Lisbon- The Forgotten City? By Caitlin Russell.

We love getting posts in from Caitlin as she has a fantastic passion for travel and a keen eye for some amazing pictures! This latest instalment follows Caitlin through Lisbon with her boyfriend Paul and was the first part of a 9 week journey spanning Europe and Indonesia!

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Our entire first day was lost to travelling and we didn’t arrive at our hotel – Residencial Mar dos Acores – until two o’clock this morning. The metro link is available from the airport and an unlimited 24 hour card costs only €6 each. We alighted the last train around 1.15am and it took us an absurd amount of time to find the hotel due to the lack of public wifi, thankfully when we did arrive our room was still waiting for us. With a 7.3 rating on Booking.com and one bathroom per floor which is shared between eight rooms, the €25 per night fee for us both seemed fair. It’s located a steep five minute walk from the Anjosnmetro station and is surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants. When we got there, the amenities were beyond what we had expected; immaculate kitchen stocked with beers and drinks for a fee, stunning mosaic interiors and a lift. The room itself, albeit compact, was spotless and included a sink, TV, air conditioning unit and a fan – both of which are necessary even at night. The bathrooms pleasantly surprised me, again immaculate and cleaned several times a day. After one night past, €25 seems like a steal.

From what I had read online, on WordPress as well as the Visit Lisbon website, I would be lying if I  told you I expected much from the Portuguese capital. Combined with the heat, how tired we were and the pending game against Poland this evening, I really thought today would have been lost to relaxing and watching football. Thankfully, for me at least, that was so far from the way the day unfolded, and I’m really glad our curiosity pushed us towards spending time in a lesser raved about location, because after only a few hours out in the beating sun we have both fallen for this beautiful city.

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We took the metro from Anjos to Rossio, the city’s main plaza in the Baica district. From there, we headed uphill through the narrow, pastel coloured streets. We had no plan, but our route allowed us to see so many glorious buildings. We followed the steep steps upwards to a higher plaza, from which we could see the city’s port. After deciding to head towards the water, distraction after distraction pulled us in all directions. Every street we passed  one of us found something intriguing; from intricately mosaiced walls to hidden churches, the rich pastel colours of the city are so attractive we couldn’t help but walk around with our necks craned, while I photographed everything my eyes met. Eventually, when we reached the water we sat at a waterfront restaurant and watched the world go by with a cold beer in our hands. Across the water, sailboats and cruise liners sales past and the vast red suspension bridge leading across to the historic Almada district stood stark against the bright blue sky and water. Behind it, a Christ the King statue stands tall, towering over the district and overlooking the rest of the city from across the water.

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From the harbour, we walked along the waterfront, through the Praça do Comércio and underneath the Rua Augusta Arch; the city’s trump gal arch, a vast Neoclassical monument flanked by Baroque buildings (which are very reminiscent of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna). Through the arch and much to my delight there was a wine festival taking place before the shopping district began. I tried local whites whilst Paul did some shopping before heading to the Elevador de Santa Justa, a tower with panoramic views of the city, but also with an extensive queue and so we decided to head further uphill to have an undisturbed and unrestricted view for ourselves.

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Without realising,  we had done a complete lap of the city on foot and found ourselves back at Rossio square almost three hours later. I took the opportunity to photograph what I had not already and afterwards we headed away from the square in the opposite direction from before, towards the  Cathedral and Castle. We climbed even steeper streets on this side, but there are teams, tacos and tuk tuks available if the walk isn’t for you. Pauls trying to catch up on my tan from Canada, so I think that’s why he has been so keen to walk so far. On this side, streets were beginning to be decorated with Portuguese flags and tinsel in the flags colours. Music played loudly from pubs and the smell of seafood bled out into the streets from the many homes and restaurants that lined the cobblestone streets. Once at the top I found the view I had been searching for all along; a sea of terracotta roofs and off-white walls, plastered against an uninterrupted blue sky. We found the Cathedral atop the hill, but the castle sadly evaded us, and we were too tired to look anymore.

I feel Lisbon is sadly overlooked in favour of the more popular European cities such as Barcelona or Rome, and I can say that because I too overlooked it. After visiting so many in Asia, I have a really great appreciation for European cities and am trying so much more to explore the world a little closer to home before venturing out across continents again. Lisbon was the perfect starting point for this new adventure of ours because of its relaxed atmosphere, the lack of need to rush to pack sights in and the proximity of sights from one to another. Without a map and any idea as to where we were or where we were going, in a few hours Paul and I seen the majority of the sights on the to see lists. I found it to be an incredible romantic city – something I don’t think I’ve ever said about anywhere on earth. The colourful buildings and sun constantly shining makes it near impossible to not stroll around with a smile on your face. I was so pleasantly surprised by the proximity of the water to the city centre, and the rich variety of architecture and sculpture across the city.

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I feel relaxed, which is odd to say after a day of walking around in the heat. In truth I feel really lucky to have spent time here, and I can’t wait to see what the Portuguese city of Porto has to offer over the next few days.

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You can see more from Caitlin and her travels here and follow her on Instagram here.

 

 

Exploring Laos -Laung Prabang, with Caitlin Russell

We are very excited to have our first travel blog from the lovely Caitlin. Follow her travels and her awesome photography here.
Luang Prabang

The atmosphere is so different to anywhere we’ve visited so far; it’s quiet, relaxed, and the people – locals or otherwise – are lovely. Luang Prabang, suitable to the size of Laos, is minuscule in terms of land mass. It was beyond refreshing after several weeks of big cities swarming with beeping horns and overcrowded subway stations. Although the skyscrapers in the Chinese cities were impressive, I am decidedly more fascinated by the Lao landscape of waterfalls and mountains, seeing up close the craftsmanship involved in the temples and buildings dotted around town and meeting their friendly locals.

In this tiny little town there are an amazing 37 Buddhist temples. You’re able to go and donate food to the monks every morning after buying food from the morning market which is ran on the town’s Main Street between four and six in the morning. Our guest house owner ran us through the rules and how to show respect to the monks, which of course is extremely important to them, their religion and to the locals. As well as this, as you will know if you’ve ever visited Luang Prabang, is that the size of the town means that it is exceptionally quiet; loud noises could virtually be heard from any other point in the town and so as a mark of respect Luang Prabang is free from the all night parties that can be experienced in many other Southeast Asian towns and cities.

The guest houses in Luang Prabang are plentiful, immaculate and really fairly priced. Ours, The Apple Guesthouse, is part-owned by an Australian couple who we’ve got talking to over the past couple of days – the things they’ve done philanthropically speaking are beyond admirable. Their two adopted children are Lao, and they employ local young people at the guest house and send them to school and provide them with several meals a day in return along with a mountain of other voluntary work including teaching the monks at one of the temples English, where tourists are encouraged to help out (unfortunately we weren’t there on a Wednesday or we would both have loved to help out). They also gave us a map of the town, pointing out all the things we could possibly be interested in and all the ways to get there quickest. Hospitality like we had received nowhere else we received at the Apple Guest House. There was a communal balcony upstairs, which was as immaculate as the bedrooms and offered guide books, coffee, tea and fresh water.

On our first day of exploring Luang Prabang got off to a very slow start. It was Paul’s 23rd  birthday and so of course when we both took our malaria medication on an empty stomach which resulted in vomiting and an extra few hours recovering in bed afterwards. When we finally ventured back downstairs we walked first to the river bank and alongside the Mekong River which runs directly through the town. You’re able to take boat rides across to the other side of and along the river, and there are copious restaurants lining its banks on either side. We then made our way into town tried some of the towns famous fresh baguettes. Even in the heart of the town, the subdued atmosphere continued. People working, walking or cycling around had smiles on their faces and for the entire time I just felt so welcome and at ease.

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We climbed the town’s high point, Mount Phousi, which has a temple atop it along with giant Buddhist sculptures on the path up. In thirty five degree heat more than a few bottles of water were necessary, but the views at the top were more than worth it. Inside the temple a Buddhist ceremony was underway and so everyone was silent, only heightening the beauty of the entire experience. The remainder of our day was spent looking at the many other temples around the town and the National Museum. That evening we had dinner in town followed by some drinks and visited the night market.

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Luang Prabang is surrounded by wilderness, and sadly one of the carriers of felled trees are elephants. As time progresses, and it becomes more taboo, more of the elephants are being moved from timber camps to camps set up to rehabilitate them. Some of the camps are purely to visit the elephants, others you can bathe them and others you can ride them. I felt like when we spoke to people about our intention to ride elephants we were really looked down upon, and I totally understand if you oppose riding the elephants but I had looked in great detail at the sanctuary we were visiting and although it’s never 100% guaranteed to be certain when reading up online, I felt comfortable with what I had read that the animals were treated well and for me a well treated elephant carrying 150 kilos worth of people twice a day far trumps an abused, mistreated and underfed animal carrying several tons of timber daily. Again, I’ll stress that I completely respect the opinion of others that differ to mine but I expect the same in return. As an animal lover it was by far one of the best experiences of my entire life, to be so close and able to touch, feed and wash them was something I will remember for the rest of my life. I was so surprised by how their skin felt, and how overwhelmingly huge they were. The relationship evident between the animal and ‘mahoot’ or trainer was wonderful to see, and I loved every single second of it (especially when Paul got off and I got to bathe it alone).

After a short elephant ride and bathing them in the Mekong River, we then visited then Kuang Si Waterfalls, around five minutes from where the sanctuary was located. Sunday is traditionally Lao people’s family day, so it was busy, but stunning nonetheless. I had looked up the waterfalls for months previous to our trip and I couldn’t believe the injustice photographs, including mine, done to them. The water such a light blue-green in the white pools, paths beaten into the trees and greenery underfoot, bridges stretching across the pools and tree swings with a continuous flow of people diving into them. Outside the falls is a market with clothes, souvenirs  and food and just inside the park they are situated in there’s a small zoo with bears and other animals that I admittedly didn’t pay attention too because the bears were extremely fascinating.

Almost a year after visiting Luang Prabang and revisiting the piece I wrote on it, I feel my affection has only grown for it. Being able to compare it with almost twenty other locations in Southeast Asia, it was hands down my favourite place, and it beats the places I’ve visited elsewhere in the world, too. The art, the nature and the people make it so worth the visit, but if you go just for a break from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding towns and cities I guarantee it will be the best break you ever take.

 

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Meet the Bloggers! Caitlin Russell

My interest in photography began around six years ago, when I received my first camera as a Christmas gift. I remember thinking it was the best thing in the world; I would obsess over taking photographs of my friends and my surroundings and I would love going home at the end of every dinner or day trip to the beach and whittling them down to my favourites.
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Five years later, studying Art History at the University of St Andrews, I have a completely different understanding of photography, how I can improve my skills and how to think critically when taking photographs. Studying Art History made me want to travel and see all the wonderful art I was discussing so desperately, and so I did.
My interest in travelling finally materialised when I spent ten weeks travelling through East Asia with my boyfriend. For me photography became a way of sharing my experiences with the people at home or, in the case of my blog, for people who had an interest in the places I was visiting. I remember after being too embarrassed to share my work for so long, getting the feedback I need to continue documenting my travels with both photographs and words. My previous trips I had already photographed, and I was able to add more and more content to the blog to make it what it is today.
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I love to travel, and I love to capture every detail I can of each place I visit in order to share it. This summer we will be spending five weeks travelling through Europe and a subsequent five in Bali, Flores Kuala Lumpur and Komodo.
Check out more from Caitlin Russell here
Check out more of my travel writing and photography over on www.caitlinjeanrussell.comimage