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India 2017 – Karauli & Ranthambore


My India trip included a visit to Karauli and Ranthambore.

My favourite part, Christmas Day 2017 driving around a National Park in a Jeep (but more about that later).


Our first stop, Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur. A vast bird sanctuary and former royal game reserve.

The park’s woods and man-made wetlands protect over 350 species of migratory and resident birds, including herons, cormorants and eagles.


We explored the parks 12 square miles on cycle Rikshaws.


Wandering around the wetlands in search of the Siberian Crane.


Annoyingly, I never got the name of this place where we went for lunch.

It had incredible art deco styling.


Our next stop is Fatehpur Sikri.

Founded in 1569 and abandoned scarcely 16 years later, it is a perfectly intact example of Akbar’s imperial court.

I was surprised that everywhere we seemed to go, someone would take your money, someone would print your ticket and a 3rd person would hand you the ticket. I suppose it keeps people in work.


In the centre of the courtyard is the Pachisi Board, where the emperor played a game like chess, with dancing slave girls as pieces.


Nice to find somewhere quiet and just relax.


We arrive in the town of Karauli.

I took this picture to sort of capture the feel of the place. It looks like the 2 bovine have stopped to chat.


Our accommodation in Karauli, Hotel Bhanwar Vilas Palace.

It was still partially occupied by a high ranking noblemen with his wife, daughter and their servants.


After relaxing in the garden with a drink, were shown around the inside of the building.

It was like stepping back in time to the days of the Raj. All our rooms were different, with several sitting rooms each decorated with things like grandfather clocks and old shotguns.


The following morning we jump into some camel drawn carts and head into the village.

Once arrived, we wander around. It was genuinely authentic.

Honestly, it’s the only place I think I’ve been while travelling without a single souvenir shop.


Cricket is massive in India and tournaments are played all over the country.

In this advert, 2 local sides would play in a tournament, and the winner would be presented with a trophy by Munaf Patel, a player in the National side.


Our 2nd evening, having dinner in the house.

It was right out of Agatha Christy, and I almost expected someone to scream, and we’d find someone murdered in their room.

But that didn’t happen, we just had a delicious meal, then spent the rest of the evening sitting in the garden with Red wine.


The next morning, we were given a tour of the former Royal residence.


They had  a garage with old cars (including a 70 year old Land Rover).

After breakfast, it’s time to go. We load up into our vehicle and head off in search of Tigers.


After a 2 hour drive, we arrive at Ranthambore.

We got cleaned up, got some lunch and relaxed in the garden, before our scheduled afternoon game drive.


One of the things I’d been looking forward to most on the trip was visiting the Ranthambore National Park.

They have all kinds of animals there, and if you’re lucky (which I was hoping I was) you would get to see a tiger in the wild.


The organisation of the Jeep safaris is very structured (and regimented).

A lottery system selects who goes in which vehicle (5 to a vehicle, plus guide & driver) and which sections of the park you’ll visit.

So its pot luck, if you see a Tiger or whatever. We drive around until sunset and head back. It’s Christmas eve.


The next morning, were up early.

Ranthambore National Park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1957, although it was still used as a hunting reserve until the early 1970s.

There are over 40 Tigers in the park, but also sloth bear, langur, striped hyenas, marsh crocodiles, pythons and Ganga soft-shelled turtles so we were bound to see something.


As the day continued, by afternoon, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to see a tiger.

I was disappointed, but struck by the the park’s beauty.

Once part of the magnificent jungles of Central India, it comprises of rivers, lakes and forests that nestle among a surrounding girdle of steep cliffs and rocky outcrops.


Racing around in a jeep, I can’t remember a Christmas day like it.

Our driver described this animal as “anteeelope”.


As we rode back, I remember seeing an eagle, A nice way to end the day.


Well, although we didn’t see a tiger, we did have a really good time.

I’ve put the above picture of a tiger, just in case you (like me) wondered what it actually looked like.

Bagan – Myanmar


The 2nd leg of our trip to Burma/Myanmar, Bagan.

It contains over 4000 Pagodas (and by the time I left, I felt like I’d seen every one !).

People joked about getting Pagoda’d out in Bagan, but seriously after a while, you honestly can get sick of seeing these beautifull things.

Anyway, more about the trip…


Logistics in Myanmar are a farce, so much of the travel on the trip, was done by plane rather than road.

We arrived in Bagan, and then were given the rest of the day free, so Nikki and I went out exploring on our own.

We got a taxi to the Bagan Archaeological museum. Our guide Kay offered to help organise our transport, but we said we’d be fine (a decision we’d regret later).


Inside, the museum was very atmospheric and reminded me of the Egyptian museum in Cairo.


They were doing extensive renovation work in the museum, but instead of big screens and the like, it was photocopied pages and blue-tack.


As we walked back, I saw this – Nuclear Catastrophe Overcome Pagoda ?

Couldn’t work out what that was all about, but at one level, I suppose it speaks for itself.


The Bu Paya Pagoda is famous on the banks of the Irrawaddy river.

What should also be famous is the River View “restaurant” next to it. It had some of the worst food I’ve ever eaten.

But I was so hungry, I just ate it anyway.


We walk through the city gate, of old Bagan and its time to head home. We thought if your somewhere popular, there is bound to be lots of transport.

No there isn’t, what our guide had meant was you need to schedule a taxi to take you, and then wait until you want to come home.

We hadn’t done that, so we had to make our way back on foot, in the baking heat. We found a guy with a horse and cart, but Nikki was concerned about the well-being of the animal.

After about 3 miles, we came to a bit of a village and hired a minibus and driver. As my friend Nick would say,  we had our “hats nailed on


Back in town  near our hotel now, we decided to get something to eat and drink.

There were lots to choose from, but the sign above swung it for me.


Our next excursion is at 3pm, so an hours nap for me and a swim in the pool for Nikki.


Outside Hti Lo Min Lo Temple the architecture is impressive even before you’ve been inside.


Once inside, its even more impressive.


We got to see an example of sand painting.

The basic idea is that you take some fabric and “paint” glue onto it. Soft sand will stick to the glue.

Once you’ve done this several times, you end up with an elaborate layered picture. I didn’t buy one (which I regret now) Nikki bought one of Ubein bridge and I admire it every time I’m in her living room.


Ananda temple is one of the earliest built in the area and a fantastic snow white colour.


It’s also very popular and and the entrance is like a market.


There are 4 of these Buddha statue and each one is 9.5 metres high.


Exploring around inside, it was like Tomb Raider !.


Just had to put this up here.

It’s easy for pictures of century old beautiful buildings to look tired.

Luckily, the owner of this car has helped by parking it right in front of Pagoda. Thanks !.


Sulamani temple (told you you’d start to get bored of them).


Standing outside the temple, it’s early evening and our group sort of hang out and relax.


Some local lads play Chinlone or Caneball in the shade under a tree outside.


Now its time to watch the sunset from Shwesandaw Pagoda.

I’d heard about this, and it was even worse than I’d expected. Massively noisy and overcrowded.


So, I walked around to the back of the Pagoda (which was empty) and sat there relaxing.

Looking out for miles was across began in peaceful silence was one of the highlights of the trip for me.


Back to hotel, out on our terrace, I update my blog.

I had been testing a new function on my camera. You could place the camera somewhere convenient, and then run an app on your phone, which would show you what the camera could see. One you were happy with the shot, you could take the picture remotely from the phone.

This picture was taken that way, and I was really impressed with the results.


Later that evening (fantastically) we find an Italian restaurant.

They did pasta and other Italian dishes, rather than just pizza’s which we’d become bored of.

The also sold red wine, which was very welcome.


The following day, a few more Temples and Pagodas

Shwe Gu Gyi.


Gubyaukgyi Temple.


Dhammayangyi, an interesting “pyramid” shaped temple.


We got the usual tour of some traditional crafts.


Which as usual finished in the showroom/shop.

They had several pictures sowing Barack Obama who had visited there. Some of the Americans on the tour wondered if they’d by so proud if it was Donald Trump.

I try to get 1 small souvenir from each place I go. I bought a small porcelain figure of a local traditional fisherman (I’m running out of shelf space at home).


More wandering around and exploring on our last evening.


And to finish off, dinner and drinks in this iconic establishment.

Yangon – Myanmar


Flying AirAsia from Bangkok (where we’d just flown in after 3 days in Luang Prabang, Laos) we arrive in Yangon for our whistle-stop tour of Myanmar (Burma), a country closed off to tourists for nearly 25 years and only recently opened up to the world.


We got into a taxi from the airport and headed for our hotel.

It took about 50 minutes to travel a relatively short distance, as all the roads were gridlocked.

We found out later, that traffic congestion is so bad, that due to repeated accidents, mopeds and motorbikes are banned in the city.


Although closed off from tourism for a number of years, that didn’t stop Myanmar from keeping it’s business connections going. Jade mining and processing is massive in this country and has enabled it to thrive despite it’s previous status as a pariah.

I was mildly surprised to find a BMW showroom on route, which had clearly been there for some time.


We’ve travelled separately to get here, but now we’d be joining an official tour.

In the reception, was an invitation to our initial meeting. These are quite common on trips of this kind, but the surprise for me was this one was marked as COMPULSORY !

Our first glimpse of local culture, was a table in the hotel’s reception, which had local make-up which doubles as sun protection.


Well, it was morning and the meeting wasn’t going to be until afternoon, so we decided to go off exploring on our own.

Not far from our hotel, we cross a railway bridge and see a train packed with people, travelling to work.


We decide to pay a visit to the National museum of Myanmar.

Hazardous road crossings are not new in adventure travel, but at points this was really quite scary.


The museum was old and a bit run down, but had excellent air conditioning.

One minor disappointment, was you couldn’t take pictures, so I borrowed this one from the internet.

After a couple of hours in the museum we head back to our hotel. The heat of the day justifies a taxi. I was impressed by Taxi’s in Myanmar, drivers were always polite and well turned out, cars were comfortable with seat-belts.


Back at our hotel, I’m preparing myself for 10 day of oriental food, so snatch the chance of some western food with a burger and chips from their restaurant.

Our introductory meeting begins, and we meet all the other people on the trip and our guide, Kay introduces herself.

She tells us a bit about the country, what we’ll be doing on the tour and stuff like that.


This was a fast track trip (we needed to be at the airport for 5am the following morning) so we headed  straight out onto town to see the highlights.

The Karaweik Royal Barge. Its made of stone and doesn’t actually float, but is in the middle Kandawgyi lake.


As we explore the inside of the barge we get to know our guide Kay a little better.

She explained although English is taught in the country, it is not by native speakers.

Considering this, I thought her English was superb and it was also obvious that she had previously worked as a school teacher.

She was also strikingly dressed at all times.


Exploring around the Park around Kandawgyi lake.


We now head towards the Shwedagon Pagoda.

We visit the famous Bodhi tree on the hill top, which is 99m high.


The main Pagoda itself, is an incredible sight on a hilltop overlooking the city, its visible from practically everywhere in Yangon.


In the evening an almost carnival atmosphere as thousands of local congregate there to pray and celebrate.

When we had handed our passports to Kay earlier, she had worked out our birthdays so explained which birth animal we were.


At times the area was quite spiritual and I felt a real connection there.


In some of the smaller Pagodas, it got a bit silly and in this one for example a female warrior who looked a lot like Margaret Thatcher.


The introduction of Christmas tree lights and screens didn’t help. This one looked like something from 70’s era Dr Who.


In this temple, we met some Monks who wanted to photograph me (on account of my blond hair, which they had never seen before).


We finish the evening with a meal at Padonmar Restaurent, one of the best in the city.


We returned to Yangon a few days later and picked up where we’d left off.

Kay shows us around a street market, which you could literally buy anything from food to fire engine parts.


Yangon City hall building, in Maha Bandula park.

It was a Sunday and lots of people were relaxing in the park.


Burma (as it was then called) gained independence from Britain in 1948.

The statue of Queen Victoria was returned to the UK and The Independence monument above, was put in its place.


Wandering around Pansondan Street you can see lots of colonial buildings.


The former British customs office.


I always like to Finish a trip in style. And where else but dinner at the Strand Hotel.

India 2017 – Mumbai, New Years Eve.


Our trip to India was fast coming to an end, and I was showing signs of wear and tear as I sat drinking at a rooftop bar on our penultimate night in Udaipur.

The last leg of our India trip, on our way to Mumbai (at one time called Bombay).


Maharan Pratap Airport.

A few vendors providing food and drinks, it was nice to sit in peace and quiet and catch up on our reading.

Only an hour and a half and far more comfortable than the “romanticism” of our train journey from Jaipur to Udaipur !.


We arrive at the airport, book a tax to our hotel and then the usual drive around and around. Nikki spots our hotel and we point at the pavement outside. Suffice to say, not tip was given.


When we arrive at the ITC Maratha hotel, its quite simply incredible. It harks back to the times of the Raj and is nothing short of opulent.

Everyone was very friendly, but all bags had to go through airport style security before being allowed in the hotel, security is taken very seriously after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008.


When I say opulent, allow me to illustrate. How many toilets have a TV showing Premier league football.


I sat down with my guide book and a mind map I’d drawn up with a list of things to see. I ordered a pint of beer (which I’d later find out cost £18) and started planning.

We had that evening in the hotel, then a day to spend in Mumbai, and fly home about 11pm the next day (which would be New Years eve).

After an incredible banquet dinner and a few drinks, its off to bed. We’ve only got 1 day and are unlikely to come back here, so I want to make the most of it.


Up early and a breakfast laied out on tables as though we were at a wedding.

The hotel staff are incredibly helpful and are happy to provide assistance planning our day tour.


They comment that the hotels policy is not to recommend the train/tram network and that they can get us a taxi (an offer we are happy to take up).

Minutes later were heading to the city centre on the Bandra-Worli sea link, a 1 mile long bridge that sort of goes out to sea and then back in again. It was desinged to reduce congestion getting into the city.


We couldn’t see much from inside our Taxi, so I found this picture to illustrate.

The coast of Marine drive can be seen from here, its nicknamed the Queens necklace.


But although the bridge and the buildings are spectacular, signs of poverty aren’t far behind.


We begin our sightseeing on foot.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus featured in Slumdog Millionaire.


On the waterfront, the Gateway of India built for Queen Victoria’s visit.

It possible to do boat trips to Elephant Island from here, but being New Years eve, everywhere was packed.


Behind it, the internationally famous Taj Mahal hotel.

On the ground floor at the back is a coffee house and we stopped there to rest.


The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, abbreviated CSMVS and formerly named the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India.


Three floors of interesting artefacts and obviously Victorian in style.


Lots of old things to look at in glass cases.


But far more interesting, Ghandi’s iconic spinning wheel.


And the constitution of India.


A beautiful building, we relax outside in the shade.


We continue on and I’m shocked to see this sign.

This isnt a police station, this is a high street bank where you might pop in to pay some bills !.


A sensible precaution, so nobody trips over it.


With the sun setting over the Queens Necklace, and with only a few hours left of our amazing trip, we find a hotel bar with a balcony and relax.


As we walk back along the waterfront, people are congregating, looking forward to happiness and prosperity of the New Year.

But we’ve got a plane to catch. We head back, get cleaned up, have a bite to eat and its back to the Chaos of the airport for us.


We land in Paris. Unfortunately, the bus is slow taking us to our terminal, and we miss our connecting flight.

Annoying, but now we’ve got 3 hours to to kill.

So, breakfast in Paris on New Years day !.

Falklands – Small Island in the middle of no-where (1/2)



When I was 13, Britain was at war with Argentina over control of the Falkland Islands (which the Argentines call the Malvinas).

Every day when I got home from school and turned on the TV, there would be reports of bombing raids, interviews with soldiers and stuff like that.

I don’t glorify war, but it was a key moment in my “growing up”. When I found out the cruise I was on, would visit the Falklands, I was was excited about seeing some of locations I’d seen on the 6 oclock news all those years previously.


Additionally, about 2 years after the war, was a drama over 2 evenings called Tumbledown.

It told the story of the Scots guards and their attack on mount Tumbledown (which once taken would secure a victory for Britain)

So, with 1 day in the Falklands, I decided to split my day with the morning exploring Tumbledown and battle sites with a local guide, and in the afternoon, seeing a bit of the town and finding out what life is like on an isolated Island.


The boat arrived at the Islands (we were visiting East Falkland, though its possible to visit West Falkland as well) around 6am in the morning.

The Falklands are really difficult to get to. The only other route I know, is on a military transport stopping at Ascension Island, and for civilians, it costs about £2000 return.

With 18 decks, our ship was to big to fit in the harbour. So we were transported ashore by tender.


At the main landing point, loads of poeple were milling around (tourism is a major industry in the Falklands and lots of people had booked day trips to see Penguins and the like).


Considering the war was 37 years previous, you would think it was last year.

There are signs everywhere defiantly protesting the independence of the Falklands.

People of the Falklands are called Kelpers (after the seaweed), have their own defence force (very well equipped the the Stayer AUG) and are governed by a council elected from the islanders (Britain maintains a massive military force on the Island but they largely run their own affairs).


For parity, I’ve included this sign which is on show at the harbour of Tiera del Fuego in Argentina (you can see that someone had tried to damage it).

Many of the people on our cruise ship were Argentinian as well as British. Both call the Islands by a different name and using the “wrong” name in front of the “wrong” person can call grave offens. I was very impressed by the cruise staff who refereed to our destination as Stanley (Port Stanley is the capital of the Islands) a compromise that doesn’t offend anyone.


Most of the cruise organised, battle site tours had been booked so I got in touch with a local guy Tony from Discovery Falklands.

I explained the things I wanted to see in an en email a few weeks before our arrival and he was able to assist.

He picked us up and we drove off towards the hills (and since he had a 4×4, we drove a fair way into the hills as well).


We head off and start seeing the area around Tumbledown Mountain (It overlooks Port Stanley)


We saw some Argentine mobile kitchens, left over from the war.


You can see from this picture how bleak the terrain is.

If the weather turns bad here, there is literally no cover. In freezing wind and rain, it mus have been awful.


Tony showed us some ammunition left over from the war.


Some of the improvised “caves” used by the Argentine soldiers who were dug in to defend the mountain.


Technology has moved on. Modern armed forces would use encrypted short wave radio, but back then they used field telephones to communicate between their positions and the wire is still there.


We were showing the route 42 Commando took, along with other area’s like wireless ridge.

It was incredible to be standing in the places I’d seen on tv almost 40 years previously

Northern Ireland 1 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster fry (1/2).


Although its nearby, I’d never been to Northern Ireland.

This is a picture of me in front of the Salmon of knowledge.

It is made up of pictures and symbols from Northern Ireland, contains a time capsule, and symbolises the cleaning of the river Lagan.


Although Northern Ireland is transformed from the days before the Good Friday agreement, I couldn’t help being nervous.

After all, my youth was filled with TV images of the troubles.

But if you only did things that made you feel comfortable, you’d never do anything.


We’d decided to travel by ferry, and the best part, the port it leaves from is near the Liver Building where I work.

So, I finished work on Friday evening, picked up my bag and set off.


I wasn’t sure what to expect on the ferry. Was it going to be filled with stag do’s and the like.

Nothing of the sort, they had a really nice bar/cafeteria, free Wi-Fi throughout and a small cinema for Children.

The surprise was when it was time to retire for the evening, we headed to our room, but lots of people produced sleeping bags and proceeded to “bed down” on the lounge floor.


Our on-suit room was very comfortable. It was actually a 4 birth, but we pushed the 2 additional beds up.

The shower was piping hot, loads of room for our bags and lots of charging ports for our phones and tablets.

Now the bad news, it docks in Belfast at 6am, so no lie in bed.


I had done some research but for some reason I thought we’d arrive in the city centre. Not so, it took 90 minutes to walk into town, but the walk helped us to wake up.

We wander around the town, which was pretty quiet at that time of the morning. This is City Hall, a very famous building in Belfast.

Straight away, I start hearing people speaking Ulster/Scotts, the local dialect.


Speaking of Ulster, I was really hungry.

My guidebook said you mustn’t leave Belfast without trying an Ulster Fry.

It was quite delicious. One thing I notice when I travel is how people react to tipping. We put £2 into the tips jar in the cafe we visited and they looked delighted.


Our first activity is a visit to Crumlin road Gaol.

The trip involves a tour of the prison, some lunch and a tour around the peace wall, one half given by a loyalist former prisoner and the 2nd half given by a republican former prisoner.

But first, were shown a short documentary outlining the history of Ireland, the troubles , the Good Friday agreement and the constitution.


We were told we could take as many pictures as we wanted but no video and no voice recording.

We were introduced to our first tour guide. Asked if he had been a UVA supported, he explained that he had actually been a combatant and regularly went out in the evenings armed, usually to provide security.

He said that we should ask him any question, he was keen to tell the story. I found him very open minded and well educated.


She showed us the upper and lower Shankhill road where the UVA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando were roughly based.

There were murals everywhere and lots of tours run by Black Taxi.


One surprisingly ironic moment was while waking near the peace wall, he told us to slow down, because it was “dangerous”.

It turned out the road had a blind bend and he was concerned about road accidents.


The peace wall, is there to protect the communities (so in reality its not really about peace) we’d been given pens to write message on the wall.

I was amazed to see how close the houses from the different communities were to each other.

Our guide explained that in his youth, some older family members had convinced him to join the UVA. At that age he said, many young men are more easily influenced. I thought of my own youth and I had to agree.


There is a door in the wall we visited. He said the last person to walk through this door was the Dalhi Lama (he wont be doing it again soon, on close inspection, it’s now welded shut).


The Gates are closed remotely every night just before dark.

I asked him what would it have been like if he’d been on the “wrong” side of the wall after dark. He said simply, that never would have happened.

They would have recognised me simply because they didn’t recognise me and then bad things would have happened…

We were introduced to our republican guide. I was surprised when both guides shook hands.

When I asked, the UVA chap said: We are both former combatants, we’ve been shot at and injured. We’ve both lost family, so we know what’s at stake!.


It has to be said that the 2nd guide, was not as open minded but he did tell his story eloquently and there was a genuine manner about him that I warmed to.

He wasn’t a catholic and had been out on a peaceful human rights march when the “army” had broken his jaw with a rifle. “That’s when I joined the IRA” he said.

He explained that Catholics had been persecuted by the police and the army, and struggled to find work and proper housing due to prejudice.

He said he felt that many of the problems had been resolved, but the IRA had disarmed and disbanded and the Red Hand Commando were still active.

We saw this Mural to Bobby Sands who we’d hear more about later in the Crumlin Prison tour.


Interesting sticker.

There are still strong feeling about the local people and the police.


We walk past the Clonard Monastry where the original peace talks were held before the Good Friday agreement.


I’ve stood on the Great Wall of China, and I’ve watched the sun set over the Pyramids at Giza, but I honestly never thought I would stand on the Falls road.

I had read of so many terrible things happening on the Falls road. Over 3600 people died in the troubles, a quarter of them in a small area around where I’m standing.

Yet, it felt like any other street, people were walking to the pub and carrying shopping home.


With the outdoor part of the tour complete, we head back to Crumlin road gaol and the Cuffs restaurant there.

Lunch was no suprise. Irish stew, and actually really good. We got a free drink, but I declined Guinness and instead had lager.


We met our tour guide, a charming lady who walked us all around the prison and exercise yard telling us stories of things that had happened.

We even got to see the Governors office. She said that Bobby Sands was married there, with only a few sandwiches and a prison guards for witnesses.


Across the road, rather run down, was the courthouse. So many people were arrested at the time, that an underground tunnel underneath the road, connected the 2 buildings.

Our tour finishes and our excellent guide asks if we’d like to sign the visitors book. She had been slightly nervous throughout, and it was only then that we found out.

For 14 years she’d been one of a handful female guards to work at the Prison. She had retired and a few years later (a week earlier) had taken a job there as a tour guide.

Perhaps some skills are transferable.

Northern Ireland 2 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster fry (2/2).


The next day, our trip moves onto a completely different track.

Game of Thrones (one of my favourite TV programes) is produced mostly in Northern Ireland and there’s a chance to see some of the significant places from the series.

It would also enable us to see the Antrim coast and some of the amazing countryside there.

On our way to the starting point, we pass the Europa hotel. At one time, the most bombed hotel in Europe.


We board the coach, and head off.

Our first stop, is the cave where Melisandre gives birth to the Shadow assassin.


The tour continues and we see the beautiful scenery of the Antrim coast.


Dunluce Castle, 17th century ruins used as the exterior of the House of Greyjoy.


Mull of Kintyre, only 12 miles away.


Although its not featured in Game of Thrones, the The Giants Causeway is a must see sight and we spent almost 2 hours here.


Further along, the Carrick-a- rede rope-bridge and a chance to stretch out legs.


Dark Hedge, known to every fan of GOT as the The Kings Road.

Not as romantic as it seems in the series, hundreds of people there, so many people visit it now, that they won’t allow you to drive down it now.


Back to Belfast and a quick wander around the city before dinner.

The Green/Black statue of Dr Henry Cook.

Described as an “Anti libertarian” (I don’t know what that means) is featured in front of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.


With a whole day left, we wander over to the docks and the Titanic quarter.


One of the 2 large cranes (named Samson and Goliath) at one time, the largest cranes in the world.

H & W stands for Harland and Wolf, but the folk of Belfast say it means hello & welcome.

The dry dock they stand next to, is the largest in the world.


Titanic studios.

Located in a building which was the original paint shed, where the Titanic was painted.

This is where all the indoor scenes from game of thrones are shot.

If you enjoyed a scene in a cave or a palace, they were probably in here.

The back lot outside had an entire Wildling village.


The ugliest boat in the world


Titanic museum.

We had wanted to go and see it, but it was 20 quid.

Nikki wanted to see a museum of Naval ships and I had found a Game of Thrones exhibition, so we took leave of each other and went to these instead.


The Game of Thrones touring exhibition is set to show around the world.

Since most of the items come straight from the Belfast studio, it made sense that the TEC exhibition hall in the Titanic quarter would be its first stop.

Luckily I’m there at just the right time.


Jamie Lanister’s costume.


A re-creation of the crypt at Winterfell.


The original Hall of Faces.


A modern visual representation of the many faced god.

Recognise the guy on the top row, 2nd from the right.


The leader of the the white walkers.


On the right Arya Stark’s sword, Needle.


After such an amazing trip, we head for some food and another really friendly bar then back to the port, to get our overnight ferry back to Liverpool and straight into work for 7:30am

I can’t talk about what’s gone in Northern Ireland before, as I just don’t know enough about it.

But as a travel destination today, its one of the friendliest, most interesting and easily accessed places I can think off.

Meteora Greece, monoliths and James Bond


I’d wanted to visit Meteora, but could never justify an entire trip, just to see it.

Since I was spending Christmas in Athens and it was a short train journey from there, the Meteora starting pistol was fired.


Meteora is unique, as it has large round rock monoliths located right next to the village.

So close that you can literally walk out of your hotel and your at the foot of one.

A world heritage site, they contain a number of monastery’s on top.


My main interest came when I watched a James Bond film – For your eyes only (if your my sort of age, you may remember the theme song, by Shena Easton).

A significant part of the plot and ending are featured in Metora.


But first, we’ve got to get there.

We leave our hotel, and as we walked towards Athens railway station, it looked derelict and I wondered if it had closed down.

I remember reading on BBC News in 2008 that Greece was in such financial difficulty that it would be cheaper to close down the train network and transport all the passengers by Taxi.


Luckily, that hadn’t happened, and we arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as us, to visit Meteora for Christmas.


It looked like chaos from the platform, but once the doors opened we found our seats.

Extremely comfortable, large windows to enjoy the the view and plenty of space to store our bags.

After a relaxing 5 hours we arrive Meteora.


Kalamata Railway station in Kalampaka.

We take a moment to orientate ourselves, then walk to hotel Galaxy.


The receptionist is very helpful and the hotel clean and bright (a lot better than I’d expected for the money we’d paid).

In reception, they have a bus timetable and I was surprised they had so many regular services, considering it was Christmas & New Year.

But were here in search of adventure. We dump our bags and head out.


We wander around the town looking for some lunch (I had burger and chips, I was on holiday after all).

There were views like this one right from the centre of town. It wasn’t very warm, but the sky was completely clear.


As we relax, we review a map of the area. Not exactly to UK OS map standard, but gives us a rough idea of how to see the things we want the following day.


Back into the centre of town for an evening of nice wine and delicious Greek food.

They had a nativity thing set up in the main square.


Our evening over, we walk back to our hotel.

I was delighted to see that they light up the monoliths at night in this spectacular fashion.


In the morning, we head out early towards the village of Kastraki


It’s so cold, that this map, is frozen, and I have to use a tesco clubcard to clear away the section we want to visit.


We continue up a path from the village.

The are is clear and fresh and there are tree’s on each side of the road.


We leave the road, had into the foothills, along a path.

The sun is up now and the views spectacular.


We find an old military vehicle is abandoned next to a vineyard.


Branching off, we follow a path between Great Meteoron and Varlam.


The views on either side are spectacular.


Some parts of the path need some tlc, this bench on the trail certainly wasn’t in a state to be sat on.


As we arrive at the monastery of Great Meteoron (the view is looking back to the monastery of Varlam) we find loads of tourists who’ve travelled up by bus).

The ask us how we’ve got there. We point back down the trail and tell them where it comes out on the road. We have 2 maps, so we give one to a friendly couple who are wearing Dr Martens.


Inside the monastery (its a few Euros to look around), the paintings are superb. After a short while, we walk to the monastery of Varlam, and the views all around are incredible.


But instead of going back, we head deeper into the mountains. Our intention is to loop back around Doupiani and take a circular route back to Kastraki and onto Kalampaka.


On the way, we see a statue and flag to Papathymios Vlachava who famously led the fight agains Ali Pashi of the Ottoman empire.

It was strange really, as it was literally in the middle of nowhere.


We pass another monastery. This time, its not actually on top of the monolith, but carved into the side.

Well off the beaten track, it was unfortunately closed.

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Back down through the mountains and forests, looking back up the trail.


Back down through Kastraki, its just turning 6pm.

We stop on the way home at a family run restaurant – chips and red wine.


The next morning, we choose a different route entirely.

Leading straight from Kalampaka, the paths are much better maintained.


Were heading for the monastery of the Holly Trinity.


Which in the James Bond film, looks like this, and is called St Cyrils.


A spectacular scene in the film involved Bond climbing up a shear face of the monolith.

We’ve no such ambitions, and use the normal path up through the rocks.


Inside St Stephens monastery, an enormous series of buildings.


The are outside St Stephens has amazingly clear air, spectacular views of Kalampaka and Kastraki, and a superb spot to relax (and the place where the ATAC system was destroyed at the end of For your eyes only.


Our adventure ends a bit more serenely.

With 2 hours before our train home, we relax with some snacks, and a cold beer, back in Kalamapaka.

Return to Athens


I originally visited Athens in 2005 (you can read about it here and here)

I like to go away for Christmas. We visited 2 destinations in Greece, and it gave me a chance to go back to Athens.


Straight out of the airport, we buy a metro tickets and head for the centre of Athens.

It wasn’t particularly warm, but we had a fab time.


We arrive at Kubik Athens Smart Hotel. It was a budget affair, and I wasn’t sure what it would be like.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. It had a friendly bar, exemplary customer service and a hotel room out of tomorrows world.

It was so modern in fact, that the curtains, lights, tv and everything were controlled from a tablet.


But were no Rock Stars and we don’t travel to hang out in hotels.

Out exploring. Its a few years since I was in Athens (the recession happened in between times). The people were still very friendly but some of the streets were really dirty.

We start off  by wandering around the Monastiraki flee market.


The Agora museum entrance is super for taking pictures as it really leads the eye.


On my first visit to the Agora museum, I completely missed this fascinating Spartan shield.

From the battle of Sphacteria in 425 BC. A priceless artefact, it’s the only one of its kind in the world.

In practical terms, its hard to imagine someone running around the battle field with this heavy thing, but its said that the Spartans were “a special kind” of men.


I decided to pick out a few places I didn’t visit last time – Hadrian’s Arch.


The stunning Panatheniac stadium.

Finishing point for the modern Athens marathon, the site has been used countless times for sporting events and the first Olympic games were held here.


Presidential palace.


The guard on the front gate is a member of an elite group of commando’s, but unfortunately has to wear ridiculous clothes out of tradition.

Back to our hotel, quick clean up then drinks in the hotel bar.

Some idiot Japanese students order take out Pizza’s and stank the place out. Shame, were were enjoying ourselves.

Never mind, we decided to head out for the evening.


 An enchanting restaurant, done out like a general store with cans and supplies everywhere.


Next morning and we head for the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.


Last time I was here, the Parthenon marbles were stored in this small building.

The Greeks have always argued for the return of the other half of the marbles, (referred to in Britain, as the Elgin marbles), presently housed in the British Museum.

The British museum had argued that the Athenian museum was not appropriate for such significant artefacts and that was their bases for keeping hold of them.

The Greek government had countered, by constructing an incredible new museum to host the collection. So, this building was now empty (it would have made a superb cafe, and there didn’t seem to be anywhere else to get coffee !).


A view from the Acropolis, showing the new Acropolis museum bellow.

It was only half built, the last time I was here, and I was disappointed not to be able to see it.


The museum is literally built on top of an archaeological site, which we see as we walk towards the entrance.

Excavation of the site bellow the museum continues.


Opened in 2009, I wandered around, and I really was impressed with its informative displays, overall quality of the building and the professionalism of the staff.

Lunch in the cafe delicious and the service superb.


A re-creation of the Parthenon, with the marbles displayed in relative position. The ones that are missing have an ostentatious sign that says AWAITING RETURN FROM THE BRITISH MUSEUM.

the walls around the museum are glass so the marbles can be viewed in daylight, as they would be if you were wandering around the outside of the Parthenon.


A design feature of the museum is this viewing gallery, which allows the Parthenon view to interact with the viewing of the marbles.

We head back to our hotel in a reflective mood. A few drinks and dinner near out hotel, then off to bed to prepare for our trip to Meteora.


Arriving back in the evening, its dark and some of the streets we walk down aren’t particularly inviting


No matter, we get to our hotel without problems and go out for dinner (its New Years Eve and my thoughts are off the amazing possibilities of the coming year).


Back at our hotel (360 degree pop art hotel if your ever near there).

A drink on the rooftop terrace has views of the acropolis.

As its New Year, they have a fireworks display.


In the morning, standing in the same spot.

We had breakfast, but decided to eat indoors as the weather wasn’t very nice.


Our first top on New Years day, is the National Archaeological museum.


The place was massive and it took me 2 hours to see all of it.


But were on holiday, so after lots of exploring, they have a nice garden in the middle,  so we stop to relax in the cafe.


A pigeon had somehow got inside the cafe.

Nobody seemed to mind, and the pigeon just seemed to wander around (and why not, he wasn’t doing any harm).


We continue on our way and decide to visit another place I missed last time – Lycabettus hill.

I wanted to take the cable car, but Nikki insisted we walk.


Has spectacular views of the city, and there were hundreds of people at the top.

The 360 degree views of Athens were incredible.

Strangely, there didn’t appear to be many skyscrapers, which for an international capital, was a surprise.


Back into town, the Metropolitan cathedral, a modern building that contrasts with all the ancient stuff I’ve been seeing over the past few days.

A few drinks, then back on the metro to the airport.


At the Airport, about to go home.

A machine allows me to vote: Should the Elgin Marbles be returned to Athens ?

I visit the British Museum frequently. They’ve got enough artefacts to spare.

Travel Emergency Repair Kit


In just a few weeks I’ll be embarking on the most ambitious trip of my life, to Easter Island, the Antarctic Peninsula, Patagonia, The Falkland Islands, Argentina and Chile.

The trip is  to celebrate my 50th birthday, it will eclipse anything that I’ve done before and will be my first
adventure on a cruise ship.

Obviously I have an established/proven system for packing which has already begun in earnest (packing sheet shown above, ready to be filled in).

This is also the time of your when I review all of my gear and equipment.

Ripped clothes off to the menders, broken or damaged things to be repaired, replace things that are just worn out, change battery’s in torches, sharpen penknives etc.

It’s also important to open things like first aid kits and check all of the equipment inside is still functioning and in date.


On that subject, this weeks blog is about my emergency repair kit (or ERK as I call it).

As I go through the contents, I hope to inspire other people to pack one of their own, for future trips.


Some years ago, I did a few courses in Alpine mountaineering and the Alpine style of going light.

Although I decided not to continue with it as a hobby, I learned lots of usefull things, and one of them was the philosophy of travelling ultra light.

Traditionally, outdoor people take things like a spare torch, a spare waterproof and such like.

In the Alpine style, everything is kept to the bare minimum of essentials (to the point sometimes off sawing the handles off tooth brushes and drilling holes in spoon handles).

A minimal first aid kit and an emergency repair kit are carried to put you and your equipment back together if something goes wrong.

Although designed for the high mountains miles from anywhere, I’ve applied mine so it can be used in lots of different environments and provides peace of mind wherever I go.


The whole kit laid out on my work table.

On the bottom left, is the plastic box I carry it in (from the £ shop, you can guess what it cost :).

I’ll go through the items in order. Their inclusion should be self explanatory, but I’ll add notes where necessary.


1. Rubber bands
I wrap them around the outside of the box to make it extra secure.


2. Replacement rucksack clip and spare webbing

A bit difficult to see in this picture, but the thing on the left, is a replaceable main rucksack clip. It has a screw across the middle so it can be re-attached.

The webbing on the right is the old fashioned way this used to be done, buy tying a tape know (and useful in its own right).


3. Superglue
Always store in small plastic bags. that way if they burst, they won’t destroy other contents in the box.

Ever wonder why nobody had heard of superglue before the Vietnam war ?. It was used for in-field emergency trauma care.


4. Safety pins
They have numerous uses (they can even be used as fish hooks). I’ve used them in the past, with an airline blanket to make a serviceable sleeping bag.


5. Stainless steel wire


6. Small stubby pen, wrapped with gaffa/duck tape

Something simple like a pen, is easily forgotten.

Watching the  A team in my youth, and they used with some aluminium poles, a polythene sheet and a lawnmower to make a microlight, after being locked in a shed. I’ve never built anything so ambitious, but this stuff has too many practically uses to even list here.


7. Cable ties of various sizes


8. Lighter with electrical tape

Ability to light a fire may be useful. Electrical tape can be used for jobs too fine for the duck tape.

This single use lighter was bought from the £ shop and featured a small torch, adding additional functionality to the kit.


9. Lightweight Para-cord

Bought from Cotswold outdoors, 2 metres packs much smaller than normal “green” para-cord, but can hold body weight (mine, which is quite a lot).


10. Small piece of candle shaved square

I borrowed this from the tobacco tin survival kit in the SAS survival handbook.

With a coke can, can make a simple lantern during a power failure or used on its own to assist in fire-lighting.


11. Sewing kit in a plastic container

Has a few different colours of thread, 4 standard needles, some really thick thread and a sale makers needle
for bigger jobs.


12. Small Multi-tool

Features a knife, bottle/can opener, pliers, nail-file and multiple screwdrivers.


13. Collapsible corkscrew

A pure luxury, but it would be awful to be in a situation where you have a bottle of wine and no means to open it !.


14. Spectacle repair kit

Some small screws, 2 small screwdrivers and a simple magnifying glass. £1.50 from Tesco.


15. 3 AAA batteries

Spares for  my head-torch.


16. Plastic bags

Can be used to carry/purify water, waterproof important objects and even make a window for a survival shelter.


17. Tenacious tape

Tape for repairing clothing like sleeping bags, waterproof jackets and stuff like that. Expensive, but it performs near permanent repairs, wherever you are.


Finally, the empty box with a 50p coin to show its size.

I hope you found some of this interesting, next week I’ll be talking adventure first aid kits.

Thanks once again for reading, the search for adventure continues…