Year: 2018

Vilnius – across the old Iron curtain 1

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I grew up during the cold war. when I was 15 “those people” on the other side of the wall would murder us in our beds if they got the chance…

Whatever, but perhaps why I find Eastern European and former Soviet union country’s so interesting.

I’d had a fab time in Tallinn in Estonia, so Vilnius in Lithuania seemed a like next venture.

drinks

I always travel in style.

As we arrived to board our Ryanair plane, I noticed some “revellers” had been forced to make a quick exit and left their drinks behind.

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We arrived in Vilnius, and got a cab to our accommodation.

Interestingly, it was in a forecourt, with a central door.

The accommodation was superb, but we never got to meet the owner, he just sent us these instructions by text.

cupboard

We had en-suit as expected, but also a kitchen and a washing machine (latter 2 were not needed, but nice to have).

Our room was spacious, but for good measure featured this cupboard, brilliantly designed so all our gear could be unpacked and stored and didn’t clutter up the room.

I’m thinking seriously about construction one for my spare room.

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We have a wander around, and some of the places look a bit boring and dull.

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Further along there was this interesting street with Cafe’s and bars.

We found out afterwards that (quite literally) all the businesses on the right hand side thrive and all the ones on the left, struggle and close.

raminita

We’d read about a free tour each day, run in different languages.

It’s a bit daft really (the premise, not the tour). It isn’t actually free, at the end you are asked to make a donation.

Some people gave Raminita (who was knowledgable, charismatic and spoke perfect English) half a Euro !.

We gave her 15 between us. There were a lot of Americans on our tour, and as it was a week before the Royal wedding, the girl in the middle was sporting a “Megan Markle” look.

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The George Bush plaque at city hall.

It was here, that he famously said, anyone who makes an enemy of Lithuania makes an enemy of the United States.

Everyone was really proud, until they found out he visited 3 other countries and said exactly the same thing 🙂

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We got to visit the famous republic of Uzupis.

The main entrance is this small bridge crossing the Vilnia river.

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In reality, Uzupis is a small bohemian neighbourhood.

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Although its not recognised by any country or the UN, it has its own constituation, printed in many languages.

It also has an army of 11 men and you can get your passport stamped there.

Overall, I really like it there. The way the people of the area and come together and really formed a community.

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Before we left Uzupis, I saw this mural.

I don’t completely agree with everything it says about Cannabis, but its certainly food for thought.

wall

We visit the writers wall, featuring plaques for famous Lithuanian writers.

One in particular is Antanas Skema. He wrote The White Shroud, banned during soviet times, it’s considered Lithuania’s first contemporary novel.

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We arrive at Cathedral square.

Statue of Grand Duke Gediminas.

Born in 1275 he was responsible for the creation of Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania.

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In the background, cathedral tower.

In the middle of the picture, one of the massive rocks, used to block roads so tanks couldn’t pass during the fight for independence.

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The actual cathedral itself is pretty spectacular.

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I decided to wander around inside.

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It’s been rebuilt and extended several times.

So this alcove for example is much older than the main hall.

pub

But we’ve wandered around now for hours and are in need of some refreshments.

We find this “authentic” place, where all the staff wore medieval costumes and there was a video showing a Knights pageant.

soup

Of the 2 traditional meals I wanted to try, soup served in a bowl made of bread.

The further into the soup you went, the more bread became available.

europa

We wandered along the Gedimino high street.

There was a festival to celebrate the anniversary of Lithuania joining the European Union.

Just as my countrymen are marching towards Brexit, the daftest thing I think the UK’s ever done.

Interesting to see the contrast.

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On the stage some children were singing. Time to keep walking.

Vilnius – across the old Iron curtain 2

tesla

We chose entertainment of a different kind.

The Tesla Pub, celebrates the life and work of Nikola Tesla, inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist he invented alternating current.

It had a really cool steam punk theme, some really good beer and an extensive wine selection.

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A more serious cultural site, the Museum of occupation.

Like many other countries, Lithuania was occupied by the Nazi’s, then “liberated” by the Soviets, who decided to stay.

The result, decades of misery for the people who lived there.

This corridor shows rooms where people were imprisoned for political “crimes” like writing poetry.

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This room with a raised glass floor, was the execution room.

Outside, the names of all the people who died there are inscribed on the wall.

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A running video showing Nazi’s at an event in black and white had some interesting background sound.

Then I realised. It was the Darth Vader music from star wars !.

Further along, this exhibit shows the classic weapon of the freedom fighter, the Molotov cocktail.

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A section of the original Wall of Vilnius, built in 1522.

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And a slightly more modern “tidy” version of the wall.

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Early evening and we wander around Kalnai park (an amazing park with miles of hills and forests to explore).

At the top, is the hill of 3 crosses.

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The hill was famous for 7 friars being beheaded there.

The view across Vilnius was pretty spectacular, although this photo (taken badly) doesn’t reflect that.

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Gediminis tower.

The first castle built overlooking the city, and an internation symbol of Lithuania.

Unfortunately, it was closed for repairs, so we had to take this picture from Cathedral square.

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The following day, we decide to head out of town.

Passing through the Gate of dawn, we head for the bus/coach station.

bus

The bus was cheap and pretty comfortable, to take us to…

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Trakai.

A nice place with lots of countryside and a castle to explore.

pasty

There were loads of places to eat and drink, the place is massively popular with local people from Vilnius.

We decide to have a drink and something to eat. Kibinai is a sort of Lithuanian Cornish pasty.

I’d read about them while researching the trip and it was just as nice as I’d expected.

lake

We wander around the lake. The weather was fantastic throughout the trip.

bridge

There was a half marathon being run and at one point we found ourselves in the middle of this bridge (which connects a number of Island on the lake) with about 100 people running towards us.

We resisted the urge to jump in the water.

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Trakai Island castle.

It’s been built and rebuilt and then modernised.

You can tell by the different ages of the bricks in this picture.

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You have to pay to get in, but its only a few Euros.

Inside this sort of market square, children were being shown how to fight with plastic swords and fire toy bows and arrows.

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Inside, it the typical stately home thing with tables and plates and expensive chairs.

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There are maps and books, many dating back hundreds of years, but some created during soviet times.

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We wander around the moat.

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Exploring inside the old castle, with its spiral staircase.

I even found out that the staircases were designed to run clockwise-downwards.

The reason ?

The average knight is right handed.

The defending knight will be coming down the stairs so his sword will be in the optimum place.

The attacking knight will be travelling up the stairs, his sword will be flush to the wall, making attacks much more difficult.

bricks

Some of the bricks used to build and repair the castle.

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Inside the castle, this spectacular 3 story arrangement with balcony’s and battlements.

With our castle adventure complete, its time to head home.

So Vilnius isn’t really a “see the Eiffel tower” sort of place, it was more about soaking up the atmosphere.

Once again, thanks for reading.

The search for adventure continues.

Iceland – the land of Ice and Fire 1

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Iceland is a country I’d wanted to visit for years.

The main problems I faced were

A, all the people I’d considered going with had already been.

and

B, It’s staggeringly expensive.

I saved up, and Nikki agreed to come along with me, as long as we did a different itinerary to the one she’d done previously.

So off we go.

flight

We flew with Easyjet and I got a chance to update my mind map for the year, and catch up with some Madam Secretary.

bleak

Iceland is the size of the US State of Kentucky. With a population of only 300,000 there are vast areas where nobody lives.

As we get the coach from the airport I can see that there are some houses who’s nearest neighbour is a mile away.

hotel

We arrived at the City Centre Hotel (an original name if ever I’ve heard one).

The Reykjavik locals were very helpful, but finding it wasn’t helped by there being 3 other hotels with similar names.

When I walked into the lobby I thought we’d made a terrible mistake. Despite it being above 8.5 on booking.com, the placed smelled awful…

Basically, all the hot water on the Island, is provided by hot springs. And they smell of sulphur. The hotel itself, was actually spotless, and I needn’t have worried.

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In the morning, we headed towards the harbour.

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Iceland has not had a standing Army since 1869 however, it was an early member of Nato.

Despite not having a Navy, its Coastguard service is heavily militarised as you can see from the ship above.

Walking further around the harbour, there were dozens of boats taking people out to see whales and dolphins.

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Lake Tjornin (which means pond).

In the background if Frikirkjan church and one of many modern (or strange, depending on your point of view) sculptures around the lake.

This one is called “Monument to the unknown bureaucrat”.

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We wander into the tourist information inside at the back of the picture, is this amazing table top map of the entire Island.

While here, we pick up a Reykjavik city card. It’s the cheapest way to see most of the attractions, museums and even an Island (more about that later).

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There are lots of really good walking opportunities in Iceland, but its so spread out and desolate in places that the tourist information can rent you an emergency beacon.

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But after only an hour, its time for coffee again.

A place called Idno, was right out of Agatha Christy.

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The Icelandic punk museum, ironically set up in a disused toilet.

It was originally opened by Jonny Rotten.

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Arnaholl park.

The statue is of Ingolfr Arnarson, considered to be Iceland’s first permanent settler.

The story goes that he threw his 2 high seat wooden pillars into the water and said wherever the pillars wash up, I’ll make my camp.

Two of his slaves spent 3 years looking for them. This lead to the foundation of Reykjavik in 874.

Either that, or the slaves got board and with time on their hands, made 2 pillars 🙂

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Inside the settlement exhibition.

It tells the story of the early settlers and how they lived.

The 10th century hall was excavated in 2001. Its 20m long and 8 metres wide with a 4 meter long fire hearth in the centre.

But its not just the foundations of a thousand year old house.

There are loads of interesting exhibits. In one of them, you could slide a time line and it would show you the various stages of construction.

pan

I stop in the cafe to plan out the rest of my day.

Its at this moment, that you get a taste of how expensive Iceland is.

Since very little is made or produced in Iceland, everything else has to be flown in.

In this case a cheese and ham Panini costs £12 !.

loom

From here, we visit the National Museum of Iceland.

There was lots of stuff about how they came under the rule of the Danish, and the dark times when the Lutheran church (which everyone was made to join) prevailed.

It said simply, it was easy to see if something was banned by the Lutheran church. If it was fun or pleasant, it was almost certainly not allowed and punishable by drowning or hanging.

I saw this very impressive loom which I decided to photograph.

hooks

Iceland depends heavily on its fishing industry.

I could only imagine what they were trying to catch with fish hooks this big.

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I hadn’t realised, that Britain had actually invaded Iceland during the 2nd world war.

It turned out, that the Icelanders were not allies of the Nazi’s, but it was felt best to “protect” the Island.

Various hospital and runways were built and at the end of the war, they were handed over to the Icelandic government.

cutter

Iceland cut all ties with Denmark in 1944.

In 1950 – 1975 they extended their fishing territory by 200 miles.

The “British” would fish in these waters under the protection of gunboats.

The trawl wire cutter featured above, is said to be the only weapon ever invented by Icelanders (it was used to cut the fishing nets of foreign fishing boats).

path

We’ve spent enough time indoors, so it’s time to get out and see the place.

It was cold, but nothing like freezing. We headed out along a coast path from Reykjavik.

You can see from the view why the country is so popular with walkers.

mehouse

As we wander along, I get the opportunity to visit Hofdi house.

Whenever I’ve thought of Iceland (and Reykjavik) I’ve always thought of the scene of Regan and Gorbachev standing outside it, before they conducted peace talks in 1986.

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With the town far behind us, we get to wander around the beach.

This isn’t Ibiza, but it was very quiet and peaceful and some of the rock formations were really impressive.

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The Sun voyager sculptor, constructed of stainless steel in 1990.

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We reach our destination, Kollafjourar bay where we’ll get a boat to Vioey Island.

You can see another coastguard boat in the background.

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A lovely trip across the water, was ruined by some loud American girls.

They had come to Iceland for a trip to celebrate passing their exams.

One of them had come back to the accommodation late and been sick on the possessions belonging to another. This had split the party into 2 factions and they spent the entire trip criticising the other group.

But I’m British and sat their politely even thought I desperately wanted to tell them to shut up.

raft

So, I’ distracted myself by reading the instructions for the life raft.

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The Island was even more desolate than the mainland.

We did find a cafe, and the hot chocolate there, was the nicest I’d ever tasted.

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The wind was howling, it was freezing cold and I was glad I had outdoor clothing.

We stop at this Lennon peace monument, built by Yoko Ono.

I’m not a cynic, but I’ve seen all of this sort of stuff, all over the world and its never really worked for me.

In this case, its round, shines a light in the sky and has the word peace, written in 24 languages on it.

Another hour in the freezing cold, and we head back. The annoying girls arrive late and the captain waits for them (even though they knew well when it was leaving).

There had been some “developments”. Texts had been exchanged and “that bitch” needed to apologise properly and pay for the clean up of “my shit” (there were young children on the boat).

hof

But enough Coronation Street – American style, we head back to the hotel to get cleaned up as were going out for the evening.

We have dinner at an amazing place called Hofnin.

Afterwards, a few drinks in a local bar and then were off to bad. Lots to do, the next day.

coach

Were picked up by our coach and head out on our tour.

The thing is, if you talk to most people, the 2 main things they talk about on a trip to Iceland are the Northern lights and the Blue Lagoon.

Interestingly, neither were of any interest to me.

map

I’d signed up for the Golden circle tour.

You can see from above, its more diamond than circle, but in just 1 day, you can see some of the most amazing sights of Iceland.

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We stop to get supplies (drinks) at the Hverageroi shopping centre.

In the car park, big vehicles like this are common and we even saw coaches fitted out this way.

kitchen

Hverageroi was hit by an earthquake in 2008.

They have a small exhibition there, including an earthquake simulator which we didn’t have time to experience.

Instead, I took a picture of this kitchen. It was made up to look like a kitchen after an earthquake.

Looked like my kitchen after a Christmas party…

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Our next stop, a small but simple waterfall – Faxi.

A chance to stretch our legs, apparently the area is awash with Salmon.

Iceland – the land of Ice and Fire 2

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The Kerid crater.

An inactive volcano. Our guide explained that Iceland is covered in volcanoes but most of them are flat and under underground, not like the Vesuvius thing we all think off.

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And now the thing I’ve always wanted to see.

The Gullfoss waterfall (which means Golden waterfall).

Even from the car park, the power of this thing is incredible.

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Nearer to it, the roar is incredible.

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I’d read that an attempt was made to use the waterfall to generate energy.

It was decided that this would ruin it, so it was sold to the Icelandic government.

One of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

soup

We drive to Haukadalur. Before we get to see the famous Geysers we stop for lunch.

For the 2nd time that day, I get to see something incredible – soup that costs £14 !

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We wander around the Geysers (there are dozens of them, all around).

Because the water is so clear, you can see right inside.

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I can’t imagine why, but some people like to throw coins into the Geysers.

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There are fences all around, so that some idiot can’t get to close and scald himself.

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The biggest one, goes off about every 15 minutes. There were hundreds of people standing next to it with cameras at the ready trying to time the perfect shot.

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And after 16 patient minutes, I’m rewarded with this shot.

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And now back on the coach to our final destination.

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The Thingvellir national park.

We leave the coach and walk in (the coach will re-join us at the car park at the top once were finished.

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The first government of Iceland, was set up in 930.

They would rule and pass judgements from the top of this area that you can see.

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This river is where adulterous women were drowned in Lutheran times.

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We carry on for the main attraction.

The entire area is in a rift valley.

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It marks the place where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

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There are sections where you can actually walk inside the fissure.

The main things I wanted to see from the trip, are now complete, and I can relax.

Coach back to Reykjavik and then showers ready for dinner at an incredible venue.

icecream

The food cellar.

A fine dining experience, and one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever eaten (I had steak, Nikki had some sort of vegetarian nonesense)

To illustrate, my “afters”. 4 sorts of of Ice cream made from different forest fruits and it was served on a rectangular piece of ice.

In short, no detail was spared.

piano

Afterwards, we have drinks in the Piano room.

The most expensive meal out I’d ever had but what an amazing evening.

church

The next day, we catch up with a few things.

Hallgrimskirkja church (which I thought looked a bit like a space ship).

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Named after Hallgrimur Petursson a famous poet and clergyman.

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At 75 metres high, the view from the top (which you have to pay for) is pretty amazing.

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All the more so, as there aren’t many tall buildings in Reykjavik for some reason, so you can see the whole city.

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A quick coffee and off we go. We’ve spent lots of time in the city, so its time to see a bit of countryside.

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We wander up Oskjuhlio hill. Its a fresh crisp day, and we see lots of small animals and birds.

I start to realise just how much I’ve grown to love Iceland and how much I’m regretting going home.

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As we wander farther up the hill, we come to a clearing, and see it for the first time. Perlan.

It looks like the lair of a bound villain, but actually its one of the most innovative tourist attractions I’ve ever seen.

perlan

Hot water storage tanks, used for decades were no longer needed.

So a dome was built on top and a series of attractions set up there.

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Incredibly, the worlds first indoor glacier.

Our guide disappeared for a few minutes, then re-appeared in down trousers (and yes, the woman on the screen is actually her).

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She explained it would be -15 centigrade and we should put on any spare clothing 🙂

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I’d seen various tours that would take you out for the day and let you wander through a tunnel in a glassier, but they were all around £250.

She gave a 1 hour tour of the glacier explaining how they are made and fascinatingly, how Tardigrades (known as the water bear) are the only living thing that can survive in a glacier.

After this, we had 40 minutes to wander around on our own.

glac

As we left the ice, there was an exhibition about Glaciers.

To much to write about here, but this one was interesting, it showed a camera, which had captured the growth and shrinkage of a glacier over 15 years.

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Augmented reality displays, including this one where you could point at things and they would react to the line of sight between your eye and your hand.

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But after the deep freeze, its time for some coffee.

The cafe had an amazing view of the city bellow.

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Outside on the observation deck, 360 degree views of the city.

With that, we head home.

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So, what an amazing trip, and so many things packed into just 3 days.

But its not over.

As we wander back, I buy myself a 66 degree’s north hat for hill walking (the brand isn’t well known outside Iceland, but their gear is superb.

My lasting memory of the trip, this singing Viking.

I don’t normally go back to places I’ve already been too, but I’m definitely going back to Iceland to see the rest of it.

Dobbiaco – adventures in the Dolomites

intro

Just came back from an amazing “walking trip” to the Dolomites in Italy.

Unfortunately, I sustained a leg injury, the week before. At one point it looked like my Dr wouldnt let me go, and would insist I stayed at home and rested it.

I’d been planning the trip for 3 years, so I was delighted when I was allowed to go (I knew I couldnt walk more than a few 100 metres, but I’m a resourcefull person and I knew I’d work something out).

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I’d been previously almost 30 years ago. At the time, my main walking trousers were Levi jeans and my Argos tent cost £40.

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Flying from Manchester (and ennoyingly, I’d have to fly back a different way) we arrived in Venice.

After some dinner and a few drinks, we were picked up by our transport and driven to Dobiacho with the rest of our group.

The hotel we stayed in was superb, the staff friend and very efficiency.

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The bar where we spent many of our evenings, had an extensive wine list and a friendly barman from Macedonia.

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The view from our window beckoned…

But alas I couldnt go out walking. After breakfast, the group headed off and Nikki went with them.

I headed into the town to recce the area and find some interesting things to do.

sign

First off, I find this map to some sort of water plant. I’ve got something a bit more exciting in mind.

I look around a bit more (walking very slowly) and then realise, the best way to find out whats going on, maybe the internet.

table

So, back to our hotel room, and this dainty table arrangment, reminiscent of the type of thing in Rhyle caravans when I was a youngster.

A bit of google and a trip to the conveniently located tourest information next door, I’ve got a plan and I’m all set.

A couple of pints and wait for Nikki to come back.

train2

In the morning, we walk to the station and get this train to Lienze, in Austria.

Trains have come a long way since the last time I was here, and the delapedated thing I drove before has been replaced by this sleek electric train that was speacious and comfortable.

river

There wasnt much to see there, appart from the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of an Austrian mountain town.

Like any mountain river, this one was extremely fast flowing and we did’nt see any canoes on it.

helter

As we wander up the hill, we see this sort of helter skelter thing that you can race down, operating the breaks and steering it yourself.

It’s next to a ski slope, so I guess its there so theres something to do on the hillside, when its summer.

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We arrive at the Bruck castle.

Annoyingly, Monday is when everything closes in this part of the world, so we didnt get to see inside.

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The grounds were very nice, so we went exploring through the forest and around the lake.

pizza

That evening, we have dinner at the Ariston bar and one of the nicest ham and mushroom pizza’s I’ve ever eaten.

train

Next day, were back on the train.

This time were going to a place called Bolzano and we’ve got a specific goal in sight.

market

But first, we wander around the market.

Nikki spots some things she likes and we carry on our way to see…

utzi

… Utzi

A 5000 year old man found frozen in the mountains.

Archealogists have been able to find out all sorts of things by looking at what he ate, what he was wearing and stuff like that.

It’s the most significant find of its kind in history.

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The following day, Nikki goes out walking, and I head off to pursue my own projects.

On this occasion, a bus from the town goes right next to the Tre Cime (or 3 fingers). The jewel in the crown of the Dolomite mountains.

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I still can’t walk very far, but its an easy path and I take it slow, resting frequently.

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Slight problem, is that from my viewing point they look like this.

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If I’d been able to walk another mile I could have taken this picture which captures them much better. Never mind, at least I’ve been there, despite my injury.

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Because I got the first bus, nobody is there. I wait for 45 minutes for someone to come along and take a picture, but in the end I just do this selfie, pointing back down into the valley.

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But its a nice day, so I wander a bit more.

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Looking back across the valley to the hut.

I walk back and get the bus back into the town, feeling quite elated.

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Back in town, the Italian army are on manouvres.

They have a base just next to our hotel, and I get to see this Chinook landing (along with several attack helicopters).

cort_town

Following day, and it’s my return to Cortina.

30 years ago, while interailing, the “Dolimtes” were basicaly a trip to Cortina and some walks around there.

We camped in the town and bought Pizza’s for our evening meal, while spending most days out walking.

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I was delighted to find myself on this exact spot from 30 years ago.

My brother and I saw a Ferari. David was elated. I said well Dave, its not that uncomon is it. He asked me to clarify.

I said well, its not like you’ve seen a Harley Davidson parked there.

David replied, do you mean like that one ? and parked next to the Ferari was a Harley Davidson.

None of them were around on this day, but it a moment of pure nostalgia.

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We continued to explore the town and I saw this old bridge.

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Last time we were here, money was really tight, but this time we had a bit more resource and it was possible to get a cable car up to Faloria.

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Spectacular views of the valley and town bellow, and here you can even see some climbers.

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One thing that did facinate me last time, was Cortina was featured in the film For your eyes only.

The ski slope, Tobogan run and various other places all featured in the dramatic Ski-ing scene.

On the top of <name> there was a really interesting nature walk. Along the way, we saw this hut from the Silvester Stalone film Cliffhanger.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, I’m off to Malta in a few hours with another old friend, Nick Barker.

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Gran Canaria – adventure at the SportPesa IT conference

OK, so for full transparency:

I normally write about the places I visit, and since this website is called the adventures of an ordinary person, I do it with a personal slant (ie halfway through watching Swan Lake in Moscow, I left and went for a drink in an Irish Bar with an Australian Lawyer that I’d met. That’s what an ordinary person would do).

On this occasion, my amazing employer, organised a series of workshops and meetings called the Island SummIT, a meeting of all the IT teams from around the world, at the Baobab resort in Gran Canaria.

So, I was away working (as you’d expect me to do) but just like me, I found opportunities for adventure here and there and made the most of the oportunity. Therefore, this isn’t really a full article about the Island, rather an example of what you can do on a work trip with a bit of imagination.

Above is a picture of me “sailing”.

It seemed easy. We were flying from Manchester, and flying home to Liverpool.

Outbound, no problem I thought, I’d just get the train from Chester to Manchester Airport.

Big problem. A Virgin train, transporting people from London to Leeds, broke down. So in Llandudno, they were punted onto my train to Manchester and told to change there.

They had massive bags and there were hundreds off them. Result: it was like a bus in the 3rd world. I’m not talking, so busy you couldnt find a seat, I’m talking so busy 3 poeple were standing in a space for 2.

But the hell is over after 90 minutes, I arrive at Manchester Airport and meet up with my collegues (who are also my friends).

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On the flight, I find myself sat next to 2 young people, who could only be described as “love birds”. We make polite conversation, and I listen to Brian Tracy, 21 ways to be more productive, and jot down some ideas in my notebook (and I mean an actual notebook with a pen, not my laptop, which stays in my bag.

We arrive in the hotel, and I can’t believe it. I normaly travel to collect experiences. I stay in the simplest accommodation that will allow me to do this, and try to save money where I can, as the money I’m spending today, could finance the next trip, etc.

But, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to stay in a fabulous resort, and now I’m going to find out.

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The staff are amazing, professional, helpful and nothing is too much trouble.

Once checked in, I make my way to my room and I can’t believe how big this place is.

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It takes me a full 10 minutes to walk from my room to reception, and from one walkway on the 3rd floor, I see one of the hotels SEVEN pools.

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In the morning, I wake up. I have a balcony, and the view isnt amazing.

There’s a basketball court, what looks like a car park and some wastland.

I dont care, I’ve always said, you dont live on the outside of a house, you live on the inside. The room I’m in is massive, has a desk for me to work at, a sofa to relax on and a very comfortable bed.

bath

Best of all, when I go into the bathroom.

It has a separate bathroom and toilet, and there is even a telephone handset in the toilet.

I’m not interior designer, but I decided to photograph this bath. I’ve put on a bit of weight lately (although I have a plan to fix that in summer) but honestly, I could have fit in that bath 3 times.

But this is no time for indulgence, I’m on the company’s “dime”, keen to represent the UK office in a positive light and just like in my private life, learn as many new things as I can.

island_summIT

Our first morning. After a breakfast that would humble a king, its time to start work.

There are several talks, workshops, meets and greets and the like.

Obviously, we are the fastest growing gaming company in the world, in a competitive market so I can’t discuss a single thing I saw or heard.

But, it was fascinating, I met loads of cool people and it was ace to see how they’d found solutions to some of the same problems we’d been experiencing in the Liverpool office.

walk1

With lunch and the days activities over, everyone heads back to their room to get ready for the evening.

I don’t. I’ve spent hours researching the area and things to do (Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted, Rommel – The Dessert Fox).

So, I head for the beach and set off walking.

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But I’m not here to sit by the ocean.

Actually this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and I wander around exploring the sand dunes.

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There is a cordoned off area, with a real oasis (La Charca) and some unique bird and animal life to see.

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After 2 hours, I wander into the town. I see this guy, who constructs the Last Supper from Sand each day (I give him a couple of Euro’s, it seems wrong to photograph his work and not reward him somehow).

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Further along, the famous lighthouse. I’m normaly the first critic of beach holidays, but even I have to admit, the view, the air, the sea contribute to what is, an amazing expirience.

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Wandering back to my hotel, this picture shows half its length.

As a Rohan customer, I’ve got a series of adaptable outfits to cater for every evening. A formal shirt, and were off out for a Curry (probably the best one I’ve eaten outside Rusholme).

hackathon

The following day, and its back to the action.

A series of talks by various people from Dubai, Kenya and Bulgaria and one incredible talk about a system called Erlang.

Everything I love about IT.

30 years ago, Ericsson designed a programming language for their phone system. It had to be able to make hundred of thousand of connections. They needed to be reliable and consistent (as theyre phone-calls, if an email is a minute late, fine but phone conversations dont work that way) and it needed to be hyper secure (it could for example be used for a “global” switchboard for the UK NHS phone system, so confidentiality would be a must.

But, voice over IP and various other things happened, it never took off, and was forgotten about.

Incredibly, 30 years later, cutting edge web developers are using it, as all of its qualities are ideally suite to transaction based websites.

So, something written 30 years ago and forgotten is born again.

With the formal part of the meeting over, I wander to reception.

I think the picture captures the scale and grandour of the hotel.

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I decide to wander around the hotel and get a feel for it.

There’s a pretty cool bar near reception and it has this incredible view.

I get a pint of the local beer and relax.

But I can’t relax too much.

The formal part of the meeting will be closed of with a Gala dinner, which I’m really looking forward to (I’ll get to relax and chat to the friends I’ve met in meeting and workshops).

The problem is, despite being loaded with Rohan clothing for every kind of event, I’ve no formal evening wear.

So I improvise. The excellent Meg at work, who is a keen Everton fan, helped me to purchase a football shirt. I hope it will work for the evening (well, it has SportPesa printed on the front of it, so lets see what happens).

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We have drinks in the VIP area, and a few people start asking about my top.

Forced to do what I always do in situations like this (and honestly, the only thing I can do) I tell the truth.

I explain:

I have no interest in football whatsoever and I’m not an Everton fan (although I’m sure theyre a fab club)

My heroes are mountaineers like Chris Bonington and Doug Scott.

But…  I work for SportPesa. We work at the top 1% of the technology industry, and the people I work with are amazing.

So, I wear my football shirt because I’m proud to wear the SportPesa logo.

The dinner and meal are fantastic. I got to bed about 2am, and I’m exausted.

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In the morning, I’m up and off exploring the Dunes again.

The company have arranged “a water based event” but the details are limited.

A bus takes us to the coast then I see it.

They have hired this incredible Catamaran (I’ve never sailed in one before so its amazing).

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But this isnt just “sailing” we have our own DJ and a free bar.

In the same way that I’ve built shelters and slept out in the woods to see what is like…

It’s amazing to be on a Catamaran, relaxing with a G&T, living like Rock star or premier league player, just to see what thats like.

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We sailed out to meet some other boats and there was the option to go Paragliding or Jetski-ing.

I did’t do either, I just relaxed on the boat. I can only remember a handful of times in my life that I’ve felt so relaxed.

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The slight low point, is when we pull into port and the food is served.

Its paella and seafood which I dont like.

I’m so relaxed, I hardly care.

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The DJ starts banging out gangster rap.

Not to everyone’s taste, but I personally love that stuff. The dance-floor is full (dance-floor, on a boat).

Our trip nearly over, were heading out to sea, to watch the sunset.

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What an amazing end to a perfect day.

Bus takes us home, a few drinks at the hotels panoramic bar, then its off to bed. Completely shattered.

turt

The next day is free.

I have a lie in until 8am. As I wander towards breakfast I see that there are some turtles.

chester

I wander into town, and see the main Casino in the area is called Chester – the name of the city I live in 🙂

bike

I pickup the mountain bike I’d arranged to hire from Free Motion.

Extremely professional, I get this amazing hybrid bike for just 21 Euros for the whole day.

They even give me a recommended list of places to visit and a map (and comment that they have shops in every town, so if I dont want to cycle back, just leave the bike in one of the other shops and get the bus home).

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Baking hot day, but the freedom and simple pleasure of riding a bike.

I peddle in one direction to an oil refinery and then head back and ride to Play del Ingles.

I’m glad I did.

When I told some friends I was heading to Gran Canaria, they’d warned me some part of it were like Blackpool.

I’d dismissed that (after all, the place we were staying was like acapulco).

When I got there, there were bins with vomit in them, gangs of what I can only describe as hooligans, and when I locked my bike up and went in a german bar, they would let me in, as “your English, you wont enjoy it”.

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On the way back, I saw adverts for disbled carts, which were everywhere. At least someone was having fun there.

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So, back to Meloneras. I lock up my bike and go for a walk along the front.

I dont recall the name of this hotel, but everyone of the rooms on the front had its own personal pool.

I don’t know when at the moment, but one day, I’m going to stay there.

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Cycling up and down, a friendly Italian couple offer to take a picture of me.

lads_pool

Exhausted, I had back home. A minibus is coming to pick me up the next morning at 4am, so I need to make it an early night.

I get a couple of drinks around the pool with some of the lads and as I sit there, I realise just how lucky I am to have experienced this amazing week.

last_supper

But, I’m a simple man.

For my last meal, I’ve found a chinese restaurant.

I go over on my own at 7pm. Because I’m early, I’m the only customer and I have spring rolls, beef and mushroom and some delicious red wine.

I wander back in a really good mood. Perhaps I should have more trips away, that aren’t projects and where I just relax and unwind 🙂

Recent visits to London.

flags

An amazing friend at SGS (Matt) suggested I get on the Virgin train mailing list. I initially resisted thinking I’d get all sorts of rubbish in my in-box.

Although that’s partially true, he pointed out that each year when they have a “sale” I’d get to know about it first.

London is an expensive city to visit, but with a 2.15 hour journey from Chester, you can travel direct at 7:15am, come home at 18:15pm and have an amazing day, with the transport only costing £11 each way.

Best of all, if you organise yourself over multiple one day “hits” you can save the cost of accommodation and evening meal (the latter can be substituted for a nice sandwich and a bottle of wine on the way home).

Above, some flags on Regent Street.

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Greenwhich (pronounced Greenwhich) was a place I’d heard great things about.

One of the best things to see there, was the famous Cutty Sark.

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In it’s day, one of the fastest trading ships in the world. With a minimal crew, it could transport Tea and other delicacies (we now take for granted) from one side of the world to the other.

Bellow decks, we watched this video about the ship in its heyday.

The man in this yellow coat, kept getting in the way of my pictures.

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Here he is again.

Looking down the ship, from the high place at the back (which I’m sure has a Nautical name, that I don’t know).

Anyway, this is what the captain would have seen looking forward from the ship as it was sailing.

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The ships name, carved in original oak.

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The ship itself is mounted on struts, and they have a nice cafe there where we have coffee and cake (It’s London, so costs a fortune).

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From here, we head up the hill to Grenwhich observatory.

From there we can see this amazing view of London and the Millennium Dome (now called the 02 arena).

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Outside the Royal Observatory.

At one time, people would travel from all over London to set their clocks by the one in the picture.

The site was chosen by Christopher Wren, and King Charles II created the position of Astronomer Royal.

There is also a very visible “time ball” that can be seen from a distance by Mariners. At 1pm each day, it dropped, and they could set their clocks from this.

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The prime meridian, longitude 0′.

Every place on earth was measured east or west of this line, and this is where Greenwhich Meantime takes its name.

The building itself is called Flamesteed house, after its first occupant.

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On of the telescopes used at the observatory. Very difficult to photograph.

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4 of John Harrison’s Sea watches, H1 to H4.

A joiner by trade, he designed a clock that could keep its time one a moving ship (something that even Sir Isaac Newton said was impossible).

Once out of sight of the shore, a clock was essential to work out the exact location of a ship and at a time of growing international trade, it saved many lives due to the avoidance of shipwrecks.

ship_clocks

Each ship had a special clock, normally stowed bellow decks. officers and men on the ship would set their own clocks and watches from it for practical purposes.

As technology progressed, the ships clock was no longer needed and in this room they had hundreds of the returned clocks.

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A selection in the museum about the 4 people who voice the speaking clock.

You could hear each voice by picking up the phone and they selected relevant handsets from the time period of the speaker.

hp

Hewlett Packard is a name familiar to anyone who who works in Information Technology (I have a HP Elitebook on my desk at work).

Here, a nuclear clock, actually made by HP.

rock

In another part of the museum, were shown “the oldest thing you’ll ever touch”.

A 4.5 billion year old meteorite. Formed at the same time as the Sun and the Earth.

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Lots of cool AV stuff, including this simulation for planning to put a satellite into space.

You get to make various decisions and video’s of people in your team, brief you on various things.

At the end, a BBC news thing tells you if your mission was successful.

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In a small garden outside, we end our trip with some coffee next to this statue of Uri Gagarin.

queens_house

Another museum, called the Queens house (picture taken in the great hall).

Basically, a very nice old building where there are loads of interesting old paintings (it took me 2 hrs to get Nikki out of here !).

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The one I was interested in.

The Armada portrait of Queen Elisabeth I, which her hand on a globe, and ships visible out of the window.

gmoth

But it’s a day out after all, and we have a few drinks in the Iconic Gipsy Moth where I learned a few more words of cockney.

We head to the “Battle Cruiser” for some “Britney Spears” – to the “Boozer” for some “Beers”.

nikki_entrance

We look across the Thames, and I can see Canary wharf (the outside of the building was used in one of my favourite Dr Who episodes).

In the background, you can see the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel.

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Inside the tunnel.

It was originally built to get workmen from one side of the Thames to the other, so they could start work.

And with that, my tour of Greenwich is over.

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Train advise wasn’t the only thing  got while working at SGS.

A fab woman called Catherine (who ran the legal department) told me about a TV series called W1A.

It’s basically a fly on the wall documentary about the BBC. Some of the parodies are so extreme, that I wonder how senior management allowed them to make the series.

Anyway, each episode begins with the “head of values” arriving on his folding bicycle outside New Broadcasting House, W1A (where the series takes its name).

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I really wanted to see it first hand (and standing there, it’s a spectacular building).

ei

I’ve spoken before about the British museum, how much I like it, and how on every trip to London, I make a point of popping in, even if only for 10 minutes.

This time, there was a tie-in, to some of the trips I’ve got planned.

In March next year, I’m going on a cruise to Antarctica. We’ll take in various places, but 2 of the highlights for me, and places I NEVER thought I’d get to see are the Falklands and Easter Island.

Interesting then, only about 2 of the Easter Island “heads” have ever left the Island. This one is in the British Museum.

emarbles

Later this year, were going on a sort of back packing, Greek Island tour and spending some time in Athens.

I’ve been previously, but I’m looking forward to seeing the Acropolis museum now it’s finished and half of the Parthenon sculptures that will be on display there.

The other half of the sculptures (sometimes called the Elgin Marbles) are on display in the British museum and in the picture above, you can see them laid out on display.

lion_hunt

The Assyrian Lion hunt.

In Assyria, Lion hunting was considered the sport of Kings.

Shooting down these beautiful animals with arrows from a moving chariot isn’t my idea of sport. Artistically however, they tell the story really well and capture the tension of the event.

A sort of 645 BC face-book post if you will.

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The BT Tower.

Until 1980, the tallest building in London and the UK.

I always remember it from the Goodie’s, when a sort of kitten climbed up it.

At one time, it had a rotating restaurant there, and I’d always wanted to go. I didn’t and now its closed for good, the message is clear…

Grab adventure when its present. You don’t know how long it will be around.

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Tower Bridge, which many tourists confuse with London Bridge.

On a previous trip, I found out, you can go inside on a tour.

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Walking along, inside the main crossbeam.

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The view from the crossbeam, showing the Thame’s, the Walkie Talkie and HMS Belfast.

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As you walk back across the other crossbeam, it has a glass floor, which can withstand the weight of an elephant.

The view was incredible, but I wasn’t going to walk across it.

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Walking down the staircase, its really Victorian looking.

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I was amazed to learn that up until 1974 the bridges operation was powered by steam (this is one of the massive steam engine’s, and just goes to show that the Victorian’s could build almost anything and make it work).

Today it’s powered by electro hydraulics.

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The bank of the river Thames.

Many of the crime drama’s I watch on tv, begin with a body being found somewhere like this.

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On the crime theme, New Scotland Yard, know and respected internationally for its outstanding detection and police work.

nsy2

I always celebrate remembrance Sunday, even when I’m away from home.

My freedom to travel and seek adventure was bought with the lives of people who fought for freedom and I’m constantly grateful for that.

In much the same way, the relative safety and security I enjoy at home is down to the police force here in the UK. That has a price sometimes too, and here, the eternal flame at NSY, dedicated to officers who have lost their lives in the pursuit of their duties.

pans

There are some things in London, I really like.

Here for example, a guy has laid out a selection of pots and pans and plays them like a drumkit for the entertainment of passers buy (and they in turn, but a few coins in his hat).

protest

And there are others that I don’t like.

Outside the house of commons, people protesting (for those reading this in other countries, freedom of speech and the right to peacefull protest are enshrined in law and sit at the very centre of everything that makes us British).

On this occasion, some native Burmese people highlighting the leader of Burma, San Suu Kyi, and the persecution of the Rohingya people.

No, they aren’t actually complaining about the persecution, they arguing for it to continue.

I remember reading once that freedom of speech, means in practical terms sitting politely while someone else says things that make your blood boil.

That’s what happened to me. Using our freedom of speech to safely campaign for the persecution of others is an outrage, I had to bare in silence.

commons

And to finish, we did an amazing tour of the house of commons.

It was easily one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever done, and incredible to stand in the chamber where Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill have stood and changed the fate of the nation.

Unfortunately, for security reasons, I wan’t allowed to take any pictures. Very disappointing.

So, if you haven’t been to London recently, why not give it a go (its only £22 return after all 🙂

New Job & Adventures in Liverpool.

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Apologies for not updating the site recently.

Its been a busy few months. Mainly because I started a new job in January, which is fab, but very demanding on my time.

I’ve decided, in this blog entry, to say a bit about my new job and some of the exciting things I’ve done in Liverpool.

My adventure season normally starts at the beginning of March, I’ve been on 2 walking weekends already this year, and I’m off to Iceland this afternoon.

gear

So, on the 2nd of January, I return from India (and the end of my sabbatical, which included Andalusia and Namibia).

With one day to prepare, unpack my stuff and get ready, I start my new job on the 3rd of January.

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And what a job.

I’d be working with state of the art technology in a new data centre (I know there’s more money in development, but the truth is, I love computer infrastructures).

Best of all, I’ll be working on the 9th floor of the Liver building right on the waterfront in Liverpool.

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I had a legal meeting in Liverpool about 3 years ago, when I was working for a company in Warrington. Afterwards, I had a couple of drinks in the city and remember thinking how much fun it would be to work here. Now I do.

Best of all, I get to work with an old friend, Mike Delafield. We’ve done loads of cool projects and learned loads of clever technical things (which obviously I can’t discuss the details of).

We sometimes go to a pub called Ma Boyles after work.

jst

In a previous job, I used to get 2 trains to travel from Chester to Ellesmere port. Main problem was I couldn’t read, as I’d get distracted and end up missing my stop.

Now, I get one train from Chester and it gets to Liverpool in 40 mins. I’m also able to start at 8am, which means I can get home in the evening at 5:45 which presents loads of opportunities in the summer evenings.

From James street station, I walk along this amazing underground tunnel to get to work.

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Las Vegas?  Dubai?  that’s nothing, I’ve travelled with my company to the Isle of Man !.

orange

I still help out in support sometimes.

All the people in the office are really friendly and after I helped someone, I was delighted to receive this “thank you” Orange.

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Sportpesa are the shirt sponsor for Everton.

There are lots of charity initiatives, and the other Friday we could pay £1 and wear a football shirt of our choice.

I was going to buy a Manchester City shirt in support of my brother and Frank, but at £70, too much to be worn once.

Instead I wore the Australian rugby shirt I bought in Cairns.

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The view out of our window showing the Port of Liverpool Building and the Mersey.

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While I’ve been working in Liverpool I’ve made the most of the opportunity.

Right near my office, is the Albert Dock, where 30 years previously my life would change forever.

I literaly sailed from this exact spot when I did a month long adventure trip with Fairbridge Drake.

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The Terracotta warriors are on display in Liverpool so one lunchtime I went over to see them.

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In a building nearby, they have the longest Lego bridge in the world.

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After work, we went to the Royal Court to watch Council Depot Blues.

Hilarious, and the music was really good.

scouse

A local dish I’d heard a lot about.

I decided to visit Philpotts for lunch and try some “Scouse”.

It was actualy really nice.

cinema

This picture is a bit rubbish, but its just before the start of The Black Panther (cinemas can get a bit upset when you start pointing camera phone’s at the screen during a performance).

At the cinema in Liverpool 1, I got my first experience of an IMAX screen. Expensive, but completely imersive (so just as well, the film was really good).

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Finally, a trip to the Liverpool Philharmonic to see Bill Bailey.

One of the most innovative comedian’s I’ve ever seen, I howled laughing when he pointed out that a bird called a “lune” had featured heavily in the Manchester music seen (seriously, it was true and I couldn’t believe it).

As I said earlier, I’m off to Iceland in about 3 hours, so thanks once again for reading, and:

Near and far, the search for adventure continues.

Delhi & Agra 2017

Comming towards the end of my sabatical, I’d just returned from an amazing trip to Namibia.

So what next…

Well, Nikki and I like to get a way at Christmas (although usualy places close to home like Cyprus or Malta). India looked a good fit, but its somewhere I’d been before and Nikki hadnt.

But with a bit of tweaking, I could create a trip that would suit us both.

map

I found a trip called Mughal Highlights with the adventure travel company Explore. It looked a perfect fit.

On my previous trip, I’d travelled west to east from Delhi to Varanasi (and ultimately Kathmandu).

I found a trip with loads of new things to see, yet lots of must see sights for Nikki.

Delhi and Agra would be duplicated from my original trip, but I saw almost nothing of Delhi the first time and Agra, and the Taj Mahal are always worth a 2nd visit.

Packed and ready to go, with my “new” sandals (which, due to it being winter I never got to wear), Tilly hat, first aid kit and emergency repair kit. Last but not least, the ubiqitous chocolate limes.

Off all the trips I’ve been on, the flying expirience was the worst by far, due to a series of what I can only call bad luck.

We arrive at the excelent Manchester airport at 5am. Drop our bags and then we can get some coffee and nice breakfast. But whats this, theres a problem with the “machines” we have to stand up and queue for an hour and 40 mins.

The delay means we have to rush through to get our plane. Some nugget in security has tried to bring an iron through security which holds things up further.

We get to the plane, which is delayed. On landing in France, we run to get our flight to Delhi, desperate not to miss it. Then once on the plane, the pilot keeps us on the ground for 2.5 hours to give other people a chance.

Ok, so at least now were on our way to India.

We land, have the farcial thing of some sort of annoying paper imigration form (that could have been issued with our visa. We have to find all sorts of details, find something to lean on and write it out (and its midnight and were exausted).

Then some sort of amatuer security thing with finger prints. Which meant from Landing it took nearly 3 hours to get out of the airport.

Which meant that the transfer we’d booked had already left and we had to get a taxi. The taxi drive gave us some rubbish about a big tip to feed his family. I threw the money at him and went into our hotel.

Oh, did I mention I had a really bad cold ?

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No matter, we’ve arrived. A hot shower, comfortable bed and some sleep.

In the morning, we had some breakfast and then decided to go out exploring (the tour didnt officialy start until late afternoon and sitting around isnt for me).

New neighourhoods are sprouting up all the time in India. In this case, the New Friends colony, split into areas like zone G where we were staying.

On our orientation walk, we come across this sign.

Later, our tour begins and first thing is our guide Abi. I won’t bore you with the details, but simply put, he was an amzing guide.

An early introduction to the contrasts of India.

We travel on the underground, and I see the woman only carriages I’d heard about.

The platform and carriage are bright, in good working order and spotlessly clean.

We ascend into the old town.

You can see the difference, it was filthy and squalid.

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The best way to see this part of the town, is by cyclo.

wire

Abi pointed out that the technology boom in India was great, but getting hold of a good electrician was still a challenge (as you can see from the high quality electrical work in this picture).

The Jama Masjid mosque.

You can see a lot of smog in the background, but the building itself was spectacular.

I had to pay a bit to borrow some flip flops (and pay someone to keep an eye on my shoes).

Nikki had to wear this sort of dressing gown thing.

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Walking from the mosque, we pass the famous Red Fort.

A Mughal fort, befitting a tour called Mughal highlights. A world heritage site, the Prime Minister hoists a flag here every year on indipendence day.

And then onto our air conditioned bus.

The Airforce building has aeroplanes mounted outside.

I imagine it’s so people can find it more easily and if they arrive at the wrong place and find tanks, they know theyre in the wrong place.

The Qutb complex.

<say something historic about it>

Quwwat-ul-islam arch. All thats left of the building constructed in 1193 and in the background the Qutb Minar tower.

Driving around once it goes dark, we get to see the Governement building from a distance and The India gate, a momorial to 70,000 Indian soldiers who died in the first world war.

We finish off the evening with a few beers and a delicious curry.

It was the most expensive meal we ate on the whole trip and cost about a tenner.

I guessed it would be expensive, as it was above a Lexus dealership.

The next day we do a quick visit to Hamayans tomb.

Another Mughal building, it was spectacular to look at, I just wish there had been some sunshine.

Like the Taj Mahal, it was symetricaly perfect.

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And then were off on our way to Agra.

We passed these 2 people sat on the top of a truck, with a quilt over them to fend of the cold.

They were really friendly and waved at us.

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Get cleaned up in our hotel, then its out to see the Taj Mahal.

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I’d seen it before, but just like last time, I was left speachless.

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In the evening we eat some Thali food and are entertained by musicians.

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The following day, up bright and early and were off to see the Agra fort.

I was really looking forward to this. Thing is, the Taj is amazing, but all you can really do is look at it.

This thing is A FORT and I’m basicaly a boy in a mans body.

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Inside, were introduced to a local guide and expert who talks us through the various parts of the fort and their history.

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Half of the fort is closed off, as it’s still used by the Indian army (Parachute Brigade), even to this day.

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Diwan – I Kas, the hall of private audience. Originaly used by Akbar and great and later by several of his descendents.

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The Throne of Jahangir. Made from Belgian marble.

When the “British” attacked, they fired a canonball, which hit the throne, bounced off and made a hole in the wall nearby.

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Shah Jahan Mosque.

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The battlements of the fort, showing high walls, a moat and a gap between the outer in and inner walls where Tigers roamed.

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And were off on the road again.

Namibia 1

Standing on the Waterberg Plateau

Early in my life, I was inspired by the Adventure fiction novels of Wilbur Smith.

One of my favourites, The Burning Shore, takes place in Namibia.

Namibia is quite an expensive place, and would require 3 planes just to get to it, and 3000km driving in a truck to see it all, but I knew it would be worth it.

Above, I’m standing in front of the Waterberg Plateau in the mustard coloured Rohan jumper I’ve been wearing a lot this year.

Arriving at Namibia airport

We arrive at Hosea Kutako International Airport after travelling for nearly 30 hours.

The airport is 45km from our first stop, the capital Windhoek.

We needed to change money and buy sims for our phones. I would have preferred to do it later, but these sorts of things are best sorted out at the airport and I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of everyone who worked there.

A taxi ride, and we arrive at the Safari Hotel, a really large hotel complex that was used as the start and end point for expeditions run by several companies like Explore (who we went with).

It was a bit out of town, so we decided to have a dip in the pool and relax at the bar for a few pints (you can guess which one of us did which).

I tried to stay awake as long as I could to combat jet lag, then off to bed around 11pm Namibia time and a deep sleep.

View from the Independence Memorial Museum, looking down on the Alte Feste (Old Fort)

We’d arrived early and our tour was due to start at 6pm that evening, so we decided to head into town and do some exploring.

The Alte Festa (or Old Fort) is the oldest surviving building in Windhoek and built by the Germans during colonial times.

Inside is a statue called The Rider. Quite controversially, it is a symbol of German victory during the Herero/Namaqua war in 1904.

Outside the Independence museum

The newer Independence museum, has a statue of Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president, holding a copy of the constitution.

I thought the building looked a bit like a coffee machine. It was built by North Korea and stands on Robert Mugabe avenue.

Revolutionary propaganda

Inside, lots of propaganda stuff.

Reasonably interesting, but mostly pictures of people and some shocking paintings of massacres.

Only thing was, if you didn’t actually know what event it referred to, there was no text there to tell you.

A major visual display, didn’t work and I found the section about life before colonialism, where everyone lived in peace and harmony a little bit unlikely.

But otherwise, an interesting museum which focused more on politics than facts.

Bow and arrow and other San artifacts

Far more interesting to me, was the Owela museum, which had details about different tribes and how they lived.

Of special interest was a section on the San people. Up until something like 1940, people were not only allowed, but actively encouraged to “shoot Bushmen and wild dogs on sight”.

They can live comfortably in a desert where most people would be dead in 10 hours and have lived the same way for the last 20,000 years.

A wikiup inside a museum

I find shelter building fascinating, and in the past I’ve had a go at building a Wikiup.

This one in the museum was built by 2 local woman who were featured in the exhibit.

Fallen Meteorites outside the shopping centre

We continue wandering around, and find the Gibeon meteorites.

In any other country, they would probably be in a museum. In Namibia, they’re next to a shopping mall on Post Street.

We decide to get a taxi back. Our driver (a young man) invites us back to his car. It has no seat belts, I sit in the front, Nikki sits in the back with his 2 “girlfriends”.

As the car careers off at speed there is some sort of African rap screaming out of a cd player and an open pocket knife on the dashboard (no keys are used to start the car …)

But, despite a terrifying journey, he gets us back to our hotel and says a smiling thank you as we pay him. You don’t get things like that happening when you travel with Thomas Cook.

Later, once the official tour begins, our guide points to the area where we got the tax and said “don’t go walking around there”.

An itinerary map of our Namibia trip

Our tour meeting begins at 6pm sharp and were introduced to our Explore guide. Wendy was South African, very tall and incredibly well organised.

Our driver Shepherd from Zimbabwe, was quietly spoken but having driven across deserts and mountains for 20 years new his job inside and out.

A detailed itinerary is supplied. We’ll travel over 3000km by the end of the trip.

We have dinner, get a few drinks and retire to bed.

Inside our bus with Wendy at the front

In the morning we see the bus that will take us across Namibia. The seating was raised so we could see things more easily and underneath in the hold, were tables, chairs, shovels and just about everything you’d need for an adventure.

At the front of the upstairs cabin, it even had a freezer and places to charge phones and laptops.

And with that, we load our bags, stock up on water and head for the Zebra River Lodge.

Truck stop, preparing for lunch

We travelled 284km on our first day. Driving on tarmac roads for part of it was fine, but once we got onto the open tracks, it was really hard going.

We had lunch on the trail most days.

Typically, Wendy would cook an amazing lunch, served on a big table near a tree to provide shade.

The food was excellent (vegan and lactose intolerance aren’t widely acknowledged in Africa, so she did really well to cook for everyone without incident).

It was nice to sit on a comfortable chair in the bush and have a can of lager afterwards.

Our room at the Zebra lodge

We arrived at the Zebra River Lodge around 3:30pm and are shown to our rooms.

Our accommodation on the trip notes had been described as basic, but I found them all to be the lap of luxury like the one above.

Zebra lodge weaver bird at its nest

In the afternoon, I sit on the terrace and watch this Weaver bird construct its nest. I’m not normally into Ornithology, but some of the birds I saw in Namibia really were fascinating.

I’d see something even more fascinating the following day.

Zebra Canyon at Sunset

There were a number of interesting trails and hills nearby.

We went walking for a couple of hours.

Pouring rain outside the Zebra lodge

But this is Africa after all.

Twenty minutes after we get back, the gorgeous sunny day is transformed as torrential rain and then hail batter the hotel terrace.

Nikki celebrating her birthday with the Zebra lodge staff singing

We had dinner on the terrace later that evening. Wendy had realised it was Nikki’s birthday from her passport and laid on a really nice cake. All the kitchen staff came out and sang happy birthday 🙂

Enormous birds nest

Today we’d be doing a 360km round trip to a place called Sesriem and the start of our real adventure.

We stop at the Sesriem gate and get some coffee. With time to wander around, I find this.

Believe it or not, this is also a Weaver nest.

A bit of a sort of apartment block idea, it has multiple nests inside. It’s possible for a chick to grow up, find a mate, find a chamber inside the nest and have her own chicks without ever leaving the nest.

Walking through the desert

We have to use local jeaps once we get to the main area. Not well organised at all, and we are standing in baking heat.

After much faf, and superb organisation by Wendy, were off careering through the soft desert sand.

Were going to see one of the worlds most incredible sights – The Deadvlei in the Namib desert, the oldest desert on earth.

Sossusvlei sand dunes

As we disembark, some people decide to go off climbing sand dunes. I enjoy a flat walk-in and get my camera ready.

Deadvlei salt pan

Deadvlei is a salt pan surrounded by the tallest sand dunes in the world.

Inside it’s really quiet and serene, and the dead trees growing everywhere make it quite spooky.

After 40 minutes, we head back. A pretty amazing experience.

High sand dune with an Oryx sheltering under a tree

As we drive back along the desert highway, we visit “Dune 45” although that sounds like the name of a local nightclub in Newton Heath, it actually relates to a very popular sand dune which is 45km from the Sesriem gate.

It’s very popular with Japanese tourists as its right next to the road and easy to get too.

I took this picture of the dune, with a tree at the foot and an Oryx relaxing in the shade. I think it’s probably the best photo I’ve ever taken and I’ve even had it framed and put up at home.

Inside Sesriem canyon

We wander around in the Sesriem canyon.

Sesriem means six thongs. Six thongs of rawhide rope would be tied together and a bucket fastened to the end.

It would then be lowered down into the canyon to collect water.

Our accomodation at the Zebra River Lodge

Back to the Zebra River Lodge.

It had been a really long day, so something to eat, bottle of wine and off to bed.

The open desert

Up early today and were heading for Swakopmund where we’ll be staying for 2 nights.

I just put this picture up to show you the view we saw for most of the day.

Honestly, in a whole hour you’d see nothing but desert.

The small town of Solitaire

We stop off at the famous “town” of Solitaire.

A bloke and his wife bought some land, built a cottage and then a few other things. The wife’s brother joined them, but then the wife left.

The two of them ran the “town” together. It’s on a main highway, so the bakery is very popular (I had a Viennese whirl, I really didn’t think I’d get to eat one while I was in Africa!)

They also have old farming equipment and cars (like the one above) which are painted in nice colours.

Best thing I liked about it was they actually have an air strip, and wealthy people can fly in and get cakes.