I think getting outside and walking is one of life’s simple pleasures. It is pretty much free, and it gives you the opportunity to see and do things that you would have missed out on by staying indoors. As with all simple pleasures, sharing these walks with friends and family is even better than venturing out solo. That is why, after being tipped off that the Tamar Valley trains were running for free, I jumped at the opportunity to head out to Gunnislake with the family in tow. Suspension of cash payments due to Covid19 is a slim silver lining I had to take!
Driving across Dartmoor in sunny weather is always stunning. Heading out of Princetown, Emily and I stopped near Merrivale to start our afternoon. Walking to Kings Tor we wrapped around the Bronze Age settlements, taking in the stone rows, circles and standing stones that have been in place these past 4000 years. I always find it hard to imagine what it must have been like for prehistoric man in such a windswept and open environment. It makes it all the more amazing to think that as a species, even with the most primitive tools, we shaped our environment so early into our history that it would last for millennia.
Emily by the standing stone with the clearly visible remains of a stone circle in the background
After a Covid19 lockdown initiated hiatus, Emily and I made the most of the bank holiday and got out onto Dartmoor. It felt like it had been ages, and in all honesty it really had. 6 months of travel, poor weather and a strict lockdown had prevented us getting out to our local National Park for the best part of a year. Still, that’s the best thing about the outdoors. It’s there waiting for you and it’s all the more glorious for it.
Looking out the plane window the clouds finally break, below an endless stretch of plains filled with crop circles. Small clusters of cities dot the way until the plains meet the great majestic Rocky Mountains. The plane descends further and the white peaks of Denver International Airport come into view and no matter how many times I fly into D.I.A or the length of time that passes between, the feeling I get seeing this sight is always the same. A wave of nostalgia, comfort, and gratitude to have grown up somewhere so beautiful. It feels like home. I’m through the roof with happiness that I get to share this with Liam for the second of many times to come. Especially since we’re here for the holidays! Family, friends, and festive food and scenery.
No trip to Vietnam is complete without a trip to the iconic Ha Long Bay, the descending dragon. But the more we researched boat trips the more it became clear to us that as a destination it can be very hit and miss. Depending on the cruise you end up on, your tour, and even your safety, can be compromised. And for a premium price, particularly in South East Asia, it is not something we wanted to gamble on. Throw in the fact that Ha Long City has become one of the most crowded tourist spots in the country, we decided to look into alternatives.
Successs! When we went there was not a single other boat in sight
It was the dead of the morning when Liam and I arrived in Ninh Binh. Our bus driver absolutely gunned it down the road from Hue and our 11 hour journey was over in 9, leaving us on the side of a road at 3:30 am with one fellow traveller. We decided to split a taxi fare with him since we were heading the same direction, the taxi driver took half the fare from him and when we arrived at our homestay he demanded the full fare from us. Nothing like finding your way out of a scam to wake you right up. Luckily our luck changed from there on out. Our homestay hosts graciously let us in at a time where no one wants to be awake, and let us sleep in the dorm room until we woke up for the day at no extra cost. Heroes!
Ninh Binh is such a peaceful and beautiful place at any hour
Taking the train from Da Nang to Hue through the Hai Van Pass is something Emily and I can definitely recommend doing if, like us, you don’t fancy the 5 hour ride in the mud and rain, but still want to enjoy the views. We first came across this stretch of beautiful landscape reading Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar, one of the greatest travel books ever written. Our sentiments echo his and his observations are still true today: “I had been unprepared for this beauty; it surprised and humbled me in the same degree the emptiness had in India. Who has mentioned the simple fact that the heights of Vietnam are places of unimaginable grandeur?”
The start of our journey was still a little gloomy like the end of our time in Da Nang
After a long and bumpy bus ride Emily and I arrived at Dalat, leaving the coast for mountains. Mountains in Vietnam nearly always mean coffee. So, while getting to grips with the city, our first afternoon was spent in a coffee shop enjoying the local brews and planning the days ahead.
Emily’s former life as a barista hasn’t gone to waste in Vietnam!
Liam and Emily again; catching up where we finished off! Liam: The bus, surprisingly, was not that bad. At all. As far as 11 hour transit goes, it was in fact one of the better ordeals we have had to face. That being said, once we arrived and checked into Living Place 2, our hostel of choice for Chiang Mai, we both immediately napped until gone midday. What to do in Chiang Mai once you wake up starving? Get Khao Soi of course! One of the best things about our hostel was it’s amazing location within the Islamic centre of the city. Plenty of choices for Northern Thai curries and soups!
For anyone who has seen Braveheart, a trip to Stirling has got to be a must if you find yourself in central Scotland. The Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce and, of course, William Wallace. Amazing characters from a remarkable period of Scottish and English history. From Glasgow it is a short train journey (around 35 mins) and costs less than £9 for an off-peak return. It couldn’t be simpler.
Stirling Castle, or rather just one part of the amazing complex!