Tag Archives: Inspiration

31 Destinations in Time #11: Dumaguete City, Negros, Philippines, 2007

Dumaguete - Negros Oriental Island

I spent only two days in Dumaguete City, the capital city of the island of Negros in the Philippines, but found it to be a pleasant spot to recharge, catch a film, meet new people, eat good food, book diving trips, stock up on supplies, etc. There is just something about this town that has a good vibe.

Unusually for the Philippines it also seemed to be a hub for independent travellers; or at least I didn’t find anywhere else like it in six weeks of travelling to five other islands. I’m guessing that it’s location between Cebu, Bohol and Mindanao makes it the exotic Filipino equivalent of Birmingham New Street.

Home was Harold’s Mansion Hostel, which had a quite slick international feel for a backpackers and also looked like it had been transplanted there from South Beach, Miami. Meanwhile, a run of beach roadside bars and cafes offered friendly dining and live music with a mixed crowd of travellers and Filipino holidaymakers.

Some bargain clothes and shoe shopping in the department store on the main strip made a stop-off here extra sweet; but it was made particularly memorable for the whole store coming to a perfect halt at 6pm as Hail Mary came over the store’s loud speaker. At the end of it, everyone crossed themselves and carried on. A Catholic embedding in a commercial environment, and quite intriguing culture-wise.

Dumaguete is also the jump-off point for snorkelling/diving trips to Apo Island, an intermediate dive spot and world-class marine site. Sadly, I didn’t have a good dive experience here because the local dive operator didn’t listen to my request for a shallower afternoon dive. I became over-exerted at depth and this resulted in a panicky ‘out of air’ experience. But this was the only no-no (one that finished my dive career sadly) and more a warning to others to pick your dive operator with care.

I wish I’d had time to see the rest of Negros, which is supposed to have one of the most beautiful backpacker beaches in the world at Sugar Beach. But we were only passing through in order to catch a small ferry boat over to Siquijor Island for the alternative Easter black magic rituals and shamanic traditions of Black Saturday. But that is another spooky story – one that doesn’t make my top 31 list, I’m afraid.


31 destinations in time #9: Austin, Texas, 2009 & 2010

Poster sisters

There’s something a little bit special (funky? cool?) about Austin that makes it stand out all the more because it is located in the heart of Texas. Austin is definitely the black sheep amid cattle country – the non-Texan Texas – and quite a few people told me it’s got more in common with the likes of Portland and Seattle than Texas.

But what it has only goes some of the way to explaining its charm. It has (deep breath)…

Piano bars, dive bars, yuppie bars, 24-hour diners, karaoke RVs and live music clubs. Vintage shops, cupcake caravans, cowboy boot and hat stores, and an emporium of unusual things. Art galleries, a museum housing the world’s oldest photograph, an independent cinema, even some vaguely healthy restaurants. It’s also the home of the roller derby revival. And I discovered the highly addictive game of shuffleboard here in Buffalo Billiards on Sixth Street. There’s a big university and the impressive state capital building. There’s even a bat phone which you can ring to check on the Austin Congress Bridge bat colony which numbers half a million or so.

Austin also has something like the eighth largest couch-surfing community in the world – I stayed with a very nice host for a couple of days on arrival who showed me the sight, put me up in his spare room and introduced me to Mexican margaritas (with an extra beaker of margarita because those tiny glasses always need a refill).

The city motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird’.

Best of all there are the big festivals: Austin City Limits every September and SXSW festival every March. Which is how I came to be in Austin in 2009 – and again in 2010.

My favourite spots are: the Star Seeds Diner, The Spider House Cafe, Ranch 616, Buffalo Billiards, Uncommon Objects, Allens Boot Store and The Cedar Door bar. I’d probably include the Broken Spoke, if I’d got to it.

Google ’em.

Or here’s the photo roundup of my favourite things in Austin (the pic at the top is of me and my sister, who came to SXSW with me in 2010).

Shuffleboard at Buffalo Billiards

Shuffleboard tables

Segway Tours

Austin segway transport

Allens Boots (and hats)


Uncommon Objects (just next door)


My Austin chum Brad King – here at The Cedar Door


Mexican Margarita at the Hula Hut (with my Couch Surfing host Davy)


Luscious Pearl – a nice bar for content strategists and hula hooping

Luscious Pearl

The Spider House Cafe – writers’ hangout


Ranch 616 (the loos)


Live music at the British Music Embassy

Unicorn Kid @ SXSW

And finally, another arrival by train (see also Venice #8 and Slovenia #6)

Amtrak and me

31 destinations in time #8: Venice by train, 2008

Venice #45

Having heard nothing but bad things about the dank smell, rip-off prices and tourist hoards, none of these appeared to be true of Venice in mid-February.

Train to Venice

The Paris-Venice train cost just £25 for an overnight journey and the early morning train chugged in across a sunny causeway before parking up right on the Grand Canal. Here is the train station… Nice, eh?

Train Station

You couldn’t ask for a better way to arrive in Venice, though we were slightly confused at travelling in backwards – the train had reversed at Milan in the night. I still have a picture book of paintings of the Grand Canal from my childhood but the canals, gondoliers, streets, bridges, architecture and St Marks Square were just as painterly in real life.


Would love to go back one day but, in a way, the six hours we spent there waiting for an onward connection to Ljubliana in Slovenia, was just perfect as it was.