Friday, January 19, 2018

Viva Italia: Naples, Herculaneum & Milano


My travels in recent years seem to thematically occur in threes - from Stockholm, Seattle & Snowdonia in 2015 to the Iberian trio of Lisbon, Andalusia & Cuba the year after.

Following that triplicate theme my next round-up comprises three separate trips over the last 18 months to the European nation I've visited the most throughout my life and will never tire of doing so.

For me there's no better country on the continent to visit than Italy: from its unrivalled vino and food that no British restaurant can truly replicate, to those atmospheric old towns clinging to hills and mountainsides, the attraction never wanes.




My first return to the country after a hiatus of several years was to visit Naples and Campania for the first time, as a lucky member of a press trip organised by the city's tourist board in late 2016 to promote its regional cuisine.

After meeting government ministers and local food and wine suppliers at the Italian Food XP event in Mostra D’Oltremare I enjoyed a detailed tour of the historical city centre and its architectural highlights. While Naples is aesthetically a bit rough around the edges, it makes the contrasting pockets of Baroque beauty stand out even more, and is accordingly a great city for photography.




Naples street people (c) Kris Griffiths





I remember eating a lot of octopus and (as it was my birthday) drinking a lot of grappa throughout my few days there, so was badly hungover for my group’s final-day visit to the World Heritage site of Herculaneum (Ercolano): the ancient Roman town destroyed by the same 79AD volcanic eruption which devastated Pompeii.

My most memorable meal of the weekend took place fittingly on the lower inclines of Vesuvius later that afternoon: pasta served with tomatoes grown on the fertile volcanic slopes, washed down with Lacryma Christi (‘Tears of Christ’) - a local speciality wine made from grapes grown on the same slopes.










The only disappointment of the trip for me was that we didn't visit any purveyors of the world-famous Neapolitan pizza, so I had to steal away solo for a couple of hours before the return flight to seek out and scoff one with a final Tears of Christ wine 'for the road'.




And then there were two separate trips to Milan, a year apart - the first a standard sightseeing city break, taking in Il Duomo and various art galleries, and the second last September for the nuptials of an English friend and fellow journalist who had serendipitously met and wooed an Italian woman on a press trip he had been on himself a couple of years previously. 

It was probably the most memorable al-fresco wedding reception I've ever attended, in balmy late-summer temperatures at a rustic venue away from the city which looked like something out of The Godfather. It also happened to be my birthday again, what's becoming an inadvertent annual tradition.





Finally, it was during the previous Milan trip that I revisited with my then partner an old Cuneo town in the northern Piedmont region, 100km south of Turin, called Garessio: where my family used to holiday at a campsite when I was a boy. My parents had randomly stumbled upon the town while touring northern Italy with their caravan, and after they befriended some local shop-owners and fell in love with the place we would return several summers to this quaint old settlement surrounded by mountains, where you'd never encounter another British tourist. 

For most of those holidays I would be bored out of my skull, especially during afternoon siestas when everything shuts down, so it's only now as an adult I could fully appreciate visiting somewhere so off the beaten track.

Garessio's most beguiling hidden gem though is the ruins of a multi-storeyed grand old hotel destroyed by fire fifty years ago, still perched precariously on a hill overlooking the town. Now completely fenced off and left to crumble, the Hotel Miramonti - once you've managed to breach the fence - certainly makes for an engrossing afternoon wandering around its empty shell, with plenty of atmospheric photo opportunities you're not going to find many places elsewhere.


Hotel Miramonti Garessio

Hotel Miramonti Garessio staircase

Hotel Miramonti Garessio Kris Griffiths


And so concludes my Italian adventures for the time being, with the tourist-tastic Venice next on my list, which I've still not visited. As a fan though of the '70s horror movie Don't Look Now - the Daphne Du Maurier adaptation starring Donald Sutherland as a working holidaymaker in Venice - I have designs on visiting off-season in the colder months to beat those crowds and revisit Daphne's former haunts (pun intended)


Postscript. Apparently they're remaking the movie, to Sutherland's dismay, so the release date could be a timely peg on which to hang a new location pilgrimage article, in the same vein as my Twin Peaks travel feature for Rough Guides. It's reported that the sinister dwarf woman won't be making the new cut though, sadly.




All photos (c) Kris Griffiths. Further shots of Milan & Naples at Flickr gallery.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cuba, Andalusia & Lisbon


From Stockholm, Seattle & Snowdonia late last year to three Spanish, or should I say Iberian, destinations this year, taking into account my first visit to Portugal.

That trip was actually to attend NOS Alive festival in Lisbon - headlined this year by Radiohead, Pixies and Arcade Fire - which I reviewed for Huffington Post.

The other two were week-long holidays in proper sunburn-inducing temperatures. It hit 40 degrees in Seville when we visited last month, with the temperatures thankfully cooling slightly in Cadiz on the southern coast.

Either way I found both cities to be very welcoming and laid-back and housing some impressive historical sites, including Seville's Alcázar and Plaza de España, and Cadiz's epic cathedral.

Seville's AlcázarPlaza de España, Seville


Cadiz Cathedral

I have to say I more enjoyed my time in these Andalusian cities than I did in Barcelona - less sprawling and a lot more chilled in atmosphere. My experience can be summed up by two animal-themed incidents that occurred in both cities, which I wrote about on my other personal blog (link).

Can also recommend probably the best restaurant I've visited in Spain - Cadiz's Taberna El Tio de la Tiza, serving fantastic portions of fresh local fish in a concealed square (my Tripadvisor review).

Cuba, on the other hand, was a completely different kettle of fish.

Like many Westerners have recently been doing we wanted to visit now before the country becomes too Americanised, relations with the US having recently thawed.

While its crumbling colonial architecture and 1950s cars made Havana very atmospheric, and everything was pretty cheap even with the weak pound, it also presented many frustrating obstacles too, from the often lax approach to service to making it as difficult as possible for you to get online - don't bother is the lesson we learned.

However the photo opportunities were endless, which is a boon if you've a quality camera and a good eye for composition. Some of my better snaps, including one that's probably my favourite taken in the last five years:





Havana man (c) Kris Griffiths

Like Andalusia I'm glad that I finally visited and experienced the place, but unlike Andalusia I won't be heading back in a hurry.

If I ever do, though, I'd like to find that bloke in the straw hat and thank him for letting me take his picture.


Full Cuba gallery, incl shots from Mexico City stopover, here.

All photos in this post (c) Kris Griffiths

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stockholm, Seattle & Snowdonia


As I've not posted for a while I thought I'd pool into one round-up my alliterative last three destination visits, which were for both business and pleasure.

The first was a family hol in Stockholm for the first time, my only other visit to Sweden having been a day trip to Malmo ten years previously while staying in Copenhagen.

This time we did a house swap with a family residing on Lidingo island, not far from the city centre, and spent our time visiting the star tourist spots Skansen open-air museum and the 17th century Vasa warship that sunk on her maiden voyage, both fairly absorbing.

A lot of the rest of our time was spent trying to find pubs that served beer for less than £6 a pint, and on one day I stole away to watch Stockholm's finest football team 'AIK' destroy Elfsborg. With match tickets about £14, less than half of most EPL prices, it was one of the few inexpensive things on offer there.



AIK Stockholm v Elfsborg (c) Kris Griffiths


Next was my first visit to Seattle, to undertake the long overdue Twin Peaks pilgrimage that I'd successfully pitched to Rough Guides (full article with pics here). As the cult TV series I watched religiously as a teenager had last year announced its comeback with David Lynch back at the helm I basically rewatched the whole two seasons and resolved that the time had come to finally visit the filming locations, situated around that coastal corner of Washington State, before it returns to our screens next year.

I'd always wanted to visit Seattle even if I wasn't a TP enthusiast, having been a Nirvana fan since the early 90s and a craft beer lover since the noughties, and there aren't many better place to visit in the U.S for the latter.

Hendrix statue

Mount Rainier

The Pine Box bar

Also had a great time at the Experience Music Project museum, where I immersed myself in the permanent Nirvana exhibition, played on several guitars exhibited and even recorded a live version of Purple Haze by local boy Jimi Hendrix, playing drums this time while a random American bloke I bumped into did the vocals and guitarwork. 




KurtCobain bench (c) Kris Griffiths
Kurt Cobain bench, Viretta Park

Finally, after successfully climbing Coniston Old Man in the Lake District last year I decided I wanted to go one higher with Wales' tallest mountain Snowdon, which I ascended with Welsh sherpa mate Vaughan, who as a recent Iron Man contestant was far fitter than me and left me lagging for much of the ascent, particularly near the summit when I was on my last legs. Unfortunately it wasn't the best day for it either, with the upper half of the mountain above the clouds so zero visibility and the cafe at the top stuffed with other climbers so no chance for a cuppa before getting back down.

Snowdon (c) Kris Griffiths

Snowdon (c) Kris Griffiths

While there we also gave 'Zip World' - the longest zip line in Europe - a try in Blaenau Ffestiniog and hung out in nearby coastal towns Criccieth and Porthmadog, as well as the Italian-style village Portmeirion. 

Zip Blaenau Ffestiniog (c) Kris Griffiths

Zip Blaenau Ffestiniog (c) Kris Griffiths

That trip alone just went to show that, despite it being a relatively small country, there's still so much to see and do in the land of my fathers, with Caernarfon and Anglesey next on the list. 

But it's also been nice to mix things up with the continent and across the Atlantic. My next destination is Havana, Cuba, next month, which is as close as I will ever have been to South America, the only continent I've left to visit (bar Antarctica of course, which someone always says when I say that).

More of my travel shots at Flickr account. My article on visiting Snowdonia at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/kris-griffiths/a-weekend-in-snowdonia

[all above photos (c) Kris Griffiths]

Friday, June 5, 2015

My Better Travel Photos, 2004-2014


Having just posted a gallery at my personal website of some of the better photos I've taken since first getting into amateur photography 10 years ago, it became clear that most of them were taken on the course of my travels over the years.

So I thought I'd post a selection of them here on the more suitable platform that's my travel blog. As explained in the original post, these images were all:
taken on the only two digital cameras I've owned since 2004 - a £70 Kodak compact & a Canon EOS. I've never been on a course nor read any books, just took tips on the basics from a couple of friends who had done and a few jobbing snappers met in the line of the duty: rule of thirds, depth of field, etc. Only kit lens used with the Canon, no filters or Photoshop and all hand-held - don't think I'll ever get to the tripod stage...  


KODAK COMPACT, 2004-2011 

Austrian Alps, 2004

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2009

Ginza, Tokyo, 2009

Sydney Opera House, 2009
 
Marrakech, Morocco, 2011

Santa Monica beach, 2009

Pembroke Castle, 2008

Austrian Alps, 2007

Essaouira, Morocco, 2011



CANON EOS DSLR, 2007-2014

Namib Desert, 2010

Bordeaux square, 2009

Amiens square, 2007

Vicars' Close, Wells, Somerset, 2007

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, 2014

Old Man of Coniston, Lake District, 2013

Barcelona, 2014 

Ripon Cathedral, 2015
 
Sitges, Spain, 2014

Holasovice, Czech Republic, 2013

Genoa statue, 2014

York Cemetery, 2015

All photos (c) Kris Griffiths. More at my Flickr account.
Muck Rack link.