Category: Uncategorised

Kiev on Independence day.

building

Mike and I had decided to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat.

The nearest City is Kiev, and since the place itself looked interesting we had an afternoon and an entire day exploring.

Above you can see some of the daunting old buildings in the area.

bunker

The place has a real glamour feel to it, with attractive girls everywhere and lots of sports cars sand jewellery.

We went into what we thought was a quiet bar, while we planned our exploration, when I went to visit the bathroom, it turned out, downstairs was a nightclub, modelled on a military bunker !.

main_street

The beating heart of the city is Khreshchatyk street. 1.2 kilometres long, practically everything happens on this street.

golden_gate1

Our first “must see” site in the city.

The Golden Gate.

golden_gate2

Originaly built in the 1100’s, its been “modernised” quite a lot since then.

st_micheals

The Golden dome of St Michael’s monastery.

st_sophias

St Sophia’s cathedral.

idip_march1

Not planned at all, we realised we’d be visiting during Independence day.

As we wandered around, lots of people had donned their uniforms and medals and were marching proudly through the streets.

Ukraine declared independence on the 24th August, 1991.

Mykhailo_Hrushevsky

A statue to Mykhailo Hrushevsky, a famous academic, politician and historian.

opera_house

National opera house of Ukraine built in 1867.

underground

I normally explore new places on foot, at ground level, but time was pressing so we took the underground (I couldn’t believe just how far underground this went).

pechersk_lavra

But we emerge back into the sunshine and see the Pechersk Lavra with its series of cave monastery’s underneath.

landscape

The National Military History Museum.

The whole area is landscaped with spectacular hillside views.

mil_mus1

Statue’s commemorating the fallen, and an eternal flame.

stalin_organ

I grew up during the cold war, I read a lot of military stuff at the time.

One other thing, was playing a computer game at the time called Gunship. You “flew” an AH64 Apache gunship in various scenarios on the Commodore 64.

Best part was when it detected an enemy vehicle it would flash up its name.

For this reason, I instantly recognised many of the vehicles in the museum. This one, nicknamed the Stalin Organ is a multi rocket launcher (the rocket tubes being similar to the pipes in a church organ).

 

bmp

Several BTR and BMP vehicles that I recognised, some tracked, some with wheels.

I even remember the vulnerability of the BMP found by the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. If you shoot through the back wheel tire, there is little armour and the petrol tank will catch fire.

I kept wandering around looking for a T72 tank. I kept seeing what I thought were T72’s, but always seemed to get it wrong, and Mike became increasingly impatient.

t72

Interestingly, I’ve since read there is only one T72 in the whole museum. That is a type 3, which they captured and have put on display to prove that Russia is backing Ukrainian separatist (those types of tanks were never issue outside Russia).

eternal_flame

Enough about tanks. I quiet, reflective moment when I stop and think how many people have died for simple freedoms like the ability to travel to another country and meet new people.

launcher

The horrifying scene of a PSD 10 Intercontinental ballistic missile launcher.

mi24

Finally, the thing I really wanted to see.

An MI 24 Hind helicopter in the E variant. Incredible to see a real one after all these years.

But slightly bitter sweet. With children queuing to sit inside it, it took something away from the awesome helicopter I’d expected to see.

bankside

We wandered back down the hill and to the bank of the Dnieper river.

There were some amateur film makers in questionable attire, but we just gave them a wide birth.

A pontoon next to a river boat provided us with a few beers then we continued on our way.

resort

If I’d had more time I’d have like to visit the beach across the water.

This isn’t just a bit of sand next to a river, its a full beach environment with sunbathers, swimmers, the whole lot.

Hard to imagine that happening on the Manchester ship canal.

bridge

A slightly more modern bridge to the other side, shows just how wide this river is.

bungie

As we got into town, we passed under this bridge, and you could see some enterprising individual have set up a bungee swing under the bridge.

rooftop

With a long day coming to a close, we find a restaurant with views over the river bank (it was a national holiday after all, so loads of people were in a party mood).

chicken_kiev

I’m hungry now, but what should I eat ?

Since were in Kiev, Chicken Kiev seems to be the thing to do.

Tasted superb, I really enjoyed it.

indip_square

Wandering back into town to Independence square.

Thousands of people out celebrating.

indip_march2

The march comes to a close at Independence square and at the end several people embrace.

indip_celeb

But the fun’s not over, and the party goes on into the night.

Santiago – first trip to Chile and the Andes.

pedro de valdivia

On the 1st leg of our South America trip, we fly into Santiago in Chile.

I’ve lead with this iconic statue of a man on a horse.

In this case, its Pedro de Valdivia, the founded the city of Santiago.

arrival

Our flight had taken 14 hours. A seat with extra leg room, was £60 extra, which I honestly consider the best investment I’ve ever made in air travel.

It’s easy on a trip to upgrade things and add on luxury’s here and there. The problem is, on a trip with so many moving parts, its easy for costs to rise and get out of hand.

So instead of a taxi from the airport, we got a bus (after 14 hours flying !).

I always love how a disaster can turn into an opportunity. Turned out, we got off the bus about a mile and a half before our correct stop.

That enabled us to walk down Bernardo O’higgins street and really get a feel for the place (and the weather was fantastic).

church1

One we checked into our hotel and got cleaned up, we headed out to explore.

Santiago de Compostela cathedral is right in the centre of the city near Plaza de Armas square.

church2

Inside, its quite spectacular (if only churches were my thing).

square

Plaza De Armas square with its palm trees.

chess

Wandering around the square, this classic image of 2 people playing chess outdoors.

hot_dog

There had been some unrest (although we found the place to be very safe and we were comfortable the whole time).

That being said, if this is the best they’ve got in crowd control, its just as well there aren’t a lot of demonstrations.

In the UK, this would be in a museum.

town

More wandering around the streets, we stop for coffee and get some replacement sims for our mobile phones.

municipal_theatre

A few of the classic sites.

The Municipal Theatre. I wish we’d had longer in Santiago so that we could have watched a show there.

biblioteca

The Bibleotaca public library.

iconic_building

One of the iconic rows of buildings with a more modern structure in the background.

pal

La Moneda Palace.

The former presidential palace where the infamous General Pinochet resided.

It’s here, that the incumbent president Salvadore Allende killed himself on September the 11th, 1973 as General Pinochet took over ruling the country.

He committed suicide so he could not be coerced into backing Pinochet.

under

Entering from the side, there is an amazing area underneath the palace.

It has a superb coffee shop and lots of interesting things about Chile.

mus

Including this archaeological museum.

We head back to our hotel and enjoy an evening of good food and wine.

van

With Santiago being so close to the Andes we didn’t want to miss out.

We had arranged a tour and were delighted when our driver and guide arrived at our hotel, and we were the only guests (so a private tour for the price of a public tour).

Our guide is from Chile and since her father is American, her English was superb.

andes

Our first stop on the tour is to a winery and our first look at the Andes mountains.

vinyard2

The San Esteban vinyard shop.

Inside we were supposed to have a wine tasting but as there were only 2 of us,  it wasn’t worth them running one.

wine

Disappointing, but Instead they gave us the 2 bottles of red wine to take away (more of which later).

hill_side

We head up the hill to relax and enjoy the view. Lots facinating plant life here and several walking trails, like so often I wish there was more time.

Our tour included complimentary Empanadas and the idea was to eat them on this beautiful hillside spot washed down with Chilean wine (unfortunately, we had no glasses, so couldn’t drink the wine, but everything else was perfect.)

stones

We were shown various Petroglyphs, drawings in stone by the Aconcagua people  in the rocks nearby.

They have all been scientifically catalogued and most are at least 10,000 years old.

road1

Now were off to the high Andes.

We drive along the highway connecting Chile and Argentina and stop near the top for a photo opportunity.

It features 29 bends and is nicknamed the snail by the locals.

lake3

We arrive at Hotel Portillo – In winter its a ski resort (the oldest one in South America).

The staff lend us some glasses and were able to wander around outside with spectacular views of the Torres del Payne national park.

wine

After this, we sit down for lunch. In my case, its a delicious steak, and were already into our 2nd bottle.

As usual I offered to buy lunch for our guide and driver, but they declined.

lake1

The view outside through the window, The Portillo Inca Lagoon. An image that will stay with me to the end of my days.

We head home. The guide and myself both drift off to sleep. The end of another fantastic day, and were only 3 days into our 3 week trip.

col_street

Our last day in Santiago and we’ve got a couple of hours free.

We wander around and see this colourful street.

sl4

Our target for the morning is Santa Lucia hill.

sl1

The fountain in Patio Circular.

sl2

We walk up the hill (230 steps), there are forts and ramparts throughout.

sl3

An arcade road at the top has shops and nice places to sit.

We have an ice cream and then head back down the hill.

airp_hotel

But it’s not all fun.

After this, we get the bus back to the airport.

Our room was clean, the food was nice, but no matter what they do, airport hotels are normaly quite dull (see the view out of our bedroom windows !).

Next day, we fly to Easter Island.

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.

fer

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.

fer_bar

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.

fer_bunk

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.

ulster_fry

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.

croad

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.

tt_shank

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.

mur

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.

tt_junction

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.

tt_wall

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.

tt_door

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).

tt_gates

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!.

tt_bsands

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.

tt_psni

Interesting sticker.

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

tt_church

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

tt_fallsroad

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.

cuffs_lunch

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.

tt_cr_stairs

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.

tt_cr_tunnel

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.

Travel Emergency Repair Kit

pack_list

In just a few weeks I’ll be embarking on the most ambitious trip of my life, to Easter Island, the Antarctic Peninsula, Patagonia, The Falkland Islands, Argentina and Chile.

The trip is  to celebrate my 50th birthday, it will eclipse anything that I’ve done before and will be my first
adventure on a cruise ship.

Obviously I have an established/proven system for packing which has already begun in earnest (packing sheet shown above, ready to be filled in).

This is also the time of your when I review all of my gear and equipment.

Ripped clothes off to the menders, broken or damaged things to be repaired, replace things that are just worn out, change battery’s in torches, sharpen penknives etc.

It’s also important to open things like first aid kits and check all of the equipment inside is still functioning and in date.

erk_in_box

On that subject, this weeks blog is about my emergency repair kit (or ERK as I call it).

As I go through the contents, I hope to inspire other people to pack one of their own, for future trips.

alps

Some years ago, I did a few courses in Alpine mountaineering and the Alpine style of going light.

Although I decided not to continue with it as a hobby, I learned lots of usefull things, and one of them was the philosophy of travelling ultra light.

Traditionally, outdoor people take things like a spare torch, a spare waterproof and such like.

In the Alpine style, everything is kept to the bare minimum of essentials (to the point sometimes off sawing the handles off tooth brushes and drilling holes in spoon handles).

A minimal first aid kit and an emergency repair kit are carried to put you and your equipment back together if something goes wrong.

Although designed for the high mountains miles from anywhere, I’ve applied mine so it can be used in lots of different environments and provides peace of mind wherever I go.

erk_on_table

The whole kit laid out on my work table.

On the bottom left, is the plastic box I carry it in (from the £ shop, you can guess what it cost :).

I’ll go through the items in order. Their inclusion should be self explanatory, but I’ll add notes where necessary.

rubber_bands

1. Rubber bands
I wrap them around the outside of the box to make it extra secure.

rsack_clip_and_webbing

2. Replacement rucksack clip and spare webbing

A bit difficult to see in this picture, but the thing on the left, is a replaceable main rucksack clip. It has a screw across the middle so it can be re-attached.

The webbing on the right is the old fashioned way this used to be done, buy tying a tape know (and useful in its own right).

superglue

3. Superglue
Always store in small plastic bags. that way if they burst, they won’t destroy other contents in the box.

Ever wonder why nobody had heard of superglue before the Vietnam war ?. It was used for in-field emergency trauma care.

safety_pins

4. Safety pins
They have numerous uses (they can even be used as fish hooks). I’ve used them in the past, with an airline blanket to make a serviceable sleeping bag.

wire

5. Stainless steel wire

pen_ducktape

6. Small stubby pen, wrapped with gaffa/duck tape

Something simple like a pen, is easily forgotten.

Watching the  A team in my youth, and they used with some aluminium poles, a polythene sheet and a lawnmower to make a microlight, after being locked in a shed. I’ve never built anything so ambitious, but this stuff has too many practically uses to even list here.

cable_ties

7. Cable ties of various sizes

lighter_torch_etape

8. Lighter with electrical tape

Ability to light a fire may be useful. Electrical tape can be used for jobs too fine for the duck tape.

This single use lighter was bought from the £ shop and featured a small torch, adding additional functionality to the kit.

cords

9. Lightweight Para-cord

Bought from Cotswold outdoors, 2 metres packs much smaller than normal “green” para-cord, but can hold body weight (mine, which is quite a lot).

square_candle

10. Small piece of candle shaved square

I borrowed this from the tobacco tin survival kit in the SAS survival handbook.

With a coke can, can make a simple lantern during a power failure or used on its own to assist in fire-lighting.

sewing_kit

11. Sewing kit in a plastic container

Has a few different colours of thread, 4 standard needles, some really thick thread and a sale makers needle
for bigger jobs.

mini_multitool

12. Small Multi-tool

Features a knife, bottle/can opener, pliers, nail-file and multiple screwdrivers.

folding_corkscrew

13. Collapsible corkscrew

A pure luxury, but it would be awful to be in a situation where you have a bottle of wine and no means to open it !.

spectacle_repair

14. Spectacle repair kit

Some small screws, 2 small screwdrivers and a simple magnifying glass. £1.50 from Tesco.

aaa_batteries

15. 3 AAA batteries

Spares for  my head-torch.

plastic_bag

16. Plastic bags

Can be used to carry/purify water, waterproof important objects and even make a window for a survival shelter.

tenacious_tape

17. Tenacious tape

Tape for repairing clothing like sleeping bags, waterproof jackets and stuff like that. Expensive, but it performs near permanent repairs, wherever you are.

box

Finally, the empty box with a 50p coin to show its size.

I hope you found some of this interesting, next week I’ll be talking adventure first aid kits.

Thanks once again for reading, the search for adventure continues…

Christmas 2018 and thoughts for 2019

AM DB10

As 2018 comes to an end and my house is set up for Christmas, I’m sat watching James Bond.

Above is the model Aston Martin DB10 from Spectre, which completes my collection of Matchbox James Bond cars.

10 years ago, Christmas 2008 was a really difficult time for me (to be followed by 2009, the darkest time in my life). As I sit here, I’m in a reflective mood. How much better things are and how content I feel at the moment (although never complacent).

In the last few months, I’ve not kept this blog up to date. I was out with some friends the other evening, who I’ve not worked with in around 18 months. They said they frequently read through my blog entries as a constant source of inspiration. So, as well as the many exciting projects I have planned for next year, I commit to update this blog, every 2 weeks.

Its not like I’ll just update it for the sake of it. The reality is, something pretty interesting or exciting happens at least once a week, so its just a matter or writing it down in an interesting format.

Suunto Core All Black

As well as 7 amazing trips this year I’ve also been able to treat myself to some nice things, including the new Call of Duty and several Rohan jumpers.

One of my favourites, is this watch I bought in March. The Suunto Core All Black watch, that features a compass and a host of other features. Used by Special Forces all over the world, and John Sunter.

I was watching a film the other evening (The Equalizer with Denzil Washington) I was surprised to see, that the hero was wearing one, and whenever he does hand to hand combat, he times how long it took him to defeat his opponents (mine is usualy used to see how late my train home is 🙂

Meteora

I began this weeks blog, with references to James Bond (a series of films I’ve enjoyed since I was a boy, and if I’m honest, the original inspiration for my love of travel).

My last trip of 2018 will be to Greece when we fly out on Boxing Day. We’ll visit the old sites of Athens, a day trip to the Corinth canal and the one I’m looking forward too most, Meteora.

I love the mountains anyway, but Meteora featured in an amazing climbing scene, in For your eyes only, one of my favourites.

Well, I’ll get going now, near and far the search for adventure continue’s and please keep coming back to read johnsunter.com – the adventures of an ordinary person.

Vilnius – across the old Iron curtain 1

t72

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.

inst

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.

stairs

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

square

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.

usdec

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 🙂

rep_bridge

We got to visit the famous republic of Uzupis.

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

rep_sign

In reality, Uzupis is a small bohemian neighbourhood.

rep_const

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.

rep_can

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.

panto_horse

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.

rock

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.

chrch_square

The actual cathedral itself is pretty spectacular.

chrch_inside

I decided to wander around inside.

chrch_bmb

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.

celeb

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.

mus_cor

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.

mus_room

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.

mus_mol

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.

wall1

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

wall2

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

cross

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.

cross_view

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.

tower

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.

arch

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.

maps

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

castle_moat

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

mewf

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.

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).

lb

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.

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.

cst

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.

boat

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.

isl4

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…

sf

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.

gs3

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.

ping5

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).

church_inside

Named after Hallgrimur Petursson a famous poet and clergyman.

church_view2

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

church_view

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

fwalk1

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.

fwalk2

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.

fwalk3

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).

glac

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.

glac_rest

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.

hotel1

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.

hotel2

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

hotel_view

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.

castle2

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.

cort_hilltop

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.

cort_climbers

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

cort_hut

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…