travels

High-speed rail in France should be faster

In my previous post I wrote about my holiday in Biarritz, but I would like to reflect on the high-speed train I used to travel there separately.

First I used the tram and metro to travel from The Hague to Rotterdam. In Rotterdam I used the Thalys high-speed train to travel through Antwerp and Brussels to Paris, stopping at Gare du Nord. Not surprisingly, this station lies north of the center of Paris. Then it was necessary to travel with metro line 4 from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse, which lies southwest of the center of Paris. There I used the TGV high-speed train to travel through Bordeaux, Dax and Bayonne before exiting the train at Biarritz.

Travel times are as follows:

  1. The leg between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord took 2:37 hours on the outward journey and 3:05 on the return journey.
  2. The transfer and waiting in Paris required 1:12 hours on the outward journey and 2:14 on the return journey.
  3. The leg between Gare Montparnasse and Biarritz took 4:16 hours on the outward journey and 4:13 on the return journey.

I noticed several things. The journey time between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord varies quite a bit. For some reason Google Maps suggests a trip which combines a different metro line with a bus, rather than just using metro line 4. The transfer with metro line 4 actually requires no more than 20 minutes for the metro itself and 20 minutes to get from the metro to the train stations. Especially on the return journey, a lot of time was wasted on the transfer. Unlike the TGV Euroduplex, the Thalys is not a double-deck train, so boarding is less efficient. Because the train is so long the passengers need more time to walk to their wagon on the platforms.

According to The Train Line, the distance between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord is 370 kilometers and the distance from Gare Montparnasse to Biarritz is 668 kilometers. The maximum speed of the TGV Euroduplex (on normal commercial routes) is 320 kilometers per hour, which the train did actually reach (it’s shown on the monitors in the train) between Paris and Bordeaux. The distance between Paris and Bordeaux is 499 kilometers and it takes the TGV Euroduplex on average 2:20 hours to cross this distance.

So with this information we can do some calculations on the average speed:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris: 141 km/h (assuming 2:37 travel time)
  2. Paris to Bordeaux: 214 km/h
  3. Bordeaux to Biarritz: 90 km/h (assuming 1:53 travel time)

It makes sense that Rotterdam to Paris is slower than Paris to Bordeaux because the former route has stops in Antwerp and Brussels, while the latter has none. But it doesn’t explain the entire difference. On the route, I noticed that the Thalys slows down significantly at certain parts in Belgium, not just the part of the route where it drives through Antwerp and Brussels where it might cause noise disturbance. The part between Bordeaux and Biarritz is pitifully slow, but that’s because the TGV is driving over ordinary rail there, not dedicated high speed rail.

The journey from Paris to Bordeaux is fast, but the entire journey is way too slow. If we want to reach our climate goals and convince the airline passengers to take the train, things have to be improved.

My improvement plan would look like this:

  1. Dump the Thalys and have a TGV Euroduplex (by the time this hypothetical plan is implemented more likely its successor, the Avelia Horizon) drive all the way from Amsterdam to destinations in France and further.
  2. Build a new TGV station for all TGV trains heading to Paris, so that a transfer to a different train station in Paris will no longer be necessary. This is already the case in Madrid, where a tunnel was constructed to connect the Chamartin and Atocha railway stations for high-speed trains. Such a dedicated TGV station should obviously be located on the outskirts of Paris and would necessarily require more time for passengers to transfer to the center of Paris in favor of faster TGV traffic around the city.
  3. Start with building high speed rail track from Bordeaux to the Spanish border sooner. Spain is already much closer to completing their high speed rail track to the French border (2023 compared to 2032). Progress on the the LGV Montpellier–Perpignan is even slower. That is the last gap of 150 kilometers on the Mediterranean side of France’s network to the Spanish border. It will be operational by 2040, which is downright shameful.
  4. Reduce the amount of stops after Bordeaux by removing the stop at Dax, which is just a small village with a population of little more than 20,000. Remove the stop at Biarritz as well, because Bayonne is larger and is very close to Biarritz anyway. These extra stops at small towns slow down the journey too much for little gain.

Let’s assume that all these measures are realized and that it’s possible to maintain an average speed of 200 km/h with the stops included. Assuming the distance between Amsterdam to Madrid on the rail network roughly equals their distance of 1.800 kilometers on the road network, travel by high-speed train could take just nine hours. It will surely be expensive, but it’s a matter of political will. Spain has already shown that it’s feasible because its high-speed rail network is much more extensive. Spain’s network is still being expanded significantly and swiftly, while France is lagging behind. If we want to be serious about excellent high-speed rail in France which can compete with air travel, it’s essential that these improvements are implemented.

Visited Biarritz in September 2021

I used to go surfing at Scheveningen frequently, several days in a month or so. I stopped doing that after our first and second daughter were born, because I didn’t have enough time anymore. Another reason was that Hart Beach, my surf school there, stopped offering the lessons which they planned ad hoc on the day of the week with the best surfing conditions. Instead, they would just offer lessons on a fixed day and time, resorting to skateboarding if surfing conditions were bad. I didn’t like this and stopped with their lessons completely. Efforts to go surfing on my own were further complicated by scarce days with good surfing conditions and my inability to seize the days which did offer good conditions.

I still love surfing though. I was looking forward to go on a surfing holiday to France, Portugal or Spain again, where the waves are typically much better than in Scheveningen. In September 2017 we visited Peniche in Portugal and had good waves. In May 2019 we visited Capbreton in France, which was supposed to have good waves as well. The World Surf League (WSL) organizes world championships in nearby Hossegor after all. Instead we got rather mediocre waves in May. I felt we arrived at the wrong time of the year and it would have been better to go in September or October (during which time the WSL actually organizes their events there).

I asked Stephanie whether she was okay with me going on a surfing trip for six days in September, since she doesn’t like surfing herself. She didn’t like the idea of being alone with our children for so long, but she was so kind to let me go. I’m not sure if this is normal for young parents, but I do know that it was never a problem for my own parents. My mother took care of us while my dad usually went on a winter sports holiday with his friends for a week, every year. Vice versa, he took care of us when my mother went on holiday with friends.

Because the Spanish state railways (Renfe) stopped offering the sleeper train from Irun to Lisbon due to COVID19 my options were more limited this time. I insist on not using aircraft and didn’t want to spend more than two days on the outgoing and return journeys. I decided that I’d go to France again, Biarritz this time. Biarritz is a nicer place to stay than Capbreton or Hossegor because it’s a bigger city with more character than the those two smaller villages.

Before I decided to go in September, I consulted Magic Seaweed for statistics. In September, the Côte des Basques beach on the southern edge of Biarritz is supposed to have 60% of days with surfable waves. Maybe not as good as the 82% for the Cantinho da Baia beach just north of Peniche, but certainly better than the 9% for Scheveningen.

When I arrived at Biarritz I paid for an intensive surf training (two lessons of ninety minutes every day) with the Jo Moraiz Surf School. This was for all four days I stayed in Biarritz. This school, like several others, gives their surf lessons on the northern end of Côte des Basques, where it’s sheltered by a headland extending into the sea and the waves are supposedly better. Even in September (which is not as busy as the summer months) this spot is very busy, with many surf schools concentrating there. I often had to abandon an attempt to grab a wave because there were others in front of me or because I risked ‘dropping in’ on others who had priority for that wave.

This beach is also very limited by the tides, because it disappears at high tide. At high tide you shouldn’t surf there because there is a risk of colliding with the rocks on the shoreline. Due to this limitation the second ninety minute lesson followed directly after the first, without a break, on three days. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but it’s harder to grab waves if you’re too tired to paddle after the first lesson.

What was most important to me was the quality of the waves. Unfortunately these turned out to be rather mediocre. Most of the waves I saw were closeout waves which broke quickly, all at once from end to end. These are not suitable for surfing. In the worst case, these gave me a nasty wipeout, getting dropped from my surfboard and then being submerged and somersaulted by the wave. In the best case I got a boring straight ride to the beach without any opportunity to maneuver on the wave.

Surfable waves are left handers, right handers or a-frames, which break respectively to the left, right or both the left and right from the perspective of the person surfing them. I saw very little of these and noticed that everyone else was struggling as well, it was difficult to ride a good wave. On one day the waves were tall, up to two meters, on another day one meter, but they seemed to behave the same in closing out. On the last day the sea was mostly too flat and messy to catch a rideable wave.

To my disappointment I didn’t get any wave which was better than the one I once got on a stormy day in the autumn at Scheveningen. I managed to catch a nice left hander there relatively far from the beach and was able to ride it for at least five seconds. In that moment, time seemed to stop for me, as I apparently entered a state of flow. I was riding that wave as if I was Poseidon himself, even though that wave was tame by the standards of much better surfing spots. I had hoped to have more experiences like that in Biarritz, but this didn’t happen.

I asked myself, where are those easy waves which are suitable for longboarders, which are slow too break and allow for a very long ride on the wave? The kind of wave you see in this video of Batu Bolong on Bali? After some more searching I found that the 2018 Longboard Pro, organized by the WSL, was held on Côte des Basques from 7 to 10 June in 2018. June, one of the months with the lowest chances of good waves if we are to believe the statistics on Magic Seaweed. But on the highlight video for that event I see some fine waves. I had expected better waves for September, but I guess good waves depend a lot on luck. I see the WSL reserves eight days or more for many of their events, just so they can select the day with the best surfing conditions for their championships. Obviously my four days weren’t enough and I had some bad luck.

I feel that I wasn’t able to improve my skills significantly due to the mediocre surfing conditions in Biarritz. What didn’t help either was that my surf school didn’t match my expectations. The instructors and others from the Jo Moraiz Surf School were nice people, but they didn’t put enough effort in knowing their customers. The instructor I started with on the first day adapted his teaching well to my experience, but when I had two lessons with different instructors I had to explain my level of experience to them again. This could have been avoided with a proper intake and briefing of the instructors. Everyone could speak English, but in some cases there still was some language barrier.

During two lessons there even was no instructor for the group in the green (unbroken) waves where I was, just one for the group with the beginners in the white (already broken) waves. In fact I didn’t get the lessons I paid for at that time, I would have been better off just hiring a wetsuit and surfboard.

Even more problematic was that they didn’t teach anything about surf etiquette and paddling technique. For the latter, it’s as if you’re not telling a child that they should maintain speed to avoid falling when they’re learning to ride a bike. As Kale Brock and Rob Case tell us on YouTube, paddling is an essential skill and doing it efficiently makes a big difference. Most of a surfing session consists of paddling after all.

In their defense, this surf school had a lot of people who got there for one or two incidental lessons, not an entire intensive program of four or five days. I understand that you can’t spend as much time on surf etiquette and paddling technique then, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. If it can be explained in a YouTube video in a few minutes, you surely could cover the subjects for five or ten minutes during your lesson.

While it wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t recommend the Jo Moraiz Surf School. I’m not sure how the other surf schools in Biarritz compare with them, but compared to the instructors at Hart Beach in Scheveningen or my surf camp in Peniche it wasn’t good enough. In that surf camp the instructors tracked the progress of their customers. There was video analysis and adequate theoretical explanation of surfing, even though they didn’t spend much attention to paddling either. Next time I’ll ask more critical questions to a surf school about their curriculum to determine whether they’re worth it. Or maybe I’ll go to a surf camp or just hire a wetsuit and board. I intend to go surfing at Scheveningen more often again so I don’t start my surf holidays out of shape.

This post became rather long, but I want to end it on a positive note. Even though it was not what I expected and I was disappointed, I still enjoyed it. For me, being in the water is always enjoyable to some degree. The best part of this surfing holiday was my company, my father. He didn’t join me for surfing, but to ride his bike around Biarritz. It was very nice to spend so much time with him again. This holiday left me wanting for another surf holiday next year. I want to be able to nose ride a longboard and transition from a longboard to a shortboard. Maybe even get barreled if my luck and skills allow it.

Visited Sardinia in June 2018

For our summer holiday of 2018 we wanted to go to a place with a lot of good beaches. One reason was that we had to go in warm month of June, another was that Stephanie is pregnant. This meant frequent long walks through cities or nature were not an option. The destination also had to be relatively close by, so that we didn’t need to drive more than one day with our car. This made Sardinia an attractive option. The schedule was as follows:

  • Fri 08 Car from The Hague (5:00) to Toulon (18:00), ferry from Toulon (20:00) to Porto Torres.
  • Sat 09 Arrival at Porto Torres (8:00), Alghero, Grotta di Nettuno, Spiaggia di Porto Ferro, Sassari.
  • Sun 10 Sassari, Spiaggia di Platamona.
  • Mon 11 Asinara, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Sassari.
  • Tue 12 Castelsardo, Spiaggia di Rena Bianca, Arzachena.
  • Wed 13 Tempio Pausania, Nuraghe Maiori, Arzachena.
  • Thu 14 Porto Pollo (wind surfing), Arzachena.
  • Fri 15 Palau (boat tour), Arzachena.
  • Sat 16 Olbia, Cala Brandinchi, San Teodoro.
  • Sun 17 Spiaggia La Cinta, Nuoro.
  • Mon 18 Serra Orrios, Grotta di Ispinigoli, Dorgali, Nuoro.
  • Tue 19 Spiaggia di Sos Dorroles, Nuoro.
  • Wed 20 Cala Gonone (boat tour), Nuoro.
  • Thu 21 Nuraghe Santu Antine, Monte d’Accoddi, Porto Torres, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Porto Torres.
  • Fri 22 Ferry from Porto Torres (7:15) to Barcelona (19:00), car to Salou.
  • Wed 27 Car from Salou to The Hague.

We chose to use the car this time because it meant we didn’t need to rent one on Sardinia. Our own car was also nicer to drive because we had bought a good second-hand Toyota Prius in January. It also allowed us to take along more luggage because we didn’t have carry everything with us in a train. The car is a lot cheaper than the train, it cost us around € 110 for petrol and € 65 for road tolls to get from The Hague to Toulon. The train is much faster (7 hours and 41 minutes from Den Haag HS to Gare de Toulon) but would have cost us around € 350 for two people. Boarding the ferry with or without a car makes a difference of about € 20. And then I haven’t considered the costs of car rental yet.

Of course it didn’t feel good to use a car from an environmental perspective, but it was my compromise with Stephanie. But even if we did use the train, we still would have faced the huge black fumes coming from the exhaust pipe of the ferry. In theory we could have used the train and then a sailboat to travel to Sardinia, but the options I’ve seen for sailboats were very expensive.

Sardinia doesn’t offer as much with regards to culture as other regions of Italy. Alghero and Olbia have two good archeological museums (the one in Sassari lacked good presentation). The city centers of Alghero and Sassari are certainly worth visiting, especially Sassari because it is less popular with tourists (don’t visit Sassari on Sunday like us though, because most sights will be closed). Apart from cities, you will find many interesting prehistoric Nuragic sites scattered through the countryside. Some of these sites such as Nuraghe Santu Antine can be quite elaborate. The relatively smaller offer of culture didn’t bother us because we expected this and the abundance of beautiful beaches compensated for that.

Piazza Regina Margherita in Olbia

As for beaches, Sardinia made good on all expectations. I’ve visited great beaches in Puglia and Calabria, but in Sardinia they are more frequent and have a more consistent quality. The photos I’ve uploaded don’t do them justice, in reality they are even more georgeous. I loved swimming in the crystal clear waters, with such beauty I did not see any need to visit the best beaches in the tropics. What I enjoyed most was learning the basics of wind surfing in a day at Porto Pollo, with the company MB Pro Center. It was too bad I had planned just one day for this. I’d like to visit Sardinia again in the future. I intend to reserve more time then for snorkeling, kiteboarding and sailing, for which there was no space in the plan. I’d love to sail in the Maddalena archipelago with more freedom. This holiday we chose one of the motorized boats departing from Palau, but it catered to a large group of tourists and only went down the trodden paths.

Cala Brandinchi

As for other outdoor activities, there is a fair share of interesting caves to visit. We had to skip visits to Tiscali and Gola Su Gorropu, Europe’s ‘Grand Canyon’, due to the long hikes in the hot weather. I hope to visit these in the future. On the other hand I would have scrapped Castelsardo from the schedule. It has a castle on a tall hill, but its interior and the view from the top weren’t very interesting. I thought Tempio Pausania and Dorgali would be worthwhile because they lie in the interior, far away from the tourists, but there wasn’t much worth seeing there. You can buy some good wine though at Cantina Gallura and Cantina Dorgali respectively. In the interior, Nuoro is a larger city with more substantial sights.

Of course you can‘t have it all. For me Sardinia’s main disadvantage was the food. It wasn’t bad, but I consider the food of the other regions of Southern Italy to be clearly superior. The cuisine is rather carnivorous and vegetarian or vegan options are limited. Order a dish with fava beans and there’s a change it might include lard. I haven’t eaten a single satisfying fish dish during my whole holiday. Maybe it was just a matter of bad luck and I had to look better. I do recommend Agriturismo Candela near Arzachena and Agriturismo Li Mori in San Teodoro for offering tasty food for a good price in a nice decor, these places are most memorable for me.

At the end of our stay in Sardinia we took a ferry to Barcelona and then went to a camping in Salou were Stephanie’s parents were staying. The company was good, but I don’t like camping for long. That camping was far too massive for my taste as well. Salou is only good for mass tourism and lacks any authenticity. I would like to see more of other parts of Spain though. I’m not sure were we will go for our holiday next year, but I’m leaning towards Hossegor in southwestern France for some good surfing.

Cala Luna, looking north

Visited Portugal in September 2017

Since we moved to The Hague we have become acquainted with surfing (wave surfing) in Scheveningen. A single surf lesson there started our interest. Considering that the surfing conditions in The Netherlands are often quite bad, we thought about doing more surfing during a holiday elsewhere in Europe. This led to our holiday in Portugal right after our wedding on 2 September 2017. Below is our travel schedule, with the train journey and ticket prices for a single person.

  • Mon 04 Sep train from Rotterdam to Lisbon at 8:58 AM (€ 153).
  • Tue 05 Sep arrival in Lisbon at 7:20 AM (€ 148).
  • Sun 10 Sep bus from Lisbon to Peniche.
  • Sun 17 Sep bus from Peniche to Lisbon.
  • Sun 17 Sep train from Lisbon to Rotterdam at 9:34 PM (€ 148).
  • Mon 18 Sep arrival in Rotterdam at 10:02 PM (€ 158).

As a genuine environmentalist, it took some research to figure out how to get to Portugal by train in a short time. While France and Spain have comparatively good high-speed rail networks, they are not well connected now. The journey over the France-Spain border isn’t possible with high-speed trains yet. Portugal is much worse because even the normal railway connection with Spain is poor.

Fortunately the Spanish Renfe Operadora operates a night train from Irun. This Spanish town is just across the border from Hendaye in southwestern France, which is the final stop of a TGV line. This night train goes all the way to Lisbon. Starting from the tram to The Hague Central Station in the early morning, this meant we could step out of the train in Lisbon the next morning.

While efficient, that night train isn’t very comfortable. We opted for the expensive two-person cabin with shower and toilet, but the bathroom didn’t look very inviting. We didn’t sleep very well either and the dinner was quite bad as well, I’d seriously recommend taking your own food, maybe even an army ration with a flameless heater if you insist on warm food. If I’d take this train again (which I would because it’s a fast way to travel) I’d just go for the simple reclining seat. Much cheaper, just suck it up with the discomfort and lack of quality sleep. It won’t be much better in the expensive cabin anyway.

We spent five days in Lisbon first before we took a bus from Lisbon to Peniche for a week of surf camp. Lisbon reminds me of Amsterdam in a negative way. Like Amsterdam, Lisbon has been turned into a zoo for tourists, complete with tuk-tuks contributing to traffic congestion. All thanks to ridiculously cheap flights while honest tourists like me pay a premium for sustainable train travel. In spite of this, it is a nice city with an interesting city center spread over several hilltops. Not the most interesting city I’ve seen, but certainly good. The day trips to the palaces at Sintra and Mafra were very memorable on the other hand.

Peniche and it’s surroundings aren’t a tourist trap, it’s busy with surfers instead. The surf camp we booked with, Maximum Surfcamp (now defunct), followed a simple formula: you have a small room, shared bathroom and a communal courtyard where meals were served. In the morning everyone gathers for the buses to the beach, for the surf lessons which continue into the afternoon. You also get a wetsuit (the water isn’t warm on Portugal’s Atlantic coast) and a surfboard. And mountain bikes to explore the surroundings. This for seven days for a flat fee of € 500 per person.

The food was very simple but adequate. We did decide to eat in a good restaurant in Peniche a few nights for more varied food. We would have desired some more luxury in the sense of a private bathroom. The surf camp also had a rather large scale, with a lot of people who were hosted on the grounds. Smoking being allowed at the busy courtyard wasn’t good. On the other hand, the company of the other surfers was great and the surf teachers were friendly. And of course the surfing itself is so much fun. There is some kind of magic in the calm of waiting with others in the line up, waiting for the next wave to ride.

I felt like I learned a lot and would definitely want to do a whole week of surfing again. Since doing the surf camp I surf regularly at Scheveningen. You have to be lucky to get good surfing conditions and with surfing being relatively difficult to learn, I feel I need a lot of time to advance in skill. Even so, I greatly enjoy it. I certainly want to come back to Portugal for more.

Photography wise, I couldn’t be stuffed to take a lot of photos somehow. Those I did take I don’t regard as interesting. I want to finish with a few restaurant recommendations: Laurentina in Lisbon and A Sardinha in Peniche. You’ll have a hard time with vegetarian and vegan food, but I like the ubiquitous dried salted cod, called bacalhau in Portugese. It’s interesting how they can prepare it in so many different ways.

Visited Campania and Calabria in July 2017

This is another belated blog post on our summer holiday. I need to work much harder and post more frequently to catch up.

During our summer holiday of 2017 we visited Southern Italy again, this time the regions of Calabria and Campania. Calabria because I had only seen Reggio and Maratea there, leaving much more to discover. Campania to show Stephanie what I had seen there before. Below is our travel schedule which shows the places of our overnight stays. The train journey and ticket prices for a single person are included.

  • Wed 28 June train from Rotterdam to Torino (€ 101)
  • Thu 29 June train from Torino to Napoli (€ 70)
  • Fri 30 June Scalea
  • Sat 01 July Scalea
  • Sun 02 July Cosenza
  • Mon 03 July Vibo Valentia
  • Tue 04 July Vibo Valentia
  • Wed 05 July Vibo Valentia
  • Thu 06 July Vibo Valentia
  • Fri 07 July Reggio di Calabria
  • Sat 08 July Napoli
  • Sun 09 July Napoli
  • Mon 10 July Napoli
  • Tue 11 July Napoli
  • Wed 12 July train from Napoli to Milano (€ 50)
  • Thu 13 July train from Milano to Rotterdam (€ 90)

On Friday 30 June we took a train from Napoli to Salerno and got our rental car there. We returned our car there again at Saturday 8 July. From Salerno we drove to Scalea, stopping at Paestum and the Pertosa Caves on the way.

The next morning we drove inland to Laino Borgo to go rafting on the Lao River with Pollino Rafting. Somehow the only English speaking instructor ended up on a boat with Italians and we needed some time to get to understand the Italian spoken by our Italian instructor, but we enjoyed the ride. The natural environment of the Lao river valley is so enchantingly beautiful. In the afternoon we relaxed on the long stretch of beach at Praia a Mare, with its peculiar black sand. Be sure to take a look at the secluded Arco Magno beach in the south, which is hidden behind a natural rock arch.

Beach south of Praia a Mare

We visited Cosenza to see more of the hinterland. On the way to Cosenza you can stop at Diamante for a nice historical center embellished with mural paintings. If you are a devout Catholic, make another stop at the sanctuary of Paola, but skip if you’re not. From Cosenza’s center we made the long climb to the city’s Swabian Castle on foot, to be rewarded with an impressive view over the valley of Cosenza. Except for an archaeology museum there isn’t much else to see in this city. Because I like botanical gardens we went to see the botanical garden of the University of Calabria, but this garden turned out to be purely utilitarian. It didn’t have the aesthetic appeal of other botanical gardens I had seen elsewhere.

Mural painting in Diamante

Cosenza seen from the Swabian Castle

Going further south, we made a short stop at Pizzo. It was in Pizzo’s small castle where Joachim Murat, general of Napoleon Bonaparte and king of Naples, was executed. Nowadays the castle has a small exhibition which documents his final days here. A short walk north out of town you can find the rock-cut Church of Piedigrotta close to the sea. The artistic quality of the sculptures there wasn’t really worth our time. What is certainly worth your time is a taste of tartufo, an ice cream dessert which was invented in Pizzo.

Vibo Valentia came next. It lies in the hinterland and is not frequented by tourists. For three days we would drive from this place to the coastal towns which were more popular with tourists. Tropea is the premier resort town in the area here. It has a charming old center, situated on cliff with a steep drop towards its beautiful beach with crystal clear water.

Further to the south, the beaches near Capo Vaticano were no less endowed by nature with stunning beauty. It is not surprising that the beach of Grotticelle is quite busy with tourists, but not in the extreme in early July. It’s certainly worth it, but there are also many beaches which are relatively quiet, remote and unspoiled by beach bars. I can recommend the beaches of Michelino near Parghelia and Marinella near Zambrone, both a short distance north of Tropea. I have a lot more beaches to visit in Southern Italy, but these around Tropea and Capo Vaticano rank among my best.

Grotticelle beach

A Ficara beach

Beach of Tropea

Besides hitting beaches, we had a cooking class and a diving trip. We went for a one day cooking class in the vicinity of Tropea, organized by In Italy Tours. This course at Agriturismo Manitta emphasized food tasting over teaching, but I greatly enjoyed it nevertheless. Our host Tania was very friendly, it was fun to chat with the other Canadian participants and the food was awesome.

We went diving with Dannam Diving Tropea. They are actually located in Marina di Zambrone and drive you to the harbor of Tropea to board a rigid-inflatable boat there. In our case, they took us to the rocks in front of the beach of Riaci. Because we had never done diving before, this was a discovery dive for people who don’t have a diving license, the dive doesn’t go deep, maybe five meters. We didn’t see anything the people from the beach, who were swimming above us with snorkels, would have missed. We certainly didn’t see the more exciting and exotic marine life shown on their website, just sea urchins and the common small fish. Even so, it was interesting to go through this experience. I’ll settle for free diving in the future though, because it doesn’t require so much preparation and equipment.

After all this, we continued south towards Reggio. We stopped at Rosarno and Gioia Tauro, which both have small museums on the excavations of Medma and Metauros respectively. Unless you are highly interested in archaeology and history like me, they’re not worth stopping for. The last stop before Reggio was Scilla, which was totally sublime. Like Tropea it’s located on the shore, but it’s sited on a taller cliff with a more dramatic drop towards it’s lovely beach. The Castello Rufo, built where the cliff projects into the sea, offers a magnificent view over the surroundings. Before leaving, we went to Ristorante Glauco east of the castle to enjoy very good food and more scenic views from their rooftop terrace.

Boats east of Castello Rufo

Beach of Scilla

Castello Rufo seen from east

In Reggio di Calabria I could finally visit the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia. The last time I visited it was under renovation. I love the result, anyone who is even remotely interested in archaeology and history should visit this museum. Especially the Riace bronzes are astonishing works of art. Since Reggio was leveled by earthquakes several times in history, there isn’t much else to see in this city.

We spent the following day driving back from Reggio to Salerno. I was in for a stop at water park, Odissea 2000 at Rosarno. Because we departed late there wasn’t enough time, so we skipped it. We spent three more days in Napoli, visited Herculaneum and Pompeii again south of the city. I wanted to see several places which I had not visited before.

Herculaneum, looking northeast

Of these, the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia was very worthwhile. I like to fantasize about how decadent this huge thermal baths complex would have been in its prime. It’s a short walk from the Fusaro station on the Cumana railway. Determined to visited the Aragonese castle of Baia and the museum inside, we walked all the way uphill (no public transport there!) to see that the castle was closed on Sunday afternoon. The Portici Palace and it’s botanical garden were closed as well. There is so much to see in Napoli and its vicinity that another visit is warranted in the future.

I think the rafting, the cooking course and the diving added some more diversity to the travel plan. What also helped is that we stayed in the same place for longer and drove shorter distances. This holiday was a success. For the coming summer, my question is if Sardinia’s fine beaches can eclipse those of Calabria?

Make high-speed rail travel more efficient

Last year I wrote that I had stopped using aircraft because of their excessive use of fossil fuels. The consequence was that from then on I would only use other forms of transport to travel for holidays. In fact mostly trains for their speed. Last year we practiced what I preached and used the train to travel to Puglia.

The journey went well. The French TGV and the Italian FrecciaRossa high-speed trains can reach speeds of 300 km/h, shortening travel times significantly compared to ordinary trains and buses. On the railroad from The Hague in the Netherlands to Foggia in Italy, you’ll experience these speeds between Paris and Lyon as well as Milan and Bologna for example. It’s awesome to see the surroundings next to the train flash by in the blink of an eye. The problem is that you won’t be travelling so fast for most of the time.

Take the part from Rotterdam to Paris, Lyon and then Milan for example. Coincidentally, according to Google Maps the distance covered by all three legs of this journey is very close at approximately 450 kilometers each. Travel times are also close, at 4:30 hours each. This doesn’t take into account possible congestion, but the route is a worst case scenario which passes through the center of each city. For the train journey with Thalys (from Rotterdam) and TGV (from Paris onwards), the three legs take 2:46, 1:51 and 5:11 (!) hours respectively.

Much of this is to blame on the route through the Alps where the TGV can’t go fast and stops at every provincial backwater. This will be solved with the Turin–Lyon high-speed railway, but that is expected to be finished by 2028 due to the construction of the 57 km long Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel. Another big issue is that the Thalys arrives in Paris at Gare du Nord and that the TGV to Milan departs from Gare de Lyon two hours later. There is a good subway connection between both stations, but you lose a lot of time which could have been spent in the train.

Such important tunnels as the Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel should already have been constructed in the past if there had been foresight of the future. Paris should have one huge TGV station on the outskirts of the city. Give it a good connection to the center with a subway line so the TGV’s can be focused on serious long distance travel and short transfers between trains (which also means more trains). When that’s done, high-speed trains will be able to compete much better with aircraft.

In other places the story is the same. Milan also has two stations for high speed trains, requiring you to make a transfer. When you travel from Milan to Foggia, there simply is no high speed rail on Italy’s eastern coast. The intercity on that route wasn’t slow, but I’m looking forward to the new high-speed line from Napoli to Bari which is due to finish in 2022. When I explored options for a trip to Spain (which also has a decent high-speed rail network) I noticed that there is still no high-speed railway between Montpellier and Perpignan (in France) and that there is no high-speed railway from Madrid to Lisbon (even the ordinary railway connections to Lisbon are scarce).

I can deal with such limitations by spending the night in a city half way through the journey. But others will just take a flight. If we want to make long distance train travel attractive, we have to do a lot more.

Visited Puglia in September 2016

Apparently I’m failing to catch up with my backlog of blog posts, but here is another belated post on our holiday in Puglia. We traveled there in September 2016.

The schedule was as follows, with times and prices for train (and one bus) tickets mentioned for one person:

  • Thu 08th: Rotterdam Centraal 14:58 → Paris Gare du Nord 17:35 (€ 35)
  • Fri 09th: Paris Gare de Lyon 06:28 → Milano Porta Garibaldi 13:50 (€ 39), Milano Porta Garibaldi 14:18 → Foggia 21:35 (€ 35)
  • Sat 10th: Bari, Grotte di Castellana, Polignano a Mare
  • Sun 11th: Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, Egnazia, Fasano
  • Mon 12th: Alborobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Ceglie Messapica
  • Tue 13th: Ostuni, Cisternino, Ceglie Messapica
  • Wed 14th: Oria, Torre Guaceto (beach), Brindisi, Lecce
  • Thu 15th: Lecce
  • Fri 16th: Acaya, Roca Vecchia, Baia dei Turchi (beach), Galatina, Alezio
  • Sat 17th: Otranto, Castro, Grotta Zinzulusa, Specchia, Corigliano d’Otranto, Alezio
  • Sun 18th: Punta Pizzo (beach), Ugento, Gallipoli, Alezio
  • Mon 19th: Manduria, Punta Prosciutto (beach), Manduria
  • Tue 20th: Taranto, Massafra
  • Wed 21st: Massafra, Matera
  • Thu 22nd: Matera, Altamura
  • Fri 23rd: Altamura, Gravina in Puglia, Bari, Bari Centrale 21:00 → Milano Lampugnano bus station 08:45 (Flixbus € 29)
  • Sat 24th: Milano Porta Garibaldi 14:40 → Paris Gare de Lyon 22:38 (€ 39)
  • Sun 25th: Paris Gare du Nord 12:25 → Rotterdam Centraal 15:02 (€ 49)

The train journey was okay, but it’s frustrating that the journey takes relatively long due to parts with low-speed track and transfers. The railway from Lyon to Turin may pass through gorgeous landscapes in the Alps, but it turns that TGV into a snail. The route from Bologna to Foggia wasn’t fast either but featured a lot of scenic views. At some places its track runs at a distances of less than 50 meters from the coast. More about railway efficiency later in a different post.

I decided to focus this trip on the Salento peninsula, the southern part of Puglia. The northern part I saved for another trip. I revisited many places which I had already seen in 2013 but which Stephanie had not. While I did see all the highlights, I still have the feeling I missed a lot of things. In particular, I wish I had seen more of the natural environment, beaches, coasts and sea. In hindsight, I would have reduced the distances traveled and the relative share of city sightseeing a bit more. I wouldn’t have missed some iconic beaches such as Torre dell’Orso and Torre Sant’Andrea.

A big disappointment was the uncooperative weather, which was quite bad on several days with lots of clouds and rain. This is very unusual for September in Puglia. Even more unusual was the large amount of snowfall and freezing temperatures in the winter of 2016 to 2017. Climate change I guess.

But don’t get the wrong idea: we greatly enjoyed our holiday. We visited many beautiful cities, ate delicious food (too bad I didn’t take notes so I could replicate everything at home) and relaxed at some marvelous beaches. Meeting again with one of my former CouchSurfing hosts, Michele, was one of the best moments.

One word of warning to other travelers: beware of opening hours of museums, archeological sites and other places of interest and study them carefully! I knew from experience that opening hours are fishy in southern Italy, but I allowed myself to be unpleasantly surprised during this holiday far too frequently.

Beach of Polignano al Mare
Via Traiana in Egnatia

Now, let’s walk down the schedule and evaluate it. In Bari we hired a car to visit the Castellana Caves. Highly recommended indeed, I don’t remember visiting such a large and beautiful show cave before. Polignano a Mare is a bit touristy, but is a nice village perched on top of a cliff on the coast nevertheless. We didn’t have time to hang out on its beach in the first photo here though. Monopoli has a nice historic center, but several places of interest such as the castle were closed. The archeological site of Egnatia and its museum show the relatively well preserved remains of an ancient Roman city. Recommended.

Alborobello is busy with tourists who mainly come for the trulli, traditional houses in Puglia’s countryside. It was interesting, but apart from the small museum I felt I missed a tourist guide to understand where to look and what I was seeing. Locorotondo and Martina Franca offer nice historic centers. The same goes for Ostuni and Cisternino, which we visited during the following day.

Oria lures you in with a stimulating view of its historic center overlooked by a castle on a hill. When we got there we disappointed to discover that the castle wasn’t open for visitors. The beach of Torre Guaceto easily compensated for this, because of its clear waters and remote location near a nature reserve. Brindisi and Lecce are a must for everyone visiting the Salento, especially the latter has the most exquisite historic center of the region with awesome architecture. Do visit the Museo Archeologico Provinciale Francesco Ribezzo in Brindisi and the Museo Provinciale Sigismondo Castromediano in Lecce if you like archeology.

Castle of Acaya
Baia dei Turchi

Acaya is a small, quiet village with a lovely castle. Unlike Lecce’s castle (also worth a visit) almost all rooms and the roof are accessible. As icing on the cake, it had an exhibition about archeology while we visited there. Roca Vecchia is worth a visit for its archeological site (closed when we were there) and the Grotta della Poesia, a sinkhole near the coast. We continued to Baia dei Turchi, a beach further south sheltered by a forest. We saw Galatina for a few interesting church buildings.

Harbor and old center of Otranto

Otranto has a nicely preserved walled historic center next to a picturesque beach and harbor. We went further south to Castro in the hope to catch a boat and see the coast from the sea, but the weather prevented us from doing so. The Grotta Zinzulusa is a cave nearby which provided an alternative activity. Specchia was supposed to have an interesting historic center, but there wasn’t much to see. Do visit Corigliano d’Otranto to see its castle. We were given a guided visit there by an entertaining older Italian man who spoke surprisingly good English.

Punta Pizzo is a nice beach south of Gallipoli, even though the clouded weather worked against us again. I wanted to see the museum in Ugento, but that was closed in the afternoon. Gallipoli, which has an historic center on an island, took the rest of our time for that day. Unfortunately it was a bit too busy with tourists for my liking.

I had been looking forward to visit the archeological park of Manduria and was disappointed to see it was closed. We entertained ourselves with a wine tasting at the Consorzio Produttori Vini close to the site and then went to beach of Punta Prosciutto (yes, a beach called after a ham…). The weather shoved clouds in our faces, but on a sunny day you will agree that the nickname “Maldives of the Salento” is justified for this lovely beach.

Taranto’s historic center has an extraordinary position on a small island flanked by the sea and an inlet, connected to the mainland by short bridges. It absolutely shouldn’t be missed for its magnificent archeological museum. The fact that this museum was actually open (it was under renovation in 2013) compensated all my disappointments with stuff that was unexpectedly closed.

Castle of Gravina in Puglia
Chiesa di Santa Maria de Idris in Matera

Massafra is worth a visit for its center which curiously split in half by a ravine. It has a castle, but it turned out access is quite restricted there without the ability to go to the roof. Matera is just over the border with Basilicata and has much more to see. It features a lot of rock-cut architecture, visiting it is recommended.

In Altamura I hoped to learn more about how they make their famous Altamura bread, but I didn’t manage to find a cooking course there. The cathedral alone is worth a visit though. Gravina in Puglia has an interesting archeological museum and a scenic view of a ravine to the west of its historic center, but just like Altamura I think we missed some things because we didn’t know where to look. We ended our journey in Bari’s historic center, another must see. We had to take a Flixbus to Milan though, because the TrenItalia train was cancelled. The Flixbus actually had WiFi, something the trains don’t have.

Finally, a word about Puglia’s official tourism website. It’s hard to navigate this website, the quality of its information varies and isn’t always up to date. Most annoyingly, some information isn’t available in English and you frequently find dead links to non-existent pages. It’s an embarrassment. Dutch city marketing websites such as the one of The Hague are miles better. They should get their act together and design a better website.

Why I don’t want to travel with aircraft anymore

To travel to Nepal and the USA from the Netherlands several years ago, I’ve used aircraft. For traveling to closer holiday destinations such as Spain and Italy, I’ve also taken flights to get there. Since I’ve become more conscious of climate change, I decided to investigate the climate change impact of flights. My findings shocked me.

Flights cause much more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than cars, buses and trains. How much more depends on the method you use to calculate it. There are various calculators available on the Internet which can calculate CO2 emissions for a specific route. Because calculation methods and results vary so widely, I’ve compared them in the table below, on the basis of a journey with the train from Rotterdam Centraal railway station (Netherlands) to our next holiday’s destination, Bari Centrale railway station (Italy). For the flight I chose a hypothetical, non-existent flight from Rotterdam The Hague Airport (IATA: RTM) to Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (IATA: BRI).

This is one way to do the comparison. In reality, you would need to travel 200 kilometers with a car (or three hours and a quarter with the train and bus) from Rotterdam to Maastricht Aachen Airport (IATA: MST) to get a flight to Bari. You would also need to take the metro from Bari Airport to Bari Centrale, which takes around twenty minutes. This makes the comparison more favorable for the train. Also consider that the huge advantage of faster air travel can be negated in practice; the flight departs only on Wednesday and Sunday in the second week of September. We depart on Thursday with the train, which departs every day.

Calculator Flight CO2 (kg) Train CO2 (kg)
MyClimate 310
EcoPassenger 269 63
Carbon Footprint 210
Loco2 144 27
ICAO 141

I should mention that the Carbon Footprint calculator has an option to include or exclude radiative forcing. Without radiative forcing, the CO2 emissions will be 110 kilo, but considering the effect of radiative forcing I think it’s fair to include it.

EcoPassenger seems to have the most refined methodology of all the calculators. If I just enter departure station and arrival station it gives me a figure of 70 kilo for the train, but it tends to select a strange route via Switzerland to come to this result. I got to the figure of 63 kilo by calculating every leg of the journey independently, for the exact trains I’ve booked:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris (Thalys) = 6,0
  2. Paris to Milan (TGV) = 16,5
  3. Milan to Bari (FrecciaRossa to Bologna, then FrecciaBianca) = 40,3

The difference between rail transport in France and Italy is explained by the methodology used by EcoPassenger, which is accessible on their website. They take into account which fuel sources were used for electricity production in 2013. It turns out that nuclear power had a share of 75% in French electricity consumption, followed by renewable energy with 18%. Because this gives very limited CO2 emissions the journey through France scores well. Italy doesn’t use nuclear power and had a share of 41% renewable energy in total consumption. I had expected the journey from Rotterdam to Paris to emit more because the Dutch electricity mix is lagging behind. It is heavily dependent on fossil fuels with a pitiful share of merely 14% renewables in electricity consumption.

Some of the calculators indicate a huge difference in CO2 emissions between aircraft and train. A Dutch environmental organization, Milieu Centraal, calculated the difference at a factor of 7,5 for a journey from the Netherlands to Nice in France. With Loco2, aircraft emit more than five times more CO2 than the train. EcoPassenger shows the smallest difference with a factor of more than four. Their estimate is the most conservative, but their methodology is also appears to be the best and the most transparent.

So how does 269 kilo of CO2 emissions compare? Consider for example that in the Netherlands, cars traveled 12.935 kilometers on average in 2012. They emitted 119 grams of CO2 per kilometer on average in the same year, giving a total of 1.539 kilos of CO2 for the whole year. So a return flight from Rotterdam to Bari equals four months of driving an average car in the Netherlands. This still might not seem much to you. Actually, considering that in the real world you can take a one way flight from Maastricht to Bari with Ryanair for less than € 20, you might not care.

But consider some other things. If you fly long distances, CO2 emissions will equal or exceed the emissions of a car in a year. Commuting to work with your car might be a necessity, but a holiday with a flight is certainly a luxury. With all options for video conferencing today, I think flights for business reasons aren’t essential either. You can also commute to work with electric public transport, an electric car or a more efficient bus. Electric cars and buses are already showing strong growth and are likely to replace their counterparts on fossil fuels in the near future. On the other hand there is no alternative to aircraft which run on kerosene for the foreseeable future.

Because there is no way to make air travel environmentally sustainable at this time, I think we should stop doing it altogether. We have to take action against unchecked climate change. The year 2016 will be another year with a new temperature record, just like the six other years after 2000. If it goes on like this, southwest Asia is predicted to become uninhabitable due to extreme temperatures. More needs to be done to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Why not start with air travel, which was conveniently kept out of that agreement?

The question is, can we do with less? Commercial aviation is still relatively young and became popular no sooner than the 1960’s in the Netherlands. Our parents could enjoy their holiday in the Netherlands itself or elsewhere in Europe without a flight. If they could be content with that, we should be able too. I’d still love to go to Mexcio, Brazil, India and Japan one day, so this is not easy for me either. However, I can live with less and be satisfied with holidays in Europe by train. Given the danger we are in, our climate should take precedence over my and your desires. Don’t fool yourself with arguments like ‘that aircraft will still fly without me’. This assumes you are the only one prepared to act. I’m asking you to assume something different: it might take no more than two hundred people to make one flight unprofitable for an airline.

Now you know what is at stake and you know what you can do about it. What will you choose? The earth or your own desires?

Visited Amsterdam in January 2016

Amsterdam is the city which is most popular with foreign tourists in the Netherlands. As a domestic tourist I’ve visited Amsterdam a few times in the past, but there is much worth seeing there which warrants more trips to our capital city. That’s why Stephanie and I decided to visit Amsterdam on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 January.

On the first day we took a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, arriving a little bit later than we had intended, around the start of the afternoon. We first visited the Van Gogh Museum. It’s strange that I hadn’t visited this earlier, considering the treasures of art exposed here. I adore Van Gogh’s work, I consider him the last great Dutch painter. I was so impressed and fascinated with the paintings that I felt overwhelmed, almost in a state of ecstasy. It is for good reason that the museum has some text which describes the Stendhal syndrome.

The Rijksmuseum was next. I had visited it before years ago, but this was the first time I visited the museum after its renovation. I consider the renovation a great improvement, though I don’t remember well how it looked during my last visit. Loved the paintings here too. When the museum closed in the afternoon, we went to Mana Mana for dinner, an Israeli restaurant which we can recommend. Not the best I’ve sampled from Israeli cuisine, but it has a good selection of vegan dishes. We then spent the night at a hotel far to the west of Amsterdam’s center, because that was much cheaper than within the center.

On Sunday we had more time. We walked from our hotel to the center, through the Vondelpark, to visit the Stedelijk Museum. I did not like this museum, it felt like the suprematist paintings of Kazimir Malevich there ripped me out of the swoon I had entered in the Van Gogh Museum. Next was the Tropenmuseum, which has expositions on various cultures in the tropics. Especially the building it is housed in is remarkable. We finished in the Allard Pierson Museum. I had visited this archeology museum a few years ago already, but Stephanie had never seen it yet. The temporary exposition on Sicily was still interesting for me, and I would like to visit again when the renovation of the museum is finished.

We had dinner in Indonesian restaurant Kantjil & de Tijger. The food here was average, but at least it had enough vegan options. It was after dinner when we saw the best attraction of this day, the Amsterdam Light Festival. This is a boat trip through the canals of Amsterdam, which were decorated with many light art installations. It was a beautiful conclusion to our trip. The boat trip ended close to the Central Station of Amsterdam, from where we took a train back to Rotterdam.

But there is much more to see in Amsterdam. Next year I want to visit again during spring or summer to see those things for which I didn’t have time to visit. I have visited The Amsterdam Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Hermitage Amsterdam in the distant past, but would like to see them again. Attractions which I haven’t visited yet are the Hortus Botanicus, EYE Film Institute Netherlands, FOAM, Rembrandt House Museum, the Royal Palace, the New Church and the Old Church. At Muiden, at a short distance of Amsterdam, I want to see Muiden Castle.

Visited southwestern Turkey in August 2015

From Saturday 15 August to Saturday 29 August we visited southwestern Turkey. We took a flight to İzmir and hired a car there to travel along the coast in the direction of Antalya, were we took our return flight.

Just like for Sicily I made a very ambitious planning, so we could see almost everything on the coastal route from İzmir to Antalya. We did reserve enough time for enjoying beaches, but again we felt the schedule should be more relaxed. On average we spent probably two hours in our car every day. In most hotels we spent only one night, two in some.

If you studied history or you are interested in archeology like me, you will love Turkey. This country probably has to most archeological sites per square kilometer in the world. So much that the Turkish government apparently doesn’t have the budget to design preservation plans for them all, especially the very remote, smaller ruins. I was deeply impressed by some of the highlights such as the Harbor Theater in Miletus and the Temple of Apollo in Didyma. Also be sure to visit the Archeological Museums of Selçuk and Antalya. With the exception of Ephesus, all of the archeological sites I saw are relatively quiet, even in the busy month of August.

Theater of Miletus

Temple of Apollo at Didyma

The beaches in this region of Turkey are nice. Some memorable beaches which come to mind are Ölüdeniz (Fethiye), Patara, Kaputaş (east of Kalkan) and Konyaaltı (western Antalya). However, there wasn’t any beach were the water was sufficiently clear to dive and see what was going on at the seabed. In that regard I like some Italian and Greek beaches more. Also, all beaches were filled with tourists. Probably inevitable in August, but even in the summer there are plenty of Italian, Greek and even Dutch beaches which are more quiet.

Patara Beach, seen from the sea

Kaputaş Plajı (with D5100)

Konyaaltı Beach in Antalya

The food was okay, but not memorable. I get the impression that Turkish cuisine isn’t as creative with vegan dishes as some other Mediterranean cuisines. Of course, my impression might be skewed because southwestern Turkey is so extremely touristic. The rule of thumb is that more tourists means more bad restaurants. We fell victim to this on a few days, but if you search well you can find good places to eat. Maybe I would learn to appreciate Turkish cuisine more if I visited Istanbul or the less touristic regions in Turkey’s hinterland.

In Tekirova we went tandem paragliding from Tahtalı Dağı, a mountain which is 2,366 meters high, landing at the beach of Tekirova. We did so with the company Escape2Olympos.  The first time I went paragliding, in Pokhara in Nepal, I used my camera to take shots while paragliding. This was not allowed here due to safety reasons (on their website they explain that many people apparently dropped their cameras and endangered those on the ground), which I was okay with initially. Not using a camera allows me to concentrate on the flight, which is a good.

During the flight it turned out they had those GoPro cameras on a stick. Secured so it couldn’t fall, but I wasn’t told about it in advance. I told the pilot I wasn’t interested, but I did agree to hold the camera when the pilot needed to perform maneuvers or to get a better view for the camera. The pilot told me it was compulsory for him to use the camera. The near constant use of the camera distracted from the experience. The fact that they charged half the flight’s fee for the video annoyed me further. The flight itself was amazing, especially due to the huge difference in altitude and the view from above. I would recommend them only if you negotiate with them that the camera isn’t going to be used at all. You want to focus on the flight.

My greatest problem with southwestern Turkey is that the tourism industry is so overdeveloped here. This made the region lose its authenticity. This was perhaps best illustrated by a photo I saw in the castle of Bodrum. It showed an aerial photograph of Bodrum in the 1960s, when it was still a quaint small fishing village. Now it’s overflowing with hotels. I prefer regions which still possess that authenticity, such as Southern Italy.

Despite some of these reservations, we enjoyed this holiday. I would strongly recommend others to visit just outside the holiday season (in April, May, September or October) to avoid the large crowds of tourists and hot temperatures. Walking around archeological sites in temperatures above 30 °C can be taxing. We were limited to August because of Stephanie’s inflexible roster due to her work in the hospital.

Below is our schedule:

  • Sat 15th: Amsterdam → İzmir, hotel at airport
  • Sun 16th: Selçuk (Ephesus, Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Basilica of St. John, Ayasuluk Fortress)
  • Mon 17th: Priene, Miletus, Didim
  • Tue 18th: Didim (Temple of Apollo at Didyma), Iasos, Bodrum (Bodrum Castle, Mausoleum)
  • Wed 19th: Dalyan (Kaunos, İztuzu Beach), Fethiye
  • Thu 20th: Fethiye (Ölüdeniz, Kabak)
  • Fri 21st: Tlos, Pinara, Sidyma, Patara.
  • Sat 22nd: Letoon, Xanthos, Delikkemer, Kaputaş Beach, Kaş
  • Sun 23rd: Apollonia (near Sahilkılınçlı), Simena (near Kaleüçağız), Kyaneai, Sura (36.244938, 29.944004), Demre (St. Nicholas Church)
  • Mon 24th: Demre (Andriake, Myra), Arykanda, Limyra, Fineke
  • Tue 25th: Çıralı (Olympos, Olympos Beach, Chimaeara), Tekirova
  • Wed 26th: Çamyuva (paragliding from Tahtalı Dağı, Phaselis, Phaselis Beach)
  • Thu 27th: Termessos, Antalya
  • Fri 28th: Antalya (Antalya Archeological Museum, Antalya Aquarium)
  • Sat 29th: Aspendos, Perge, Antalya → Amsterdam

Heracles Sarcophagus in Antalya Museum

Nazars for sale in Kaş