must have took this picture! Or he refused to be in it but it’s at the top of the four seasons hotel.

Taj Mahal Palace – Night 2

After our unsuccessful night in the four seasons we Googled where we could get a beer and it turned out that proper posh restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol, so we headed to the poshest one we knew. We got there and had a few beers, not long in to the evening we detected some English accents sitting in some chairs near us. We decided to go and speak to the owners of the accents, which was 2 girls from Brighton or Bournemouth I cannot remember now. The girls were, let’s say forward, they were with a young local man who they told us was their “photographer”. At one point when the girls went to the toilet the man was showing us some of his star gazing shots on his camera, when the girls returned and saw us all looking at the camera they had clear looks of shock and worry on their faces and they immediately questioned us “what pictures did you see” we didn’t see any pictures of them but their reactions have always made me wonder what shots could have been on that camera. After a few drinks the conversation had become random and varied as it does under the influence of alcohol and so we were now talking about star signs. Grant, with no substantial proof to contrary, labelled star signs as “bullshit” to which one of the girls replied “that’s exactly what I expect a Gemini to say” Grants retort was “ok I am a Gemini but I didn’t say that because of where the stars were when I was born”. We let this clearly sexually driven conversation play out and there were tears and tantrums before we called it a night, not before planning another night out with the girls. This lead to the biggest tantrum, close to tears Grant banned us from seeing them again he said that if we go out with them he will not come up so the following night we pandered to his will. (And people say I bitch and moan when I don’t get my own way). In a running theme that was not the last time we saw one of the girls a few years later she showed up on Channel 4’s surreal programme “naked attraction”.

The Slums

Cos it’s called “the slums” you think bad straight away, i think it doesn’t really draw an accurate picture. The slums is essentially a glorified industrial estate but on the industrial estate people also live there. The reason I say it’s no so bad is because there are shops, schools and all the houses we saw all had satellite dishes. What I will say is a lot of it smells, it’s very cramped, the jobs some people have ridiculous I.e. separating smashed glass in to separate colours, and according to our tour guide they earn next to nothing.

In one factory we went in our tour guide said “it’s messi” referring to me, they all stopped and looked and eventually one person said “you are not messi” he was right of course, he then proceeded to go upstairs and fetched a Messi Argentina top and gave it to me, I thought as a gift, it was not a gift, as then wanted me to buy it….I did not. I think the slums had a major effect on Grant he did not seem to enjoy the day.

Anyway we had a great time in India it was definitely one of my favourite places to visit and we got a great send off from our hotel staff. At the top of this part about Mumbai I mentioned Gary from the lift on his 24 hour shift and the sheer volume of sleepy staff members well, we checked out and a fight almost broke out about who could take our bags down the stairs as we were taking the lift. In the lift we decided to tip Gary and he started stuffing the money in his pockets before we reached the ground floor. At the ground floor the doors opened and there must have been 10-15 workers all with their hands outstretched we started giving money out like we were making it rain conscious that we would run out of money before we got to the last person, thankfully we didn’t but it needn’t have mattered if we did as we were waved off by the herd of staff we saw them dividing up the tips, it became clear to us why Gary from the lift was frantically stuffing his pockets full of our money…..he wasn’t going to share!!!!

Gary – from the lift
The sleepy staff
The staff waving us goodbye

In the airport we saw a BBC news reader.

The end.


India – Part 1 (The Hustle)

The planned trip was Delhi, Goa and Mumbai. I’m going to split this in to two so it’s not well long… will be positively short in comparison to South America part two. I’ll do Delhi and Goa part 1 in part 1 and I’ll go Goa part 2 and Mumbai in part two after South America part 3 in Feb/March…..keeep up guys

I have to admit the trip did not start well. After sipping Bellinis at Heathrow airport for far to long we realised that it was final call for the flight heading to Delhi, we downed the final dregs and started running whilst simultaneously looking for our gate. It’d be a really short post if I said we missed our flight here, but we didn’t. We made it! I had booked my flight separately from Jack, Alex and Grant and so was sitting a few rows away from their luxury exit seats, their exit seats which would later become a lot less luxurious.

Half way through the flight, I felt woozy. Stuck in a middle seat I was conscious of how often I got up but the wooziness got the better of me and I had to make my way to the toilet! I was violently sick and felt a bit better so went back to my seat until another wave of sickness hit me and I had to rush back to the toilet. After the third time of this happening within an hour I decided I could no longer disturb the poor lady sitting next to me so with no where else to go and my three friends soundly asleep I decided to lie down in their extra leg room like a dog! It was cosy and it had much better access to the toilets, and the only inconvenience was that of my friends, who let it be felt by a few kicks to the ribs.

The sickness passed and we landed in Delhi. We’d been warned that Delhi was busy. When we landed we were pleasantly surprised that the airport was empty and even when we got to the subway, empty so we presumed the rumours were just that, rumours.

They were not just rumours.

We got of the train at Delhi station came outside and I literally laughed out loud! There were so many people it was absolutely ridic. What made it funnier was Alex had a suitcase rather than a back pack and when he was dragging it along there were three people between him and his suitcase at all times. Anyway Alex’s long arms aside picture the scene there were thousands of people outside this station and most of them were trying to get over a small walkway/bridge over the railway tracks and this is where the fun began 😂.

We joined the crowds trying to cross the bridge and were chased up the stairs by an official looking man who told us we needed to pay to cross the bridge, this seemed strange to us as no one else was paying. The man said casually that it because we are foreigners. He was only asking for about a pound each so we were going to pay until Jack pipes up and said “hmm come over here” we followed him and out of ear shot of the suit Jack told us he’d read about this and it was a scam, lonely planet done us a favour. Instead of confronting the man about this we decided to do what any polite young Englishmen would do and just walked in the opposite direction and decided to go round the railway rather than over it.

Walking round the busy part of Delhi was fun except it seemed every Indian was intent on sending us to Connaught place I am not exaggerating when I tell your hat every single person we spoke to sent us there it was ridiculous, before we knew why we eventually found out, the fact that everyone sent us there was encouraging. That encouragement soon turned to disappointment when we found Connaught place, it was just a hot bed of conmen. “Travel Agencies” everywhere. These travel agents were telling us that due to Barack Obama’s upcoming visit all tourists would need a security pass, we knew this was bullshit but the sheer amount of people telling us meant we were going to give in, after all all they wanted was a pound. So we picked out the most trustworthy looking conmen and entered their shop, to ensure minimal amount of conning two of us stayed outside and two of us went in. I stayed outside. A taxi driver approached me and said “these are bad men, where is your hotel” so I told him and he said I’ll take you there (for the equivalent of about 2 quid) so I rushed in the shop told the guys about the taxi driver and we jumped on the mans taxi and headed to our hotel.

We arrived at our hotel in Paharganj and despite the slight unnerving metal detector at the reception the hotel was very nice.

Delhi has some fantastic places to see and we only had 3 or 4 days, it was about 5 years ago I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, our main focuses were

  • Jama Masjid of Delhi
  • Delhi as a base for a trip to “Agra” home of the Taj Mahal

Jama Masjid

This is one of the biggest mosques in the whole of India. It’s located in the Old part of Delhi so we headed there on our first full day. The old town is I think authentic would be the best word to describe it …and we stuck out a sore thumb! Naturally a starey bunch of people anyway the locals were even more intrigued by the white 6 foot (not me or Grant) obvious tourists walking through the streets. Anyway we got to the mosque and went in, took our shoes off first obviously and went for a nose around. I mean it was big and I’m not really sure what else to say, there was some great views from some of the towers. Weirdly at the top of one of the towers a local man asked for a picture with me, something that become a bit of a running joke throughout the India trip, anyway not one to disappoint I obliged

He looks very pleased to be there

After this, and still in old Delhi we hailed down a Tuk Tuk to drive us to Jaipur Gate. This driver quoted us 300 Rupees, about 3 quid I think and started to drive us. He then stopped at a checkpoint got out and asked someone for a cigarette right in front of us! Got back in the Tuk Tuk and told us he had been fined and we would have to give him 500 Rupees, Grant wasn’t having this and said we literally saw you ask that man for a cigarette, you didn’t get fined, and we aren’t paying you. This didn’t seem to bother our driver who carried on driving us to “Jaipur Gate”. After a while Jack said we were going in the wrong direction for Jaipur gate so we demanded the man let us off the Tuk Tuk, once he let us off he tried charging us more money, which we didn’t give him. I realise I’ve moaned about this journey a bit so to lighten the mood whilst in the Tuk Tuk to to wring place we did see a naked man escorted by Police with sticks so you know…..every cloud.

Long story short though, we never saw Jaipur Gate. Instead we got the subway back to Paharganj and found a reputable company to organise our trip to The Taj Mahal, once that was done we headed back to our hotel.

Our hotel was an odd place, pleasant, just odd. As we were walking back to our rooms a man started following Jack and Alex and they had to run back to their rooms, thankfully Grant and I were more lucky and no one followed us. We got in our room, which was freshly clean and prepared for a little nap when there was a tap on the door so I answered and it was one of the men who worked at the hotel. “Sir we have cleaned your room” he said. I replied “thank you”. He still stood there for an awkwardly long amount of time so I had to clarify and I just asked in way that came out much ruder than I intended “what do you want, money?” Thankfully the rudeness went straight over his head and said yes so Grant and I scraped some money together and paid him.

I was later told by Alex and Jack that the man who followed them also wanted money, scared to confront said man they shut the door before he caught up and then slid money underneath the door.

Taj Mahal

The next day was the planned trip to the Taj Mahal, we were half expecting no driver to turn up at 6am that morning. Our half expectations were not met when we saw a car outside our hotel, a car but no driver. We needed to investigate the lack of driver and so we approached the car when we saw a small man running towards us giggling, behind the giggling man were two dogs playfully running after him. It came as no relief as the man introduced himself as our driver, he later told us he’d been feeding the dogs but they scare him so as they got playful he ran off. Prem, our driver for the day became one of the highlights of The Delhi prt of the trip.

The drive to Agra, of the Taj Mahal is about 4 hours from Delhi so it was a long drive, we spoke to Prem about life in India to pass the time until about half an hour before we got to Agra where we stopped for breakfast, a breakfast where it seemed no matter what you ordered you came away with a Masala Omlette, so after four unordered masala omelettes we were ready to get going we walked back out to meet Prem who was standing with a younger more slender man. Prem told us he would like to introduce us to our guide for the day, we all shook hands. I think it was Alex who piped up with the obvious question of how was our guide going to get to the Taj Mahal as Prem’s Toyota Prius was already full with Alex, Jack, Grant and myself. Prem told us, as if it wasn’t a problem, that our guide would be joining us for the remaining 30 minutes. So after a painfully claustrophobic car journey we arrived at the world famous site and arranged to meet Prem in a couple of hours.

We annoyed the tour guide with stupid questions for the entirety of our tour so much so that he would walk off and then when we’d join him he would just be doing the tour but to no one. The bits we did hear though were interesting and it is a well cool building, I enjoyed it. In Agra there is also an old fort that we visited which was decent mainly because of all the Monkeys that were there.

A candid picture of the tour guide 🙂

Our journey back was the highlight, after we visited an obligatory gift shop Prem was ready drive us home.

The roads in India are “fun” for want of a better word and Prem managed to make them more fun as we were leaving a service station, he decided that a good time to take a selfie of him and his new found English friends was as he was pulling on the motorway. We all cried out Prem ‘no not now’ and instead Alex took the selfie! We survived thankfully.

Here’s Prem

Prem, it turns out had recently become a father, he told us about the Hindu tradition of naming the baby after 21 days, I often think about Prem’s nameless baby and hope she’s doing well.

Anyway Prem got us back to Delhi and all was good. We decided to have dinner in Old Delhi that night as Jack had read about a decent restaurant so we made our way over there and never actually ate in the famed restaurant. We were walking through the back streets of Old Delhi where there was no street lights and only a handful of people when the sounds of call to prayer started in the streets, lost, out of our comfort and signal zone and extremely hungry the sound was enough to send us searching for a Tuk Tuk to drive us back to the safe bustling cow ridden streets of Paharganj. Once there we ate in a local restaurant where we were given the choice of Meat or Vegetable, none of us felt brave enough to try the mystery meat so we all ended up with Vegetable curry and a prison style silver cup of water. The reason this noteworthy is because for all for of us this meal came to 3.30, absolute bargain. I wish I could point you all (Alex, Grant Jack or one of the five others reading this) in the direction of the restaurant but it was a very non descript place and the name was in Arabic sooo sorry about that.

The next day we were making our way to Goa for the first half of our beach holiday.

Our trip in Goa consisted of two parts a stay in the North of Goa and a trip for a few days in the South of Goa. There are a couple of highlights to the trip in North Goa one was a horrible Englishman abroad and one was a greedy Indian man. See a balance of horribleness. I’ll cover the greedy Indian man first, he was the owner of our Hotel in Goa. When we checked in he slowly counted our money about 4 times, that is no exaggeration, and we had to sit in reception and watch him. Once he was finally satisfied that we had paid the right amount he took us to our rooms, not before asking for our passports “to put in his safe” which was actually the seat of his moped. Anyway he showed us to our room, we walked in and he told us this two person room was for all of us and so some of us would have to stay on the floor on mattresses, we refused and showed him our booking which confirmed we had booked two rooms. The greedy landlord then knocked on our new neighbours door and told them that we were staying in their room, this time they refused, this lead to the man to take us to an empty room and let us stay in there, to this day I have no idea why he didn’t just give us that room straight away. The problems didn’t end there, Grant had bought WiFi with his room and complained when his dongle didn’t work so the greedy landlord came up and tried to connect his phone to Noones surprise this didn’t work. The owner opened a window and ordered Grant to “try now” Again this did not work. The problems with this accommodation continued when we struggled to get our passports back, eventually, after a day of them being his moped seat he returned them. On check out the man said to us “Good Review eh?” Needless to say we did not give him a good review.

Would you leave this smiley man a good review?

The second story of The northern part of our trip is a quick shout out to the most obnoxious English man abroad. When wanting another drink at 1pm in the morning he just held out his empty bottle, in an outstretched hand, without breaking conversation with his mates the waiter came and got the drink, he kept his hand outstretched and waited for the waiter to put a drink back in his hand. The man did not say please or thank you once…..horrrible.

Finally one thing I remembered as I wrote this and it was a personal highlight…..we found a night club that served Garlic naans at 4am in the morning. Loved it.

Anyway I’ll finish off India another time as this one is getting longer and longer and I swore to myself I would shorten them.

Florence – The Review

So this one is more of a destination review, more so than a specific recount of events although there will be a smattering of my personal highlights and a couple of anecdotes 🙂

I’ve been to Florence twice for two different types of holidays and since the trips I’ve done loads of reading on the city, it’s so interesting. I mentioned in my first post that I’m surprised we don’t learn more about the city in history classes considering how important it has been over the years especially in the Middle ages.

The question “what is your favourite holiday” is a really tough question so when I ask my self I break it down to multiple questions….favourite beach holiday, favourite activity holiday and stuff like that and Florence is my favourite city holiday.

Florence is a fairly big city in Tuscany, it neighbours Siena and Pisa, home to Fiorentina and the old part of the city is home to some of the most iconic buildings in Italy along with some iconic and stars he events….I think I’ll describe some of the buildings/Places and some of the events, things to do then let you know some of my personal experiences of the City.

Santa Maria Del Fiore cathedral

This building is arguably the most famous and most recognisable building in the medieval city of Florence. The Florence Catherdral nicknamed “Il Duomo” due its huge dome, is situated in the centre of the town with all the big roads seemingly leading to it. If you ignore the hundreds of tourists and gimmicky shops and just take in the building itself, it’s so impressive. This blog is supposed to be about fun trips and not about architecture plus I’ve linked the Wikipedia page if you want to know the rich history that goes on with this building. It is one of the reasons I love the city as I’ve. It been anywhere else where one building stands out so much in the city skyline, Florence has an abundance of mad buildings all entrenched in history but none quite so fun to look at as Santa Maria Del Fiore.

Here is a picture of The Florence Cathedral that I took on my most recent visit. The picture is taken from Piazzale Michelangelo which I’ll go on to below

Boboli Gardens

The Medici family are important to the history of Florence and these “gardens” were the residences of the Medici Family. On a nice afternoon there is so much interesting stuff to do here topped off by fantastic views of the city and surrounding country side. I think any trip to Florence needs to include an afternoon here. You can take a walk over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge on your way too or from the gardens. It does tend to get a bit busy every now and again but it’s just volume of people and not really queues. Boboli Gardens is good for people seeking a bit of culture or history, someone who might be looking for some great photographs and there are also places you could just chill out and relax!

The Grounds of Boboli Gardens

Piazzale Michelangelo

I chose this location as it’s one of the best places you can watch the sun going down. When I went the second time we were keen to watch the sunset and we asked our Air BNB host for a location and she sent us here, strangely we couldn’t find any good places online seems bizarre as in preparation for this blog I done some research (yes, might not seem that way) and this location is everywhere so I’m sure it won’t be my blog that sends you there regardless well worth a recommendation you can head up there have a beer get some quality photos and watch the sun go down!

Basing yourself in Florence will allow you to take the train the Pisa or the bus to Siena or for a longer journey you could even get the train to Rome and I think that staying in Florence gives you so many benefits. Compared to Rome Florence is much cheaper both to fly to and to live, it is very similar to Siena in terms of architecture and history but it is much bigger and there is a lot more to do then in Pisa other than the obvious (below)there really isn’t much to do.

The obvious

Anytime of the year you could enjoy the Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo’s David, walk over the world famous Ponte Vecchio for less culture concerned travellers there is some great shopping to be done in some very exclusive shops. There are plenty of parks to walk around and its not very well known but Florence has a vibrant nightlife. So there really is plenty to do!

If you go at the right time of year you can watch Calcio Fiorentino, this happens on the third week in June every year and four teams compete across three matches of some kind of like football / rugby except much more violent, other than kicking people on the floor and sucker punches pretty much anything is allowed. It’s a big festival in the city and should be attended if you’re there at the right time.

There is another event that’s held in the neighbouring city of Siena this one is a horse race through the city streets the Palio di Siena its developed over many years 10 riders race through the city streets on horse it started originally on Bulls. It’s held twice a year, Early July and Mid August and so if you’re staying Florence you could get the bus to Siena and have watch this event

So for a night out a lot of people head down to Piazza Santa Spirito where there are loads of bars and restaurants but what a lot of people do is sit on the steps of the church and have a beer there kind of like bring your own bottle. Whilst being Drunk in public is a bit of an issue this place has a bit of a chilled vibe and there are a lot of younger people there. If you want to do some pre drinking there and then head out there are a bunch of night clubs dotted around the place and many members clubs that are open even later than the night clubs.

When we last went there we stayed in an Air BNB right next to the Ponte Vecchio, it was me and 4 friends. We spent a day walking round the city and seeing the sites, then a day in Rome and our final day we spent exploring Boboli Gardens. After a particular heavy night where we got in at 5am (yeah, I’m double hard I know) we woke the following morning and headed out to see Michelangelo’s David when we got there we found out the queue was going to be two hours and the queue was so big it was outside…….it was raining. I’d seen David before so really wasn’t keen to queue and see it again, I think it’s the closest my friends have ever come to falling out it was queuers vs non-queuers and it seems like non-queuers were the biggest babies because we ended up not queuing and going for Lunch instead. 4 of us ordered and David (not the statue) didn’t order food, after the waiter left our table David decided he was hungry for a starter and the conversation went like this – David “I’ll get *insert starter here*” Alex/Wolfy “oh that sounds nice can you get me some” David “sure thing man, leave it with me you can count on me not to fuck things up” ……. 15 minutes later when the food arrives Alex/Wolfy “excuse me garson, where is my dish that I ordered I seem to only have this small appetiser” Friendly Italian Waiter “your friend he come up and cancel yours mains and said you only want the starter mamma Mia” then theme tune music came on and we all said in unison “thattttttts David” and the credits rolled.

I realise that this story is not a “reason” to go to Florence but just a nice little anecdote that brings a smile to my face for when I read this back to get my page visits above 10. Seriously though it’s a great location and whilst I see a bunch of people visiting Italy I feel like Florence does get somewhat overlooked despite being a popular destination…..anyway so yeah get yourself there.

Anyway…..the next one will be fun anecdotes.

South America – part 1 (The Holiday)

Now for a post with a little more uummph. Some of you will have read this before but now there’s pictures and added extras so feel free to go through it again. Equally feel free to click like and leave

South Oxhey, England (Not technically South America)

So, the trip began and I was a lone “traveller”, actually let me rephrase, I was a lone prolonged holiday-maker. I’d left the comforts of South Oxhey to begin a South American adverture. Aside from the obvious emotions of excitement, anxiety I also was sad knowing that I’d miss everyone for a few months especially over the festive period. Or maybe I was just sad that I knew people’s life would go on completely normally without me being there.

My flight was leaving from Heathrow and arriving in Rome to catch a connecting flight on to Rio, all with Alitalia (the cheapest option of course). In homage to “Murphy’s law” , I arrived and was greeted with an hour delay and I knew this was going to cut things fine with the connecting flight but I’m a positive man and saw this as an opportunity to drink a few extra pints and when the time for boarding arrived I went to my gate as is customary, only for another 30 minute delay to be slapped on. By now I was resigned to the fact I was going to miss my flight in Rome. Towards the end of a largely uneventful flight to Italy a flight attendant lifted my spirits after approaching me and telling me there would be a man meeting me off my flight to rush me through to my connecting flight. This, it turns out, was just a ploy to lift me up to watch me come crumbling down. Me and three of my fellow passengers dashed to the gate, Alitalia employee leading the line of frantic Englishman desperate to catch another flight only to be refused entry, we were five minutes late. The airline were kind enough to seat us on the next flight which was the following evening and in compensation put us up in the Hilton (I felt ever so fancy). I took the shuttle bus to the hotel and enjoyed a warm buffet, compliments of Alitalia. Knowing that I’d be spending the day in Rome I planned my my unexpected European adventure.

Rome, Italy (still not South America)

I woke early the next day and took advantage of the free breakfast. On My two previous visits to Rome I have had some degree of misfortune with the “Trevi fountain” once we didn’t have time to see it and the second time it was enveloped in scaffolding. I got the bus in to Rome, and set off on foot towards Trevi. Marching through the back streets of Rome I felt like a young Christian being led to my death at the collesseum, it turns out my fortunes were worse, the crowds at the Trevi fountain were BIG, second only to those outside Delhi station (stay tuned for a post on that) anyway I got there and took two pictures and marched back to the bus stop. Despite having a number of hours to kill, I’d seen everything else Rome has to offer so I headed back to the airport. As an afterthought, I feel as though this may be the last time that I see Trevor and his fountain though. The first time I saw it I threw a coin in to the dried basin and I did indeed return, in line with many old wives tales, this time however I couldn’t get close enough to throw a coin and couldn’t dare risk it from far back in the crowd it’s been said that I throw like a girl.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

My first impression of Rio were “rundown”. The airport is nice enough but the buses weren’t great and the towns you drive through to get to to Copacabana, and other tourist hotspots, make Tottenham look friendly. I got off the bus, I kind of just guessed I was near where I needed to be, then navigated the mean streets of Rio to my hostel. I didn’t get mugged, threatened, conned or beaten up once so a large success as I fully expected to step off that bus and hand over my money, phone and passport to the local criminals and march back to the airport and fly home. This preconception of Rio was totally Mis-guided and mostly just paranoia of people saying “watch out for pickpockets” for six months leading up to the trip.

The hostel I decided to spend my first lonely nights in was called “el misti house“. I can definitely recommend it, it was a good choice for a decent price. Never having stayed in a hostel before I was a bit nervous about rules and etiquette and what not. Anyway Camillo showed me to my 9 person (triple bunks) room which was currently solely occupied by Alessandro “alé”. Thankfully one of the only person I could understand in the entire hostel. Over the next few days I met some great people my other roomates were Douglas and Alan, both of whom despite some real communication problems, were fun. There’s only so far a conversation can go with “si” and “yes” but we made it work. During the days I only ever ventured within running distance from my hostel. I would roam the beach front and people watch.

On the top it’s Douglas, Ale and Alan who were introduced above and on the bottom is my first picture in Rio. Perhaps the worst picture ever taken of Sugarloaf mountain, the relative safety of the volleyball courts allowed me to take my phone out my pocket for more than one second.

As you read my blogs I think you’ll discover than I’m an average writer and a worse photographer, but you can laugh with me.

These first nights were all a bit of a blur, but I know we went in to an area called Lapa twice. The staff were always organising the guests and making sure we all went out together, on the nights out I met loads of other people, nice people and loads of other people who I assume we’re nice but they couldn’t speak a word of English. I try not to let my ignorance get the better of me, but communication in Brazil was tough all round even those in the service/tourist industry have very little knowledge of the language it was all very inconvenient. Being the language sponge that I am meant that after 1 or 2 days I was fine! Obvs! (Drozzy, who sadly and detrimental to this blog, doesn’t feature, told a story of him and his dad once having to “cluck for chicken” at a restaurant.)

Jack, Alex, Grant and Jon arrived in Rio on the Sunday, I had arrived on the Wednesday. The plan was for me to meet them off the bus and show them to our Air BnB but due to some unforeseen circumstances, about 10 caipirinha’s, I woke up very late and they had already found and checked in to our accomodation. Now the trip really had begun.

Our first day out together was to go and see the colourful steps in Santa Teresa. This is the colourful neighbourhood you’ll have seen in anyone’s pictures whose been to Rio. It’s definitely worth seeing to grab a picture but other than that the surrounding area was pretty downtrodden so we scurried back to the safety of our Air BnB for five minutes of wifi, sleep, and from a break from any possibility of social interaction with the locals or each other. Here’s a candid picture of when we went to the steps, as a group we were discussing the unique artwork when a local took a picture of us, it was completely unplanned.

Album Cover? *cute but may delete later*

It’s worth mentioning, and it will become apparent why later, Jon was sleeping in a hammock.

Anyway our first night out lead us to Leblon, the upmarket part of Rio. We went out on a Monday night and it….was….dead and so, much like a night London, we spent the majority of the night wandering around aimlessly. Eventually we happened across a small off-licence type place. As the non-socially awkward member of the guys I approached the staff “donde esta la fiesta hoy” I announced, only to be answered not by the Spanish staff member but by his sole customer who I can only assume got the faintest sniff of my English accent, “you guys English” he assumptively questioned, the gig was up we’d been rumbled. We were now in the back streets of Rio and ousted as gringos. Thankfully the man was also English and kindly pointed us in the direction of some lively bars on a Monday night. (We blindly followed his instructions without asking how he knew this information). Thankfully our trust was well placed as we found find a bar and purchased our drinks silently thankful of our run in with our fellow Englishman. That silent thanks quickly disappeared when the next customer in the bar was said Englishman.

Chris, or as he is now affectionately known, English Chris turned out to be interesting. To this day we are unable to decipher the truth from the lies. We found out he’s been in Brazil for 12 years and works on “football philosophy”. Even after some questioning from a quite persistent Grant, we still couldn’t work out what he does. It has to be mentioned at this point that Grant had and probably still has a weird adoration for English Chris. English Chris’ job was to write a report on how to develop football players roles ( not specific players) but I.e. A playmaker. Then sell that report to professional football clubs. This man is an Englishman doing THIS job in Brazil (as a trustworthy man I am going to naively continue as if everything English Chris told us is true) I can only imagine when he presented his report to Corinthians, São Paulo and the like, their responses can only have been along the lines of *vague Brazilian accent* “Mr Chris, your findings in your report are very interesting, please could you tell us more on how you develop a no-nonsense centre half”. Chris took us to a number of bars where we found out a bit more about him, Rio and Leblon. He had a weird habit of talking about football then slapping his chest and saying this is a skill. Very weird, bit annoying but overall helpful and if what he does is real then quite interesting. For more information on English Chris speak to his pen pal Grant.

It’s at this point that days and nights merge into one so things get a bit haze-y but I will do my best to keep things in order.

The next day we went to Christ the redeemer, needs no explanation. Or does it? Christ the redeemer is a statue depicting Jesus’ first miracle, the feeding of the five thousand. The moment captured was just as he was telling the crowd how big the fish is that’s going to feed all of them.

Jon (front), Me (right), Alex (looking the wrong way), Henri Cartier-Bresson (Grant), Jesus (Attacking Midfield), Christ the Redeemer (Big)

It was a fun day out. When you get to Christ the Redeemer you go and pay for your ticket and are given a time slot when you can actually get the minibus further up the mountain and see the statue in all its glory.

Being the adventurers we are, we saw a small path leading in to the jungle which we thought would be a good place to explore. Especially with Jack dressed inappropriately, stereotypically “gringo”. Bad sunglasses, flip flops white t shirt and a back pack so what the Brazilians call (roughly translated) “ a muggers dream” Despite this we continued in to the jungle, 5 comrades, 5 red blooded males, 5 men, five boys that saw one insect they didn’t recognise and almost ran out of the jungle. This was day 2 of our trip round South America and we had been chased out the jungle within two minutes by a bug. Grant must have read a book, he thought EVERYTHING was a fire ant.

The jungle trip passed the time, and a few minutes later we were on the bus to see Christo. You get a good view of the city but the statue is so big and you are forced to stand so close to it that once your up there I don’t think you can appreciate the statue to the same degree you can when you’re on the beaches looking up. We took obligatory pictures and descended back down to the mini bus and moved on. Without sounding like a hipster, it’s not all that impressive, it’s just so crowded up there and you can’t get a decent picture of it I just feel as though there better pictures to be had from other points of view. The view you of the city though is nice and despite all my negativity it’s a must see/do attraction

After this we took sometime out of our day to go the beach, Jack obviously offended someone and a man started singing to him “You haven’t got a girlfriend” then laughed in his face. Jack seemed to reflect on this fact all night, because he stayed in. To give this some context though Rio during the day is filled with toothless old drunk/high men who walk around like the world pissed in their cornflakes, they are perennially angry and are an annoyance in an otherwise decent place.

Jon, Alex, Grant and I went out and that’s where Rio showed its true colours. Now I’m not writing this to name names or point fingers it’s more of a memoir for me to read back BUT Grant decided it would a good idea to meet someone from the Internet (Grindr or Tinder I can’t remember which) so as back up we tagged along. Despite numerous warnings from multiple sources “don’t go down streets with no bars” and despite our taxi driver refusing to drive down the street we needed to go to we still went there. Grant’s, for want of a better word, date, was a no show and none of us felt entirely comfortable in the bar we was in. Grant in a show of face, to pretend he wasn’t stood up, suffered a fake panic attack which caused him to believe he was in a 1950’s gangster film, and He had been set up. To paint the picture, his date told him to meet in a bar in a dodgy neighbourhood, didn’t show up, then a waiter who was carrying a tea towel over his hand (not an entirely strange thing to do for a man in that profession) walked past not once BUT TWICE, Grant was adamant he was harbouring a weapon under the tea towel so we paid the bill and made a swift exit.

We got in a taxi and went to Lapa and when we left the bar staff wanted us to pay our entry fee, on exit, it felt like a scam but we naively paid regardless. After paying, Grant and I both turned round and accidentally step on a man who cannot have been standing more than 30 centimetres behind us. I think his intentions were questionable at best he then followed us to our next bar shouting at us and being a nuisance. We entered bar number two and the angry man demanded money from us. For those that know me and my friends you’ll know we will do whatever to avoid confrontation (especially Jon, hence why he hid in the toilet) but A justified reaction would have been to argue with the man or even reciprocate his aggression but us no, we behaved in a typically British way and pretended like he wasn’t there until a waiter came over and we told him that the vagrant was making us feel uncomfortable. The waiter and security guard went outside and then the man threw the slowest punch in the world, so slow in fact the security guard didn’t even flinch. As the punch was thrown the security guard smoked a cigarette, checked his Facebook, put his phone in his pocket slowly raised his own hand and grabbed the mans fist and pushed him away. All very anticlimactic. It’s unclear when Jon rejoined the table but what is clear it was definitely after the security guard got involved Jon then preceded to tell us how he was prepared to “end him” referring to the drunk 70 year old man.

Needless to say we were keen for a quick exit once again so we jumped in a taxi back to Copacabana. We went in to a bar and was having a few drinks and Jon’s temper was still bubbling away. I can only imagine he misheard what I said because after a completely innocent comment I reached for my drink and Jon attacked me, grabbed my hand and put my in some vulcan death hold. Grant, sensing my panic, grabbed my drink as it almost spilled. I explained that Jon must have misheard me and he released me. It and been a dramatic night and more worrysome group Might think “that’s enough” not us, we found one final bar three doors down from our AirBnB. Intoxication made us all a bit brave and probably allowed us to take a leave of our senses as we followed a man up a derelict stair case to the bar. In hindsight, I think the derelict staircase is the factor that should have told us it was a bad idea. We entered the bar, which it turns out was a brothel, we decided to drink our drinks and leave. Alex, Jon and Grant went to the toilet and were followed by two men (not that kind of brothel) and I thought to myself we need to leave, this was confirmed when Alex poked his not so small head in the bar and shouted “Ross, we need to leave.” I took a final gulp of my drink and swiftly followed Alex’s head out of the door. It turns out after refusing to buy drugs in the toilet things turned ugly and the workers were getting boisterous we left the bar followed by three men now. Alex and I stood gallantly facing the men whilst Grant and Jon ran to our AirBnB to gather the help of our weedy security guard. The gates to our apartment opened and Alex and I scurried behind them. I don’t think the bar staff expected us to live so close and as soon as they realised this they went back to their bar.

Early the next morning, after an eventful night, Jack gave us the itinerary for the day. Climb a mountain, it’s as if he knew to stay in the night before but didn’t warn anyone. Pedra Bonita was an hour climb, thankfully a smaller climb than it’s mountainous neighbour “Pedro De Gavea”. The ascent was made more bearable by the appearance of Monkey’s. It’s at this point I’m obliged to mention that these Monkeys would not have appeared if the Monkey Whisperer (Jon) hadn’t have called for them. Jon to my knowledge has never shown an overly keen interest in wildlife, apart from in Thailand (see Grants secret blog), but he kept reminding us that the monkeys would not have appeared had he not shook the bamboo, yes that’s all he did shook some bamboo and the Monkeys came.

Once we reached the summit the impressive views immediately called for a selfie. To crave the attention of their peers the others started taking pictures increasingly close to edge…..fools. Anyway after a small disco at the top we left and went home. (This will make sense when you see South America part 2)

After the previous nights goings on, I took charge. Being the social butterfly that I am, I had a few friends from my old hostel. I got in contact and found out where it goes off in copacabana on a Wednesday night. It turns out it goes off in a cave underground. In the cave it’s not unheard of to pay £3 for a can of beer. After the cave party we returned home, hungry. Alex, Grant and I went back out at 2am (yeah I know, were hard) looking for a place to eat. Jack stayed in ….again) we thought our best bet was to walk to the main road and get a taxi, wrong! We walked on the main round and were immediately approached by three ladies of the night. My thoughts went straight to my phone and wallet, and I shoved my hands firmly in my pockets. Grant and Alex had other ideas though and ran off, Grant once again showing his really cowardly nature (I thought Grant had contracted Yellow Belly, he was that cowardly throughout the trip. At the time of writing there is no immunisation for yellow belly and as far as I’m aware of it Grant still suffers with it) I was surprised by their betrayal but then even more surprised when I discovered these ladies were not interested in my pockets. After suffering sexual harassment, I caught up with Alex and Grant only to look back to see the ladies (of the night) doing their final advertisement and raised their tops. Needless to say advertisement was unsuccessful we dived in a taxi, “drive” we demanded. He kindly drove us to a restaurant, our hearts dropped. He dropped us in the same road as last night and refused to drive any further but helpfully pointed us in the direction of an open restaurant. Hunger won over trepidation and we walked to the restaurant. The food was decent but the restaurant had an odd obsession with pineapple. I’m not exaggerating when I say this but every single dish of there’s on the menu was “con pineapple”. Thought this was very odd but again hunger won out and I had a pineapple sandwich.

We woke on our final day with two things left on our Rio bucket list, Sugarloaf mountain and visiting the favelas. The first thing to do was to find a guide to take us to the Favela. Alex, being manager, had accumulated a number of business cards and we used one of these to locate a driver. After about an hour of waiting our driver appeared. The politest way to put it, is, you would feel safe with this man taking you anywhere. He was BIG.

There may be one or two people who don’t know me reading this. Lawson from Togo was our driver.

First stop he drove us to the favela. On route he explained that most the favelas are no longer dangerous as they are run by a special police force, which I believe is called the UPP. Lawson, our driver, lead us to believe that part of the job description of the UPP is to have no sense of humour because according to Lawson, who told us on at least five separate occasions “the UPP do NOT joke”. The UPP are a police force who live amongst the locals in the Favela and any sign of violence and they shoot apparently. In the early days of the UPP shoot outs between the gangs and UPP were not uncommon but despite myths they would not target non locals. In fact it’s said that the favela was more safe than the towns because drug dealers did not want Police to be called to the Favelas and so would send all the muggers and theifs to Copacabana and Ipanema.

Before we get to the Favela itself I need to describe Lawson. He was Big, from Togo and sweaty, you can’t see the sweat in the picture above. He confirmed what many people already believe that some football players from Africa lie about their age, he told us that even his brother had done it and more shockingly he is of the opinion that even the great Didier Drogba has lied about his age.

He told us that the scariest thing in the Favela for him, is the dogs, they were not the scariest thing in the Favela for us……

The scariest thing in the favela for us was when we first walked in a lady in police uniform run up the stairs gun in hand followed by a man in normal clothes with a non-standard weapon and running straight towards us with his finger on the trigger. Normally we are a group that will make light of all situations I think it’s safe to say, we didn’t make light of this situation, what we done in this situation was shut up and stay still and silent until Lawson convinced us this was normal and so we hesitantly continued our tour. I would liken the Favela to the slums in India, it really isn’t as bad as people make out. It’s a bit of a shit hole but everyone has a job and some of the houses inside look nice. They aren’t all criminals it’s just to expensive for them to live in the actual towns.

Lawson, employee turned friend, took us to the bus station to help us book tickets to Ihla Grande our next stop. We did that then he took us home and received a very generous tip. Jon then shook his hand and said “dobrigado, thanks for taking us to the Fravela” needless to say we all laughed Jon looking bemused asked us why were laughing.

After some food we headed for sugarloaf mountain one of Rio’s most famous landmarks/view points. You need to take a cable car to the top. I suffered a bout of anxiety on the cable car and resorted to taking a knee and covering my eyes whilst being laughed at by the locals. It was worth it once up there though the views once again were incredible and there is even a nature reserve bit and food/bars and shops at the summit. We planned to watch the sunset but our plans were scuppered by the clouds. Five minutes before the sunset was due the cloud come over, much to dismay of the dedicated Sunset photographer Jack. The clouds looked thunderous which sent astraphobic Alex in to a meltdown so we had to return to the room which we did with haste.

We had a big journey the next day and so it was this that ended our Rio arm of the journey.

If I’m entirely honest I wasn’t overly impressed with Rio. It gets labelled as a party capital and great beaches but from the time I spent there I would say there is better nightlife and nicer beaches closer to home. That being said I never felt anywhere near as intimidated as I was warned I would be and some of the excursions there provide you with some of the best views I have ever seen.

For an idea of what other trips I might cover check out my other post “30 before 30”