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.

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. 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:

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 £5 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.

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 had 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. 

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.

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. 

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

[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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dreadlock Holiday: Jamaica

From Margate to Montego Bay. Well, not quite - I didn't actually make it out of capital city Kingston during my short week in the Caribbean earlier this year.

There primarily to undertake a long-planned Bob Marley pilgrimage on the eve of what would have been his 70th birthday, my trip concluded with the massive outdoor celebratory concert on Kingston Waterfront which saw Jamaica's reggae royalty performing alongside a few of Marley's own sons.

I have to say it was an almost religious experience watching that show from the front row and feeling the love for the national hero who catapulted his genre onto a global stage in the 1970s.

Capleton at Bob Marley 70th birthday concert
        Damian Marley  both © Kris Griffiths

The week leading up to the gig had seen me traverse the city in Bob's footsteps, taking in the neighbourhood he grew up in (Trenchtown), the studio he recorded in (Tuff Gong) and the mountainside retreat he escaped to following the attempt on his life (Strawberry Hill, pic below).

While so many Western tourists in Jamaica gravitate to coastal resorts like aforementioned Montego, it was gratifying to 'keep it real' in the city and soak up the local positive vibrations around the annual week of celebration.

It was also fascinating to find out more about the national Rastafari religion that pervades the city and island. There is always a waft of ganja on the breeze but not much in the way of the heavy drinking culture more prevalent on Britain's shores.

I would earnestly recommend to any fans of Marley and reggae music that they make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, to see exactly where the genre's riddims originate from and to experience the peace and one love promoted by its leader, struck down way before his time.

My Rough Guides feature on Kingston pilgrimage
And review of 70th bday concert for Huffington Post.
All photos except Strawberry Hill (c) Kris Griffiths.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Coasting on a Sunny Halloween: Margate

From Zimbabwe to the Kent coast. Last week I visited Margate for the second time this year, the first instance in June to review the locally famous Ambrette for an Esquire piece on Britain's best Indian restaurants, and the second to spend a bit more time in the town after that previous eye-opening visit.

For me, The Ambrette epitomises Margate's transformation from faded seaside town to arty heavyweight, which was a joy to walk around following an absence of around 25 years since last visiting as a boy. From the new Turner Contemporary Gallery to the Banksy-style wall murals around the Old Town, Margate has much more of an edge to it these days, which is pleasing to see after the evidence of its decline in the last couple of decades.

Was just as pleasing to see the plans of the imminent return of Dreamland, the iconic amusement park I'd visited twice as a boy, which has lain dormant for the last ten years. Was quite poignant during my previous visit to see it for the first time in its sorry state through the railings of the car park it currently dwells within.Will definitely be back for its resurrection next year as the world's first heritage amusement park.

While on the subject of that scene, as I mentioned to the Dreamland representative over afternoon tea at the Sands Hotel, I wish the council would do something with that tower block, and I don't mean knock it down - just paint it or give it some kind of arty cladding, in keeping with the rest of the town's new aesthetic. Many local residents and workers don't seem to mind it, but you can see why it's regarded by many others as a bit of an eyesore.

The view over the sea from the Sands Hotel balcony was my parting shot - not quite a Turner sunset but pleasant enough to see what this coastal spot's still got going for it.

And so concluded my Turner's Margate tour. The hotels I stayed in on each visit are also indicative of what the town has to offer on the accommodation front, from the Edwardian charm of Walpole Bay Hotel to the more contemporary stylings of the newer Crescent Victoria, and both at highly reasonable tariffs.

And as the post title mentions, this visit was blessed by the warmest weather seen on record for Halloween, which made the beach strolls around Botany Bay even better, sans the summer crowds.
So yeah, see you next year Margate.

My latest feature on Margate will appear in Waitrose Weekend magazine in January.