Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stockholm, Seattle & Snowdonia

As I've not posted for a while I thought I'd pool into one round-up my alliterative last three destination visits, which were for both business and pleasure.

The first was a family hol in Stockholm for the first time, my only other visit to Sweden having been a day trip to Malmo ten years previously while staying in Copenhagen.

This time we did a house swap with a family residing on Lidingo island, not far from the city centre, and spent our time visiting the star tourist spots of Skansen open-air museum and the Vasa warship that sunk on her maiden voyage 17th century, both pretty absorbing.

A lot of the rest of our time was spent trying to find pubs that served beer for less than £5 a pint, and on one day I managed to steal away to watch Stockholm's finest football team 'AIK' destroy Elfsborg. With match tickets about £14, less than half of most EPL prices, it was one of the few inexpensive things on offer there.

Next was my first visit to Seattle, to undertake the long overdue Twin Peaks pilgrimage that I'd successfully pitched to Rough Guides (full article with pics here). As the cult TV series I had watched religiously as a teenager had last year announced its comeback with David Lynch back at the helm I basically rewatched the whole two seasons and resolved that the time had come to finally visit the filming locations, situated around that coastal corner of Washington State, before it returns to our screens next year.

I'd always wanted to visit Seattle even if I wasn't a TP enthusiast, having been a Nirvana fan since the early 90s and a craft beer lover since the noughties, and there aren't many better place to visit in the U.S for the latter.

Hendrix statue

Mount Rainier

The Pine Box bar

Also had a great time at the Experience Music Project museum, where I immersed myself in the permanent Nirvana exhibition, played on several guitars exhibited and even recorded a live version of Purple Haze by local boy Jimi Hendrix, playing drums this time while a random American bloke I bumped into did the vocals and guitarwork. 

Kurt Cobain bench, Viretta Park

Finally, after successfully climbing Coniston Old Man in the Lake District last year I decided I wanted to go one higher with Wales' tallest mountain Snowdon, which I ascended with Welsh sherpa mate Vaughan, who as a recent Iron Man contestant was far fitter than me and left me lagging for much of the ascent, particularly near the summit when I was on my last legs. Unfortunately it wasn't the best day for it either, with the upper half of the mountain above the clouds so zero visibility and the cafe at the top stuffed with other climbers so no chance for a cuppa before getting back down.

While there we also gave 'Zip World' - the longest zip line in Europe - a try in Blaenau Ffestiniog and hung out in nearby coastal towns Criccieth and Porthmadog, as well as the Italian-style village Portmeirion. 

That trip alone just went to show that, despite it being a relatively small country, there's still so much to see and do in the land of my fathers, with Caernarfon and Anglesey next on the list. 

But it's also been nice to mix things up with the continent and across the Atlantic. My next destination is Havana, Cuba, next month, which is as close as I will ever have been to South America, the only continent I've left to visit (bar Antarctica of course, which someone always says when I say that).

More of my travel shots at my Flickr account. Will post about Cuba as soon as I return.

[all above photos (c) Kris Griffiths]

Friday, June 5, 2015

My Better Travel Photos, 2004-2014

Having just posted a gallery at my personal website of some of the better photos I've taken since first getting into amateur photography 10 years ago, it became clear that most of them were taken on the course of my travels over the years.

So I thought I'd post a selection of them here on the more suitable platform that's my travel blog. As explained in the original post, these images were all:
taken on the only two digital cameras I've owned since 2004 - a £70 Kodak compact & a Canon EOS. I've never been on a course nor read any books, just took tips on the basics from a couple of friends who had done and a few jobbing snappers met in the line of the duty: rule of thirds, depth of field, etc. Only kit lens used with the Canon, no filters or Photoshop and all hand-held - don't think I'll ever get to the tripod stage...  

KODAK COMPACT, 2004-2011 

Austrian Alps, 2004

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2009

Ginza, Tokyo, 2009

Sydney Opera House, 2009
Marrakech, Morocco, 2011

Santa Monica beach, 2009

Pembroke Castle, 2008

Austrian Alps, 2007

Essaouira, Morocco, 2011

CANON EOS DSLR, 2007-2014

Namib Desert, 2010

Bordeaux square, 2009

Amiens square, 2007

Vicars' Close, Wells, Somerset, 2007

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, 2014

Old Man of Coniston, Lake District, 2013

Barcelona, 2014 

Ripon Cathedral, 2015
Sitges, Spain, 2014

Holasovice, Czech Republic, 2013

Genoa statue, 2014

York Cemetery, 2015

All photos (c) Kris Griffiths. More at my Flickr account.
Muck Rack link.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dreadlock Holiday: Jamaica

From Margate to Montego Bay. Well, not quite - I didn't actually make it out of capital city Kingston during my short week in the Caribbean earlier this year.

There primarily to undertake a long-planned Bob Marley pilgrimage on the eve of what would have been his 70th birthday, my trip concluded with the massive outdoor celebratory concert on Kingston Waterfront which saw Jamaica's reggae royalty performing alongside a few of Marley's own sons.

I have to say it was an almost religious experience watching that show from the front row and feeling the love for the national hero who catapulted his genre onto a global stage in the 1970s.

Capleton at Bob Marley 70th birthday concert
        Damian Marley  both © Kris Griffiths

The week leading up to the gig had seen me traverse the city in Bob's footsteps, taking in the neighbourhood he grew up in (Trenchtown), the studio he recorded in (Tuff Gong) and the mountainside retreat he escaped to following the attempt on his life (Strawberry Hill, pic below).

While so many Western tourists in Jamaica gravitate to coastal resorts like aforementioned Montego, it was gratifying to 'keep it real' in the city and soak up the local positive vibrations around the annual week of celebration.

It was also fascinating to find out more about the national Rastafari religion that pervades the city and island. There is always a waft of ganja on the breeze but not much in the way of the heavy drinking culture more prevalent on Britain's shores.

I would earnestly recommend to any fans of Marley and reggae music that they make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, to see exactly where the genre's riddims originate from and to experience the peace and one love promoted by its leader, struck down way before his time.

My Rough Guides feature on Kingston pilgrimage. 
And review of 70th bday concert for Huffington Post.

Also an insight into how press trips can go wrong.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Coasting on a Sunny Halloween: Margate

From Zimbabwe to the Kent coast. Last week I visited Margate for the second time this year, the first instance in June to review the locally famous Ambrette for an Esquire piece on Britain's best Indian restaurants, and the second to spend a bit more time in the town after that previous eye-opening visit.

For me, The Ambrette epitomises Margate's transformation from faded seaside town to arty heavyweight, which was a joy to walk around following an absence of around 25 years since last visiting as a boy. From the new Turner Contemporary Gallery to the Banksy-style wall murals around the Old Town, Margate has much more of an edge to it these days, which is pleasing to see after the evidence of its decline in the last couple of decades.

Was just as pleasing to see the plans of the imminent return of Dreamland, the iconic amusement park I'd visited twice as a boy, which has lain dormant for the last ten years. Was quite poignant during my previous visit to see it for the first time in its sorry state through the railings of the car park it currently dwells within.Will definitely be back for its resurrection next year as the world's first heritage amusement park.

While on the subject of that scene, as I mentioned to the Dreamland representative over afternoon tea at the Sands Hotel, I wish the council would do something with that tower block, and I don't mean knock it down - just paint it or give it some kind of arty cladding, in keeping with the rest of the town's new aesthetic. Many local residents and workers don't seem to mind it, but you can see why it's regarded by many others as a bit of an eyesore.

The view over the sea from the Sands Hotel balcony was my parting shot - not quite a Turner sunset but pleasant enough to see what this coastal spot's still got going for it.

And so concluded my Turner's Margate tour. The hotels I stayed in on each visit are also indicative of what the town has to offer on the accommodation front, from the Edwardian charm of Walpole Bay Hotel to the more contemporary stylings of the newer Crescent Victoria, and both at highly reasonable tariffs.

And as the post title mentions, this visit was blessed by the warmest weather seen on record for Halloween, which made the beach strolls around Botany Bay even better, sans the summer crowds.
So yeah, see you next year Margate.

My latest feature on Margate will appear in Waitrose Weekend magazine in January.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Zimbabwe - the Forgotten Land

It's been another lively year so far for getting about - return visits to Liguria, Czech Republic & Lake District - but all of it blanches in comparison to a 10-day tour in spring of the forgotten land of Zimbabwe in southern Africa, which is starting to bang the tourism drum again after years in the doldrums.

The intro to my recent Rough Guides feature sums up the situation:
"It’s been a tragedy for the people of Zimbabwe that the country has garnered so much unfavourable publicity over the last 10 years, with headlines ranging from its controversial land redistribution programme to the ensuing collapsed economy. In the last few years, however, it's made a steady recovery following a new currency, a fairer power-sharing government, international airlines returning to its capital and the EU having long lifted its travel warnings, helping sow seeds of a tourist renaissance..."

Hwange National Park © Kris Griffiths 2014

As the article goes on to explain there are a host of reasons to visit the now-safe nation, from the remotest of wild safaris to the world's largest waterfall in Victoria Falls, where I foolhardily bungee-jumped 110m into its gorge (YouTube link).

Other highlights include ancient ruined cities like Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo, after which the country was named, and cave paintings in Matobo more than 10,000 years old. Photo opportunities were never-ending.

There was a bleaker side to it all though. So many of the people here are still destitute, as journeys through townships in Harare and Bulawayo made clear. 

They're crying out for the tourist dollar, especially after years of absurd hyperinflation, and your money goes into their hands, not to Mugabe's enduring regime. Unfortunately there were only so many mini bongos I could buy from the market stalls, so did my best to sample as many local brews at bars and hotels as I could outside meal times – all helps.

Hopefully Mugabe will be history sooner rather than later as it's certainly off-putting seeing his framed mug everywhere you look, not to mention his people on the streets while he commissions giant statues of himself with their money.

Bulawayo street dwellers © Kris Griffiths 2014

The good outweighs the bad though, and hope springs eternal.
Give Zim a chance.

(More city & safari photos at my Flickr gallery.
Full Rough Guides feature on reasons to visit Zimbabwe.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Krakow and Auschwitz

So I finally made it to Poland last month, to the medieval city of Krakow and nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Not only was it a particularly memorable weekend thanks to visiting the latter, Krakow itself was memorable for being a great ancient city with a lot more going for it than most non-capitals in this part of the continent.

For a start it has Europe's biggest medieval market square at its heart, with the landmark St Mary's Basilica in one corner and rows of decent-quality restaurants and bars on all sides.

The best waterholes though were in the streets snaking off from the square, a lot of them subterranean spaces hewn out from the under-
lying bedrock so it was almost like drinking in decorated caves – have not seen many such bars anywhere else.

And I've not witnessed a drinking culture so 'spirited' since visiting Dublin, with the big exception that Polish booze is about 3x cheaper so it could get perilous if you're that way inclined (no surprise it's popular with stag parties here).

Away from the square is Wawel Castle and Cathedral on a fortress-like hill overlooking the city. And shortly away from the city is a UNESCO World Heritage attraction, the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which was once one of the world's largest and most profitable industrial sites when salt was the medieval equivalent of today's oil.

There are 200km of passages to walk through (some of), created by 900 years of mining, and at least 2,000 caverns hewn out, as well as some impressive artistic wall carvings.

The most unforgettable part of the weekend though was always
going to be the journey through one of history's darker chapters at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex (have written a separate, more substantial blog piece at my other website on my experience there). 

It was an aptly grey day weather-wise when I visited but here's a gallery of some of the better photos that came out of the camp buildings and piles of bi-products from its victims.

A sombre note to end the year on, but I'd robustly recommend anyone reading to visit both these places in 2014.