Hostel review: YMCA Cornwall Hostel

Welcome to YMCA Cornwall. There are plenty of parking spaces available.

Welcome to YMCA Cornwall. There are plenty of parking spaces available.

Situated a five minute walk out of Penzance, YMCA Cornwall is half community centre, half residential home with a thirteen room backpacker wing.  On check-in you are given a photocopied ordinance map of the area and a set of rules.

Lots of waiting done here due to a new staff member not knowing what to do.

Lots of waiting done here due to a new staff member not knowing what to do.

This is not a party hostel but a good place to sleep if a serious hiker or want to keep to yourself. If you want to party in Cornwall you are better off staying in St Ives or Newquay with the surfers.

I booked a 4-bed female dorm and got a 6-bed (2x 3 bed bunks) all to myself due to my visit being midweek in the low-season. The bed had a very comfortable mattress with decent pillows and warm duvet.

The 6-bed female dorm.

The 6-bed female dorm.

There are no lockers besides a plastic box under the beds which have no way of locking the contents, therefore the security could be improved with proper lockers. There is plenty of space to add them.

There were different areas of the property making it more a community centre with a dance hall, gym, basketball court and residential space for elderly and women-in-need. On Thursday and Friday nights it was impossible to go to bed early due to the kids screeching as they played basketball. A Youth Club is also held on Friday nights and is well attended as they take over the backpacker common room.

The common room where you can watch TV, various games and eat breakfast.

The common room where you can watch TV, various games and eat.

The receptionist made a big deal about the shower being operated by pressing button for hot water for 10 minutes. I only got lukewarm water unfortunately.

Two female showers and one toilet for the 13 bedroom floor.

Two female showers and one toilet for the 13 bedroom floor.

Breakfast is included and is self serve between 8:00 -9:00 consisting of cereal, toast, coffee or tea. The backpacker’s area has a locked small kitchen equipped with a fridge, kettle and microwave.

The backpacker kitchen. You are given a key at check-in as this kitchen is always locked.

The backpacker kitchen. You are given a key at check-in as this kitchen is always locked.

There is a laundry and free Wi-Fi available. The common room has a TV, pool table and kicker table.

Reception hours are 8:00 am -9:30 pm, otherwise there is a night security guard.

Connections out of Penzance are better in summer when bus number 300 is running. It takes you to Lands’ End, the village of Mousehole and the famous Minack Theatre. It is still possible to visit these places on the local bus outside of summer but they do not run as often.

The view from the bedroom window looking down on houses.

The view from the bedroom window looking down on local houses.

 

Related posts:

Photo essay: Cornwall, England

Hostel review: Posh Backpackers. Riga, Latvia

Hostel review – Blue Mountains YHA, Katoomba, Australia

Hostel review – STF/HI Vandrarhem Malmö, Sweden

Looking for something to do in Vilnius, Lithuania

When I arrived in Vilnius by bus my first impression was disappointment. With new office buildings to the north side of the Neris river and on the south a compact old town spotted with pastel coloured churches.

Vilnius is easy to navigate due to its small size and plentiful English signage. Unless you’re a connoisseur of baroque architecture, or a Frank Zappa fan on a pilgrimage to see his head on a stick, there is not much to see unfortunately.

From 1945 to 1990, the only way for Lithuanian residents to travel abroad was by plane via Moscow and only privileged people allowed. For western visitors it was off limits unless you had a good reason to be there with restrictions.

And the legacy of those communist days persist with the city lacking personality, except for the middle-aged women driving the local trolley buses. They delightfully decorate the dashboard with flowers, stuffed toys and frilly curtains.

Things to do

  • Wander around the main road circuit in the old town admiring the Baroque Catholic churches. I did this twice in case I had missed something, which I hadn’t. The tourist office has an audio guide tour for the old town. There are plaques to read at each attraction but the audio tour gives more information about local legends. Beggars queue up outside all Vilnuis church doors to collect as people leave.
Looking south from the Town Hall.

Looking south from the Town Hall. Where is everybody?

  • Cathedral Square centrepiece is the neo-classical Vilnius Cathedral. Sunday mass has standing room only. Massive concrete columns hold up the roof and inside there are eleven chapels. Outside the Cathedral is a Bell Tower consisting of a mix of architectural styles and a clock without a minute hand. The tower is a remnant from the old city walls and has been re-constructed over the years.
Vilnuis Cathedral with the Bell Tower to the right.

Vilnuis Cathedral with the Bell Tower to the right.

  • Gediminas Tower next to the Upper Castle has a popular view over the city. The founder of Vilnius was Grand Duke Gediminas and this area is also known as Gediminas Hill or Gediminas Castle dating back to the 14th Century and was mostly destroyed in the 17th Century during a war with Moscow. It is an easy short walk up the hill or via the 35 second funicular ride to access.
Gediminas Hill to the castle. Number one tourist magnet.

Gediminas Hill to the castle. Number one tourist magnet.

  • Museum of Genocide Victims. To understand the struggles of Lithuanians in the 20th Century, a visit to this museum chronicles their suffering and resistance. This former Gestapo, NKVD then KGB headquarters is where you will learn about the deportation and repression of the local people. Extensive information on resistance fighters and disturbing basement cells where prisoners were tortured up until 1991. Including two water torture cells used to keep prisoners awake for excessive periods. There is a lot of information about the holocaust during the Second World War when approximately 95% of the Lithuanian Jews were murdered.
Museum of Genocide Victims. Plaque memorial written in Lithuanian, English and Russian.

Museum of Genocide Victims. Plaque memorial written in Lithuanian, English and Russian.

  • Walking past the old town walls off Subaciaus, there is a park in with a fantastic view higher than Gediminas Tower. If you go here don’t bother straining yourself to the Hill of Three Crosses as the view is the same.
The view over old town Vilnuis.

The view over old town Vilnuis.

  • Frank Zappa memorial statue hidden away in a back street west of the old town named K. Kalinausko.  Frank Zappa has no connection to Vilnus and never visited the city but he has fans here who collected enough money to commission this bronze statue.
The bronze bust of Frank Zappa surrounded by Cheech and Chong grafitti

The bronze bust of Frank Zappa surrounded by Cheech and Chong grafitti.

  • Uzupio Republic was once the poorest and neglected suburb of Vilnius. Now the alternative artist district, Uzupio declared its independence on 1 April 1997. The Republic has its own president, prime minister, flag, anthem, a Constitution which is displayed on a wall in Paupio Street in 12 languages. Nearby is the “national symbol” of Uzupio Republic – a bronze guardian angel blowing her horn. Bernardine Cemetery is a scenic and peaceful place to visit and free of people, except for the buried ones.
Bernardine Cemetery tree tombstone representing the 'Tree of Life'.

Bernardine Cemetery tree tombstone representing the ‘Tree of Life’.

Day trip

  • Trakai Castle is a 30 minute train trip from Vilnius. A red medieval castle has been planted on an island. It has been rebuilt with a drawbridge to get to the island. Trakai was once the capital of Lithuania.
  • Three hours from Vilnius, next to the border with Latvia is the Hill of Crosses. The Soviets took the memorial crosses away but people kept adding more. 100,000 crosses have been put there since 1800s. There is a souvenir shop there where you can buy a cross to add yourself.

Stay

Home Made House. A new boutique hostel conveniently located between the old town and train and bus station. Owner Linja will welcome you and tell you all about growing up behind the Iron Curtain and how Vilnius is trying to move on.

Avoid

Cili Pica Restaurant – An Italian chain of restaurants popular with the locals but serves bland food. My pasta was from a packet, not fully cooked and very small serving. Plus flat soft drinks and smelly toilets.

Related posts:

Riga, Latvia: A Baltic city full of surprises

Riga, Latvia – The Great Cemetery

Latvian football – Skonto FC vs Liepajas Metalurgs

Posh Backpackers. Riga, Latvia

Schauinsland – Black Forest (Schwarzwald) Germany

The southern German town of Freiburg is the gate-way to the Black Forest and hovering above the town is the 1286 metre high Schauinsland. Reached easily by public transport including a 20 minute ride up the mountain by cable car and is an attraction itself.

One of the cable cars on the Schauinslandbahn.

One of the cable cars on the Schauinslandbahn.

All year round there are visitors enjoying activities such as mountain bike and hiking trails in summer or in winter there is plenty of skiing opportunities for families.

At the top of the cable car ride is a restaurant and beer garden with extensive views over the French Vosges mountain range and Rhine valley.

At the top looking down at Freiburg.

At the top looking down at Freiburg.

The lookout tower not far from the restaurant is popular with day trippers taking in the views of the Black Forest. On a clear day it’s possible to see the Swiss Alps poking up in the distance.

Picnic under the lookout tower ontop of Schauinsland. View of the Black Forest towards Switzerland.

Picnic under the lookout tower ontop of Schauinsland. View of the Black Forest towards Switzerland.

Inside Schauinsland there are approximately 100 kilometres of tunnels and passageways left over from 700 years of lead, silver and zinc mining. Production ceased in 1954 and since 1976 a mining museum has been open where tourists can enter the tunnels and take guided tours.

During the war years, Schauinsland was a military hospital site and interestingly the cable car access only operated at night to the hospital to avoid being seen by aircraft.

Schauinsland can be visited any time of the year. The best time I like to go is in Autumn when the trees change colour and the weather is still good.

Riding high on the Schauinslandbahn.

Riding high on the Schauinslandbahn.

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Black Forest intro

Accomodation review: Condor Ocean View Apartments, Surfers Paradise, Australia

Condor Ocean View Apartments

Address: 2 Riverview Parade, Surfers Paradise, Queensland Australia

Aimed mostly towards families, Condor Ocean View Apartments are mid-range priced, self- contained holiday apartments which provide excellent value in the centre of Surfers Paradise. Situated on the Nerang River, the shops and nightlife are only a block away and five minute walk to the beach.

Looking towards central Surfers Paradise and the Pacific Ocean.

Looking towards central Surfers Paradise and the Pacific Ocean.

I was delighted with my 22nd floor 2 bedroom apartment.  The views were fabulous with a lot to see while sitting on the private balcony. Each night I relaxed on the balcony in the balmy weather taking in the lights of the surrounding skyscrapers and watching the nearby fun park rides ‘Vomitron’ and ‘Sling Shot’ as it shot thrill seekers 80 meters in the air.

On the right are the neon-lit lights of the Sling Shot ride.

On the right are the neon-lit column supports for the Sling Shot ride.

Condor offer 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with everything you need during your stay including all the kitchen utensils and little things such as laundry powder and dishwashing liquid.

The lounge room with Cable TV.

The lounge room with Cable TV.

Bedroom with a view you can wake up too.

Bedroom with a view you can wake up too.

Downstairs there is free undercover parking as well as a guest sauna, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis court, BBQ and tropical gardens.

The outdoor pool and gardens.

The outdoor pool and gardens.

It is possible to get free nights’ accommodation if booking via the Condor website.
http://www.condorapartments.com.au/
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Photo essay: Morocco

Marrakesh - orange trees on the street.

Marrakech – Orange trees on the street.

Marrakesh - main square daytime.

Marrakech – Main square daytime.

Marrakesh - city gate design.

Marrakech – City gate design.

Casablanca - mosque on Atlantic Ocean.

Casablanca – Mosque on Atlantic Ocean.

Casablanca - Arches around the Mosque.

Casablanca – Arches around the Mosque.

Casablanca - Typical palm-lined street.

Casablanca – Typical palm-lined street.

Fez - Rooftop view towards castle.

Fes – Rooftop view towards castle.

Fez - Locals hanging out on a Saturday morning.

Fes – Locals hanging out on a Saturday morning.

Fez - Street view in old town.

Fes – Street view in old town.

Todtnau – Black Forest (Schwarzwald) Germany

Surrounded by southern Black Forest mountains and grassy fields is the village of Todtnau with a population of 5000 people.

Todtnau is popular with day trippers on motor bikes or hikers during the summer.  In winter there it is an excellent base for skiers with an abundance of accommodation and good access to the main ski slopes in the Black Forest.

St John's Church on the edge of the forest and at the end of the main street in Todtnau.

St John’s Church on the edge of the forest and at the end of the main street in Todtnau.

The biggest attraction in Todtnau, especially for families, is Germany’s longest toboggan run called the Hasenhorn roller coaster (Rodelbahn).  Open all year round, the panorama is magnificent on the chairlift ride up the mountain and as you fall downhill on the three kilometre coaster track, you can control your own speed to take in the view of Todtnau below.

Hasenhorn roller coaster or toboggan ride as seen from the middle of Todtnau.

Hasenhorn roller coaster or toboggan ride as seen from the centre of Todtnau.

The ride is free for one ride per day if you have the local tourist card KONUS which is given to you at your accomodation and includes free public transport.

This website link has a video of the ride and more information.

Mountain bikes can be hired and the idea is to take the bike up the same chairlift for a challenging bike track run back down.

Nearby is the Todtnauer waterfall  which is the highest in Germany with a drop of 97 meters.  Not spectacular but worth seeing on a hot day or hike around the forest nearby.  There is also rope climbing available here. The track to the falls is easy to walk and there is a bridge crossing midway.

Todtnauer Waterfalls from the bridge across midway.

Todtnauer Waterfalls from the bridge across midway.

The view looking at the road back to Todtnau from the waterfall.

The view looking at the road back to Todtnau from the waterfall.

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Schauinsland

Black Forest

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Stuttgart, Germany – Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museum

Photo essay: Memento Park, Hungary

Hungary’s Socialist past has been preserved at Memento Park and within easy reach by public transport (tram or bus) 10 kilometres outside of Budapest centre.

Opened in1993, Memento Park is an open-air statue museum with approximately fifty old communist leader statues which were erected in the streets of Budapest between 1947-1988. These statues and plaques boasted the ideology and leaders of Communism and were saved from destruction after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

There is also an exhibition centre in an old barracks building displaying the events of the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and what life was like during the Soviet occupation in Budapest up to the 1989-90 political changes.

The highlight for me was the documentary secret agent film called “The Life of an Agent” which is shown in the exhibition. Unintentionally entertaining in black and white film, it explains how to recruit an agent, how to bug an apartment and other secret surveillance methods.

The world is in the iron hands.

The world is in the iron hands. This Workers’ Movement Memorial shows the two hands protecting the granite ball representing the perfect ideology which the workers’ movement had perfected.

Mr Bigstuff

Based on a 1919 revolutionary poster, this mammoth figure is one of the highlights at Memento Park. These giant symbolic statues were to remind people of how powerful Socialism was.

A mishmash of tin-looking soldiers, officials, umbrella and street lamp.

A mishmash of tin-looking soldiers, officials and workers makes up the Bela Kun Memorial Bela Kun was the leader of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic and is showing the way with his hat at the back of this memorial.

comrades

Comrades. The Soviet soldier meets the Hungarian man symbolising their friendship.

stalins boots

A replica of Stalin’s boots which were all that were left when anti-Soviet protested pulled down the statue in  Heroes Square during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. It had been built as a gift to Stalin for his 70th birthday in 1951 and had an inscription reading ‘Stalin, Hungary’s leader, teacher and best friend’.

marx and engels

Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels were regarded as the founders of Communism as authors of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ of 1848.

Dancing in the gloom.

Ghost wall.