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This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

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Posts Tagged ‘Cathedral’

Santiago part 1

January 22nd, 2016 No comments

I have been in Santiago for most of a week and I am having a great time. Staying with Steven in a rented apartment in the city has proved useful as we have been close to everything, have been able to keep costs down and I feel that I have been able to see more of the “real” Chile, compared to if I had decided to stay in a hotel.

The apartment itself is not the best compared so some I saw online but it is adequate for my needs. It has a living room with dining table, a small but functional kitchen, a clean bathroom and a bedroom with two single beds. The cost was approximately £190 for the 8 days that I am here which, given its location, I find very reasonable indeed. The only downside is that due to interference from the fire station across the road reception on the TV is very bad. However, my past existence as a radio scanner enthusiast taught me that there is always a workaround available, in this case attaching the external antenna to the clothes airer in order to create a giant antenna. On the other hand, in addition to the location, it has the added benefit of being in a gated compound that has people on the gate so it should be fairly safe.

It looks funny but worked

My creation which helped improve the TV signal

I have spent most of my evenings making home cooked meals and watching Chilean TV / Netflix with Steven. I am learning Spanish at the moment but as I quickly found out upon arriving here Chilean Spanish is very unique, with its frequent and almost exclusive use of slang words, that it is very difficult to understand. Fortunately, many of the programs on TV are from the USA and I have discovered an interesting Judge Judy style show called “Caso Cerrado” which has helped me practice.

Although that is enough about the apartment.

Santiago seems a really nice city. I have spent my days exploring and walking around with no real plan, checking out some of the sights, eating some good food and just generally having a good time.

Cerro Santa Lucía is a good place to visit when you first arrive in Santiago. It’s a hill close to the centre of the city which gives you a good view of the local area. It isn’t as high as Parque Metropolitano, and definitely not as high as the viewing platform of the Costanera Centre, but I enjoyed my time here. Fuente Neptuno and the grounds definitely provided me with some good photo opportunities.

Santiago de Chile

The steps up to Cerro Santa Lucía

Santiago de Chile

The view of the city from Cerro Santa Lucía

Cerro Santa Lucía

Cerro Santa Lucía as seen from the main road.

Parque Metropolitano is another good place to visit if you are looking for a view point in the city. You can either walk up the hill or take an old funicular lift and are presented with some great views. There is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary here as well as a church, and it’s well worth a visit. Just be careful on the steep steps leading up to the statue – I slipped over and hurt my shoulder, much to the amusement of the only American tourists that I saw the entire time I was in the city. If you like the bar scene then head in the direction of Parque Metropolitano anyway as the road leading to it from Plaza Baquedano, called Pio Nono, is full of bars, restaurants and clubs and is very popular with university students from what I am told so should have a good atmosphere in the evening.

Funiculars are fun

Ascending the funicular in Parque Metropolitano

A great view of Santiago de Chile

The view from the very top of the hill at Parque Metropolitano.

Pio Nono

Pio Nono, near Parque Metropolitano

The Costanera Centre provided me with the best views of the city, although being inside a shopping centre it is very sterile and expensive. The Costanera Centre can be seen from all over Santiago, as it is the tallest building in Latin America, and consists of a huge shopping centre combined with offices, a hotel and the viewing platform. The shopping centre contains a few local brands but mainly big international brands and so for me was nothing special. The viewing platform, called the Sky Costanera, can be accessed from the basement and is the highest view point in the city. You are shot up to the top of the skyscraper in elevators really quickly while you are told the history of the building in Spanish by the attendant. The viewing platform has telescopes to allow you to see things in the distance, but other than that I will let the photos do the talking.

Sky Costanera view

A view of Santiago from the Sky Costanera

Me in Santiago de Chile

Me at the Sky Costanera viewing Platform

Costanera Centre

Inside the Costanera Centre

Costanera Centre

The Costanera Centre

Santiago has a really nice atmosphere. In addition to the viewpoints mentioned above we spent the first half of my time here walking around and taking in the famous sights such as La Moneda, which is the Presidential Palace which was infamously bombed by the Chilean Air Force during the military coup which killed President Salvador Allende. More about that coup later on as I am planning to visit the Museum of Human Rights before the end of my visit. Other sights that I have seen so far include Plaza de Armas, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Iglesia San Francisco, The National Library and the Violeta Parra Museum which was brand new when I visited. We also visited the cultural centre contained in a basement underneath the plaza next to La Moneda.

Plaza Baquedano, Santiago de Chile

Plaza Baquedano, 5 minutes from my apartment

Plaza de Armas, Santiago de Chile

Plaza de Armas

National Flag

Looking towards La Moneda and the National Flag

Cultural Centre

The Cultural Centre next to La Moneda

I would highly recommend all of these sights, maybe with the exception of the National Library which we only went into in order to get out of the heat, as they all show a little bit of Chilean culture and history. One thing that you will notice in the city is the large number of churches and cathedrals, as Chile is a fairly religious country. Some of the churches are fairly basic but some are really impressive such as the Iglesia San Francisco, which is very close to La Moneda. I believe it is the oldest church in Chile and is beautifully decorated, and well maintained as we found out when a cleaner asked Steven to help her lift some of the heavy cleaning equipment up some steps in order to help maintain a chapel.

Metropolitan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral

Iglesia San Francisco

Inside Iglesia San Francisco

I have heard a lot about Violeta Parra from Steven, and if you read much Chilean history it is very likely that you will have heard of her too as she is somewhat of a national hero that helped put Chile on the map and develop the Chilean folk music genre. I won’t go on about her too much as I don’t want to get any details wrong but if you want to learn more about her then the museum, very close to Plaza Baquedano, is well worth a visit. It is free to enter and showcases a lot of her work including original lyrics sheets, her guitar, photos of her and her art work. It also tells you more about her life, from her humble origins all the way up to her tragic suicide. A word of warning though, at the time I visited the museum was completely in Spanish but the information was easy to translate.

Violeta Parra Museum

Inside the Museo Violeta Parra

One thing I love about Santiago, in addition to the climate, people, and the atmosphere is the large amount of open space and the number of parks despite being a populated city surrounded by mountains. Parque Forestal, Parque Uruguay and Museo Parque de las Esculturas are among the open spaces that I have spent time in so far, most of which have been situated along the river. Museo Parque de las Esculturas is worth a visit as is has a great atmosphere and a large selection of public artworks, perhaps you could visit it when walking back from the Costanera Centre like we did. Parque Forestal is very central and seems to be a place where people like to go to relax at weekends and during their lunch breaks. I visited here a couple of times and during the first visit I was taken to what has quickly become my favourite ice cream parlour in the entire world, Emporio La Rosa. If you like ice cream then come here and take some into the park, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have fallen in love with lúcuma flavour, although as it’s a local fruit I doubt I will be able to find it in The UK.

Mapocho River, Santiago

The Mapocho River, near the Costanera Centre

Santiago

Public art and sculptures in the Parque de las Esculturas

Me in Santiago

Me walking back to the centre of Santiago after visiting the Costanera Centre

We are due to take a break from city life over the next few days and have booked a couple of day trips out of the city in order to see more of the country. Tomorrow we visit Valparaíso and then on Monday we visit Viña del Mar, which are both on the coast approximately 90 minutes from Santiago. The intercity bus service in Chile seems a LOT more extensive and efficient than that in The UK. If you want to visit either of these towns, or indeed other ones locally or further afield, then just head to the Estación Central and you can buy tickets inside the bus station next door for all of the major companies. Alternatively, I have seen kiosks dotted around the city for all of the companies if you won’t be going near Estación Central, but going there allows you to check prices and schedules of all of the companies.

I am looking forward to both day trips. Valparaíso is a city that I have heard a lot about and Viña del Mar comes highly recommended by everybody from Chile that I have talked to.

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Visiting a Kiev Shooting Range

June 21st, 2013 No comments

One thing I discovered online while researching things to do on the final spare day in Kiev is the possibility to visit a shooting range outside of the city. I’m far from being a gun enthusiast, and in fact I’m proud that I live in a country where people don’t have access to guns, but I’m the sort of person that likes to experience everything. So when a couple of other people in the group said that they were interested in visiting the range we decided it would be an experience.

It took some time to organise the trip to the shooting range. Before going to Chernobyl a few days ago we tried to book but couldn’t get through to them on the phone. The concierge at the hotel offered to try for us again and book while we were in Chernobyl but when we returned we found they hadn’t booked it – all they had done was call to find prices for us. So we called them back again and it seems we interrupted the guy when he was “busy” with a woman and were asked to call back later. When we finally managed to get through to him we arranged to be picked up from the hotel after breakfast.

The trip out to the range only took half an hour or so and we spent most of the time talking about the last couple of days exploring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The minibus we had was a luxury executive seater which would have been great to have over the last couple of days. I think the general consensus between the group, except for the disagreement yesterday, is that the discomfort of the minibus was the only bad point of our visit.

On the minibus

On the minibus to the shooting range

When we arrived at the shooting range there was a short delay while the group ahead of us finished their turn on the range. It seems that the range isn’t just used by amateurs as it was being used by bank security guards. We took the time to sit and relax while confirming which weapons we were interested in firing. We had booked AK-47, Dragunov Sniper Rifle and Shotgun but decided to swap the shotgun for a pistol and we found out the Dragunov was unavailable so would be swapped for an M4 Assault Rifle. This change wasn’t too much of an issue for any of us as the main thing we were interested in was the AK-47.

We spent maybe an hour or so firing the various weapons. During my time on the M-4 it kept jamming so we it was swapped out for an M-16 which was fine by me as it meant I was able to try out more guns for the same price. A few of us decided to pay a little extra to take a turn on the pump-action shotgun anyway though as we were given the option to have 10 shots on any other weapon for a set price. I have to say it was a little scary how big the adrenaline surge that the shotgun gave us was – all of us found it the same and were rather jumpy at the end of our 10 shots. I am glad I chose to have a turn on it but I don’t hope to be using one again any time soon!

AK-47

One of our group with an AK-47

AK-47 impact

An AK-47 hitting the end of the range

Pistol time

Pistol time

M-4

Next was an M-4

M-16

Then it was on to an M-16

Shotgun

Finally it was a shotgun

AK-47 target

Apparently my AK-47 shooting is rather accurate!

On the way back the minibus driver dropped us in the city so we could have lunch and stock up on souvenirs (or ‘tat’ as most of the group had started to call it). We decided that the area around St Andrew’s Church would be a good place to start as we saw loads of souvenir stands there the other day and it was close to the old town that we also wanted to visit.

We spent some time checking out all of the souvenir stalls before slowly making our way down towards the old town. The road down the hill was still lined with stalls but the majority of the better ones were up the top where we started. We were all starting to get pretty hungry by this point so decided to grab something to eat at a restaurant half way down the hill which had a nice terrace overlooking the street. A bit stereotypical but I decided to have Chicken Kiev and while it was very different to what we have back in The UK it was really nice.

Souvenirs

Lots of souvenirs were available

Walking around Kiev

Walking towards the old town

Chicken Kiev

Eating Chicken Kiev

Lunch time

Looking out from the restaurant

When we got to the bottom of the hill we spent a little time exploring the old town but it was starting to get a little late in the afternoon so we made our way towards the Funicular that travels from the old town up to the top of the hill. We spent a long time trying to find it as it was further away than we thought but a couple of locals helped point us in the right direction. It’s right on the main road though so if you plan to use this to get back to the city centre just head up the hill out of the old town along the main road and it’s on your right you can’t miss it.

The views from the Funicular weren’t as spectacular as we hoped as the trees were in the way but it was incredibly cheap (the equivalent of 15p) and took us back up to the back of St Michael’s in no time. We relaxed up in the park taking photos for a little while before deciding to head back to the hotel ready for our night on the town. There were 5 of us so it would have been too many for one taxi so I decided to make my own way back on foot as I was in the mood for exploring on my own anyway.

Old Kiev

The Old Town

The Funicular

The entrance to the Funicular

Kiev Funicular

This is the Funicular in Kiev

I said my goodbyes to the group and made my way back to the hotel via St Sofia’s Cathedral and then some of the back roads that ran parallel to the Khreshchatyk street to get a sense of what Kiev is like away from the main roads that tourists use. I took some great photos along the way and eventually got back to regular surroundings in the vicinity of the Lenin statue.

Statue in Kiev

Walking back to the hotel

Kiev Independence Square

Independence Square

Walking around Kiev

Khreschatyk Street is the main street in Kiev

Time for a quick refresh in my room before meeting the others down in the hotel bar. We had found a Ukraininan restaurant down the road from the hotel that served traditional foods with live music and homemade drinks so decided this would be a great place for a final group meal. We were right in some aspects, but how wrong we were in others.

This is a view of the Hotel Rus

Our hotel

Hotel Rus

The hotel bar / restaurant outside on the terrace

The restaurant, called Shinok, had a great atmosphere. We were greeted with homemade flavoured vodka when we arrived before being shown to our seats. There was a live folk band playing in the room next door which helped the atmosphere and the staff were really friendly. We couldn’t decide what to have as a starter so the waiter persuaded us to try some sharing plates in the centre of the table. The sharers were really nice, as was my veal main course, but we had a nasty surprise when the bill arrived. What we didn’t realise was how expensive the sharers or homemade drinks we were served at regular intervals were and several of us didn’t have enough money to cover our share. Luckily between us we had enough, and I had just enough to cover everything, but it meant that we had to walk the 2km back to the hotel. It provided a great chance to see more of the city and get away from a couple of people who kicked up over the price of the meal plus a few other things.

Music Time

Entertainment at the final meal

Dinner Time

Dinner for me. It was yummy 🙂

Kiev by night

Kiev by night from my room

I’m back in my room now and have just finished packing for the flight back to London tomorrow. We need to leave fairly early so I’m not able to do my usual last minute panic packing that tends to happen every time. Sometimes I even surprise myself!

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A long day in Kiev

June 18th, 2013 No comments

After a great buffet breakfast this morning we all met downstairs in the hotel lobby ready to head out for our tour of Kiev. Our first stop was St Michael’s Monastery, which is one of the sights you see in all the photos of Kiev, and within a few minutes of entering I was sorry that I had forgotten to pack sun cream in my bag for the day. It’s very hot out today! The grounds of the monastery are lovely and we spent some time looking around the grounds within the walls being told all about the history of the location. After looking around the grounds we entered the Cathedral that’s within the complex and were presented with some beautiful sights – many, many lovely statues, murals, paintings and photo opportunities including monks praying. However we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the building which was a shame – some of our group did but I didn’t want to break the rules.

Statues in Kiev

Statues outside the Cathedral

St Michael's Cathedral

St Michael’s Cathedral

Outside the monastery there is a memorial board to the Ukrainian Genocide outside in both English and Ukrainian so after visiting the complex we were given some information about the events that were committed. I must admit the Ukrainian Genocide isn’t an event that I had heard about but it was very shocking to hear about and brought back sad memories of visiting the Rwanda Genocide Memorial a few years ago. We also saw the statue of Princess Olga in the square before heading down the road, past the British Embassy, to St Andrew’s Church.

We didn’t have the opportunity to see inside St Andrew’s Church unfortunately as it wasn’t on the itinerary but one thing you notice when visiting old Soviet countries is how beautifully decorated and ornate the religious buildings are. The care and skill that must have gone into the domes and the ornate work on the outside almost puts some of the buildings in the west to shame!

Memorial to the Ukrainian Genocide

Memorial to the Ukrainian Genocide

St Andrew's

St Andrew’s Cathedral

In the UK for the past week it has been quite cold so it’s been a nice relief to have full summer weather while in Kiev – I believe the temperature today was above 30. However by the time we reached the area of St Andrew’s Church the heat was starting to get to us and we had all mostly run out of water. Luckily this area is tourist central so in addition to tens of souvenir stalls there are also stalls where you can by snacks and refrigerated drinks. We stocked up on a couple of litres of water each and then made our way towards the National Museum of Ukraine.

The museum was another sight which unfortunately wasn’t on our list of places we were due to visit but our guide wanted to take us here to show us some old hieroglyphs that had been engraved into some stone slabs in the museum grounds, and also to allow us to see a good view over the city. I’m glad she brought us here as it was a good view.

Walking around Kiev

Walking around the museum grounds

Hieroglyphs

Ancient Hieroglyphs in Kiev

The old Linden Tree

The old Linden Tree

We spent a little time in the museum grounds enjoying the sunshine before it was time to head back to our minibus to head down to the Chernobyl Museum. On the way we stopped at a very old Linden Tree which is described by legend as the oldest tree in Kiev. The age of the tree seems to vary depending on which account you read but you could tell it was indeed very ancient.

The Chernobyl Museum was a very moving experience. It meant even more as we are due to visit Chernobyl tomorrow but I highly recommend a visit here to anybody that travels to Kiev. The museum itself is fairly cheap to enter, although it was included in our tour, and we had to pay an extra token payment to be allowed to take photos. All of the exhibits are in Ukrainian, as was the tour we were given, but our guide translated everything for us. We spent some time looking at the museum and saw so many exhibits detailing the history of the plant, the build-up to the accident, information about the accident itself, the aftermath and the cleanup process. We also saw a lot of personal items belonging to the people that were first on the scene including radiation suits, uniforms, posthumously-given medals, letters home to families and much more. I can’t recommend this place high enough if you are in any way curious about learning more about the disaster.

Chernobyl Trucks

Trucks outside the Chernobyl Museum

Chernobyl Medals

Medals given to the people who died trying to contain Chernobyl

Inside the Chernobyl Museum

Inside the Chernobyl Museum

Lost towns

Signs for the towns lost after Chernobyl

Mutant

Mutated animal

Lunch time!

Lunch in Kiev

The museum seems a little hidden away as it’s down a side road in the old town so make sure you know where you’re going before trying to find it – or just ask a local! We relaxed outside the museum for a bit before being taken to lunch in a very surreal restaurant (translation of the name is moonshine) which sounded as though it was full of budgies! The food was nice but very weird, as were the drinks, but I enjoyed the atmosphere.

Kiev is famous for the Cave Monastery and this was our next stop of the day. After arriving, and drinking most of the water that we had bought by this point, we were informed that regulations meant we had to have a guide from the monastery show us around so we waited for a little while and took photos. The guide that arrived was a very friendly person who spoke perfect English but you could tell everything she said was scripted compared to most tour guides who give you a personal experience. For example the phrase “please take note of the magnificent stone work on the opposing side of the church”.

We were shown around quite a few buildings in the monastery including an old church, an old church bell, a cathedral and several other sites, the names of which I can’t remember, before our tour ended at an amazing viewpoint overlooking Kiev. By this time our brains were in overload – partly because of the heat of the day and partly due to the monotonous script that we had been told for over an hour. Don’t get me wrong the guide was very knowledgeable and the guided tour was well worth it but we were glad to be able to move on to the caves on our own.

The caves that form part of the monastic complex are famous for housing the mummified remains of monks, saints and other people of note from the history of the monastery in or very close to the caved rooms where they lived their lives. To be able to enter you have to hold a candle between your first and second fingers, with the palm facing up, and women must either wear dresses or the robes provided. It’s also advisable that you aren’t claustrophobic due to the cramped conditions although when you’re inside you really get a sense of how isolated the monks must have felt living in the caves for their whole lives away from the sun. As a result of their devotion the caves are a sight of pilgrimage for many so the crowds can sometimes build up. We were fairly lucky when we toured as the crowds were fairly low.

Cave Monastery

Walking around the Cave Monastery complex

Kiev

A view of Kiev from the Cave Monastery

Monastery grounds

The grounds of the Cave Monastery

We were all fairly exhausted by the time the tour of the monastic complex was over but there was still one more sight to see – the Great Patriotic War Museum. The Great Patriotic War is better known as World War 2 in the west but it is known by this term in Ukraine due to the struggle against the oppression of the Ukrainian way of life that formed the major battle in this part of Europe.

The museum is away from the roads and next to the big statue that you can see from all over the city so it was a bit of a walk to get to. On the way we walked past the Afghan War Museum and their outdoor exhibits that included tanks, rocket launchers and helicopters before passing sculptures depicting the struggle to defend the Ukrainian way of life which reminded me of some of the sights I saw in Pyongyang a few years ago.

According to our guide tomorrow is the passing out day for the local military cadets so in the parade ground directly outside the museum we were treated to a sight of hundreds of smartly dressed and uniformed soldiers getting ready for a dress rehearsal for the ceremony.

The war museum housed a wealth of artefacts from all aspects of World War 2 and our guide was incredibly informative in telling us everything that we needed to know. Until today I had never visited a World War 2 museum, unless you count Anne Frank’s House, and so some of the things I saw were a bit of a shock. In addition to the usual military hardware we also saw gallows from a concentration camp, gloves made out of human skin, a bone crushing machine and clothing of people that were executed by the Nazi regime. It was a very moving experience and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about every aspect of the war but unfortunately we only had time to see about 2/3 of the rooms in detail before the museum closed and we had to leave. It’s a shame we didn’t have a chance to spend more time there as it was huge and incredibly well presented – make sure you visit when in the city or you’ll miss out on something special, in a sombre way.

Kiev Motherland Monument

The Motherland Monument

The Great Patriotic War Museum

The exterial of the Great Patriotic War Museum

Flamethrower

A flamethrower at the museum

A Bone Crusher

A bone crusher at the museum

A careful squeeze around the outside of the military parade and it was back to the minibus for the ride back to our hotel for a rest and shower. Earlier on in the day a few of us decided that we were going to head into town to have a meal together but unfortunately it took us a long time to find anywhere that was suitable to eat – everything was either overpriced or generic TGI Fridays etc. After probably 45 minutes of looking around we ended up wandering up a side road off Khreshcatyck Street where we found a lovely Bavarian restaurant which served everything from German beer to Schnitzel and even Apple Strudel. I ordered Chicken with Almond Sauce followed by the strudel and it was absolutely beautiful so hopefully we’ll be back here again later on in the trip after getting back from Chernobyl.

Dinner in Kiev

“Chicken under the Almond Sauce”

I finished the meal off with a Tequila Sunrise before saying goodbye to the group and wandering around the city for my own taking in the atmosphere for a bit. I like the support of being in a group while travelling but I also need the freedom of being able to explore and do my own thing so spent maybe an hour walking around taking photos, sitting in the square with a drink and generally people watching before making my way back to the hotel.

A few people were still in the bar so I had a quick drink with them before returning to my room. It’s pretty late now and we’re due to head off to Chernobyl at 8.30 tomorrow so hopefully I’ll sleep well.

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