Travel Blog

  1. Ten places that blew me away

    posted by Colm Hanratty | 6 Comments


    When it comes to travelling, there’s no doubt about it – I’ve been very lucky. Over the last two years alone I’ve visited every continent other than Antarctica. Throughout all the years I’ve been travelling I’ve visited lots of amazing places, and every now and then I come across somewhere that really blows me away. Trying to select the most awe-inspiring was tough, but here are ten that really stood out...

    1. Great Wall of China, Beijing, China
    When I first set foot on what is the most famous wall in the world, which you actually can’t see from space by the way, I genuinely took a deep breath, smiled to myself and thought ‘I’m standing on the Great Wall of China’. Then I embarked on a climb up a segment of the wall that managed to wipe the smile off my face, replacing it with one that was in dire need of some water. A visit to the Great Wall isn’t just about taking pictures – there’s a lot of walking to be done too so be prepared. It’s all worth it though. I challenge anybody to visit it and return saying they weren’t blown away by it.

    2. Cape Town, South Africa
    At the beginning of last year I was lucky enough to spend a week in Cape Town filming our “10 things…” video. It really stood out in comparison to other cities I'd visited. This was largely due to its iconic Table Mountain. Granted, if it was on its own it might not be anything too special, but since it’s located smack bang in the middle of the city centre and can be seen from almost anywhere, it makes South Africa’s most visited city one of the most amazing places in the world. Camps Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and neighbourhoods like the colourful Bo Kaap confirmed it as one of my favourite cities.

    3. Glendalough, Wicklow, Ireland
    Meaning ‘The Valley of the Two Lakes’ in English, Glendalough is my favourite place in my home country. Oddly enough, I didn’t visit it for the first time until my mid-20s (I lead a very sheltered younger life), but since then I’ve brought friends there, have visited to go hiking with my mother, other times to go hiking with my girlfriend (she didn’t really enjoy it though), and other times to do nothing only enjoy the scenery. It’s located in a county south of Dublin called Wicklow, which aptly has the nickname of the ‘Garden of Ireland’. If you’re visiting Dublin make sure to mark Glendalough into your itinerary, whether for a day trip or an overnight stay.

    4. Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand
    There aren’t many places in the world that could be described as ‘paradise on earth’ but Railay Beach in the Krabi region of Thailand is one of them. Located in the Andaman Sea, it’s where you’ll witness some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, as you can see from this shot I took last August. It’s known for two things – taking it easy and rock climbing. I decided to devote most of my energy to the former of the two, leaving the rock climbing to the others. Even though it was my second time there, every evening when sitting down at one of the restaurants along the beach I really felt like there weren’t many places in the world I’d rather be. It’s arguably my favourite place in Thailand.

    5. Times Square, New York, USA
    Ok, ok…so Times Square is in your face, it’s gaudy and it doesn’t really represent what real New York is about. But there’s no doubt about it – after seeing the Big Apple on the big screen since I was a kid, the first time you arrive in Times Square it’s hard not to be blown away. I’ll never forget the first time I made it there. Two of the first people I saw were Flavor Flav (of hip hop band Public Enemy) and Bridgette Nielson (Sylvester Stallone's ex-wife) who stepped out of a limo. Upon seeing them I thought to myself, “welcome to New York City” The reason I’ve singled it out is because it’s arguably the first place first timers head for, making it many people’s first experience of the world’s most famous city. For those NYC virgins out there, try not to spend too much time around Midtown though – spend your time in neighbourhoods like Greenwich Village, the East Village, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Here you’ll see a more authentic New York City.

    6. Auschwitz, Krakow, Poland
    Located about 70km from Krakow, nothing can prepare for this shocking, possibly disturbing, but undeniably moving reminder of what happened during World War II. Now a museum documenting every aspect of life for the prisoners there, upon a visit you can see how the prisoners slept, worked and lived. As harrowing as it is when you see the conditions, it is somewhere you should make sure not to miss if in that part of the world.

    7. Djemma El Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
    There aren’t many places in the world that are overwhelming, but Djemma El Fna, the focal point of Marrakech’s old town is one of them. Populated by vans selling orange juice and snake charmers during the day and food stalls at night, you genuinely don’t know where to look. It’s only once you realise you need to dissect it bit by bit, person by person, that you realise it’s like nowhere else on earth. In terms of eating, we’ve two tips. Of all the carts selling orange juice, Jodi of Legal Nomads has informed me that Stall 14 is the best one of the lot since they don’t add any sugar. Then at night, thanks to a tip from the staff at Equity Point in Marrakech, I can tell you that Stall 32 is the best of the lot. No hawkers trying to get you in – just good food.

    8. Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Peru
    I remember thinking one thing before visiting Machu Picchu – “I hope it lives up to its expectations”. Thankfully, it did. At risk of overusing a phrase, it really did blow me away. When I arrived at the viewing point initially it was drowned by clouds, but then they broke away to reveal the iconic sight. Slowly but surely the clouds cleared, sparking a flurry of camera clicks and ‘Awww…’ moments. While others scrambled to climb the main mountain of the two, Huayna Picchu, myself and the rest of the gang I was with made the conscious decision to not climb the mountain we came to look at and instead do exactly that – look at it, taking in a moment that we may never have again.

    9. Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia
    Of all ten places, this was easily the most difficult to choose. The reason? Because it's in Australia. There are so many places in Australia that will leave you breathless – Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, Twin Falls in Kakadu National Park and Uluru to name just a few. So you’re probably wondering why I chose a manmade sight rather than one of the aforementioned natural ones. Well, it’s because I’ve a soft spot for Sydney. I lived there once upon a time, meaning today it’s my favourite city. I’ve been lucky enough to have returned there twice since I left in 2000, but each time I do, when I arrive down at Circular Quay and look at the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House it reminds me of why it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

    10. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA
    I spent five nights in San Francisco and over the five days I visited the Golden Gate Bridge three times. Once during the day to walk across it, a second time at dusk to catch a sunset there, then one more time simply because I knew I was leaving and I wouldn’t be seeing it again for a long time. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it. Maybe it was the peacefulness of the area, or maybe it was the backdrop of San Francisco when looking at it from the northern end of the bridge. Who knows – maybe others won’t be as impressed by it as me. But it certainly grabbed my attention.

    What places blew you away?

  2. 6 Comments so far.

    Nicola Perry said on 30/11/2011 at 11:36pm

    The Libyan Sahara Desert, Barcelona, traveling from Manley into Sydney Harbour on a Sydney Ferry, Borobodor at sunrise, Grand Central Station in New York...

    Margaret Thomas said on 30/11/2011 at 2:27pm

    Iguazu in Argentina; Bilbao, Ronda and Granada - all in Spain

    Mitch Peacock said on 30/11/2011 at 1:51pm

    The first time walking into Vatican City, the arcs either side leading to the Basilica make you feel tiny...

    Erica said on 30/11/2011 at 1:47pm

    Agree with you, in Krabi I saw the most beautiful sunset in the world, amazing! I really want to go back there...

    Kay Johnson said on 30/11/2011 at 1:26pm

    You didn't visit Polopos, Granada, Spain OBVIOUSLY ! Try Casa Nicolar for beds and recommendations for the best in local food.

    Renata Gukovas said on 30/11/2011 at 1:25pm

    I would add Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia. It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen! When it rains, a thin layer of water stays over the salt desert, reflecting the sky. One can't be sure where the land ends and the sky begins. It looks like another planet! Besides that, I totally agree with Auschwitz, Krakow, Poland ("Those Who Forget History Are Doomed to Repeat It") and Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Peru!

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