Category: Europe

Northern Ireland 1 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster fry.

me_belfast

Although its nearby, I’d never been to Northern Ireland.

This is a picture of me in front of the Salmon of knowledge.

It is made up of pictures and symbols from Northern Ireland, contains a time capsule, and symbolises the cleaning of the river Lagan.

troubles

Although Northern Ireland is transformed from the days before the Good Friday agreement, I couldn’t help being nervous.

After all, my youth was filled with TV images of the troubles.

If you only did things that made you feel comfortable, you’d never do anything.

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We’d decided to travel by ferry, and the best part, the port it leaves from is near the Liver Building where I work.

So, I finished work on Friday evening, picked up my bag and set off.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect on the ferry. Was it going to be filled with stag do’s and the like.

Nothing of the sort, they had a really nice bar/cafeteria, Wi-Fi throughout and a small cinema for Children.

The surprise was when it was time for bed. We headed for our bedroom, but lots of people produced sleeping bags and proceeded to “bed down” on the lounge floor.

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Out on-suit room was very comfortable. It was actually a 4 birth, but we pushed the 2 additional beds up.

The shower was piping hot, loads of room for our bags and lots of charging ports for our phones and tablets.

Now the bad news, it docks in Belfast at 6am, so no lie in bed.

city_hall

I had researched things, but for some reason I thought we’d arrive in the city centre. Not so, it took 90 minutes to walk into town, but the walk helped us to wake up.

We wander around the town, which was pretty quet at that time of the morning. This is City Hall, a very famous building in Belfast.

Straight away, I start hearing people speaking Ulster/Scotts, the local dialect.

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Speaking of Ulster, I was really hungry.

My guidebook said you musnt leave Belfast without trying an Ulster Fry.

It was quite delicious. One thing I notice when I travel is how people react to tipping. We put £2 into the tips jar in the cafe we visited and they looked delighted.

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Our first activity is a visit to Crumlin road Gaol.

The trip involves a tour of the prison, some lunch and a tour around the peace wall, one half given by a loyalist former prisoner and the 2nd half given by a republican former prisoner.

But first, were shown a short documentary outlining the history of Ireland, the troubles , the Good Friday agreement and the constitution.

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We were told we could take as many pictures as we wanted but no video and no voice recording.

We were introduced to our first tour guide. Asked if he had been a UVA supported, he explained that he had actually been a combatant and regularly went out in the evining armed, usualy to provide security.

He said that we should ask him any question, he was keen to tell the story. I found him very open minded and well educated.

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She showed us the upper and lower Shankhill road where the UVA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando were roughly based.

There were Murals everywhere and lots of tours run by Black Taxi.

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One surprisingly ironic moment was while waking near the peace all, he told us to slow down, because it was “dangerous”.

It actually turned out the road had a blind bend and he was concerned about road accidents.

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The peacewall, is there to protect the comunities (so in reality its not really about peace) we’d been given pens to write message on the wall.

I was amazed to see how close the houses were to each other. Our guide explained that in his youth, some older family members had convinced him to join the UVA. At that age he said, many young men are more easily influenced. I thought of my own youth and I had to agree.

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There is a door in the wall we visited. He said the last person to walk through this door was the Dalhi Lama (he wont be doing it again soon, on close inspection, its now welded shut).

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The Gates are closed remotely every night just before dark.

I asked him what would it have been like if he’d been on the “wrong” side of the wall after dark. He said simply, that never would have happened.

They would have recognised me simply because they didnt recognise me and then bad things would have happened…

We were introduced to our republican guide. I was surprised when both guides shook hands.

When I asked, the UVA chap said: We are both former combatants, we’ve been shot at and injured. We’ve both lost family, so we know what’s at stake!.

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He wasn’t a catholic and had been out on a peaceful human rights march when the “army” had broken his jaw with a rifle. “Thats when I joined the IRA” he said.

It has to be said that the 2nd guide, was not as open minded but he did tell his story eloquently.

He explained that Catholics had been persecuted by the police and the army, and struggled to find work and propper housing due to prejudice.

He said he felt that many of the problems had been resolved, but that the IRA had disarmed and disbanded yet the Red Hand Commando were still active.

We saw this Mural to Bobby Sands who we’d hear more about later in the Crumlin Prison tour.

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Interesting sticker.

There are still strong feeling about the local people and the police.

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We walk pass the Clonard Monastry where the peace talks were held.

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I’ve stood on the Great Wall of China, and I’ve watched the sun set over the Pyramids at Giza, but I honestly never thought I would stand on the Falls road.

I had read of so many terrible things happening on the Falls road. Over 3600 people died in the troubles, a quarter of them in a small area around where I’m standing.

Yet, it was like any other street, people were walking to the pub and carrying shopping home.

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With the outdoor part of the tour complete, we head back to Crumlin road gaol and the Cuffs restaurant there.

Lunch was no suprise. Irish stew, and actualy reallygood. We got a free drink, but I declined Guiness and instead had lager.

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We might our tour guide, a charming lady who walked us all around the prison and exercise yard telling us stories of things that had happened.

We even got to see the governers office. She said that Bobby Sands was married there, with only a few sandwiches and a prison guards for witnesses.

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Across the road, rather run down, was the courthouse. So many people were arrested at the time, that an underground tunnel underneath the road, connected the 2 buildings.

Our tour finishes and our guide asks if we’d like to sign the visitors book. She had been slightly nervous throughout, and it was only then hat we found out. For 14 years she’d been one of a handfull female prion guards who had worked at the Prison. She had retired and a few years later (a week earlier) had taken a job as a tour guide.

Perhaps some skills are transferable.

Northern Ireland 2 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster fry.

europa

The next day, our trip moves onto a completely different track.

Game of Thrones (one of my favourite TV programes) is produced mostly in Northern Ireland and there’s a chance to see some of the significant places from the series.

It would also enable us to see the Antrim coast and some of the amazing countryside there.

On our way to the starting point, we pass the Europa hotel. At one time, the most bombed hotel in Europe.

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We board the coach, and head off.

Our first stop, is the cave where Melisandre gives birth to the Shadow assassin.

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The tour continues and we see the beautiful scenery of the Antrim coast.

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Dunluce Castle, 17th century ruins used as the exterior of the House of Greyjoy.

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Mull of Kintyre, only 12 miles away.

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Although its not featured in Game of Thrones, the The Giants Causeway is a must see sight and we spent almost 2 hours here.

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Further along, the Carrick-a- rede ropebridge and a chance to stretch out legs.

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Dark Hedge, know to every fan of GOT as the The Kings Road.

Not as romantic as it seems in the series, hundreds of people there, so many that they won’t allow you to drive down it now.

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Back to Belfast and a quick wander around the city before dinner.

The Green/Black statue of Dr Henry Cook.

Described as an “Anti libertarian” (I don’t know what that means) is featured in front of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

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With a whole day left, we wander over to the docks and the Titanic quarter.

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One of the 2 large cranes (named Samson and Goliath) at one time, the largest cranes in the world.

H & W stands for Harland and Wolf, but the folk of Belfast say it means hello & welcome.

The dry dock they stand next to, is the largest in the world.

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Titanic studios.

Located in a building which was the original paint shed, where the Titanic was painted.

This is where all the indoor scenes from game of thrones are shot.

If you enjoyed a scene in a cave or a palace, they were probably in here.

The back lot outside had an entire Wildling village.

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The ugliest boat in the world

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Titanic museum.

We had wanted to go and see it, but it was 20 quid.

Nikki had seen a museum of Naval ships and I had seen a Game of Thrones exhibition, so we took leave of each other and went to these instead.

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The Game of Thrones touring exhibition is set to show around the world.

Since most of the items come straight from the Belfast studio, it made sense that the TEC exhibition hall in the Titanic quarter would be its first stop.

Luckily I’m there at just the right time.

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Jamie Lanister’s costume.

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A re-creation of the crypt at Winterfell.

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The original Hall of Faces.

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A modern visual representation of the many faced god.

Recognise the guy on the top row, 2nd from the right.

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The leader of the the white walkers.

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On the right Arya Stark’s sword, Needle.

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After such an amazing trip, we head for some food and another really friendly bar.

Some more excellent food, then back to the port, to get our overnight ferry back to Liverpool and straight into work for 7:30am

I can talk about what’s gone in Northern Ireland before, as I just don’t know enough about it.

But as a travel destination today, its one of the friendliest, most interesting and easily accessed destinations I can think off.

Meteora Greece, monoliths and James Bond

intro

I’d wanted to visit Meteora, but could never justify an entire trip, just to see it.

Since I was spending Christmas in Athens and it was a short train journey from there, the Meteora starting pistol was fired.

arrival

Meteora is unique, as it has large round rock monoliths located right next to the village.

So close that you can literally walk out of your hotel and your at the foot of one.

A world heritage site, they contain a number of monastery’s on top.

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My main interest came when I watched a James Bond film – For your eyes only (if your my sort of age, you may remember the theme song, by Shena Easton).

A significant part of the plot and ending are featured in Metora.

station

But first, we’ve got to get there.

We leave our hotel, and as we walked towards Athens railway station, it looked derelict and I wondered if it had closed down.

I remember reading on BBC News in 2008 that Greece was in such financial difficulty that it would be cheaper to close down the train network and transport all the passengers by Taxi.

platform

Luckily, that hadn’t happened, and we arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as us, to visit Meteora for Christmas.

train

It looked like chaos from the platform, but once the doors opened we found our seats.

Extremely comfortable, large windows to enjoy the the view and plenty of space to store our bags.

After a relaxing 5 hours we arrive Meteora.

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Kalamata Railway station in Kalampaka.

We take a moment to orientate ourselves, then walk to hotel Galaxy.

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The receptionist is very helpful and the hotel clean and bright (a lot better than I’d expected for the money we’d paid).

In reception, they have a bus timetable and I was surprised they had so many regular services, considering it was Christmas & New Year.

But were here in search of adventure. We dump our bags and head out.

square

We wander around the town looking for some lunch (I had burger and chips, I was on holiday after all).

There were views like this one right from the centre of town. It wasn’t very warm, but the sky was completely clear.

Meteora-map

As we relax, we review a map of the area. Not exactly to UK OS map standard, but gives us a rough idea of how to see the things we want the following day.

xmas

Back into the centre of town for an evening of nice wine and delicious Greek food.

They had a nativity thing set up in the main square.

night

Our evening over, we walk back to our hotel.

I was delighted to see that they light up the monoliths at night in this spectacular fashion.

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In the morning, we head out early towards the village of Kastraki

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It’s so cold, that this map, is frozen, and I have to use a tesco clubcard to clear away the section we want to visit.

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We continue up a path from the village.

The are is clear and fresh and there are tree’s on each side of the road.

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We leave the road, had into the foothills, along a path.

The sun is up now and the views spectacular.

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We find an old military vehicle is abandoned next to a vineyard.

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Branching off, we follow a path between Great Meteoron and Varlam.

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The views on either side are spectacular.

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Some parts of the path need some tlc, this bench on the trail certainly wasn’t in a state to be sat on.

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As we arrive at the monastery of Great Meteoron (the view is looking back to the monastery of Varlam) we find loads of tourists who’ve travelled up by bus).

The ask us how we’ve got there. We point back down the trail and tell them where it comes out on the road. We have 2 maps, so we give one to a friendly couple who are wearing Dr Martens.

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Inside the monastery (its a few Euros to look around), the paintings are superb. After a short while, we walk to the monastery of Varlam, and the views all around are incredible.

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But instead of going back, we head deeper into the mountains. Our intention is to loop back around Doupiani and take a circular route back to Kastraki and onto Kalampaka.

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On the way, we see a statue and flag to Papathymios Vlachava who famously led the fight agains Ali Pashi of the Ottoman empire.

It was strange really, as it was literally in the middle of nowhere.

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We pass another monastery. This time, its not actually on top of the monolith, but carved into the side.

Well off the beaten track, it was unfortunately closed.

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Back down through the mountains and forests, looking back up the trail.

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Back down through Kastraki, its just turning 6pm.

We stop on the way home at a family run restaurant – chips and red wine.

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The next morning, we choose a different route entirely.

Leading straight from Kalampaka, the paths are much better maintained.

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Were heading for the monastery of the Holly Trinity.

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Which in the James Bond film, looks like this, and is called St Cyrils.

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A spectacular scene in the film involved Bond climbing up a shear face of the monolith.

We’ve no such ambitions, and use the normal path up through the rocks.

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Inside St Stephens monastery, an enormous series of buildings.

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The are outside St Stephens has amazingly clear air, spectacular views of Kalampaka and Kastraki, and a superb spot to relax (and the place where the ATAC system was destroyed at the end of For your eyes only.

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Our adventure ends a bit more serenely.

With 2 hours before our train home, we relax with some snacks, and a cold beer, back in Kalamapaka.

Return to Athens

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I originally visited Athens in 2005 (you can read about it here and here)

I like to go away for Christmas. We visited 2 destinations in Greece, and it gave me a chance to go back to Athens.

metro

Straight out of the airport, we buy a metro tickets and head for the centre of Athens.

It wasn’t particularly warm, but we had a fab time.

room

We arrive at Kubik Athens Smart Hotel. It was a budget affair, and I wasn’t sure what it would be like.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. It had a friendly bar, exemplary customer service and a hotel room out of tomorrows world.

It was so modern in fact, that the curtains, lights, tv and everything were controlled from a tablet.

market

But were no Rock Stars and we don’t travel to hang out in hotels.

Out exploring. Its a few years since I was in Athens (the recession happened in between times). The people were still very friendly but some of the streets were really dirty.

We start off  by wandering around the Monastiraki flee market.

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The Agora museum entrance is super for taking pictures as it really leads the eye.

shield

On my first visit to the Agora museum, I completely missed this fascinating Spartan shield.

From the battle of Sphacteria in 425 BC. A priceless artefact, it’s the only one of its kind in the world.

In practical terms, its hard to imagine someone running around the battle field with this heavy thing, but its said that the Spartans were “a special kind” of men.

gate

I decided to pick out a few places I didn’t visit last time – Hadrian’s Arch.

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The stunning Panatheniac stadium.

Finishing point for the modern Athens marathon, the site has been used countless times for sporting events and the first Olympic games were held here.

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Presidential palace.

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The guard on the front gate is a member of an elite group of commando’s, but unfortunately has to wear ridiculous clothes out of tradition.

Back to our hotel, quick clean up then drinks in the hotel bar.

Some idiot Japanese students order take out Pizza’s and stank the place out. Shame, were were enjoying ourselves.

Never mind, we decided to head out for the evening.

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 An enchanting restaurant, done out like a general store with cans and supplies everywhere.

parthenon

Next morning and we head for the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.

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Last time I was here, the Parthenon marbles were stored in this small building.

The Greeks have always argued for the return of the other half of the marbles, (referred to in Britain, as the Elgin marbles), presently housed in the British Museum.

The British museum had argued that the Athenian museum was not appropriate for such significant artefacts and that was their bases for keeping hold of them.

The Greek government had countered, by constructing an incredible new museum to host the collection. So, this building was now empty (it would have made a superb cafe, and there didn’t seem to be anywhere else to get coffee !).

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A view from the Acropolis, showing the new Acropolis museum bellow.

It was only half built, the last time I was here, and I was disappointed not to be able to see it.

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The museum is literally built on top of an archaeological site, which we see as we walk towards the entrance.

Excavation of the site bellow the museum continues.

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Opened in 2009, I wandered around, and I really was impressed with its informative displays, overall quality of the building and the professionalism of the staff.

Lunch in the cafe delicious and the service superb.

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A re-creation of the Parthenon, with the marbles displayed in relative position. The ones that are missing have an ostentatious sign that says AWAITING RETURN FROM THE BRITISH MUSEUM.

the walls around the museum are glass so the marbles can be viewed in daylight, as they would be if you were wandering around the outside of the Parthenon.

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A design feature of the museum is this viewing gallery, which allows the Parthenon view to interact with the viewing of the marbles.

We head back to our hotel in a reflective mood. A few drinks and dinner near out hotel, then off to bed to prepare for our trip to Meteora.

night

Arriving back in the evening, its dark and some of the streets we walk down aren’t particularly inviting

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No matter, we get to our hotel without problems and go out for dinner (its New Years Eve and my thoughts are off the amazing possibilities of the coming year).

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Back at our hotel (360 degree pop art hotel if your ever near there).

A drink on the rooftop terrace has views of the acropolis.

As its New Year, they have a fireworks display.

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In the morning, standing in the same spot.

We had breakfast, but decided to eat indoors as the weather wasn’t very nice.

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Our first top on New Years day, is the National Archaeological museum.

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The place was massive and it took me 2 hours to see all of it.

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But were on holiday, so after lots of exploring, they have a nice garden in the middle,  so we stop to relax in the cafe.

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A pigeon had somehow got inside the cafe.

Nobody seemed to mind, and the pigeon just seemed to wander around (and why not, he wasn’t doing any harm).

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We continue on our way and decide to visit another place I missed last time – Lycabettus hill.

I wanted to take the cable car, but Nikki insisted we walk.

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Has spectacular views of the city, and there were hundreds of people at the top.

The 360 degree views of Athens were incredible.

Strangely, there didn’t appear to be many skyscrapers, which for an international capital, was a surprise.

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Back into town, the Metropolitan cathedral, a modern building that contrasts with all the ancient stuff I’ve been seeing over the past few days.

A few drinks, then back on the metro to the airport.

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At the Airport, about to go home.

A machine allows me to vote: Should the Elgin Marbles be returned to Athens ?

I visit the British Museum frequently. They’ve got enough artefacts to spare.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

harb

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 🙂

lh

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.

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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.

veh

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 🙂

meglac

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.

pointing

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.

viking

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).

lds

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.

bus

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.

3fin1

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.

3cime

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.

chin

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.

carpark

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.

cort_walkway

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.

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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).

sp_top

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.

cat1

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).

green_line

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”.

elec_car

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

pers_pool

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 🙂