15 Nov Chilled Travel With Travel Blogger Jonny Blair
Travel blogger Jonny Blair talks about some of the most relaxed and memorable places he has visited
Jonny Blair is a travel blogger and runs Don’t Stop Living. Originally from Belfast, he has now travelled across all seven continents, working over 50 different jobs, and travel writing as he goes.
Jonny, are you a big fan of visiting cities, or do you prefer somewhere off the beaten track?
I need a mix of both to be honest. Big cities rope me in with their vibrancy, chaos and diversity, but you can’t beat the relaxation of the countryside. In fact the last few countries I’ve backpacked through (Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) we’ve done a real mix of normal stuff and off the wall travel. I loved chaotic Tbilisi with its crazy drivers but equally the hikes up at Kazbegi had outstanding views and were a bit off the normal route. I’ve been to about 30 cities in China that nobody has ever heard of and loved them (Shuhe, Taxia, Yao Tang, Jiangling, Gaotou etc.) Overall though I feel the lesser known places are better – more inspiring, less tourists and just off the wall experiences. We recently went to Haghpat, Vank and Xinaliq. A few of those reading may not even have heard of those spots, but I loved them!
Which city have you most enjoyed visiting?
A really tough question here so I’m giving you a top five.
1. I’m from Northern Ireland so the bright lights of Belfast still do me proud and I love our capital city. However on my jaunts around the globe I;ve loved these 4 cities:
2. Montevideo – relaxing, reserved and football. Three words that describe what is probably the most liveable city in South America for me. I ended up staying with a local family and studying Spanish such was its magnetic pull.
3. Sydney – When it comes to cities to party in, relax and sightsee all in one, Sydney is hard to beat. Again I prolonged my stay – almost 2 years I was there!
4. Hong Kong – It’s not quite China and it’s not quite New York. But it has everything you could want. Cheap local food, great nightlife, hard working locals and you can get by speaking English.
5. Baku, Azerbaijan – the Azeri capital was an off the wall spot and I cherished every moment there!
What would you say is the most chilled city that you’ve visited and why?
I would say Montevideo, but it has banks and offices so that’s not quite true. Launceston in Tasmania was chilled out, but the winner probably goes to Yerevan in Armenia. Everything relaxes to a halt and it’s a place to do nothing in and still love it. You could wander around for hours un-noticed!
How would you go about finding the hidden parts of a city, the ones that you wouldn’t find in a guidebook?
For me – I’ve always tried to make friends with as many people as possible. Through my jobs, I’ve met a lot of people from different cities so when I go there, I meet up with them. If you know people who live in a city, get them to take you to where the tourists don’t go and you’ll have more fun and get a more authentic travel experience. Aside from that, learn the language and stay a bit longer and you’ll get to those hidden parts!
What has been your biggest “hidden find” – e.g. a park hidden in the most built up area, a church you enjoyed visiting …
Tough question here again!! How about a village in Australia where alcohol isn’t allowed? I spent about 6 weeks camping in a small mountain village called Poatina. I worked 7 days a week, (long 12 hour shifts) on farms and didn’t touch the drink and was able to save a lot of money. As a Northern Irish lad you can tell that 6 weeks off the beer isn’t exactly easy! But I saved up and made it to Antarctica on the strength of that experience.
Also I love random places. Like in Harar in Ethiopia, I fed hyenas, that was fab! In Chongqing in China I went to the world’s largest toilet complex!! In Azerbaijan we stayed with a family in Xinaliq up at 3,000 metres above sea level. In Colombia, I loved Guasca and Santa Ana Alta – remote countryside settlements about 2 hours bus ride north east of Bogota.
What would be the most chilled out and delicious meal that you’ve had in a city?
Any Italian city and any pizza, as long as it has no mushrooms on it. I can’t stand mushrooms! Trieste would be my pick of them from my own adventures in Italy.
With all the travelling you must do, it must get stressful at times. Do you have any ways that you counter the stress of waiting around for delayed flights etc?
Travel blogging helps. I’m restless. I’m always writing something, typing something or planning something. I’ve never been bored, ever. If you do get bored, perhaps you’re in the wrong game! If stress gets bad, I get my iPod out and fire on my top 10 songs. They always keep me sane. Two of my favourites are Oasis “Stand By Me” and the Doves “There Goes the Fear”. If all else fails, I take an early night. Logic says you’ll be alright in the morning!
When resettling or visiting somewhere new, do you have any rituals or things you do to help you get settled in as soon as possible?
Get a job as soon as possible and try the local food. After that it’s meeting people and creating a new base for a while. Learning the language can help, but I’m useless at it, so that takes back stage. Heading down the local pub to meet new friends is also a good tip.
If you are in a busy city, is there something you would do to relax – cycle, run, meditate, go to a yoga class, walk, for example?
The only real time I relax these days is when I sleep. I’m a busy person and on the move a lot so resting is sadly not my strong point. Hopefully more time to rest in times to come! Drinking coffee is as good as it gets, but I’ll always have a notebook out or my laptop on!
What city is on your wish list to visit?
I’ve loads on this wish list!!! Baghdad, Cairo, Milan, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Perth, Cayenne, Georgetown (British Guyana), Yaounde, Mostar, Sarajevo, Chengdu…oh I could go on. Everywhere is on my list!!!