My quote

"The World is simply my playground, everyone else just happens to be in it."

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Right Royal Day Out

It’s not every day you get to meet royalty in their own home. 

It’s not every day you get a personal tour of their country lead by the Head of State. 

It’s not every day the aforementioned Head of State offers to put his robes of state on to pose with you for a photo.

It’s not every day you see the first lady in her dressing gown and hair curlers.

But then it’s not every day you visit the Principality of Hutt River, formerly known as the Hutt River Province, an independent sovereign state in Western Australia.

Feeling Hot Hot Hot over Montserrat

 “Hot Hot Hot” is a famous Soca song that some may know better as a Pizza Hut advert, but few know that is was written and performed by a Montserratian, and by all accounts has become a de facto national song for the islanders. 

Few people know too much about the volcanic island at all other than the fact that it suffered a catastrophic eruption in the 90s.  The only other thing I knew about Montserrat prior to going there was that they had the worst national football team in the world, even the “The Other Final” to the almost as hopeless Bhutan a few years ago.

I wasn’t going to set foot on Montserrat sadly, but instead I took a helicopter ride from nearby Antigua which was my first time in a helicopter and was a total thrill.

First Steps

The key turns in the ignition. Fzzt.  Cough.  Splutter.  “Oh, God” comes Mum’s comment from the passenger seat.

“Bloody hell” murmurs Dad under his breath in a suitably contrasting spiritual response.

Try again.  Fzzt.  Cough.  Splutter.

“Why aren’t we going?” I pipe up helpfully from the backseat, having looked up from my crayons and colouring in book to see what the fuss is.

“Yeah, why aren’t we going?” adds my sister, ensuring the tension ratchets up another level.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sittin' on the Dock of a Bay

Sittin’ on the dock of a bay, wasting the song goes.   

To me the time wasn’t wasted at all, but a sheer delight as I dangled my bare feet in the warm waters of English Harbour in Antigua, sat on a wooden stump on a rickety jetty in Nelson’s Dockyard.

Antigua is an island of a great many beautiful sights, from calm pristine white sand beaches, to rocky green covered cliffs with the Atlantic Ocean pounding against them.   

English Harbour on the south coast of the island, is one of the more scenic spots; a haven of beauty and calm well away from any of the resort complexes. 

Sunday, 30 January 2011

On the Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond

In some parts of the world the seasons are shown in all their glory.  Think Japan in the spring and the wave of cherry blossom sweeping from south to north, or the Alps in the wintertime.  When it comes to autumn, there are many places which can show off this season to its best, and one of those for me is Loch Lomond.

It may not be far north of the hustle and bustle of Glasgow, but it is worlds away such is the tranquillity and natural beauty on offer.  Add to that the fact that the autumnal colours, as leaves either cling on to their branches or line the roads and pathways, are in full prominence and it is an extremely photogenic scene, and one that lends itself to a few relaxing days.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Prague - Bars, Beers and Getting Lost

Prague is a delight of ornate buildings and endless picturesque photo opportunities.  The drive in from the airport was scenic enough for starters, but having gone through my brief arrival ritual (dump bags, quick shower, grab camera and go) I’m off on foot getting deliberately lost in the meandering side streets.

Ok so I started on Wenceslas Square which is neither meandering nor a side street, but before long I was into the smaller streets surrounding the Old Town Square and the delightful old Town Hall.

The square itself, like the main square in many other major European cities, is ringed with cafes and bars which while undoubtedly pleasant, will leave a major dent in your budget if you stop for a drink or two.

Prague does have plenty of hidden, and some not so hidden, gems when it comes to sampling the local beverages.  Close to the Old Square down a narrow alleyway I stumbled upon one particular bar which advertised its particularly cheap glasses of Pilsner.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Force of Nature - High Force, County Durham, England

It may not exactly be Victoria Falls, Niagara or Angel Falls, but High Force is one of England's highest waterfalls. Situated in North East England near the village of Middleton-in-Teesdale in the River Tees valley the falls are approached by a lovely walk across fields, rocks and bouncy bridges, through bracken fields covering the surrounding rolling hills and past the spectacular rock formations.

The ideal approach takes you from the more spread out Low Force falls - as the name suggests it's not exactly high, but at this point the river tumbles over the rocks in what looks more like a strong series of rapids than an actual waterfall.

This is also the site for the Wynch Bridge, a one person at a time bouncy suspension bridge which just adds to the delightful scenery.

From there it is a couple of miles upstream to reach High Force, along the riverside path. All along there are plenty of spots to step down to the river with its extremely clear water which contrasts between peaceful calm and raging torrent - at some points resembling either a powerful jacuzzi or a bubbling geyser.

As we get closer to High Force itself, the path is keeping us hidden away in the overgrown greenery but the noise or cascading water gives away what is coming up soon. The noise continues to build, and at a fork in the pathway we take the choice which leads straight to the cliff edge, now that we're up higher than the river.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Marrakech - Salesmen Extraordinaire

Djamaa El Fna in Marrakech is where it’s at. This vast square is the hub of all activity; eating and drinking, shopping and browsing, watching and being watched, chilling and baking. It all happens in the heart of Marrakech.

Food stalls with steam and smoke wafting up and over the adjacent Koutoubia Mosque. Huge stalls of spices with a small space for the stall holder to pop his head up in the middles. Fresh orange juice stands, strong cinnamon tea, snake charmers, dancers, drummers. All before even thinking about the countless souks and the numerous burkha-veiled women offering to paint henna patterns all over your feet, ankles, wrists.

But like many other places it’s the people who make it what it is, and in Marrakech that means the swarm of stallholders and hawkers all competing for your business. They are a talented bunch, always ready with a good line to reel you in with.

Firstly though, they spot your nationality from a good thirty or forty metres away and they’ve got you in their sights. Presumably these talented hawkers have got so good at spotting the idiosyncrasies of differing national styles of dress and manner that they instantly know what language they need to use.

In all the time I was there it was rare that someone tried the wrong language first off, and even when they did, it was generally a mere momentary lapse before they switch effortlessly to English for me.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Superiority at Machu Picchu

It’s a three day hike from the Inca Trail’s starting point to Machu Picchu.  Three days of tramping along narrow trails in amongst the lush green Andean vegetation alongside the raging brown Urubamba River.  Of Steep climbs at high altitude passing numerous historical sites perched high on the mountainside.  Of waterfalls, spectacular valley views, equally spectacular craggy green mountain vistas, and endlessly energetic porters.   

But come the afternoon of the third day, after a rope swing evacuation of a sick colleague across the rampaging river, after days of the taste of coca leaves to ward off altitude sickness, and after one more climb up steep stone steps cut into the pathway, we reached Intu PunKu, the Gate of the Sun.  That in itself would be worthy of celebration, but turning to your left suddenly there it is in all its glory; Machu Picchu.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Temple Addiction

 It doesn’t take long in Bangkok to realise it’s a city of temples, and I mean lots of them.  These range from the small and hidden away to the large, grand and frankly spectacular. 

Wandering the streets of the Thai capital you stumble across countless little local temples, oases of calm in amongst the frenetic city life. 

On arrival in Thailand, each discovery of a new hidden gem is an exciting find, however this doesn’t last.  Like an addict who gets used to the hit, you find that more is needed to thrill you.  So you move on to something bigger and better, and in Bangkok that means Wat Pho and the Royal Palace.