Margery Wood and The North Downs Trail

We were off to a late start. The plan was to do the Norths Down Ridge Circular Walk but we ended up exploring on our own, getting lost in the process and using the GPS on the phone in the end to find our way back. Nevertheless, it was a really beautiful day and we did end up with a walk longer than we had planned/anticipated.

We started off at the Margery Woods Car Park and headed off to the Margery Woods. Bluebells, more bluebells! As we walk through the woods, we then come across the bridge over the motorway.

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More Bluebells

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Cross the bridge and a few trees, you come across this beautiful view of open skies and the green slopes of Colley Hill. This is where we ditched the¬†Norths Down Ridge Circular Walk trail and headed down to the North Downs Way trail on the right, we weren’t aware of that at the time.

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The path was filled with Dandelions, Wild flowers and rabbits.

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In the end, it was another beautiful day in the Surrey Hills.

The Thames Path – Walk 1

Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge

It was Boxing Day 2016 and I was longing to see the city and what better way to do it than walking along the Thames? This was my first walk and to motivate myself, it had to be one with the good sights. I chose to walk the South Bank starting at Lambeth Bridge all the way to Tower Bridge which is roughly a 5 km walk. It was a slow one, for starters because I was admiring London at night as I went along and I managed to stop at a few pubs along the way. ūüôā

I must apologise for the really poor photography here as all I had was a shitty smartphone camera to work with.. (I am not a good photographer either :p )

It starts off with Westminster Palace across the river and the Big Ben at the backdrop and the Westminster Bridge all in sight.

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Continuing along the south bank, we go past the London Eye and then approach the Waterloo Bridge. Walking on the south bank can never get boring with the¬†buskers in the South Bank. On reaching Gabriel’s Wharf, you get to see few Fire Jugglers on the bank. I spend some time over there watching them play around. The OXO Tower is just up ahead.

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The OXO Tower and Blackfriars Bridge

After this as I continue my walk, crossing the Blackfriars Bridge, I approach the Millennium Bridge standing on which you get a straight view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe is right there as well.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

My next stop was the Anchor Pub, which is one of the ancient historic pubs of London. After a couple of pints, I continue my walk towards London Bridge and the HMS Belfast.

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HMS Belfast

There is a beautiful, well lit Christmas tree outside the City Hall. From there I reach the end of my walk as I go to the Tower Bridge and then walk back to London Bridge to take a bus back home.

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Tower Bridge
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The Walkie Talkie, Gherkin and the Tower of London
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City Hall & The Shard

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The Thames Path – Route Map

The Thames Path is a walk that goes along the River Thames right from it’s source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier at Greenwich. The entire length spans 296 km (184 miles) and I plan to cover this entire span in bits and pieces. I decided to start off with first walking the path within the London area before moving towards the source, Thames Head but in no particular sequence.

This is where I start, so here goes!

Walk 1 – Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge

Distance: 2.9 miles / 4.7 km
Date: 26 Dec 2016
Post: The Thames Path РWalk 1

A short hike on Leith Hill – a spring delight

Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’ – Robin Williams

It sure felt that way when we went up to Leith Hill for a hike this beautiful spring day.

Leith Hill is in the Surrey Hills which is towards the south west from London. It’s not just a beautiful place for short hikes for beginners like myself but also a delight to the eyes in spring. For those who are suckers for history (or watch/follow the TV show “Vikings”), this is where¬†Ethelwulf defeated the Danes in 851 AD.

There are 4 trails that you could follow:

  • Woodland Trail (Orange)
  • Etherley Loop (Purple)
  • Heathland Trail (Green)
  • Frank’s Walk (Pink)

From the car park, we headed over to the summit, where there is the Leith Hill Tower and from there we started our hike after spending some time enjoying the view from there and some refreshments. We took the Woodland Trail which is 2.5 miles and all along the trail we could see the ground covered with beautiful Bluebells.

It was a day well spent amongst nature!

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees” – Henry David Thoreau

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The Leith HIll Tower
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View from the summit

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Bluebells

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8 Days Under the Italian Sun

Italy had been under my radar for a while now and I knew my¬†first Euro trip had to be Italy. I usually do a bit of research when visiting places and this time was no different (but I guess I wasn’t thorough… will get to that in a bit). Easter was approaching, a long weekend, so I could afford a longer vacation and it was set. The plan was to be in Italy from the 15th of April till the 23rd.

Day 1 – Roma

I flew in from Gatwick to Rome and reached Rome by noon. It was warm, good to be away from the cooler London spring. A friend of mine was to join me later in the day from Saarbr√ľcken (her flight was delayed and she didn’t show up till later that night). This meant I had the day to myself, being a tourist in Rome.

It was planned, the places I would visit, an offline map and everything. After my first few steps, I forgot all about the plan and was just wandering, lost among the hordes of tourists.

Tip:¬†Avoid Rome during Easter, it is VERY crowded!!! This goes back to my point on the research I did, I overlooked this, but either way I had no choice and Rome wasn’t my main destination. I had other places¬†in mind. The best time to visit Rome would be towards the end of May or in September/October.

The plan I had drawn up was

  1. Start: Happy Rome Hostel
  2. Spanish Steps
  3. Piazza del Popolo & Villa Borghese
  4. Trevi Fountain
  5. Pantheon
  6. Piazza Navona
  7. Castel Sant’Angelo
  8. Largo di Torre Argentina
  9. Altar of the Fatherland
  10. End: Happy Rome Hostel

Rome Map

I did cover all the places I intended to but not in the order as planned. I first ended up at the Trevi Fountain (La Fontana Di Trevi). The legend says if you throw a coin into the fountain, it guarantees your return to Rome. The coin should be thrown with your right hand and over your left shoulder. The movie “Three Coins in the Fountain” may have very well been the reason behind the myth. In the movie it says, if you throw a coin, it guarantees your return to Rome, the second coin ensures romance and the third ensures marriage. I stuck with one.20170415_144927.jpg

From the Trevi Fountain, I headed over to the Pantheon, unfortunately there was such a long queue to get in that I have saved this for my next trip to Rome ( I threw a coin and I was coming back). From the Pantheon, the next stop was the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) and then to Piazza del Popolo. Close to the Piazza del Popolo is the Villa Borghese. If you want to visit the gardens, it is good, but even otherwise the view of the city from there is breathtaking.

From Villa Borghese, I headed over towards the Tiber river to Castel Sant’Angelo. There is no shortage of music talent in Rome, you will find people doing covers of bands like Metallica, Pink Floyd, Greenday, R.E.M. to name a few at all the tourist locations. I was particularly impressed by a musician doing a violin cover of Greenday’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams at Castel Sant’Angelo. The next stop was Largo di Torre Argentina, which are Roman ruins but now is the home to the many cats that have settled there. ¬†After spending some peaceful moments here, I headed over to the hostel stopping by the Altar of the Fatherland and taking a peek at the Colosseum from the outside. It was time to call it a day.

Tip:¬†The area around Roma Termini isn’t too safe to loiter about especially late at night and do take care of your belongings and beware of phone snatchers.

Day 2 – Roma

The second day was going to be the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill and it does take up a lot of your time.

Tip: It is best to book the tickets in advance which is EUR 4.00 more expensive, but definitely worth it. There are really long queues which could take up half your day if you do not have pre-booked tickets. The website from where I booked the tickets was http://www.rome-museum.com. They also have tickets for the Vatican, for which again it is recommended to pre-book.

We started off at the Roman Forum and were really glad that it was a cloudy day as otherwise it could get really hot. Either way, it is good to carry a bottle of water and do keep in mind that water from all fountains in Rome is drinkable. The Forum could easily take up 2 to 3 hours of your time.

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The Roman Forum

From the Roman Forum, we headed over to Palatino from where there are really nice views of the area around. After a big, fat lunch we then headed over to the Colosseum and this was when we were glad to have pre-booked the tickets as otherwise we would have missed the train to Naples.

The Colosseum is as majestic as it sounds and is a must visit.

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The Colosseum

We then headed over to Naples for the night. There are 3 types of trains that operate, Freccia (the fast and more expensive ones) which take 1 hour to Naples, the IC (Intercity) which takes 2 hours and the REG (Regionale) which takes 3 hours and the least expensive of all.

Day 3 – Napoli

After a quick breakfast, we headed over to the Archeological Museum of Naples. The importance of this is there are a lot of artifacts from Pompeii, Erculano, Palatino etc. and would be of significance if you plan to visit these places and we were heading over to Pompeii the next day.

From the museum, we then headed over towards the sea and stopped by for lunch at one of the numerous pizzerias. It was Naples and pizza was the only thing we had in mind! 20170417_155059.jpg

After lunch, we headed over to the Naples Underground tour (Napoli Sotterranea). This was a completely different experience and not quite popular among the tourists but is a must Рdo. This was the best thing in Naples for us (except of course the pizza!). At EUR 10 per person, a 90 minute tour and a very fun tour guide, it was an awesome experience. If you are claustrophobic, get over your fears, this is worth it.

At the end of the tour, it feels like you emerge from¬†a different era, back to the hustle and bustle of today. We then headed over to the Bay of Naples and the Castel dell’Ovo.

Day 4 – Pompeii

We headed off to Pompeii in the morning. There is good train connectivity from Naples to Pompeii. The average time spent at the ruins is around 3 to 5¬†hours. The Lupanare (Brothel) is one of the main attractions, look out for the paintings in there ūüėČ

Other main attractions in there are the Amphitheatre, Forum, House of Faun and the cast of the bodies excavated from the site.

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This is where Pink Floyd performed the famous ‘Live at Pompeii’ in 1971

Towards the evening, we then headed over to Salerno.

Day 5 – Paestum

We decided to spend the day at Paestum because of the sandy beach there and we were going over to the Amalfi Coast which does not have any sandy beaches or even beaches as such. The other attraction at Paestum are the Greek ruins.

Paestum was a quiet and tranquil town. It was the perfect setting for the peace we needed after a hectic 2 days at Rome and the day at Naples. ¬†We took a train to Paestum, do lookout for the train schedules as the frequency isn’t a lot. We had spent a decent 2 hours waiting for our train.

At Paestum, the ruins are a short walk from the train station. There isn’t much to see there, but it is really peaceful and good for a nice stroll. There is a small museum too where you could buy the tickets to visit the ruins.

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The Temple of Hera at Paestum

The beach is a 20 minute walk from the ruins and there are a few campsites and restaurants by the beach. Very few people, clean, the warm sun, cool water and the sand, what more could you ask for. We sat there staring into the sea till sunset.

Day 6 – The Amalfi Coast

Getting to the beautiful towns in the Amalfi Coast from Salerno is very convenient. You could take the SITA Bus or the Ferry. If you do suffer from motion sickness, avoid the bus. We took the ferry, for the love of the sea and also for the great views of the coast.

Tip: If you decide to take the bus, there are no tickets on-board, so remember to buy your tickets from a Tabacchi (tobacconist).

We took a ferry to Amalfi which is a 20-30 minute ride. The sight is mesmerising, the turquoise waters, the houses on the cliffs, it was all so beautiful! We went for a short hike towards the Ferriere Valley and later returned and stopped for lunch at Ristorante Il Mulino. This is a small family run restaurant and the food was delectable. I tried the grilled fish and it was one of the best fish I had in a while.

The next stop was Positano and we took a ferry to get there. This was a longer ride and Positano was even more beautiful. It was a very colourful town.

 

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Positano

There was a beautiful art gallery in Positano. The paintings and sculptures were really amazing. We were to take a bus to Sorrento from here and so we had to climb all the way to the top. The views are too good for you to get tired of walking up the hill ūüôā

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A panoramic view of Positano

We reached our camp site in Sorrento later in the evening and called it a day.

Day 7 – Sorrento

Woke up to the best view ever! The camp was huge and we spent most of the time till lunch exploring the camp site. They even gave us a map, good because we would have been lost otherwise.

After lunch, we headed over to the¬†Bagni della Regina Giovanna. This was a 10 minute walk from our camp and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. It was serene, peaceful and to me, it was paradise. ¬†It was a sunny day, but cold due to the breeze. That didn’t stop me from taking a dip in this beautiful cove.

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View of Bagni della Regina Giovanna from above

After the swim and then spending an hour or so gazing at the sea, just sitting there in peace (the sweetness of doing nothing, truly) we headed over to a bar, the Lido la Solara. This was a hidden jewel, you approach the place via a boardwalk and it opens up to beautiful views. We sat there in the sun, beers in hand enjoying the sunset. We must have spend at least a couple of hours there. The place had very friendly staff and the people there were all locals, very friendly as well. Everybody knew everybody. It was such a happy place!

Day 8 – Capri

I didn’t want to leave Sorrento, a part of me stayed there I’d like to think ūüôā

We took a ferry to Capri. The trip was coming to an end and we wanted to end it with a bang. We were going to Capri with all the excitement of a 10 year old, we were excited about the Blue Grotto.  We reach Capri, only to find out that the Blue Grotto is closed, for a year, the person said. Not sure about that though.

So we did the next best thing, took a boat tour around the island. The water was blue like in a painting. It was all so surreal. The boat ride takes you to the Green Grotto, White Grotto, the Faraglioni among others.

After spending the day in Capri, we headed over to Naples from where we left for Rome. We reached Rome at about midnight and left for the airport to catch our early morning flights.

The memories of this trip will remain etched in my mind.

It is good to learn a little basic Italian, because you would be fine in Rome and maybe even Naples, but in the smaller towns, it would become difficult to communicate in English. I had to resort to Google Translate on several occasions.

Below are a few words I picked up during my trip and used abundantly

  • Thank You – grazie
  • You are welcome – prego
  • To ask for the bill at the restaurant – il conto per favore

And of course, Ciao and Buon Giorno!!

This is the first of other trips to Italy, will be going back soon…

A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority – Samuel Johnson