To get a real feel of a place it is always best to travel outside of the high season and avoid the hordes of tourists. Granted not a lot of the typical postcard and expensive coffee shops will be open but what will be open are the usual shops the locals use like the butchers, bakers and honey pot makers.
One such place is a little island called Nidri. The island is around forty minutes away from Lefkada town in Greece. I must warn you though to get to the beautiful island of Nidri outside of the season requires a fair amount of travelling due to the local airport that usually services the island being closed. The way around this is to fly into Corfu, take a ferry journey and then get strapped in for a three hour car journey. The joy of driving is soon reignited though when cruising up and over the mountains with the view of the glistening Ionian Sea. Nidri is a small island that is surrounded by wispy white clouded mountain peaks. The surrounding islands include Sparti, Madouri, Skorpidi and Skorpios.Â All easily accessible by boat these offer lush green lands and secluded beaches hidden by weather worn cliffs.
Nidri has been a popular location for sailors for many years partly due to the exclusion of docking fees. Many a sailor has left their boat there only to return years later to find it untouched. The locals are wonderful people who all have a story to tell. You will find many a rugged sailor perched on the end of a bar ready to tell you some of their captivating sailing adventures. Getting an adopted grandmother is pretty easy as well.Â Walking into any restaurant and being kissed and hugged is pretty much the norm here whilst filling up on some of the food specialities. Some of the best dishes include the seafood platters which are so fresh you can watch the fish being caught from outside the window!
One of the best ways to get around Nidri for those that are brave enough is to hire a little moped, however even the most skilled of drivers may find it hard to navigate round some of the smaller roads running up and through the mountains. There are a few hidden gems tucked away in the cliff tops. These range from stalls selling honey made right there from the honey farms. Nidri honey is considered some of the best in the world so the locals tell me. Little churches nestle amongst the lemon and orange trees whilst lose chickens run amok through the olive groves. Crossing the paths of goat herders is a daily occurrence whilst waving to one man and his donkey. The next town is never too far away and you will soon find yourself amongst white washed villages with brightly coloured doors and windows.
Past the blue tinted strawberries and climbing up through the rugged landscape into the lush green woods reveals little streams that trickle back down the mountain. Ascending the mountain the sunlight shatters through the clouds and splits into shafts of golden rays. The very top reveals the rushing sounds of a beautiful waterfall as it cascades down the rocks and lands into a pod of clear ice blue rainwater. It is inviting as it is freezing but has to be jumped into, even if just for that perfect picture moment.
Mexico has been a popular location for many a sun seeker looking for that perfect beach and clear blue sky. There are lots to choose from, some of which have been voted as the best in the world. The beach at Tulum offers somewhat of a spiritual experience. Nestled behind the ruins of the ancient civilisation Tulum was the only city to be served by a costal front. The Mayan civilisation is a big draw for culture and history lovers. The gateway to the past is through stone doorways carved out of the wall that existed to possibly protect the people that once lived inside.
Like many long lost civilisations the ruins always probe questions as to the reasons of the decline, what the purpose of the buildings were and what we can learn from the past? The Mayan people were particularly small and venturing around the city makes you envision a bustling place that was once alive with activity. The ruins can be a sun trap so if you choose to listen to a guide whilst investigating, take a sun hat and plenty of water! There are areas to throw your towel down relax and have a picnic to soak up the surroundings.
There is a wealth of places to visit and if you are a history buff or film fanatic why not tick of the list a new wonder of the world by visiting Chichen Itza? Some may recognise the pyramid type building being featured in Mel Gibsonâ€™s â€˜Apocolyptoâ€™ . This is one of the biggest draws in Mexico and with good reason. Like many old architectural buildings the fact they were built without modern machinery is an awe inspiring thought. Chichen Itza was used by the Mayan people as a calendar to track times and dates by using the position of the moon and sun. You may wonder why people are sporadically clapping around the pyramid. This is because the clap returns a noise from the top of the pyramid sounding like a birds squawk. The noise is said to be a Quetzal or Kuk a precious bird whose feathers of emerald green were more valued than gold to the ancient Mayan and Aztecs. In the spring and autumn in the late afternoon on a certain day light cascades down the pyramid in a triangular shape which shows the look of a serpent crawling down the pyramid. Some believe this is a serpent god known as Kukulkn.
If all that history has exhausted the brain why not try and excite the body with a combination of sporting activities. There are all the usual water sports to take part in but how about taking a zip wire ride across jungle whilst spotting crocodiles underneath? Gliding along lines across the sky as you go higher and higher finishing with a crash land into a cool shallow pool at the entrance of a dark cave. There is also off road driving, jump into a jeep and zoom around the tracks and tunnels whilst trying out your best Indiana Jones impressions.
Mexico is abundant in senotes, deep dark caves with cool calm waters that the rainfall through the cracks has created. It is an eerie feeling swimming in green blue water with the odd fish swimming past and the smells of the dark undertones of earth enveloping the senses.
If you prefer your action when the suns gone in then why not head out to the night life. Mexico offers some of the best night time entertainment from bars, shows and restaurants. One of the best nights out is at the famous Coco Bongos. It is a cross between feeling like you are at a concert whilst being involved in a music festival. This is also whilst watching random bursts of live entertainment such as the green goblin and Spiderman fighting it out. Throw in some Lady Gaga impersonators, explosions of colourful banners and light flashes and you have a absolute assault on the senses. It makes for a thrilling evening.
Leaving the club as the sun starts to rise is a opportunity to decide what to pack in before it sets again!
The walled city of Rome is a labyrinth of winding streets and allyâ€™s that lead to historical squares or impressive empowering statues, world famous fountains and decaying monuments. The hustle and bustle of tourists trying to fit in as much as possible make this city a fast paced one. For those that enjoy being on their feet pretty much all the major sights are within walking distance. Part of the joy of Rome is to walk around the corner and realise that you have stumbled upon yet another area of historical significance. This is Rome, a city bursting with culture and history. Unless you have been on the â€˜Tombs and Catacombsâ€™ tour underground for the whole duration it is pretty much impossible not to soak up some of the impressive history.
For those that would like to save their legs there is the metro link that is so cheap, quick and easy to use you can get from the Vatican to the Coliseum in no time at all. Navigational skills are a bonus here as one street often looks like the next, which do not connect as one might expect them to. My sense of direction definitely took a hit when wandering around the monument where warriors and slaves battled it out amongst the emperors. While trying to rush back in preparation for the evenings meal we found ourselves at a loss, three hours later to my friends utter dismay and my amusement we found ourselves stood on a very familiar corner looking out to the same monument we had left hours ago.
One way to easily spend a day is to visit the Vatican and St Peters Basilica. Purchasing tickets beforehand will save you from endless queues. By doing this you will also be supplied with a informative guide who will explain the city of the Vatican. Wandering through the rooms of endless paintings of wondrous colours and rich textures makes you feel like you have stepped back in time. The utter awe that comes from seeing the Sistine Chapel with the famous ceiling, passes shimmers down the spine. The hushed silence that spreads through the room like a canon of whispers makes it a unique collective appreciation of such a work of art.
One of the most difficult things in Rome is deciding where to eat. With so many bistros and cafes tucked within the stone walls some may find it a task on its own. A lot of restaurants around the centre of Rome have fabulous authentic menus to sample the local dishes. However donâ€™t be afraid to venture away from the hub of tourists and try the quieter streets as these restaurants tend to offer the same great tasting food but for half the cost. Eating pizza here is almost a quilt free pleasure as it is cooked the Italian way, thin, crispy and not swimming in grease. If you have time its always fun to taste the pizza from its origin with a day trip to Naples. Those that want to stretch their legs could always take a hike up Mount Vesuvius. On a clear day the bay of Naples from the top of the mountain is a sight to behold.
On the return into Rome one of the best ways to relax and unwind after a hard days events is to eat in a candlelit restaurant with a glass of wine or two. Walk past the street entertainers, pick up a painting or souvenir and see the City of Rome lit up in lights. Take a stroll past the Trevi Fountain as the evening lights cast shadows on the statued faces. Pick up a coin, give it a rub close your eyes and toss it in the water. Watch as it joins the other glistening metals at the bottom of the fountain , a collection of international wishes all waiting to come true.