But it’s a four hour drive away…..

I live in the UK. Greater Manchester to be exact. London is about 4 hours drive away, or two hours (ish) if you stump up an extortionate amount to travel by train. I’ve been there so many times: too many gigs to mention, work meetings, visiting friends; however I am always amazed when I think about how little sightseeing I have actually done in the Big Smoke.

Sure, when I was a kid at school, we did a trip to London and visited Buckingham Palace and went to see some shows. When I came down for a couple of gigs, we went hunting the Tardis, visited the London Dungeon and the Globe Theatre, however I’ve never felt like I’ve done sight seeing properly.

The most extensive “sightseeing” I’ve ever done was in Westminster when I visited for a work event and managed to squeeze in an hour of photo snapping.

Recently I traveled down to Lambeth for work. I was staying in a hotel along the river and the view from my room was amazing. It got me thinking; if that view had been in New York, I’d have been blown away. Similarly, if I was going on a Canadian road trip, I’d think nothing of a 4 hour drive to reach my destination. So why is London (or Scotland or Wales for that matter) any different? It’s purely a mind-set.

So from now on, I’m going to try and look at my own country through the eyes of a visitor. I am hopeful that this will let me see familiar places with fresh eyes.

Half Dome: Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley

You can read part one of our trip up half dome here.

The two trails up Half Dome split at the top of Vernal Falls. The Mist trail takes a short detour to the top of Nevada Falls (adding a little distance on to the journey), whereas the John Muir trail is a more direct route. We never want to miss anything (especially as it takes so much effort to climb Half Dome!) so each time we have taken the Mist Trail.

It’s about a 2 mile hike from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls, characterised by switchbacks and some rocky pathways through a forest area. The sunlight weaving through the trees and the light reflecting off the water at the bottom of Vernal Falls created beautiful little rainbows in the mist.

The top of Nevada Falls is a beautiful place to sit and chill, having gained an extra 1000ft above Vernal Falls, taking us to a total height of 6000ft above sea level. On our first trip, this was as far as we got. We’d set off far too late in the day and didn’t really want to hike in the dark, so we chose to stop at Nevada Falls, spend some time exploring and then headed back down the trail.

One of my best memories of that particular trip was taking off our shoes and socks and paddling in the calm water of the Merced River before the waterfall. It was a perfect way to refresh ourselves after the steep climb!

Our subsequent trips have seen us hiking much further up the trail. Leaving Nevada Falls behind, Little Yosemite Valley is a much flatter part of the hike. Surrounded by trees, it offers some welcome shade from the blistering heat. I loved the surroundings here; the sounds of the forest and the smell of the trees. The scent was almost overwhelming and it makes me think of adventure every time I smell it. This was a stunning walk with glimpses of Half Dome through the trees.

Little Yosemite Campground was a big milestone for me – I hadn’t expected to make it that far!! If I was to do the trail again, I would definitely consider camping at this campground to acclimatise to the altitude and rest up before attempting the climb to the top of Half Dome.

The Mountains are calling and I must go

– John Muir

Sleeping in the Car: What Adventures Are Made Of

We never arrive at our camping destinations in the daytime. It’s become a standing joke now, but sometimes it’s not that funny!

We were planning to stay at Sweetwater camping ground in California before a longer stay in Wawona, Yosemite. Looking at the sat nav, our drive was estimated at about 6 hours, however we failed to take into account the food/ water stops, our supply run through Target, the bumpy forest roads and the fact that our sat nav lost signal and was directing us backwards and forwards across forest roads that looped around and around.

By 10pm when we still hadn’t found the campground, we woke up the two passengers in the back of the car, swapped drivers and pulled out the paper map to try and identify our location.

Finally, pulling into the campground at around 1am, it was too dark to see the pitches, so we opted to sleep in the car by the side of the road. There were four of us in the car. With sleeping bags, tents, fire wood and food. It was cramped to say the least. It was cold. Every noise was a bear (probably). We managed about one hours sleep between the four of us. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights I’ve ever spent.

To make things worse, the toilet facilities were terrible. They were ‘long-drop’ toilets and I swear that something was running around in the pit below. The smell was terrible, but at least some kind soul had left hand wash and toilet paper in the ladies- the guys didn’t even have that!

The next morning, as soon as it got light, we found our spot and set up the tent. Snatching a spot next to the water, we sat up bleary-eyed and took in the sights.

It was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and refreshingly cool in the hot summer sun. The camping area was immaculate and we had loads of space. Our morning view was a riverbank. The trails were pretty and the wildlife was all over the place!

All the things that went wrong fuel our stories of that trip. Instead of focussing on them as negatives, they are the excitement that turns memories into adventures. I love telling people about our stay in Sweetwater.

Other similar experiences are really common when you are travelling. Things don’t go to plan, it’s not all sunshine, blue skies and Instagram friendly photos, but sometimes, a trip that doesn’t go to plan results in some of the best memories of travel.

From the Banks of the Danube River

An alternative view of Budapest

Whilst in Budapest, one of the main things that we wanted to do was to spend some time on the Danube. As Europe’s second longest river, we wanted to take some time to explore properly.

The River Danube

We had travelled to Budapest with a group of us, but had split up for the night to allow some time for the other two people in our travelling party to have a romantic meal out. Therefore, we found ourselves hopping on board a night boat to take a stunning trip down the Danube before meeting back up with our group for a trip to the ruin pubs.

Shoes on the river Danube

The day before we had strolled down the riverbank in the Pest side of the City to take a look at the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ memorial. Sixty pairs of shoes, made from iron are lined up on the river side to commemorate the massive loss of life of 3,500 people (mostly Jewish people) who were shot in 1945. After being told to remove their shoes and being shot, their bodies fell into the river, being swept away by the current. It’s a terrible reminder of the worst of humanity and seeing sixty pairs of shoes lined up along the river gives a sense of the scale of the atrocity.

Sculpture memorial for thee lives lost in 1945

The nighttime boat ride was a very different view as we passed the Hungarian Parliament buildings. Brightly shining against the dark night, it was an imposing building, full of grandeur and twinkling lights.

Hungarian Parliament buildings

Chain bridge was magnificent to see in the dark and the sounds of the water rushing past us added to the experience. Illuminated gargoyles standing out in the darkness created a gothic edge to the views.

Gargoyles rising out of the darkness

It was a beautiful way to see a different view of the city and travelling by river always feels much more exciting and exotic than by road.

Have you visited Budapest? What were your favourite experiences?