Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Which is the best?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Which is the best?

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai: the ancient Siamese cities:  which one is the best?

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If you don’t have time to visit both of the ancient Siamese cities of Sukhothai or Ayutthaya this article may help you to decide which one is the best or you could get a copy of the Lonely Planet Guidebook for Thailand (click here for the latest version).  Both Ayutthaya and Sukhothai lie to the north of Bangkok, each was once the capital city and both are brimming with ruins.

Sukhothai is older than Ayutthaya and was once the original capital city of Siam (the original name of Thailand).  The city was abandoned and the population were forcibly relocated south to Ayutthaya in 1583 after a battle, a Burmese invasion and an earthquake.  I visited them in reverse order as I made my way north up through Thailand.


Ayutthaya – A UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site


The city of Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand for 417 years (after Sukhothai) and before the political power was transferred to Bangkok and it sprawls out, scattered with ancient ruins and temples.  The modern buildings in the town have been built right up to the edges of the rusty red bricks and the collapsed spires of the ancient city and an enormous central area is given over to grassy parkland that is peppered with relics.

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 when the Thais were forced south from their previous capital in Sukhothai and it lasted as the capital until 1767 when the Burmese invaded and destroyed much of it. In the 17th century it ranked in the Top 16 cities in the world (how have I never heard of it before now?) and it was renowned as a centre of commercial prosperity, international trade and harmony; however what I find astounding is that 1 million people lived there at the height of its power.

It is now quite rightly listed as a UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site and, I repeat, how on earth had I never heard of it before? The old part of the city is bordered by 3 rivers which almost form an island and the monuments and the ruins lie a deceptively large distance apart.  It’s a good idea to hire a bicycle or to tackle the sights over several days in a series of bite-sized chunks, but there’s plenty to see and to do here apart from the old temples.

Click here to compare the current grandeur of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand to the ancient cities.


Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?

What did I see and do in Ayutthaya?

I hired a bike from my Ayutthaya hostel and my first port of call was to the very well laid out Ayutthaya Tourism Centre.  Here I collected a decent map and where I read the informative display boards that explained about the history, the geography, the art and the culture of the city.  I learnt about how and why Ayutthaya deserves its place as a UNESCO Listed Cultural Heritage Site and I also got information on some traditional homestays although sadly I didn’t have enough time to stay in any of them.

Wat Ratchaburana

This was one of the largest complexes inside the park and I felt like Indiana Jones as I climbed up into one of the towers – and then clambered down inside narrow stone steps to the bottom.  I held my breath as it fleetingly crossed my mind that if someone chose to close the hatch at the top I could be there forever until I had turned into nothing but dust – but seeing the ancient murals on a tiny patch of ceiling was worth the slight trauma, as was the special feeling of having the whole place to myself.

Wat Mahathat

Among the ruins of this particular temple is the much photographed head that was caught up in the roots of tree a long time ago and is now bound there forever.  I actually hunted around for ages until I gave in and I asked somebody who laughed and said ‘just find the crowd’.  And I turned a corner and there was a huddle of people all jostling for the best picture of it.  As a mark of respect you should try to avoid standing over a Buddha image so everybody was squatting to get their photos taken with the stone head.

Buddha head in Ayutthaya

Elephant rides

There is a well trampled route – sadly along the side of the main highway – where weary looking elephants ferry tourists along in the dusty heat.  I have to confess to once riding an elephant in India, although I would never do that now that I am aware of the damage that it can do to these huge animals. The training methods are usually based on cruelty and fear – but not withstanding that, it seems so wrong to walk animals along hard pavements with lorries and cars just inches from them and the pollution pumping out, not to mention the sharp hooks that get stuck into their heads by some of the mahoots.

You really shouldn’t buy into this depressing part of the tourist trade; but for now, until more tourists boycott them the elephants are a part of the Ayutthaya tourist scene.

Riding elephants in Ayutthaya

 River Trip

Talking to Annika and Robin from the UK who were staying at my Ayutthaya hostel I learned about the river trip and this was something that I was really pleased to do.  Early one evening a small group of us were ferried around the rivers and canal systems that circle the old city of Ayutthaya for a couple of hours.  This trip included short stops at three very impressive sights.

We visited

  • Wat Phananchoeng with the most massive golden Buddha ever
  • Wat Phuttaisawan with its weird cockerel statues and
  • Wat Chai Watthanaram where we wandered among the ruins as the setting sun showed off dark silhouettes of half broken spires and domes against the night sky
sunset view from the river at Ayutthaya

The Chao Sam Phraya National Museum

This museum had some interesting pieces in it with more Buddha images than you could shake a stick at – but the best bits were the gold and jewelled treasures in the special rooms upstairs.  There was an impressively huge bronze Buddha head and many intricate wooden carvings as well as loads of other stuff, although disappointingly there wasn’t much information in any language other than Thai.

The Toy Museum

Now this museum was just bizarre.  It had a huge collection of toys BUT some would be hard pressed to be called toys. They were grouped together in dusty clusters with, as far as I could see, no thought given to themes or historic relevance. There were cabinets full of plastic pieces such as you might get with a fast food burger meal, and just not one example of each, but hundreds.  There was a definite robot theme going on and some very battered dolls, as well as knives (toys?) pictures and, well, just strange stuff.  It was odd but for entertainment and giggle value alone it was well worth the admission price. You can still get something like these classic robots on Amazon – click here for some examples if you want to bring back some distant childhood memories!

robots in the toy museum at Ayutthaya

The Japanese Village

Ayutthaya was a thriving port and back in the days when it was the capital city the people of Ayutthaya welcomed traders of all nationalities – although they were not permitted to settle inside the old town walls.  Several villages were established outside the city perimeter – among them the Japanese, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and the French.  I visited the Japanese Village which had a small information centre and a riverside garden but to be honest, not much else, although I was told that the garden is still trying to recover following devastating floods a couple of years ago.


Ayutthaya lies to the north of Bangkok and it was once one of the world’s most prosperous cities.  It ranked in the Top 16 Cities of the World in the 17th century when it contained 3 palaces and many other royal buildings and important temples.

I travelled the five hours to Ayutthaya by bus from the western city of Kanchanaburi (read that article here): home to the famous bridge (over the River Kwai), the Erewan waterfalls and Hellfire Pass. Ayutthaya was the only city in Thailand where I was warned not to go out alone after dark – not because of robbers but because of the packs of feral dogs.  Lying comatose during the heat of the day, these sleepy looking mongrels wake up and prowl the streets at night.  Like something out of a futuristic movie they follow you, circle around you and generally freak you out.  They have been known to attack people when the streets are deserted, and later lying in bed you hear the packs howl and call to each other like wolves. These dogs are no reason not to go to Ayutthaya though – all in all, it is a great city full of history and it gives you more than a glimpse into a past life.


I took the five hour bus from Ayutthaya to Sukhothai  and I spent a couple of nights here so that I could visit the city and compare it to Ayutthaya. I stayed on the outskirts of the modern town in a tiny cell-like room in a little guesthouse which had nothing much going for it apart from having a real wood fired Italian pizza oven in the garden, where the Russian owner made excellent pizzas and his Thai wife made superb pasta dishes and coconut ice cream.

Sukhothai is older than Ayutthaya and unlike Ayutthaya which has the old and the modern side by side, in Sukhothai the older ruins stand totally separate and are a 20 minute songthaew ride (open sided truck with bench seats in the back) along the highway. It was perfectly safe to do this trio by myself and once at the gates to the heritage area I picked up my map, hired a bicycle and I paid my entrance fee into the main site.

Sukhothai vs Ayutthaya - how can you choose?

There are 5 mains sites in the historical park – the central site, and areas ringing it to the north, south, east and the west where each commands its own entrance fee.  The major ruins are clustered in the centre and were once palaces, temples, and administration centres when Sukhothai was at the hub of the country. The ruins bear a similarity but are different to those in the southern capital at Ayutthaya; these are from an older era, but it is the location which sets them apart. Huge grassy fields are dotted with copses of trees around lakes and streams.

You can see any number of stone elephants, gigantic Buddhas and chedis and stupas. The pace is unhurried as people cycle around the paths and wander among the ruins, scooters buzz around and the minivans ferry coach loads of day trippers, but there is space for everyone and as the temperature climbed and the insects zizzed and fizzed, more and more people chose to flop under one of the shady trees and rest awhile.

elephants at Sukhothai?

I visited three of the five sites at Sukhothai – the central, the north and the west and by then I was done – I was all ruined out.  I collapsed under a parasol drinking an icy cold drink and watching an artist paint a Buddha onto canvas.  I bought one of her pictures as a memento of the region and the ruins before wearily heading back to my hostel.  It was extremely hot and dusty in Sukhothai and while there is plenty to keep you busy for a whole day or even longer in the historic area, I was done.

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai? Both are amazing

Cycling Sukhotha

On my second day in Sukhothai I joined a bicycle tour of the surrounding countryside, where the air was slightly fresher and I learnt about rural life in central Thailand. Our tour, operated by Cycling Sukhothai link here which promotes eco-tourism was led by Mem who led took 8 of us first to a local market and then to:

  • A mushroom farm
  • A (rice) whisky farm
  • A cock breeding/fighting home
  • A fish smoking factory
  • An ice cream maker
  • A frog farm
  • A furniture factory
  • A basket weaver
cycling around Sukhothai

We cycled from one rural enterprise to the next along dusty lanes and by canals and paddy fields where people were planting out the bright emerald green shoots.  They were ankle deep in water and wore conical straw hats and indigo shirts and oxen and buffalo pulled their ploughs.  We tasted the ice cream and the whisky and we watched a proud owner bathing and massaging his champion fighting cockerel.

We passed mums swinging their babies in cribs made from reeds that hung from the roofs of their porches and when I got into my tuktuk to go back to my hostel, the driver suddenly jumped off and ran into the bushes and then came back with a big honeycomb with some very angry bees buzzing around it.  I nervously shared the tuktuk with his oozing gold treasure complete with the still angry insects before collecting my rucksack from my hostel and hot-footing it to the bus station for Chiang Mai and the north.


Sukhothai bicycle tour

Ayutthaya vs Sukhothai

If you have time, I would certainly recommned that you factor in both cities on your trips especially if you are interested in history; although after a while you may suffer a little bit from ruin overload.

  • Ayutthaya has a much livelier feeling and there is a lot more to see and to do apart from visiting the historical parks but wandering around the ancient Sukhothai city gives you a chance to recharge your batteries.
  • Bus Ayutthaya to Sukhothai and enjoy the scenic countryside on the five hour journey
  • The climate is similar in both cities and both have more than their fair share of temples and glittery gold.
  • Ayutthaya has backpackers hostels and accommodation in dormitories (which I personally prefer) but when I visited Sukhothai only had guest houses (more expensive for the solo traveller and less opportunity to meet people)

Click below for the up to date prices and choices for the Ayutthaya hostels:

And finally – don’t forget to take out travel insurance.  I use Alpha Travel Insurance which works for me.  Check out their latest prices here

visiting the Buddha's head in Ayutthaya
Enjoying Ayutthaya with new friends
Cadiz and Jerez: Road trip south of Spain: Part 4

Cadiz and Jerez: Road trip south of Spain: Part 4

Our entrance into Cadiz was quite spectacular.

We drove over the brand new bridge (just 14 months old) with a brilliant blue sky above and the sea sparkling a storybook Mediterranean blue below us.

the brand new road bridge

There was hardly any traffic on the road as we parked the car up and then set out on foot to search for our hostel among the twisting streets in the old town.

Cadiz or Cadicadicadi as locals call it is the most charming town and both Debs and I fell instantly in love with it.

Cadiz and Jerez

the cathedral sparkles in the sun

Maybe it’s because it’s almost completely surrounded by the sea (a causeway connects it to the rest of Spain), maybe because the architecture is so different (many of the old sea merchants’ houses have watchtowers), maybe it is the enormous promenades and parks, but definitely it is because the people are so friendly.

street life in Cadiz

Oh, and we fell on our feet at our backpackers’ hostel too.

Our hostel

I LOVED the hostel – the Casa Caracol.  It had an amazing vibe, great staff, and it was all contained in a beautiful building with heaps of character.  I immediately told Debs that I wasn’t planning on checking out any time soon and we threw ourselves into the atmosphere by booking a ‘family’ dinner which was made by a couple from Argentina.

We spent an evening piled up on sofas and beanbags watching a video with most of the other guests, we took part in an impromptu flamenco class with yet another guest and generally we had a great time. There was a roof terrace with hammocks and an outdoor shower and loo, a log burner for the colder nights and an awful lot of stairs.  Oh, and a great pancake breakfast was included in the price which is always welcome when you are backpacking and travelling.

Cadiz and Jerez

a loo with a view

Out and about in the town we got ourselves a free walking tour, we climbed up the Tavira Tower, we explored just about every little nook and cranny and we ate our body weight in tapas.

The walking tour

Of course we tracked down a free walking tour (for tips) and that gave us a great insight into the history and the culture of Cadiz.

Cadiz and Jerez

the narrow streets of Cadiz

Our guide walked us around the old town and explained how Cadiz became rich due to its location as a port on the tip of Spain and how from here many of the old time Spanish explorers, adventurers and pirates started and ended their trips.

Cadiz and Jerez

the architecture screams wealth

I had already noticed the resemblance to Havana in Cuba – both in the architecture and the way that the long seafront was arranged – but also in the attitude and the openness of the population.  There just seemed to be a lightness about the place.  The physical light had a clarity to it – as you might find in St Ives in Cornwall or other places that artists love so much, and the people also had a carefree vibe about them.


one of the many forts

La Torre Tavira and the Camara Oscura

I had seen a camera oscura before – coincidentally in Havana when I was on my adventure trip with Explore – and this one was fun too.

An image of the city below is projected onto a screen in the dark at the top of the tower via a series of cameras and periscopes and we learnt about the unique skyline of Cadiz.

The watchtowers of Cadiz

Many of the sea merchants’ homes had towers on the roof but they are not really visible from ground level.  They build the towers so that they could look out for their approaching vessels (or those of their rivals) and they could communicate with the captains by a system of flag signals.  Cadiz must have been an amazing sight in its heyday with the port packed full of ships and colourful flags fluttering across the skyline.

The fortifications

The location of the city also made it a target for invading troops and so it was heavily fortified.

Cadiz and Jerez

looking out to sea

A series of solid stone walls encircle the town and squat forts stick out into the sea at strategic points.  Some of these are free, others contain museums and many of the street corners in the old town have iron posts to protect the walls of the houses from the carts and the traffic – but these iron ‘posts’ are the old cannons!

The twisting streets may have been designed in this way to repel invaders who would get lost and who could be more easily ambushed

A wealthy city

Because wealthy merchants and business owners settled here many of the houses are decorated with elaborate balconies and beautiful parks and gardens can be found all over the city, with exotic trees and plants and with fountains of water cascading over colourful ceramic tiles.

Cadiz and Jerez

one of the beautiful parks

There are churches on every corner and the creamy white stones of the cathedral gleam in the sun and tables and chairs and tiny little cafes are all just a stones’ throw apart.

Cadiz and Jerez

stepping back in time


Have you ever been escorted off a sherry tour?

The general idea is that you tour the wine cellar, sample the different types of sherry and then buy some more in the shop.

We arrived at the town of Jerez on a day trip from Cadiz by train.

Cadiz and Jerez

the rather grand station at Jerez

A riot of colour greeted us as we stepped off the train in Jerez.  The station building is decked out with the most beautiful coloured tiles which of course point to the wealth that was in this region in the past.

Once we had got our bearings and after a short strong coffee, Debs and I took advantage of the Open Top Tourist Bus which included a visit to the Tio Pepe Sherry Estate.

Cadiz and Jerez

wonderful tiles at the station

In the late autumn sunshine Jerez was a quiet and charming little town.  Its claim to fame is the sherry (fortified wine) and flamenco.

The tour of the Tio Pepe cellar was really very interesting and it was all housed in a grand estate.  The grounds were so big that at one point we were taken in a little land-train from one area to another.  The barrels which are painted black (so that any leaks can be more noticeable) were lined up in formal rows and our guide explained the concept of sherry making to our tour group and he also pointed out the barrels which famous people had signed and been photographed next to.

Cadiz and Jerez

street life

Then it was on to the best bit of our tour – the sherry tasting.  Our ticket included a couple of free samples – and Debs and I soon upgraded to try several more.  We managed to persuade the others on our table to join us but when we asked for another round our guide informed us that it was not possible and we had to leave.

Actually it should have all been very possible but he wanted to go home (we suspect that he had a date) and it seemed that we were his responsibility until we were off the premises.  We found a Japanese guy who was staying at our hostel and who invited us to join him, but our guide was having none of it.

We thought that we had given him the slip when we went to the toilets (our Japanese friend followed us and invited us again to join him) but our guide tracked us down and he escorted us off the premises!  Short of twisting our arms behind our backs he hustled us out, via the gift shop which he herded us quickly through not even allowing us time to stop and buy some sherry and he deposited us back out onto the street.  We weren’t even drunk but hey ho it made for a very amusing anecdote.

Get your Spanish phrase book here so that you can avoid confusion when you travel.


As you would expect seafood features heavily in the cuisine of Cadiz and Jerez.  The fish market is a vibrant, smelly place and it contains numerous stalls which will cook your chosen fish to order.  A speciality of the region are the flat crispy little shrimp ‘pancakes’, of course the sherry and chiparrones – deep fried bite sized crunchy bits of baby octopus and which are a lot more delicious than they might sound.

Cadiz and Jerez

one of the typical shrimp fitters

And Flamenco

Whilst we were chilling in the hostel one afternoon, one of the guests was practising flamenco.  We began chatting to him and he invited us along to watch him practice later that evening.  Alex teaches flamenco and whilst we expected to watch him he was really generous and gave four of us an impromptu flamenco lesson.

Cadiz and Jerez

our impromptu flamenco lesson

I had been moved almost to tears by the raw passion at the flamenco show while we were in Granada and here I was, stamping and clicking with a maestro.  It was the perfect end to Cadiz and the most southerly point of our #roadtripSpain.  We would be heading back up the map the next day.

The interesting bits of Cadiz and Jerez

Our trip – Cadiz – Jerez – Cadiz

Where we stayed:  Casa Caracol Hostel – definitely a 5 star choice – click here to see the latest rates and pictures of the rooms.  You don’t even have to stay in a dorm as there are private rooms and they are beautiful too

Sherry Tour: we bought a duel ticket for the city open top bus ride combine with our entry fee to the Tio Pepe sherry estate.  This included 2 samples of sherry and was excellent value – we just would have liked some more sherry (I should add, we were prepared to pay for it).  The Tio Pepe tour was also interesting and our guide was excellent – we just would have liked to have chilled and sampled some more of the products.

You can read the other articles in the series here:

And finally, if you liked this article and you would like to keep/share it, your are welcome to post the image below to Pinterest

Cadiz and Jerez on our road trip

Getting kicked off a sherry tour!

Summer in Catalunya

Summer in Catalunya

There are tons of things to see and do in Catalunya, and while I spent much of the summer writing I also had plenty of opportunity to get out and about and to explore.

Along with my friend Debs, my main partner-in-crime during the summer, one of the places that I enjoyed visiting was a wine cathedral.

The wine cathedral at Pinell de Brai

In a small village close to the River Ebro stands a large ostentatious brick building inlaid with a beautiful coloured frieze, yet the biggest surprise of all lay inside.  Debs and I took the self-guided audio tour and wandered around listening to the history of the place.

Scarlet Jones Travels – the wine cathedral

We learnt that the cathedral was constructed between 1919 and 1922.  At this time in its history. the region was prosperous from wine and olive oil production and the government, wanting to put Catalan culture on the map authorized the building of large modernist cathedrals to house the newly formed wine and oil cooperatives and the farmers’ unions.

Cesar Martinell, who studied under Gaudi, was the architect who designed the cathedral in the village of Pinell de Brai.  He wanted to dignify the workers’ work and build a grand place but he also listened to them and their needs and he incorporated state of the art specialist equipment inside.

Beginning outside we learnt that the frieze had been completed at the same time as the cathedral but with mounting debts it was thought to be a little inconsiderate to flaunt the 42 metre long art work so the tiles were hidden away ; and were kept hidden during the Spanish civil war, until they were finally added in 1950.

Inside, the main hall is dominated by 46 giant cement tanks.  There are a further 25 tanks underground – the wine cathedral can hold up to 2.5 million litres of wine.  On the tour tourists can interact with a sensory game and try to identify different wine-related aromas in a bouquet tunnel which was good fun.

Scarlet Jones Travels – the wine vats

Climbing the stairs to the top floor you really get a feeling for the grand scale as the largest brick arches in the world dominate the space – at 19 metres high they parallel the great cathedrals, which was of course, Cesar Martinell’s plan.

As I said previously, Cesar designed more than just a pretty building.   A`long beam stretches across the top floor containing an endless screw used in the crushing process. Much of the wine production here uses gravity in the process which ensures that the grapes are minimally affected.

Scarlet Jones Travels – the vaulted roof

The building was also home to an olive oil mill.  3 huge conical stones would have once ground the olives to a paste before it was put into the crushers.  The original equipment is still here and although it is no longer used but looks in pristine condition.

At the end of the tour in the little shop you can have an optional wine and oil tasting which Debs and I were more than happy to trial.  I am happy to report that the oil was delicious and the wine excellent.  There is also a restaurant upstairs which serves lunch and while we didn’t eat here, the business owners also have a Michelin star restaurant nearby so I suspect that the food would be good.

Scarlet Jones Travels – wine tasting

Menu del Dia

Food and drink featured highly during the summer.  Of course, when you can buy a very acceptable cava for under £1.50 (that is a whole bottle not a glass) it was always going to feature highly.

Wherever you are in Spain, the menu del dia is your food friend.  This concept was introduced by Franco who wanted to ensure that his workers had access to good, wholesome, affordable food and insisted that restaurants offered this alternative cheaper option alongside their a la carte menus.

The small village of Benifallet is blessed with several restaurants and bars which all serve excellent food but time and time again I return to Xiringuito’s.  The atmosphere is relaxed – even during the hectic August lunch times – due in part to the fact that it’s family owned and it all runs like a well-oiled machine.  The food that comes out of the kitchens is always divine and is usually based on local recipes, whilst here there are no half measures when it comes to the drinks on the table – the wine comes in carafes.

You do have to book a table on the days when they serve up their paella, but for me, their black rice is the best.  Salty and ever so subtly squidy this is my personal measure of a good restaurant in Spain and Xiringuito’s wins hands down for their version of it.

If you are lucky and it is your birthday and Edgar is not in school, this 15 year old may come and serenade you on his trumpet while his proud family who own the restaurant look on and everybody claps and cheers.

If you want to experience amazing home-cooked food with fresh produce in a relaxed family atmosphere you should hunt down this restaurant for lunch.

Scarlet Jones Travels – Benifallet

Hiking to the Santos Cross

In an attempt to counteract the excesses of the summer, Debs and I decided to do some exercise.  One evening when the temperature was still 30 something degrees a group of about 30 people gathered in the road outside the bars of Benifallet.  Piling into cars we drove up into the mountains to the abandoned Cardo Monastery.  The road hugs the side of the mountain and has spectacular views across the valley and as you emerge through a tunnel cut into the rock you can see the impressive monastery on its bluff of rock which hangs over the valley.

Scarlet Jones Travels – a little hermitage

But this evening we were not there to see the monastery.  We were there to hike to the summit and the Cross of Santos.  With the high temperature it was never going to be an easy hike but the group set off at a fast pace.  Trying not to puff and pant too much, both Debs and I held our own although my knee has not been right since!  The hike was 7.5 kms and we climbed 581 metres.  I have done worse but the terrain was dreadful with loose rocks and steep sides.  But the views were worth it. We passed several of the many abandoned hermitages that were an off-spin from the monastery, some of them perched impossibly on sharp needles of rock.

Scarlet Jones Travels – waiting for the sunset

Debs told me how the monks used to live alone in them and as a safety precaution they would all ring their bells at a designated time of the day.  One day, one of the bells was silent so a rescue party went to investigate – only to find the monk enjoying the company of the local prostitute!  The enraged rescuers set the hermitage on fire as it had been desecrated by the monk who was banished.

Scarlet Jones Travels – full moon rising

As we emerged from the tree line we had views over to the coast and the Ebro Delta as well as the mountains which rolled on and on.  And then the event that we had climbed for.  As smokey grey cloud crept up to the peak on which we were standing, the sun set in the west bathing everything in a golden glow – and opposite in the east, a full moon rose in the midnight blue sky.

We took pictures and settled down to eat our picnics on the rocks with the view surrounding us at 360 degrees.  And then, in the dark, we donned our head torches and set off back down the mountain.

Scarlet Jones Travels – the Santos Cross

I know a lady in the village who climbed the mountain one day in the past with her parents.  They lugged up bags of cement and water to the peak so that they could cement in the cross which had been damaged by some over-exuberant hikers previously, and to ensure that future generations can have a focus point to aim for.

Meeting a friend after 4 years

I am a great believer that strangers are simply friends that you have not yet met and this story proves that.

About 4 years ago I was in the queue at Bristol airport waiting to fly out to Barcelona when a lady in front of me turned and struck up a conversation.  We continued to chatter away, but by now I was kneeling on the floor holding up the queue because my suitcase was overweight.  The scales that I had used were not exactly accurate and I had to lose several kilos of stuff.   Anyway, I was choosing which stuff to dump (airports – PLEASE provide special bins and take this stuff to a charity instead of landfill).  The honey-nut cornflakes had to go and several books…anyway I digress, me and Louise continued to chat and as I was planning to eventually head to Peru and she had been once married to a Colombian we swapped addresses.

And instead of never getting around to it, we actually wrote to each other.  Granted, we didn’t get around to it much, but we did periodically write and we swapped news.  And finally, after 4 years we were in the same place at the same time and Louise treated me to a glorious lunch at a Michelin star restaurant in Cambrils.

just one of many of the lunch courses

We had a lovely meal at the Rincon de Diego in Cambrils which comprised of a whole table of tastes of the the delicious food then later Louise gave me a tour of the area in her neat little red sports car before we went back to her home for a drink.

We had a lovely afternoon and didn’t stop talking about all sorts of things, which goes to prove my point that there are no strangers, just friends that you have yet to meet.

We could have just smiled at each other in the queue at the airport and we certainly didn’t have to exchange email addresses.  We never had to write or to take the time to find out a little bit about each other, but I am so glad that we did.  And the next time that a stranger strikes up a conversation with you somewhere, make an effort to reply.  Who knows, you may become very good friends one day in the future.

sculptures on the prom at Cambrils


I would like to thank the Catedral de Vi and especially Nuria for the complimentary tour and for their support in making the visit possible, however, all opinions and comments are my own.

I would also like to thank Louise for initiating our conversation at Bristol airport, for the lovely scrummy lunch, and for future meet-ups 




Does travel change you?  An unexpected side effect of travel (Part 1)

Does travel change you?  An unexpected side effect of travel (Part 1)

A rolling stone gathers no moss

 There is a saying – ‘Travel changes you’.

Any search for a one-liner relating to travel will turn up hundreds of quotes.  Since people began writing down their feelings and thoughts it seems that anybody worth their salt has had an opinion on travel.  A gap year is deemed a rite of passage for many young adults, but it’s no longer an adventure solely for the younger generation.

More and more people are now choosing to travel, setting off on a dream adventure, ticking off destinations from a bucket list, but it’s not always plain sailing. ‘There are no problems, only challenges’ and ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ are especially true when you are far away from home – but there is always the danger that travel might also make you harder – and in some not so desirable ways.

Travelling, and especially travelling solo can be empowering but you do need to keep your wits about you for the majority of the time.  You learn to cope.  You have to.  It has to be ‘sink or swim’ – you deal with the problems and enjoy the thrill of achievement, or you pack up and go home.  Even the most hardened extrovert will occasionally find it difficult to break into an established clique in a new hostel but that is nothing to the feeling that you get when you or your new found friends go their own way and move on.

Travellers tend to form intense emotional bonds and friendships.  You are a part of a little sub-universe.  You know that the real world is out there and you must interact with it, but here in the parallel world of the traveller there are no expectations of you beyond your time here and now, in the present time.   Opinions are quickly formed; travellers fast develop a keen sense of instinct, on guard for trouble but looking out for and caring for each other.  In this sub-universe we are all fully aware that we have cast ourselves adrift from our usual support network of family and friends and human nature being what it is, we tend to gravitate towards a social group – we want to fit in and to be accepted.

We recognise in others the difficulty of being alone when they arrive at a new place and more often than not, travellers will go out of their way to be inclusive and supportive.  Very often it goes even deeper than that and you meet people with whom you feel a deep unexplained connection.  It’s as if you have been friends for ever and they have been lurking just around the corner on your life plan, waiting to make an appearance and to make a difference.

The magic woven by Cartagena

On the contrary, just occasionally you might encounter somebody that you believe you can trust and who you like, only for them to turn around and show a different side to themselves; and while those situations are extremely rare, you do begin to mistrust your own instincts and your judgement.

  • I did a favour for somebody and I lent some money only to find that person turned their back on me and our friendship.
  • I changed my planned route so that I could visit a friend, but I found that she’s gone ahead and moved on with her life; and somewhere along the way has totally excluded me.
  • You may fancy the pants off that other person but you KNOW that it can never be forever so you have to balance the pleasure with the pain of the inevitable parting
  • And there was that one odd woman in the hostel who had obvious difficulties yet tried to get me into trouble as an attention seeking stunt.

And this is where the danger lies – that unexpected side effect of travelling that I mentioned at the beginning of this article.  It would be so easy to bury your emotions and become hard and cynical. If you don’t open yourself up and allow anybody in through that protective shell then you can’t be hurt, right?

Well, that’s one way of dealing with things – throw up a self protective wall – but personally I refuse to allow myself to become hard and cynical.  A huge gaping hole was ripped through my heart and my soul six years ago.  It’s always there, it can never be forgotten but I refused then to let it change the essence of my being and I refuse now to allow lesser things to do so.

Kahlil Gibran talks about pain in his book The Prophet’ and says, ‘your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,’ and on joy and sorrow, ‘the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain’ – basically, you can’t protect yourself from hurt if you want to experience the highs and euphoria of life – although you have to admit that whilst you are hurting it sure as hell isn’t easy to accept his views!

Trust your instincts, say yes, and you could find yourself somewhere like this

And whilst not repaired, the hole in my soul has been bandaged and patched by the Daniels and the Marcels that I have met along the way.  The Courtneys and the Gorzas; the Emmas and the Marias; the Danis and the Lios, the Bens and the Claras.  From Israel and from France; from Poland and from Finland; from Colombia and Argentina; too many to name individually here but they have all made a massive contribution to me, my life and I.

I don’t want to be cynical or bitter.  I want to live life on the edge; on a high.  I want to wonder at something as simple as the sunrise and the beauty that is found in nature.  I want to connect with people and I want to feel them connecting back.  I have found freedom and I never want to return to a life where I walk on eggshells and where I am filled with dread because my presence unintentionally makes somebody else feel inferior.

And so for now, I will continue to travel.  Perhaps my constant need to keep moving is running away, or maybe it’s a reaction to years of holding my emotions in as tightly as a coiled spring, and now having my freedom I simply feel joy and pleasure when I can run and stretch myself.  Like a pit-pony released for its break in sunny fields after the dark of the coal mines.

Maybe if I keep on moving I’ll keep one step ahead of the bitter cynical feelings which could engulf me.   I’ll keep one step ahead of relationships which could turn sour and friendships which could rift and pale.  And while I’m at it, I’ll watch shooting stars from a mountain top, I’ll dance barefoot on the beach and I’ll see the sun creep up at dawn.

I shall continue to clamber into my top bunk at 4am, eat unidentifiable street food and help whenever and whoever I can.

I encourage you to embrace life.  Remember: this is not a dress rehearsal.  Make sure it’s a first class performance.

You can read the second article in this series at this link: Part 2

And the third article in the series is here:  Part 3

Jump for joy

The Costa Brava and TBEX

The Costa Brava and TBEX

Where am I off to next?

TBEX is the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers and new media content creators who will be meeting in Spain this week, and I am VERY excited to be a part of it.

The TBEX conference itself takes place in Lloret de Mar over two days, beginning with a welcome beach party, complete with food, drink and entertainment but there are events and press trips arranged across two weeks.

I get into Barcelona on Sunday and will stay at my hostel which is in the thick of the city.  I will be taking part in two separate tours to see parts of Barcelona which are new to me, before heading up to Lloret on Thursday.

the view from my hostel rooftop terrace

In Lloret I was unable to reserve a room at one of the conference base hotels (or at least at a price that I could afford to pay) so I am staying in the town at a hotel with a pool and a gym and hopefully wonderful wifi as I will need to be doing an awful lot of work over the weekend.

Following the conference I will be heading south to Salou for a few days where I believe I have 4 nights free in a hotel (courtesy of links with TBEX) and where I can catch up on some R&R and much writing.

I am excited that I will be meeting lots of other travel bloggers – many whom I have been following avidly myself since before I was blogging, but I also will be pitching my plans for an online programme to members of the travel industry.

I have been busy putting together a digital e-course which I hope will encourage people to grow their self confidence and self esteem via the the medium of travel.  Whilst is is still in the draft stage (thank you to my little band of testers) I am bursting with ideas and enthusiasm for it.

So follow me and learn what goes on at a travel blogger convention (I am quite in the dark at this stage myself) and see how my ideas for my new concept are received.

I could also mention here that I am pleased to be flying  to once again with Norwegian Air – my new best airline – who have again have come in the cheapest for my dates and destination (future discounts and free flights gratefully received)

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