Why Blog?

It’s all Scott Bourne‘s fault!

Scott Bourne wrote an article about why photographers should build a blog and not a website.  I started my own website years ago for a variety of reasons but recently I’ve found it harder to maintain (keep current) and with less time to do so.

Also, just like everyone else, I’m looking to collect (or reference) all my online content in 1 place.  So here are some blatant plugs for now and we’ll see how this evolves.

Shutterstock

My Shutterstock Portfolio

Dreamstime

My Dreamstime Portfolio

Fotolia

My Fotolia Portfolio

CanStockPhoto

My CanStockPhoto Portfolio

Bigstock

My Bigstock Portfolio

Cheers for reading thus far!

Alex

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.

Home Insurance Claims

Getting divorced and moving house are supposed to be the most stressful things in life but there’s another… Having Carillion Property Services sort out repairs to your home under an insurance claim. They turned what would’ve been a simple, straight forward job into 11 weeks of a complete nightmare. Some quick background… I lived in a block of 8 flats that was insured under 1 policy arranged by Lampier. The escape of water from my bath damaged the floor in my bathroom, the adjoining bedroom and caused some damage to the decoration of the flat underneath.

Logging the claim with Norwich Union was easy. It took about 5 minutes from start to finish. I got the claim number, the name of a contact and their telephone number if I had any problems. I was told Carillion would be in touch to organise doing the repairs. I also had their phone number if I had any queries. I explained I was going abroad the following week but that shouldn’t stop anyone getting in touch. I was assured it wouldn’t and I could expect a phone call from Carillion while I was away. I was fairly relaxed about it at this point. Stuff like this happens in life and there’s really no point in getting all upset about it.

I never did get that phone call from Carillion and when I phoned them 10 days later, they didn’t know a thing about the claim. The fax from Norwich Union had “…gone missing”. I gave them the details I had from Norwich Union and was told they’d look into it.

Being a bit clueless turned out to be 1 of Carillion’s main themes throughout the whole episode. I would tell them something 1 day but the next time I called, they’d quote a completely different version of the information to me. At 1 stage, I spent about 20 minutes with 1 guy going through the case notes, sorting them out. Of course, it was the “…computer system’s fault.” There’s 2 possibilities here :-

  1. it’s not fit for purpose so get rid ; or
  2. if you put garbage in, you’ll get garbage out.

In-action was another main theme. I called them so many times, trying to get progress but nothing had been done since I last called. They promised to call me back but that never happened within any reasonable time. Generally, the excuses were missing paperwork or having to follow procedure. At one point, a fax hadn’t arrived so they couldn’t make an appointment for a surveyor to come out but they hadn’t done anything to chase it up even though I had told them to expect it.

ChemDry and Simpsons The Builders were the do-ers appointed by Carillion. Their website boasted “a substantial field repair force of directly employed operatives”. Rubbish! They’re agents and not very effective ones. ChemDry and Simpsons were brilliant throughout. They were working within someone else’s rules and again the information they’d been give was very poor. On their 1st appointments, they didn’t really know what kind of job they were turning up to but they did make up for it with their professionalism.

On several occasions, when I complained to Carillion, their ambivalence was the thing that stood out most. Caring just doesn’t seem to be in their nature. Norwich Union didn’t seem to be much use in this area either. Their excuse was that they’d given Carillion carte blanche to get the claim sorted and the only thing they really wanted to know about was the final invoice for the work. Norwich Union use 2 marketing tag lines :-

  1. quote me happy ; &
  2. you’ll be happy with Norwich Union.

You might be happy with the quote but there’s no guarantee about any of the other stuff.

UPDATE – Oct. 20th, 2006 :- The work was finally completed over 12 weeks after the claim was logged. I wrote to our insurance broker asking to be reimbursed for expenses caused by the extended period of time taken to resolve the claim and this was reviewed.

UPDATE – Nov. 20th, 2006 :- Over GBP600 was paid out in compensation and the matter is now settled.

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!

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.

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.

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.