Photo of the Week – Christmas is Coming

This week’s photo is of the construction of a stall in the Birmingham German Christmas Market.

An annual event since 2001 the Christmas Market celebrates Birmingham’s links with its twin city of Frankfurt.  Situated from Centenary Square to New Street there are nearly 200 stalls that sell arts, crafts, food and drink.  It is always popular with citizens and visitors alike.  The market closes on 22 December.

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Prague – A Reflection

What can I say about the city of Prague.  It is beautiful, historic, full of fun and crowded.  It was always a city that I wanted to visit for a long time.  Twenty three years since the full of Communism would Prague fail to live up to expectations.  The answer was that I fell in love with the city.  There is something for everybody be it culture vulture or party animal.

Everything in Prague is compact and easy to reach by foot.  However, I recommend that you start your day early if wish to avoid the crowds particularly if you are looking to cross the Charles Bridge.  I was in Prague during September and there were a lot of visitors.  Suffice to say it would be best to avoid Prague during July and August.

The best way of gaining your bearings is to go on a walking tour.  Once you see the landmarks it is easy to remember where you are going.  Plenty of companies organise walking tours.  I was lucky the my hostel operated a free one.  As a solo traveller I found it a great way of meeting people.  Walking is not the only way of seeing Prague.  There were carriage tour and even a Segway tour too.

Here are a list of must see attractions in Prague:-

  • Prague Castle
  • Charles Bridge
  • The Astronomical Clock
  • Old Town Square
  • Wenceslas Square

All of these attractions can be visited in a day, something I managed to achieve.  Admittedly it meant crossing the Charles Bridge at 09:30.

As I mentioned earlier Prague has a reputation of being a party town.  Starting with organised pub crawl from the hostel I explored the bars and clubs the city had to offer.  What I liked about the nightlife in Prague was how relaxed they were about the house rules concerning attire.  I was wearing casual clothes with black training shoes and had no problem in gaining entrance.  This is so different to the UK.  I ended up at Karlovy Lazne (5 Story Club) apparently Europe’s tallest nightclub.  A tip is the further you climb the cheesier the music becomes.  This is pleasing for an old fart like me.

Then there is always the beer.  It is true that it is cheaper than buying soft drinks.  However, the reputation of beer’s quality is such that it represents real value for money.  There was a bar on spirits over 20% proof while I was in Prague.  This was due to poisoned alcohol being sold in the street which had claimed lives.  There are plenty of small bars that sell absinthe the strong aniseed flavoured spirit.  If that sounds too much for you then you can try the absinthe flavoured ice cream.

I was made extremely welcome in Prague.  It is a safe city to walk around.  Whatever you choose to do I am sure that you will have a good time.

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Where next?

I have spent the last couple of week deciding on my travel plans for 2013.  As a renowned procrastinator this has been a difficult task.  Financially I am in the best of health but this ok because travelling on a budget adds to the sense of adventure.  I also take advantage of the perks that available to me.  I work for a coach company in the UK so there are some ways that it helps me to travel more.

Due to the work commitments I cannot travel as much as I would like.  I only get so many days holiday in a year.  However, I do not like spending time off work at home.  It feels just a waste of my time.  Some where do I travel next?  The one decision I have made is that I will be sticking to Europe.  As I was told by a Canadian in Prague that I was so lucky to have so many places that I can reach within a day.  This is true, I must also admit that there are many places in Europe that I have yet to visit.

So I am pleased to announce that my first trip of 2013 will be to Vienna and Budapest.  I visited Vienna in 2011 but I was laid low by food poisoning which meant that I did not get to see much of the city.  Better luck this time I hope.  On my travels in September I was given so many good reports about Budapest.  If I had planned that trip better I could have included Budapest in the itinerary.  However, I am looking forward to seeing what the city offers.

Now I hit the procrastinator stage of my planning.  I am not sure what other trips I am going to plan for.  Initially I was going to plump for a trip in June and one in September like this year.  However, I am thinking more about a longer trip of over three weeks in September.  This will all depend on whether I can get that amount of time away from work.  If I do then I am looking to complete a circle of the Balkans starting and finishing in Zagreb.  If not, then it will be back to the drawing board.

By publishing my plans it commits me to carry them out.  I will also ensure that I will travel to London and other cities in the UK and report back to you.

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Photo of the Week – Edinburgh Castle

This week’s photo is of  Edinburgh Castle taken in September 2008.

The military tattoo has just completed its run.  You may see some of the grandstand in the photo.  Built on a dormant vulcano the castle is the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland with over 1.3 million people paying visitors in 2011.  It is a great site and a symbol of the city of Edinburgh and the whole of Scotland.

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

City of Lichfield

The city of Lichfield is situated in the county of Staffordshire and lies to the north of Birmingham.  A small place given city status because of the cathedral.  It is worth visiting from Birmingham to spend a city here.  A historical city it is famous for being the birthplace of Dr. Samuel Johnson.

The best way to get to Lichfield is to take the London Midland train from Birmingham New Street to Lichfield City station.  Journeys take around 40 minutes.  The most expensive adult ticket costs £7.10 for a day return.  Once you arrive into the station it is a five minute walk to the city centre.

There are several attractions to visit in Lichfield and I will list a few of my favourites.  Firstly, I will point you towards the cathedral.  Originally to be classified as a city in England you had to have a cathedral.  What makes Lichfield Cathedral unique is that it is the only medieval cathedral that has three spires.

The next place I would recommend you visit s the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.  Acting both as a museum and bookshop it tells the life story of Dr. Samuel Johnson perhaps Lichfield’s most famous son.  Items that can be viewed in the museum include Johnson’s personal armchair and tea set.  The museum is located on Breadmarket Street and has free entry.

website – http://www.samueljohnsonbirthplace.org.uk

Another attraction that you should visit is Erasmus Darwin House.  Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin was a renowned doctor, inventor, poet and scientist who lived in the city for over twenty years.  Included in the museum are two rooms with audio and visual exhibits.  One pleasing aspect of the house is the Georgian herb garden that contains plants from the period. The museum is located on Beacon Street.  Admission costs £3.00 for adults.

website – http://www.erasmusdarwin.org

A perfect place to go for a walk is Beacon Park.  Originally marshland it was reclaimed in the 19th century.  It is home to various sporting facilities used by the citizens of Lichfield.  There are also monuments and statues.  The most famous being of Edward Smith, the ill-fated captain of the R.M.S. Titanic.

If you are looking for entertainment then a visit to the Lichfield Garrick Theatre is a must.  Opened in 2003, it is named after the famous 18th century actor David Garrick who was born in the city.  The theatre shows plays and concerts while a local Rep company is based there.

website – http://www.lichfieldgarrick.com

Finally, if you are looking for somewhere to eat I would personally recommend ‘The Spark Cafe Bar’.  Situated on Tamworth Street it serves excellent food at reasonable prices.  The coffee is also excellent.  There are plenty events that take place including live comedy and music.  It is also home to a book club.

website – http://www.thesparkcafebar.co.uk

There is plenty more of Lichfield to see.  It is a rewarding place to visit for the day.  It has a small town feel where the pace is unrushed.

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Photo of the Week – Memorial to Jan Palach & Jan Zajíc

This week’s photo is of the memorial plaque to Jan Palach & Jan Zajíc.  It is located in Wenceslas Square in Prague.

As a protest to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 both set fire to themselves.  Palach happened on the 16 January 1969.  He died on 19 January.  Zajíc set himself alight and died on 25 February.  A third person Evźen Plocek died on 9 April after trying the same feat.  All three men died wanting freedom for their country.

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Hostel Blues, Bratislava – A Review

During my recent trip to Bratislava I stayed at Hostel Blues.  The hostel is located in the centre of city is a traditional hostel which is famous for the double bunk beds.

Entrance takes you to the first floor reception.  Checking in takes a little time but you can take time to relax with a beer in the bar which is also located in the reception area.  There are five floors in the hostel.  Each floor is split into two blocks.  Each block has two dorms, a  bathroom with toilet and a separate toilet.  An nice touch is that each block is named after a captial city.  I stayed in the Berlin block on the 4th floor.  Entrance to each block is by keycard.  You use the same keycard to enter the dorm.  The dorms themselves are clean and spaceous with bunk beds and lockers.  There is plenty of room to move around.

There is a kitchen area where you can cook your own food with a dining area away from the kitchen.  Baguettes and snacks are also available in reception with soft drinks and beer.  Once a week there is a communal cook where everybody helps out in cooking local Slovakian dishes.  It was a great way of getting to know people and it was a very good night.

The staff at the hostel were very friendly and helpful.  You are given a free map upon check-in and you are given recommendations on where to go and visit.  There is also a board which lists night spots which are recommended.  Reception is operated 24 hours.  The hostel advertises the walking tour and pub crawl.  I can recommend the walking tour.

This was the best hostel I have stayed in.  It has a friendly atmosphere where everybody is made t o feel welcome.  There is also a sense of community with everybody who stayed there.  I will choose Hostel Blues again the next time I visit Bratislava.

Hostel Blues, Ŝpitálska 2, Bratislava, 811 08, Slovakia

http://www.hostelblues.sk

I booked the hostel through HostelBookers – http://www.hostelbookers.com

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

St. Christopher’s at the Mosaic House, Prague – A Review

During my recent trip to Prague I stayed at the St. Christopher’s at the Mosaic House.  How does it rate?

As a hostel it was different to what I expected.  It is a large building and it gives off a look of an expensive hotel.  It is located near the centre of Prague.  It is about fifteen minute walk towards Charles Bridge.

Checking in was initially difficult as the receptionist was unable to find my booking.  The booking was found eventually and I was checked in.

Entry to the dorm was by key card and there is an 150CZK deposit to pay but you get a free map of Prague.  It is refunded when you check out of the hostel.  My dorm was on the second floor.  You can either get the lift or use the stairs.  Once I entered the dorm I was pleasantly surprised.

Not the greatest photo.

There were three bunks in the dorm.  There was a security box to put your rucksack in.  You would need to bring your own padlock. You can purchase one from reception. On each bed there was storage, a charging point and reading lamp.  I found this to be very useful especially when returning late at night.

The bathroom was excellent.  It was modern, in fact it could have come straight out of the Ikea catalogue.

There is no kitchen area for you to cook in.  The hostel does have a big bar area where they serve hot food.  You get a discount of 20% when you order your first meal.  However, if you are staying for a few days it can get expensive for you.  The food is of excellent standard.  I particularly recommend the Bar-b-q ribs and chicken wings, very sticky and tasty.

A buffet breakfast is also available from 7-10am.  At weekends it is available for longer.  It costs 150CZK.

There is a large bar which is always busy.  There are plenty of local beers and spirits available.  There are plenty of television screen which show various show especially sport from around Europe.  It is a good place to chill out and speak to people over a beer.  There is live music on every Thursday evening.

The hostel has plenty of activities which it organises.  As a solo traveller I would recommend the free walking tour and the pub crawl.  It is a great way of seeing the city and meeting people at the same time.

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at St. Christopher’s.  The staff were friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was excellent.  If you are looking for a hostel that is in the centre of Prague than I would recommend this one.

I booked through HostelBookers.com.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Prague & Bratislava – Day 13, 22/09/2012

So this is it, I am going home today.  I did not have time to wallow in self-pity.  There was too much to do even though my coach doe  s not leave until 5pm.  First, I had to get the supplies for the journey home.  In total I will be travelling for nearly twenty-four hours.  There was a Tesco’s near the hostel.  So I brought enough baguettes, crisps, cake and iced tea to last me for that time.  I wish that I had brought my clubcard as the extra would have come in useful.

Back at the hostel the procedure of packing everything began.  Not only ensuring my belongings were packed but now I had to find room to fit the food in the small backpack.  Now it weighs a ton.  I had to check out of the hostel by 10am so I decided to have a final walk around Prague.  The sun was out and I spent the time taking in all the sights.  There was a big bicycle parade taking place in Wenceslas Square.

Cycles waiting to begin the parade.

I also needed to purchase a souvenir of my trip.  What should I buy?  I did not want another t-shirt.  Then it hit me I saw a giant cup, just the thing to enjoy a cup of tea.  My colleagues at work will be impressed.

Once purchased I slowly made my way back to the hostel.  I just chilled out until the inevitable time when I had to leave.  So with rucksack weighing heavy on my back I left for the metro station.  The journey to the coach station always seems the quickest yet the time waiting for the coach is always the longest.  I found a seat at the back of the coach.  As I pulled out of the coach station I could only think about the last thirteen days.  They had been enjoyable and I cannot wait to plan my travels for 2013.

Until the next post, stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

Photo of the Week – Statue of Sir Walter Raleigh

This week’s photograph is the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh in Greenwich.

Raleigh was an explorer during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  He is famous for introducing tobacco to England.  Raleigh was beheaded in 1618 on the orders of King James I.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve