A driving tour of South Wales: in search of Dylan Thomas

July 21, 2016 by  

Dylan Thomas is the favourite literary son of Wales, born in Swansea and much celebrated before his untimely death at the age of 39. Even if you don’t know his poetry, my driving tour of the places he lived and loved will show you some of the most beautiful scenery in South Wales and give you a fascinating insight into the times that Dylan lived through.

A driving tour of South Wales in search of Dylan Thomas

Let’s start in Swansea

Let’s start our driving tour in Swansea, where Dylan Thomas was born, the place he spoke of as “an ugly, lovely town” since it was heavily bombed in the blitz and lost much of the charm of its pre-war Victorian architecture. If arriving in Wales by public transport, you can easily pick up a hire car in Cardiff, Swansea or Newport as the places on our tour are most easily visited by car. (Check out Alamo Rent A Car if you need a rental car)

In recent years Swansea has undergone a regeneration and in the Maritime Quarter surrounded by new apartments and restaurants, you’ll find a statue of the city’s most famous son, in front of the Dylan Thomas Theatre.

Dylan was a member of the local amateur dramatics society, the Swansea Little Theatre, who met in Mumbles and the theatre now provides a permanent home for the theatre group. All kinds of productions are put on here but it’s worth checking in advance whether there are any preformances related to Dylan Thomas. If not, you can still enjoy the murals on the walls of the theatre, depicting many of the characters that Dylan wrote about in his famous radio play, Under Milkwood. Dylan Thomas Theatre Website

Dylan Thomas theatre in Swansea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dylan Thomas theatre in Swansea

The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea

Nearby is the Dylan Thomas Centre, which provides a permanent exhibition about Dylan’s life and work. On the walls are large photo murals of Dylan, his friends from the Swansea literary scene and a portrait of his wife Caitlin painted by Augustus John. You can hear the voice of Dylan himself, from the radio broadcasts he made to read his poetry and radio plays.

What comes through above all else is Dylan’s love of words which he used like colours in a paint box to create each scene, making lists of the words he might use on scraps of paper to keep by his desk.  He wrote; “I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words, I cared for the colours the words cast on my eyes”.

Read my article about Swansea – an ugly, lovely town

Dylan Thomas Centre, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR

Dylan Thomas centre in Swansea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dylan Thomas centre in Swansea

Let’s visit the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea

Dylan was born in 1914 into an upper middle class family and inherited a love of literature from his father, DJ Thomas, who was Head of English at Swansea Grammar School. The house at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive where Dylan was born and where he grew up has been restored in the same character as when the family lived there and is open to the public, as well as being available to rent as a place to stay. It’s just a short drive from the Maritime Quarter in the residential neighbourhood of Uplands.

The dark green and red colour scheme of the sitting room is just as Dylan described in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” when aunts and uncles gather in front of the fire after Christmas lunch. Owner Geoff Haden restored and furnished the house from auctions and car boot sales, using information in family letters and Dylan’s own descriptions to recreate the house as it might have looked when Dylan was growing up, right down to the old gramophone player.

Birthplace of Dylan Thomas, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Birthplace of Dylan Thomas, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea

Upstairs Dylan’s tiny bedroom has been left just as if he had been living there now, with a messy desk covered with books, a packet of woodbines and a bottle of Hancock’s local ale, posters of Shakespeare next to Greta Garbo. At this tiny, crowded desk, Dylan would write poetry until he left home at the age of 20, doted on by his mother Florence who would bring him breakfast in bed.

Read my article about the Dylan Thomas birthplace

Visit the Dylan Thomas Birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea for a guided tour – check the website for times, events or to book an overnight stay.

Dylan's bedroom at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dylan’s bedroom at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea

Cwmdonkin Park – where the young Dylan played

The Dylan Thomas birthplace looks out to Cwmdonkin Park where Dylan would play as a boy. In Dylan’s day there was a reservoir with swans which has now been filled in for a children’s playground, but the bowling green and pavilion look much as they did in Dylan’s childhood. The pavilion is open as a tea room with a pleasingly retro feel, serving ice creams, tea and welsh cakes on 1950s style china.

Cwmdonkin Park in Swansea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cwmdonkin Park in Swansea

Where to stay in Swansea

Morgans Hotel was once the Harbour Trust Office, a grand Edwardian building from the era when Swansea was a major port and industrial city known as “Copperopolis” due to the large amount of copper smelted there.

The bedrooms, with mahogany doors, high ceilings and plaster mouldings, are individually named after the Swansea ships of the period. Downstairs is a stylish bar for evening drinks and breakfast is taken in the former banking hall of the Harbour Port Office, with original murals and copper globe lamps recalling Swansea’s industrial heyday. Morgans Hotel makes a luxurious base for exploring Swansea and the Dylan Thomas trail.

Morgans Hotel, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR.

Morgans Hotel in Swansea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Morgans Hotel in Swansea

Mumbles and the Gower beaches where Dylan loved to walk

Let’s take a short drive to the seaside village of Mumbles, just outside Swansea, a place Dylan came to regularly to rehearse with the local amateur dramatics group, the Swansea Little Theatre. Afterwards the group would go for a drink at the Antelope pub where Dylan was known to enjoy a few pints.

Pennard cliffs on the Gower Peninsula Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Pennard cliffs on the Gower Peninsula

From his home in Uplands Dylan could take the bus with friends to Mumbles and the beaches of the Gower peninsula, where they would go walking and camp overnight. Caswell beach which can be easily walked to from Mumbles, still has a retro air with the green painted beach huts and the cafe on the promenade.

Langland Bay on the Gower Peninsula Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Langland Bay on the Gower Peninsula

A couple of his short stories were set on Rhossili beach and Dylan enjoyed long walks along the cliff path. Read my article about walking the coastal paths of the Gower.

Caswell Beach on the Gower Peninsula Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Caswell Beach on the Gower Peninsula

Mumbles is a good place to base yourself for a night or two to explore some of these same beaches, either walking direct from Mumbles along the cliff path or driving to the stunning beaches of Caswell, Langland and Rhossilli.

Three cliffs bay on the Gower Peninsula Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Three cliffs bay on the Gower Peninsula

Where to stay in Mumbles

Promenade View is a stylish 3 bedroom holiday home set right on the promende at Mumbles and an ideal place to base yourself to explore Mumbles, the Gower peninsula and be within easy reach of Swansea. The house has 3 en suite bedrooms with views over Swansea bay and the cyclists, walkers and sailing boats on their stands along the promenade, as well as being a short stroll from plenty of pubs, restaurants and the Mumbles pier where the coastal path begins. Read my review of Promenade View here.

Promenade View Holiday House in Mumbles Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Promenade View Holiday House in Mumbles

The Boathouse at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire

From Mumbles you can drive to Laugharne, the village in Carmarthenshire that Dylan made his family home in the final years of his life. The Boathouse is set just below the cliff path with striking views across the Taf Estuary from the windows and was described by Dylan as “my sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks“.

Dylan Thomas boathouse in Laugherne Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Dylan Thomas boathouse in Laugherne

Here Dylan lived with his wife Cailin and children until his untimely death in 1953 and it’s furnished partly as it was when he lived there, partly as a museum in the attic room that would have been their bedroom.

Dylan Thomas writing shed in Laugherne Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dylan Thomas writing shed in Laugherne

A little further along the path is Dylan’s writing shed where he worked, with desk with cigarette stubs, as if he had just popped out for a walk. The window looks over the Taf estuary, where the sandbanks are exposed at low tide and wading seabirds pick their way through the shallows, described by Dylan as “the mussel pooled and the heron priested shore.”

Read my article about Lovely Laugharne – on the Dylan Thomas trail

View over the Laugherne estuary Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View over the Laugherne estuary

When he lived here, Dylan would walk along to Browns bar to read the papers, or drop in to see his parents who lived opposite, before working in his writing shed in the afternoon and returning in the evening to Browns with his wife Caitlin for a few more beers.

The Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Dylan’s Walk, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, SA33 4SD

Laugharne Castle

Overlooking the estuary is Laugharne Castle, which was built in the 13th century and came under siege in the English Civil War after which it was partly dismantled. When Dylan first came to Laugharne, the castle and house next door were owned by his friends the writers Richard and Frances Hughes. Dylan was allowed the use of the gazebo in the garden which overlooks the estuary and it was here that he wrote the short stories “Portrait of the artist as a Young Dog”.

Laugherne Castle Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Laugherne Castle

The castle is now open to the public and there’s a writing desk and old typewriter within the summerhouse to recreate how it would have looked when Dylan worked there. Laugharne Castle website. 

Where to stay in Laugharne

Brown’s Hotel where Dylan went for a drink is now a stylish pub with rooms that have a retro feel with stripy carpets and modern oak furniture. They only serve snacks in the evenings but there are several places to eat when you are staying there including the Three Mariners pub next door. Brown’s Hotel, King Street, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

A tour of South Wales taking in the places associated with Dylan Thomas is easily done in 2-4 days but of course there are plenty more things to enjoy in Wales if you’d like to extend your stay. If you are planning a driving holiday in Wales, check out Alamo Rent A Car for your car rental.

Brown's Hotel in Laugherne Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Brown’s Hotel in Laugherne

Useful information for visiting Wales

For more information on everything to see and do in Wales check the official website at Visit Wales

For more information about Dylan Thomas on the official Dylan Thomas Website

For more information about things to do in and around Swansea including the Dylan Thomas attractions visit the Visit Swansea Bay website

This article was brought to you in partnership with Alamo Rent A Car

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Read about this driving tour of South Wales on the trail of Dylan Thomas

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Hiking around Menorca: on the Cami de Cavalls

July 18, 2016 by  

It was a perfect day for walking in Menorca, one of those late May days when the sun is warm, the sea sparkling but the temperature in the comfortable early 20s. Although we’d had showers the day before, the skies had cleared with puffs of cloud and the sea seemed to be lit up an intense turquoise. Spring and autumn is the perfect time for walking on Menorca, when the weather is generally warm, before the heat of summer descends and everyone just heads for the beach.

Hiking around Menorca

Our walk for the day would take us along the Cami de Cavalls, an ancient walking path and bridle way that encircles the whole island of Menorca. The importance of this path was recognised by the island’s rulers in the Middle Ages so that horses could move around for defence and goods could be easily transported. The trail gets its name from the Catalan word Cavall which means horse – it’s literally a path for horses.

Cala Galdana, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cala Galdana, Menorca

Our walk for the day started at Cala Galdana, one of Menorca’s most popular resorts where we were staying at Hotel Artiem Audax, a lovely, stylish 4* hotel overlooking the marina. The resort on Menorca’s south coast is an excellent place to base yourself for a walking holiday, with immediate access to the coastal path as well as a number of bars and restaurants to enjoy in the evenings.

Walking from Cala Galdana, Menorca Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking from Cala Galdana, Menorca

We climbed up from the little marina onto the coastal path, almost immediately giving us the kind of views that you expect to see on postcards. Our path took us up onto the rocky cliffs, where wind-twisted pines framed the view of the the turquoise sea glittering below and the cliffs of the headland beyond.

Walking from Cala Galdana to Cala Macarella, Menorca Heatheonhertravels.com

Walking from Cala Galdana to Cala Macarella, Menorca

Before long the route veered off away from the sea on a broad, flat stony path with scrub and trees of pine, olive and oak dotted around us. On one side, the path was bordered by a dry stone wall. Scattered in the grass were miniature pink gladioli and wild orchids, which would have been in full bloom in March and April but were just starting to dry out as summer approached.

Wild orchids near Cala Macarella, Menorca Heatheronhertravels.com

Wild orchids near Cala Macarella, Menorca

The whole of the southern coast of the island is now owned by the Menorca government, to ensure that it is preserved from development. However, the land on either side of the path is owned by individual farmers who graze animals there to ensure that the trees and shrubs do not become too dense.

The cliffs above Cala Macarella, Menorca Heatheronhertravels.com

The cliffs above Cala Macarella, Menorca

As I walked, I breathed in the scent of pine needles crushed underfoot and noticed the splash of pink flowers on the cistus and the vibrant green clumps of pine seedlings, pushing up beside the rocks covered with yellow lichen.

The cliffs above Cala Macarella, Menorca Heatheronhertravels.com

The cliffs above Cala Macarella, Menorca

From the broad path, there were other paths that took us to viewpoints on the cliff where only the twisted olive wood fences protected us from a sheer drop down to the sea below. A white speedboat passed below us and I imagined myself to be the girl at the wheel, wind in my hair, speeding to one of the secluded coves along this coast.

On the cliffs, walking on southern Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

On the cliffs, walking on southern Menorca

We reached a boardwalk which took us down to Macarella beach, with broad wooden steps leading down through the pine trees. The beach is a very popular one, although due to all the ravines that run down to the coast, it can’t be easily reached by car, which is one of its charms for walkers. The normal bridle path continued alongside although it was so steep that I wouldn’t have fancied riding a horse down it.

Walking down to Cala Macarella, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking down to Cala Macarella, Menorca

Although the Cami de Cavalls encircles the whole island, there are some sections that are better for walkers, others that are more flat and open for horse-riding. Many farms have stables near the trail and offer horse-riding which my friend Zoe tried while we were doing the walk – read her article about horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls.

Walking down to Cala Macarella, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking down to Cala Macarella, Menorca

Macarella beach is broad and sandy, with some shady pine trees offering shade at the back and sides of the beach. This would be a lovely place to spend an afternoon with the family and despite having no public road access, there was a large cafe at the back of the beach serving drinks and meals.

Cala Macarella, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cala Macarella, Menorca

While some of our group stopped to relax at the cafe, I decided to walk a little further round the headland to the smaller Macarelletta beach (the name means little Macarella). Set into the cliff face beside the steep path were some caves, probably used in the past as an ancient burial site by Menorca’s Talayotic culture.

Walking down to Cala Macarelleta, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking down to Cala Macarelleta, Menorca

The walk around to Macarelleta was idyllic, the sea coloured intense turquoise with patches of deep blue. The path led down through the dunes and over the rocks with a few sunbathing spots on the rocky ledges. As I came down, I realised that this is a nudist beach although in May most people seemed to be keeping their swimsuits on, still I had to be a bit careful where to point my camera.

Walking down to Cala Macarelleta, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walking down to Cala Macarelleta, Menorca

At the back of the beach were sand dunes and a covering of pine trees, with a rattan fence to protect the dunes. Once again this idyllic spot is only accessible by walking, with the nearest car park being at Cala en Turqueta, which is the next beach if you continue along the coastal path.

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca

As for us, it was time to return by the same route, clambering up the path through the dunes and around the headland to Macarella, then along the broad path back to Cala Galdana. It’s an easy and popular walk, and all the nicer because the lack of car access means the beaches are natural and unspoiled. In the spring and summer I’d walk on to Cala en Turqueta and perhaps some of the pretty beaches and coves beyond, while in the heat of summer it would be perfect to stop at Cala Macarella under the shade of a pine and laze the afternoon away.

Hotel Artiem Audax at Cala Galdana, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Artiem Audax at Cala Galdana, Menorca

Where to stay in Menorca

I stayed in Hotel Artiem Audax in Cala Galdana overlooking the marina, which was right opposite the start of the coastal walk I’ve described. The hotel is Adults Only with bright, modern decor and delicious food with breakfast and dinner served buffet style. The hotel is part of the Artiem Hotel group which has many excellent hotels around the island including the Hotel Artiem Capri in Mahon where I also enjoyed staying.

Hotel Artiem Audax, Urbanización Serpentona, 07750 Cala Galdana, Menorca

Compare prices and book hotels in Menorca on my Hotels Booking page powered by Hotels Combined.

Have you done any walking in Menorca? What was your favourite part of the Cami de Cavalls?

More articles about Menorca

How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca
Where and what to eat and drink in Menorca (Travel with Kat)
Traditionally Menorca (Mallory on Travel)

Visitor Information for Menorca

To plan your holiday in Menorca visit the Menorca Tourism website or follow them on social media: Twitter @TurismMenorca | Facebook | Instagram

For holidays in other parts of Spain you can find more information at www.Spain.info or follow them on social media: Twitter @Spain_inUK | Facebook | Instagram

If you need a guide to show you the sites of Mahon and Menorca, I can highly recommend Luis Amella of Menorca Guides

Thanks to Menorca Tourism for hosting my stay in Menorca, in a project in partnership with Spain Tourism, Menorca Tourism and Travelator Media

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A guide to volcano hiking in Indonesia

July 16, 2016 by  

With more than 120 active volcanoes, Indonesia is a hive of seismic activity. An archipelago dotted across an area the width of the United States, every vista is backed by the profile of a nearby volcano. Audley Travel specialist Mat Hall shares his memories of hiking some of these volcanoes and experiencing the volcanic geology first-hand.

Mat Photographing Mount Bromo, Java, Indonesia Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mat Photographing Mount Bromo, Java, Indonesia

After first visiting Indonesia, I compared my photos to a friend’s pictures, taken a few years before. They both showed the same landscapes, but their features differed dramatically. For me, this really piqued my fascination with a country that is continuously being altered by volcanic activity.

Why go volcano hiking in Indonesia?

It’s possible to see volcanic peaks all over Indonesia. Rather than simply enjoying the scenery, I’d argue that you can’t fully appreciate them without setting foot on one. Standing on volcanic lava rocks, surrounded by scattered ash, you can sometimes feel the movement of the earth below. Up close, the rumbling of a volcano sounds like a million old cars trying to start up at once.

Mat at the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park viewpoint, Java Indonesia Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mat at the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park viewpoint, Java Indonesia

Each volcano has its own unique geological features, so I’d suggest combining a few. For example, there’s a stark contrast in topography between the sprawling volcanic complex at Ijen and the perfect cone of Krakatoa. The calderas (volcanic craters caused by a collapsing magna chamber) can vary in size from a few metres, to hundreds of miles.

The smoking crater of Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo viewpoint Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mount Bromo viewpoint

Waking up at 3am, my guide picked me up in a 4×4 and drove me into Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park on the island of Java. En route we passed a checkpoint informing us there was no volcanic activity occurring. We were safe to continue. Driving up to a viewpoint, we find a position and wait for the sun rise over the four volcanic peaks of the park. Semeru, the highest peak, erupts every ten minutes, almost to the clock, with a puff of smoke.

Mount Bromo viewpoint, black smoke eruption Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mount Bromo viewpoint, black smoke eruption

From here, I began the one hour hike up to the rim of Bromo. The volcano itself lies in a vast sandy plain known as the sea of sands. Walking along this dusty grey moonscape, the side of the volcano looms up ahead, with steps cut into the side of the rock. On reaching the rim, I could see right down onto the smoking plateau of white ash. The smoke continuously billows from its depths and some of the rumbles were so loud they startled fellow visitors.

Mount Bromo, Sea of sands Hindu temple Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mount Bromo, Sea of sands Hindu temple

Nearby is a simple Hindu temple. It’s easy to miss – built out of volcanic rock, it blends into the landscape beyond. The volcano is worshipped by local Hindus who celebrate Yadnya Kasada each year in June. Pilgrims line the edge of the crater, throwing offerings into its depths to appease the god of the mountain.

Visit the highest acidic lake in the world at Mount Ijen

Perched right on the eastern point of Java, on a clear day you can see Bali from Mount Ijen’s peak. Part of an extensive volcanic landscape, Mount Ijen is the active volcano within the Ijen caldera, the largest on Java.

It was another early start. I woke at 5am and my guide drove me to ‘base camp’, nestled at the base of the volcano. Climbing at full moon, the path was so well lit I didn’t turn my torch on. I’d suggest planning a trip around the full moon if you have the flexibility: hiking by the cool light of the moon is quite surreal.

Ijen - view from Ijen Resort over to volcanoes Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ijen – view from Ijen Resort over to volcanoes

After an hour’s climb, you’ll come to a group of enterprising locals who have set up a camp offering tea, coffee and biscuits. You can refuel here before heading on to the rim. A final push to the top takes another hour before you’re on a narrow ridge overlooking the tumult below.

On my visit, smoke covered the caldera completely, making for a very spooky atmosphere. If you’re lucky, the smoke will clear and you’ll be able to see the turquoise lake filling the crater. Its unreal shade is caused by its acidity levels. The extreme acidity, sometimes with a pH as low as 0.5, is caused by hydrothermal waters rising from the magma chambers below.

Ijen, Blue Flame Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Ijen, Blue Flame

The most unique feature is the lake-side solfatara. This is a geological phenomenon where sulphurous gasses emerge from vents in the caldera and, on meeting oxygen, burn with a neon blue light.

Ijen, Sulphur miner in crater Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ijen, Sulphur miner in crater

I thought my wake-up call was early, but my guide explained that sulphur miners arrive at 2am to begin work. Descending steep paths right down into the volcano, they hew chunks of sulphur before carrying it away in baskets on their shoulders. It’s dangerous work. Many miners carry more than their own bodyweight in sulphur on the return leg.

Hiking back down the volcano in daylight, I surveyed the surrounding landscape. It was covered in a lush blanket of trees and shrubs. Mineral-rich volcanic ash breaks down into the soil creating some of the most fertile land on earth.

Enjoy a volcano-cooked dinner at Mount Batur

On the island of Bali, Mount Batur juts above a landscape pockmarked with craters from countless previous eruptions. It currently sits between two merged calderas containing a crescent-shaped lake. From the viewpoint you can see numerous small villages and roads weaving their way around the lake, drawn by the populous fish and clean water.

Mount Batur - start of the ascent Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mount Batur – start of the ascent

Bali attracts more visitors than any other Indonesian island, so Batur can get quite busy. My guide suggested we visit at sunset rather than sunrise. The volcano also steams more in the evening, adding to the ambience. The climb is more gentle than other peaks, taking about two hours to reach the summit along well marked paths. From the top you can see the lake and villages stretching across the caldera – a real contrast to more desolate volcanoes.

Mount Batur - Summet, eating volcanic vent cooked dinner Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mount Batur – Summet, eating volcanic vent cooked dinner

Whilst waiting for the sun to set, my guide prepared a meal. Gathering handfuls of grass, he placed them into a nearby vent, creating a traditional oven. Gingerly putting my hand in, I could feel the heat from the earth below. A couple of eggs were popped in and, in minutes, we were enjoying hard boiled eggs with our pre-cooked rice and noodles. For dessert we enjoyed cooked bananas served with chocolate.

Sleep at the foot of an active volcano on Krakatoa

Krakatau, view from beach to neighboring island Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Krakatau, view from beach to neighboring island

In my opinion, Krakatoa is the most unique volcano you can visit. On the hour and a half boat journey from Java’s mainland, my guide explained the history of the volcano. Once a large island, in 1883 a massive eruption split the island of Krakatoa into four small islands. The noise of the eruption is considered the loudest sound recorded in human history, and the pressure waves were recorded on barometers all over the world.

We were in fact visiting Anak Krakatoa, the ‘little child’ of the original Krakatoa volcano. As we rounded Rakata, another island fragment of the original volcano, Anak Krakatoa came into view. For me, it’s the very image of a stereotypical volcano – a neat cone shape jutting straight up from the sea.

Krakatau - Anak Krakatau base camp on the beach Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Krakatau – Anak Krakatau base camp on the beach

Pulling up onto the beach, my guide began setting up camp. The island is completely undeveloped so we were staying in tents on the coast. Most of the island is covered in barren black volcanic rock but on the east side of the island, a small forest has managed to grow.

Krakatau, walking up Anak Krakatau Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Krakatau, walking up Anak Krakatau

Hiking up the side of the volcano, we followed a safe, set route. Aside from a few scraggly trees at the base, we walked through a desolate wasteland. Volcanic rock changes shade with age, scarring the sides of the volcano with lines, marking each eruption. About halfway up, we stopped. We’d reached a viewpoint, the highest we could safely go. Any further, my guide tells me, and my shoes would melt.

We stopped with the smoking peak in the distance, steam coming off the ground a little way in front. For me, the view is one of the best I’ve seen – a completely undisturbed panorama of Anak Krakatoa’s sister fragments dotted in the ocean, with no signs of life.

Krakatau, viewpoint Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Krakatau, viewpoint

A worthwhile addition to hiking the volcano, the nearby island of Rakata shelters some dazzling coral. Taking a short boat ride from Anak Krakatoa, we pulled up to the coast of Rakata, which is edged with steep maroon lava walls. Above the water, the lava rock is barren – below the surface, the contrast is stunning. Lava is particularly nutritious for coral, encouraging the vibrant array of coral hiding underwater. Turtles glide over the coral whilst neon stripped angel fish dart in-between.

Add a visit to Singapore

It’s possible to fly straight into Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, but I’d suggest flying into Singapore. The array of flight options make it more convenient for most, but it also makes a wonderful introduction to southeast Asia. A modern, English-speaking city with a slick transport system, it’s an easy place to explore. If this makes it sound a little sterile – it isn’t.

It’s a city I’m particularly fond of. Singapore may be a modern metropolis, but its skyscrapers are intertwined with temples and colonial architecture. Visit the pastel rows of restored colonial mansions, wander the botanical gardens or sample some of the local dishes in food halls nicknamed ‘hawker markets’.

Visit one of Indonesia’s beaches

I’d recommend finishing a volcano hiking trip to Indonesia with a few nights on the beach. The beach of Sanur, in the south of Bali, is sheltered by a reef, creating a calm cove. This feeds into the area’s general ambience, with relaxed beach bars and some serene sunsets. The food stands out for me, with freshly caught fish sold on tiny stalls dotted along the coast.

If you’re looking for a longer beach stay, I’d suggest islands hopping to Lombok, to the east of Bali, with quieter beaches and some luxe hotels.

Mount Bromo viewpoint with my Guide Anwar Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mount Bromo viewpoint with my Guide Anwar

When is the best time of year for hiking volcanoes?

For the best experience, late April through to October works well as the skies will be clear and there’s little rain. The months of July and August can be quite busy, especially at weekends when locals take day trips out to the volcanoes.

What do you need to bring?

When visiting a volcano for sunrise, it can be chilly first thing in the morning, with temperatures dipping to 5C (41F). I’d recommend a warm jacket and lots of layers – it gets warmer quite quickly once the sun is up. A scarf or balaclava is also handy to protect your face from ash in the air if it’s windy.

Lava rock is very smooth so can be a little slippery. I would suggest walking shoes with a good grip, and climbing poles to help with steep, uphill sections.

Of course, having your camera close to hand is vital as you’ll have the opportunity to capture some incredible images.

Mat Hall is a Travel Specialist for Audley Travel. Audley trips don’t come off the shelf – they’re tailor-made down to the finest detail. When planning a trip with us, you will speak to a destination specialist who has either lived or travelled extensively within the country or region that you are visiting. They will create a bespoke trip based on your tastes, interests and budget and with an absolute commitment to providing quality travel experiences.

This article was brought to you in partnership with Audley Travel

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This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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RHS Hampton Court Flower Show: Gardens around the World

July 5, 2016 by  

At the RHS Hampton Court Flower show this week, destinations from Charleston to Galicia, Normandy to Peru, came alive in the gardens from around the world. Each was inspired by the plants and landscapes that make these little corners of a country unique and special. The show is on for a few more days, so do go along to see these and many other beautiful gardens to find some inspiration for your next holiday.

World Gardens at RHD Hampton Court Flower Show

As I was visiting on the 4th July, celebrations were in full swing at the three USA gardens from Oregon, Charleston and Austin.

Landscapes of Austin

At the Austin garden, the strumming of singer songwriter Carson McHone took me straight back to our holiday in Texas a few years ago, remembering all the street performers playing in the bars and by the food trailers in Austin. The stone walling, beaten earth paths and and rusting metal bowl filled with water were just as I remembered, even in the smart hotel where we stayed on our trip to Texas.

Austin Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Austin Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

I loved the soft swathes of grass that looked as if they were rustling in the breeze, mixed with the dusty reds and yellows of Echinacea and other wild flowers. The spiky Agave were there too, to remind us that Texas is tequila country and they mix a mean margarita in Austin.

Austin Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Austin Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Mountains and Vineyards of Oregon

In the Oregon garden it was all about the mountain landscape with rocky outcrops and mountain streams backed by pine forests (or as much of a forest as you can realistically transport and plant at a garden show). There were a few vines too to show that they are a wine growing region and at the front a naturalistic planting of daisies and grasses looking as if they might be growing in the border of some farmer’s field. To represent the many cycling routes around the state, the edge of the borders were decorated with bicycle wheels.

Oregon Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Oregon Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Hidden gardens of Charleston

Quite different to the naturalistic feel of the other USA gardens was the Charleston garden, which exhuded elegance and old world charm. Box hedges surrounded the manicured lawn with wrought iron benches to linger a while. The pink and white planting gave a romantic feel mixed with a few more tropical shrubs. It was just the sort of place you’d like to take iced tea with your grandmother and hear her reminisce about her days as a southern belle.

Charleston Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Charleston Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

 The Inca Garden with inspiration from Machu Picchu

The Inca civilisation of Peru that created awe-inspiring structures like Machu Picchu was the inspiration for a tropical garden sponsored by British Airways and Journey Latin America. From the outside we were met by a wall of native foliage with banana plants and sculptural leaves, but as we walked further into the garden, the carefully crafted dry stone terraces like those at Machu Picchu were revealed.

Inca Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Inca Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Water trickled down from the grassy terraces into pools that could be used for irrigation, with gardens of maize, potato and quinoa standing in well kept rows. The planting was spiky and exotic with variegated red and green planting mixed in with the yellow and orange astromeria. Perhaps if the explorer Hiram Bingham had been able to step back in time, this is what he would have seen of Machu Picchu when the Incas were at their full power, rather than the deserted remains of a lost civilisation that we think of today.

Inca Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Inca Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

The Normandy 1066 Medieval Garden

To celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the ‘Le Clos d’Hastings’ garden took on a medieval theme that reflected the garden plants and countryside from both sides of the channel in Normandy and the area around Hastings. The garden was divided diagonally into two parts with a woven hazel fence, the ends of the branches sprouting in places.

Normandy Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Normandy Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

On one side of the fence was a field of crops waiting to be harvested; flax and wheat speckled with red popies and daisies. On the other side of the fence were garden plants in shades of white and purple, a rich mixture evoking the Bayeux tapestry. At the back of the plot, a green hedge was planted with saplings to represent the farming landscape of Normandy while at the front a couple of Norman soldiers were standing guard, quite happy to pose for photos!

Normandy Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Normandy Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

From Galicia in Northern Spain – the Route of the Camelia garden

One of my favourites among the world gardens was the Route of the Camellia garden, sponsored by Turismo de Galicia. I visited northern Spain a few years ago on a family summer holiday and well remember the mixture of brilliant sunshine and showers that we had – there’s a good reason why it’s called ‘Green Spain’!

Galicia Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Galicia Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

The garden celebrates the pilgrim’s route of  Santiago de Compostela, which I’d love to hike some day, with the pilgrim’s symbol of scallop shells scattered on the path. Overhanging the romantic shrine to the Virgin Mary was a Camellia tree, frequently found in this part of Spain. Since the camellia flowers in the spring, designer Rose McMonigall had used pink coloured shells to represent the camelia petals that might drop onto the pilgrim’s path.

Galicia Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Galicia Garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

RHS Garden Holidays

If you’re a garden enthusiast, take a look at the RHS Garden Holidays, which are organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, offering tours of the world’s great gardens, accompanied by horticultural experts.

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show takes place 5-10 July 2016 – visit the RHS website  for more information on this and all the other RHS flower shows.

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Read about the world gardens at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Thanks to RHS Hampton Court Flower Show who provided me with free entry to the show.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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How to make easy videos on your cruise – with MSC Cruises

July 3, 2016 by  

These days anyone who owns a smartphone has the ability to make videos to share with family and friends when they travel. The days are over when you needed to buy an expensive camera to make a professional looking video.

I was recently invited by MSC Cruises to have a tour of their ship MSC Splendida and speak at an event for their cruise agents on how to make quick and easy videos that they could show to clients considering booking a cruise. The same tips apply to anyone taking a cruise who wants to make short videos when they travel, so I thought I would share them with you.

How to make easy videos on your cruise with MSC Cruises

This wasn’t the first time that I’d been on board MSC Splendida, as a couple of years ago I took a lovely week’s Mediterannean cruise from Barcelona, visiting ports like Marseilles, Genoa, Naples and Messina. The ship holds over 3000 guests, with plenty to do and a lively atmosphere that’s well suited to groups of friends, families and guests of all ages.

As a cruise line MSC Cruises has a very cosmopolitan feel, although of course the mix of nationalities will vary depending on the destinations you’re visiting. On our Mediterranean cruise it was a range of French, Italian, Spanish, English and Irish, with all the entertainment tailored for this international crowd and the staff switching languages with impressive ease. Read my review of what to expect on an MSC Cruise.

The Stateroom on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

The Stateroom on board MSC Splendida

Because I was going to be teaching a session about how to make videos on your cruise, I visited the ship before the conference day to make sure I could shoot some good video footage that I could use to demonstrate some of the techniques. The ship was just as glamourous and colourful as I remembered it, with staterooms in rich jewel shades of emerald and gold and iridescent mosaics in the large indoor pool area.

The indoor pool on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

The indoor pool on board MSC Splendida

In order to show some different possibilities for making a short video of your stateroom I made this video, demonstrating the different styles you can try. My videos were shot and edited entirely on my iPhone in order to show how this can give you excellent results.

If you can’t see the video above you can download directly here or see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above

Using your smartphone, you can walk around the room to make a video to post on social media, or shoot a few different clips of the room to edit together, or even use still photographs by adding a bit of movement using the ‘Ken Burns’ effect. Almost all the social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook also allow you to post short videos from your smartphone and you can use an app like Vine to make short videos to share with family and friends.

Buffet dining on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Buffet dining on board MSC Splendida

On this occasion I was also able to see the Yacht Club area which is the ‘ship within a ship’ that offers a more exclusive experience, with separate dining room and pool area as well a personalised butler service. The Yacht Club staterooms were elegant and luxurious with an outdoor pool and relaxation area which would be a haven on sea days when we found the main pool areas were very busy.

Yacht Club Stateroom on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Yacht Club Stateroom on board MSC Splendida

So back to my talk about how to make short videos for your cruise. My talk was aimed at cruise agents who need to make videos to show their clients what MSC Cruises can offer. However, the same principles would apply if you are a cruise guest and want to make a short video to show your friends and family or post on social media. Here’s another little video that I made to illustrate my tips to help you improve the quality of your videos.

If you can’t see the video above you can download directly here or see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above

Yacht club on Board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Yacht club on Board MSC Splendida

The do’s and don’ts of making a short video

  • The rule of thirds – a well known principle of composition in photography. It means that if you were to create a grid across your shot dividing it into 9 squares, you should place people or horizon lines on the grid lines and a major item within the shot on an intersection of the lines, to give the most pleasing composition.
  • Consider the audio – In noisy areas of the ship such as a swimming pool, restaurant or windy deck, you should be very aware of background noise. You may consider using a small microphone if you are speaking in the shot to cut out some of the background noise.
  • Keep your camera steady – a shaky shot will make your video look unprofessional. You can use a small tripod such as a gorilla pod or just take care to brace yourself and keep very still when taking a video shot.
  • Use pan and zoom in moderation – make any pan or zoom shots smooth and use them in moderation, perhaps one shot in three, or you will make the viewer feel seasick.
  • Instead look for movement in the frame – find shots where you keep the camera still but film shots that already have some movement, such as a glass of wine being poured, or a person walking down a staircase.
  • Mix up different shots – such as a placement shot (that shows where you are, perhaps with a sign or logo), long shot, medium shot, closeup.
Yacht Club pool deck on MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Yacht Club pool deck on MSC Splendida

Some tips on timing and video length

  • The first 5 seconds are the most important – this is where you need to capture the viewer’s attention with a personal introduction or indication of what’s to come, so that they won’t click away.
  • 50% of your audience are gone after 60 seconds – attention spans are getting shorter and shorter so make sure your key points are made in the first minute of the video.
  • Video shot length 1-3 seconds – I will typically edit each shot to around 1 second, perhaps up to 3 seconds if a pan or zoom is involved. This will mean that your video ends up being quite concise and snappy.
  • Optimum video length 1-2 minutes, maximum 3 minutes – if you keep each shot length short you will normally end up with a video of this length. If you are going over 2-3 minutes, consider whether it would be better to break up the video, for instance make one video on your cabin, another about the food and another about each port of call.
  • Rules are made to be broken – having said all of the above there may be good creative reasons why you need to break these rules, so feel free to experiment and have fun.
Yacht Club Pool on MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Yacht Club Pool on MSC Splendida

A few tips on branding

In my slides you’ll see some examples of ways you can make sure the viewer remembers your company or blog name. You can add a link to your website in the text overlay or clickable links within the video on YouTube, as well as in the video description. It’s also good to give the viewer a ‘call to action’ telling them what you want them to do next, perhaps to subscribe to your channel or watch your next video.

Spa on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Spa on board MSC Splendida

What equipment do you need?

If you haven’t made any short videos before, you may be concerned that you need special or expensive camera equipment. However, these days the quality of video that you can make with your smartphone can be very good, so I recommend starting there and then investing in more advanced equipment if you feel the need later.

You may also consider a few optional extras such as a small microphone to plug into your phone or camera, a selfie stick, or gorillapod that can be used easily in many different situations.

There are plenty of video editing apps that you can download onto your mobile. I use iMovie but depending on your mobile brand there are other options that are either free or just cost a few pounds – check my presentation below for some more options.

Spa on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Spa on board MSC Splendida

I hope that my videos, tips and presentation below have given you a few ideas if you’d like to try making a video on your next cruise, either to share with family and friends or to use for your blog or business. Thanks to MSC Cruises for inviting me on board to speak at their conference.

For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page

Bar on board MSC Splendida Heatheronhertravels.com

Bar on board MSC Splendida

Check out the slides from my presentation for more information

Quick and easy videos to sell more cruises from Heather Cowper

If you can’t see the slide show above, view it on Slideshare here.

Read about the places we visited on our last Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises

Join me on a week’s Mediterranean cruise with MSC cruises
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
What to wear on your Mediterranean cruise – my 6 top tips

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This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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