Via Ferrata - The Iron Way.
That sounds pretty boss to me - where do I sign up? How many protein shakes should I be drinking? Can I skip leg day? When I first came across Via Ferrata on the Internet I thought it sounded like a bad Ronnie Coleman inspired fitness programme. After a little bit of digging I worked out that Via Ferrata are actually a series of protected hiking routes common in the Italian Dolomites (not to mention Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany...). These pathways were originally used during the war to facilitate troop movement through the alps but have since become an adventure activity in their own right. They feature a steel cable that is bolted to the rock at varying intervals onto which you clip in and move along with relative safety. Ranging in difficulty from short tame jaunts that you could take your toddler on to face climbs that last all day and require a rope to access - there's something for everyone.
So if that sounds more to your liking than standing in a smelly room with a bunch of men perving at themselves in the mirror while pretending to lift weights then here's what you need to know to get involved.
China, Mongolia and Russia by train over three weeks is the ultimate in good old fashioned adventure travel. After doing our homework and crunching the numbers we settled on STA Travel and Vodkatrain for getting us safely from Beijing to St Petersburg. At just under $4000 each, this was the budget option providing transport, accommodation, visa support, transfers and awesome Honchos in each of the cities and towns we visited. This trip is not for those Trip Adviser types who expect all the comforts of home and 4 star accommodation everywhere they travel, but if you head into it with an open mind you'll be pleasantly surprised with what this part of the world has to offer.
We arrived in Beijing a few days before the tour started and made ourselves at home in a little place in the middle of the hutongs called The Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel - make sure you hang around for dumpling night, it goes off. One of the best things that has happened for travelers to Beijing was the summer Olympics back in 2008. The subway system is incredibly easy to navigate with English signs directing you all the way from the airport throughout the city. The train from the airport is slightly more expensive at 25 yuan compared to 2 yuan everywhere else but this is still possibly the cheapest subway we have encountered anywhere in the world. It's a big walk between stations though so it's worth planning your day around where you can travel easily to on public transport.
After my third visit to the home of pizza and the pope I began to see a pattern with tourists heading to the country. Fly into Milan, take the train to Venice and then Florence, Rome and head home. Not that this speed tour of Italy doesn't show you some amazing places but I want to give you some more reasons to linger a little longer in the north. Beautiful lakes, mountains and villages distinguish the region of Lombardy from it's southern neighbours and the locals are fiercely proud of their culture and of course their food. The following are some places you should explore.
New York can be overwhelming with its towering buildings and overcrowded subways but it is also incredibly easy to navigate and hosts a plethora of incredible sights and experiences. Most tourists head straight for the obvious spots to tick off the list - Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, MOMA and Times Square. There is a lot more to New York than just the tourist spots though. At the end of my third year of University I spent three months living and working in Manhattan with my two good friends in Times Square of all places. If you want to see a little more of the city than M&M's world and Macy's then hopefully this list gives you some inspiration.
1. The Frick Collection
This art collection is the work of wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick and is housed in the beautiful mansion he built on 5th Avenue a few years before his death in 1919. The experience of walking through the exquisitely decorated rooms and viewing his private collection is much more engaging than the larger galleries. Even if you don't know a great deal about art, you will still recognise the more famous names of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bellini as you wander from room to room. We used the audio tour which tells you a little about each painting and sculpture as you move through the collection and for those of you on a budget, Sundays are pay what you wish from 11am to 1pm.