The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Month: December, 2017

Look back on 2017 via Instagram: Part Two July to December

Okay so we finished the last post at the end of June, let’s dive in and see what other gems i can find for the back end of 2017!

Let’s start off with a little fun shall we? Laura was one of the first people i met while doing a PhD and since then i like to think we’ve grown pretty close as friends and by time July came i thought we knew each other well enough for me to do this and get away with it!

In July after four years of having the same glasses it was finally time for some new ones! Glasses if you wear them all of the time become a part of you. I loved my old glasses but it was time for a subtle change and improvement and i’m glad i did! I now love my glasses!

I was honoured to be a Best Man for my Brother from another mother Luke and even more so to be the Master of Ceremony at his Wedding! It meant a lot and such a thoughtful gift to receive from him on the eve of the wedding! Plenty of whiskey will be drank from this i can assure you!

Wedding day finally arrived and it was a wonderful day and everything worked out great! Luke and Amy deffo win my couple of 2017 award! They also win the wedding of 2017 award too but i only went to theirs in 2017 but even if i went to others i’m sure they would have won too. Stunning venue, great organisation and just a lovely day and night filled with love and laughter!

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Last night 😂

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Wedding night with the family though…oh that crazy wonderful family of mine! I like this picture because it sums up how bonkers we really are!

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50 shades of pug 🤣

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This picture was taken the day after the wedding and is still probably one of my favourite days of 2017. It was one of those perfect days full of laughter! I love these two and there was nothing but laughing and goofing around in the sun. We were the three that were most often in the office together and a little trio formed, we’re all very different and we each have our quirks but one thing we have in common is having a laugh. It was one of those days were if you had the ability to replay it, if you were ever feeling down you’d whack that episode on and watch it time and time again and you’d cry with laughter. That weekend was such a good weekend with nothing but love, laughter and memories. I can still hear the sound of the pug now :D. I had bigged Formby Pinewoods up to these two and it didn’t disappoint!

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"Act naturally you two!" So we did. 😂

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If a picture summed up our friendship i think it would be this one!

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Romantic meal with Quayle. 😉

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After using my excellent fashion skills and hours of shopping with Laura and after trying to find a place to eat i stumbled upon an old Italian restaurant i used to go to. A nice romantic meal for the most coupley non couple of 2017 ;)!

After weeks of literally hitting my head against the desk to get my models to work i did something (i still haven’t figured out what i did!) and it worked and it was a wahoo finally moment! Sometimes you just have to take the credit even if you have no idea what you did. I was happy as this formed a huge part of the PhD and was a breakthrough for me! Plus they cool right?

Another of my favourite images of 2017! Another day full of laughing! Despite our paint war i think us PhD students did a cracking job of painting!

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#PhDfamily

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PhD family is always more than just the PhD! We weren’t painting any old room it was for Vics wonderful new house! She has done an astounding job decorating her house, i mean it is seriously good! If the PhD ever falls through or you get sick of academia Vic then you most certainly have a career in interior design!!

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#Nnnnneeeerrrrfff

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The moment Katie became an official honorary Scouser by getting a selfie with an actual scouser and the Iron Men! That was a fun day out and quite possibly the biggest steak i’ve ever had! I’m sure it was half of an actual cow.

In August we ended up in Prague for a brilliant five day trip! This picture was taken on arrival for our adventure despite the delay! That was a really good trip that had many funny moments in as always with these two. Prague itself was a stunning city and one i’d love to go back to one day!

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Coolest selfie yet 😂😂

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Still by far the coolest selfie i’ve ever been in!

If you wanted to know the dynamics of this group here is a taster…they both just gang up on me and bully me but i wouldn’t have it any other way 😛

In September it was great to present at the EFL conference and having a catch up with my old boss! Never did i think 7 years ago when we first met that we’d become friends and eventually become office buddies together! Dr The Most Scouse Plastic Scouser there is 😉

I just love this picture! The sunrise manages to light up the rainstorm giving a whole new meaning to there is always a silverlining. Special moment and great to capture it on camera. Walking through the park on my way to work is always a pleasure for moments like this. Nature is beautiful, you just have to keep your eyes open for it so that you don’t miss it!

At the end of September my Operations Manual was approved and my licence became official! 2017 achievement award!

At the end of September i started that epic solo adventure. My first stop Iceland was breathtaking and i so long to go back there!

It felt so good to be back in Canada especially for their 150th birthday! Naaaw i always forget how young Canada is compared to its big brother the UK! This was my first day in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Later that day i would travel to Peggy’s cove the most photographed Lighthouse in the world!

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Trying some local food, moose stew! 😊

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After travelling on the plane for 2hrs 30 up to the frozen North East of Canada to St John’s i settled down in a cosy pub to escape the -5c wind chill to try some local food. Moose stew was pretty decent and i just loved the pastry!

The next day i travelled to the most Easterly point of North America! Pretty special to say i’ve stepped foot on the most Easterly piece of North America. Amazingly rugged place and today was the day that i would fall in love with St. John’s and Newfoundland.

I had an amazing time solo travelling so far and nothing i love more than hiking up a mountain alone thousands of mile from home! I loved this place and the caption sums up my feelings perfectly as the sun set!

Even if that solo hike was fucking scary at times!!

Charlotte town completely stole my heart of this trip. There is not a day i don’t wish i was back on this wonderful Island of Prince Edward Island. It was just amazing from start to finish!

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😍

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The 2017 most amazing sunset award goes to my first night on Prince Edward Island!

What happens on travels stays on travels hey?  Hahah.

My most serine moment of 2017 has to be my last night on Prince Edward Island listening to the most beautiful music with another stunning sunset with the birds flying home to roost. God i miss that place!

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The awesome Canadian Cliffe's! 😚

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It was great to end my trip with my first Canadian thanksgiving and again what amazing hospitality they gave me! As the caption states oceans between us but the bond is as strong as ever! As much as i miss Prince Edward Island i miss these guys so much more, family is family no matter where we are in the world!

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Business class upgrade 👌

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One last gift from this trip was a lovely upgrade to Business class home! Sometimes i am just lucky!!

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Great evening at the fireworks! 💥🔥

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November it was back home and back to work but it was great to watch an amazing free firework show on Liverpool’s waterfront with these guys!

One of my fav pictures of me and Em taken on a very cold November beach! We did however see many squirrels for the first time in like forever have i ever seen that many squirrels in the woods! It was almost as if they were following me…

That moment that you both turn up to work wearing pretty much the same thing! I still don’t know if that is a good thing or not!? #Twinning

Maybe the Squirrels were following me? The award for WTF!? moment of 2017 goes to this little buddy climbing up my leg in Chester!

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Great yearly catch up with Han and Dan!

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Always a pleasure catching up with Han and Dan and even better in Chester where it all began 7 years ago when me and Han struck up a conversation about Muse because i had a Muse T-shirt on in the first few days of undergrad then the rest is as they say, history!

My luck continued into December where Em had got free tickets for Kasabian and invited me along. Not only did i get a free ticket, i got upgraded on said free ticket and we both got closer to the stage! Awwww yeah! Cracking gig and my first in 7 years!!

It wouldn’t be a review blog if i didn’t mention my favourite ginger! An interesting year for the both of us its safe to say but as always and as per the last few years i know that we will always try to get each other through the madness that is life! We get one selfie every year and i quite like 2017! At least this time we’re not being photobombed by 2016’s giant LED reindeer!

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Happy Christmas from the PhD office!

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But 2017 has been dominated by the PhD and these guys as i spent nearly all of my time with them and in the office so its only fitting to leave 2017 with this image of this crazy lot! I hope 2018 is full of adventure and fun and i look forward to more fun and pictures. Have a great New Year everyone!!

Look back on my year via Instagram: Part one January to June

 

As 2017 is coming to a close i thought i’d take a step back from writing my travel blogs and dive into my Instagram to find some of my favourite shots of 2017 that i’ve taken. Each picture i’ll explain why i like it so much, it may be the story behind it or the subject to just the colours and setting. I’m writing this as i go though my Instagram in chronological order so i have no idea what i will find! What i do know is i suspect plenty of landscapes and friend selfies that’s for sure! This first blog is January to June So here we go…

Ah yeah what a nice start to the year it was in the world of the PhD office! We all hit rough patches while doing a PhD and mine was definitely between the months of January and May. This post in particular was a culmination of nothing but crap for like three weeks and on that Monday morning i had an email which just topped the lot! But sweets made everything better :D. I like this picture because it sums up those who i share this journey with, they always pick you up when the PhD knocks you down.

It was nice to have my first trip of the year to see the Irish family and on the way back on a particularly cold February morning the frozen Welsh mountains gave a lovely sight on the flight home! I never get tire of taking pictures of landscapes from the air.

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His and hers 😂 #cycling #roadcycling

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I gained a new cycling partner in Laura in 2017, i just think the size difference and looks in our bikes is just cute and therefore worthy of a mention! It is super cute tho.

This was an odd day, sitting in front of TV cameras giving a speech about your PhD research! Was really cool to do and kind of felt like i was on the news!

A video this time! Storm Doris hit Merseyside with 90 mph winds…of course me and Rosie thought it would be a good idea to leave the relative safe confines of the office to walk in it! At least now i have proof that i’ve walked in nearly hurricane winds!

Had such a good time with Em in March for our little trip away. We did indeed feel like a King and Queen looking out onto the sprawl of Amsterdam at midnight. It was a great trip with a long and well loved friend and sometimes you get those perfect nights. It was a pretty cool view that’s for sure! What i love most about this photograph though is a definition of our friendship, no matter what we’re always at each other side.

This picture and the caption makes me laugh as it pretty much sums up our expressions 90% of the time that we’ve hung out for 12 years! 😀

Not long after i arrived back from Amsterdam did i go ahead and book the 2 week solo adventure to Iceland and Canada for September and October! Here it was jotted down in my notebook. I like this picture because having done this trip its crazy to see it written down at the time of booking on one piece of paper. A few months later that page would travel thousands of miles with me!

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Packing the bike up for Ireland

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In April it was time to grab the passport out again and head to Ireland for a few days cycling! This was to be the first time i’d ever taken my bike outside of the UK and my travel bag worked a treat!

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First time faster than a plane!

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This was pretty cool cycling away from Dublin on stage one of the tour of Ireland! That turned out to be the easiest ride of them all and that route is something i’ve wanted to do for ages!

By far one of my favourite personal moments of 2017 captured in this photograph. Of all of the years i’ve been cycling and been travelling to Ireland i’ve always wanted to cycle up the Iconic Howth Head climb. I finally got the chance and not only did i get up without stopping, i smashed it with 2nd quickest of the day! This moment proved to me that all hard work on the bike over the winter paid off, it showed that mind over matter always works and that sometimes goals are only achievable if you work for them. Despite the 30mph winds and brutal 16% incline i was chuffed and still am!

Sticking with the cycling theme, this is one of my favourite shots of my bike. This was at around 7 a.m on a spring morning training ride and the sun was just perfect. As a photographer i couldn’t just pass this bridge without taking a picture!

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Gulp. First assessment day.

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Still get sweaty palms just looking at this picture! After months of revision and online modules it was the first day of three days of Civil Aviation Authority RPAS Pilots licencing exams. Still one of the hardest things i have ever done and certainly the most pressured thing. If i didn’t pass these exams i would have no PhD…So no pressure at all.

3 days later and right after a touch and go practical exam i became the UK’s newest qualified RPAS pilot. A dream and a goal i’ve had since i was 5 years old was to have a pilots licence and i finally achieved that. What better way to celebrate than a pint before my three hour train ride home. Deffo 2017’s “You finally did it!” moments. That never tasted so good!

By time May came around i was having another of my Birthday’s outside of the country! This time i spent it in Berlin in a bar full of monkey’s while being beat at Darts by Wolfgang and his bitches. Quite a surreal way to spend your 25th birthday if i’m honest!

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Brandenburg gate! #travels #Berlin

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Berlin was a lovely city and i recommend you visit it at least once! Luke’s stag do was a brilliant few days away in Germany, with cars, bratwursts and a football game!

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My RPAS pilot wings came today! 🛩

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My RPAS Pilots wings came and within that small metal pin badge is a lifetime of trying and goals achieved. Means a lot to me that does getting that and i wear it with pride while flying.

PhD life summed up in one picture…Coffee and Computers. PhD at this point was heavy going with having to create from scratch a 20,000 word Operations Manual for my UAV. It was one of the longest and most frusrating things i’ve ever had the displeasure of doing but as with all PhD’s there are hurdles like this that you have to plough on with and win. I got there in the end…

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Cya work hello three day weekend.

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Following on from that Operations Manual it reached a point by June where i ran out of fucks to give with the PhD and everything in between. Logging out for the weekend like…

Probably 2017’s most random thing award has to go to the man who was standing in a field playing the bagpipes. I mean as you do right?

It still amazes me the rollercoaster of emotions you get on a PhD. Only 9 days before this post i was at the point of no fucks having been worn down by writing the ops manual and i was in need of a win. It came with the news that a paper i submitted in March had been accepted for publication! My first ever journal article! Another goal achieved this year and i was very proud to have got my first one under my belt. 😀

This things you do for your bro…i get a call asking if i’m free. I didn’t expect it to end up lugging a 60kg log through the woods for his back garden! In his defence it’s now a lovely plant holder in his garden and i’m proud that i didn’t die doing log PT for a mile!

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Hiking!

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June i was off to the Isle of Man for the British National Road Race Championships. It was my first time on the Island and what a beautiful part of the world it is! I greatly enjoyed my time on the island and especially Snaefell!

What a great way to cap off the first half of the year surrounded by beautiful Isle of Man scenery!

Part Two July to December coming up next!

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

Today i travel to the South Coast of Iceland walking under waterfalls, walking by glaciers and black sands and then finishing the day off under an amazing Northern Lights display.

One of my motto’s for travelling is if you don’t feel absolutely knackered coming back from a holiday then it hasn’t really been a good one. I never get why people pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds to sit on a beach all day and do nothing. Nope that ain’t me! Out of the hotel by 8 a.m at the latest and I don’t get back in until 8 pm at the earliest. Today however I was to be out of the hotel at 8 a.m and not get back until 1 a.m the next day. Today was the day I was really looking forward to, today was the day that this whole adventure really began. Being in Iceland and Reykjavik was cool but I came for the scenery, I came for the Geography, I came for the adventure. There are so many tour operators in Iceland that it’s hard to decide who to choose. Han my resident Icelandic expert uses a company called Icelandic Guided Tours and she assured me that “While they’re more expensive than most companies they’re the best, they offer great trips and it’s a lot more personal because they only take a small number of people”. Han has never failed me with her advice and she didn’t this time either. While yes, they are one of the most expensive companies on the Island for just under £100 you got a 9 hour tour which in the grand scheme of things is still an amazing price! They do a lot of tours and in Iceland I wanted to do them all but today was only my real full day so I had to decide out of the main two which one to do. South Coast tour or the Golden Circle tour. I decided that while the Golden Circle sounds great and was £30 cheaper it visited a lot of touristy places such as the Blue Lagoon whereas the South coast tour offered waterfalls and glaciers. Errm absolutely! That is so me! So that’s the one I booked and so glad I did! If you have only a full day in Iceland please choose the South Coast tour, you will not be dissapointed! For more info visit here https://www.igtours.is/en/tours/south-coast-tour-by-mini-bus

The rain was hammering against the window of my hotel room and I was very glad I brought all of my fieldwork equipment and clothing with me. It was very geography fieldwork weather that’s for sure! 3 degrees and rain. My walking boots and waterproof walking trousers certainly got fully tested on this trip!

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Ready for 9 hours out in the Icelandic wilderness

The minibus picked me up at exactly 8.15 a.m and it turns out I was one of the last ones to be picked up from the city. The tour guide greeted me, an old rugged but cheery Icelandic chap called Oshsckah (Sounds a lot like Oscar but just imagine Sean Connery saying it) he shook my hand and welcomed me on-board. I was greeted by a family of Japanese tourists who all greeted me in Japanese while a man who was with them greeted me with a stern British accent “Good morning chap”. Not only did today already have the feeling of adventure now I had an Indiana Jones archaeologist on the trip, he wouldn’t have looked out of place with one of those white helmets on and looked an awful lot like Arthur Frooman from Eurotrip! I said hello back and saw that my go to seat on the minibus was free. Every minibus usually always has a single seat at the back over the wheel well. That’s my go to spot for fieldwork and room next to you for your bag. Always a win win. Plus it means I didn’t have to sit next to anyone which was perfectly fine by me!

We drove for another 10 minutes in silence to the edge of the city where we picked up our final two passengers, two older ladies from Canada. Oshsckah informed us that we will be driving for at least an hour until our next stop and we set off in silence. For a minute I thought it would be a weird hour sat in silence despite the views. However it turns out he was just connecting his microphone! He gave some really interesting stories and information as we drove towards the south coast of Iceland, we left the city far behind and the views changed from lava and basalt flows to steaming vents to the flat plains of the coast. You could be on another planet as far as I was concerned. This place was stunningly beautiful and desolate. Everywhere you looked just made you say wow. Having such awful weather only added to the sense of rugged adventure and exploration of such an alien world.

We drove through the first sign of civilisation in miles as we passed a service town and here is where we stopped for the toilet and some food. I hadn’t had breakfast yet or a coffee and as any explorer knows you can’t explore on an empty stomach or without a cup of Joe first! Little did I know that would be my last cup of espresso based coffee for two weeks. I love Canada but filter and drip coffee will never compare to European espresso based coffees. Drip and filter is weak! Considering Americano’s were invented by American G.I’s in world war one by adding water to espressos that the Italians served them you’d think it would translate back on the North American continent but no!

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Breakfast of champions

We were soon on our way again as I savoured the delights of an Icelandic Americano and before long the looming line of volcanoes appeared with their gushing waterfalls cascading along the sides, their mystical peaks surrounded by dense rain clouds, giving this place that very Icelandic feel along with the rendition of Jurassic Park in my head!

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Doo do doo doo DO Doo do doo doo DO doo dedo doo doo do dooo DE doo

He pulled over and we were greeted with the first highlight of the day, Eyjafjallajökull. Which is so much easier to type than it is to say! Egg-ya-ful…ah I give up, I just call it the famous 2010 volcano that stopped all European flights for a week. What an unexpected surprise! This wasn’t on the itinerary so I was over the moon! This for a Geographer is like one of the Holy Grail of places to visit! Such a beautiful volcano too.

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Eyjafjallajökull in all her beauty

After a few snaps it was back on the road for another half an hour drive before we pulled into our next stop the Skógafoss waterfall. I’m really glad I chose to visit Iceland in September because it’s yet to freeze over (although it was fecking cold) and you get the dark nights for the Northern Lights. Seeing waterfalls in action are always breath-taking, to walk right next to one even more so. Nothing makes me happier than being in a beautiful environment with stunning views and nothing but yourself and nature. I was fortunate to be lucky to have so many moments on this trip like that. I risked getting the camera drenched for a few shots but relied mostly on my waterproof Samsung for one of many selfies!

Skógafoss waterfall

Skógafoss waterfall

After being drenched by the waterfall (and that wasn’t going to be the only one today!) we headed to the most Southerly tip of Iceland, a town called Vic. Here we stayed for an hour and people went to get some food and some shopping. I dashed in for a sandwich and got some trinkets for the office. Trolls are huge in Iceland it’s a religion to them and they firmly believe that trolls look after you and keep you safe. I guess our equivalent to a guardian angel. I thought who needs a protective good luck troll more than my friends who are doing a PhD? So at least H105 is protected by 4 strong Icelandic trolls! Who no offence to the trolls…are incredibly fugly! While the rest of the tour sat inside warming up I ventured out onto the beach that was a short walk away from town. Nothing but me, the crashing Atlantic waves, the stunning fallen cliffs and the deep black beach. Walking on black sand felt like another planet. The fallen arches from the cliffs and the black sand beach looked like something out of Star Wars. A first order ship floating past would not have seemed out of place at all. Simply stunning.

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A planet i mean a village called Vic

After plenty of pictures it was back on the bus to our next stop, Reynisfjara which is basically the most famous black beach in Iceland. It was very busy here with Tourists and it’s no surprise why but as I just explored the black beach in Vic I was happy to spend my time just taking in the view with my own eyes rather than the camera lens for once…well besides this picture anyway!

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Standard i’m trying to look like a Geographer photo

After half an hour it was back on the bus and by now the rain had stopped and it looked like it might just clear up for once! As amazing as Iceland is I was sure it would be even better in the sunshine! The drives between these places were amazing within themselves. If I paid to just be driven around I still think it would have been good value for money. I can’t stress enough how beautiful and how happy this place made me feel. My mum loved Iceland when she went, Han fell in love with it and they both warned me that I would fall for its beautiful charms. They were right and it kept on giving as the day went on! After the black beach I traversed the Sólheimajökull glacier (another stunning place) and the sun appeared as I walked behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

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Sólheimajökull Glacier

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I got utterly battered and soaked by the water but what an amazing experience to walk behind such a large waterfall. Getting wet was all part of the fun! To warm up I bought some Icelandic Soup which is basically lamb, carrot, onion and broccoli in a vegetable broth. It burnt all the way down and seriously fucked my tounge up because I ate it too quickly but damn it was good! I sat down on the bench looking out at the waterfall, miles away from home with a big smile on my face. Today had been…so me. Exploring and travelling is all about experiences and moments like today. I played over the things I’d seen and done today on the drive back to the city, still admiring the views.

It turned out a lot of people on this mini-bus were going on the Northern Lights tour tonight. I had told Oshsckah that I was going on the trip tonight and he assured me despite the weather, the forecast was a KP 6 a very strong storm so chances to see the Northern Lights were high and that having spoken to his colleagues the weather was to clear up for a few hours late tonight. It will go ahead he assured me. Sure enough an email come through to my phone confirming this. I was over joyed. I didn’t come to Iceland to specifically see the Northern Lights because I know how unpredictable they are but if I saw one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful gifts then of course I would be happy.

By time I got back to the hotel I didn’t have enough time to go out to eat so I ate my final cookie, got a quick shower to warm up and charged my camera gear ready for tonight. The rain began to fall again and despite the KP index still being 6 that excitement and hope began to slowly fade away. My weather apps said rain and overcast all night. I doubted my tour guides knowledge. On time I was picked up by a bigger minibus this time but again only holding around 20 people and again I was one of the last to be picked up due to the location of the hotel. I found a spare seat and off we went into the night. I can’t even begin to type our Northern Lights tour guides name but he was a lovely guy who gave a brilliant explanation of the Aurora Borealis and how to take pictures of them (I knew how to as I’d been practicing for weeks in my back garden on my technique so I was fully ready should they appear to capture them). He assured us all again that local knowledge it will clear and he was adamant that tonight would be a wonderful show. We drove for over 50 minutes away from the city and deep into the heart of the country, close to the airport. He pulled over and switched off the lights and told us he could see them. We all got off the bus and he pointed towards the sky.

Northern Lights

My first glimpse of the Northern Lights

There they were. Those charged particles racing across the sky. What a wonderful sight. I snapped away and bingo. I got an in focus shot of the lights. “Back on the bus guys”. I was like really!? But not to worry he said they’d get better and this was only a preview. We drove for a further 20 minutes away from any roads and down a dirt track. You could barely see your hand in front of your face as we stepped off the bus and I was glad I brought my torch! I looked up and stood mouth ajar. The stars were so clear and vibrant, I don’t think I’d ever seen so many stars. I was in awe as I looked towards the horizon and saw the snaking shimmering northern lights. It really does take your breath away. It’s hard to explain how it feels to see such raw natural beauty. I got to work taking pictures of them. They constantly changed, constantly giving new colours and new patterns, a dazzling free light show right over your head.

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It felt amazing to be in complete silence away from any civilisation, hundreds of miles from home, looking up at the night sky speckled with diamonds and mother nature’s wonderful gift of the Northern Lights over your head. What a truly spectacular experience. Not only did I get to see them, my luck continued as the KP 6 storm meant I got to see purples and reds and as the tour guide pointed out I was very lucky to witness and photograph the Angel. I’m not a religious guy by any means but there is something spiritual about nature and the northern lights. You feel connected, you feel at home, you feel energised. I feel very privileged and very fortunate to have seen such an amazing display. I know people go to Iceland 5 times and never see them. My mum and sister have been twice but only saw them static and a dull green. I was so lucky to see such a vibrant display and the very rare angel. In life I often find the universe gives me little wins from free upgrades to luck like that. I’m so glad my photo practice worked as I snapped away getting shot after shot to capture the memories.

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The Angel

Not everyone can see the colours in the sky and I was one of them. To me they were a grey waving cloud it was only on the back of the camera could I truly see their bright vibrant colours so I was so glad to have my camera gear with me. After a few hours the clear sky was replaced by advancing rain and cloud and we headed back onto the bus for the drive back to the city with tales of trolls and stories of the lights. Everyone was buzzing and today ranked up there with one of the most special and most amazing experiences of my life. From walking under waterfalls, to walking on glaciers to experiencing the Northern Lights, how could you top such a day?

 

I got back to my room at 1 a.m and I didn’t get to sleep till gone 3ish as I was still on cloud 9, how could you not be? When I woke up at 8 a.m (I allowed myself to break my out by 8 a.m rule for once) I repacked my bag, something I’d grow tired of doing eventually on this trip and I headed back out to explore the city before my bus picked me up at 1pm to take me to the airport for my late afternoon flight to Halifax, Canada. My next stop on this wonderful adventure. I walked for 8 miles around the city taking in the sights and going up the Hallgrímskirkja church, Iceland’s most famous landmark.

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Hallgrímskirkja

Again a travel tradition of mine. Go up the tallest thing there is to go up and enjoy the views. From the top I could take one last look at the fabulous city and the views. Before long I was on the bus to the airport with a heavy heart, something I’d grow used to on this trip. Each place from here on in was amazing and it was so hard to leave each place but each place left its mark on me. I vowed I’d return to this beautiful Island one day. Han was right…I would fall in love with this place!

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Bye bye Iceland! You are beautiful!

That sadness to leave was replaced by excitement as I checked my bag in, got immersed in the utter mental chaos of Keflavik airport and waited for my flight to my favourite country…next stop Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada!

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

Foreword

Welcome to a series of travel blogs from what was truly an epic two week solo adventure that took me to Iceland where I walked under waterfalls and the Northern Lights, Halifax to scramble over sea rocks on the Atlantic coast, walk up mountains in -5 in St. Johns, fall in love in Prince Edward Island and my first Canadian thanksgiving with family in Toronto. This trip was the final trip on my 2017 travels and it surpassed my expectations in every single way. I came back from this trip so tired but so full of life and energy and memories that will stay with me for a life time. I took over 3000 pictures on this trip and that was from my main camera alone, there were another 1000 on my phone along with plenty of videos. In no way can I truly capture the essence of the trip and the pictures will never do the experience justice but I will try my best to convey it as best as I can in these blogs. Along the way I’ll tell you where I stayed, the cost of the hotels and tours and my recommendations just in case you end up over that side of the world one day. So sit back and relax and I hope you enjoy my indulgence in nostalgic memories and photographs from my trip. This blog starts with Day one…off to Iceland, the land of fire and ice

The land of fire and ice

Iceland to me has always been this mystical Island way out in the heart of the rugged North Atlantic, nestled just below the Arctic Circle. Built on thousands of years of volcanic activity and at the heart of the meeting place of the North American and European plates, as a geographer, there is no more a special place to visit. You see it in text books and you see it in videos and it’s always been on my list to visit. As a geographer, it’s one of those must see countries. It has it all from active volcanoes, to glaciers, to human impacts, it’s as if Mother Nature herself wanted a perfect case study of how our earth works. Of course however Iceland is expensive! Such beauty comes at a cost. As 2017 was my year of travel I had toyed and even priced up a solo trip to Iceland but decided it was just too expensive when I looked way back in January of this year. As much as I wanted to go, the price that it was I could have done a few mini city breaks instead. That frustrated me but I reasoned that I will get there one day. One of my best friends Han from my undergrad days has been a few times and sang its praises constantly, something my family have also done when they went last March to visit. Instead I went ahead and booked those other European breaks for this year and that was that…until.

Luckily when booking this epic solo North Atlantic adventure the option to fly via Iceland to Canada with Icelandair came up while organising this trip. What a perfect excuse to visit! Icelandair offer a new stop over ticket which is both a convenient and excellent idea for visiting Iceland. As Iceland is situated pretty much half way between mainland Europe and North America, Icelandair has built their business around transfer passengers using their base in Keflavik as a perfect and smooth system (which it really is! It was a breeze changing planes here on my way back from Canada). Of course it’s all well and good having passengers connect through to further destinations for cheaper prices but Iceland loses out on that tourism. So a shrewd move by Icelandair and their government introduced the stop-over ticket. One plane ticket from the UK to Canada with up to 7 days stop-over in Iceland to enjoy the delights of this wonderful country at no extra charge. As I was going to spend most of my time in Canada and to save money I elected to have a 2 day stop over, giving me an afternoon, a full day and a morning in Iceland. Sufficient for a taster and a hopefully great start to my holiday.

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Standard worn passport pre-travel picture

I was looking forward to my two week adventure and I knew this was going to be the last trip in what was already a fantastic year of travel thus far and even the £8 water and barely edible wrap from Manchester airport wasn’t going to dampen that spirit. As a seasoned traveller it still amazes me how stressed people get in airports and their ultimate fight to find a seat in the departure lounge. Granted I get stressed going through security, always do and always will but once I’m through I can relax. The clever traveller goes to find a gate to sit at rather than the departure lounge which always lack enough seats because it forces you to walk around and look in the shops. I looked out of the window and saw the tail of my aircraft and headed down to the gate, trusting my knowledge that this would be the gate even before it appeared on the board.

It was completely quiet and peaceful until the gate appeared on the monitors and the hordes of travellers filled up the seats. Icelandair use Boeing 757’s. The last time I was on 757 was the very first time I ever went to Canada when I was like 4/5 years old on Canada 3000. For an Avgeek the 757 is a classic aircraft affectionately known as the ‘Pencil plane’. It’s old and out of production but still a work horse of the skies, plus without the risk of sounding too nerdy I still don’t think the aviation industry has yet produced a jet engine that sounds as good as the 757 Rolls Royce RB211’s. Anyway…

The flight was full and we took off and headed north, up out over Scotland, not that I saw anything mind you, nothing but solid cloud below but it felt really good to finally be on my way for this two week adventure. I’d waited a long time for it! Icelandair were very good, excellent leg room and seat width and pitch in economy (I’d be super lucky on my flight back to try out their business class seats!). You don’t get any food on-board in economy (unless you pay beforehand) but for a 2hr 30min flight I survived just fine. You do get free drinks however from the very pretty stewardesses. I must say I used to think Aer Lingus had the hottest flight attendants but out of the four Icelandair flights I took on this trip, every flight was manned by absolute 10’s and worldies. So many blondes! Not to objectify women but they were so fit that it would be unfair not to comment on it. Of course they were exceptionally professional and great at their job, super friendly and efficient. Good job guys! After chatting to some people and tracking my own flight on flightradar on my phone (thank you onboard wifi! That costs around £4 and was pretty quick, quick enough to live stream leaving UK airspace and for WhatsApp and FlightRadar) after 2 hours we started our descent into the land of fire and ice.

The clouds broke up long enough for me to get a glimpse of the coastline and Reykjavik in the distance for a whole minute before we descended into thick cloud and rain. Typical Icelandic weather greeting. The approach into Keflavik airport and looking out of the window I knew how sparse and other world like this place was but it’s not until you fly over it does it all really sink in.

By touchdown I was itching to get out of the plane and explore and I was super excited! I was finally here! Leaving the plane however to get the bus to the terminal was a bit of shock to the system. Leaving the UK it was relatively warm at around 14 degrees. There is nothing like a blast of 4 degrees of a strong Atlantic wind and rain to wake you up and make you feel refreshed from the flight! From landing, to passport control, to collecting my bag and being on the Flybus to my hotel took a grand total of 15 minutes! If that’s not efficiency then I don’t know what is! Something I wish other airports *cough cough* Manchester was like. I was liking this experience already. The Flybus is a great system too and I recommend you use it if you do come to Iceland. It costs about £40 return but it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get to Reykjavik. The airport is a good 45 minute drive away and I don’t know how much a taxi costs but I guarantee it’s a lot more than that! You pre-book your ticket, get on the bus, the driver asks which hotel you’re going to and gives you a coloured card. The bus takes you all the way into the city centre bus depot where different smaller buses with your coloured card in the window wait to take you to the hotel. Again, super-efficient. The drive from the airport to the city was stunning and I was actually speechless at the views as we drove along the rugged black sand coast with volcanoes at the side of the road to the depot. Free wi-fi onboard was useful and despite the annoying loud American woman who was sitting behind me on facetime to her friend, “Oh my gaaaawd LISA! IT’S SO FREAKIN’ COLD” (the country had Ice in its name lady for Christ sake) the 45 minute ride to the city was a great introduction to the country. Luckily my red ticket meant I had to stay on this bus through to the hotel. By this time the rain had stopped and small patches of blue sky had started to form but I was glad to stay inside the heated bus for a little longer. My hat and gloves were still nestled in my suitcase! Doh!

Not long after we left the depot I arrived at my hotel the Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g189970-d10046045-Reviews-Eyja_Guldsmeden_Hotel-Reykjavik_Capital_Region.html

Now I could have stayed in the city for cheaper but fellow travel companions will know that I really value my comfort from hotels. I much prefer 4 and 5 star hotels! So much so that I am a Genius member on Booking.com which gives me access to such hotels for a price of a 3 star because I’ve booked so many hotels with them this year! The hotel for two nights costs me around £320 but it is Iceland prices and I couldn’t fault this hotel. Very Icelandic, very eco-friendly and very snazzy! I even got a free upgrade! My luck with upgrades continues in life it seems. I had booked the cheaper single room but they upgraded me to the top floor double which was far bigger (Iceland hotels are notoriously compact but this was a good sized Icelandic room!), massive TV, awesome shower and one of the most comfiest four poster beds I have ever slept in.

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After a quick freshen up and charge of my phone I headed out to explore the city. Even leaving the doors of the hotel was a treat. The doors sliding away to reveal the sea and the looming fjord, what a sight! I got an instant good vibe about the city as I walked through it, I love the different colours of the buildings, there is hardly any high rise which adds to its appeal, artistic graffiti gave different buildings different character and ah yeah, just what a lovely city!

For tea I headed to the Hard Rock Café. As you know that’s a travel tradition of mine and after buying my t-shirt I headed up to the restaurant. You can never go wrong with a Hard Rock Café and this one didn’t disappoint either, although this was the first time I’ve had had a waitress come and sit down opposite me and chat while taking my order and eating! Maybe she felt sorry for the solo traveller? Who knows! Lovely young girl, she’s moving to the Manchester Hard Rock café and should actually be there and settled in by now! When I asked her why she would go there rather than stay she mentioned about how there’s nothing to do here for young people and wanted to work in the UK before…yep that dreaded word Brexit stops her. I begged to differ and even if that were true if I had a choice to live in Iceland or Manchester, it certainly wouldn’t be the shithole that is the latter I can assure you of that!

By time I left the Hard Rock the sun was beginning to set as I walked around the harbour. It was very quiet, most of the work traffic had gone home and only the odd tourist could be seen. North Atlantic seabirds squawked as they headed to their nests as the small aircraft came in waves into the city’s small airport. I was jealous, what an approach over the bay into that airport, I hope to experience that one day.

I watched the sun turn the sky into a purple hue as I strolled around the harbour, the looming mountain and fjord across the water fading slowly into the darkness. I just sat on a stone wall and watched the sunset with nobody around me, breathing in that crisp clear air. As night time fell the city grew quieter, the lights of the Harper building (their opera house) shone on the still water. There was not much point hanging around to try and catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights as my tour that evening had been cancelled due to cloud and low solar activity which was a miniscule 2 on the KP index. They had rearranged for tomorrow so knowing I had a full 9 hour tour ahead tomorrow I walked back to the hotel, stopping off in a shop to pick up some snacks and water for tomorrow’s adventure. After a long hot geothermal shower I snuggled up inside this huge bed and before I knew it day one was done! Tomorrow the adventure really began!

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An Icelandic Purple sunset