Category: Uncategorised

New adventures and new books.

Canal Bridge

Well, I’ve been getting out adventuring almost every weekend.

I usually cycle around Cheshire somewhere (this shot was taken on the canal).

Walking around Cheshire

I also try to get out walking and I’ve discovered loads of interesting places off the beaten track in Chester.

Garden Barbecue

Barbecue’s are a regular weekend occurrence now.

We also got hold of Madhur Jaffreys Ultimate Curry Bible, as recommended by Mike Delafield, and we try making a different curry every Friday.

Beer Fridge

The beer fridge I’d wanted for years and finally got as a Christmas bonus from SGS has been a godsend for weekends and summer evenings.

Ray Mears new Book - Wilderness Chef

I bought Ray Mears new book.

I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a chef, but I can knock together a decent meal on a camping stove.

The book itself is really interesting and has loads of useful stuff, so if you’re about to go on a long train journey, go out and buy it.

My Wild Country Zephros 2 compact tent

I’ve replaced my tent, The Wild Country – Zephros 2 with, The Wild Country – Zephros 2, compact.

I loved my old tent, but there were one or two niggling problems like cheap zips, bendable tent-pegs, fiddly to put up.  All have been fixed.

My trusty Trek 7 series bike

A project I did recently was an overnight camp to Chester lakes campsite.

As it’s only 5 miles from my house, it enabled me to load up my bike, pedal over and test the balance of my bike and various new camping things I’ve recently bought.

Camping stove and other cooking equipment

I’d spent the days before, rationalising and testing my cooking rig (inspired by stuff in Ray Mears Book).

All my equipment laid out on my dining table

I prepared all the gear I thought I’d need for a week’s camping in the lakes (although I was only camping for 1 night, it seemed a good test). Would my bike be overloaded ?. The whole point was to make the freedom of cycling a pleasant experience).

pan

Next came loading up the panniers.

That was a real challenge as you had to fill them out evenly, by leaning the bike against a wall or something like that.

So, I found my £3.99 B&Q stool, and “mounted” the panniers on that.

It worked out really well and I definitely recommend that as  a “best practice” way to load panniers.

My small camp setup

So, with the afternoon booked off work, I set off pedalling to the Lakes Campsite and setup my little camp.

I managed to find a small secluded forest that seemed quiet. I made a brew on my stove, tested my new mini wash kit, and got changed from my cycling gear into my trekking clothes.

Everything was going to plan.

My lunch of crackers and spread cheese

Inspired by stuff I’d read in Ray Mears book.

Don’t take something simple to fill you up. Think about what you’d really like to eat.

In my case, crackers and cheese spread. The panniers were so carefully loaded that the crackers didn’t even break.

I wandered around the campsite exploring. They had a nice place called the Wild Goose, so I had a few beers in the sunshine. Then I wandered over to the Red Lion in Dodleston and had dinner with Nikki.

After the meal I said goodbye to Nikki, wished her a safe journey home, then headed back to my camp for the night.

Antisocial campers

Eight cars and multiple tents had setup their rig right near mine (the picture above isn’t they’re actual camp, which was much worse, this is something I found on the internet to capture the scene).

The quiet of the evening was broken, when I realised the loud music was due to an amplifier they’d brought, powered by a generator !

A strobe light and the smell of weed finished me off, I loaded up my bike and pedalled home (I was drinking hot chocolate in my house by 10:30 pm).

No matter, it was a test/proof of concept and it worked.

Laundry dryer in Nikki's garden

Saturday was spent catching up on jobs, including fixing Nikki’s dryer which required some creative use of concrete.

I also started watching a series called Gangs of London, which I’d really recommend.

Some people Kayaking

On Sunday, we went walking again. We passed through a new place called Park in the Past.

I was delighted to see that you could rent Kayaks. I’ve made a note of that and I’ll be back there soon.

Me standing on Hope mountain in Wales

We even wandered across Hope Mountain.

Overall, a pretty fab day out and a nice end to the weekend.

The Northumberland coast

I’m back in work until Thursday, then off to Northumberland for 9 days which I’m really looking forward too.

LIst of bookings in Northumberland

Were moving around, so I’ve booked accommodation in 3 different locations and booked dinner in different places for each evening.

Well, only 2 more posts and I’ll have completed 500 posts on johnsunter.com

Once again, thanks for reading, near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Keys – not exciting but incredibly convenient and useful.

My full key set

Although house keys aren’t a subject that jumps out at you, it’s obvious that Ranulph Fiennes, Ray Mears and Chris Bonington are probably all carrying them right now. Since you’ll always have your keys with you, you can put additional equipment with them, which can save hours of your time.

The right balance is important though, too much stuff on there, and they become cumbersome and untidy. Over time, I’ve found what I think is the right balance (for me at least), so this week’s short post is about the contents of my key fob.

Front door and bike lock keys

First decision, which actual keys to put on there ?. The keys to the garden shed can be stored in the house and don’t need to be with you every minute of every day.

Minimalist is best. I have a polymer Rockdoor at home, so the key on the left locks the door in 12 places and can withstand a police door jam for upto an hour.

The only other key I carry, is a spare for my bikelock.

A nightmare scenario for me would be out on a ride, stopping for a pint and realising I’ve locked my bike and the key has dropped in a stream or something.

pen1

I can nearly always locate something to write on, but something to write with, not so often.

Obviously, I have a notebook and pen with me wherever I go, but if their out of reach and I need to fill in a form… write down a phone number…

pen2

The Trueutility telescopic pen is superb for this.

The ink cartridges aren’t very big but I’m not writing an epic. It also features a sort of stylus for writing on tablets, but I found it to be too big and largely useless.

You can get the newer version here.

fob

So for the actual key fob. I can’t take the credit for this.

Years ago, Sue Llewelyn from Fairbridge Drake (an outdoor charity where I used to volunteer) used a small climbing sling a key fob.

It was a perfect fit, as it was light, hard wearing yet weighed practically nothing. It’s only the 2nd one I’ve needed in 30 years it’s that hard-wearing.

Rock Empire don’t seem to make them any more, but you can get one like this from DMM.

usb

A USB key, just a few observations about the one I have, and how I use it.

A few DONT’S

1. Put a plastic one on your keys, the other items on there will destroy it (this one is mostly stainless steel).

2. Get one with moving parts, sliders, or any faf like that.

3. Buy one with any complex encryption. Keep it simple, you can zip/password pictures of your passport, driving licence etc.

A few DO’S

1. Get at least USB 3.1 (the blue one). you’ll only be using this as a last resort, so you don’t have hours to wait while it copies the data.

2. Create a simple text file named NOK with next of kin details and contacts, and medication you’re taking,  any medical conditions you have.

3. Get something at least 128 gig (that’s 128 billion characters) if not, at least 64 gig.

On my USB key I have:

A couple of films I haven’t seen and some software I use like Greenshot, VLC media Player, 7 zip, just in case I don’t have access to the internet.

A zipped version of the documents mentioned above and a folder called \Pictures to develop. I put things in there, so when I pass Max Speilman, I can just pop in and develop the pictures I want without incident.

mtool1

 Like the pen example above, I normally have a Swiss army knife or Leatherman with me at all times, but for the occasions that I don’t, this thing comes to the fore.

In terms of a keyring tool, I’m looking for something sharp to open parcels, something that can open a bottle…

mtool2

They don’t seem to make these any more, but there must be some knocking about on eBay.

It has a blade, a nail file (rarely used), a small screwdriver (used for opening things) a bottle opener and can opener.

The scissors are useful for cutting cardboard, which can be quite hard with the main blade. Obviously keep it oiled and sharp.

The sort of cover flap on the left, doesn’t seem to offer any useful function and adds weight, so I’m considering removing it.

flat

So the whole thing fits quite flat, weighs practically nothing and sits in my pocked unobtrusively.

Some things I considered and decided not to add, but you might consider adding to your key set.

1. A small torch

2. Some sort of lighter/firesteel

3.  A whistle.

4. Cash stash with £20 in it.

5. Something engraved with NOK details.

6. Mobile phone charger.

I hope this week’s blog entry has been interested. I’m now 3 entries away from 500 on johnsunter.com so stay tuned.

See you next week, the search for adventure continues…

Adventure, laughter, plants & trains.

hol_canc

Most of the trips I had planned for this year have been cancelled due to Covid 19.

The simplest thing, seemed to reschedule them all for the same time next year, so effectively, I’ve pressed the pause button on those adventures until next year.

Sri Lanka -> rebooked for same time next year.

Cheddar Gorge -> rebooked for same time next year.

Bratislava -> all hotel money back, voucher from Ryanair.

Riga -> all hotel money back, voucher for Ryanair.

Tunisia -> cancelled by OnTheBeach, so I’ve booked a trip to Alcudia instead.

When I was negotiating the moves and refunds, I found two useful techniques that have worked for me before, when dealing with customer service reps.

1. Always be polite, concede when it’s your fault and say simply “is there anything you can do to help me” most people will do the right thing, if they’re give the option.

2. Not to state the obvious, but stay on the phone. With Hoseasons/Cheddar Gorge, I sat on hold for an hour and 10 minutes before I got through. I when I did, they were really helpful.

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Having taken stock of the world as it is, I’ve organised/got involved with a series of things, so I haven’t waisted the whole year.

Beddgelert – campsites are struggling at the moment, so Nikki and I have arranged to have a bank holiday weekend in Beddgelert. Just some walking, nice wine and a few pints in the local pub.

Llangollen – cycling/pod camping. I think it will be fun to finish on a summer Friday after work, pedal over with a few basic items and have a nice weekend staying in a pod.

Northumberland – this is Nikki’s idea, as it’s somewhere she’s always wanted to visit. We are staying in 3 destinations over 9 days. It’s our alternative “big” holiday.

Alcudia – a few beers, some nice beaches and a chance to do some walking in the winter sun.

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Bishops Castle – walking group Christmas weekend. Always great to do 2 days of walking and evening catch up with friends from the walking group. I missed last years, the first time in 10 years.

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Some trips I’d like to do but haven’t organised yet.

Madeira – the week before Christmas, some walking and a bit of sunshine in the middle of winter.

Ambleside – 4 days over New Year. Lake district is being booked up like mad at the moment, so may be expensive.

cb1

I remember buying this book some years ago. When I saw an old copy on Ebay, I couldn’t resist buying it again.

Back then, I tried to get out of trouble by telling my then girlfriend (Adela) it was a gift for her.

It was filled with the most base toilet humour, she didn’t see the funny side.

cb2

The book is made up of a series of “bastard” headings.

Here, a section on Bastard Advertising. Hard to imagine anyone getting away with writing a book like this now.

plants

Since my garden plants are doing so well, I’ve expanded my operation to a series of herbs, I’m growing on my window sill.

Poeple wearing facemasks on public transport in the UK

Travelling into the office the other day, I put my mask on, as I entered the train carriage.

I believed, it was illegal to travel in the UK on public transport without wearing one.

How fullish was I. On the way there, half the people didn’t wear one, and on the way back, 3 out of 4 people couldn’t’ be bothered either.

Why did I bother ?

New Merseyrail trains

Another disappointment of my journey, was the new trains have not been rolled out yet.

The trains presently in use are around 40 yeas old and it’s a miracle they still work at all.

The new trains made by Stadler in Switzerland are designated 777. Although they travel at the same speed, they will be much more comfortable and quieter.

Picture, Marvel - Agents of Sheild

What have I been binge watching ?. I’m glad you asked.

I’ve been catching up on Marvel – Agents of Shield. Joss Wheedon in the producer, I’ve loved his work on Buffy and Mission Impossible.

The plot and character development are 2nd to none.

Speaking of characters, Agent Coulson reminds me of my old boss Chris, from SportPesa.

To finish this weeks blog, I’ve put this video by Emeli Sande. Themes of bullying, a mundane life going nowhere and escaping to adventure are all things that resonate with me.

The search for adventure continues…

That was the week that was.

My desk at home.

This week, I was just going to write about a few things that have happened, piqued my interest or stuff I just generally thought worth mentioning.

The picture above has been my place of work for the last 3 months. I have to say that it’s very comfortable working here, and since I have a USB C dock, each evening, I can disconnect my work laptop and then the whole thing runs on my own personal laptop without incident.

I also have the desk light linked to Alexa so I can turn it on at will with the command “Alexa Desk On”. I have a soft phone and an incredible plantronics headset, so I can answer any calls in 3 rings. I even have a high definition camera for meetings.

I have 2 clocks on my desk, UK time and Mumbai time so I don’t disturb our supplier’s when they’re having their “Tea” (Tea is northern slang for dinner, if you don’t understand, ask someone from the North of England what “Egg and Chips” are).

Model MI 24 Helicopter - Former Soviet Union.

During the week, I’ve tried to keep my lunch hours as dynamic as possible (on the days when I don’t simply go out to buy milk).

In the example above, I put together this model Mi 24 helicopter. Used during the days of the Soviet Union, reminded me of when my brother and I used to play Gunship on the Commodore 64.

My old bathroom setup.

At primary school there was a teacher who was an absolute monster. I was sat in my chair aged 6 and needed to go to the toilet. I knew if I asked I would be shouted at and made to cry so I just sat there… and poo’d myself.

The children sat near me must have realised, but were so terrified, they said nothing. So, after about 20 minutes, I just got used to it.

That’s a bit like my bathroom.  I never really liked it, but just got used to it.

new_br

One advantage of lock down (if you can call it an advantage) is that it’s given me time to undertake things like routine house maintenance (which would normally be lower down the list than organising a trip to somewhere exciting or reviewing/preparing  outdoor gear ready for a trip).

I decided to completely re-do my bathroom. Paul the Plumber was recommended in a local utilities handbook that was put through my door.

The price was higher than I’d expected, but I looked at some of his work online and realised it was perfection (I won’t use poncy word’s like “artist”, but this guy knew what he was doing).

So, after setting up a tray in the kitchen with chocolate biscuits and a brew kit, I left him to it.

The tilling, plumbing, installation and other work are perfect (there are other simple jobs that still need doing, but that’s down to me). In every way I’m delighted.

When I wake each morning (thanks to Alexa), the first thing’s I see are my pictures of Nikki and a large photo of the world from space. But, the first room I walk into each day is my bathroom. Now a vibrant environment and a superb start to the day.

Paul the Plumber can be contacted if you live in the Cheshire area and need similar work doing. I couldn’t recommend him more highly.

Me out riding my bike.

Speaking of maintenance, upkeep and repair, I’ve had problems with my bike.

Which surprised me, considering I’ve spent a lot of money on a full service and had several parts replaced.

I’ve been riding along, and the bike changes gear on its own. So I’ve basically had 2 gears, the lowest one and the highest one (which has done wonders for my fitness).

Turns out, after a gear “installation”, the the cable can stretch and this is what’s happening. So I’ve got my bike booked in for Sunday with Bike Factory and it should be good as new after that.

Artichoke, one of the best Gastro pubs in Chester.

Saturday 4th of July – English pubs can legally open after 101 days and the world restarts (and probably stops and restarts again, in about 6 weeks, but for the time being…)

I’ve booked a couple of my favourite Gastro pubs for meals, but I’m still unsure how booking works, if you want a pint.

I mean I can book a table for 6pm next Thursday to go for a pint. But I don’t know if I’ll feel like going for a pint then – it’s largely a spontaneous activity, that’s why it’s fun.

See what happens. Artichoke (pictured above) are open from the 9th of July and can be booked at: Artichoke bookings.

barbers

Also on Saturday, if I possibly can, I’ll try and get my haircut, although I think it will be reminiscent of the scenes when the Taliban leave a town and the local men falling over themselves to get their haircut.

James Bond - No Time to Die.

The new James Bond film, No Time to Die looks fantastic.

I had a seat booked for the first showing in Cheshire at 10am several months ago. I’d booked the day off work and the seat had cost the best part of £30.

It was cancelled and put back to November 12.

In younger times, my brother and I would go to the cinema every Saturday in Manchester. Sometimes (well, more than sometimes) I’d be skint and David would pay.

I’ve told my brother that we’ll watch it together in Bury (where he Live’s) in the best seats in the house… and I’ll pay.

In the meantime, I found this article that shows all the shooting locations from the film.

Walking around Cheshire during Lockdown.

Normally, I’d do an average of 3 hill walks a month and it would be around the Clwydian’s or Snowdonia in North Wales or the Peak District in England (basically  places you can get to in an 1 – 2 hours).

That hasn’t been possible so Like a lot of people, I’ve been exploring walks and cycle rides, close to home.

OK, this is johnsunter.com and we say it like is. The Cheshire Planes, are as flat as a snooker table, so trail walking is a better description.

That being said, I’ve found some amazing routes and places.

On one occasion, we went for a bike ride and stopped for lunch at a car park in Delamere forest. I’d not been there before, but wandering around, I realised there were several trails. When we got home, we consulted our maps and worked out a 10 mile route from there, which we did the next week.

There are nooks and crannies of fantastic walking all over Cheshire I’ve found, so I have to conclude that there must be similar in most of the UK, if we just go looking.

A fantastic sign in a York park, condemning litter.

But, one thing that made me fume, was the amount of litter and rubbish I found in some otherwise beautiful spots.

The old adage, if you can carry it there, you can carry it back, doesn’t seem to fit with some people.

Scorched earth is a phrase we use in IT, when we wipe an environment clean and start again. What do some people think happens when you you light a throwaway barbecue on grass ?

Even “Doggers” who, having watched someone perform a sexual act on their wife in a car park, are decent enough to take their empty cans of Stella home !.

I’ve been cycling and seen Sofa’s dumped at the side of the road on country paths. The only funny thing, is the sign above, which is posted in parks in York and I wish I could meet whoever designed it.

TV series Naked and Afraid.

My sister was telling me, that my niece Poppy, has become addicted to a tv series called Naked and Afraid.

Not my sort of bushcraft, basically, 2 strangers are literally naked (with improvised clothes from leaves) and have to survive for 3 weeks in some far flung place.

They can tap out at any time and go home and I was surprised to see that it’s run for 11 seasons !.

ak

I was delighted to find, that poppy is interested in Bushcraft now.

Since they have some woods nearby, they go out for walks, look for tracks and build lean-to shelters.

I sent over some Bushcraft tools like a flint and steel,  a mess tin, some army rations (a so sort of modern Adventure Kit of the kind I got as a Christmas gift).

A lit camping stove, that burns sticks.

Another thing I sent over (which is one of the best bushcraft bargains out there) is this  Outad Stove.

This is one I lit in my garden. It burns dry twigs, so its running costs are basically nothing, there is no gas canister to get rid of and no fuel needs to be carried.

"dad" in a Yellow Tiger Moth.

Nikki’s father died in January. He wasn’t my father, but I called him dad, and nobody seemed to mind.

A charming little old man who always stood up to greet me and shake my hand, despite being around 90 years old.

But intellectually he was a giant. Engaging in conversation, his knowledge, memory of facts and figures and ability to process information was mesmerising to watch.

He had worked as an aeronautical engineer. 997mm wasn’t the same as as a meter and if you made that mistake in front of him, you wouldn’t make it twice.

Charming and lovely, but at heart, things were either right or they weren’t and there was no middle ground (as someone who’s struggles a bit with flying, I’m delighted that it’s people like that who build aeroplanes).

When we had dinner with John and Sheila, if a waiter made a mistake and apologised, that was fine, but if they tried to pull the wool over his eyes, they were put in their place immediately (and he wasn’t sexist, both Men and Women were treated equally).

In short, he lived life on his terms. When we scattered his ashes at a park he used to enjoy visiting I decided to buy a plant (not what I normally do, but I was in a reflective mood on that day and open to new ideas).

The "dad" Rose in my garden.

I’ve watered that plant, tended to it, moved it around so it was in the sun, and replotted it (Nikki has helped, she knows about plants). But nothing.

Now, after several months (on the top left of the picture) it’s starting to flower. The Rose has decided to flower on its own terms when things are just right, and won’t be rushed or badgered.

Exactly like Nikki’s dad 🙂

Once again thanks for visiting johnsunter.com. Near and far, the search for adventure continues.

Why it’s called adventures of an ordinary person.

A selfie I took, walking in the Dolomites

Welcome to the first Friday morning blog post.

I thought this week, I’d start at the beginning by talking about the website’s origins and why it’s tag-lined: the adventures of an ordinary person…

I guess it’s pretty obvious why the web address is johnsunter.com 🙂

chester_waterfront

Originally from Manchester, I’ve lived in Chester for 20 years (choosing to move here is one of the best decisions I ever made).

When I first arrived in Chester, Facebook didn’t exist. I wanted my mum (who sadly has now passed) to be able to see pictures and read about my exploration of my new home town.

A chap I worked with called John Lyons gave me the domain name johnsunter.com as gift and I learned html so I could do my own pages (which more often than not, featured the inside of a new pub 🙂

I put up random stuff like pictures of the lawn I’d mowed, my office at work and stuff like that.

About 18 months later, my life fell apart and I lost almost everything (no sob story, this is the good part).

Sleeping bag on the floor, my life in tatters, 2002.

With my life in tatters, I was sleeping on the floor in a practically empty flat. I decided I’d dedicate myself to the pursuit of adventure and I drew up a list of activities to complete which I called my blue list (I dislike bucket list).

Around  3000 activities, 1000 of these, we’re place specific (if you want to read the New York Times in Central Park, or Drink Chinese beer on the Great Wall of China, you need to be there, whereas learning 6 ways to tie  a tie can be done anywhere 🙂

I’d write about my experiences good and bad and explain how I organised and executed those adventures.

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Later, I joined a community of miscreants that drank in the Fortress and Firkin (which then became the famous Frog & Nightingale). It became the focal point of my evenings and weekends while at home. As a sideline I posted stuff about this on johnsunter.com in between adventures with things like scores from a pool match and this week’s featured drinker !.

My first Bluelist was completed in 2009.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of my heroes.

As my travel adventures continued, it struck me, that as an ordinary person, I was doing the kind of things that “experts” normally did.

My reasoning was that off course, Ray Mears can trek through a jungle, and Chris Bonington can cross a glacier. They are my heroes.

However, I’ve done both those things and lots more.  I thought others, frightened off or nervous of some trips and activities might gain inspiration from my adventures. After all, I’m an ordinary person, if I can do it, and explain how, then anyone can do it can’t they ?

That’s where the tag-line originally came from, but there’s more.

my_house

We all know someone who inherited money or sold a house or whatever and travelled around the world.

What about living a life of adventure while maintaining a relatively normal life as well. Thing’s like buying and maintaining a house, spending time with friends and family, meeting someone special and finding a job you enjoy doing. Plus still having time for hobby’s, going to the pub, cinema etc.

new_bathroom

Friend’s might consider it disrespectful if you missed their birthday in Liverpool so you could live in the woods for a week with just a knife and a fire-steel.

How would a partner feel that you couldn’t’ see her that weekend because you were watching Swan Lake in Moscow ?

Would your boss be happy that you were taking your 4th short holiday of the year to stand on the Great Wall of China ?

Financially, could you do all those things and still pay for upgrades/repairs to your house.

It is possible and this whole website is proof of it !.

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Don’t forget, you can’t see the world and be in the countryside all the time, so I usually have a picture of somewhere exciting on my desk at work. I also fill my house with nice pictures like these.

Two organisations that have helped immensely on my journey are The Chester and District Walking Group and the Chester Globetrotters.

In terms of goals, I’m 15 countries away from 100 and membership of The Travellers Century Club.

Once again, thanks for reading. Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Re-launch of johnsunter.com

z7

Today, I’m re-launching johnsunter.com

Lots of out of date and incomplete pages going back almost 3 years have been fix during the lockdown (a marathon project that’s taken over 150 hours) – details of these pages can be found here.

From now on, I’ll be updating the blog every 7 days, with a new blog entry to read every Friday morning.

I know a lot of people have told me they get a lot out of my blog. I’d like to thank you for coming back again and again, and hope that you’ll continue to do so.

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Summary of new/updated pages.

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This is a list of the pages that have been updated during lockdown. The website has needed a major update for the past two and a half years and it’s finally complete (to illustrate, it takes 4 – 8 hours to do a page correctly).

I’ve been to other places as well, Athens, Meteora, the Dolomites and loads of places in the UK., but these are the significant trips that fell by the wayside due to work commitments, and busy evenings and weekends.

Sri Lanka – Feb 2020

 Sri Lanka Sri Lanka – Long weekend.

Ukraine – Kiev and Chernobyl – Aug 2019

 Kiev on Indepdendence day.  Kiev – On Independence Day.
 Chernobyl 1 Chernobyl 1 & the ghost city of Pripyat (1/2).
 Chernobyl 2. Chernobyl 2 & the ghost city of Pripyat (2/2).

Northern Ireland by overnight ferry – May 2019

 Northern Ireland 1 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster Fry (1/2).
Northern Ireland 2 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster Fry (2/2).

South America Tour – Feb 2019

 Santiago Santiago – First trip to Chile and the Andes.
 Easter Island 1 Easter Island 1 – Somewhere I really thought I’d never see (1/2).
 ea2_sml Easter Island 2 – Somewhere I really thought I’d never see (2/2).
 Life on a cruise ship. Life on a cruise ship – Backpacker in the lap of luxury.
 Patagonia 1. Patagonia 1 – Adventure wilderness (1/2).
 Patagonia 2. Patagonia 2 – Adventure wilderness (2/2).
 Falkland Islands 1. Falkland Islands 1 – Small Island in the middle of nowhere (1/2).
 Falkland Islands 2. Falkland Islands 2 – Small Island in the middle of nowhere (2/2).
 Montevideo. Montevideo – The birthplace of corned beef.
 Buenos Aires 1. Buenos Aires 1 – First trip to Argentina (1/2).
 Buenos Aires 2. Buenos Aires 2 – First trip to Argentina (2/2).

Indonesia – Sept 2018

 Indonesia by train 1. Indonesia by train 1 – Jakarta & Pangadaran (1/3).
 Indonesia by train 2. Indonesia by train 2 – Yogyakarta & Seloliman nature reserve (2/3).
 Indonesia by train 3. Indonesia by train 3 – Mnt Bromo, Permuteran & Ubud (3/3).

India – Dec 2017

 Delhi & Agra 2017 Delhi & Agra 2017.
 kr_sml Karauli & Ranthambore.
 Jaipur. Jaipur – Pink city and Sharpe’s Fort.
 Udaipur. Udaipur – The home of Octopussy.
 Mumbai. Mumbai – New Years Eve.

Namibia – Nov 2017

 Namibia 1. Namibia 1 – Windhoek, rain, into the Sand Dunes and old cars (1/3).
 Namibia 2. Namibia 2 – Tropic of Capricorn, the living desert, the Skeleton coast & wild elephants (2/3).
 Namibia 3. Namibia 3  – Lion, Cheetah & small animal spotting. Incredible day trips to Europe (3/3).

Myanmar & SEA – Nov 2016

 Bangkok catch up with Frank. Bangkok 2017 – Start SEA trip and catch up with Frank.
 Luang Prabang 1. Luan Prabang 1 – Adventure playground (1/2).
 Luang Prabang 2. Luan Prabang 2 – Adventure playground (2/2).
 Yangon. Yangon – Myanmar.
 Bagan. Bagan – Myanmar.
 Mandalay. Mandalay – Myanmar.
 Inle Lake. Inle Lake – Myanmar.

Buenos Aires – First trip to Argentina (1/2)

intro_ba

Our cruise comes to an end in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

When I was 13, the UK was at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

In the community I grew up in, “Argentina” was mostly footballers with std’s and everyone else was looked a villain from a cowboy film.

30 years later, my common sense told me this couldn’t all be true, so I was quite excited to arrive to see what the place was really like.

clock

After a well organised disembarkation from our boat at 7am and were wheeling our bags from the port towards our hotel.

On the way we see the Torre Monumental clock. Originally named the Tower of the English, it was a gift from the British Government using imported British “Red” brick.

After the 1982 war, the name Tower of the English was changed and everyone refers to it as the Torre.

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Arriving at our hotel, our hosts are friendly and helpful and we’re shown to our room.

We’d left the boat quite early, so decided to dump our bags and head out for some breakfast.

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We find somewhere for breakfast and tuck in.

But what’s this on the tv ? There seemed to be some sort of March with horses going on somewhere.

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We realised to our surprise that at that moment, the horses, security and all the regalia were passing the cafe outside where we were sitting !

security

We carried on exploring and could see a number of protests taking place. Something was happening and this part of the city was being locked down.

Various road and streets were closed by the police and security services with barriers being erected. People with riot shields started appearing!.

I won’t lie I was a bit nervous, and we briefly considered going back to our hotel.

But if we headed in the other direction, I reasoned we could carry on exploring and keep out of trouble.

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We had planned to join a free walking tour that started at The National Congress Building.

We worked our way around various closed road and eventually to our destination.

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Only to realise, that the horses etc, were all converging on the Congress Building (it was the final destination of their Parade, we found later that the President was addressing the occupants of the building in some sort of capacity).

With our tour cancelled, time for plan B. My guidebook to Buenos Aires listed 10 must see sights. Theatre Colon was one of them so off we went.

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Constructed 1908 it symbolises the Golden era or Buenos Aires.

A time when “wealthy as an Argentine” was a phrase often used in Paris and New York.

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Tours have to be booked well in advance normally, but we were lucky and booked onto one starting an hour later.

It was quite expensive, but they had a nice wine bar in the waiting area, so we tried some Argentine Merlot.

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The tour begins, and we head upstairs for our 90-minute tour.

Nothing short of Palatial (as you’d expect, it ranks among the worlds top 10 opera houses).

Italian marble, French stained glass, Venetian mosaics.

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Inside the main auditorium.

Performances are pre-booked months into the future. It fills up every night, as it has done for over 100 years.

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The view with the stage behind me.

I was struck by the lighting and how atmospheric it was.

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In the ceiling, what looks like a light actually contains a powerful speaker.

This contributes to its world renowned,  near perfect acoustics.

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I got to hear them first hand, as some joiners were preparing the stage and the sound of hammering and sawing reverberated throughout the arena.

pm

We wander towards Plaza de Mayo, the Political, spiritual and cultural centre of Buenos Aires.

It’s here that the people danced after World Cup victory in 1986.

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Casa Rosada – The Pink house, the President’s official offices (unlike the White House, the President doesn’t actually live here.

Eva Peron addressed the people from its Balcony’s.

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The Cabilda, in its classic colonial style.

Once used as a local town hall, but today used as a museum of the May revolution.

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La Catedral Metropolitana, the main Catholic church in Buenos Aires.

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There were queues for everything, but we were able to get inside the Cathedral and that choice was rewarded.

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Further inside, the Mausoleum of General San Martin.

Guarded by statues representing Argentina, Peru and Chile.

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Banco. Well, it’s a big bank.

More seriously, its associated with the economic riots in 2001 which were part of the “Argentine great depression from 1998 – 2002.

Corral policies were instituted which stopped people withdrawing cash from banks and pensions were not paid.

Rioting and protests started almost immediately, President Fernando de la Rua resigned, replaced by President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa who resigned less than 12 days later.

In total it cost 39 civilian lives, 9 of which were minors.

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Monument to General Belgrano.

It’s a name that’s well known in the UK as the Argentine flagship, sunk in the Falklands War (controversially at the time, but Prime Minister Thatcher has since been vindicated by a book written by it’s Captain Hector Bonzo).

But actually was General Belgrano. Described as an economist, politician and military leader, he was involved in the independence of Argentina.

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Les Madres – The mothers. I borrowed this image from a Guardian article.

Between 1976 and 1982 many people were “disappeared” by the Military Junta.

Their mothers and other relatives protest peacefully in the square, seeking information about their loved ones.

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Piramide de Mayo – constructed in 1811, it’s the oldest monument in Buenos Aires.

We leave Plaza de Mayo and head for another of the top 10 tights.

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Cementerio de la recoleta.

Nicknamed city of the dead, it houses mausoleums and graves of generals, presidents, celebrity and Eva Peron.

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It’s so large and elaborate that there’s even a map to find your way around.

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You can see why it’s called the city of the dead. Everything is in rows side by side in streets and avenues.

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One of the more elaborate mausoleums, but it has to be said, there are hundreds just like it.

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The thing that most people come to see – the family mausoleum of Eva Duarte de Peron.

She died of Cervical cancer in 1952. Even in death she was a threat to some people. Her body disappeared for 3 years, afterwards she spent time buried under a false name in Milan.

She was finally returned to Argentina and interned in her family mausoleum in 1976 , but not with her believed husband Juan Peron.

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She was (and still is) revered by the working class people of Argentina, who she called the Descamisados – The Shirtless ones.

I remember some of the people visiting were playing Evita on their phones. Up to the individual how they deal with grief, but I found it intrusive.

The inscription translates to: Eternal in the soul of your fire.

gy_angel

A sobering morning.
Many of the mausoleums date back to the 1800’s but this one is dated 1970 and it caught my eye.
Iliana Crociati de Szaszak was only 26 when she died in an avalanche in Innsbruck, while on her honeymoon. Shown with her beloved dog, Sabu.

Buenos Aires – First trip to Argentina (2/2)

drinks

After the seriousness of the Cementario, it’s time to remember that were actually on holiday.

A nice cold  beer and a snack in glorious sunshine.

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Nearby, the famous Jacaranda tree.

A bit difficult to see in this picture, but this thing is enormous.

A strategically positioned statue appears to carry the tree.

psurgery

We wander down this street. Looks perfectly normal to me.

Turns out, it has more plastic surgery’s than any other street anywhere in the world. Buenos Aires is the world capital of plastic surgery.

In many countries, it’s not uncommon for some company’s to offer private healthcare, inclusive in your employment contract.

In Buenos Aires its highly common to have a plastic surgery allowance in your contract of employment !.

underground

Buenos Aires is an enormous city so travelling around is easier on the underground.

a9

With upto 7 lanes in each direction, the Avenida 9 de Julie is probably the largest single road of any big city in the world.

An entire city block wide, pedestrians need to cross 3 sets of lights to get from one side to the other.

The main spectacular sights of the city are either on or next to the Avenida (including theatre Colon, which we’ve seen already).

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The Obelisk. Constructed in 1936, by German company Siemens in just 31 days.

On the site there had previously been a church where the Argentine flag had been raised for the first time.

It has Inscriptions on all 4 of its sides,and you can actually go inside (there are windows at the top).

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The famous French Embassy.

Said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Buenos Aires, construction of the Avenida required it to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere.

The French government refused. So the Avenida was move to facilitate this.

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Ministry of Public Works is the only major building positioned directly on the Avenida.

It’s famous for this picture of Eva Peron.

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Museo de la Dueda Extema, museum of foreign debt. My guidebook described it as:

“Tucked in the basement of the city university’s economics building, this sober yet absolutely vital mini-museum tracks Argentina’s roller-coaster 20th century economy through 2001 loan default with sensational montages”.

It did indeed explained the financial crisis but was all in Spanish so we left after 3 minutes.

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Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes – The Palace of running water.

It’s literally a water pumping station, but it’s elaborate beauty, marks it out, even in a city of amazing buildings.

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Plaza San Martin.

A popular square where local people go to relax and have lunch.

kavanagh_building

The Kavanagh building built in 1936.

Considered a pinnacle of modernist architecture, and my favourite building in the whole city.

Wandering further around Lavelle square and the green space around it.

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General Juan Lavelle who the road is named after.

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Palace of justice, where the supreme court sits.

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In 1992 a suicide bomb ripped through the Israeli embassy, killing 27 people.

One wall of the building still remains as a backdrop. The rest of the site has been converted into a memorial park.

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The Evita museum.

Although not very large it had many artefacts and possession and told the story from the young girl in the countryside to the wife of the President of Argentina.

ep_dress

Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, but I found these on the internet.

The show her evolving dress style throughout her life and career.

Other parts of the museum carry on her legacy, and help women in trouble, across the world. There was a room with harowing anonymous essays written by people who’d been helped by the initiative.

evita_misc_box

I like to buy small souvenirs when I travel. I put them in my house to remind me of the places I’ve been.

I purchased this small music device (you turn the wheel and it plays the music to Evita).

As we sat in the cafe for coffee I started to play it, Nikki thought it was a bit naf but I really liked it.

botg_sign

Time to get outside.

The 860-acre Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, hidden behind Puerto Madero’s glitzy skyscrapers, is an abandoned development that’s been left to “rewild”.

walkway2

It stretches for miles with these rough tracks and paths with tree’s everywhere. After wandering around a big city for days, just what I needed.

bush

Thousands of different types of tree’s and plants.

map

Considering the size of the area, this map wasn’t the most detailed I’ve every used, but we managed to see everything we wanted to.

rplate_intro

Next to the park, the River plate, famous from the battle.

hot

Great to be out in the open air, but really warm and I was exhausted.

We stopped briefly for a sit down. I fell asleep and had to be woken up by Nikki.

jungle

The wetlands and swamps within the park.

snake_warning

I don’t speak any Spanish, but this sign in the window of a small museum was pretty clearly saying watch out for snakes.

Daft thing is, it tells you how to identify the snake by it’s pattern.

Surely a better strategy is to avoid “all” snakes 🙂

local_bbq

Lots of locals visit the park, here some children were playing with a ball while their parents prepared a barbecue.

botg_city

As we leave the park we get this “Crocodile Dundee” shot featuring Puerto Madero in the background.

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Puerto Madero is a newly developed area with lots of skyscrapers housing multinationals companies.

It also has exclusive apartments.

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But on the other side, has this docklands style front with nice cafe’s and bars.

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Out in the dock, we admire this classic sailing ship.

pm_drinks

We relax next to the water with some nice wine.

Were due to fly home early the next day, and there’s just one thing left of on my must do list.

I’d already done my research on the internet so I know which restaurant to go to.

pm_steak

Our final meal of the trip at estaurant Ill Gatto (which in Italian, means The Cat)

No expense spared on 3 courses and wine.

Just what I wanted, a perfect Argentine steak eaten in Argentina.

last_night

We wander along the waterfront.

We’ve been away for 3 whole weeks and now it’s time to head home.

India 2017 – Mumbai, New Years Eve.

me_india

Our trip to India was fast coming to an end, and I was showing signs of wear and tear as I sat drinking at a rooftop bar on our penultimate night in Udaipur.

The last leg of our India trip, on our way to Mumbai (at one time called Bombay).

airport

Maharan Pratap Airport.

A few vendors providing food and drinks, it was nice to sit in peace and quiet and catch up on our reading.

Only an hour and a half and far more comfortable than the “romanticism” of our train journey from Jaipur to Udaipur !.

itcmaratha

We arrive at the airport, book a tax to our hotel and then the usual drive around and around. Nikki spots our hotel and we point at the pavement outside. Suffice to say, not tip was given.

hotel1

When we arrive at the ITC Maratha hotel, its quite simply incredible. It harks back to the times of the Raj and is nothing short of opulent.

Everyone was very friendly, but all bags had to go through airport style security before being allowed in the hotel, security is taken very seriously after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008.

bathroom

When I say opulent, allow me to illustrate. How many toilets have a TV showing Premier league football.

mm

I sat down with my guide book and a mind map I’d drawn up with a list of things to see. I ordered a pint of beer (which I’d later find out cost £18) and started planning.

We had that evening in the hotel, then a day to spend in Mumbai, and fly home about 11pm the next day (which would be New Years eve).

After an incredible banquet dinner and a few drinks, its off to bed. We’ve only got 1 day and are unlikely to come back here, so I want to make the most of it.

breakfast

Up early and a breakfast laied out on tables as though we were at a wedding.

The hotel staff are incredibly helpful and are happy to provide assistance planning our day tour.

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They comment that the hotels policy is not to recommend the train/tram network and that they can get us a taxi (an offer we are happy to take up).

Minutes later were heading to the city centre on the Bandra-Worli sea link, a 1 mile long bridge that sort of goes out to sea and then back in again. It was desinged to reduce congestion getting into the city.

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We couldn’t see much from inside our Taxi, so I found this picture to illustrate.

The coast of Marine drive can be seen from here, its nicknamed the Queens necklace.

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But although the bridge and the buildings are spectacular, signs of poverty aren’t far behind.

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We begin our sightseeing on foot.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus featured in Slumdog Millionaire.

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On the waterfront, the Gateway of India built for Queen Victoria’s visit.

It possible to do boat trips to Elephant Island from here, but being New Years eve, everywhere was packed.

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Behind it, the internationally famous Taj Mahal hotel.

On the ground floor at the back is a coffee house and we stopped there to rest.

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The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, abbreviated CSMVS and formerly named the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India.

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Three floors of interesting artefacts and obviously Victorian in style.

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Lots of old things to look at in glass cases.

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But far more interesting, Ghandi’s iconic spinning wheel.

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And the constitution of India.

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A beautiful building, we relax outside in the shade.

security

We continue on and I’m shocked to see this sign.

This isnt a police station, this is a high street bank where you might pop in to pay some bills !.

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A sensible precaution, so nobody trips over it.

drinks

With the sun setting over the Queens Necklace, and with only a few hours left of our amazing trip, we find a hotel bar with a balcony and relax.

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As we walk back along the waterfront, people are congregating, looking forward to happiness and prosperity of the New Year.

But we’ve got a plane to catch. We head back, get cleaned up, have a bite to eat and its back to the Chaos of the airport for us.

paris

We land in Paris. Unfortunately, the bus is slow taking us to our terminal, and we miss our connecting flight.

Annoying, but now we’ve got 3 hours to to kill.

So, breakfast in Paris on New Years day !.