Month: February 2004

Pattaya, elephants, guns and cross dressers

patbay We arrive on the first stage of our tour of South East Asia, in Pattaya, where we are to be married.

Pattaya is 147km SE of Bangkok, and is Thailand’s most successful beach resort.

Most of the people I saw in Thailand, used mopeds and motor bikes as transport.

Travelling in this country, like most of Asia, is an exciting experience.

Sarah’s Dad drives this 4×4, which is easily the safest form of transport.

patroad The beach road and walking street, are the most “happening” parts of Pattaya.

We drive along the road, and enjoy the view out to Sea.

We drove up the coast to Jomptien beach to escape the crowds.

we have lunch at a beach side restaurant listening to the sound of the waves.

The steak here, was delicious.

goldbud We visited a monument to celebrate the kings birthday.

The Royal family are revered in Thailand, criticising them in public, will almost certainly end in violence or arrest !.

In the evening, we went around a few of the bars.

One of them, is semi famous for look alike singers.

The main highlight of the show, was Tina Turner and her backing singers.

elvis Although he was obviously Thai, “Elvis” really had the kings moves, and definitely got the crowd going.
At the end of the show, everyone got up dancing, and had a go at the Limbo. limbo1
limbo2 The girls were a lot more supple than us, but we had a go anyway.
Frank had only arrived that day, it was great to see him again.

He started working in Bangkok, and made his way to Pattaya to join us.

waterfront Along the beach, heading out of Pattaya,

I walked about 8 miles along the shore, until I came to this building.

Pattaya is well known as an adult playground.

A nearby gun club, gave me the opportunity to try my hand at shooting.

I fired a few practice shots with a .32 revolver before trying out some more exciting guns.

colt45 The colt 45 Model 1911 (so named as it had been designed in 1911).

It has heavier calibre bullets, that give a real kick when shooting.

The downside is, its less accurate that smaller calibre guns, and can fire less bullets between re-loading.

I went back the next day, to try a different gun.

The Berreta 92 (used in Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and just about everything since).

The smaller calibre rounds give less of a kick and are more accurate as you can see from this picture.

It can also hold a lot more bullets.

shen Sarah and I go out for the evening.

Here Sarah sits in an appropriately named Baat Taxi.

You get one circuit of beach road and 2nd road, for 10 Baat (about 15 pence).

When I first met Sarah, she had just returned from a trip to see her dad in Pattaya.

She told me enthusiastically about an Irish bar called Shenanigans, and how much she enjoyed it there.

Here 3 years later, we sit together, in the same bar.

The Beef and Guinness Pie was superb.

We drove out of Pattaya, to visit the Elephant village.

They actually have a special tower with stairs, to enable you to climb onto the elephant more easily.

elejs Sarah and I, on our elephant.
The Elephant master normally sits on the Elephants neck.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, he had to answer a call of nature.

For 10 minutes, Frank was convoyed around the forest at the whim of the Elephant, as it searched the forest for food !.

elewater Part of the trek, took us through deep water.
My favourite animals, after Elephants, are Larr Gibbons (I first saw them at the Welsh Mountain Zoo.)

They are so well balanced, that when they walk, they have to hold their arms above their shoulders.

Imagine my delight when we got to actually meet them in the forest.

lg2 As we were led on a trek through the jungle, by our guide, one of the Gibbons (which were really friendly) hitched a ride with Sarah.

Our guide showed us different types of plants, to cure upset stomachs and other ailments.

Especially interesting was “shy” grass, which closes, when its touched.

Me on a tropical rope bridge, as we trekked through the jungle.

It was here, that for no particular reason I learned how to tell real silk from imitation.

If you burn a small piece of it, nylon and the like will shrivel, where silk will turn to Ash.

raft Although this looks like a lakeside bar, its actually a raft, which we took across the lake.

We drank beer during the crossing and Sarah gave the Gibbons some Cherry aid.

Many people know of my interest in bushcraft.

Here we visit a large bamboo shelter.

When I say large, a hundred people could congregate in it, with ease.

construction Our guide shows us the construction of the shelter.

Flat pieces of bamboo are woven together to make the walls, which are amazingly robust.

We are driven back to the centre for lunch, in an ox cart.

25 mph doesn’t sound like much, but in a vehicle with no suspension, and wooden wheels, it was exhilarating.

storm The night before we flew out to Saigon, the worst storm I had ever seen, was brewing.

The locals must be used to it, as Ray just laughed.

Three days on the Island of Koh Chang.

landing After flying from bangkok airport we landed at Trat airport on the first leg of our journey to Koh Chang.

The flight was very comfortable and refreshments onboard were a lot nicer than I had expected.

We were driven to the airport “terminal” by jeep and then jumped in a minibus (300 THB) for the rest of the journey to Koh Chang.

I really like the elephants made from bushes that adorned the runway.

Our minibus stopped at the ferry port Ao Thammachat.

Typically, nobody knew when the boat was going to sail, so we just stood around waiting.

After a while, seemingly because someone in charge felt like it our ferry left port.

One of the cars we lodged quite near the back of the ferry and frank commented that we could be embarking on a 2nd Herald of free enterprise.

We get our first glimpse of Koh Chang at Ao Sup Pa Rod – Pineapple Bay in English.

I had been told there was a restaurant near the port where you could catch your own fish. Unfortunately, we didn’t hang around at this end and I never got chance to visit it.

hotelview We arrive at White Sands Beach and check into our hotel, the Alina Grande.

Located on the first floor, we had this spectacular view.

One evening when there was a party going on downstairs Frank and I sat out on this beautiful balcony.

It was late afternoon when we arrived, so we relaxed around the hotel and then went out for the evening.

I had researched the trip extensively and all of the web guides recommended having dinner on the beach.

There were loads of restaurant to choose from. In the end we couldn’t decide so just picked one at random, sat down and got stuck into some beers.

The catching up of old times began in earnest.

beachdinner1 The food when it arrived, was superb.

I had Chicken and beef, Frank had something Thai.

I thought the chefs looked pretty cool with there skirts on (not sure I would have had the courage to wear one though).

They served Fish from this traditional boat.

The next day, we go for a wander along the beach. beachfront
bud As we wandered further I saw this sign.

It was good to have my old friend Frank around, and the line about should always have a buddy, seemed poignant at that moment.

We continue along the beach which really was spectacular.

An area on the beach had 2 trees close together and a scantily clad western girl lay sunbathing there, so that everyone had to walk around here.

Frank and I commented that even in the worlds most beautiful places, there’s always a spanner around and I’m not talking about one in a workshop.

huts The beaches obviously circles the island with roads and resorts.

Inland a tropical rainforest which reaches quite high altitudes is illustrated in this picture.

We were staying in a hotel across the road from the beach. More expensive hotels were actually on the beach and the cheapest form of accommodation were huts.

The nightly cost of the huts varied with the facilities available.

We walked as far up the beach as possible, before reaching a rocky outcrop.

It was the most peaceful part of the beach.

bfhostel We found this voodoo theme’d hotel (a collection of huts in actual fact).

At high tide, it was just a few metres from the water.

Each room/hut had a balcony with a hammock hung up on it.

It had more character than any acclamation I saw on the island (although I’m not sure how comfortable it would have been to stay in).

Frank spots a jelly fish.

Were British in the end, and knocking 40 weren’t exactly going to put on a pair of speedo’s.

table It was a warm day and we visited this small cafe on a quieter part of the beach.

A couple of beers and the usual chat about family and stuff like that.

Listening to the waves splash against the shore was a relaxing experience I don’t get to enjoy very often.

As we sit, the Sun heads towards the horizon and the end of another beautiful day.

In the evening, we go out for a Curry and then visited a Bar.

There were girls in the bar, trying to strike up a conversation and worse.

Not really my thing. The sort of lead girl, asked me if I wanted to play pool. I knew from experience, it would be simpler to put all of my money into an envelope and hand it to her.

We started playing connect 4. I won the first game, then I was shocked to see that she had won the 2nd game.

She quickly realised that I was surprised and in the next few games, she played really badly.

connect4 I was convinced that she was deliberately losing. Without being judgemental, I am a 20 year experienced engineer and she a bar girl. How could she possibly beat me ?.

After a quick discussion with Frank, I bet her 400 Batt, that she couldn’t beat me.

She looked a little cautious. I explained that if I won, she wouldn’t have to give me anything and that Frank would hold the money while we played.

Her expression changed. Although I’ve never seen it, I imagine, as an assassin loads a sniper rifle, he has a similar expression to the one she had.

In less than 8 moves, she had beaten me.

Chatting on the way home, the ever wise Frank explains – There are literally hundreds of thousands of Bar girls in Thailand. They don’t usually receive much of an education, but connect 4 requires intelligence.

With that number of girls, statistically, many of them could be scientists or Dr’s. I think you’ve just been beaten by one of them.

In many cases their family’s don’t know what they do, so I didn’t take any pictures.

The following day we decided to get out and explore some more of the Island. walk2
walk5 Wanted to get a jeep but we had a limited budget and costs on the Island were a lot higher than Bangkok.

We decided to wander along the coastal road, as it gave the best views of the Ocean.

There were a number of small Island just of the coast of Koh Chang.

It was possible to go on a boat trip and visit some of the Island.

From here we could see people canoeing to the Island. This must have been smart, as you would effectively have the whole island to yourself.

We stopped here for a can of coke and then continued on our way.

walk3 We left the road and started to trek through the Jungle (views weren’t as nice, but the experience was much more pleasant)

As we trekked we crossed various sort of vegetation and landscape.

At times there was no path as such and we just walked through fields like this one. walk4
walk1 On other occasions we walked through the jungle undergrowth.
We arrive at Bang Bao. A small town literally on legs.

Shops, restaurants bars all connected by wooden walkway.

I tried not to look down at the water, as rubbish was simply thrown down there and taken out with the tide

There were mattresses, nappy’s and all sorts of things there.

waterhuts Further away, this hotel was made up of a collection of stilted huts connected by a walkway.

I wish we had more time there, I would love to have stayed in one of these.

The lighthouse at Bang Bao.

The colour of the ocean, the colour of the sky and the salt air all combined for one of life’s special moments.

mbus The following day, back to Bangkok. We decided to save money and travel by minibus.

Frank calculates that a 5 hour journey to Pattaya a stopover there and then 2 hours back to Bangkok will work.

The minibus was at least air conditioned, but confusion about who was traveling and who wasn’t made it leave 90 minutes late.

Still we met some pretty cool guys from the North-east of England and had a good chat with them on the way.

The minibus rolls onto the ferry.

We get out and sit on the viewing platform.

A last look at Koh Chang.

pattraffic I had visited Pattaya before and spent 9 days there (one of the happiest times of my life).

This was a bit different. We weren’t staying in the Woodlands this time.

We wandered around looking for somewhere cheap and ended up in some flop house called the Carlton.

Never mind it had a bath so I got cleaned up; got some sleep and we headed out for a couple of drinks.

I got this action shot of the Ocean road at night.

I had walked down the famous walking street on my previous visit during the daytime.

I had read that the place came alive at night and that was certainly true.

The usual fayre of restaurants/takeaways selling just about every type of cuisine, souvenir stalls of every kind, the usual adult entertainment and of course a couple of Irish bars which we made straight for.

football While walking along the street we saw this young boy who had spectacular football and balance skills.

He immediately caught everyone’s eye. I quickly composed myself as I have seen pickpocket distractions like this in other countries before.

I shouldn’t have worried, he had a sign saying he needed money to start a foot balling career (I thought it only took talent ?) and asked for donations.

Since his “act” was pretty good, we put 20 bat in his bucket.

I fulfilled a personal ambition by visiting a bar that had live Thai Boxing.

Neither competitor appeared to be fighting for freedom or the love of a good woman, if you know what I mean.

That said it was entertaining. At the end of the match, their “trainer” brought the victor out and we were invited to tip him.

Minutes later he returned with the loser expecting the same treatment. My western culture has a problem with rewarding failure in this way.

I decided that since the man had been beaten like a gong for my entertainment he deserved something.

The following day we caught the bus back to Bangkok.


I fly back to Bangkok to catch up with Frank in 2008.

ada Having promised to go and see my old mate Frank at his new home in Bangkok for nearly 2 years, I was feeling quite guilty.

But that doesn’t achieve anything. so I fired up Expedia and booked a flight with Ethihad and stopped over in Abu Dhabi airport.

Bangkok traditional name is Krunk Thep or city of Angels.

Its short for Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit – the longest place name in the world.

Frank and Na met me at the airport, and we headed towards the hotel that I had booked for the first night (the excellent Siam Society hotel and resort).

I had forgotten the hotel documentation and even with Na’s help we were unable to find it the first time.

We went back to Frank and Na’s and they showed me around their condo. Collected the info on line and we took a taxi to the hotel, checked in and then headed for Town.

A had seen quite a lot of Bangkok, on my 4 previous trips there, but Frank found some things I hadn’t seen, and we wandered around.

The Baiyoke Sky tower II is the highest building in the Kingdom of Thailand.

tuktuk There were some interesting (and some strange) things inside the tower, which is also a hotel.

I realised just how much living in Thailand had changed Frank.

I wanted to be photographed driving this tuck tuck. I asked Frank if we needed to anyone’s permission, and he just said get in it and ill take the picture.

He certainly has become a lot more practical and direct while living in Thailand.

On the 84th floor is a spectacular revolving roof deck, with 360 degree views of Bangkok.

It was from this vantage point, that you could really see just how much smog there is in Bangkok.

It was quite amazing to see the sprawling city.

ksroad One place I have always put of visiting, is Khao San (pronounced Kow-San) road.

Years ago, it was a haven for travellers and backpackers, but today is just a tacky collection of hair dying and fortune tellers.

You can buy fake student cards and even University degree’s here.

It was nice to pop into an Irish bar and have a pint, but aside from that, I didn’t see anything that made me want to ever go back.

As we walked along, Frank pointed out this Police vehicle, which in the UK would be called a meat wagon.

Apparently, criminals are “collected” off the street and packed into this thing in the baking evening heat.

The human rights of criminals, don’t seem to be a high priority in Thailand.

barge These enormous barges travel up and down the Chao Phraya river each day.

In some cases a relatively small boat could tow 6 or 7 of these things.

We went on a boat trip. One of the touts at the waterfront tried to over charge us. Frank was all over it.

His point was I think a fair one. The normal price for the boat trip is 20p. Just because you have money, why should you pay £2.

We wandered around some more (I’ve seen most of the sites of Bangkok, so today I just wanted to walk around and just enjoy being there).

We jumped on the skytrain. I took this picture, as it captures several of the things that are synonymous with Bangkok.

On the left top, a superb building left unfinished after the problems with the Asian markets a few years ago.

On the right, some traditional buildings and loads of trees and vegetation.

On the left bottom, some old ramshackle buildings where the locals live in “budget” accommodation.

tl In the evening, we went to an Irish Bar and I met Franks friend Matt and his lovely girlfriend Anne.

Later in the evening we had chicken and rice known locally as khao pad gai which a grew to love during the trip.

Frank and I left for Koh Chang the following day.

On the evening that we returned to Bangkok, there was some kind of Buddhist ceremony taking place.

There is a temple right next to the condo and Ann and Na wanted to visit it.

We waited outside, and were presented with this strange scene.

A series of mechanical monks (basically clothing dummy’s with traditional robes put on them) rotate around on a revolving platform, you take turns at throwing money in the bowls they are holding.

They reminded me of something out of Dr Who.

As all the bars were closed, we spent the evening wandering around the local area.

ele Matt had a day of work the following day, and we all decided to go out. We drove around the city in style, in his car (watch a video of driving in Bangkok).

Our first stop, was the Erawan Museum. Built by Lek Viriyaphant a wealthy Thai eccentric, who had also been responsible for the Sanctuary of truths which I had seen whilst walking along the coast of Pattaya.

The huge bronze sculpture modelled on Airavata, the heavenly elephant of Hindu mythology, stands on a base pedestal.

The pedestal is decorated with millions of tiny tiles enamelled in the fashion of Thai Benjarong ceramics.

The museum holds a priceless collection of Thai art and Craft and is modelled on Airavata, the heavenly elephant of Hindu mythology.

Tours of the museum start in the lower level of the pedestal, which houses the oldest artefacts.

Unfortunately now photographs were permitted in the lower level.

The upper level of the pedestal is dominated by an elaborate double staircase, also decorated in Benjarong porcelain.

The structure is surrounded by tranquil gardens, waterfalls and statues.

whole are is considered very lucky by local Thai people (most of the people in the museum were Thai, there were very few American, Japanese or British tourists, and those that were weren’t in large groups).

It is rumoured that a girl went here and prayed, and a few minutes later, she bought a lottery ticket that made her a millionaire.

Not sure if that’s true, but lottery ticket salesmen didn’t seem in a hurry to dispel it.

spoons A close up of the decoration of the staircase shows these oriental spoons and bowls put to good effect.

From here, its possible to walk up a spiral staircase in one of the Elephants legs and go higher into the structure.

In a sort of anti chamber with beautifully made wood panelling.

A window at the side, shows some of the gardens and fountains surrounding the statue (and provides a pretty good centre piece for a picture of the lovely Na).

top Further up the stairs, was this celestial altar with Buddha’s and religious artefacts.

With its light blue and gold decorated walls following the contour of the elephant, the chapel has a rather ethereal feel.

Off the temples I have visited around the world this was one of the most relaxing, and I lingered a while in there once I had seen everything.

After the elephant museum, we went to see the ancient city or as its know locally Mauang Boran.

It houses a collection of the Thailand’s most significant historical sites, buildings and structures.

Some of the structures some are actual size, but others have been scaled down to a 3rd of their original size.

This room was part of a re-construction of an entire Thai village.

bike The ancient City is more than 200 acres in size.

We travelled around in Matt’s car, but many people toured it by bicycle.

It is constructed in the shape of Thailand. Each of the structures, is positioned in the park relative to where the original structure resides in Thailand.

One of the 109 sites represented here, the Pavilion of enlightenment. poe1
poe2 Of all the amazing buildings this was my personal favourite.
It’s recommended to spend a whole day there.

We only hung around for a couple of hours, so I never got to research the historical significance of the site.

You will just have to take my word for how astounding it was to be there.

sala Sala of Ramayana.
A traditional Thai house village house. tradhouse
deer One of the wild deer that live in the Ancient City.

The largest outdoor museum in the world, it felt all the more authentic, to have animals like this, just wandering around.

The top of the temple provides this spectacular view of the Ancient City.

In 1962, following a serious dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership of the temple, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that it belonged to Cambodia.

temple This building was probably the most spectacular in the whole park.

I never actually found out what it was called, so if your reading this and you know, please email me.

The floating village.

This isn’t actually a reconstruction, the original buildings were dismantled, moved here and then re-constructed in meticulous detail.

I really enjoyed being in the Ancient city. I love to explore, and it was like being able to explore an entire country and all its history in an afternoon.

lunchfvillage We decide to take some refreshments.

Na has some sort of drink in a coco nut.

Just like in a real floating market, there were traders, plying their wares from boats (although these were more likely to be souvenirs than rice or meat). fvillage2
seaside We left the ancient city, and went to visit Bangkok Pier.

I had never actually thought about it before, be Bangkok, is right next to the sea.

The place is owned by the Army (the Thai army have all sorts of assets and a General for example, can run several businesses whilst working for the government).

The main drive up to the Pier had the largest collection of Seagulls I had ever seen in 1 place.

You were able to buy food to feed them, but there were literally thousands of them, flying around in a circle to keep coming back, to get more food.

boat On the last afternoon before my flight home and what had been a superb trip.#

Frank and I take a boat into town; the same boat that Frank normally takes to work in the morning.

In my minds eye, I had this idea of a serene relaxing trip along the water.

It didn’t happen that way. They pull up plastic Tarps on each side of the boat, so you cant see out.

The engine is dirty and the gearbox long past it sell by date, so the screaming and clattering of the engine and the pungent smell of fuel in my nostrils are my main memories of the trip.

We get off the boat and just wander around looking at things.

We eat an enormous fried Chicken meal in one of the shopping centres that would feed 10 people and cost next to nothing.

We wander through a market. The stench of rotten meat came close to reuniting me with said meal for 10.

We continue walking and Frank shows me this amazing scene just near his condo.

To the left of the picture, a banana tree is literally growing out of the pavement.

A brilliant trip, I would like to thank Na, Frank Anne and Matt for making me so welcome and I promise i’ll be back soon.


Exploring the Ancient City of Machu Picchu.

memp Having completed the Inca Trail, had a shower, and spent the night in a comfortable bed, we are given a whole day, to explore the amazing Lost City of Machu Picchu.
The train carrying day trippers, arrives around 10am.Our Guide suggests getting the early bus, so that we can get there, when its practically deserted.

I was quite looking forward to a lie in, but adventure called.

It was dark as we queue ‘d to get on the bus from Aguas Calientes.

arrival You can see just how quiet it was, when we arrived.Yale professor Hiram Bingham discovered the ruins buried beneath dense undergrowth in 1911.

The first sight of Machu Picchu is almost magical. The temples, fields, terraces, and baths appear to be part of the hillside itself.

Separated into three areas – agricultural, urban, and religious – the structures are arranged so that the function of the buildings matches the form of their surroundings.

As we look across the valley, I see the famous Putucusi (2,600m). I prefer its local name, “happy mountain”.Its shape reminded me of earlier in the trip when we visited Coricancha.

The Incas had been forced into Roman Catholicism, and painted religious pictures with women with strange shaped dresses.

These were actually the shape of mountains like this one, which the Inca’s originally worshipped.

sunrise The Sunrise of Machu Picchu.I have always found anything involving the Sun rising/setting over anything famous, to be a let down. This was different.

As I took this picture, a person with a bald head was standing nearby, and the Sun shining of his head, was blinding.

The Temple of the Condor is ingeniously created from a natural rock formation resembling the outspread wings of a condor in flight.On the floor of the temple is this rock carved in the shape of the condor’s head and neck feathers.

Historians speculate that the head of the condor was used as a sacrificial altar.

tomb The Royal Tomb.A mummy was found under here.
Our guide explained that a double doorway like this (with an inner and outer doorway) was an indicator, that the person who lived here was of significant importance. doubledoor
round2 The Temple of the Sun (on the right) and surrounding buildings, showing the tongue and groove construction used by the Inca’s.
The temple of the Sun is one of the most recognised ruins in Machu Picchu.It was explained to me, but I never completely understood, why it was round. round1
botgarden Botanical Garden.A modern and not particularly inspiring selection of plants in a moderate sized flowerbed.

It was still nice to some of the local flowers we had passed on the Inca Trail.

Central Plaza, a large grassy field that separates the Sacred Plaza and Intiwatana from the more commonplace areas on the far side. building2
building1 The Sacred Plaza.You can see the array of different types of building in this shot.

It sort of captures this diversity shapes within Machu Picchu.

Next to the Principal Temple is the Temple of Three Windows, named by Hiram Bingham for its three identical, trapezoidal windows that open into the main plaza. 3windows
goodwall The Principal Temple inside the Sacred Plaza is an example of excellent Inca stonemasonry, with its large stone blocks polished smooth and joined perfectly.The Inca used no mortar to hold their walls in place; they relied upon precisely cut stones, geometry, and female and male joints in the corners and foundations.
Their best-built structures withstand the passing of centuries, and even multiple earthquakes, without suffering.The jumbling of the stones in one corner is due to the settling of the earth over the years, and not to any defect in construction. badwall
condor With my camera on maximum zoom, I get this (admittedly small) picture of a Condor, flying over Machu Picchu.
The Centrepiece of Machu Picchu. Intiwatana or “hitching post of the sun” is a carved rock pillar whose four corners are oriented toward the four cardinal points.The Inca were accomplished astronomers, and used the angles of the pillar to predict the solstices.

The Intiwatana at Machu Picchu is the only one of its kind not lopped off by the Spanish conquerors, who made a point of destroying all implements of Inca religion

During the filming of a beer advert, a crane, dropped a 1000lb weight onto it, and it was damaged (not badly, but this is a priceless relic).

Its now cordoned off, with rope, and you aren’t allowed to touch it. This is a shame, as many people believe it connects heaven and earth.

smallmountain In the background Huayna Picchu or little peak.Its possible to climb up here (it takes an hour to the top) and get spectacular views of Machu Picchu.

Problem is, only a certain number are allowed to do it, and like a nightclub, once a certain number are there, everybody has to wait until someone comes out.

This means you can end up standing there for ages doing nothing.

At the bottom of the picture is a small rock, with is said to be an exact replica of the mountain (not sure how much I believe that).

Our guide Carlos (no, this man doesn’t need the toilet).The prison complex stands directly behind the temple, and is comprised of human-sized niches and an underground maze of dungeons.

According to historical chronicles that documented similar Inca prison sites, an accused citizen would be shackled into the niches for up to 3 days to await the deliberation of his fate.

He could be put to death for such sins as laziness, lust, or theft. Carlos wasn’t guilty of any these, so we let him out after a few minutes of laughing.

earthstone At the far end of Machu Picchu is the Sacred Rock, an object common to every Inca village.Many people today feel that Machu Picchu is one of the Earth’s magnetic focal points, and carries an inherent spiritual or metaphysical power.

Indeed, it is difficult to sit at the edge of the Sacred Plaza overlooking the Urubamba River below, the stone temples and plazas to the front, and the mountain peaks of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu to the left and right, and not feel the magic.

I was too tired to feel an “energy” I just wanted to sit down.

After a couple of hours, we decide to wander back to Aguas Calientes.Danny’s enlightened face, illustrates that the morning had been enlightening.

The road used by the bus downhill zigs and zags, but the path, runs in a straight line through a series of forests.

One of our group decided to travel on the coach. We joked about how funny it would be if he passed us on the way.

At that exact moment, he did.

river As we continue along the road, we see this wild river.If you look carefully, you can see a series of planks held in place with rocks, used as a bridge.

As an engineer, I am comfortable with improvisation, but I wouldn’t have trusted my life, to that construction.

To the right of the track, this VW camper van had come off the road some years before.We couldn’t find out any details, I just remember hoping that nobody was hurt. vw
town The main street of Aguas Calientes, where the train from Cusco cuts through the centre of the City.The girls did some more shopping, and Dan and I grabbed a table and relaxed with a couple of drinks (and no food).
I walked back up the hill to our hotel, to get our stuff and get the train on the first leg of our journey home.I saw this poor guy pushing these heavy gas bottles up the enormous hill, in the centre of town.On his back, he wears a bin liner as a coat.

Not for the first time, I am faced with a cultural dilemma.

Should he envy me, because I come from a place with free hospitals, centrally heated houses and too him, endless comfort ?.

Should I envy him for living in one of the most beautiful places in the world ?.

I think in quality of life terms, we should all strive to better ourselves, but celebrate what we have.


I visit Cusco in Peru, and see some of the ruins in the nearby areas.

flight Embarking on a trip to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, part of my trip takes me from Lima to Cusco.

The flight takes us over the Andes’, and as advised by our guide, we all get seats on the left hand side.

I find myself sat next to a newlywed Japanese couple, who cant keep there hands of each other.

The pictures of the mountains bellow were spectacular.

We arrive at the airport and are picked up by our driver and local guide, Wilfredo.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, and means literally navel or center, to signify it as the center of the Empire.

All the traffic police seemed to be women in thigh length boots !.

hotel We are driven to our hotel, where we get cleaned up, have a couple of hours free time, and then start a tour of Cusco

Our hotel had a beautiful courtyard where I sat with a bottle of coke.

Coricancha or temple of the sun was built during the reign of the Inca Pachacutec to honour Tawantinsuyos’ most important divinity and served as astronomical observatory .

At the summer solstice, sunlight reflected into a niche in the wall where only the Inca were permitted to sit.

qorsquare The walls floors and alters were originally covered with gold.

Much of the wealth was removed to pay ransom for the captive Inca ruler Atahualpa at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Atahualpa was later murdered and Francisco Pizarro awarded the site to his brother Juan.

Upon Juan’s death, the structure passed to the Dominicans, who began to construct the church of Santo Domingo, using stones from the temple.

Many of the pictures show woman in skirts, which resemble high mountains (the people were forced to pretend to convert to Catholicism, but secretly held on to there own religion). qorroom
qorcorr An ingenious restoration to recover both buildings after the 1953 earthquake lets you see how the church was built on and around the walls and chambers of the temple.

On the left, the walls of an Inca Temple, on the right, the wall of a Roman Catholic Church.

The Cathedral dominates the north-east side of the Plaza de Armas (main square) and sits directly over the foundations of the Inca Viracocha’s palace.

The Cathedral took 100 years to construct and inside there is an amazing Basilica, and more than 400 paintings.

One of the paintings is of the Last Supper by Marcos Zapata showing Christ and the Apostles about to dine on guinea-pig, washed down with a glass of chicha!.

It was one of my favourite sight’s in Cusco, but you weren’t allowed to take photo’s inside, which was disappointing.

mesac We didn’t spend very much time at Sacsayhuamán, probably the most known tourist sight in Cusco.

The whole area was made of large walls (they only go up so high, as the top rocks were removed by the Spaniards for building).

It is noted for an extensive system of underground passages known as chincanas which connect the fortress to other Inca ruins within Cusco.

Several people have died after becoming lost while seeking a supposed treasure buried along the passages.

This has led the city of Cusco to block off the main entrance to the chincanas in Sacsayhuamán.

Still in Sacsayhuamán we were asked to look closely at this rock, which apparently resembled a Condor or Llama or something.

I couldn’t see a thing.

qenqo We visit another site called Qenqo.

Until 1934, the whole are was covered beneath 3 meters of earth.

On the right is the Condor monolith stone which in ancient times cast the shadow of a Condor onto the rocks behind it.

We head underground, and see this amazing chamber.

In the middle is a carved stone emplacement, which is either a throne or alter.

Some children were around selling mint leaves. I bought some (saved me picking it myself) and it really did clear my nostrils.

I was still suffering with AMS at this point, and at times appeared to stagger around, to the amusement of the other people on the trip.

tambomachay The Tambomachay fountains

I tried and tried, but I couldn’t get a clear shot of the fountain, without someone in it.

One the way back, I bought a warm hat for the trip from some stall holders.

An interesting thing about Cusco, is that traders near to tourist sites, are actually cheaper than shops in the main square.

This is the opposite of my experience in most tourist places around the world.

I also bought a meditation blanket, which Ash found hilarious.

Back to our hotel, for a quick shower and a rest, and then out for the evening.

We visit a nearby Irish bar, Dan quickly becomes a regular as we discuss professional ethics (“would you write the software for landmine’s, for 10 times your salary” etc).

Later we wander around the square, and visit a pretty good pub, called the Cross Keys. Only problem is, they didn’t do food, and we were hungry.

We find a “Restaurant” offering Steak and Chips for around a fiver and sit down. A decision I am happy to forget.

campaniadejesus The following day was free time. In reality, we were at 3400m and the main thing was just to get used to the altitude and acclimatize.

Many people who do similar trips, visit Colca Canyon and go white water rafting. This was a much shorter trip.

I wander around the square a couple of times, and to be honest, wonder what I am going to do with the rest of the day.

In the main square, in addition to the Cathedral was the Campania de Jesus.

If you look to the right of the Church, you can see messages, “drawn” into the hills around Cusco (Cusco is completely circled by hills and mountains).

The Plaza de Armas or main square.

In ancient times it was called Huacaypata. Some say this means “The Warriors Square” others that it means “The Place of Tears” or “Weeping Square”.

Anyway, there were plenty of latter day warriors out that day, celebrating something.

Not sure what, but a video here, shows what it was like.

breakfast Just in the nick of time, I run into the girls, and we have some breakfast/11’s’s at a cafe overlooking the square.
Having hooked up with the girls, we decide to continue exploring.

We head out of the square, and through the back streets and squares, to the place referred to by the locals as “up the hill”.

stairway Although the City is created on the ground in the shape of a Puma, its contours are more of a stadium or bowl shape.

I guess somebody has to walk up these stairs, each evening after work.

I am glad its not me !.

I found a small park, and photographed the Town and buildings bellow through the tree’s. tree's

These 2 fine ladies pose in traditional dress with Llamas.

They only wanted about 50p, to be photographed and I thought it was well worth it.

Back at ground level, we wander out of the square to the place where the local villagers live etc.

A bit more modest than the touristy area.

dentist I had seen a sign like this before in Nepal.

Some of the marketing techniques, used by local dentists, really are rather sinister.

In the end though, I was walking around with girls, and it wasn’t going to be long before we visited some kind of shop.

Between us, we bought most of the shop, from this friendly and helpful woman.

ash Ashima tries on this Alpaca wool jumper.

That isn’t a twinkle in her eye, she is wearing a money belt.

Although our guide didn’t know much about the town/nightlife around Cusco, my friend Amanda had been there 6 weeks before, and had all the inside info (she had actually been staying in the same hotel as we were).

We wander down this alleyway (which I was able to photograph, as my new camera has adjustable shutter speeds).

jacks Amanda had recommended Jacks, “up the hill”.

Everyone came with me, and we had dinner there.

I really liked the place, and wished I could have visited it again.

There was another restaurant called Fallen Angel, that I really wish I had visited.

The following day, we drive out, and visit Olantay tambo.

Right next to the modern town, that sells walking sticks and Mars bars, is the site of this ancient ruin.

The shape is said to resemble a llama.

It was my first sight of classical Inca terraces (apart from a scene in Halo 2).

They are used for farming.

olywalkway The Sun temple.

Like many of the other ruins in the area, the enormous rocks, are so well carved, that its impossible to slide a piece of paper in between the joins.

The stone used to build this temple came from high up a mountain on the other side of the Urubambo river.

It would be a feat just to move this rock, let alone, carve and position it to withstand earthquakes.

olypath Having seen the temple, we see a path that leads along a mountain side, right out of Indian Jones

The mountain in the background, contains a sort of warehouse carved into the rocks, Petra style.

Apparently the temperature and humidity there are perfect for storing grain.

Oliver and Jess get married in Vegas. Gambling, drinking and horrendous shirts.

oljess1 I travel to the amazing city of Las Vegas in the United States, to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Oliver and his (now) lovely wife Jessica.It’s taken a little while to get this page done. I would like to thank Sarah Williams for providing the photographs, as I didn’t have a camera with me on the trip.
We stayed in the famous Riviera hotel.It was the hotel used in the film Casino.Like all the hotels in Vegas, all its facilities were open 24hrs a day. riv
arrdrink Like most international trips, it was about 24hrs door to door.Upon arrival, it was important to drink lots of water, and get some rest…But we didn’t !.

We went straight out to a bar, and stayed up for another 10 hours, drinking into the night (this would set the theme for the entire holiday).

At the back of this picture, is Martin. He was quiet and laid back throughout most of the trip.

One night, we visited a night club (I was a bit nervous going through a metal detector !), and he came to life, we couldn’t keep him off the dance floor !

The only truly awful thing about the trip, was my clothes !.I have to confess, that for several months during 1998, I owned and wore THIS shirt !.Oliver and Jess had organised the trip, when I arrived, I found that I would be sharing a room with John Davis (left) who Oliver worked with in London.

He was a cracking bloke, and we had loads of laughs throughout the week.

On the right, Matt, was there with his girlfriend Fiona.

sarahnicky Most of the people on the trip were in couples and John and I frequently had knocks on our door, and invitations for a pint, whilst wives/partners watched the tv etc.Nicky and Sarah, lived in a shared house in the centre of Manchester. On nights when everyone went out “coupling”, we all went out together.We all went to see a comedian and wondered why table next to the stage was free, but thought nothing of it.

The comedian came on stage, realised we were Brit’s, and used us as a foil, for the rest of his act !. Painfully embarrassing.

Also on the trip was Scott, one of Oliver’s oldest and closest friends.It was a pleasure to meet him, as Oliver had told me lots about him.He came with his then girl friend (and now wife with 2 children) Victoria, who was from Canada.

On one occasion, during an evening out, I was telling everyone about a really famous film mistake in a James bond film made in Las Vegas (a red car is jacked up onto its right hand wheels to enable it to drive through an alley. When it comes out of the other side, its on its left hand wheels !)

The next day, amazingly, it was on the television, and everyone saw it ! (how strange is that ?)

dive In the daytime, we wandered around the “strip” there were some amazing things to see (The mirage hotel has an underground zoo with white tigers.There was also an amazing water show, in the man made lake in front of the Belagio (featured extensively in oceans 11, it had only just been built at the time.This was one of the many amazing eateries we found there, based on a submarine, it was owned and built by Steven Spielberg.
Many of the hotels were enormous.The Venetian, and the Paris, have since been completed, but were still being built whilst we were there (at the time, the 5000 room MGM Grand, was the largest hotel in the world.

The New York New York, had a theme park complete with roller coaster on the roof.

Of special interest, was the treasure Island hotel, which featured a pirate show, every hour.

treasure2 There was all sorts of activity, with people swinging from ship to ship, sword fights and stuff like that.You can see how popular it was, by the backs of peoples heads in this picture.
Once again, a truly gruesome shirt, worn by me.When wearing it, people looked at me as though I should be picking cotton !.

The food in Vegas was superb, with buffets costing the equivalent of about £3, and you got all you could eat with up to 300 different dishes, from Thai Green curry, to pancakes.

My favourite food here, was steak, which was delicious, and cost next to nothing.

We sit down for the evening, at a steakhouse inside the hotel.

On my right, is Oliver’s excellent uncle Pete, who was a great laugh, throughout the whole trip.

food2 Just to show the size of the portions, this rack of ribs, is too big for the plate, and cost a few pounds.The steak I normally ate, was the thickness of a 20 cigarette packet and 8 inches in diameter for £5.

They take customer service very seriously in that country, and it was a delight to be looked after so well.

You wouldn’t go to Egypt, without riding a camel.Sarah gets started on the slot machines.

They even provided plastic cups for storing coins.

gambling2 Oliver puts a few “bucks” onto the roulette table.I am not a massive fan of gambling, so I set myself a budget of £30 (which I lost in about 15 minutes !).
Oliver’s brother Dale on the slot machines.We found out that the longer you gamble on a machine or table, the more perks you get.

If you played the slot machines for long enough, you would get drinks, cigarette, and even sandwiches (which sometimes cost more than the total you had “lost” to the slot machine).

hen The night of the stag and hen Party.Unfortunately, these are Sarah’s pictures, and so only feature the Hen do

The girl on the right, is Matt’s girlfriend Fiona.

They went to see a Jazz band at the amazing Bellagio hotel. jesshen1
jesshen2 Here, hearing of her impending marriage, the lead singer of the band gives Jess some “attention”.
The stretch limo “thing” just had to be done !.We were picked up from outside our hotel, and driven to the New York, New York hotel further up the strip, for the wedding ceremony. stretch
jess The bride, resplendent in her beautiful wedding gown.
Oliver is my friend.He has always had a bit of a cynical edge to him (as most of my friends do, which perhaps says something about me !).

I have seen Oliver happy many times, although usually, this is because of a particularly good kebab, or the first pint of a Friday night.

On this occasion, he really was happy and contented, and I knew that they would be happy together.

Jessica’s sister Andrea was her maid of honour, and Scott was Oliver’s best man.

wedding The next day, Jessica’s family hosted a farewell Barbeque for the visiting UK guests.At first I expected to see Jessica’s step father operating the grill, and Jessica’s mum putting the burgers onto the buns

However being Americans (and thinking a bit bigger than everyone else), it was actually cooked and served by outside caterers in a holiday apartment that belonged to a friend of theirs.

It was nothing short of spectacular.

We flew home the following day, and it snowed in Las Vegas for the first time in 14 years.

Oliver and Jess now live in Chicago.

I remember the young mouthy engineer from IBM, and I knew then he would amount to great things.

I have had many chances to go back to Las Vegas, but I never will, I wouldn’t want to spoil the memory of such a special trip.

Visit to the 100 mile an hour city and a stay at the Waldorf Astoria (1/2)

wa Sarah and I set of for the city that never sleeps, New York.We were ready to visit New York, on several occasions, waiting for the right deal.We got a 3 night trip to New York, flying from Manchester and staying at the Waldorf Astoria.
The Waldorf harks back to a different time in history.It was a lot like in the film Titanic, when you see how the people in first class are treated. wafoyer2
wafoyer1 The lobby bar/restaurant, is one of the most famous sights in New York.When I visit a City, I normally make a list of all the places I want to see.This was the first trip where one of those places was actually the hotel where I was staying.
Our room was very comfortable and stylish.It featured a walk in wardrobe, Stereo television, and broadband (I was able to continue working on my web site whilst there).Our room was cleaned/turned down 3 times each day and was spotlessly clean. waroom2
waroom1 I had forgotten my plug adapter, when I called down for one, it arrived 5 minutes later, and they called again 20 minutes later to confirm I had received it.It lacked Tea and Coffee making facilities, when we asked about these, they seemed astounded that a guest of theirs would choose to make their own coffee.They advised us to call down, and that they would make us a cup of one of the 51 types of Coffee they had.
The world famous Chrysler building.At the time it was built, it replaced the Eiffel tower as the largest man made structure on earth.Chrysler accused the Architect Van Allen of taking bribes and refused to pay his fee (this ruined him, and ended his career).Although Chrysler lost control of the building in the 1950’s it still kept its original name. chbuilding
macd As we walked through Little Italy and Chinatown on our way to lower Manhattan, we saw this Chinese McDonalds.
The Brooklyn Bridge with it Gothic Arches. bbridge1
bbridge2 During its construction, many people died from the “bends” when they were working bellow the water surface in pressurized chambers.
People travelling across from Brooklyn to the island.Brooklyn is the only district of New York that isn’t in Manhattan (when New Yorkers refer to the city, they mean Manhattan Island).It is reckoned that 1 in 7 famous Americans are from Brooklyn (by the people of Brooklyn at least !).There were many people jogging across the bridge. bbridge3
bbridge4 View from the Bridge, overlooking the financial district .
City Hall.The Mayors residence, and the sort of Town Hall of New York.This is where Thomas Jefferson read the declaration of independence. cityhall1
cityhall2 In the grounds of City Hall, A statue of Nathan Hale.During the war of independence, he volunteered to act as a spy and go behind British lines to report troop movements.He was caught almost immediately and hanged.His famous last words were “my only regret is that have only 1 life to give to my country”.
The top of the most famous financial area in the world – Wall Street.Security is very tight, the large rocks on the bottom left of this picture are designed to look like modern art, but are also there to stop suicide bombers from driving vehicles into the the street. ws1
ws2 A view down the length of wall street, showing the Trinity Church.I was surprised at just how small, wall street was (it was about 30-40 feet wide) I had imagined somewhere the size of Broadway.It was a Saturday, so none off the money people were around.
The rear entrance of the New York stock exchange, the largest stock exchange in the world.Once again, there was perimeter security and an armed guard at all times. nyse1
nyse2 The front of the New York Stock Exchange.The basis of the NYSE was the Buttonwood agreement (so named as it was signed under a buttonwood tree), originally signed by 24 brokers on the 17th of May 1792.The first company listed on the exchange was the Bank of New York (it now has 2,800).It is far and away the largest Stock Exchange in the world, by share value and the 2nd largest by number of companies quoted.
The Trump Building (not to be confused with the Trump Tower).When built, was in competition to be the tallest building in the world, with the Chrysler building.In the end, the Chrysler building won, as a 185 foot spire (delivered and assembled in secret) was added to the top.Both buildings were beaten by the empire state building completed 18 months later. tbuilding1
tbuilding2 Here the Trump Building is visible from the Brooklyn Bridge.At first I thought it was the Empire State building, which I found out later, is in the completely opposite direction.
When we saw this old Pub near wall street, we were thinking of popping in for a drink.This is actually the Fraunces Tavern Museum of revolutionary history.We found out, that during the war of Independence, the Americans fought from Manhattan island when the British arrived in ships, with a force twice the size of the Spanish Armada. ft
batterypark Battery Park.It was a nice park, with lots of harmless street hawkers selling pictures and I Love NY T-shirts and baseball caps.I took the opportunity to get an authentic NY hot dog.In the center of the park, was a memorial to people who died in the Korean War.

It was a clever design featuring a metal obelisk, with a hollow cut out in the shape of a soldier.

Its a kind of new angle on unknown soldier memorials, as the sculpture implies, insert any solider here.

The statue of Liberty photographed from Battery park.The queue for the boat to Ellis Island where the Statue of Liberty is located, was a quarter of a mile long, even on a work day.Sadly, on short adventure trips like this, there was no time to queue. statlib
globe1 I saw this sculpture in Battery park, it had a plaque underneath it, which said:For three decades this sculpture stood in the plaza of the world trade center.Entitled “The Sphere”, it was conceived by artist Fritz Koenig as a symbol of world peace.It was damaged during the tragic events of September 11, 2001, but endures as an icon of hope and the indestructible spirit of this country.

The Sphere was placed here on March 11, 2002 as a temporary memorial to all who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks at the word trade center.

Later we visited the site of the twin towers.On the wall was a timeline showing the events of September the 11th, and a request to keep the site a special place.An orange board carried a message I found hard to forget:

“The draw of New York City has been strong and constant for centuries. People from all over this country and the world have made incredible journeys to come here, to live here, to experience the indescribable force of life that is found around every corner. New York City’s was built on an Island of bedrock, A strong foundation for a soaring city.

The World Trade Center attacks exposed the Islands natural bedrock once again, reminding us all of the city’s indestructible core.

As New Yorkers already understood and the world would come to realize – the resilience needed to endure was here all along.”

gz2 The viewing platform had gone, and it was difficult to see the site, as work was about to begin on the remembrance tower, the following day.

A view was possible from inside World Financial Center. It was very hard to stand there, and not feel angry.

Some people have said its wrong to photograph the area, as its a graveyard.

I took this picture because I want to remember.

Outside the World Financial Center.

It was a nice day, and people were relaxing, pushing prams reading newspapers etc.

hudson On the forecourt facing towards the Hudson river, the views were spectacular.

We had coffee, which in New York is always excellent.

Inside the World Financial Center they have somehow managed to grow Palm tree’s. wfc1
tribeca We walked back up through Trebeca and Soho.

Trebeca stands for Triangle beneath the canal, indicating an area on a map of New York.

These places had once been run down, but are now, quite trendy shopping areas, with many people living in loft apartments.

To illustrate how busy it was, I went into a coffee house. There were 18 people queuing in front of me just to use the toilet.

We continued up, and came to the Empire state building.

Despite its age (and that people remember it most from King Kong) its still the tallest brick building in the world.


Visit to the 100 mile an hour city and a stay at the Waldorf Astoria (2/2)

union Union Square was quite a fun trendy place, where loads of students and arty types were hanging out.We stopped for yet another coffee (that stuff can get addictive in New York.)
We decided to get a cab back to the Hotel (we had always intended to travel in a real New York Taxi.)Apparently Rudi Juliani, did much to combat corruption and crime in New York (its said to be much safe than it was 10 years ago).There is a number you can call, if you believe you have been overcharged, and its investigated immediately.

Our driver was quite friendly, and took us the quickest rout back to our hotel.

unbuild The following day, we set of for more adventures.We kicked of with a visit to the United Nations building.I really wanted to see a statue they had there, which shows a person with a sword, which is bent at the end, to become a plough.

Unfortunately, it was closed, but was magnificent from the outside.

We visit the Rockefeller center with its amazing collection of flags. rc1
rc2 A dedication stone to one of the worlds most famous philanthropists.
Broadway was everything I expected it to be.There were shows, bright lights, superb restaurants, and tv studios like NBC.Not even driving rain could dampen the enthusiasm of its visitors. broadway
chall Carnegie Hall.Loads of people were going past in tourist buses. We decided not to, and did our own “walking tour”.
Tipping is part of the US culture. People are taxed on their expected tips, whether they get them or not. No problem really, as we had budgeted for this, but it was a little embarrassing at times when they went to lengths to tell us they expected a tip, and we already knew.It was at its most annoying, in the hotel. I actually wanted to carry my own bag, but people insisted on carrying it, and then almost forced me to give them $5.That said, the service in bars and restaurants like this one, were superb. They would check if your drink was getting low, politely ask if you would like another, and it would be in front of you in under 60 seconds. tipping
lunch2 My steak was fantastic, and everything I had come to expect from America.I did find the place very status orientated and it was quite common for people to look at your clothes, before they would look at your face.On the other hand, I didn’t see many malcontents. The guy that sold me a hamburger, looked like he worked hard, and considered himself to be on the first rung of life’s ladder, not one of life’s hard done to.

New Yorkers I guess are hard like that, but then its that mentality that built the spectacular city of New York.

Manchester/Chester People are much more friendly, but our city isn’t quite as good.

We took a picture of a famous New York police car (we watch a lot of 3rd watch, on FX).Security is taken very seriously in the country now, so my original idea of having our photo taken with a “Cop” was discarded. copcar
holmes What are the odds of this.I am in a spectacular hotel on the other side of the world, in a place that looks a bit like my home, but couldn’t be more different.Sarah and I relax in our room, switch on the TV, and my favourite UK show, The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, were on, and it was an episode I hadn’t seen.
The hustle and bustle of Park Avenue on the way back to our Hotel. parkavenue
bloom Not my choice, but we ended up going to Bloomingdales.It was actually a lot more friendly and fun than I thought it would be.

They had some pretty smart carved objects, which we were considering buying for our house.

On reflection we realized that they were ashtray’s and neither of us smoke !.

I had to take a picture of this amazing shop from outside, as they had rules about photography.Basically, it was a kitchen utensil shop, similar to one in the UK. The difference was that it had a fully fitted kitchen, and a qualified chef cooking food for everyone, and demonstrating the articles for sale.

Really friendly shop staff, wandered around the store inviting questions.

I have never worked in retail, but I couldn’t help thinking if I did, that’s how I would run my shop.

convstore We visited this fairly upmarket convenience store (we had visited a conventional one previously as part of the New York experience).They had every kind of herb and an extensive collection of wine.

Thing I thought was most impressive, was cooked food, which you could take out.

Like the old single man’s trick of buying a curry from the curry house, and then putting it in a pan and stirring it, as a female guest arrives.

You could buy Chilli, and all sorts of “home cooked” food 24hrs a day, take it home, and pretend you made it.

Several skyscrapers around upper midtown Manhattan.The black one in the center is the worldwide headquarters of IBM.

My old boss went there years ago, when we worked together in Manchester, and I remember him saying how excellent the building was.

noparking The attitude of New Yorkers is legendary, but I found it was possible to break through it.On one occasion in the hotel bar, I entered and the bar keep gave me the usual script and asked me if I was well etc.

I replied and asked politely for a beer, and said thank you when I received it (I do this in every country I visit, I believe that we are all ambassadors for our country).

As I reached my 3rd drink, and said thank you, the bar keep met my eyes, and said “No, Thank you !” with real meaning.

Just a simple act, but I found it touching, and although I have no plans to do it, I am sure I could do well living in a City like this.

The famous Trump TowersTo the right of the picture, you can see an American Flag. They were everywhere you went in New York, and I admire the pride people have for the flag.

An American friend who lives in the UK, actually commented, that we only seem to see the Union Jack when there is a football championship on.

Slightly annoying, is street furniture like these street lights, which ruin the shot.

They seem to appear, wherever I go, I wish town planners around the world would consider this.

ttower2 A view of the Trump Tower, looking up.Built (according to his biography) ahead of schedule and within budget.

Probably back in the days when he had his own hair 🙂

St Nocholauses Church.In Tokyo, there are many traditional “Old Edo” buildings, like little Islands in the middle of an ocean of skyscrapers.

New York, had an element of this, with Old Cathedrals and Church’s performing a similar role.

cppath We go for a short wander around the amazing Central Park.New York is sometimes described as the largest film set in the world, due to the number of films its been featured in.

Nowhere is this more true, than Central Park.

The path around the reservoir in central park, has been set up as a running track (6 miles) people are encouraged to walk or run in an anti-clockwise direction.An enthusiastic Park employee, insisted on giving us a map, and answering all our questions (and even answering questions we hadn’t asked, which she thought were interesting anyway). cpres
gug The Guggenheim museum viewed from Central ParkOne of only 2 disappointments during the the trip.

The famous Guggenheim museum was undergoing repairs to its roof, so we were unable to see it.

The other disappointment was the famous Sea/Air/ Space museum, which features and Aircraft carrier, Concord, S71 Blackbird spy-plane and a Nuclear sub.

We ran out of time, and didn’t end up seeing it.

I am going back to New York next year as part of a US tour, and I will see it then.

After a short wander around the park, we decided to get a horse and carriage, and go on a tour of the park.Sarah was really looking forward to this, and as I had failed to deliver promised carriage ride on our trip to Rome, it seemed the right thing to do. hcsp
cplake The lake was a very relaxing place.Although it was technically winter, it was quite warm in just a jumper, and the sun came out a couple of times.
Our Carriage driver was very friendly, and insisted on showing us the sites of the park, and mentioning details of film sets.Here, the famous Belvedere Castle, which features a nature reserve.

In the far background a building with 2 towers was used in the film ghost busters.

cpsumhouse This summer house was featured in the film home alone 2.In the background you can see the tall residential buildings which surround the park on all side.
Grand Central station.Featured in the beginnings and endings of literally thousands of films.

It was spectacular inside.

We visited it briefly, as we got the bus to the airport, on our way home.

I have spent lots of time in Jungles around the world, and clichés aside, this was the closest I have come to seeing one made off concrete.

As stated earlier, I will be going back there.

airport At the airport on the way home.A few observations about travelling to/from New York.:

1. Continental Airlines didn’t have all the hi-tech stuff that Emirates have, but their staff were superb, and they treated you like a member of their family.

2. Don’t be put off, by immigration. When I arrived, I was frowned at and instead of the usual business or pleasure question, I was asked “why are you here”, like an old boyfriend at a previous girlfriends wedding.

They aren’t being unkind, they are doing it for your safety as well as their own.

3. Make sure you are wearing clean socks when you travel through the airport and that your trousers fit reasonably well. You will be asked to remove your shoes and belt.

Its pretty bad if your pants fall down.

Prague: home of Emil Zatopek and numerous Irish bars.

front Jo Crawshaw, Me and a few other friends (who decline to be named or photographed 🙂 set off to Prague.Prague is one of the places I have always really wanted to see, and I was looking forward to it.

Sarah stayed home, in order to save for our New York trip.

We saw this add for a car rental company.Most of the cars we saw were western and quite modern, which surprised me as Prague had been part of the eastern block, during the cold war. car
casgate We stayed in the superb diplomat hotel and had a brief “party” in our room, where the min-bar was raided.Here we pass through the front gates of the Castle, where armed soldiers perform a similar role to the ones in Buckingham Palace.
Heading West out of the Castle, we walk down some historic steps, before crossing the a bridge and visiting the Jewish Quarter. cassteps
letna An alternative route to the centre, was a walk through the famous Letna Park, which had spectacular views of Prague.
The old town square.An eccentric old man, played the trombone at annoying volume. ots
market Jo and I visited a Market in the old town square.The sun hitting the square had to be photographed.
The famous astronomical clock.Hundreds of people flocked to see it, each hour.

To be honest, I thought it was quit bland.

sherlock A pipe shop, named after Sherlock Holmes.Seemed to be some problem with the spelling.
Wenceslass square.Not particularly different from any major shopping area, in any major city in the world.


museum At the top of Wenceslass square, there was a museum.A student had famously set himself on fire, as a protest against the Russian invasion in 1968.

He died after 4 agonising days, there is a cross outside the museum to commemorate him.

The internationally famous Buffalo Bills Mexican restaurant.For one reason and another, we never actually got to eat there. bbills
jescoll Statue in the park next to the Jesuit College.
Prague Botanical Garden.I hadn’t completely thought this through, but since it was winter, everything was dead.

Was nice to walk through the park though.

gfbuild The famous Ginger and Fred building.Apparently, its a building made to look like 2 buildings dancing together.
The only authentic thing in Wenceslass square, is the internationally famous Europa Hotel.It was featured in the film Mission Impossible. europa1
europa2 We went inside for a drink.The décor was like being in a Dickens novel.
 St Charles Bridge. cbridge
rockband As we crossed the bridge, we stopped off, to visit Kampa Island.

A rock band were performing a concert there.

They weren’t exactly Metalica, but they were enthusiastic and didn’t cost any money.

A bit hard to see, but there was a drinking hall on Kampa Island, called Pub 1 (as you can imagine, it was next to another called Pub 2 !).

Its a bit hard to see, but the roof inside was perfectly curved.

casgate2 The east gate of Prague castle.

It features 2 statues of Hercules.

 3 Photo’s of St Vitus’s chapel in Prague Castle. stvitus1
fromcastle View from the castle out over Prague.
We walk down from the castle, through Nerudova street in the little quarter.

The little quarter was my favourite part of Prague.

3fiddlers One of the many excellent beer halls, on Nerudova Street.

The logo denotes the name of the building, the house of the 3 fiddlers, as previously, 3 violinists had lived here.

 The Church of St Nicholas, further down Nerudova street. stnicholas
river Another view of St Charles bridge, showing a bit more of the river.
National Theatre, taken from the little quarter. nattheatre1
 nattheatre2 A more detailed view of the Theatre building.
 A tobacco shop, modelled on Winston Churchill. winston
 joots To finish off the trip, before our flight home, we relax in a beer hall, next to the Old Town Square.

Visit to the Russian Federation, overnight train and 2 days in Moscow (2/2).

cIMG_3897 I get up the next morning, and like the song goes, its a new day at midnight, and I awaken with a new energy and sense of purpose.We have a tour of the Kremlin in the afternoon so in the morning we decide to go of exploring on our own.

As we wander around, we see this boat sailing on the Moskva river (Moscow takes its name from this River).

I had read in my Guidebook, that Moscow is unique for a “developed” country, in that it doesn’t have any ethnic specific areas like Chinatown or Little India.We manage to find Gorky park. I had been keen to see it, but as we get nearer the gates, I decide not to go in, as I have always imagined it a certain way and worry ill be disappointed, as a park is after all, just a park.

Instead, we head for the nearby Museum of fallen monuments which my friend Mike Delafield had recommended from his trip.

There are loads of old statues, positioned around this sort of park next to a trading estate.

cIMG_3899 The hated “Iron Feliks” which previously stood in Lubyanka square.
A Statue of Stalin. Look closely at the nose, and you will see where its been hit with a hammer and vandalised.One good thing, was that the weather throughout the day was superb. cIMG_3902
cIMG_3906 One of the more traditional communist images of a perfectly formed man with gelled hair, fighting for Mother Russia.
This enormous statue of Peter the great sailing was an affront to the eyes. cIMG_3912
cIMG_3914 Cathedral of Christ the Savior.Originally built in the 19th century in commemoration of the Russian army’s victory over Napoleon.

It was destroyed after the revolution on Stalin’s personal orders. Architectural drawing and measurements, were taken just before it was destroyed, this made a complete reconstruction to the exact specification of the original in 1994 possible.

The Pushkin museum of fine art is a must-see sight in Moscow.Unfortunately, we were running late for our tour of the Kremlin, so passing it on the street was as close as I got. cIMG_3918
cIMG_3922 We walk around Alexander square, which we had seen the previous day from the other angle.It was a national holiday, so the place was packed (lots of people were drunk and staggering around, but overall the mood was friendly).

There were hundreds of soldiers and police everywhere.

The sun was up, and the colour of the water in the fountains outstanding.

Our agreed meeting point, was this statue outside the Moscow state archives.Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov was the famous general who took Berlin from the Germans.

Recognising him as a potential rival, Stalin “rewarded” him with retirement to a small village and a removal from public life.

cIMG_3925 At the arranged time, we meet our guide and head for the Kremlin.Citadel of the Tsars, headquarters of the Soviet Union and now the residence of the Russian President.

In the background is Trinity tower one of only 2 public entrances into the Kremlin. Napoleon marched in triumph through this gate in 1812. He left defeated a month later.

Only official qualified guides are permitted to conduct tours in the Kremlin. Due to the holiday, It was closed to all but official guides and pre booked foreign tours.

On the plus side, this meant that it was practically empty when we got inside.

The state Kremlin palace. Built by Kruchev in 1961.It actually has 5 floors bellow ground, so that it doesn’t rise high above the older classical building.

Its 6000 seat auditorium was previously used for political rally’s but today is a more likely venue for ballet and rock concerts.

cIMG_3930 The ceremonial residence of the President of Russia. Since the Kremlin is a working arm of government, only half of it is available to the general public.Putin’s office. He does not live here (like in 10 downing street) and only the President and the ruling party have offices here, the actual parliaments are outside the Kremlin.
Various diplomatic cars are parked outside the Senate building. cIMG_3931
cIMG_3932 The famous Tsars Pushka (canon). Weighing 38 Metric Tonnes it is listed in the Guinness book of records as the largest Howitzer ever made.It has never been fired, and considered to have been a showpiece of military might, rather than a functional weapon.

This is illustrated by the Cannon balls. They were constructed more than 300 years after the Cannon, and can’t actually fit inside its barrel !.

Cathedral of the Assumption.There are 5 churches inside the Kremlin. We walked around inside this one, but weren’t allowed to take any pictures. cIMG_3936
cIMG_3938 On the right, is the famous Ivan the great bell tower.It is called “Great” due to its height. In 1600 it was the highest building in Moscow.
Outside the bell tower is the enormous Tsar Bell (the largest in the world).It fell from the tower in 1701 during a fire and shattered.

The bell wasn’t terribly lucky, and its parts were used to make a 2nd bell.

When the Kremlin caught fire in 1737, cold water was poured over the hot bell and a large piece broke off (its missing from the other side of the bell, and can’t be seen from this picture).

cIMG_3939 With our tour complete, we leave through the 2nd gate.In the centre of this picture, is the state armoury, one of Stalin’s 7 sisters.

Our guide advises us that the state armoury and the diamond room are definitely worth seeing (I was a bit surprised that they weren’t included in the tour).

When I had a look, the queue’s for both were enormous (to be expected on a state holiday).

I decided to kill some time and visit Pushkin square, where the first Macdonald’s in Russia was opened.

Various roads were closed and I there were large crowds everywhere. I decided to just go back to my hotel.

That evening I was supposed to go to the Circus, but decided not to.From my experience, some trips are holidays and some trips are adventures (many are both).

A 3rd category of trip, is one which isn’t particularly pleasant, but broadens the mind.

This was one of those trips. I have to say that I was miserable for most of it but in the end, I’ve experienced Russia.

The night before I fly home, I find myself in the Hotel bar, paying a fortune for flat warm beer, and suffering offensive staff while I watch some ice skating reality TV program I hate.