Monday, October 20, 2014

My 5 Favourite Places in Colombia

5 Favourite Places in Colombia | Todd's Travels

You may have noticed that I've had quite a lot of time for reflection recently.

And I've been in a sort-of melodramatic (completely unnecessary) existential quarter life crisis (as much as I cringe to use the term).

But I've finally made a decision.

I'm going back to Colombia in February and nothing will stop me from doing so.

I've raved about it so much, craved going back so much and talked to anybody who will give me 5 minutes about how much I love the place so much that it seemed to make sense.

Obviously I've not bought the ticket yet but it's on the cards as soon as I've saved up enough money.

Anyhoo, it seemed natural, as I've finally made a decision, that I should talk about my 5 favourite places in Colombia (so far).

And whilst I may not have explored every corner of Colombia yet, whittling it down to 5 destinations was a hard task.

But despite my chronic indecisiveness, I did it so here they are, my favourite destinations in Colombia.


1. Salento
Salento, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels.
Salento is one of my favourite places to spend a weekend trip. Slap bang in the middle of the Coffee Triangle, you could quite easily spend a weekend wandering through the quaint, colourful town going from café to café. But then you'd miss out on Valle de Cocora (see below) and the nearby coffee farms. Café-hopping was one of my favourite activities so for the best coffee shops, my personal favourites were Jesús Martín, which has the best cake selection (priorities) as well as excellent coffee (it goes without saying) and El Tejadito de Salento, which often has live music from local musicians.

Guatapé
Guatapé, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels
Another colourful example of Colombia's pueblos, Guatapé warrants at least a day trip. The highlight is of course climbing up all 649 steps up La Piedra del Peñol to be treated with views at the top such as the above, well worth the exertion. But don't forget to explore the brightly painted town too, it's worth a wander.

3. Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira
Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels
It's a trek to get here (from Palomino it was a bus to Riohacha, then a shared taxi to Uribia, then a jeep to Cabo de la Vela) but the mammoth journey is instantly forgotten when you arrive.  It's back to basics here with limited electricity and little running water but you can live it up with cheap seafood (lobster for breakfast anyone?) and incredible landscapes such as El Pilon de Azucar, you won't find anywhere else like it in Colombia.
 
4. Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora, Colombia. My 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels.
If you're going to do any walk in Colombia, the Valle de Cocora trek has to be it. Get there early (jeeps leave Salento from half 6ish onwards) to ensure the best weather and be prepared to feel tiny as you walk amongst the giant wax palm trees.

5. Medellín
Medellín, Colombia. 5 favourite places in Colombia | Todd's Travels
My home from home, Medellín is one of my favourite cities in the world. It's a thriving, innovative, crazy and it's so hard to put into words how much I love the place. Simply put, it's incredible, very liveable and I can't wait to go back.

Now, it's time to decide which places I need to go to this time round. Should I give Bogotá another chance? Will this time be the time I finally do La Ciudad Perdida trek? Or will I venture to Chocó to see humpback whales in their own stomping ground?

Where are your favourite places in Colombia? Do you have any suggestions where I should go next time?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to keep up your running routine when travelling

Maintain exercise routine whilst on the road | Todd's Travels

I'm a bit of a running freak. I always have been. I was that massive keeno who could not wait until school's annual cross-country. I just loved the mud, the cold, bitter weather and of course, THE MASSIVE HILLS. Running has always been an integral part of my week.

I run because I want to stay healthy. I run because heck, I'm vain and want to look and feel good in a bikini/birthday suit (cheeky). I run because every now and then, I need to clear my head and and those feel-good endorphins are a nice side effect too.

Running is actually my idea of fun and I even travelled to Nice for a casual half marathon (the lovely scenery and old town weren't bad either).

This isn't even said with a hint of irony, I kid you not.

But when I toddled off on my gap year, I let my exercise routine slide - big time. And when I returned, albeit happy and tanned and brimming full of memories to brag about to all my nearest and dearest, I came back with a bit of extra baggage. None of my clothes fit, I avoided being in any photos and the post-travel blues hit me hard there and then.

When I went off travelling at the end of my year abroad, I was defiant I wouldn't have a repeat performance. Whilst I enjoyed the local treats, various ice cream breaks and may have indulged in some of the local licors, I managed to keep up my running routine. And with some of my handy tips, hopefully you will be able too.

First things first
I may sound like a massive fun sponge but safety first. Have you seen people out running? Are there parks nearby or are there outdoor gyms (the best thing ever for a budget traveller)? If in doubt, ask at your accommodation to find out if it's safe or not to dash out for a run.

Find your route
If you see people out and about running, find out where they go. Like said before, parks are usually a runner's paradise so see if there are any nearby. Beaches are also great running tracks plus if you run barefoot on the sand, it's a more intense workout meaning more calories burnt off.

Use apps and social media
Especially if you're travelling solo, meeting for a cheeky jog is a great way to see the city as well as meet people. Meetup is great for finding running meetups and if you're stuck finding running routes, find other runner's routes at MapMyRun.

Make time to run
As sacrilegious as it sounds, making time to get up a bit earlier and getting your running stuff ready the night before sets you up to run. It's surprisingly easy when you're in a non air-conditioned room in a tropical climate, no lie-ins past 8am for you. But if you can't bring yourself to get up early, why not try a sunset run instead? You get to enjoy the sight of the sun setting on another day as well as having the chance to clear your head whilst out on a jog.

What are your top tips to keeping up your running routine when abroad?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Top 5 destinations to go back to sooner rather than later



There are certain places I have been to, that whilst I've had a good time and I love to travel, I would not be devastated if I didn't go back there ever again.

But then there are some that you fall hook, line and sinker in love with and you know you have unfinished business. So when I was nominated by Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds (check it ouuuuut) to give my Booked.net - Top Destinations to Go There, it got me thinking.

I share the same apprehension as Neil - you don't want to go back and find things aren't quite the same. Things will have changed, the same people may not be there or you could have poor luck and it will all go tits up. The problem with returning is that it may ruin those lovely, happy memories first time round.

But there's that niggling 'what if' that is constantly on my mind especially when it comes to travel.

What if it's even better? What if I love it even more? And the biggie, what if I want to move there? 

And I'm all about the here and now - or at least as much as my bank balance permits - so there is no better time than the present to head back and refresh your memory as to why you loved it so much first time round.

Trying to be an eternal optimist and what not.

Enough of my nattering on (as per) here are those 5 top places that are at the top of my to-go-to list:

Copenhagen

It may have something to do with the fact that I have a slight obsession with Scandinavian crime dramas (The Bridge anyone?) but I absolutely loved my time in Copenhagen. It's the least capital city capital city I've ever been to, there was less of the usual passive-agressiveness you find in a city (apart from in the bike lane) and everyone seemed to exude an understated chicness that made me so jealous - it may have been to do with the fact that EVERYONE IS SO PAINFULLY BEAUTIFUL - and to top it all off, they were bloody lovely too. I could go on but one thing I do know is that I'm not finished with Copenhagen yet.

Rio de Janeiro


I think I was a bit too young for Rio last time round, I went there on my gap year, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and naive 18 year old, and whilst I loved my time there, I think I was intimidated by how big and bright and bold and crazy everything was (I was there during Carnaval, may explain it). This time round, I'm ready. Ding ding round two.

St Petersburg

Hanging out with Putin's interpreter

Many a moon ago, I learnt Russian at school and the lucky beggars that we were, we went on a school trip to Moscow and St Petersburg. We saw the sites, may have slightly overindulged on the cheapest vodka we could lay our hands on and casually had PUTIN'S interpreter as a tour guide (true story). Moscow I wasn't overly enamored with but St Petersburg was another story and I would love, love, love to brush up my rusty Russian and head back to St. Petersburg in the summer for the White Nights.

Edinburgh


The Fringe Festival is basically my family's annual pilgrimage and with good reason, there is no place like it. The feel-good atmosphere is everywhere, the rain is embraced and everywhere you go, there is passion, inspiration and talent (some places more than others). Even when it's not festival time, Edinburgh is a great day or weekend trip year round and I would love to go to Hogmanay for a good old-fashioned knees-up to see the year in too.

And of course...

Colombia


Out of all the places in the world, Colombia is the one place that I yearn to go back to and have the most apprehension about returning to in equal measures. I could talk until the cows come home about how much I love Colombia but I will save you the spiel. Colombia is effectively my travel version of 'The One' and the fact that if things aren't quite the same, the break up could be messy. Regardless, it's a risk I am more than willing to take and furiously saving up all my hard-earned pennies to return.

I pass on the baton to...

Alex at Backpacking Brunette

Ed at Rexy Edventures

Rebecca at Creative Nomad

Tom at Journey Tom

Lizzy at Nomad Notebook

Get cracking lads and lasses.

Now the floor is yours, where are your top 5 destinations?

Friday, September 26, 2014

The many benefits of learning a foreign language

Image via Gina

Happy European Day of Languages!

I'm always nattering on to friends, family, anyone will listen, about how amazing learning a foreign language is but I feel it's been a much-neglected topic on the blog. And what better time to right that wrong than European Day of Languages.

It is such a massive bugbear of mine when people tell me that studying languages is a waste of time and "you might as well just go abroad for a year and learn it there".

I totally understand the logic behind the latter point but for the majority of us, learning a language in its native home is quite unfeasible. And don't even get me started on the first point - learning a language is in no way, shape or form a waste of time.

This is particularly a mentality shared in the English-speaking world and I really wish I could somehow get on my soapbox (as per), have a massive audience and change all these misconceived perceptions.

Being able to talk to someone in their own language trascends so many barriers. It gives you a direct insight into a history, a culture, its people, allowing you to understand why people are the way they are. My great international relations idea is that politicians on the international stage should do away with the interpretors and try negotiating amongst themselves, without any middle men.

Obviously, this is why I'm not involved in politics, but maybe if they take down the linguistic barriers that they themselves put up, negotiations would take an interesting turn (although, there would probably be a hella lot of mistranslations).

But learning languages is not just about communication, it is that and so much more.

It's the process of problem solving that comes with languages on a daily basis. Encountering language barriers and trying to overcome them gives your brain a new challenge to deal with and an opportunity to solve it in different and creative ways.

Ironic coming from me but learning a language sharpens your decision-making. Making snap, split-second decisions are easier when you've had to contend with deciding whether a verb should be in the imperfect or preterite, all whilst having a casual conversation with the shopkeeper.

Weirdly, you get to know yourself better. Now I'm not about to rattle off the whole 'finding yourself' malarky but learning another language brings out parts of your personality you didn't know you had. This may make me sound completely crackers but I swear I am a lot more blunt in French and even louder and more confident in Spanish.

Learning languages make you smarter, or at least means you can ace certain rounds of University Challenge. French nouns that have different meanings in the masculine and feminine form COME AT ME.

You have that awkward "Weird/Random Fact about Me" icebreaker sorted. 

Speaking of which is it just me or are multilingual people just instantly more sexy?

But in all seriousness, learning a foreign language helps you master your own language. There is so much I didn't have a clue about in my own native tongue that thanks to learning other languages, I had that lightbulb moment everyone talks about. Because if you're going to nail any language, it may as well be the one you're born with.

Have I missed off any benefits of learning languages? Any language learning hacks?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn: 5 favourite places in Europe


Image via Yoshikazu Takada

"Autumn Days, when the grass is jewelled and the skin inside a chestnut shell," Did anyone else sing that at school?

Just me?

Anyhoo, there is way too much hype about Pumpkin Spice Lattes for my liking and mince pies and other festive memorabilia are already in the shops - there's only one thing for it, Autumn is coming (cue Game of Thrones music).

Those are my only two gripes about Autumn.

Other than that, I absolutely love it. Whilst I usually crave sunnier climes, I do miss having seasons like in the UK when I'm away.

It's the fresh crispness in the morning, the excuse to buy a new wardrobe (hello bobble hats) and the extra consumption of calories under the guise of wrapping up warm, the well-intentioned yearning for a walk in the country and the mounds upon mounds of fiery-coloured leaves that just beg to be kicked up in the air.

And I think no continent does it quite like Europe - cue lots of angry Americans and Canadians - so to celebrate the turning of colours and the nights drawing in, I've decided to compile a list of the places I think come alive in time for Autumn.

Dresden


Photo via kadege59

Shout out to my ancestral home (Grandpa Belger hailed from Dresden) I have only ever been in the summer. But, I've decided Germany really comes into play when Autumn comes around. Dresden is the not as painfully hipster younger brother of Berlin and it is just such a cool little city. To be honest, it's a worth a visit year-round. Go and see for yourself.

Prague


Photo via Ben Jeffrey

Not far away from Dresden is another city that blooms in autumn now that the summer hoards have been and gone, you can enjoy the city with less of the crowds. When you need to warm up, you can dive inside and sample one of the many Czech beers or hearty, standard meat and potato meal.

Paris



Just go to Paris whenever it's a perennial favourite. Go for a wander in Bois de Boulogne, Parc aux Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris is made for autumn walks. The streets start being dominated by barrels roasting chestnuts, it's the smell of Autumn.

Málaga



Massively cheating as Málaga barely gets autumn when the rest of us are in the midst of winter, but if you want to hold on to summer for a little bit longer, Málaga is the destination. I've booked a week there start of October so I'm hoping the sun stays around for a bit longer.

Northumberland



I'm so biased it hurts but Northumberland has to be one of the best places for autumn. It's full of ideal walks in the country, there are large, encompassing landscapes like the above and the colours, the variety of burnt reds and rich browns and amber yellows is incredible. Obviously, it's beautiful year round but Autumn is my favourite season in Northumberland.

Where are your favourite places for Autumn?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Feliz Día de Amor y Amistad: Travelling Friendships



I'm quite a Grinch when it comes to Valentine's Day - or most festivities to be honest - I just despise it. But for some reason, I can totally get behind Día de Amor y Amistad, which is essentially the Latin American equivalent with a cheeky bit of friendship thrown in for the hell of it.

As sappy as it sounds, such an occasion gives time to reflect on your own friendships and relationships. Now, I can't really reflect much on relationships, I am admittedly a relationship dunce, but I luckily am able to do so about my amazing, crazy and inspiring circle of friends.

A lot of which I can be grateful for, thanks to travel.

In a way travelling friendships can be likened to relationships, they grow intensely in a short period of time as you spend every breathing moment with them.

There are the one night stands - you've just overlapped for one day before you go off and do your own thing. You are new-found best friends, until you have to jet off again and never hear from each other again.


Then there are the slow burners (read:two weeks tops), where you find yourself following the same path with someone else. There is no instant connection like the above example but it's a friendship all the same, in some ways on a more profound level. You keep in touch a while after but then it all fizzles out eventually.


There's the 'one(s)'. They are your kindred spirits, you're on the same page about how you want to travel and life itself, all whilst having wild, raucous fun doing so. People ask how long you've known each other because you finish each other's sentences and have your annoying in-jokes, that NO ONE else understands (you had to be there). It's a hard good-bye, it will be emotional, there will no doubt be tears but bear this in mind, you will stay in touch for many years to come.


And then there's the deal-breaker: the one you were friends with before. It's make-or-break whether you'll get though unscathed, but if you do, it will only make your friendship stronger (massive cliché alert).

Friends come and go in our lives and we have different friends for different reasons: they're our party animal partners, our support network, our drown-our-sorrows helpers, our agony aunt/uncles and so much more. Whilst, it is, of course, something I'm grateful for, it often goes unacknowledged and it's high time that changed.

Feliz Día de Amor y Amistad! Are you celebrating today?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The two types of travellers I hate in Colombia



Normally anything Colombia-related would result in me launching into a big, epic speech about how much I love the place, how much I wish I actually was Colombian and how much I would love to be back. Sometimes I swear I could write a sonnet about my love for the place, it is that deep. OK, maybe taking it a tad bit too far, but long story short, Colombia is the one.

However, this time is quite different.

I've already started this week off with a bit of a rant so I thought I would start as I mean to go and launch into an even bigger rant.

As always, 99.9% of travellers in Colombia are sound, whilst they may not agree with certain cultural differences, they are polite and respectful and do the world of good for the foreigner stereotype in Colombia. In fact, the massive majority of people I met throughout my travels in Colombia were spot on *enthusiastic wave to everyone*.

But then there are the bad eggs, the ignorant idiots, which you have to save yourself from saying every expletive under the sun about because they undo all the good work others have done to make Colombians think that gringos are all big, fat, gigantic arse holes.

There are the 'off-the-beaten track' show-offs, who will no doubt turn their nose up at your travels and have to one-up all your travel stories.

Then there's the ones who complain loudly when things don't quite go as they would back home, speaking really loudly in English (because NO ONE can speak English) and constantly drawing attention to their obnoxious self or similarly the ones who don't want to try anything remotely foreign and stick to what they know.

From my experience, Colombia seems in particular attract these unsavoury types and there are two particularly prevalent types that I cannot stand. So time to vent some much needed steam:

The international love 'lothario'

Usually spotted obnoxiously talking in loud English and unable to speak a word of Spanish, just to emphasise the fact that he is foreign even further, this guy has come to Colombia with one intention and one intention only: to get laid. Having heard of the legend of how beautiful Colombian women are (which is true), these types are sick of ungrateful women from home that won't give them respect - because they automatically deserve it - and to top it all off, women back home are pig-ugly and frigid too.

What an eligible bachelor.

They will go on to brag about the amount of women they have hanging off their arm and because of their laddish bravado, boast about their sexual antics unashamedly too, which no doubt, will have been elaborated on and embellished greatly.

These are also the type that are shocked, complaining in great detail when women, who initially feigned interest, actually are interested in them for their money despite having spent most of their time together, flashing his cash and showing off his riches. Granted, there is a cultural difference between the West and Colombia with regards to the dating game, where in Colombia the man is expected to pay for everything. But splashing your cash and showering the girl with over-the-top gifts is going to attract certain types - that probably aren't solely interested in your dazzling personality.

But here is a golden nugget of advice for these so-called 'international players' (bleurgh), how about treating a lady with a little bit of respect, you know like you should be anyway, take time to get to know her and woo the fine lady slowly but surely with your great self and maybe your success rate will soar through the roof?

Just a thought.

The 'live fast, die young' type

These 'edgy' crazy kids have come to Colombia because, you know, it's just so dangerous and crazy to be there. They're here to give it large and will have no doubt hilariously joked that they're here to become a mafioso (wrong country) and run a drug cartel, which will have been said in front of Colombians who will have probably flinched at the brash comment. They're probably so culturally unaware that they're ignorant to the fact that it's a massive social taboo to mention drugs.

You've probably not been talking to them for long before you're asked the question every new-found friends wishes to hear uttered, "Got any coke?"

The foundation of every great friendship, no?

These are also the types who plead ignorance when they find themselves in a little bit of a pickle with their new mate, the local drug dealer, despite having been on the Pablo Escobar tour. Falling on deaf ears, evidently.

And let's not even get started on the fact that cocaine has been at the heart of Colombia's social problems. I'm not holier-than-thou and I'm not the voice of moral conscience but considering, it has marred this beautiful country for far too many years, it's time to consider our role in Colombia's conflict.

And surely, it's a lot more hassle than it's worth. Get some guaro down your neck and partaking in a cheeky bit of Colombian rumba is more than enough ample fun.

Is there any particular type of traveller you hate? What do you think, have I got it completely wrong about the types of travellers Colombia attracts?