All Posts Filed in ‘Travel

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Jim’s Stag Do

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A stag do involving skiing and snowboarding in addition to the usual heavy drinking? It sounded like a brilliant idea and it turns out it was! I haven’t had that much fun in years!

The Hotel Staffler in Niederau, Austria was the venue (Nick, the man who runs the hotel was a class act, I’d definitely recommend the place). We were there for 5 days taking in 3 days of skiing and snowboarding and were blessed with excellent conditions on the slopes, good food, great company and I also got the opportunity to try out my new snowboard, boots and bindings which worked like a charm (what a difference having sharp edges makes). As you’d expect I took a few photos so have a look below:

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Two Days In New York

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I’ve just returned from a two day trip to New York with work and while I didn’t get much time to explore the city I did at least manage to get a few photos! I’ll definitely be back for a more thorough investigation of the place.

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Return To The Isle Of Arran

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After a wonderful week on Arran last year we returned with friends in tow. We spent the week hiking, eating, drinking and relaxing. In return we had perfect weather and a brilliant time!

The thing we loved about Arran last time was that it’s like a mini-Scotland. It has all the different types of scenery from sandy beaches to cliffs to rolling hills, forests and rugged mountain ranges. It’s a peaceful place that’s not spoiled with lots of people (unlike the Lake District) and has a climate warm enough to support palm trees (believe it or not). Our good friends are avid hikers too and we knew they’d love Arran as much as we do.

Anyway, here are some of the many pictures I took over the week, they’re in chronological order so click on the first one and read the descriptions to find out what we got up to. Note that when you’re on a photo page, clicking the picture moves you to the next one so you don’t need to keep going back and forth!

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A Flying Visit To Abu Dhabi

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I’ve just spent a couple of days on a whistle-stop tour to Abu Dhabi. It was a free trip through my good lady, flying Virgin Upper Class and staying in a swanky hotel. I wasn’t going to say no was I?!

I’ve flown Virgin Upper Class before (when I went to Australia in late 2006) and it’s a fantastic service. From the limo pickup and drop off to the individual ‘pods’ on the plane that fold into flat beds (very comfortable) to the amazing lounge in London, to the food in the lounge and on the plane – it’s top drawer and well worth paying for if you’re flying long haul. So I didn’t really mind where we were going – I was just happy to fly with them again.

When we arrived in Dubai and started the drive to Abu Dhabi I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There was building going on in every direction, but on a scale I could never have imagined. They weren’t building one thing at a time, they were building whole towns at a time. Cranes as far as the eye could see and brand new shiny buildings surrounded by identical skyscrapers at various stages of construction. The scale of it all was mind-blowing. Although with the temperature in the high 30’s (Celsius that is) I wouldn’t want to have been one of the workers.

We were staying in the Rotana Beach hotel, Abu Dhabi and it was fantastic, complete with loads of fine restaurants, a beach and a shopping mall. The room was great too. Everything you need really! Anyway, enough rambling, I took a few photos along the way:

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The Isle Of Arran 2007

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These are some of the pictures I took during my week’s holiday on the Isle Of Arran. You can read more about the place here.

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A Week On A Mini Scotland

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I’ve just spent the past week on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. It’s often described as Scotland in miniature and they’re not kidding. It’s an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland and as we arrived we were greeted with the scene from King Kong when they’re sailing through the mist seeing the cliffs looming out of the gloom. Fortunately the weather immediately improved and within 15 minutes it was actually rather sunny and so it continued for the rest of the week.

The next day we took a drive around the island (which is about 35 miles in total) and this was where the ‘mini Scotland’ comparison proved to be right. You’ve got sandy beaches, rolling tree-covered hills, more rugged cliffs along stony beaches, moorland, castles, pointy mountains and everything in between. It’s a lovely place and best of all, it’s not densely populated and there weren’t that many people around – which was the whole point.

Goatfell

We spent most of the days hiking up those aforementioned pointy mountains which meant that my good lady spent most of the week complaining at me for dragging her up those aforementioned pointy mountains! To be fair though, we did get some pretty impressive views of the beautiful island and some nice places to have lunch:

Nice lunch spot on Arran

Me on the summit of GoatfellAnnoyingly though, each time we went up the main ridge containing the highest mountain on the island (Goatfell) the visibility disappeared meaning no nice views. I’ve had the bad luck over the years that pretty much any time I stand on the summit of a mountain it’s shrouded in cloud and there is no view at all. My good lady turned back before the top of Goatfell as she was knackered and wasn’t enthused by the lack of visibility. I pressed on and while I could see the sun trying to poke through the clouds, I couldn’t see much further than 20 yards in front of me (see right). Lovely! I hung around for about as long as it took to take the photo then started running back down to catch up. It was nice to be able to bound past people from rock to rock like I’m still in my 20’s – I’m not over the hill yet! (Pun intended).

Hmmm, looks like graffiti to meOne day we went over to the Holy Island, which is an even smaller island about a mile off the south-east coast of Arran. The interesting thing about the island is that at the north side is ‘The Centre for World Peace and Health’ which has a retreat people can stay at. The even more interesting thing is that on the south side is a Buddhist retreat. We walked over the top of the island (it’s about 400m high at its highest point) and came back around the coast. On our way back we saw quite a few painted boulders (pictured right).

Now personally, if I’m trying to respect the environment and be at harmony with nature then my mindset is to not affect it and leave it exactly the way it is (or as close to that as possible). The National Trust goes to great lengths to ensure that the Lake District looks exactly like it did a century ago for the same reason (even going so far as to pay to have Lakeland sheep – which are amazingly cute – living on the hills). But painting brightly coloured pictures like this every few hundred yards in a beautifully scenic, mountainous place just smacks of bad taste and a total lack of harmony with your environment. I’m all for anybody’s right to follow their own religion but things like this cross the line for me and have no place in my country. Leave graffiti to inner cities, not the Scottish countryside.

Still, I had a lovely week off and will definitely go back to Arran next year (if nothing else than to hopefully spot a Golden Eagle that apparently can be found on the island). If you want to see everything Scotland has to offer but can’t be bothered to drive 300 miles around the place to find out, then visit Arran, it’s got the lot!

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Le Weekend En Lyon, France

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The streets of LyonI’ve just had the pleasure of spending a long weekend with good friends and their entertaining children in Lyon, France. I wrote the last time I visited them about how my first holiday abroad was punctuated by spending a day waiting in Lyon bus station for another friend who’d forgotten his passport (unknown to us) and never made it (although he did a day or so later). As I discovered the last time I was there Lyon is a beautiful city with large parks, old and new sections and lovely weather – amongst many other things.

Despite the fact that my French gets worse every time I visit France and I come back promising myself I’ll do something about it (damnit, this time I will!!), it’s too easy as my friends speak fluent French – which isn’t surprising since one of them actually is French!

There’s always something happening in a place like Lyon and we spent Saturday afternoon attending “Les Invites” festival which was a most curious experience. We were greeted by the following scene:

Some guys in leather leashes

As I’m sure you can tell, there are a couple of guys (several more out of shot) being led along the street in leather leashes howling like monkeys. Clearly this was some sort of artistic statement (I was guessing it was something to do with the lack of individual freedom we have as individuals thanks to increasing government interference and control making us nothing more than animals in a zoo – or maybe I was reading too much into it). As you might expect they were being led towards a cage where they spent the rest of the day howling and frolicking around:

A cage of course

The quizzical looks on the faces of the passers-by says it all!

I had a really great time (well, it was actually “we” since my good lady was there too – although this is supposed to be “John’s Adventures” so I’ll continue the “it’s all about me theme”) and it was lovely to be in a warm, sunny climate. To see colours other than drab Yorkshire grey. To eat good food. To experience a culture that embraces sport and activity. To see friends I don’t get to see often enough!

Ah well, back to reality and miserable weather…

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The London Eye

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The London EyeI meant to mention that I had the pleasure of going on the London Eye (pictured right) the other weekend while I was down seeing Mamma Mia with friends.

One of the things I find sad about 21st century humans is how short-term their outlook is. The Egyptians built the pyramids which have stood for millenia and took generations to construct. The Romans left amazing temples and buildings throughout their empire that often took decades to build. I could go on with examples but the point is that nowadays if a building isn’t showing a return on investment within about 10 years it won’t get built. It’s sad and limits human achievements generally to those that bring financial rewards in the short term rather than something worthwhile for generations to come.

And so it brings me to the London Eye. I must say, it’s a pretty impressive piece of engineering. Anyone who found the industrial revolution interesting – with heavy machinery, precision engineering and so much power under control (you know, huge pistons moving effortlessly requiring enormous amounts of energy – that kind of thing) can’t help but be impressed by the London Eye. It’s like a giant, souped-up Ferris wheel that’s constantly in motion.

The views really are impressive (particularly on a clear day) and once you’re up top it is particularly high. As a bit of a techie and and an engineer I’m not sure if I was paying more attention to the view or the wheel itself as it slowly circled around with all its computer-controlled wizardry.

A view down the Thames from the London Eye

If you’re in the area it’s definitely something well worth checking out. I wouldn’t bother with a season ticket, but it’s something you should do once. I’m not convinced it’ll still be there in a thousand years time (unlike the Pyramids), but it’s a pretty impressive piece of kit nonetheless and showcases some of the technical capability of these near-sighted 21st century humans! They’re not all bad!

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A Weekend In Edinburgh

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I spent last weekend staying in a swanky hotel in Edinburgh (the Apex City Hotel to be precise) with friends. I’ve spent many a night out in Edinburgh over the years and until recently my brother lived there, but I’d never really been there as a tourist before.

The Edinburgh Royal MuseumWhen most English people tell me they’ve been to Scotland, invariably they’ve been to Edinburgh and nowhere else. I then use my stock lecture about Scotland having so much more to offer than the big city but I have to admit, it is a great city. I’m not much of a fan of cities (give me rolling hills any day) but Edinburgh has always been one of the cities that I actually like. It’s got beautiful architecture, history, shops, restaurants, a friendly atmosphere and a real buzz about the place. All without really being that big a place.

Armed with the Scotland Lonely Planet Guide we took in sights like the Royal Museum (right, pictured by my dodgy camera phone as I didn’t bring a proper camera), the Museum of Scotland (there’s an interesting exhibit in the basement of some giant robots – I’m sure they weren’t the first settlers in Scotland!), the Royal Mile and of course Princes Street (with plenty shopping).

We were going to go on one of the ghost walks but unfortunately the weather changed for the worse so we passed and I didn’t get to get scared out of my wits. What a shame! It was a fun weekend although over all too quickly. But it was strange being there and not seeing my brother – I’ll always think of him when I think of Edinburgh. Not that he’ll be complaining enjoying the sunshine in California while we battle the elements here! 😉

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Australia 2006

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My good lady and I took a dream-come-true trip to Australia and had an amazing time – scratching the surface of the area around Sydney. Here are just a few of the photos we took.