exploration http://www.exploration-online.com Thu, 14 Sep 2017 14:29:02 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.6 Book Review: ‘Down Under’ by Bill Bryson http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/14/book-review-down-under-by-bill-bryson/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/14/book-review-down-under-by-bill-bryson/#respond Thu, 14 Sep 2017 14:12:34 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7838 I have been a huge fan of the travel writer Bill Bryson since an unusually young age, first devouring ‘A Walk in the Woods’ (an account of his journey along the Appalachian Trail) at the age of fourteen. His dry wit, uncanny observations, and unique ability to make the most mundane morsels of information immensely fascinating, is something I continue to enjoy to this day.

In his almost 30-year-long career, Bryson has embarked on countless travels throughout his native America, across Europe, and around Great Britain, dissecting each country and its characteristics with spirit and humour. However, one of my favourite of his books continues to be his journey to Australia, where he explores its people, cities, coastlines, and the infamous Outback with all the intense curiosity expected of a foreigner relatively unacquainted with the country. Bryson proves positively intrigued by everything from the deadliness of Australia’s wildlife, to the mind-bogglingly remote location of Outback towns, to the seemingly bizarre decision to make Canberra its capital city. Thus, the reader is offered a rich and laugh-out-loud education in the Australian way of life, in the form of a page-turning outsider’s insight into the world’s sixth largest country.

‘Down Under’ by Bill Bryson (source: images.gr-assets.com)

Beginning with a witty deliberation on why the rest of the world knows so little about its neighbours down under (including who the Prime Minister is), Bryson sets about finding the answers himself. Traversing a number of different routes which cover a vast expanse of this incredible country, Bryson invites the reader on a journey to learn more about ‘the driest, flattest, hottest, most infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents’, because ‘trust me’, he says, ‘it’s interesting’.

Throughout the book we follow his travels from Sydney to Perth, Darwin to Alice Springs, where he treats us to wonderfully honest reviews about what he finds — praising what genuinely captivates him, but never one to mince words if he finds something mind-numbingly boring. Yet what truly makes Bryson’s book such a gripping read is that his roaming from A to B is interwoven with intriguing nuggets of history, belly-achingly funny anecdotes, and a keen eye for picking up on the quirks of the Australian people.

Bill Bryson (source: farm4.staticflickr.com)

On finishing ‘Down Under’ expect to be left feeling both as if you accompanied Bryson on the trip, and aching to explore Australia for yourself. True to Bryson’s word, we learn that Australia really is interesting (even if its Prime Minister isn’t). And of course, as with every Bryson novel, we are also left itching to go down to the bookshop to buy another one of his honest and guffaw-inducing accounts of a nation and its people.

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Abu Dhabi: Fun for all the Family http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/12/abu-dhabi-fun-for-all-the-family/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/12/abu-dhabi-fun-for-all-the-family/#respond Tue, 12 Sep 2017 11:13:49 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7844 This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series The Emirates

Although Dubai is currently the most popular Emirate, the capital Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a tourist destination in its own right.

This Emirate has plenty of rides and slides for the thrill seekers. Most of these are located on the man-made Yas Island, an up-and-coming entertainment destination. It boasts Abu Dhabi’s state-of-the-art Grand Prix circuit, the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi five star hotel, and theme parks. Ferrari World is a car lover’s dream. The car-themed amusement park is complete with a tyre changing show, a junior Grand Prix, a Ferrari gallery and even a play area designed as a car wash.

Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi. Photo © Michael Schindler

Yas Waterworld is the Emirate’s popular water park, an exciting adventure for everyone’s inner child. It is family-friendly, with a wave pool, vertical drops, a surfable wave sheet, a water fortress for young children, and group rides and slides, which cater to single riders and couples.   

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s colossal monument and its most visited attraction. Of course, it’s a frequented place of worship, but the Fatimid and Ottoman inspired landmark, constructed of Macedonian marble and furnished with mosaic tiling, attracts masses of tourists. Non-Muslims are granted access to all areas of the grand mosque, making it an enlightening insight into the architecture and religious customs of the Islamic faith.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, photo © Chris Mills

Another heritage site for tourists to visit is Qasr-al-Hosn. Being the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, it was originally a watchtower and was later converted into a fort by the royal family, who also resided in the Qasr-al-Hosn. Locals regard it as the symbolic birthplace of the Emirate. Those who want an experience of Abu Dhabi’s traditions should visit as there are plenty of artefacts on display presenting the region’s history.

Qasr-al-Hosn fort. Photo © Hsien-yang Tseng

Anyone in need of retail therapy can head down to one of the various shopping centers that Abu Dhabi has to offer. Between the two most prominent ones, Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall, everyone’s shopping needs are catered for. Marina Mall has an ice rink, a Cineplex and many big brand stores.

Abu Dhabi is also a great place in which people can shop big names. The children’s play area “Kidoos” is perfect for families, and parents can continue shopping whilst their children enjoy hours of supervised fun. Arguably, the number of malls means that there is a risk of Abu Dhabi being compared to Dubai, its neighbouring Emirate which dominates the tourism industry in the region. However, the air-conditioned malls do provide a way for people to escape the intense heat and cool off.

Some may be surprised to find that the business orientated capital would have so many family friendly tourist attractions, but there are plenty to visit, making Abu Dhabi the perfect holiday destination.

Featured image © Ross Ruck

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Heading West in an RV http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/10/heading-west-in-an-rv/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/10/heading-west-in-an-rv/#respond Sun, 10 Sep 2017 14:13:33 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7723 San Francisco had been a fantastic city in which to start our family RV holiday, but now I was excited to start our road trip travelling in the Western United States. For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, the automobile has been the dominant form of transportation in the United States. Equally, travelling on a road to the West has for a long time been synonymous for many with the American Dream: freedom; adventure; and diverse, enticing and grand landscapes. Therefore, the road and the car both hold a revered place in the American consciousness. It was our first time in the Western United States, and we looked forward to travelling across a variety of Western cities and landscapes.

Our RV trip didn’t start that well. In the first minute of the trip, plates fell from a cupboard and shattered on the floor. But that was soon forgotten after we left San Francisco and ventured further south. I was struck by the enormity, the variety and the beauty that surrounded the highway. The enormous trucks that rumbled along the five-lane highway, the road that swerved through the mountains was a privilege to witness.

The next stop was San Simeon, California. San Simeon is about halfway down the West Coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and the expansive beach and imposing cliffs are worth a visit, as is Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle’s origins can be traced back to 1865, when George Hearst bought 40,000 acres of land in San Simeon, where the modern attraction is located. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst inherited a vast amount of that land after his mother died and afterwards accumulated 250,000 acres. Alongside architect Julia Morgan, Hearst planned the construction of “La Cuesta Encantada” (Spanish for ‘Enchanted Hill’). Hearst Castle in the mid-twentieth century had 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Hearst Castle’s admission fees are $25 for adults and $12 for children and there are a variety of tours (such as grand room tours and upstairs suite tours) that are available to take around the attraction. It is worth a visit to see the Greco-Roman architecture that looks fantastic in the San Simeon sunshine and perfectly complements the San Simeon hilltop landscape.

Hearst Castle © Visit California

After we had left San Simeon, we headed to Santa Barbara, an appealing beachside city which is 95 miles from Los Angeles. Santa Barbara was once part of the Spanish Empire, before it became incorporated into Mexico and eventually the United States. Santa Barbara’s 18th century Spanish Catholic missions, numerous parks, nature reserves and beaches lined by palm trees, make it an ideal place to explore and relax. The expansive West Beach, our favourite part of Santa Barbara, with its breathtaking views and extended pier, is where the city’s New Year’s and 4th July fireworks celebrations take place.

Then we headed to Los Angeles. Since the mid-20th century, LA has been a socio-cultural magnet for actors determined to become the next Hollywood or music sensation. Due to the stature of LA in the United States and across the world, its population and tourist industry is booming. Among LA’s attractions is Universal Studios Hollywood, which during the summer holidays is $116 admission for adults and $110 for children, though these prices decline slightly during term time. LA also has the iconic Hollywood sign and the Hollywood walk of fame. For events, the Hollywood Bowl is a fantastic outdoor arena where live music and events are held, including the 4th July fireworks show. Ticket prices range from $7 to $266 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Dodger Stadium, where the LA Dodgers baseball team plays, is a big attraction, especially as the Dodgers are currently the second best team in the United States’ Western National league. Tickets to see the Dodgers range from $26 to $900. Venice Beach is also worth a visit, where there are a vast number of souvenir shops lining the beach as well as beachside gyms. Around Venice Beach, tourists are spoiled for choice with beachside restaurants and cafes. We ended up getting a snack in Menotti’s Coffee stop, which had reasonably-priced pastries and coffee. I would also recommend going to Disneyland, which is in Anaheim, a city southeast of LA. A one-day ticket varies in price by date, but the cheapest two-day admission tickets for ten-year-olds and above are $99.50 and five-day admission prices begin at $60.

After leaving LA we cruised west, leaving California and eventually found the historic Route 66 road that is ingrained in the American consciousness as the iconic route to the West. On Route 66, I felt mesmerised by the high mountains that stood either side of the road and the vast open landscape. As we stopped halfway down Route 66 and got out of our RV, we were hit by a wave of heat so intense that we could only bear to stay outside the vehicle for a couple of minutes while we appreciated our surroundings and took pictures as mementos. Shortly afterwards we stopped at the Cruiser’s Route 66 cafe, which was very pleasant and a welcome rest.

After we had finished eating, we got back in the RV and headed for the Grand Canyon where we admired the spectacular view and, amongst the vast numbers of tourists, looked out to the iconic red rocks below. We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where the Colorado River arches around the Canyon, in four hours and hiked back up to the top in five hours, which my parents agreed to do as it was an overcast day. Please note, however, that the Park strongly advises against doing this hike in one day. It is also possible to go down the Grand Canyon on a mule (North Rim Grand Canyon tours cost $40-$80 for one hour to half day mule tours) and in a plane (the Grand Canyon South Rim tour lasts forty five minutes to fifty minutes and prices start at $124). You can also raft in the Colorado River (half day raft trips for four hours cost $92 for twelve-years-olds and older and $82 for four- to eleven-year-olds).

The beachside towns and cities we had visited, as well as the road we had travelled on in California and Arizona, allowed us to see great stretches of the United States’ western landscape. The Western United States has enticed numerous Americans in pursuit of the American Dream and tourists who want a glimpse of such iconic scenery, cities and attractions. It is well worth hiring or buying a car and travelling through the Western United States to appreciate the historical, cultural and socio-economic value of the region in the American and global imagination.

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Edinburgh: History and Literature http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/07/edinburgh-history-and-literature/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/07/edinburgh-history-and-literature/#respond Wed, 06 Sep 2017 23:20:54 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7712 This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Edinburgh's Charms

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the 7th most populated city in the United Kingdom. Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, it is cited as

the UK’s second most popular tourist destination because of its historical and cultural attractions. It has also just been voted the world’s most beautiful country.

I visited Scotland with my friends in April during the Easter holiday. We had planned the trip two weeks before, booking a flight and hotel deal for £59 through Expedia. Our flight was from London Stansted to Edinburgh with Ryanair. Our chosen airport was a mistake as it was difficult for us to get from Central London to Stansted Airport; we had to take a coach from London Victoria Coach Station which cost us £8 each. Despite this setback and a bumpy Ryanair landing, we made it successfully to Edinburgh.

On leaving the airport, we were greeted by sunny skies and freezing winds. Although it was warm in London, which didn’t feel that far away, the temperature in Edinburgh was much colder. While waiting at the bus stop, we wrapped up in our gloves and hats, excited to see our hotel. The bus arrived in 10 minutes and after paying £4.50, we headed in the direction of Western Harbour, the nearest stop to our accommodation. The journey took around 30 minutes which gave us time to travel through Edinburgh, noting the bigger houses and greener lawns.

Montserrat Labiaga Ferrer

The view of the Forth Bridge as seen from various points across Edinburgh’s coast.
(Photographer: Montserrat Labiaga Ferrer; Flickr)

On arrival at Western Harbour, we were greeted by a view of the roaring blue sea and white seagulls squawking deafeningly. It was a 10 minute walk to the hotel, City Suites, and when we arrived, we were welcomed with a smile by the reception staff. We were handed a key and went rushing up to explore our room. On opening the door, all four of us headed in different directions. We had booked an apartment which included two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. Spotless and spacious, it was the perfect place to stay. The facilities were fantastic – the kitchen came complete with cutlery, oil, butter, sugar, milk, coffee, tea and hot chocolate and we even had a washing machine. We were beyond happy with the apartment; one of my friends even did a quick dance before we headed out to explore the city.

Our first destination was Edinburgh Castle. Taking the 10 Lothian bus which cost £1.60 per person and conveniently went from outside our apartment to the city centre, we got off for a cheeky Nandos to soothe our growling stomachs. A delicious and extra-spicy meal later, I used trusty Google Maps to get us to the castle. It took us a while to walk there as Edinburgh wasn’t signposted very well and Google Maps sometimes stopped working. After a few wrong turns and an uphill walk, we arrived at the castle, which is huge and sits grandly overlooking the city; unaffected by the tourists taking pictures, it stood firm against the azure sky.

chas B

Edinburgh Castle: one of many, many reasons to visit Scotland. (Photographer: chas B; Flickr)

We joined the other tourists, taking countless photographs of its greyish-brown walls that attract millions of visitors each year. We did not venture inside this symbol of historical conflicts, but spent some time gazing out at the city that stretched below. The view was gorgeous; the city was filled with busy residents who went about their daily tasks despite the chilling wind and continuing to smile as brightly as the cloudless sky.

After we’d had our fill of the castle, we made our journey to Greyfriars Church. Just over ten minutes later, we arrived at the church which is one of the oldest surviving buildings outside the Old Town of Edinburgh. It is a sandy-coloured structure with large windows gazing out towards the entrance path. A graveyard rested on a large patch of green, where numerous well-known people are buried. For many people, the graveyard is associated with Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years. There is a statue in the dog’s honour on the road outside the church. We entered the church, which was quite modern-looking with its white washed walls and wooden roof. The only traditional part of it was the stained-glass windows whose colours and designs telling religious stories always seemed to attract me as I wandered around.

Rebecca Siegel

The view of Greyfriars Church from the graveyard – an unusual building to say the least. (Photographer: Rebecca Siegel; Flickr)

The church was housing an art exhibition which included watercolour, charcoal, sketches and other work by various local artists. Quietly I assessed every image, enjoying looking at sunsets, popular Edinburgh spots, animals and people in the church’s peaceful atmosphere. My friends and I sat for a while after looking at the artwork, taking in the spiritual feeling all religious places seem to have. On our departure, we avoided the graveyard which we would later be grateful for, as a spot of midnight research back at our hotel would reveal that it was said to be haunted by the restless spirit of the infamous Sir George Mackenzie, a former Lord Advocate, and encountering the spirit caused fainting spells, bruising and cuts.

Our last stop for the day was the Elephant House café. Famous for being the location where J.K Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, it attracts thousands of Harry Potter fans and I was one of them. The café is just before Greyfriars Church with only a few shops between them. Painted bright red, it stood out on the busy street and a sign stating, ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’ hung in the window. My friends and I entered with the desire for a warm cup of hot chocolate and were immediately greeted by the crowd in the café. The interior is quite large and in keeping with its name, the café is decorated with colourful glittering elephant ornaments, rugs and paintings. We sat down and on our table stood a small green elephant with orange, red and yellow carvings on it. I got up and started exploring; reading excerpts about J.K Rowling and the café, and looking at photographs of her pasted on the walls. I was surprised to find that she had had fierce red hair at the time she wrote Harry Potter there!

Sarah Dara - The Elephant House

The Elephant House: a Potter fan’s dream. (Photographer: Sarah Dara)

After getting a hot chocolate, I decided to pop in to the toilet before heading home. When I opened the door, I sucked my breath in and stopped for a second. All the walls of the toilet were covered in graffiti as were the doors, the mirrors and even the hand dryers. Harry Potter quotes, well wishes to J.K Rowling, signatures and what the books meant to fans decorated the walls in red, green, black, yellow, pink, blue, orange and every other colour you can think of. I was overwhelmed because the graffiti really showed how much the books had impacted people all around the world and, as a fan, I felt like a part of this giant family. I rushed out to get one of my friends who is also a fan and we spent a long while taking photographs of the toilets. We even added our own little messages with a pen that was not meant for writing on walls, but we just had to add our piece to the graffiti so a bad pen didn’t stop us. This probably sounds silly to people who aren’t fans of the books, but writing my message on those walls was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life and I’m so glad that I got the chance to do it.

We left the café at around 6:30pm, ready to go home for a well-deserved rest. Catching the bus from Princes Street – the nearest stop that we knew of – we headed to the Asda that was 10 minutes from our apartment. From there, we got some rice, vegetables and noodles for a homemade dinner which turned out to be a delicious and relaxing end to an exciting day in eventful Edinburgh.

Featured image © Sarah Dara


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Manchester: Not As ‘Grim’ As You Might Think http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/04/manchester-not-as-grim-as-you-might-think/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/04/manchester-not-as-grim-as-you-might-think/#respond Mon, 04 Sep 2017 16:01:08 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7757 This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series "It's Grim Up North"

When cash is tight but the travel bug hits, many UK residents look closer to home for the perfect weekend getaway, ditching passports (and usually sunscreen) for a cheaper way to see somewhere new. In the search for a weekend of fun and adventure many flock instantly to the South. London, for the city experience, Brighton for its edgy seaside charm, and Cornwall for its cliff tops and fish and chips. But what about the North?

‘It’s grim up North,’ they sneer. Apparently it’s cold, wet, gritty and grey. For decades, the North has been permeated with this regionalist cliché. Whilst admittedly the North of England ‘ain’t no sunshine coast’, with its cheaper prices and everything from breweries to beaches, I’m here to convince you why we should all pack our bags (and umbrellas) and head up North.

Olivia Duffy

Don’t let yourself think Manchester is rain, doom and gloom, just get yourself up there and see it for yourself. (Photographer: Olivia Duffy; Flickr)

First up on the list, it’s my hometown, Manchester, or as I like to call it ‘The Capital of the North’. Whilst I admit I may be a little biased, the following five reasons to visit are sure to pull your heartstrings right up in the Northern direction.

1. The Northern way of life

Famous for its rainy days, Manchester is home to some of the UK’s greatest indoor museums, from the Museum of Science and Industry to the Imperial War Museum. My favourite is in the industrial centre: any Harry Potter fan will find themselves in their element at the John Ryland’s Library. Almost incognito amidst the busy area of Spinningfields and modelled on the traditional Oxford Library but put together on a Manchester scale, this Neo-Gothic shelter should be on your list of places to see if you like architecture, history, or anywhere slightly reminiscent of Hogwarts. It’s home to over 250,000 items spanning five millennia. Individual tours offer you the chance to delve in, and to top it off, it’s free.

2. Get your dancing shoes on

Manchester is famous for its vivacious open-all-night bar and club scene. With a proud musical heritage nicknamed Madchester, championing the alternative rock tunes of big hitters from The Stone Roses to New Order, your ears will be in heaven. If it’s the Madchester vibes you’re after, head to 42nd Street (Bootle Street). Originally opened in 1963 by Manchester legend George Best, 42nd street will have you dancing into the night to Madchester’s finest. If you’re not looking to dance the whole night away but still get groovin’, Corbieres (Half Moon Street) and Jimmy’s (Newton Street) offer a similar atmosphere but with a bar-over-club feel.

Top tip: book yourself onto the guest list at 42nd Street to avoid disappointment. As one of Manchester’s busiest clubs you’ll feel smug to avoid the long queues.

mjtmail (tiggy)

As night falls, prepare your feet and your liver for a wild night: Northerners don’t do things by halves! (Photographer: mjtmail (tiggy); Flickr)

3. Kick into the spirit

If Mancunians are remarkably passionate about one thing other than ‘chips ‘n’ gravy’, it’s their football. With a city divided between the Red Devils of Manchester United and the Sky Blues of Manchester City, there are plenty of ways you can get stuck in to sport in the city. Whilst game tickets are hard to come by, booking in advance on club websites is a sure way to get in. Wanting to experience the passion but not the game itself? Head to Sinclair’s Bar pre-game on Cathedral Approach where you’ll find the local congregation of fans. If you’re looking for something different, stadium tours of each football ground start at around £15. Also, Manchester’s Football Museum in the heart of the city centre holds an array of delectable Manchester football memorabilia, and with free entrance it won’t hurt your wallet.

4. Make time for some nosh

Far from needing the nod of approval from London, the Manchester food scene does its own thing and does it well. To experience the city’s diversity, make a point of eating out and take yourself on a tour of the best locations in the city. For breakfast head to Manchester’s Camden, aka the Northern Quarter. With an assortment of independent cafés and restaurants it’s a delicious place start the day. I would highly recommend New Zealand Café Federal as it’s a personal favourite of mine, but in a neighbourhood with an independent Instagrammable brunch spot on every corner your options are wide open. For lunch, try the Edwardian Corn Exchange, previously a shopping centre and now filled with restaurants. Grab some Indian street food at Mowgli or some authentic Vietnamese food at Pho, and if you’re not too stuffed from your day of eating, head to China Town for dinner. Manchester has the second largest China Town in the UK, and you won’t be disappointed. If you’re into photography, pay a visit to the China Town’s gate for a great shot.

Suchitra Photography

Heaton Park, Manchester. (Photographer: Suchitra Photography; Flickr)

5. The great outdoors

Whilst I can’t promise the weather is going to be on your side, if you’re fortunate enough to be in Manchester on one of its rare sunny days, you’re in luck. Spend some time in Heaton Park, the biggest park in the North West, which is so good even Pope John Paul paid a visit in 1982 (check out his papal monument). Heaton Park offers you a spot of greenery in Manchester’s industrial heartland, and with an animal centre housing Shetland ponies and piglets, an 18th century hall designed for Thomas Egerton and the remainder of Manchester’s first town hall, it makes an ideal free day out on a warm day. If that doesn’t float your boat, also passing through the city is the Bridgewater Canal. Taking your pick from boat hires to cycling, the canal strip is one of the most relaxing places to enjoy the sunshine. Who needs Barcelona?

So, rather than despairing at your inability to travel abroad (at least for now), give Manchester a try. It may not be New York, Paris, Rome or even London, but don’t let that put you off – there’s a good reason it’s so popular with students and you can be sure that you’ll spend a lot less up North than in the UK’s capital. Hopefully when you visit you’ll come to love this city as much as I do, and maybe even agree that ‘up North’ isn’t quite that grim after all.

Featured image © Stacey MacNaught


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Queenstown, New Zealand: An Edible Itinerary http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/02/queenstown-new-zealand-an-edible-itinerary/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/02/queenstown-new-zealand-an-edible-itinerary/#respond Sat, 02 Sep 2017 12:52:25 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7737 When my parents dropped the bombshell that they were planning on flying out to New Zealand to visit me and they wanted me to plan them a no-holds-barred itinerary, I never imagined that the hardest part would be short-listing all of my favourite places to eat. Given my obsession with all things edible and my insatiable appetite for eating out, I suppose this shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Queenstown boasts an impressive concentration of bars and restaurants, and to save you the pain and difficulty of choosing between the best establishments, I’ve drawn up a whistle-stop 24-hour food itinerary of menus that you absolutely must not miss.

Breakfast:  Bespoke Kitchen

You’ve arrived in the adventure capital of the world nice and early. You’ve got the entire day ahead of you to throw yourself off high things and scream at full lung capacity. What first? Breakfast and coffee, of course.

Bespoke Kitchen sits metres away from the Skyline gondola, one of the must-do sightseeing attractions of Queenstown. It may be more convenient to simply grab a coffee if you’re heading up the gondola to enjoy the view, but if you’ve got a bit of spare time before you do, it would be seriously rude (and foolish) not to give Bespoke a go.  

Bespoke has a small(ish) but fantastically varied menu offering all the usual suspects; expect perfect poached eggs, smashed avocado and fresh raw pressed juice alongside a multitude of options for people avoiding gluten, dairy and sugar. Your mind will be blown by the pure decadence of these raw treats. The chocolate salted caramel squares are perfect with Bespoke’s famous coffee, and are completely dairy-free, gluten-free and sugar-free. However, for those with no dietary requirements, there’s plenty of ‘normal’ cake to go around (the carrot cake is truly something to behold). The lunch menu also boasts a few firm favourites, though I must admit that I have opted for the pulled lamb flatbread with pumpkin hummus on more than one occasion because it was so delicious, barely giving the other dishes half a chance.

Bespoke Kitchen, Queenstown (source: tripadvisor)

On a more practical note, Bespoke Kitchen has outdoor seating, warmed by an open log fire and cosy blankets in the winter time, so even if you’ve swerved the sun and arrived in Queenstown to ski, you can still enjoy the mouth-watering treats Bespoke Kitchen has to offer.

Lunch: Caribe Latin Kitchen

Only checked off 3 out of the countless things on your Queenstown bucket list and already relentlessly ravenous? You’re in luck – there is a vast array of places where you can grab lunch on the go. If you’re limited on time, prepare yourself for the spicy delights of Caribe. This tiny little kitchen on The Mall packs a serious punch; fat meaty burritos, quesadillas oozing with cheese, tacos, nachos and tasty little arepas (for those not in the know, an arepa is a sort of corn cake, prominent in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine — the chicken and avocado ones are especially fantastic). One word of warning about Caribe: when you are asked how spicy you want your food, err on the side of caution. Hot is most definitely hot.

Dinner: Blu Kanu

Blu Kanu is without doubt my sit-down restaurant of choice. Where else in the world have I ever had the chance to eat in a Polynesian-Asian fusion restaurant? On arrival, your table is laced with brightly-coloured candles and delicately folded paper flowers. The waiting staff are all quirkily dressed, the majority in garish Hawaiian-style shirts. The flavours are everything you’d expect. Succulent lamb and venison, an abundance of fresh, locally-sourced seafood, exotic rum-soaked cocktails and local New Zealand wines. Don’t make the mistake of swerving dessert either; order all three puds and enough spoons for all.

Blue Kanu, Queenstown (source: queenstown.com)

Evening drinks: The Bunker

A definite highlight of my noble quest to sample the offerings of all 42 bars in Queenstown was The Bunker, tucked away up some stairs in a passageway. Phenomenal cocktails, dim lights and the faint whiff of wood smoke from the outdoor fire-pit, this place has got serious ambiance. Old school jukebox tunes float through the bar and there’s usually a flickering James Bond re-run projected on a wall in the garden. If you’re looking for more sophistication and a few less Jaegerbombs then you’ve come to the right place. Don’t miss the Salted Caramel Espresso Martini or the Saffron Vanilla Sour — both are incredible.

Drunken snack: Ferg

It’s late; you’ve probably stayed longer than intended in The Bunker, for all of the reasons detailed above. How will you curb those late night hunger pangs?

Queenstown’s infamous Fergburger has a global reputation. Before I even ventured out to New Zealand I had been regaled with tales of mouth-watering meat and freshly baked bread rolls straight out the oven from the bakery next door. Fergbaker is owned by the same company and as if that wasn’t enough, you can hop next door again to Mrs Ferg’s Gelateria to fill your face with ice creams and sorbets. Fergburger, Fergbaker and Mrs Ferg are all open 22 hours a day, closing only between 5-7am. I am not exaggerating when I say that there are ALWAYS customers, and where the burgers are concerned, ALWAYS a queue.

Fergburger is the longest-running of the three and the menu offers a whole host of staple favourites, but the burger I was most often caught demolishing was ‘The Little Lamby’; a fresh bread roll, prime New Zealand lamb and all the trimmings — yes, I’m talking mint jelly.

If burgers aren’t your thing, you can still head back to your hotel or hostel room via that delightful row of Ferg establishments and pick up a famous Ferg pie from Fergbaker; it is around $6 for a sumptuous and sobering pastry of delight and the steak and kumara edition is arguably the best.

In all honesty, when picking somewhere to eat in Queenstown, you genuinely cannot go too far wrong. Having moved back to the UK after an incredible year living in Queenstown, the urge to return is growing all the while; this urge is undoubtedly motivated by my appetite. If you’re headed to New Zealand, do not miss out on this foodie paradise. And if you’re headed home… please bring me a slice of Bespoke’s carrot cake.

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My China Bucket List http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/01/my-china-bucket-list/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/09/01/my-china-bucket-list/#respond Fri, 01 Sep 2017 00:55:22 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7730 I have always loved travelling, and as the end of my time at university drew to a close I knew that settling straight into a job, sat behind a desk, wasn’t for me. Fast forward a few months and here I am, just a few weeks away from moving to Beijing to spend a year teaching English, whilst experiencing and exploring the fascinating culture and history that China has to offer.

It goes without saying that China is an enormous country; it takes up almost ten million square kilometres and is the fourth largest country in the world. It would be impossible to see all of its sights and splendour in just a year, and I don’t doubt that by the time I’m flying home I will already be planning my next trip back to visit some more of the places that I will have missed. However, in preparation for what will, I’m sure, be the trip of a lifetime, I have put together a bucket list of the top ten places, sights and celebrations within China that I am most desperate to experience.

The Great Wall of China

Sunset Over the Great Wall of China (photo by manlio mannozzi, flickr)

This perhaps goes without saying as it is a true testament to China’s vast history and heritage, and is a wonder of the modern world for a reason. As I will be based in Beijing, there is no doubt that this will be not only one of the first sights I see, but one that I am most excited for.

The Forbidden City (and Tiananmen Square)

Beijing’s Forbidden City (photo by uwitte, flickr)

Nestled in the centre of Beijing, The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from 1420 to 1912. It was home to China’s emperors and is now home to the Palace Museum – and as a self-professed history nerd the thought of visiting such a renowned historical monument is enough to make me weak at the knees. It is located to the North of Tiananmen Square, which features the largest Chinese monument, the Monument to People’s Heroes.

The Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army (photo by Phil, flickr)

Terracotta Army can be found in the city of Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in China. Whilst it was discovered in the 1970s, the army was originally buried with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in approximately 200 BC.


Chengdu Pandas (photo by Paul Wolneykein, flickr)

Chengdu is the home of the Giant Pandas – and if this isn’t enough to make you desperate to visit, it is also where you can find the world’s tallest stone Buddah.


Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park (photo by 주은 김, flickr)

It is in Gansu that the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park is located, more commonly known as the ‘Rainbow Mountains’. A highlight of my visit to Oregon in the United States was getting to see the Painted Hills, a geological phenomenon where the hillside seems to have been painted in colours of red, orange and yellow, and China’s rainbow mountains take this marvel to a whole new level, looking truly otherworldly.

Suzhou’s water towns

Suzhou (photo by tzejen, flickr)

On the east coast of China, Suzhou is often viewed as China’s answer to Venice. A jarring contrast to the images of bustling, metropolitan cities and rolling rice fields that tend to come to mind when you first mention China, the city is known for its beautiful gardens and picturesque canals.

The Pearl in Shanghai

Shanghai (photo by Markus Bahlmann, flickr)

The Pearl offers a phenomenal view of Shanghai. Featuring a number of activities, ranging from the Oriental Pearl Science Fantasy World to the Shanghai Municipal History Museum, the main attraction is the unbeatable view from the Aerial Sightseeing Corridor.

Yalong Bay

Yalong Bay (photo by eddieluc, flickr)

The southernmost province in China is a beach-lovers’ paradise, drawing comparisons to the islands of Southeast Asia. Yalong Bay is Sanya’s most famous beach, providing a (literal) breath of fresh air after exploring China’s cityscapes.

Harbin Ice Festival

Harbin Ice Festival, 2016 (photo by Angular Momentum, flickr)

Harbin is also often called ‘Ice City’, taking its place as China’s winter wonderland. Throughout the winter months, Harbin hosts an annual ice sculpture festival, drawing in crowds of millions, and reaching temperature highs of -10 degrees.

Eat (a lot!)

Chongqing Hot Pot (photo by aladar_d, flickr)

Okay, so this point is a bit tenuous, but any list mentioning the highlights of a trip to China wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the phenomenal foods and flavours China boasts. From the more well-known Peking duck and dumplings to Chongqing’s hot pot (a famous variant on a spicy broth which is popular throughout China), a Chinese visit is no doubt a pleasure for both you and your taste buds.

Whilst this list is by no means exhaustive, these are the ten things that I most want to visit and do during my time in China, and I hope it has also provided some inspiration for any of you who might be planning or dreaming of a trip to China as well. Wish me luck as I try to make sure I tick all of these items off my bucket list over the course of the next year, and be sure I’ll be letting you all know when I do!

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Part 2: Querying Roman History http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/08/30/from-the-eyes-of-babes-part-2/ http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/08/30/from-the-eyes-of-babes-part-2/#respond Wed, 30 Aug 2017 15:10:17 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7748 This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series From the Eyes of Babes: A Child’s Journey Through Historic Rome (and not getting bored!)

The beauty of Rome is one that can be viewed internally, as well as externally. The more you understand about its history, suffering and achievements, the stronger the crumbling rocks that hold the city together seem to become. Rome is a strong city, yet it is equally adoringly fragile in places.

I found this contrast very endearing, as we walked along the cracked concrete pavement towards the local coffee shop across the street from our hotel. Caffe Del Quirinale sells the most delicious Italian pastries and fresh coffee for extremely low prices, and much to my childish delight, the pastries are huge! The coffee shop filled with locals in the morning on their way to work. My dad and I relished watching what they ordered and decided to order whatever they did when we returned the next morning — after all, part of the reason why we were in Rome was to consume some of that Italian goodness! I found that sitting in a local coffee shop was the best way to spend the early morning in Rome to prepare you for the day ahead. It’s a wonderfully gentle way to start your day, and eases you into Roman life, which can be quite busy and hectic. It was perfect for me as a child; as I rubbed sleep from my eyes, we would sit near the window and leisurely eat our pastries whilst planning our day.

Marco Verch

You’d be crazy to miss out on seeing the Colosseum during your trip to Rome —
don’t forget about it just because it’s ‘where everyone goes’, there’s a good reason for that.
(Photographer: Marco Verch; Flickr)

The largest Amphitheatre in the World

The biggest thing (in every sense of the word) for me to see in Rome was of course the Colosseum, the construction of which began in 72 AD and completed in 81 AD. Of course, a seven-year-old doesn’t really have any concept of how long ago this truly was, and how such an unbelievable piece of architecture could have possibly been created in this time. I wasn’t particularly interested in how long ago it was built, how they built it, or who built it. The one thing I was interested in, was why it was there. As we approached the Colosseum an initial shock swept over me of just how huge it was, especially compared to how small it seems in films.

As we approached the amphitheatre it began to tower over us, blocking out the sun, casting us in shade and allowing us to see the depth of its immortality. We walked through the main entryway, clashing with other tourists. My dad held on tight to my hand — he didn’t let go of it for the three days we were away. In order to allow my short head to see over the rocks and into the arena of the Colosseum, he led me up the stairs to the second level, and lifted me up so I could peer over the barriers. Narrow walls lined the bottom of the arena, with shaded alleyways in between them. As I looked at the damaged building, partially ruined by so many earthquakes and stone-robbers over the years, my dad explained to me just why it was there: for entertainment. The underground tunnels that I could see at the bottom were used to hold slaves and animals, and were once covered by a concrete floor. Many different events were held in the Colosseum including gladiator contests, mock battles and animal hunts — if they held a mock sea battle they flooded the Colosseum with water. It was considered the height of entertainment, and I found it fascinating, as well as a little upsetting and eye-opening.


The Forum, another famous site in Rome to add to your list. (Photographer: Topher.; Flickr)

The amphitheatre was used for entertainment for 390 years and during this time more than 400,000 people died inside the Colosseum. It’s also estimated that about 1,000,000 animals died there as well, although he didn’t tell me about this part at the time, as he was aware of my strong love for animals. After this small explanation, my naivety began to show, as I questioned why they enjoyed watching people die, and the morality of the Romans as a whole. I found it obscene, yet so enthralling. Children ask “Why?” so often, and this was one time that I truly did question “Why” over and over, yet came to no conclusion. It opened up a vast array of questions that my mind had never approached before. It made me start to question people — what they felt, why they acted so, what bothered them. The whole concept of “Why?” became an obsession from being seven years old, the starting point simply being from seeing my first Roman ruin.

The Ancient Fatherland

On a leisurely walk back to the hotel, we took a look at what Roman life could have really been like during its ancient golden age. The Roman Forum, a huge open space filled with giant ruins can still, despite its damaged physical nature, be considered one of the most influential parts of ancient Rome. As my dad guided me through the wide area and towering crumbled pillars, he explained to me all about what the Romans did in this place — and to my joy, it wasn’t killing people and animals. Roman banks, temples, baths, and businesses were once there, where I could now only see crumbled rock. I desperately tried to imagine what it once looked like in my mind. It was in the Forum where “orating” could take place, and anyone who felt like it could stand and talk to the crowd and express their views on any subject.  However, they could only express their views if they were an adult Roman male. This stopped my thought process. Why? Why only boys? Why not girls? I was learning about far more than just old rocks. I couldn’t understand why girls were not allowed to speak if the Forum was such a vibrant, evolving place of opinion. Girls were just as clever as boys. My dad tried to explain to me that, unfortunately, it was not always seen this way, but if I were to stand on a platform and make a speech to all of the tourists there and then, he was sure they would love to listen to what I had to say. I pondered on the question of “Why?” all the way back to the hotel, again reaching no conclusion by the time I got there.

Damien Dempsey

If you’re a Michelangelo fan, go and see the Pantheon — it was good enough for him! (Photographer: Damien Dempsey; Flickr)

Dinner and the Dome

After resting and playing our favourite game of ‘Top Trumps’ for the afternoon, the nourishment Italy so famously provides was calling us both. My dad decided to kill two birds with one stone and show me the Pantheon whilst feeding me, which I really liked the sound of! The Pantheon was just a short walk away and just like the Colosseum, it stunned me by its sheer size — but this was different to the Colosseum. It wasn’t only more typically ‘beautiful’, for want of a better word, but it stood strong in almost perfect, elegant condition. As we sat in Piazza Della Rotunda eating lasagne in front of it, I wondered if it made the other ruined buildings jealous. It was once used to honour the Roman Gods, and Michelangelo was known to say that it looks more like the work of angels, not humans — I could definitely see where he was coming from.

After asking so many questions throughout the day, and walking around with a permanent furrow of concentration between my eyebrows, I could definitely make at least two conclusions before I went to bed: it didn’t matter what I didn’t understand or disagreed with, I still looked at every crack in the pavements of Rome with admiration due to what appeared to me an almost indestructible ‘immortality’. Also, Michelangelo was right.

Featured image © Robert Lowe

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Part 1: The Trevi Fountain http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/08/26/part-1-the-trevi-fountain/ Sat, 26 Aug 2017 13:01:27 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7546 This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series From the Eyes of Babes: A Child’s Journey Through Historic Rome (and not getting bored!)

Rome: the capital city where its country’s history vibrates through every crack in the pavements, and every pore of the local people. Every narrow, cobble-stoned street can turn you further and further back into the past, almost back in time. This was a strange feeling that I first encountered when my dad took me to Rome when I was seven. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Why on earth would you take a seven-year-old to Rome? That would bore them to tears.’ But, traveller, you would be surprisingly wrong, and I hope that through my series of articles I can convince you that taking a child of this age to somewhere filled with lashings of history would actually be thrilling for them. Stick with me.

The Magic of Movies

The first step in getting a child ‘on-board’ about taking a trip is to take them somewhere that they will enjoy whilst they’re there. When I was seven, I was in love with The Lizzie McGuire Movie — and I’m talking watch-it-twice-a-day kind of in love. The film holds its main setting in Rome, which I came to absolutely adore through my consistent viewing of this very corny chick flick. As soon I saw Lizzie toss the penny into the Trevi Fountain over her left shoulder, as little girls do, I wanted to do it exactly like her, exactly in that spot. Films are actually a great way to help get a child excited about a trip, as a favourite film can create a love for a place in children without them actually ever having been there.

Antonia Castagna

Rome: for this writer, a dream that came true. (Photographer: Antonia Castagna; Flickr)

A Wise Parents Plan

My dad always took interest in my own interests, and luckily he had already been to Rome. As we watched Lizzie McGuire over and over again, he would tell me all about it. To me, he seemed to know it like the back of his hand. ‘I’ll take you to that fountain, kiddo’ he would say as we watched my favourite scene, and he did. I come from a working class background, yet neither of my parents felt that this should limit me in my knowledge of the world or the experiences that I should have. We barely had any money at this point, but my dad knew exactly how to show me his favourite city on a budget, creating an exciting three-day holiday. Before we left for the airport, he had devised a perfect, child-friendly plan using his own knowledge of the city and, of course, a map. He knew my own needs, not only as his daughter, but as a seven-year-old child. My basic personal needs when travelling were always being fed (whose aren’t!) and being well-rested, and my dad also understood that another basic need for all children is to NOT GET BORED.


You don’t have to stay in the most expensive areas or hotels of Rome to enjoy it; in fact opting for a better value, more local area could even enhance your experience of the city. (Photographer: Raul; Flickr)

On An Evening In Roma

When we landed in Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, it was around 3:00pm. A cheap taxi took us to our inexpensive hotel, Hiberia Roma, in the Quirinale district — the Quirinale Palace is one of the presidential residences. After we checked in, had a nap and showered and changed, I was ready to see what I had waited a long time to see: The Trevi Fountain! By the time we went out, the streets were lit by the golden lights that line them. Our hotel, which was right in the centre of Rome, was only a short walk to the fountain designed originally by Nicola Salvi. It took 30 years to build and was eventually completed in 1762, which I now find incredible, but as a child of seven… not so much. In my experience, a child learns and explores by seeing something rather than absorbing what they’re told about it. What I perceived that night is something I will never forget.


The Trevi Fountain, Rome. (Photographer: david_jones; Flickr)

We walked down one of the three narrow streets leading to the Trevi Fountain. It is said that the Goddess ‘Trivia’ (whom the fountain is named after) had three heads, and would stand at the street corners where the streets ‘Via Dei Lucchesi’ , ‘Via Poli’, and ‘Via Delle Muratte’ met, to protect the city of Rome. My dad told me this as we walked down ‘Via Dei Lucchesi’, which was slowly getting brighter with glowing light at the end. The Trevi Fountain finally came in to view, glowing in a warm blue light from the water, lighting up the heart of its city. The smell of fresh water filled the piazza as people buzzed around — tourists taking photographs of each other in front of it, and Roman locals carrying their shopping, ducking under people’s cameras just trying to get home. I wondered how they couldn’t acknowledge something as beautiful as this on their way home. But it was their home.

After the initial shock of seeing exactly where Lizzie McGuire had stood, I began to really look at the fountain: the architecture, the art and the sculpture itself. I had never seen anything quite like it, at least not in person. My dad didn’t hound me with information about every single God and Goddess on the fountain, but just let me take it all in. He then gave me a euro, I stood at the edge of the fountain and tossed it over my left shoulder, and obviously made him film the entire thing.


What better way to help a seven year old relax in Italy than feed them a big helping of spag bol?(Photographer: dbgg1979; Flickr)

When I started to get a little bored of standing, surrounded by other tourists, he knew it was time for me to eat. Most of the restaurants near the centre of the the Trevi district are quite expensive, seeing as this is a hot spot for tourists. Since we were on a budget, we went to a more local restaurant down one of the backstreets. After we both ordered spaghetti bolognese, two Roman nuns came in and sat at the table behind my dad. After noticing me, they spoke in quick Italian, gesturing to me how long my blonde hair was, which I thought odd. My dad explained to me that blonde-headed girls were very rare in Italy, pointing out how special I was to the locals who lived there.

Not only did I impress the nuns with my hair, but I showed them how much I could eat for a relatively slim and small girl. Pasta was and will always be one of my greatest loves, unfortunately for my waistline. As the gentle nuns were leaving, they stroked my hair, muttering to my dad in Italian before walking on to the street. We both smiled and thanked them, even though neither of us knew what they said, but they were nuns, it couldn’t have been that bad!

Ewen Roberts

Gelato….a delicious way to end the evening. (Photographer: Ewen Roberts; Flickr)

Since I got most of my dinner on my face, I still had enough room for ice cream, and my dad knew the perfect place: ‘San Crispinino’ (regarded by us both as the best Italian gelato ever created). We ate our ice creams during the short walk back to the hotel as he explained to me what we would be doing the next day. He told me that I would need three things for these three days in Rome – ‘my legs for walking, my eyes for seeing, and a stretchy stomach for eating all of that Italian goodness.’ I was definitely excited about the latter. But my dad knew how to plan this trip, and knew that he could teach me a lot in three days, not just about Roman history but copious amounts of other cool stuff. But I had to walk to get there, and learn how all children learn, through my own eyes.

Featured image ©  Giorgio Galeotti

Christ the Redeemer: A Guide http://www.exploration-online.com/2017/08/25/christ-the-redeemer-a-guide/ Fri, 25 Aug 2017 09:05:37 +0000 http://www.exploration-online.com/?p=7657 Casting a watchful eye over Rio’s favelas, city beaches and the navy blue Atlantic beyond (like the Almighty Himself, you could say), Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is one of the most instantly recognisable Seven New Wonders of The World. Jaw-dropping and epiphany-inducing, it’s worth all the hyperbole thrown at it by travel editors.

Created by Catholics to counter what they considered as a spiritual vacuum between Church and State in Brazil after the brutal desolation of the First World War, to this day the statue is still a potent symbol of hope and inspiration to the rich and poor who dwell 700 metres below it.  Designed by Da Silva Costa and built by Paul Landowski, the 98 foot-tall Art Deco sculpture took nine years to complete due to the logistical challenges of building on top of a mountain. The workers who covered the statue with its six million soapstone tiles allegedly even wrote hidden messages on the backs of them, although of course these are not visible whether they are there or not!

The view from the top © Ali Leyland-Collins

Given that this is on many people’s bucket lists, overcrowding can diminish the integrity of your experience; for a more intimate experience with this stunning statue and its 360-degree views of Rio, try and catch the first 8am train or wait for the crowds to thin after 4pm. Alternatively, it’s usually quieter behind the statue, with equally spellbinding views.

Trains and tickets are available from the bottom of Mount Corcovado, where you are transported by bus to the first peak where you can take the steps leading to the statue or alternatively lifts to the different levels. If you want to build up an appetite for lunch (which is available after the second set of stairs), take the 220 steps, alternatively for the disabled and those averse to walking take the lift (from the bus stop). Should you chose to follow the steps, a new angle of Rio is unveiled at every turn; and with mind-blowing views and a chance to top-up your tan, be ready to take in some of the most in-demand visions of Rio de Janeiro.

There is an opportunity to make your own way up to the first peak of this attraction whether that is by car or walking. Tour guides suggest going in groups due to cases of assaults and muggings, which have previously occurred. Whichever way you choose to ascend, be wary of the weather at all times, it would be disappointing to get all this way to see a city concealed by clouds.