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Photography Travel

Sun Bears

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Parenthood Photography Travel

Picnic Lunch at the Zoo…

…where the lions go “Raa!” and the monkeys say “Oo Oo aa aa!”

    

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Parenthood Photography Travel

A marine biologist…

…in the making
  

Categories
Photography Travel

Fort National de St-Malo

  

My Shutterstock Portfolio

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Photography Travel Walking

Pen-y-Ghent in the Sunshine

 

Pen-y-Ghent from the Settle-Carlisle Railway
Pen-y-Ghent from the Settle-Carlisle Railway

 

My Shutterstock Portfolio

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I.T. Travel

Reset Network Settings

For ages, I had a data blackout on a section of my commute to work. A number of queries to O2 & challenges to their unacceptable answers didn’t help.

Over the weekend, I found advice to reset all network settings which seems to have turbo charged my data connection. Even in that blackout section.

If you’re having trouble with data on the O2 network, I recommend resetting your device. On iOS6, you’ll find it under Settings -> General -> Reset -> Reset Network Settings

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Consumerism I.T. Travel

Apple’s Mecca in New York

Covered by a glass cube on 5th Avenue…

Apple's NYC Store Entrance

…descend a winding staircase into the pandemonium…

Inside Apple's NYC Store

Categories
Photography Travel Walking

Inspiration for going walking

Basecamp, South Lake Tahoe provide the following motivation for exploring the local trails…

Take A Hike

…and…

Get Lost

And just in case you needed more information on what’s available, this might be the 1st thing you see waking up in the morning…

Lake Tahoe Draped Headboard

My Shutterstock Portfolio

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Consumerism Travel

How to collect brownie points on a birthday

Keeping to the newly established tradition of doing something for Vicky’s birthday (as opposed to presents), this year’s effort was a top-class weekend in London, doing whatever was on her wish list. There were 2 pre-booked events but more about them later.

We caught the 17:45 King’s Cross train out of Leeds, travelling 1st class. Those empty seats you keep eyeing up through the carriage window are really comfy! And they serve a range of alcohol at your table. So much so that the journey of a couple of hours is over in no time. Almost too quick in fact!

We arrived at the hotel in time to freshen up and wander down to The Comedy Store for the late show. The best comedian of the night by far was Paul Tonkinson and not just because he’s a northerner!

Punch & Judy

We had breakfast in Covent Garden on Saturday morning followed by a browse through the enclosed shops and the near-by market. Heading for the London Eye, the long queue and the rain were enough to quickly put us off that idea. So it was back across the river to the British Museum for a different kind of browsing. It’s not my kind of place but then again, this wasn’t my weekend. (I was collecting brownie points!)

We ate a late lunch in a very nice Mexican restaurant we picked off Trip Advisor before getting ready for the highlight of the weekend. Tickets to Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre (which we both really enjoyed – the show, not just the tickets!) and dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant just down the street. (As I say, some serious brownie points!)

Previously, we had watched a segment of Saturday Kitchen with Lawrence Keogh from The Wolseley as 1 of the guest chefs so that’s where we had breakfast on Sunday morning. And that’s where the surrealism of the day started. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice place and the food was REALLY nice but I just don’t belong in such relaxed (in inverted commas) yet regimented social settings. Give me a greasy spoon any day!

For my 10-year long service award, I choose vouchers for Harrods specifically as a… well, more than just a birthday stocking filler really. Having rather awkwardly tried to sidle past security (there’s a dress code dontcha know!), walking around the themed areas of each of the 5 floors was a REAL eye-opener. Oh how the other half live! It freaked us both out a little quite frankly. What was to be the icing on the cake for the weekend was on the cusp of ruining it all! Until we both took a moment just to gain some composure. The place has a certain overwhelming closed-in atmosphere but once we realised that’s all it was, we were both able to browse more comfortably.

Totem

To round the weekend off, Vicky wanted to go back to the British Museum again to view an exhibition we didn’t have time for on the Saturday. On the way there, we stopped for tea and cake in Sicilian Avenue.

Finally, it was back “Oopnorf!” again after a very memorable weekend for both of us. Although I suspect for slightly different reasons.

Categories
Travel Walking

I Hate Camping!!! Or At Least I Thought I Did

I’m not a huge fan of camping. I find it claustrophobic and uncomfortable – even with a thermarest and a karrimat underneath me, I never sleep very well.

However, when there’s no other option, my ideal camp site doesn’t have to have fantastic (or any) showers. It doesn’t even have to have a half decent toilet block; a buff and some cheap aftershave can disguise that. What it absolutely MUST have is reasonable access to good food! You can wash in a mountain stream or go to the loo behind a tree (or with a shovel if you must) but if you’re hungry, you’re not at your best; not by a long chalk!

However, recently I’ve been cajoled into a couple of camping trips with more on the horizon. With that in mind, we paid a visit to Cotswold Outdoor and acquired a Primus stove. If you’re in the market for a new stove, I can highly recommend it.

In food terms, we found that dried pasta, a tin of tuna, a tin of sweetcorn and a jar of stir-in tomato sauce goes a LONG way towards feeling better after a big day in the hills. For breakfast, a bacon butty on really fresh bread with red sauce is something worth getting out of your sleeping bag for; so long as you give it a little time to settle, it’ll set you up for the day quite nicely.

If this is going to carry on, the next big purchase will HAVE to be a 4-season down sleeping bag. Even with 2 liners – 1 silk, 1 fleece – the bag I’ve got just doesn’t keep my warm enough. But then there was ice on the inside(!) of some tents the next morning.

Categories
Photography Travel Walking

We’re all Closet Meteorologists at Heart

The first weather warning of snow in the area for this winter season has been given. That really does fill me with dread. Don’t get me wrong, snow on the hills is brilliant! I got some fantastic photos during the cold snap last year and it turned everyday walks into expeditions.

However, I’ve got a rear-wheel drive car (a Merc CLC 200) and it’s rubbish in the snow! Driving it last winter was an exciting experience to say the least. It didn’t move for about 3 weeks while there was snow on the ground. When it was moving, there was far too much wheel spin for my liking. It felt like the traction control warning light was never off.

In some areas of some European countries, drivers are legally obliged to switch to winter tyres around November time. In the UK, snow is far from guaranteed each year (except maybe the far north of Scotland) and even when it is around, there isn’t usually enough of it for long enough to call for a whole new set of tyres.

The gauling thing is, I traded in a perfectly good 4×4 with permanent 4-wheel drive for something I really wanted at the time but now can’t wait to get rid of.

I’m not a fan of global warming, far from it; I think it’s a major problem and it has definitely left its mark on the 1st decade of the 21st century. However, at the moment in the UK, we’re in a bit of limbo where, generally speaking, the summers aren’t as warm as they used to be and the winters aren’t as cold; apart from these crazy spikes in either direction from time-to-time.

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Travel

A Day in Geneva

There are some areas of Geneva that feel a little claustrophobic with narrow side streets and small enclosed squares.  The old town is full of narrow cobbled streets.

1 BIG fountain! on Twitpic

On the flip side, there are plenty of wide open spaces. The promenade along the Lake Geneva shoreline is very relaxing and wide enough to feel that bit detached from the city itself.  All along, there is the ever-present spectacle of the Jet d’Eau.The water in the lake is surprisingly clean and clear. I was looking for fish and was pleasantly surprised when I saw some.

Lunch in Switzerland...  on Twitpic

Geneva gets my seal of approval for fantastic coffee and even better food. I have never ever spent so much on 1 meal in my life and it’s not something I intend to repeat in a hurry but I can say, hand on heart, that it was well worth it!

The city also has the honours of…

  1. being the city where the International committee of the Red Cross was founded by Henry Dunant in 1863; &
  2. giving its name to the Geneva Conventions.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. These are off my camera phone as my compact camera battery was flat by this stage of the trip.

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Travel

Glastonbury

40 Years of Glastonbury

I went to Glastonbury for the first time this year. I tried and failed to get a ticket last year and then spent the festival weekend kicking myself. Not so this time and what a fantastic festival it was.

I’ve never seen so many tents pitched so close together. There’s an instant market for the 2 story tent.

Rolf Harris opened with a very entertaining set. It’s hard to believe the guy was 80 years old this year. Others sets of note for me were the Bootleg Beatles, Paloma Faith, Faithless and of course Stevie Wonder. He closed the festival with a marvellous gig.

It was smack bang in the middle of a heat wave by UK standards. A huge amount of dust was being raised by people and traffic moving about the site. So much so that the tracks were watered to keep it down. Most years mud is an unwelcome facet of the festival. This year it was missed so they had to create some.

2 other things that I will always remember about this year’s festival (I’m definitely going again!):
1) the irony of an emergency ambulance with blue lights flashing in the healing field; &
2) the flags billowing in the breeze.

White Flags at Sunset

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Travel

Activity Holiday in Majorca

The suggestion to go rock climbing in Majorca at February half-term spawned from a rather drunken night out for a meal with friends at the end of last summer but unlike a lot of other ideas, this one got followed through. Alasdair had been there before quite a few years ago and the trip was based on his recommendation. Majorca didn’t disappoint us. I used to climb about 10 years ago but I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee a while back so now I’ve got to be careful of the stresses I put on it. Swimming and cycling are OK but any twisting or turning movement means I can be limping for weeks. However, not 1 to miss out on an outdoors holiday, I was going to use the trip as a photo opportunity.

Booking the Holiday

We booked flights with EasyJet from Liverpool John Lennon Airport to Palma, secure parking with Imagine, accommodation in the Aquasol Aparthotel in Palma Nova and a hire car with Hiper Rent a Car. Isn’t the internet fantastic!!!

The Weather Forecast

I had checked the weather forecast for the week before we left and it looked really promising – 16 to 19 degrees Celsius with occasional cloud – but as we got off the plane, it started to rain. This lasted all afternoon until finally it rained good and proper that evening. And that was the last we saw of it. Over the course of the week, the weather just got better and better. It was always a good idea to carry a spare top or fleece just in case the wind picked up or the sun went in but generally we only needed t-shirts because we were so active. Beforehand, carrying sun cream seemed daft but we needed it most days. Going out at night, you need a top or a jacket as the temperature drops away fairly quickly. It was too cold to sit outside and eat.

Palma Nova

We stayed in Palma Nova which is just a stone’s throw along from Magalluf. It’s your typical resort with everything on hand to cater for Johnny Foreigner. Spar shops ( which were never open – must have been too early in the year ), English Breakfasts ( but not before 9am – guess they only cater for people with hangovers ), etc. Although it hadn’t even started to gear up for the season, there was still a constant stream of people around. It must be a complete nightmare at high season. I’m so glad we spent so much time driving around the island. It seemed a lot at the time but you get to see a whole different way of life than what’s in the brochures. Getting away from the resorts and exploring for yourself is highly recommended.

Eating Out

Having rubbished the resort, we did find a cracking French restaurant in Palma Nova. We were only there for a week but we ate at La P’tit Bistro 4 of the 7 nights. Each time, we all ate something different and none of us were ever disappointed. The food is just heavenly. Try any of the starters, the lamb and finish with the crepe white lady if it’s still on the menu. None of the other places we ate at came anywhere close.

Rock Climbing

We spent days climbing at Cala Magraner, Valldemossa, Sa Gubia & La Creveta.

  1. Cala Magraner – From Manacour, take the road to Porto Cristo. There is parking for 5 or 6 cars in a layby opposite the sign post but it is on a blind bend so be on the look out for passing cars. The walk in is easy and takes about 25 minutes.
  2. Valldemossa – Parking is limited as the crag is next to and overhangs the road. This means belaying can be dangerous as the road down to Port d’Valldemossa is narrow and surprisingly busy.
  3. Sa Gubia – Park up in a large layby on the MA-11 just outside Bunyola. The walk in is down a track about 100 metres to the south of the layby. Turn right to follow a dried up river bed which is rocky and uneven. This takes about 30 to 40 minutes as the gradient rises as you get closer to the crag.
  4. La Creveta – From Port de Polença, take the MA-2210 going to Cap de Forementor and park up at the viewing point. Find the old pipe line heading back down the hill. Without it, the trail to the saddle is much more difficult. Cross the saddle and scramble down and to the left underneath the outcrop. The path to the crag becomes more obvious at the bottom.

Scrambling the Cavall Bernat Ridge

To the north of Puerto Pollenca is the Bouquer Valley, lined on 1 side by the Cavall Bernat Ridge. This classic saw-toothed walk has been compared to the infamous Crib Goch scramble in Wales. Traversing the ridge can be made as difficult as you like. There are sections which are quite exposed and may require a safety rope but you’ll need a head for heights and reasonable level of fitness. The upside is the views are spectacular.

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Travel

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris is one of those places everyone should visit at least once. I got my chance to go with some like-minded friends and we all had a fantastic time. I admit I was a little hesitant at the time because of the news reports of rioting in the streets over new employment laws. I’m glad to say that this did not affect our trip at all.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport

We made the most of the few days we all had off work and stayed overnight in a hotel near to Liverpool John Lennon Airport as we were catching an early morning flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle ( Paris CDG ). If you’re staying in a hotel near the airport, here’s a little tip for you :- Don’t eat in the hotel. Their prices for food and drink are extortionate and geared-up for the business traveller. There are quite a few really nice restaurants within a taxi-ride which would still cost you less in total than eating in the hotel. We found a pizzeria within a couple of hundred yards of the hotel that was very good.

Flight to Paris

After depositing the cars in secure parking within walking distance of the airport and an uneventful check-in, we headed for the departure lounge and gate. We were all a little bit worse-for-wear from the previous night so it was a quiet start to the morning.

The trip had it’s first hiccup in France. After landing in Paris and a minuscule bus transfer to the terminal ( about 200 metres – literally ), we had to wait over an hour for our bags because of “technical difficulties”. The joke was they lost the key to the hold. We were only going for 3 days but most of us checked our bags in at Liverpool because… well, it seemed easier, more sensible, etc. The 1 person who hadn’t checked her bag was quietly smug about it. Eventually, after some confusion over which carousel was working, we retrieved our luggage and made our way outside to the bus stop.

Coach Transfer – VEA Shuttle

A coach transfer is available with regular services between the airports and Disneyland hotels. It’s called the VEA Shuttle and there are signs for it as you leave the terminal. The bus itself is a big red thing with Disneyland Paris written all over it; you can’t miss it. About 40 minutes later we arrived at the hotel.

Sequoia Lodge Hotel

We stayed at the Sequoia Lodge which is massive, fairly comfortable and pretty much like any other 3-star hotel with very obvious influences from U.S. National Parks. The hotel itself is only a 10-minute walk from the Disneyland parks with it’s own health club and swimming pool, souvenir shop and restaurants. There is a schedule of activities for children, including meet-n-greet for Disney characters and an outdoor play area. Check-in took ages. The lobby was busy but it wasn’t a big queue of people waiting to be checked in. They do need to make that a little bit slicker. After getting our rooms sorted out and 10 minutes to freshen up, we headed for the theme parks.

Disney Village

The Disney Village is basically a street just outside the entrance to both parks and provides alternative entertainment. There are all kinds of shops, restaurants, bars, etc. including Planet Hollywood, a cinema and a disco. It is also home to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. With 2 performances a day, you should easily find time to see it and it is highly recommended. Sitting in a mini-stadium, the show tells Disney’s version of how the wild west was won. This is not why I recommend it. It’s for the magnificent animals in the show; there’s some nifty horsemanship as well as some amazing looking buffalo. The food is quite tasty too although basic and there are times when you can’t see what you’re eating. If you get into the spirit of the show – and it’s really difficult not to – you will enjoy it.

Disneyland

We grabbed some lunch in the village and decided on Disneyland first. Little known to us, one of our group was very nervous of roller coasters. It was fairly late in the day at the start of the week and fairly quiet so we opted for the biggest ride first – Space Mountain – Mission 2. Needless to say she screamed throughout the whole 90 seconds or so. As a result, we just had to go on it again and again and again and again. Every time we came out, there was a picture of her with her eyes shut and her mouth open. In all fairness, she was a really good sport about it. The other rides she didn’t really like included Big Thunder Mountain and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril with it’s concise 360 loop-the-loop.

It wasn’t too busy that afternoon/evening but it was a whole different story the next day. It was easy to get lost going from 1 place to another and we did. As a bunch of adults, you would think that we couldn’t get separated from each other but we managed that too. Luckily, we all had mobile phones with us to arrange somewhere to meet up again. For kids, it must be terrifying. The queues for the rides might be long at times – we saw waiting times of up to 75 minutes – but the way they’re designed, you always feel like you’re moving forward.

Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios is the 2nd theme park at Disneyland. We alternated between the two with the entrances so close to one another. You can buy a range of passes that will get you into either or both parks for any number of days.

Here we spent quite a lot of time going round and round on the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster Staring Aerosmith. The queue for the ride takes you past some rock memorabilia that’s worth taking a look at even without the ride. The ride itself is full-on adrenalin. 0 to 60mph in 3 seconds. WOW!

The other show that’s well worth seeing is the Stunt Show Spectacular. On the way in, you can see into the workshop where all the cars are being repaired. As the show progresses, it strings together some action sequences involving motorbikes, cars, ramps, fire, etc. to demonstrate how a film sequence can be brought together. Blink and you’ll miss something. If you’re looking to your left, you’re missing something happening on your right and vice verse. It’s action all the way.

Coming Home

After spending the last day being thrown from side to side under a harness and going upside down on Space Mountain and Indiana Jones again, it was time to come home. If you’re using the VEA Shuttle, check your return journey times. The Sequoia Lodge didn’t seem to know the times. It turned out not to be a problem as our return flight was also delayed due to more “technical difficulties”. Don’t you just love EasyJet. They remembered the keys to the hold this time and it was a doddle picking up our bags in Liverpool and collecting the car from secure parking.

All-in-all a trip well worth doing!

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Travel

Playa de Las Americas – Tenerife

After a long, difficult year ( the reasons are many and varied ), I needed a break away from everyone and everything! Saying that I settled for Tenerife seems a little unfair. After doing some research on the internet, it seemed quite a popular destination in the winter months. Having been there, I can see why. I booked 7 nights in Playa de las Americas with MyTravel. Flying from Newcastle Airport takes approximately 4 hours. Confirm your check-in times with this company. They will probably tell you when the check-in desks open, not close. I made the mistake of not doing this, turned up at the airport at some ridiculous hour of the morning then had to wait around for ages.

Arriving at Aeropuerto Reina Sofia was hassle free except that the travel reps for MyTravel didn’t exactly stand out. I wasn’t expecting a neon sign or anything but I was expecting a clipboard held aloft at least. I finally found their desk in the arrival area and got the transfer information I needed there. The transfer from the airport only takes 20 minutes so it’s really easy to get to.

Even in mid-November, the temperature reaches upto the mid-20 degrees Celsius so always have your sun cream handy and especially when you first arrive. There are numerous information points dotted around the resorts. Throughout the holiday, I never saw a temperature reading less than 18 degrees Celsius and that includes at night. Even on the beach front where there always seems to be a noticeable onshore breeze, it’s warm enough for a short sleeved shirt. During the day, what seems to happen is that early morning cloud is quickly burned off by the sun and stays clear for most of the day. Occasionally, it can become dull during the day but more so in the late afternoon and without the direct heat of the sun, it can feel a bit chilly.

I chose the Hotel Bitacora which has a 4-star rating. The rooms are comfortable but I found the bed too hard to be really comfortable for me. The en-suite bathroom was small for the number of people the room could sleep but very practical. There is a safe available in the room but using it is extra depending on your reservation. For a VIP stay, the 12 euro deposit is refundable. The hotel complex is clean and comfortable with 2 heated swimming pools, loads of sun loungers and a games area. There are loads of free activities everyday from 11 o’clock, for example, water aerobics, pistol and rifle shooting, french boules.

The food in the hotel is excellent with quite a varied selection of foods available, both each evening and throughout the week. It’s self-service from the buffet-style counters but it does give you a chance to see the food before you choose. The waiters/waitreses wear a different style every night but it didn’t seem to have any bearing on what type of food was being served. From 10pm each evening, there’s a show of some kind in the bar; a singer, a magician, acrobatics.

Another of the hotel’s facilities is massage. Someone rear-ended me in a car accident in July and I’d been having physiotherapy treatment to ease back pain. During the flight, it had flared up again and no amount of swimming would ease it. Instead of the gentle back rub I’d expected, it felt more like a half-hearted beating that I agreed to. However, to give the guy his due, 2 half hour sessions was all it took to fix me up. Even if you’ve no particular complaints, give it a try. I promise that you’ll feel much better afterwards.

The shopping in Tenerife is fantastic. You can get everything from cameras and perfume to designer clothes far cheaper than in the UK. Late night shopping means exactly that. Some places are open until midnight. I bought an SLR camera lens for about 100 quid less than the UK. It even comes with a European guarantee which is important if you’re buying electronics or some kind of technology.

There are numerous excursions available whilst on holidaying. I chose whale watching with Freebird Sailing and a visit to Loro Parque. To be honest, the whale watching excursion could do with being better organised. It seems very popular but my impression of the Freebird crew is that their clients are a necessary evil for them to enjoy themselves sailing a posh catamaran. On the up-side, standing on the bow, watching a pilot whale swim right underneath me and then surface to breath is quite moving. I’d certainly recommend the trip but maybe not with Freebird. Diametrically, the trip to Loro Parque is fantastic if you’re into getting up and close to exotic animals. For me, it was another brilliant photo opportunity, especially the sea lion and dolphin shows. My only criticism would be that the excursion doesn’t allow for enough time at the park.

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Travel

London Theatre Trip

This wasn’t a planned trip to go and see a show in London. It started as a possible week-long Oracle training course. I got authorisation from my boss too late to have booked any tickets and was wondering what shows I could see when a friend told me about a ticket booth that sold discount tickets for different shows. I’ve wanted to see We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! for ages so I took the chance that this booth might have some tickets.

The tkts ticket booth ( formerly the Half Price Ticket Booth ) is on the south side of Leicester Square. I needed directions because all I got told was that it’s in Leicester Square. When I asked someone, their exact words were “It’s where all the queues are!” but it’s easy to find as it’s the only building in the square – the fountain doesn’t count – rather than around the edge. The booth is open 10am to 7pm Monday to Saturday and 12noon to 3pm on Sundays.

There are electronic notice boards listing details of the shows for which tickets are available. Matinee and Evening shows are sold from different windows so make sure you join the right queue. There are signs above each of the windows. When I was there, there weren’t as many people queueing as I was led to believe but this was on a Tuesday evening. It’s probably very different at the weekend.

They didn’t have any tickets for Mamma Mia!. Apparently, discount tickets for that show aren’t generally available during the summer months and are quite rare at other times.

They did have tickets for We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road. It wasn’t the best seat in the house but then again I bought it an hour before the show was due to start and tickets from the booth are sold strictly in front-to-back order. I was in the circle behind the aisle which gave me a perfectly unobstructed view.

The show was FANTASTIC!! In no time at all, it was the interlude. There’s a game you can play during the show of spot-the-lyric. Many of the spoken lines are from well-known songs and not just Queen songs either. There’s also a lot of adult humour too. You can tell Ben Elton had a hand in writing it. There’s a pop at the trend in reality TV shows, primarily Big Brother.

From very early on, everyone in the audience was singing along with the songs, clapping and cheering at the humour. After a while, I wanted to stand but the few times we did, not very many people joined in so I guess it’s not the done thing in London. The story ends well and, with 1 exception, all the big Queen songs are in there somewhere. I’m not going to tell you what it is but it’s referred to a lot during the show but never sung… Until the encore. There were many calls for an encore and when it came, the audience went crazy. It gave me goose bumps.

For several minutes after the curtain finally went down, we were still calling for more but, sadly, it never came. Even so, I left the theatre on a real high which lasted most of the week. If you get the chance to see We Will Rock You, if you’re a Queen fan, you’d be a fool not to. If you’re not a fan, I think you’re in a minority but I think you’d still enjoy the show. Trust me.

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Travel

Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda came highly recommended from a number of people. It seemed that there was something there for everybody. We weren’t disappointed! I’d also been told that it was an expensive place to visit but I think it depends on your tastes and where you stay. We had some really nice food and wine for a lot less than you’d pay in the UK.

We arrived at Verona Airport at about 11am with the temperature already in the low 90s. The transfer to the hotel took about 90 minutes even with several drop-off points along the way. The tour rep did his thing en-route to the hotel which I thought was a good idea – saves time having to turn up to an orientation meeting the following day. However, I’m not sure everyone appreciated it so soon after the flight.

The family-run hotel was really comfortable. The room didn’t have air-conditioning but it was still quite cool with the wooden blinds kept shut. The en-suite bathroom was tiny and a bit cramped but it served it’s purpose well. I thought that being next to the main road around the lake was going to be a problem. The road can get very busy during the day but I can’t say I really noticed any traffic noise from the room. The restaurant had some really nice food albeit very simple. Overall, it gets a thumbs-up!

The cable car from Malcesine is the easiest way to get to the top of Monte Baldo. At over 2,200 meters, there is a path you can walk up/down but I wouldn’t recommend it; the heat would zap the energy from all but the toughest walkers. From the top of the cable car, it’s an easy walk to a platform where the views are spectacular. From there, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. Not far from the platform, there’s a cafe where you can sit and take in the view. Even in full sunshine, it can still be cold if the wind picks up.

We decided to be a little more energetic and do some hill walking along the ridge. We’d bought a walkers map of the mountain range which showed a path further along the top that leads back down to Malcesine. We walked for about 3 hours, covered 2 peaks and still didn’t find it. We didn’t want to get caught out on the mountain in the dark so we turned back in the end and got a cable-car back down instead.

To get to the lake from the hotel, all you have to do is cross the road and you’re there. I tried to do a few early morning swims but failed miserably for 2 reasons:

  • the water’s freezing first thing in the morning ; &
  • the lake is taken over by wind-surfing and 1 or 2 kitesurfers

Both sports are very popular around the lake shore in the morning. On the eastern shore, the sun doesn’t rise above the surrounding mountains until after 9am. As a result, the early morning is fairly breezy. Once the sun does rise, the wind dies down completely but it means the wind-surfers have the beach to themselves for most of the early morning.

Fishing on the lake doesn’t seem to be very popular around Malcesine. There are fish in the lake; some of the restaurants have a speciality fish dish. It’s main ingredient is a cross between salmon and trout and it’s very tasty!

There’s a lot of boating as you would expect. Boats are continually zig-zagging the lake with a number of car and passenger ferries crossing the lake at various points.

There are a number of organised tours of the lake, visiting places like Tòrbole – the most northern point of the lake – and Sirmione on the south shore.

Malcesine itself is quite a nice little town. I don’t know how busy it is in the winter months but in the summer, it’s packed. Lake Garda is close to the Swiss/Austrian border and it would seem that people from these countries ( and Germany ) get away to Lake Garda in the same way as people in the UK go to Blackpool for the weekend. However, the nightlife in Malcesine isn’t quite the same. There is a nightclub but it’s nothing like those of the UK or other Mediterranean resorts.

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Travel

Paddy’s Day in New York

New York has the reputation of hosting the biggest and best St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. With this in mind, I decided this year that I was going to be part of it. So I booked time off work, the cheapest flights I could find on the internet and a reasonable hotel not too far away from all the action.

The Drive To The Airport

I set off for Manchester Airport on a cold, wet and very windy Friday morning. It’s about a 3 hour drive so the roads were quiet but that’s probably for the best. If you’ve seen the movie Twister, the only thing missing was the Frisian cow hurtling past the car windscreen as I drove along.

The Flights To New York

The American Airlines flight to Chicago was fantastic although quite a bit of turbulence. There was loads of leg-room and the in-flight movie was Zoolander. The food wasn’t anything special but I’ve been on enough flights to know that it was better than most. The flight from the Windy City to the Big Apple was a lot shorter but also a lot more uncomfortable. Maybe it was because I’d been flying for about 8 hours already.

The Taxi-Ride To The Hotel

It was dark by the time I got out of La Guardia Airport so there really wasn’t much to see on the way over to Manhattan. The taxi-ride was mad and a little uncomfortable. He was driving far too fast, having to brake heavily quite a few times. He either knew exactly how wide the taxi was or he didn’t have a clue because several times it looked like he was going to side-swipe other cars but somehow managed to avoid them at the last second.

Friday Night

After grabbing a quick shower at the hotel, I was off exploring. I tried to have a look round Madison Square Gardens but Elton John was playing that night and security weren’t having any of it. There were loads of ticket-touts around and that was causing them a huge problem. The concert the following night had to be cancelled as Elton had the flu or something.

I had something to eat in a pizzeria just outside the Gardens and then and got drunk in 1 of the Irish bars off 5th Ave. Beer is relatively expensive over there – don’t expect much change from $5 for a bottled beer, even an American one.

The Parade

The next morning, I was woken up at around 7am from car horns, etc. from the street below. I was staying on the 10th floor so I hate to imagine what it was like on the ground. I found out about an hour later but I think it had died down by then. All the morning deliveries had been made, etc. Brunch was a hot dog from 1 of the many outlets along 5th Avenue.

The police were starting to close off streets along 5th Ave. and re-direct people on the pavements too. An air of excitement was growing; people were milling around trying to find the best spot to watch the parade. I choose a spot outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral which was quiet at the time but it soon got very busy.

I watched the parade for a few hours; to be honest, toward the end it started to get boring. There were several tributes to the emergency services from 9/11. It seemed that any fire fighters or NYPD who weren’t on duty that day marched in the parade. New York’s ex-mayor, Rudolf Guliani did a walk-about, shaking hands with people – [1][2].

A 12:04 precisely, everybody turned south to face where the twin towers would have been and observed a 2 minute silence. It was REALLY eerie; I’ve never known so many people to be so quite for so long.

I gave up watching the parade about 2:30 for 2 reasons – 1) there’s a limit to the number of marching pipe bands and firemen/police that anyone can watch; and 2) I was getting hungry. Getting something to eat wouldn’t be a problem. Getting back onto 5th Ave. afterwards just wouldn’t happen so I went looking for what else was going on. On the way back to the hotel, I came across these street performers.

Other Manhattan Landmarks

I spent Sunday visiting some of the other landmarks around Manhattan Island. The UN building was the most interesting. Security was tight and I had to leave my back-pack at the security cordon. They let me take my camera in but only after I showed them that it really was just a camera.

There are guided tours of the building including entry into the Security Council chambers. However, the lobby was the best bit for me. There are biographical details of all the Nobel Peace Prize winners since it was first awarded. There’s an exhibit of icons painted by children from around the world and a fantastic stain glass window.

Walking down the street, I found a huge mirror propped up against the wall. I took this picture of me.

Monday

Monday I spent packing and travelling back to the UK. The sunset from the airport terminal in Chicago was phenomenal.

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Travel

Kefalos, Greece

Kefalos is a beautiful resort on the southern tip of Kos Island. To me, it is the smallest but not necessarily the quietest of the 3 main resorts on the island; the other 2 being Kos Town and Kardamena.

We stayed at the Antonis Hotel on a bed and breakfast basis. It’s a nice hotel at the western end of the resort; it’s a bit basic but comfy, with it’s own swimming pool. The quality and variety of surrounding facilities are very good. The only time we spent in the hotel was to sleep and eat breakfast. However, we did spend quite a bit of time by the pool too.

Kefalos boasts a 2km pebble beach which is just wonderful with tons of stuff going on. It’s the perfect spot for wind-surfing; every day we were there, there were surfers zipping up and down the coast. Obviously, some days were busier and/or better than others but they were always out there. There’s a number of places to go water-skiing. You can hire jet-skis or the more sedate pedalos.

I tried paracending for the first time while I was there. It was excellent! It’s really peaceful up there and, for me, it was the best way to have a look around the resort. Be warned though! If you get Georgis to take you, he’ll dunk you in the water on the way back down so don’t take any cameras, etc. up with you. Getting dunked isn’t really a problem because the water is so warm and you’ll dry off by the time you get back to shore.

NOTE: You should check your own travel insurance before doing any kind of water sports while on holiday. The organisation providing the water sports may be insured but I get the distinct impression that it’s insurance against being sued for compensation so heads up, people!

For other kinds of activities, it doesn’t seem to matter which tour company you go with. They can all provide you with tickets to numerous social events. From a traditional Greek Night with all sorts of food and free-flowing wine to a VERY blue comic who takes the mickey out of EVERYBODY; himself, the DJ Lance, all the people there and of course all the usual Irish, Scots, Welsh, American and battle of the sexes jokes. If you’re broad-minded then you’re missing out if you don’t see him. But, if you’re easily offended, give this guy a WIDE berth.