It goes without saying that one of the best parts of travel is the unusual traditions and ceremonies you encounter on your path. This post from Prasad, on his blog desitraveller, highlights one of those such ceremonies.
A show of pomp and bravado
“Somewhere between Amritsar in India and Lahore in Pakistan is Wagah Border between the two neighbouring countries.
Each side tries to outdo each other in a march, showcasing who can snap heels harder on the ground, while visitors shout patriotic slogans to cheer up the soldiers and photographers try to catch the fast-moving action.
If you are in Amritsar India or Lahore Pakistan I suggest you make this trip to Wagah to watch a flag lowering ceremony that has no parallel anywhere.”
I highly recommend this post, it goes above and beyond just telling you how to get there and why you should go. It explores the history of the ceremony and even John Lennon’s involvement. It will be one of the top blog posts you read today.
Whether your kind of thing or not, a Flamenco show in Spain is one of those must do experiences when visiting the country. The best shows are to be found in the south of Spain, a place where the Flamenco tradition is deeply rooted.
The Wanderlost Campaigner in Granada
This post comes from Kelly, on her blog The Wanderlost Campaigner, about her experience of Flamenco in Granada and has a great recommendation of where to go. It not only talks about the show, but has some great information about the traditions of Flamenco as well as one of the best paragraphs about it you’ll read in a long time (look for the one about 7 paragraphs in that starts “When the show begins, I suppress the urge . . .”
Here’s what Kelly has to say about the post:
“The Casa Del Arte Flamenco is in central Granada, you can easily walk there if you are centrally based, and it also means you won’t have to navigate the steep and uneven paths up into the cave venues.
It’s true that the famous cave venues are a spectacle in themselves, they nearly all offer incredible views of the Alhambra, but some friendly locals had told us they were just for tourists, we took the advice. We were not sorry.
So if you are thinking about what to do in Spain or want to learn a bit more about a Spanish tradition that doesn’t involve the death of an animal, be sure to read about Kelly’s flamenco experience in Granada.
Morocco is high up on my bucket list, the mix of culture, jaw-dropping scenery and iconic places such as Fes and Chefchaouen, there is plenty to keep you busy.
The Travelling Gypsies in Morocco
This post comes from Nicole, on her blog, The Travelling Gypsies. It is a nice introduction to Morocco with suggestions of what to do and where to go as well as some wonderful photos to really whet the appetite.
“If you’re looking for a country offering a range of experiences, consider a trip to Morocco. It’s rich in culture and history with great natural beauty. We experienced the warmth and friendliness of the Moroccan people on our 10-day tour of this fascinating country. Whether you experience the historic cities of Marrakech and Fes or the more remote areas of the Sahara Desert, Morocco will leave a lasting impression on your memory.”
Sometimes when you are travelling amazing things happen. People often ask travellers where their favourite place was, most amazing animal, but very really do they ask who was the most amazing person you met. To me, that is travelling.
A forest encounter in the Armenian wilderness
This post comes from Anna, on her blog, The Wildest Tales. It tells of her chance encounter while hiking through a forest that led to a visiting a small village in the Armenian wilderness and the kindness she was welcomed with.
“An incredible story from a tiny village lost in the Armenian forest. It was the most fantastic thing that happened to me during my travels, or even perhaps in my whole life – I mean it. Tandzatap, with its amazing people, it’s where the magic happens. Yearning for an authentic travel experience? Don’t waste your time, visit Armenia off-the-beaten-track with me and my wildest tales!”
It’s stories such as these that get my wanderlust burning, a chance encounter that can lead to great memories. Check out Anna’s post from Armenia here.
“I wouldn’t put your tent there.” The guide warned me.
“Why?” I enquired.
“When the elephants come through in the night they use those trees as scratching posts” as he points to the acacia tree next to my tent. “Chances are they won’t see you and there will be quite a mess to clean up in the morning.”
“Fair enough.” I responded as I took my tent and moved it a little further away from the little spiky shrubs.
It was at this point I knew I was in a special place.
Welcome to Elephant Sands Campsite in Botswana
Elephant Sands is a campsite located in the Northern Botswana wilderness, and as the name suggests, a fantastic place to get close to wild elephants in Africa. I was there on an overnight stop as part of a five day organised safari tour that started in Livingstone, Zambia, and ended in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The tour was the final leg of my trip through Africa and was a great way to end it, especially as I had to fly home from J’berg. Not only did it make sure I was in J’berg on time, the day before my flight (something that can’t be said very often when talking about African transport) but I also got to meet great people along the way and really enjoyed the final days of my solo African adventure.
It always starts with a bloody tent
As with most stops on these safaris, the first job after arriving is putting up the tents. After a few days, it becomes a real pain in the arse. I would love to be able to say I got better at it each day and it got easier . . . but it didn’t.
Luckily I could rely on the help of the others. On reflection, it must have been that I had a bad tent.
Another tenting skill I also didn’t master was choosing the right spot. A day earlier I had managed to camp on an ants nest and was still finding hundreds of the little buggers hitching along with me.
With the ground hard and dusty, if I hadn’t been so poor, due to a complete lack of budgeting skill, I would have certainly ended up in one of Elephant Sand’s lodges rather than my ant-ridden tent.
After receiving the very welcome safety advice, I finally decided on a safe place to pitch my tent before heading to the bar area for a couple of well-earned beers and a spot of elephant watching.
The Elephant Sands watering Hole
The campsite (and more importantly campsite bar) is on a raised terrace area with a swimming pool and located about 20 metres away from a watering hole. When our group arrived there must have been at least 12 elephants, bathing, spraying and in general having a pretty good time.
They would often inquisitively wander over to us, within touching distance, I had to keep reminding myself that they are wild elephants, so although I really wanted to grab some trunk, I thought I best err on the side of caution.
Attack of the African wild dogs
It was while watching the elephants I noticed something on the horizon, smaller than an elephant. Then a second and a third, it was a pack of wild dogs and they wanted what the elephants had . . . the water.
A couple of the wild dogs approached, but the elephants didn’t want to share and chased them off. I thought that’s pretty cool, wild dogs are quite rare to see.
But before I could get my next beer I heard a commotion as the whole pack, around 25 dogs, charged the watering hole.
Startled, the elephants retreated and stood back, watching the dogs. Every now and again an elephant would make a half-hearted attempt to scare the dogs away, running towards them, trumpeting and putting on a show. But it would take just one dog to growl and stand its ground and the elephant would slink back off.
The elephants fight back
However, after about 10 minutes of watching the dogs, they decided enough was enough. A group of them charged together as the dogs stood firm, but this time, as two pulled up, the third elephant, a bull and the biggest of the bunch kept on going, water and dogs flew in every direction! The rest of the elephants saw their opportunity and dashed into the water.
With no other option, the dogs retreated. For a while they hung around, it seemed they were devising a new plan, but something happened in the pack and they became more interested in fighting each other as opposed to the elephants and disappeared over the horizon.
I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to witness that and I didn’t even have to go on a safari trip to do it. Well, I was on a safari, but you know what I mean, one of those game drives into the national parks with lots of people in safari jackets crammed into a small Jeep. It was like something straight out of a wildlife documentary, right in front of me, with cold beer available!
As the elephants settled back into their routine of spraying, bathing and generally lazing around, I finally got that second beer and relaxed, sipping, thinking about the power of that bull elephant and wondering if my tent really was far enough away from those acacia trees.
Discover more from my African Adventure
If you would like to know more about my trip through Africa, an ambitious attempt at solo travel for the first time, you can buy my awesome travel diary on Amazon. How to Clean Your Underwear in Africa chronicles my trip, the highs, lows and hangovers as well as dishing out lots of handy advice for first-time travellers. There may even be some great little nuggets in there for travelling pros as well.
You could also get a free PDF digital download of the book by signing up to my Travel Blogs updates, a monthly newsletter that cherry picks the best of months blogs shard on my interactive travel blog maps.
I was not aware that the Taj Mahal had a twin until I came across this blog post about the Bibi Ka Maqbara. Located in Aurangabad, Southern India, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the real thing while scrolling through the images.
How to get to the Taj’s twin
This post comes from travelling couple Tania and Sayan on their site Azure Sky follows. In it, they tell of their experience of the mausoleum as well as lots of helpful tips and advice on things like getting there and cost of visiting the Bibi Ka Maqbara.
So, if you’re looking for something that’s like one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions but not, or you just want to trick your friends, be sure to check out this guide on the Bibi Ka Maqbara, not the Taj Mahal!
Rocky Mountain National Park, the name alone conjures up images of a rugged terrain, ideal for hiking and all kinds of adventure activities. Luckily, that’s exactly what it is.
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
I actually lived in Colorado for a while so I can say from experience that this is one of the most beautiful places in the world, both in summer and winter. This post is a guide to some of the hikes you can undertake in this spectacular corner of the world.
It comes from Mike Rudd and his adventure blog Hashtag 59, I’ll let him introduce it:
“I love this particular post b/c I have been hiking in Rocky Mtn Natl Park since I was 2, it has some great info for people looking to go adventure in one of the biggest and coolest parks in America, and it’s my thoughts plus detailed info from 30 plus years hiking there.
Plus the photo of me, my cousin Chris, and my Dad on the same rock at the same lake in 1985 and again in 2017 is pretty cool I think!”
Leaving Ciudad Rodrigo behind we passed through the small village of Serradilla del Arroyo before heading into the mountains. The nice manicured tarmac turned into a winding mountain road, often narrowing to a single lane with steep drops off the edge. The views were spectacular, the pointed mountain tops on the horizon beyond the tree covered valley in front . . . although I couldn’t pay too much attention for the fear of mistiming a switchback corner to an untimely death.
Suddenly from nowhere our home for the evening, Monsagro, appeared. The whole village is hidden by the mountains until you turn the final corner into it. The only sign of life was the smoke rising from the chimney pots to counter the chill on this cool Spring evening.
The village of Monsgaro
Monsagro is one of many handsome villages scattered throughout the Sierra de Francia, a range of foothills acting as the entrance to Spain’s Sistema Central mountain range.
The most famous landmark in the region is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia(from here on referred to simply as La Peña as I really can’t be bothered to write all that out every time). It is a Catholic Church and Sanctuary which sits atop the Peña de Francia, and is visible from many of the surrounding villages. Peña de Franciais the common term people use when referring to the monastery, although Peña actually simply means rocky hill.
We were staying in the small village of Monsagro, just 17kms away from La Peña. We are lucky Raquel’s (my other half) parents live here when they are not in Madrid so we have a place to stay. However, there are a couple of great options aside from Raquel’s mum (although I’m sure she’d be happy to look after you too!). There are some self-catering apartments, Apartamentos Sierra de Francia, or a small hotel, Hotel Rural Valle Agadon, run by the lovely María José, complete with dining room and terrace with stunning views over the village.
In the centre of the village is a small village square, home for the many celebrations held throughout the year, as well as a small museum that celebrates the local wildlife and the family history in the village. However, the village’s claim to fame is the use of fossils in the buildings. In fact, it has its own fossil route and downloadable app, you can find out more about this soon in my post about the villages of Sierra de Francia.
Visiting the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia
So after a good catch up with the family and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to head to La Peña. From Monsagro it’s about a 4-hour hike with a couple of different route options, so if you set off early you can be there in time for a mid-morning snack or lunch.
Alternatively, you can do what we did and do the 20-minute drive.
The road continued to impress as the scary drops to oblivion kept me focused. If you’re lucky you may spot some of the mountain goats and their impressive curved horns scurrying up and down the mountainside.
Mirador de los Lobos
Just before the turn to head up to La Peña, there is a great viewpoint, Mirador de los Lobos, a spot to take some lovely pictures looking up to the monastery or of the expansive views beyond.
From the outside, La Peña is nothing special to look at. No amazing architecture (if you look past the fact it’s built on a 1700m mountain) and I only felt a tinge of disappointment when I discovered that the tall tower is actually for the region’s TV signal, not a rocket ship to heaven. However, as I mentioned, it is built up high, and here’s why.
How Simon Vela founded La Peña de Francia
According to legend, the location of La Peña isn’t a random accident. There was this guy, Simon Vela, who was of great religious devotion and he found a Romanesque image of the Virgin Mary on the spot that La Peña now sits in 1434 after having a dream and being told where to find it.
What makes the Virgin of the Rock of France (its English name) special is that it is a Black Madonna. There are only about 500 of these in Europe and seem to have an almost cult-like status. In fact, the Virgin of La Peña has shrines dedicated to it in many countries including Brazil, The Philippines, India, Mexico and more.
So once Simon had the icon he built a chapel on the spot (which still exists) and the rest of La Peña built up around that.
The original Virgin was actually stolen in 1872 but then returned under the seal of confession in 1889. Sadly it had heavily deteriorated and a new one was made. However, the original is actually encased in the new version and if you look closely, apparently you can just about see the original one inside through a small hole on the left-hand side.
Once we had parked our car, it was just a short uphill stroll the church. We immediately noticed the dip in temperature, the additional 900 metres altitude from Monagro had really put a nip in the air of an otherwise cloudless, blue sky day.
I loved the church as it is very understated. There are no large gold-covered altars or jewel-encrusted icons, just a simple church with a Black Madonna. I’ll be honest, sometimes I get really angry with how much wealth the church have sitting around in the form of gold and other decorations. They are not really needed, especially when so many of the church’s followers live in poverty. Sell some of it and help them out. Sorry, rant over.
Opposite the church is a large building that has bedrooms (you can actually stay), a small Café which has tables outside for the warmer days and the obligatory gift shop.
The views from La Peña
However, the true beauty of La Peña is the site itself. The far side of the complex is where there are panoramic views of the landscape and villages for miles into the distance. A really nice touch are the helpful markers on top of the wall which told us which village we were gazing down upon from our high vantage point.
It’s rare these days to find such a site that is free to enjoy. I’d highly recommend it as a stop on any visit to the region, even if simply to stand and absorb the calm peaceful feeling and you admire the expansive views as eagles soar below you.
OK, that last bit about eagles may be overselling it, but an eagle definitely flew below our line of sight while we were there.
La Peña de Francia is around a 1 hour 20-minute drive from Salamanca or about 45 minutes from Ciudad Rodrigo. There are buses that go there but I’d imagine if you find yourself in this area you will probably be in a car, that’s a much better recommendation.
As for when to visit, I’d recommend spring or autumn as it does get rather popular in the summer months. But remember to check the conditions before heading there because there can be late snow and the road becomes almost impassable.
I’ll throw it out there and say that visiting Benin isn’t at the top of many bucket lists, but that doesn’t mean there is no reason to visit. The country has an interesting history and rich culture crafted from voodoo traditions and being a major hub in slave routes.
“Benin is not a tourist hotspot”
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there. This post comes from Dinh-Long Pham, A French-born Vietnamese traveller and blogger on the way to his roots. Here’s what he has to say about a country he obviously fell in love with:
“Benin is not a tourist hotspot in West Africa – and it’s a shame! I had such a great time there: from the origins of Voodoo to the artwork tradition, the everyday life craziness or the long history of the country, Benin is definitely a place to explore and there is something for every taste!
It’s also a nice place to have your African suits done ;)”
Geothermal energy is a byproduct of volcanic activity, and Iceland is synonymous with it. Bathing in geothermal pools do more than just rejuvenate. They can do wonders to the skin and boost blood circulation; help with respiratory problems and provide pain relief to aching muscles.
Secret geothermic pools in Iceland
This post comes from blogging duo Siddharth and Shruti on their blog Siddharthandshruti.com, where the self proclaimed nerds share their travels and tips.
The Blue Lagoon is undoubtedly one of the most popular geothermal pool in Iceland. But if you want to avoid the crowds and try some offbeat alternative pools, keep reading, number 7 looks amazing, also a filming location in Iceland for Game of Thrones!