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Top attractions in Sheffield for a city break

Mercure Sheffield St Paul's Hotel & Spa

Through the years I’ve been to Sheffield a few times for work, attending seminars and visiting clients around the city but I never had the chance to explore Sheffield.

So when my Dutch girlfriend said that she had booked us a long weekend break back home, I had no idea that we would end up in the South Yorkshire and in Sheffield.

Flying to East Midlands airport from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport takes approximately one hour and thirty minutes. On arrival we were picked up a by a Sheffield taxi that we had prebooked the day before. East Midlands airport to Sheffield by taxi is about an hour drive on the M1.

For a British expat coming back to the UK after living abroad for nearly ten years, was really a pleasure to see again the British country side.

We checked-in at Mercure Sheffield St Paul’s Hotel & Spa, a very modern hotel in the center of the city, our home for the next three days and we set off to make the most of our long weekend back in the UK.

Mercure Sheffield St Paul’s Hotel & Spa

Mercure Sheffield St Paul's Hotel & Spa

With a relaxing spa and impressive city views, the 4-star Mercure Sheffield St Paul’s Hotel & Spa features stylish and luxury rooms which are elegantly decorated.

Guests at the hotel can relax in the sauna and steam room at Spa Naturel, which also features an ice fountain. The fitness center has an indoor swimming pool and a fully equipped gym.

Sheffield Day One

The Peace Gardens

The Peace Gardens in Sheffield

First stop just across the road from our hotel the Peace Gardens.
We had a relaxing walk around the Peace Gardens whilst having a wander around Sheffield city center.

The gardens have some amazing water features which are well maintained and was a joy to watch the water cascade down them. This really is somewhere to bring the family on a hot summer’s day!!!

The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

Just five minutes’ walk down the Fargate street, took us to the Sheffield Cathedral. We loved this place, a mix of traditional and modern architecture fitted perfectly together in a light, airy and tranquil setting.

The stained glass in the modern chapel was breathtaking, we had a few photos and took some time to rest, reflect and even light candles for our loved ones.

On the way out we came across a group of Japanese tourists arriving with a Sheffield minibus hire company who told us that the Sheffield Cathedral was one of the most popular destination for Japanese tourists in Sheffield.

The Kelham Island Museum

The Kelham Island Museum

Not to waste time we hailed a taxi for our next destination, the Kelham Island Muesum. I have to point out here that Sheffield taxis are very reasonably priced compared to the taxis in Amsterdam.

The museum is located in one of the city’s oldest industrial districts, and it is built on a man-made island over 900 years old. The Kelham Island Museum was opened in 1982 to house the objects, photos and archive material preserving Sheffield’s industrial heritage.

The interactive galleries of the museum present the story from light trades and skilled workmanship to mass steel production and what the life in Sheffield was during the Industrial Revolution. From the Victorian Era and the two world wars to the most recent steel making developments across the world.

On a recommendation by our friendly and very knowledgeable Sheffield taxi driver who came to pick us up from the museum we end up at the Millhouses Pub, where we enjoyed two huge portions of fish and chips with some very nice British ales.

Sheffield Day Two

After a very tasteful English breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the Sheffield Winter Garden which is next door to the Mercure Sheffield St Paul’s Hotel & Spa.

Sheffield Winter Garden

Sheffield Winter Garden

We were really impressed with the Sheffield Winter garden; I do not even know how we missed it the previous day as it is exactly next to the hotel. The actual “building” which is a huge glasshouse is one of the biggest temperate glasshouses to be built in the UK.

We were told that there are more than 2,500 plants from around the world in the garden creating a really beautiful atmosphere. The actual building itself is 70 metres long and 22 metres high (apparently large enough to house 5,000 domestic greenhouses!).

Together with Peace Gardens and the Millennium Galleries, the Winter Garden provide visitors with a unique experience in Sheffield city centre.

The Millennium Gallery

The Millennium Gallery

The Millennium Gallery is a great place to come and see the free exhibitions that are on display. On the day of our visit a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition was taking place.

It was amazing to see that most of the Leonardo Da Vinci drawings had the royal seal on them, on the bottom right corner (compliments of Edward VII in the early 20th century). Visitors can see other exhibits as well, generally from the local area.

The Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens Sheffield

Our next stop the Botanical Gardens which are situated approximately a mile South West of Sheffield City center. We could have gone there by foot in 30-35 minutes but since we wanted to see as many attractions as possible, we called the Sheffield taxi company that we used the previous day to get us to the Botanical Gardens.

The Botanical Gardens date from 1833, another masterpiece from the Victorian times. They are classed as a grade 2 listed by English Heritage due to the preservation of most of the original design, and the concentration of historical listed buildings and structures on the site.

The Glass Pavilions are some of the earliest curvilinear glass structures ever built in the UK. The entrance to the Gardens is free through ought the year and they tend to attract plenty of visitors. The Rose Gardens and the Four Seasons gardens were very busy at times.

We also stop at the Curators House Tea Room & Restaurant, a small Café inside the gardens, had a couple of freshly baked scones and two turkey sandwiches with some coffee. The place was packed. Overall we spent 4 hours at the gardens and we wish we could have spent more time there but at 17:30 the gardens close to visitors.

Sheffield Day Three

Meadowhall Shopping Centre

Of course, we could not have left Sheffield without visiting the Meadowhall Shopping Centre.

I had personally been to Meadowhall before, but I knew my girlfriend would love it. She was pleasantly surprised by the experience. There is a lot to see and do, shopping wise there are shops inside that cater to all budgets, and plenty of choice for food too.

There is also a cinema inside the shopping center which is a great way to end the day if you would like to make a day out of your visit.

Unfortunately for us, we were flying back to Amsterdam in the evening and we had to leave Meadowhall by lunch time to head back to the hotel.

Visiting Sheffield

Most parks are easily reach by Sheffield taxi

I don’t know why Sheffield is not actively promoted as one of the top destinations for visitors to the UK from continental Europe. Location wise Sheffield can be reached easily from most of the UK airports at very reasonable times.

Transportation in Sheffield

Public transport in Sheffield is provided by trams and buses. The tramway system, is known in the city as the Sheffield Supertram, which is operated by Stagecoach Sheffield. Most of the attractions in Sheffield, hotels and parks, can be easily reached by public transport.

Airport transfers to Sheffield from the main regional airports are also at a very reasonable rates. The Sheffield taxi drivers are very knowledgeable too. Like having a private tour guide with you.

I will highly recommend you put Sheffield on your travel bucket list. For a long weekend or even a full week, Sheffield would happily exceed your expectations. There are so many things to do and see in the city.

The Industrial Revolution has enriched this former medieval town with Georgian and Victorian buildings that have been well-maintained and re purposed to serve well the modern and vibrant city of Sheffield.

A Digital Nomad’s confession: Driving for Uber & coding Uber clone script

Uber app

A lot of people that I meet in my travels, tend to ask me how I manage to travel for 12 to 15 months at a time? How do I support myself financially? I must be coming for a wealthy family?

The truth is a combination of hard work and smart work, with proper and meticulous planning.

I was born in the US, into a single parent family and from very early stage in my life I learned to work hard for myself.

I did plenty of casual jobs as a teenager but when I got my driving license, I decided to use our family car and drive for Uber in the weekends while I was still at university learning C++, Java, Python and Swift.

Driving for Uber  

Driving for Uber was and still is a great way to make money for traveling, I got many rides from fellow students on Saturday and Sunday nights from downtown. Quite often I use to get back home with close to $250 for a 10 hours drive over the weekend.

However, driving for Uber intrigue my curiosity into mobile apps and how they are changing the landscape of the modern economy. Many people across the world are making a living or supplementing their income by driving for Uber and Lyft.

The sharing economy of Airbnb and the gig-economy are challenging the 9 to 5 stereotypes that our parents’ generation was brought up with.  

The old economy could not support a nomadic lifestyle but the new sharing economy thrives on it.

Coding apps and Uber clone script

Uber clone script

My first apps where simple games that I sold on Freelancer and Flippa, it was nothing major like you seen on the news with the Angry Birds app or the Summly app which was bought by Yahoo on those days for more than $25.000.000.

Or even the Flappy Bird app which by the end of January 2014, it was the most downloaded free game in the App Store for iOS.

During that time, its developer said that Flappy Bird was earning him $50,000 a day from in-app advertisements as well as sales. Not bad for a free gaming app.

I was not in that league but my first apps gave me enough cash to buy myself a ticket to Asia and experience Thailand for couple of months without worrying about money. There I met more like-minded app programmers and got into designing Uber clone script for various taxi startups.

Becoming a Digital Nomad

By learning to code and learning iOS development with Swift, I can now make tailor made apps for Digital agencies and even sell directly to local taxi companies. I have managed to become a location-independent freelancer.

I have been doing this for the last 4 years, and made a reasonable income, and lived all around the world.

Nikola - Uber clone script

From a pure enjoyment and the freedom perspective, I prefer to create my own apps and make a business around it. If you are smart and driven, you can definitely make a living doing just that.

Regardless of whether you write code or designing a product, make sure that your idea solves somebody else’s problem. That is that key to successful outcome.

David, the author of “A Digital Nomad’s confession: Driving for Uber & coding Uber clone script to fund my travel” works for Smart Car Tech an innovative app design company.

Travelling to Manchester England from the US

Travelling to Manchester in England from the US, used to be quite expensive, but not anymore. I have just come back from a short trip to the UK for less than $500 return flights. That was Boston Logan International to Manchester England, with the Thomas Cook airline.  Here is a short guest post for the followers. Enjoy!!!

VISA – for travelling to Manchester in the UK

First things first, U.S. citizens are not required to obtain a visa for tourist or business travel to the United Kingdom for a stay up to 6 months. A valid U.S. Passport is required.

Manchester Airport

When arriving at Manchester Airport be prepared to tell security exactly what you will be doing in Manchester. I’ve found their security team much more demanding than the US airport security.

A few years ago again at Manchester Airport I was stuck at the gate for two hours while security verified who I was visiting. I have no hard feelings, I appreciate people doing their jobs.

Manchester Piccadilly

Also make sure you have some change on you at all times. Especially if you travel at all after normal business hours. You may be charged to use the restroom at the airport and train stations.

Manchester Piccadilly station charges 30 pence (approximately equivalent to 40 cents U.S.) to use the restrooms. Manchester Piccadilly is located in the heart of downtown Manchester.

Travellers tips

When staying at a hotel there are 3 things I would like to bring to your attention. The first is I didn’t find WiFi included with any of the hotels I stayed at. It was always a separate charge.

Second, in the U.S. many hotels include a continental breakfast free of charge. I didn’t find this to be the case anywhere I stayed. Last but not least if you stay pass your checkout time you will be charged. Keep that in mind (Even if it is a very short period after checkout).

Even these days free WiFi is hard to come by, not only in Manchester but anywhere in the England. However, there is one business that I have found that offers it, Starbucks. The sign in process is very simple.

Enable your laptop, tablet or mobile device in Starbucks wherever you see the Free Wi-Fi signs. Once you’re connected, open your web browser and go to  Just click on the ‘Connect’ button and you will be instantly connected to free Wi-Fi!

Each Wi-Fi session lasts for 2 hours but you can have an unlimited number of sessions every day – just reconnect after 2 hours. Additional rules may apply but I found it to be as simple as that.

The Manchester city centre has plenty of shopping and pubs to keep you busy. The sidewalks are crowded with people on the weekends. Many people are putting on a show for tips. I was pretty impressed with the football skills of some of Manchester’s locals.

I would suggest before leaving to find some time to get on a train to the Old Trafford Stadium. Old Trafford Stadium is the home of Manchester United. Manchester United’s football team is quite possibly the most popular sports team in England, and in the world.

They offer tours of the stadium just about every day, which includes walking through the team’s trophy room, locker room, and viewing of the field. Also it is highly recommended to check out the tunnel and the entrance to Manchester United’s field.

Where to stay when travelling to Manchester

Macdonald Manchester Hotel & Spa

Conveniently located, Macdonald Manchester Hotel & Spa offers easy access to Manchester’s main tourist attractions. It also provides a sauna, free WiFi and body treatments.

Rooms are air-conditioned and feature top-of-the-range amenities such as an iPod docking station, a mini bar and luxury toiletries. They all include a refrigerator, tea and coffee making facilities and a private bathroom.

Guests in search of a meal and wanting to stay nearby needn’t look any further than Macdonald’s in-house restaurant, which is open each day for breakfast. In the evening, guests are welcome to wind down in the cosy lounge bar. A variety of cafés and restaurants are also available close by.

Find the best rates



SACO ManchestTravelling to Manchester - SACO Manchestererer

Strategically located in the middle of the city, this 4-star property makes for an ideal base in Manchester. Surrounded by local bars and restaurants, it is less than 10-minutes’ stroll from Piccadilly Gardens Metrolink Station.

There are a range of amenities available to guests of SACO Manchester, such as meeting rooms, VIP rooms and free WiFi. A fitness centre is available to those wishing to keep up their exercise regimes while travelling.

All the contemporary apartments at Saco Serviced Apartments Manchester provide internet access and a kitchenette.
SACO Manchester offers breakfast every morning that guests can enjoy before heading out to discover the local region.

Saco Serviced Apartments Manchester is conveniently situated for discovering Manchester with Piccadilly Gardens within walking distance. Guests are also able to visit Manchester Town Hall, the Royal Exchange Theatre and Manchester Central Convention Complex.

Find the best rates - SACO Manchester


Holiday Inn Manchester

If you are a member of the InterContinental Hotels Rewards Club you can earn points or redeem your points by staying at the Holiday Inn Manchester, which is set in the heart of Manchester.

Holiday Inn Manchester – City Centre is situated near Piccadilly Gardens Metrolink Station, and just a few steps from nearby dining and nightlife options. It provides free WiFi and a laundry service, and is a short walk from London Road Fire Station.

The hotel has 298 well-appointed rooms that are accompanied by a range of essential facilities to ensure guests have an enjoyable stay.

Holiday Inn Manchester – City Centre features both a restaurant and a bar where guests can unwind at the end of the day.

The hotel is situated amongst the area’s popular sightseeing attractions, including Manchester Cathedral, the Royal Exchange Theatre and Manchester Central Convention Complex which are a short walk away. It is within walking distance of Shudehill Interchange, which allows for convenient access in and around Manchester.




The cost of travelling to Manchester England from the US, is half to what it use to be 5 to 10 years ago, obviously the recent decline of the Pound (the British currency) has attributed a lot to that. So what are you waiting for? Visit the UK while it is a really, good bargain!!

Kimberly Agnes, the author of the “Travelling to Manchester England from the US” is a US fashion executive who regularly travels to the UK and Europe form the US.

Greek Islands: Four romantic days on the island of Naxos

Old windmills at Filoti village

Last summer my girlfriend and I were in a big dilemma regarding our holiday destination where we could spend a few days to relax away from the busy life in Athens. The choices between the Greek Islands?
A few hundreds. After several recommendations from our friends the decision was taken with a great enthusiasm.

What was the destination? The beautiful island of Naxos.

Naxos Town

The island of Naxos is located in the center of the Aegean Sea and it is part of the Cyclades islands. Naxos is ideal for couples and families as it offers an excellent cuisine, perfect beaches and plenty of activities to choose from.

A lovely donkey near Moutsouna beachI would strongly suggest to rent a car rather than a scooter or ATV for your transportation. The distances tend to be long and the roads are in a good shape.

However, some times in order to reach your destination you have to go through gravel roads with sharp stones. Also some times the roads are quite slippery and with many U-turns and relatively high elevation.

In addition you have to bear in mind that the public bus service doesn’t have a very dense schedule so if you wish to explore most of the island you must definitely rent a car.

I will also recommend you arrange your accommodation in Chora (the capital of the island) so you can be near the night life and the harbour so you don’t have to drive more than you really need.

If you wish to be on a more quiet and relaxed area, Filoti village is a very good choice. It is located in the center of the island and getting to all the main beaches around the island is significantly easier.

Four day itinerary on the island of Naxos


Marble streets on the island of NaxosDay 1: Leave from Chora and head to Apeiranthos. An amazing village with old traditional buildings, some have been built with marble and they are dated back to the years of Venetian occupation of the island of Naxos, some even predate that.

The village of Apeiranthos is famous for its local meats and cheese delicacies. The locals are extremely hospitable and willing to help you if you need directions to get to your destination.

Go around, walk and explore the side streets, admire the old buildings, the two Venetian towers, when you need a rest sit at one of the local restaurant and enjoy the local cousin.

I would definitely recommend Platanos restaurant, since we sat there and we were very happy with the quality of the food and prices of the restaurant.

After you taste the local cousin and enjoy a cup of coffee, you can head to the beach of Moutsouna which is approximately 25 to 30 minutes by car. The road is full of turns and on a high elevation so drive slowly and carefully.

At Moutsouna beach we discovered two traditional fish restaurants which unfortunately we did not have the chance to try as we were full from our previous stop but both looked quite good. We are planning to try their delicacies on our next visit to the island. Once you eat or swim you can move on to the beach of Panormos which we found amazing, relaxing and very quiet.

The amazing and quiet beach Panermos

On the Southeast side of the island and away from the crowds of tourists it’s definitely a place you should visit in case you just want to relax. However go there well equipped. There is a small and friendly canteen but it is a bit pricey and there are not many parasols.

Once you rest enough by the beach it is time to drive all the way back to your accommodation which is not a short drive so plan ahead and try to head back before the sun sets.

In the evening you can spend your time exploring the town’s side streets, the various romantic restaurants or the night clubs and bars to enjoy your cocktail.

Clystal blue-green water at the hidden beach near AgiassosDay 2: The second day we choose Agiasos beach located at the South side of the island.

However, the beach I am talking about is located 500 meters after Agiasos village. So once you see the sign ‘to Agiasos’’ on your left, simply ignore it and drive 500 meters further down the road. You will see a small gravel road heading to the beach where you can drive and park your car.

There you will find two amazing beaches that are not crowded at all.
Warning the smaller one on the far right end quite often is used by nudists. So be aware and make your choice.

If you continue on the gravel road you will find Alykes beach and Kastraki beach. On the last one try to visit the old deserted hotel and its deserted beach where you can swim all by yourself without anyone else!!! Your own private beach.

On your way back you can visit the cave of Za, which is located on a hill. To get there you have to drive up to a certain point on the road and then walk the rest of the way up.

You will definitely need sports or hiking shoes because a big part of the path is not paved. Be careful when you are entering the cave as its very dark and slippery, but for us it definitely worth the effort.

View from Za cave at the Island of Naxos

On your way back you can stop at Filoti village, where you can enjoy the local meat products (try the lamp chops!!!) at the traditional taverns situated in the center of the village under the huge trees. Many shepherds live in the village so if you are interested in buying dairy products straight from the producers, feel free to ask the locals at the square and they will direct you to one of the producers.

Once your rest you may wish go back to the city and enjoy an ice cream at Waffles house or have a drink at People’s bar.

Don’t forget to visit the famous Naxos candy store situated in the old city. It makes candies with traditional flavours and aromas such as Ouzo, Cinnamon and Citron, you can also find many modern and unexpected ones such as various combinations of Spicy, Sweet and other tastes. The owners were very hospitable; they even gave us a nice shot of a local drink called Raki.

One of the many beaches at Agia Anna on the Island of Naxos

Day 3: On the third day of your stay on the island of Naxos, you can visit Agia Annas beach and then Maragkas and many beautiful beaches situated one after the other, you would be spoiled for choice, believe me. If you like pizza try to find the “Mama Mia” pizzeria which is quite famous on the island. The Italian owners have brought a taste of Italy on the Greek island of Naxos.

A grandpa enjoing his coffe and the wonderful dayDay 4 : I would suggest on your last day to go to the Panermos bay. The driving is a bit long and strenuous for about 1-1.5 hours and there are not many interesting things to see or do on the way. However, the sandy beach is honestly incredible; it feels like you are not in the Aegean Sea but on an island somewhere in heaven!!!

Make sure you bring with you plenty of water, parasols and everything else you might need because after a certain point on the road there are no super markets or villages. Also there are no sun beds or umbrellas for hire so plan accordingly!!

On the right edge of the beach there is a very nice tavern with an amazing view of the beach and the Aegean Sea with very hospitable owners. The Panermos bay is quite far away, but if you can give it a day I am sure it will be the highlight of your trip.

While on the island of Naxos there are certain things you must definitely buy or taste. I would highly recommend the local dairy products such as Arseniko, Graviera and Ksinomizithra. Also the meat products which are produced on the island with traditional methods, the local fish and last but not least the local honey called Zikomelo.

We only stayed on the island of Naxos for four and half days but the people, the beautiful sceneries, the refreshing and relaxed atmosphere of the island were more than enough to recharge our batteries and keep us going through the hot summer.

Sunset,view and your girl._what more can you ask

I will definitely recommend the island of Naxos for a long holiday or even a short trip to unwind, relax and explore the beauty of the Greek islands.

This summer live your myth in Greece!!!

Spyros Skouris the author of the 4 romantic days on the island of NaxosAbout the author

Spyros Skouris the author of the article “Greek Islands: Four romantic days on the island of Naxos” can help you arrange your dream vacations on your visit to Athens in Greece.

He also owns an apartment in Athens which is available to rent on Airbnb.

Lads holiday to Antalya Turkey

Andrew Wain 2015With the university exams out of the way, we gathered at the pub debating where to go for our summer holidays.

There were four of us, Mat, George, Kevin, and myself Andrew.

The choices were mainly Spain, Italy, Greece, but with our student budget been on the low side we had to eliminate most of the ideas.

Even if we could get a low cost airline like Easyjet to fly us to Spain we couldn’t collect enough money among us to book a cheap hotel room for four lads in Spain.

Disaster was looming on the horizon, we could all see ourselves spending the summer at home with a trip down to Southampton for a long weekend.

That was all until Murat, the fifth member of our university gang pop in to our table holding a travel map to Antalya in Turkey.

Murat was born in Luton but his parents came from Turkey in the early eighties. His parents still have contacts with their extended family back in Turkey and Murat had been toying with the idea of going to Antalya to see where his parents grew up.

Needless to say the connection was instant!! Murat’s family had a house in Antalya. After a few more rounds at the pub our travel plan was set, hands were shaken, we were good to go. Our first lads holiday to Antalya in Turkey.

easy jet turkey antalya 2015

We flown from Gatwick with Easyjet and we landed at Antalya airport just before 10:00 a night. We were picked up by Bulent, Murat’s cousin who took us to our accommodation and promise to show us around the next morning.

Antalya city is definitely a modern city built on the South Western coast of Turkey with a population of around one million with a lot of buzz and night life for the holiday makers.

Antalya Turkey fish restaurants

In the morning we took the tram upto the Hadrian’s Gate or Üçkapılar in Turkish and we walked into the old part of the city the Kaleici for some sight seen.

Antalya was buzzing, many touristic shops selling souvenirs, beach clothes and café/restaurants are cramped in the rather small space of the old city with narrow streets and paths that somehow all seem to lead downhill towards the old harbor.

Konyaalti Beach

Turkish flag - Lads holiday to Antalya 2015

The next morning we walked back to Hadrian’s Gate and took the tram to Konyaallti beach.

Konyaalti beach is on the western side of Antalya city and it is about 7 km long. At the far end of the beach you can clearly see the Beydagları mountains. Inwards from the beach there is a huge green park with plenty of cafes, bars, nightclubs and hotels.

If you fancy doing more than just swimming and sunbathing on the Konyaalti beach, a short walk towards the park and across the Dumlupınar road are the Aqualand waterpark and the Antalya Aquarium, one of the biggest aquariums in Turkey, it claims to have the longest tunnel aquarium in the world, 131 meters long!!

We really liked the beautiful designed thematic exhibitions of different seas, oceans and rivers. There are many different types of sea species small and big as well as sharks. The sharks are not huge but there are really many of them and you can see the divers swimming among the sharks while feeding them.

Antalya Aquarium - Lads holiday to Turkey

All signs at the Antalya Aquarium are written in 3 languages: Turkey, English and Russian. It cost us 75 Turkish Lira per person for entrance to the aquarium. On the ground floor as you exit the aquarium there is food court with a number of different establishments to choose. By that time we were starving so we marched to McDonald’s which these days seems to be everywhere.

Lara Beach

Lara beach was our second favorite beach in Antalya. You can drive to the beach or get there by taxi but since we were on a budget, Bulent advised us to take a small minibus from the centre. In Turkey they call them Dolmush and they seem to be everywhere and run very frequent services across the city.

However, sometimes they can get very crowded. To the Lara beach you need Dolmush number 18, 30 and 77, it took us around 40 minutes to the beach and it only cost us 2,5 Turkish Lira each, which is around a dollar each.

lara beach antalya

Lara beach was not as busy as Konyaalti beach, which was a surprise as it is the longest sandy beach in Turkey and offers stunning views of the Mediterranean sea. We had a long walk and it seems some spot on the beach tend to be more popular than other with private organized beach clubs.

With the temperature on the beach approaching 40C we decided to rent a couple of umbrellas and sunbeds. There are plenty of bars with cold beers, to keep you cool and refreshed and since we were in Turkey Efes beer was our first choice!!


Side is a holiday resort around an hour from Antalya city, full of 5 star hotels. It also seems to be very popular with Russian tourists. Side has calm water and fine sandy beaches, plenty of water-sport activities and is dominated by all inclusive type of hotels.

Antalya City

During our stay in Antalya we also hopped into a pirate boat and went for a daily cruise. There are many boats leaving around 10 in the morning from the old harbor.

Don’t get intimidated by the Turkish sales men who claim to have a last minute special fare, walk around and compare the different cruises before you make up your mind. Then you are ready to start bargaining, believe me bargaining is part of the Turkish culture.

Fares vary according to the length of the trip, we went for the six hours cruise.

lads boat trip in antalya

Once on board we snap some photos and had a few rounds of beers, loud party music was echoed around the boat reflecting the mood of our group. After almost an hour of sail we stopped twice for swimming and snorkeling in some truly amazing bays.

Complimentary food was also provided by the crew of the boat. We were served spaghetti, green salad and fish barbequed which was delicious and after a tasty lunch, there was even more time to relax as we sailed slowly back towards the harbor.

Night life

The night life in Antalya did not disappoint us. Having a local on our side we were taken to all the best pubs, bars and night clubs. Kaleici at night was heaving with young Turks and tourists, the narrowed streets where full of folk-songs bars and little colorful taverns. The Turks seem to party until the morning, so we joined them too!

Ally’s night club was our favorite night club, great music, amazing sea view, and plenty of girls to dance and flirt until the sun comes out. OK drinks were a little bit expensive but we were lucky to be amongst a group of friends of Bulent so we were charge local prices, no tourist prices. I could write more here but as they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!

club ally antalya turkey

I have to admit that towards the beginning of the second week of our holiday to Antalya we were all running low on cash, our student budget could not support our all night partying lifestyle, so we started spending more time at the beach than going clubbing and partying every single night.

Without doubt this was our best holiday so far, we had great time, we made a lot of friends and we all agreed that we would definitely be going back to Antalya in the future.

I am actually thinking after my graduation to apply for a job in Antalya, Turkey. There are many hotels in Antalya that require English speaking staff, for various roles during the summer.

Andrew Wain, the author of the lads holiday to Antalya in Turkey is a final year student of hospitality and hotel management at LMU.

Thailand: An animal shelter volunteer experience

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai

Thailand, “The Land of Smiles” images of pristine white sand tropical beaches and incredible postcard perfect scenery come to mind, so why, I hear you ask me, did you choose to visit the mountainous North of Thailand and spend your holidays working as an animal shelter volunteer?

This is the same question my host and co founder of SANTISOOK Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, Mrs. NamFon Hilgers (Fon) asks me on my first day at the shelter. I will explain my motivations, as I explained them to Fon on that day, at the end of this article but first I should like you to keep reading on to discover a completely different way of travelling, much like I did during my two weeks at SANTISOOK.

Chiang Mai, Thailand’s hip laid back major city of the North is a much visited destination and well established on the hippy backpacker trail.

Famous for its picturesque mountain scenery, holiday courses, outdoor adventure pursuits and incredibly tasty Northern Thai cuisine. Chiang Mai province is home to 1.5 million people, Chiang Mai City boasts 170.000 inhabitants, and it is also home to an undetermined number of stray cats and dogs.

Santisook team animal shelter volunteer

SANTISOOK Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation is one of only two Foundations in the province actively engaged in Animal Welfare initiatives and sterilization programs and the only foundation to care for cats.

Founded in 2009 by a group of Thai people dedicated to helping the cats and dogs of Chiang Mai, SANTISOOK struggles to exist and cope with demands, with no Governmental assistance the foundation relies solely on donations made by sympathetic Thai and foreigners (“Farang”: Thai world to describe anyone of European ancestry no matter their country of origin).

Caring for over 400 dogs and 150 cats across 3 separate shelters throughout the city it’s no surprise that the Foundation readily welcomes volunteers, offering accommodation and helping out with VISA arrangements for longer term (mostly veterinarian) volunteers.

Bai Boon

I find out about the Foundation through research on the internet, I find their website to be very organized and presented well ( I also decide to join their Facebook page which provides daily, sometimes heart warming stories but also several heart wrenching ones (,

I am quite shocked to discover less than 8 thousand Likes on the page, in a city of 170.000 people that is commendable but nowhere near enough. After a couple of day’s research I decide to contact the Foundation and offer my services as a volunteer during two weeks in April.

I am not a vet and have no previous experience working with animals so I’m not quite sure how they will respond. I receive inviting, informative and helpful emails back from Lyn (another of the founders of Santisook Foundation) and Renae the resident volunteer veterinarian from Australia.

They both assure me that previous experience is not necessary and that even giving the cats and dogs a cuddle is reason enough to volunteer. I respond, committing to volunteering and eagerly await the beginning of this experience.

Animal shelter volunteer - Santisook volunteer villa

Volunteers arriving at SANTISOOK are based in Doi Saket district, a rural area on the outskirts of Chiang Mai City, approximately a 30 min drive north east of the city centre. This is where the cat shelter and the home stay villa of SANTISOOK are located, as well as Derrell and Fon Hilgers residence adjacent to the property.

The neighborhood is a typical Thai muban, meaning residential settlement. It is quiet, peaceful and beautiful, set back from the main road and a safe location for all the four legged residents to be in, away from traffic and less than friendly neighbors.

animal shelter volunteer - Santisook canine

The dog shelters are located in two other locations, again in rural settings allowing for privacy and far enough from other properties so as to avoid possible complaints from neighbors. This is important, as over the years there have been instances of disgruntled or plain wicked people poisoning the dogs by throwing contaminated meat over the fence.

Arriving at the home stay villa in the evening I am greeted by Fon and Derrel and a host of very happy looking cats and dogs. I am shown to my accommodation, a large villa, with air-conditioned rooms, private bathroom facilities and a large communal area as well as a veranda overlooking the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. I am then left to settle in and recover after my long journey, with instructions to meet Fon at 7am the next morning, when we will feed the cats and dogs of SANTISOOK.

All four legged residents receive two generous meals a day, one at 7am and one at 4pm, as well as the occasional treats. Of course the villa is a pet friendly accommodation and I am soon visited by inquisitive cats wondering who the new human is, two of them (Bai Boon and Ruby) decide I’m alright and I make two new feline friends immediately, who promptly take over my bed and keep me company, I fall asleep to loud purring and I am happy to be here.

animal shelter volunteer - Cute kitten

Animal shelter volunteers who are not vets are expected to help care for the daily needs of the animals, ranging from feeding, cleaning, grooming and petting them and of course the never ending rescue efforts. Vets are highly desired volunteers as they can assist in the sterilization efforts of the Foundation and help animals that require medical attention and operations.

As an unskilled volunteer I am eager to make a good impression and listen carefully to Fon and her three Thai local staff who put me to work straight away. Though my work may seem menial, cleaning kitty litter trays out, sweeping the cat and kitten enclosures up, washing feeding and water bowls out and changing bedding I know that this work is important in keeping these animals happy and healthy, it also affords Fon and her staff more time to care for the animals requiring medication or recovering from operations.

After a few days of performing these routine tasks, the job truly becomes meaningful as the animals recognize you, look forward to you coming around to care for them and you start to realize you are making a difference.

Feeding Time

Whilst most mornings are early morning affairs of cleaning, feeding and playing with animals, most afternoons are taken up by visits to the local vet clinics caring for SANTISOOK patients and on rescue missions throughout the province. During my relatively short stay at the Foundation I was involved in 8 rescues, that’s roughly one every two days.

Fon is permanently on call, and people hearing about the Foundations work readily call her to report on animals in danger. No matter what time of day it is and how far the location is, Fon always responds. Unfortunately even though many Thai people love and care for animals a hugely disproportional number of these calls still come from “farangs”, tourists on holiday or members of Chiang Mais expatriate communities.

Rescues are a costly affair, both emotionally and financially, the emotional cost is you never know what state the animal is going to be in when you get there, most are severely ill or injured and always almost in a state of malnutrition.

All animals brought into the shelter must first be checked out by a vet, blood tests must be carried out to ensure the animal is not carrying any disease that may spread to the other SANTISOOK healthy population, and this is all done using foundation funds and the occasional donation made by the person reporting the incident. No government funding exists to help whatsoever.

Rescues are brought back to SANTISOOK shelter and put in quarantine until they have received inoculations and sterilization, slowly allowed to recover they are then introduced to the rest of the animals and spend the rest of their lives in safety and comfort at the shelter. A few, lucky ones, mostly young puppies and kittens, stand a chance of adoption and a new loving family.

Khao Soi Noodle Soup

Spending time at SANTISOOK is not all work and no play, although there primarily to work and care for animals, Fon and Derrell understand that volunteers want to also experience Thai culture and life. Always hospitable and accommodating they bend over backwards to show volunteers a good time arranging local excursions for sightseeing and opening up their house to guests for traditional Thai meals and a few evening beers or whiskeys.

I was lucky enough to be invited to accompany them on a trip further north to the border town of Mae Sai and they were kind enough to take time out to show me the elusive Golden Triangle, we took a longboat out to Laos for some retail therapy where I got to sample local delicacies and try cobra whiskey.

Derrell and Fon Hilgers

We then had a lovely fish meal by the river and proceeded to rescue one cat and six kittens we found in a bad way by the local restaurants. So we went up north 3 humans and returned with a car full of cat and kittens, listening and singing along to Derrell’s excellent music collection – humanity at its best.

During my time there, Fon also drove me to Doi Suthep mountain to visit the famous temple at its peak and experience panoramic views of Chiang Rai. I am also introduced to great Thai cuisine and I soon develop a taste for good Khao Soi soup, Northern Thai coconut curry noodle soup.

The Foundation holds regular adoption events, to try and find the cats and dogs new homes and also to raise awareness about the Foundations work in Chiang Mai.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of these adoption events on my last day in Chiang Mai, out of 13 puppies, 8 were lucky enough to go home with a loving new family.

SANTISOOK follows up on the adoption process, offering the families advice and also assistance with sterilization/inoculation of the puppy.

People are also welcome to visit the shelters at any time to adopt cats and dogs, older cats and dogs are all vaccinated and sterilized but people usually tend to adopt kittens and puppies as opposed to the adult animals.

All the SANTISOOK animals are happy and sociable; during my whole time there I did not see or have to deal with an aggressive animal. At the adoption event I got to meet the humans of SANTISOOK, compassionate and caring, it is evident that the people that work and offer their free time up for the Foundation are truly passionate about what they do. Mrs Luckana Benjaniratana the Foundations President is an admirable and kind Thai lady who has spent almost her entire life caring for animals in Chiang Mai Province.

So why did I choose to spend my holiday time at SANTISOOK? My motivation was a simple one, having worked abroad for almost all my adult life it has been impossible for me to have a pet in my life. Having grown up with animals around me, I missed the companionship and love animals give to human beings.

An animal shelter volunteer at puppy adoption event

During one of my more recent work assignments abroad I became quite close to a beautiful pure white young cat, I called her Princess, Princess became my pet away from home, she would keep me company and we’d play for hours each day. Unfortunately Princess passed away; I believe she ate something rotten and got food poisoning. I did not expect her death to affect me as much as it did, but the bond between animal and human is a strong one and I missed her dearly each day.

I decided to look into volunteering with animals in order to honour her memory and to try and give something back to stray cats and dogs who give their love so freely to us humans.

My time at SANTISOOK went too fast and my work there was just but a small drop of water in a massive ocean. As I told Fon my experience there was exactly that – an experience. But my experience in her daily reality and the reality of those who choose to work for the animals’ full time, at their own expense, receiving no funding and little support.

I hope that this short article can help raise awareness and inspire others to volunteer and keep SANTISOOK a safe haven for the cats and dogs that desperately need our help and love.

This is dedicated to all the stray cats and dogs I have met worldwide throughout the years. I wish the World could be kinder to you.

El Mitropoulou, May 2015, Thailand

Six autumn days on the beautiful island of Crete


The beautiful island of Crete

A late October escape to the beautiful island of Crete begins with my arrival in Chania. My gamble to visit the island so late in the season seems to be blessed by the Ancient Gods, as the sweet Aegean sun is still most definitely shining in this part of the Mediterranean; the summer hordes of holiday tourists have long since departed and the island is begging to be explored.

Base camp for this autumn adventure, the ancient and “off the beaten track” village of Aptera, situated on the north-west coast of Crete between the towns of Souda and Kalives. Aptera lies approximately 13 km east of Chania. A hidden treasure of a location; unspoilt, and unique in its rich history and local hospitality.

Home to two importantAptera Castle and impressive historical sites. The ruins of the Ancient City of Aptera and the Fortress of Sousbasi, also known as Koules of Aptera. Both sites just a stone’s throw walk away from the Aptera Hotel, a small family run complex of modern studio apartments, with a most spectacular view of Souda Bay and the White Mountains.

Traditionally furnished, spacious, self-catering apartments, well equipped, with all necessary amenities and complementary Wi-Fi access.

A place to call home after a long day out, on the road, mountain or beach out exploring Crete and all it has to offer its guests.

With the relatively short time I have to spend on the island a hire car is a must, as I wish to see as much as one can possibly see in Crete and the freedom of having your own transport to accommodate your schedule offers a freedom of possibilities and destinations.Aptera cisterns

The island roads are well maintained and destinations for the most part well signposted.

The first port of call is the Old Town of Chania and its famed Venetian built harbour. The quaint narrow shopping streets and waterfront restaurants, all housed in old buildings of Venetian or Turkish design make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

I recommend taking a lengthy stroll through the town, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells it has to offer – which are plentiful. Then pick a spot to rest, order a meze and some tsikoudia (the Cretan raki drink) and watch the world go by, the backdrop of the Venetian lighthouse and the Mosque of Yiali Tzami is sure to make the moment magical.

My second day in Chania, Crete is spent exploring the local area. In the morning I set off by foot, a visit to the ruins of the Ancient City of Aptera and the Fortress of Sousbasi. What a nice way to start ones day.

I won’t lie, I’m no history buff and I’m not here on a quest to enhance my knowledge of history and classical antiquities but my mornings walk through the Roman ruins has been a wonderful, serene experience and the views from the top of the hill have stolen my heart.

The most impressive monument on the site, in my humble opinion, is the impressively preserved Roman cisterns which have survived centuries and earthquakes galore in order for me to feel like Lara Croft exploring them.

The Fortress is also astonishingly well preserved and an imposing landmark I can look to in awe, in order to guide myself back to Aptera if I find myself geographically challenged during my travels.

I then travel by car, to explore the neighbouring villages of Kalives and Almyrida, the October sun still guiding my travels, I take a stroll in Kalives and stop foSamaria Gorger a coffee, astonished to still see tourists still swimming in the crystal blue waters so late in the Autumn season.

I then drive a few kilometres east to Almyrida where I stop for fresh fish and glass of wine, watching the sun set and planning my adventure to Samaria Gorge the following day.

An avid adventurer and a keen walker the main reason I wanted to visit Crete was to walk the famous Samaria Gorge. Knowing that visits to the National Park are only allowed from the beginning of May to the end of October and fully aware that weather this time of year may very well take a turn for the worse, I was keen to attempt to cross the Gorge as soon as possible.

Research taught me that the usual way to “do the Gorge” was to take an organised tour, from Chania by bus to the starting point of Omalos, travelling through breath-taking mountain scenery, and then departing on the beautiful yet treacherous 13km trek through the Gorge, arriving in Agia Roumeli some 5-6 hours later.

The only way to then leave Agia Roumeli, which is only accessible by foot, and return to Chania is by boat via Chora Sfakion or alternatively to Sougia. This is the usual way to pass the Samaria Gorge.

However if you’re up for a challenge and are physically able to, there is another way. Drive to Omalos in your own hire car, arrive early, (you can call the Park Rangers the previous evening to confirm opening time on +30 28210 67179), pay your 5 euro entrance fee and depart on a most adventurous and exciting journey of a lifetime.

Kri-Kri Samaria GeorgeWalk through well-trodden paths, with plentiful water stops, take in the stunning scenery and stop off to say hello to the Kri Kri (indigenous to Crete and protected species of mountain goat), walk joyful mile after mile, appreciating the wilderness along the way.

You arrive in Agia Roumeli, take a well-earned break and then … well you walk back up to Omalos again! The Park Rangers give a guideline time of this route of 10 hours, so if you are trusting of your ability to undertake such a walk and allow plentiful time you can appreciate the Gorge twice fold and experience both routes.

Only the last 4km are of a significant physical challenge, where the gradient increase rises back up to 1236m quite rapidly and unforgivingly. Those with weak knees should not attempt this. Walking the Gorge in late October, providing the weather is on your side is an unprecedented experience. No long queues of busloads of tourists littering the way, fair weather and a sense of achievement await those who go to Samaria.

Fourth day in Crete and understandably after the challenging walk down and back up Samaria Gorge it is a relatively easy going day. A nice, easy going, excursion to Lake Kournas just 30 minutes away from Aptera, provides an ideal location to relax, recuperate and take a slow pedalo journey across the mystical mountain lake.

lake cournas

An afternoon visit to Souda and the Souda Commonwealth War Cemetery is a worthwhile drive, to pay respects to the fallen soldiers of past Word Wars. A serene, beautiful and peaceful place of rest, worthy of our respect and reflection.

A visit to Rethymnon, another stunning Venetian built harbour town of Crete, greets my fifth day on the island. After a walk up Mt Vrisina a few kilometres north of the town, where poor weather now prevents summiting, a rainy October walk leads me into town.

There I seek refuge one of the towns welcoming and hospitable tavernas and pass away the time, sharing stories and travel experiences with other travellers.

My final day in Crete beckons me to try my luck walking another Gorge, this time the Gorge of Agia Eirini, inland towards Sougia. The lesser known sister of Samaria Gorge is a much easier trek of 7km down a gradient of 500metres.

Agia Eirini Gorge

Alas the previous day’s rains have made the Gorge impassable after the 3rd kilometre so the planned journey is cut short. Onwards and upwards through mountains to the beautiful southern seaside town of Sougia, where the sun is still shining and people are still swimming in its luscious bays.

There I stop off to walk along the shore, watch fishermen head out to sea with their boats and feed local stray cats the leftovers of my most delicious fish supper.

My six autumn days on Crete have too swiftly come to an end. What a diverse, lovely landscape I have been treated to in the last few days. What generous, hospitable and honourable people I have met along my travels. One thing is for sure, I will return to the beautiful island of Crete as my journey here is far from complete.

To be continued….

Travel blog by El MEl Mitropoulouitropoulou.

Travelling solo around the Globe, seeking adventure and challenge.