The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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Autumn is around the corner. My four likes and dislikes of this season.

The nights are now getting longer, and thus, the days are shorter. There is a noticeable coolness to the winds that flow in off the Atlantic now, the first detectable signs of change in the colours of the leaves. Autumn is just around the corner.

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For some, autumn brings people joy and cheer, a change in the season, those turning colours of the leaves a welcome sign to usher in the colder weather as a respite from the summer. Not that we’ve had a particularly good end to the summer! It’s felt more autumnal in August this year than it does in November! Autumn, or fall, if you like saying words wrong, if I had to rank it, I’d place it at number 3 on my list. Spring is by far my favourite season when everything is warming up, nature is coming alive, and there is an excitement for the summer ahead, the longer days, the hot weather, and days out in the sun. Beautiful! Autumn, however, don’t get me wrong has its perks, way more than winter does (god I hate winter!) but it’s not as good as spring or summer. So, before you can say pumpkin spice latte, autumn will be here. So here are my four not so favourite things about this season and my, to its credit, four things I do like about this season.

Dislikes

I’m aware that many of my dislikes for autumn are probably some of your favourite things about it. You’re wrong, but that’s fine, I can live with that. Oddly, some of my dislikes have an alter ego side to them and form the basis of some of my likes for this season. All will become clear, I promise!

  1. The Long Nights and the Weather

In at number one is my number one dislike of autumn. The shorter days and long nights. It does my Seasonal Affective Disorder no good at all! The long days of summer, I pine for, the bright blue azure skies and the twilight of what little darkness hours exist in the summer. Autumn that all changes. You get up in the dark and by the time you get home from work, it’s nearly dark. It makes me feel like I’m trapped in a lightless cardboard box. Grim. I’m the type of person who runs hot to touch, which means I always feel cold, so I dread the colder weather coming in. At least now I don’t look out of place wearing jumpers and gilets, so silver lining I guess! I love the weather, but I suppose you might have already figured that out if my social media posts are anything to go by. Sure, I love storms they’re exciting, especially thunderstorms but in autumn the heat and the energy in the atmosphere dissipates, the high pressure forms low pressure and we go from clear blue skies to occasional epic thunderstorms, to an endless conveyor belt off of the Atlantic of cold wind, torrential rain, and endless days of cloud. If you’re lucky it might be spiced up with some fog or as they say in Newfoundland, Canada, you’re blessed with a million-dollar day. Which basically means it’s a blessing when you get a sunny day.

Wind and endless rain and no blue skies makes S.A.D. worse. How anyone can enjoy cold, wet and grey weather is beyond me, I think you need to be sectioned. There is nothing fun about it at all, and I cannot fathom why anyone prefers that over warm blue skies!

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Sunset and raindrops

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  1. Everything is a variety of Pumpkin

I get it, a critical autumnal event is Halloween and the tradition of pumpkin picking and carving is I admit, a fun thing to do. Pumpkins are there to be carved, have a candle shoved inside of it for one night and then disposed of into the compost heap because that’s where these weird orange balls deserve to be. They smell horrific when you’re carving them, and they taste as good as they smell. Awful. In recent years and I can only imagine this is the U.K.’s attempt to become more mainstream America (we have kids graduating with cap and gowns now from Nursery now, so why the hell not, next we’ll be buying guns in our supermarkets and blaming video games for mass shootings) that autumn signals retailers to add Pumpkin Spice to ordinary things. Pumpkin does not belong in coffee, how dare you tarnish the wonders of that beautiful hot bean juice with that filth! A delicious blueberry muffin is replaced by a Pumpkin Muffin. Candles are sprinkled with Pumpkin spice, Pumpkin bread, Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Pumpkin! I don’t actually think anyone actually enjoys a Pumpkin spiced anything, they just say they do to look like they’re cool Autumn Hipsters. Sorry, I feel I may have needed to get that off my chest.

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Cliffe pumpkins

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  1. Excuses for public transport

Granted, hopefully, this year now that I’ve passed my test and will have a car that this won’t be such a bugbear of mine, but as the seasons change, I can hear that big fat book of public transport excuses opening with a thud. Autumn brings in the wonderful excuses for those who operate public transport, (not naming names or pointing the finger here, well known North West train company *cough*) to cover up for their lack of service providing.  “What shall it be today, John? The 16.45 is cancelled because we forgot to staff it”… “Meh. Autumn? Oh yeah! Leaves on the line! Remember, it’s the wrong type of leaves! Don’t forget to tell the passengers that!”

“So this week we’ve had, the wrong rain, the wrong ice, the wrong wind, the wrong frost and now the wrong leaves? They suspect nothing!”

Autumn just gives people an excuse to cancel things, cancel plans and gives everyone the perfect excuse, just blame it on the weather!

  1. The changing of the leaves

Number four is one of my likes for a different reason, but here I will address why I dislike it. I hate it because I find it so incredibly sad! Spring and summer are so full of life and autumn is a swan song for all the plants and animals. Some creatures only survive the summer before dying, and the leaves on those big old mighty Oak show off with their most dazzling and spectacular colours, all that pizazz just before they lose it all.

One reason I absolutely despise winter is that everything is so bare and dead. Lifeless trees, lifeless light and gloomy clouds. Eugh! I just always feel despondent in autumn when the leaves change, the exotic birds fly back home leaving our shores, and bird song which is so loud in summer is replaced by the odd chirp here and there. Depressing!

Likes

Admittedly, those four dislikes above used to be a lot more, but as I’ve grown older while autumn will always remain firmly in 3rd place, I have grown fonder over the years of it. So, here are some of my most liked things about the season.

  1. Photography

Mirror of the lake

A passion of mine is photography and autumn to me, is the best time of the year for it. Sure, summer you can get out more to photograph things, but often it’s the wrong type of light. Summer sun can often be too bright, too harsh, which ruins your contrasts in shots and it has a cool feeling to it. Plus, landscapes are often very monochromatic, they’re just blue and then bright green for the leaves. Autumn is full of colour, the sky changes to a different blue, the green of the trees changes to deep reds, oranges, purples and pinks and the light is softer. It gives a photographer a treasure trove of photographic opportunities.

Sunrise on the canal

I love autumn for the colours it gives you, while it does make me sad I take comfort in capturing natures beauty before it goes super bland in winter.

Fisherman on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

  1. The Sunsets and the night sky

In a similar vein to Number one, my favourite time of day is twilight, always has been. There is something extraordinary about everything being backlit and silhouetted against the sky. In autumn, twilight gets dragged out as the angle of the sun gets lower, and due to this, before nightfall in autumn often offers up the most spectacular of sunsets and sunrises. With colder, denser air and the low angle of the sun, more light rays get scattered, giving me one of my favourite sights, Mother Nature, at her most glorious. Autumn offers up the most amazing colours you could ever see in the sky, and that makes me happy! Long after the sun is set, the night sky often has a deep soft glow to it before turning purple and then black. Stunning.

Those of you know me well know that a big passion of mine is Astrophotography. Astrophotography for me starts to come into its own in autumn. Yes, technically winter is the most perfect time for it due to it being the clearest of skies in the atmosphere and the most exciting in terms of what to see, at least autumn offers some form of warmth. I can spend a good few hours outside in the autumn photographing the stars compared to maybe an hour or so in the winter.

Norwegian Winters night in the forest

In summer, there is often too much haze for clear night sky photography, not to mention that this far north that you may not know this, but in Liverpool, we don’t officially have night time from about Mid-June till September.

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We stay in Nautical and Astronomical Twilight, so it’s often not dark enough to photograph stars. While it may seem dark outside to you, the camera still looks like it’s almost day time. So hurray for night time, never hear me say that again in any other context!

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Caught a satellite tonight!

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  1. The Cosy Feeling, cold weather and warm jumpers

The weather, oh, we’ve been here before, right? Obsession alert! While often the weather is pants in autumn, it does usually offer up some of the clearest and bluest of skies. Not to mention those sunsets and star-studded skies I love so much. But, there is also something incredibly cosy and special about autumn that, as I’ve got older, I’ve grown to look forward to. While nothing will ever replace the feeling of warm sunshine and wind on my skin, I love wearing shorts and t-shirts! I must admit that I secretly look forward to wearing chunky knit jumpers again. I love wearing big thick boots, warm jeans, gloves, scarfs, mix and matching many blazers and coats in an outfit and above all, the cosiness of a beanie hat.

Plus, it’s the perfect excuse for me to go full Geographer and wear boots, fleece lined walking pants and various fleeces and waterproofs. Yes! Love the adventurer look!

There is something special about that nip in the air, that cold that stings your cheeks when you get inside, the smell of the fire crackling or the warm caress of the heating, the crunch of the frost underfoot and that no better feeling of when it is frosty outside or the wind and rain is howling against your window, and you look outside from the warmth of your bed. Bliss!

There is something also about autumn that brings the kid out in you. Piles of leaves on the floor are impossible not to kick, pumpkins have to be picked, and fireworks set off. Autumn still awakens that little kid in me, the one who knows that just around the corner is winter and winter means Christmas. Yay! Autumn is super cosy.

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Crunch of the frost

  1. The food

With colder weather means a better appetite. Throw out those salads because you no longer need a beach-ready body, you need a hibernation ready body! Jumpers and thick coats hide a multitude of sins and food is just way better in autumn and winter.

When it’s too hot, you turn your back on cosy and comforting foods for salads, B.B.Q.s and vegetables. In winter, there is nothing more comforting than a giant bowl of chunky soup and crusty bread to dip into it. Hearty meals like scouse, stew and pies become the go-to on a cold day. Drinks all suddenly appear to be mulled, and I get to drink my favourite autumn/winter drink, Hot Ribena.

Yaaaas! I’m ready for it! While summer isn’t over yet (did it ever really start? Am I right?!) There will still be the occasional hot spell for us to enjoy, but the inevitable is just around the corner. Autumn is nearly here, the long nights, the pumpkin spice and the big coat season is fast upon us!

Is Autumn your favourite season or is it your worst? Let me know in the comments and why!

 

A dedication to the mentors

A sign in my kitchen states ‘Behind every successful person lies a substantial amount of coffee’ while I agree that may well be the case, it is missing a sentence. That sentence should be “and a series of mentors who have inspired, developed and took a chance on that person”.

In my latest new series of dedication blogs, the first of which is dedicated to these five amazing individuals: My dedication to the inner circle! this one is dedicated to many people who, in a professional context have either inspired, developed or taken a chance on me as mentors. Despite being full of over-self confidence, I’m fully aware that my successes are not down to me alone. Hard work, a massive slice of luck and a number of dedicated mentors, have made me who I am today. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the guidance or the backing of a number of good mentors over the years. Too many, sadly to put in this blog. I’ve had mentors from football coaches as a kid to my recent supervisory team, all of whom have played an equally important part in my development. For example, my last supervisory team have had a considerable hand in my PhD success, but they know that and I’ve written about them in my PhD blogs. But, just like the first dedication blog I thought I’d pick this time, six people who I’d like to say thanks to, who I don’t often write about.

When you think of a typical mentor, you probably think of usually someone who is older, wiser and ultimately someone who you respect. Mentors can inspire you to be better, they can demand and push you to be better and ultimately, every mentor sees something in you that you fail to see in yourself. Mentors you don’t have to get along with or even like necessarily (but it does help), but you respect them. The mentors in this blog some I got on really well with and ultimately had a great working relationship with, some even became friends. Some, I had no formal working relationship with, and some I absolutely hated!

Inspiration 

A good mentor will often unlock hidden potential, or part of yourself that you didn’t know existed before. They’ll ignite a fire and a drive in you because they’ve been so inspirational, either in their demeanour or in whatever it is they do. For this, I often think of two teachers that I had in High School who inspired two significant parts of my identity, Geography and Writing.

Ask any Geographer and long after their degrees they’ll still strongly identify themselves as a proud geographer. Regardless of age, fierce debate and banter between the fractions of Geographers will always be had, and god help it if you proclaim a Human Geographer as a Physical one! Or vice a Versa. I’ve always had a passion for Geography as a subject, and it’s not solely down to my Geography Teacher Mr Naughton. My love for the subject started way earlier when, as a small child, I discovered this vast, imposing dusty Atlas in our attic. I can still smell that book now as I turned its pages, it was old, so ancient! But I remember flicking through the pictures of all the different countries, reading about the vastly different landscapes and it’s people. I was hooked. The sense of adventure, a world was waiting for me to explore. Of course, this was in the days of pre-internet, a dusty Atlas and Encarta 95 was all my child mind had in my pursuit of epic travels and adventure.

Mr Naughton, however, brought the subject to life. No longer was it on the pages of a dusty Atlas and a fanciful overactive imagination of my child self, it was now real. I’ve never met a teacher who was so enthusiastic about the subject, the proudest of Geographers. Mr Naughton really fostered that passion for the subject, little did I know that I’d go on to do it at GCSE, A-Level, Degree Level, Masters Level and then finally, PhD level! My long journey as a proud geographer started with the inspirational Mr Naughton.

So while I’m a proud geographer and always will be, I’m also a passionate writer. I write blogs and novels for fun, and that comes down Mrs Bygroves. Mrs Bygroves was a strict teacher, the scousest of scouse accents, hard but fair. As I explained in my blog about why I write: Why do I write blogs? It’s a window to the emotional me! It was her who pulled me to one side after my English GCSE coursework and told me I had a gift for the written word and that I should write novels and stories for others to enjoy. So I did. I wrote my first novel and published my second on Amazon. I had discovered a critical skill that I never knew I really had, a passion for conveying stories and emotions, something that is now a massive part of my identity is all down to Mrs Bygroves and her seeing something in me, that I didn’t know myself.

Push you to your limits

So while mentors should be inspirational and make you see something in yourself, they can often go about it in different ways. Some will nurture and foster it in a friendly manner to get you to be the best you can be. Others will be harsh, demanding, thankless and at times make you hate them with every fibre of your being. At the time you wonder why they’re picking on you, why are they so harsh on you compared to everyone else and why do you not get the praise that everyone else does. Then you realise when you do reach the top of your game that they did that to push you. They saw your maximum potential and that you were way below their standards and the only way to get you to push past what you thought was your limit was to be cruel to be kind.

I’ve had two mentors like that in my life, my old commanding officer in the Air Training Corps and my former Personal Academic Tutor who became my boss as an RA. Two older men who’s stature and stance oozed authority and wisdom. Two men who have pushed me further mentally than anyone has before and probably ever will. Two people for some unknown reason I desperately wanted to impress, to prove myself to and to be acknowledged. But this mentor taught me the very definition of pushing the limits.

It may come as a shock to some of you to know that I wasn’t always the over self-confident, outspoken person I am today. In fact, many years ago, I lacked a lot of confidence in myself and around others. That all changed with one man. As one of my COs, he was always on my back throughout training and day to day life. Throwing me into the deep end with things, leading tasks, getting my voice heard. ATC rarely gave out compliments to any of us, I guess that’s the RAFs way of making you want to be better. When it did come, it was often short and curtailed (tradition of stiff British upper lip I suspect) but rarely was it ever directed in my direction. Which conflicted me. I keep getting asked to do these new tasks for which I seemed to be good at, but there was no confirmation or praise from those above. That irritated me in a way that made my already stubborn self, even more determined to succeed.

A turning point in my self-confidence comes to mind as clear as day. We were on deployment for a week on an SAS training camp in the depths of Shropshire on a bitterly cold and snowy February. We’d spent all day and night evading the infamous Landy force across the vast rolling hills and outbuildings of the training ranges. I’d been put in charge of navigation, faces covered in camo paint, boots covered in slush and mud and near hypothermic, we achieved our objective. Rescued the downed pilot and got back to base without being captured. My first real sense of achievement by putting myself out there in a position of leadership. By the time we arrived back at the barracks in the early hours, we barely got any sleep before being rudely awoken by a room inspection. I’d been chosen by him to be in command of our small dorm in a barracks. Again, I felt woefully underqualified. He comes in, nods to others a job well done, looks at my boots which to me were spotless “Dirt on them, Cliffe. Do them again! Press-ups outside, now”. “Yes, Sir!” I replied through gritted teeth. He hated me, I thought!

A few hours later, we were kitted up to go on the range. By this time the snow had started again, an icy wind ripped through the standard-issue kit with such ease I might as well have been naked for all the warmth it offered. After dissembling and cleaning the L98 and SA80 rifles in record time (still no recognition for that) as a troop, we headed out into the freezing snow on the range. To this day, it is still one of my most epic and coolest memories, the sound of gunfire, the snow falling, a Lynx army helicopter hovering off to one side, the recoil of the weapon in your shoulder. So.Much.Awesomeness!

While firing down the range, my fingers turning to frostbite (You’ve never felt anything colder than a trigger on a rifle in the snow!) in my peripheral vision I could see hands raised to the left and right of me, muffled shouts of “Jam!” and the range officer coming over to each individual. I was an awful shot, a sniper or expert marksmen I most certainly was not but I kept firing, with each shot pulling the bolt back and watching as the expended shell casing flicked and spun in the air. Load, breathe, hold breath, squeeze the trigger, recoil, bolt. Repeat, until that click on the rifle meant all my rounds in the rifle had been expended into the target a few hundred yards away. I raise my hand and raise my rifle over my shoulder to show the range officer that my rifle was empty. “Jam?… Oh, all done? Report to the CO” and with a slap on my back I exited the range, still noticing various hands raising and the range officer moving in to unjam the guns. The rest of the squad still laying prone into the snow.

Then there he was, immaculately dressed, a warm thermos in his hand steeming in the cold weather, as I present my rifle to him through chattering teeth, god I had never been so cold!

“Sir. All rounds fired, no Jam. Sir”

He gave a raised smile, which was so rare that I didn’t know if I had indeed become delirious with hypothermia, and in the most typical British Officers voice exclaims “Only one not to Jam your weapon, Cliffe. I expected absolutely nothing less from you. You’d have been the only one not to be killed. Congratulations. Dismissed”.

To me, that was the biggest compliment I had ever been given by him! That night we received word that some of us where being selected to head down south to RAF Lyneham to fly in a C130 Hercules. An unbelievable opportunity! He read the names off of the 10 lucky few, I was number 10! The next day I remember looking out of the back of the C130 as we raced over the Bristol Channel at 1000 feet. Over the rush of adrenaline, air and incredible noise of the four engines he says “Cliffe! This is what happens when you believe in your abilities. I pushed you so hard so that you’d become that. You’ve pushed yourself and others this trip to be better, I’m proud of you. Enjoy this! I’m putting you forward for the NCO course” and with a salute and a handshake it finally all made sense. I had a perceived physical and mental limit, but his was way beyond that, and I needed that tough love to reach it. It was the first time I backed myself and truly knew my capabilities. From then on he was still as hard as ever but was more forthcoming with the odd compliment, I flew with him often, practising flying over the North West of England, always demanding but boy did I learn a hell of a lot from him! I owe a lot to my years to him and to the RAF ATC in general. It taught me mental strength, leadership, the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of others, teamwork and plus the fantastic days flying aircraft and shooting weapons. Closest I ever got to be being a badass! They were the best of days!

Take a chance

So some mentors inspire you and some push you whereas others they toss their chips into the ring and take a gamble on you. This is a dedication to the mentors who placed their faith in you by taking some sort of risk and hoping it would pay off.

The epitome of that was my Maths teacher, Mr Coggin. He made a decision, a gamble, that ultimately had such a significant influence on my academic career. Coggin was a bit weird, a proper eco nut, way before it was socially acceptable or hipster to care about the environment. He was strange but really cared for his students, he had an engaging teaching style, but ultimately, maths was life to him. Maths, well we’ve never really got on, that and spelling are often my Achilles heel. Give me time and a pen and paper, and I’m okay, mental maths? Nope. No chance! As we got closer to year 9 SATs exams things were not going too well in maths. For those of you who don’t know, SATs were a form of exams taken in year 9 which based on your performance you got put into sets, 1 being the top, 5 being the bottom. Only sets 1 and 2 would be entered into the higher GCSE papers where you could get from A* to fail, whereas sets 3 to 5 would be entered into the intermediate and lower papers where the top grade you could achieve was a C. Therefore, in principle, easier exam but no higher than a C regardless if you aced it.

Each teacher in English, Maths and Science had to make a decision on sets before the SATs exam. I was struggling in maths and not for my lack of trying either. I knew how essential maths was as a subject. At this point, I still had dreams of being an Air Traffic Controller, I wanted to do science at GCSE and A-Level. While a C in GCSE maths is fine, I didn’t want to be a C student, I wanted to be more than that. I knew I needed a good SAT score to get into a top set, so that I could take the higher papers and get the As and Bs I wanted for A level and therefore get into University. I remember him breaking the news to me that he was considering dropping me down a set so that I’d find it more accessible, it wouldn’t look too good to have a Set 2 student do poorly. Yet, he knows I’m putting the effort in, that I wanted to be in a top set and just needed some more guidance. So, he said he was holding off on the decision, he’d give me a few weeks to improve despite the pressure from above to drop me a set. He gave me extra work, would always ask me to answer stuff in class, and I worked the hardest I ever had. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, but above all, I wanted to repay him and him putting his neck out on the line for me.

SATs came around, and I got straight 7-7-7. Top marks. I did it! I’d just got my results as I walked down the corridor and I bumped into him and told him the news. “Knew you could do it!” with a beaming smile. What a gamble! If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone on to do the higher papers in Maths and Science at GCSE and ultimately would never have taken my science A levels. While I still always struggled with Maths, I was happy to be a B student in it. Technically, you needed an A in maths to do the A levels in Quantum Mechanics and Astrophysics, but somehow I was let on with my B. I strongly suspect Coggin had a hand to play in that. I still always love and feel super nerdy that I have A levels in Quantum Mechanics and Astro Physics! That and Biology and Geography. All not possible without that gamble by him!

 

Look out for you

Mentors can often be one of those things above or all of them at once. Often what combines all mentors is a sense of looking out for you as a person and having your best interests at heart. Sure, they come at it from different angles based on their experiences and their personalities, but ultimately they want what’s best for you. Luckily, I think all of my many mentors have had that element about them, certainly my academic mentors from the entire GID staff to my former supervisors at LJMU, they’ve been nothing but supportive. Two mentors, however, stand out to me as being all those things discussed so far, inspirational, dedicated, driven, trust in you but finally, looking out for you. Dr Ruth Healey and Dr Katharine Welsh have been two of my biggest academic mentors for 9 years. I’ve gone from being a student of them both, to them both being my boss at various times, to colleagues, office buddies and then friends.

Ruth and Katharine have been incredibly supportive from day one as a student. As a boss, they were keen to develop me as best they could but in such a way that I was always looked after. A real rare commodity in this day and age when bosses actually care for their employees! Both of them had always looked out for me, especially when I moved away from Chester to do my PhD, they were still keeping in touch, being a soundboard for advice and always thinking of me when opportunities arose. Be that to present my work, do a research project here and there, work as an editor for a major journal or even job applications. I’ve been super fortunate to have many mentors like that, but the two of them have become to me, at least, the epitome of a perfect example of what a mentor should be. Whenever I mentor someone, be that students, fellow colleagues of friends, I take a leaf out of their style of mentorship. They have a bit of each and every one of those mentors discussed so far, but they put their own flair and spin on it.

My academic career thus far would have looked so very different if I wasn’t backed, supported, gambled on, guided and encouraged by those two.

Ultimately, a mentor should part wisdom, encourage, and after spending time with them, you become a better person. They and all of my mentors I owe for that! So, thank you, thank you for making me who I am, thank you for gambling on me, backing me, pushing me and seeing things in me that I didn’t see. Without you, I wouldn’t be me.

Thank you!

 

 

My 2019 so far: January to July

A blog I tend to do every year is an end of year blog and a mid-year blog where I look back through my Instagram and reminisce about the highs, the lows and some of my favourite shots of the year so far. As we head into August and get closer to the darker nights, the crisp cool air and the twinkling of frost on the ground, I thought it would be an excellent time to review 2019 thus far!

January

Sadly, 2019 didn’t get off to the best of starts. The second half of 2018 was slowly sliding into a pile of crap compared to the first half, it accumulated in one of the worst Christmases in living memory, and I had high hopes that 2019 would be a fresh, new, positive start. A reset. Well, that didn’t go to plan. My beautiful feline best friend Tammy sadly passed away after being my cat of over 21 years. I was absolutely heartbroken. She had gone rapidly downhill in December and only saw the first week of 2019 before moving on to a better life. I still miss her terribly. Tam was my cat, she hated everyone else but me! She’d greet me at the door, she’d sleep on the pillow next to me every night, and I dearly miss having my furry little hot waterbottle to fall asleep to every night. You were a massive part of this family and me for 21 years, a beautiful little thing.

While the passing of Tam was a tough one to take, at least the PhD was on track. With the deadline of June looming, I had worked hard over Christmas, and on the 11th of January after so much hard work, I finally had something tangible, a first completed draft of my thesis. This was a huge mental milestone in the PhD life, the first glimmer of hope that I might actually finish this mammoth piece of work. While I knew I had months of editing and rewriting to come, to finally have all those bits of work into one document is the official beginning of the end.

On a freezing January day, a nice change of pace and excitement from PhD life when I arrived at Altcar military training base to view some special forces Chinooks and other assets as they departed after a special forces exercise in the area. Huge shout out to Altcar for allowing me on base to photograph these awesome machines and crews!

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Wokkah!!!

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While I hate winter, I do love the crisp, clear nights for stargazing. This January we had some exceptional clear skies and a few ISS passes I managed to catch on camera!

 

February

Feb was a quiet month as I worked away on my PhD edits. The only notable things were spending some downtime outdoors in new landscapes and photographing such exceptional star-studded skies!

I spruced up some personal home décor with a lovely addition to the bedroom!

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New plant for the bedroom!

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Love my Bonsai!

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In Feb, I discovered a hidden gem of a nature reserve that was only a five-minute drive from my house. A super place for photography, wildlife (particular bird watching), with rivers, woods and wetlands to explore.

March:

March, well everything got a bit real. The end was finally in sight! My thesis was printed, bound and ready to hand in for submission.

My few words on International Women’s Day. It’s 2019, and you still get taxed on essential lady things, absolute fucking disgrace IMHO! A huge shout out as always to all my awesome, amazing, beautiful, dedicated female friends!

When life just likes to troll you. I was so close to getting 10k a month but was one ball away each time. Absolutely livid and I still am to this day!

March got a lot brighter when my yearly meet up with Han and Dan, or should i say Mr & Mrs Watson, came about!

It was also my first ever Escape room! Han and Dan being veteran escapees we absolutely smashed not one but two escape rooms! They are my new favourite thing, they’re so fun, and I think we absolutely nailed our teamwork!

It was all well and good surviving an escape room, but I’ve not known fear like getting the viva date confirmed. D-Day now had a date, a very very near date! The day every PhD student dreads the final battle, the 3 hours where you either fail or succeed. The battle of the Viva loomed.

To take the fear of the viva away, I was still spending my downtime out in the countryside photographing nature at it’s best. This is one of my favourite pictures taken this year, I love the road leading you down to the lake and the gloomy storm approaching in the background. I felt as the viva loomed that I was walking that path towards the impending storm!

Best mothers day card, ever.

April:

Mark, my awesome cousin from Canada, popped in for his first visit to the UK and Liverpool after a European business trip! So great to spend the day with him showing him around this beautiful city and keeping those close family ties across the pond. Just a shame Liverpool decided to give him a welcome of torrential rain and wind! Hope to see you again Mark and thanks once again for taking the time to come visit!

My favourite shot of the year!

However, all things must come to an end, and I had my final day pre-viva in the office, a building that had been such a huge part of my life for the past 2 and a bit years.

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A lovely last day in the office today before my viva next week. Time to leave the comfort of H105 and have one final epic battle. V-Day fast approaches! Just under 3 years worth of hard work, 250,000 words, stress, imposter syndrome and over coming numerous failures and an unhealthy amount of coffee all comes down to a 3 hour viva where i have to defend every word and every decision made in those years to a panel of experts. PhD or no PhD all rests on that. The PhD has been the most intellectually and emotionally challenging thing i have ever done, it's been one epic journey that's made me grow as a person more than i ever have. I've made friends for life who without them life and the PhD would have been so much worse! I've been fortunate to travel to new countries and new cities and I've ticked off my life long goal of getting a CAA approved pilots licence ( i know it's no PPL!). PhDs are not about how clever you are, they're about how resilient you are and how stubborn you are to not give up when you're in a research world where it keeps knocking you down and you have to keep getting back up. A journey i hope next week i can end on a high otherwise it's been for absolutly nothing 🤣1st of September 2016 i started this journey to get the highest academic award possible. I set myself the stupid personal goal of finishing my PhD under 3 years and before my 27th birthday because no one sets more unattainable goals than my stupid brain. Now I'm days away from it all coming together. I want to do but i also don't because the viva if it goes well is the end. The end of the PhD, the end of my long life as a student. An end to an identity I've had for so long and is a part of me, i always want to learn and achieve more. It's also most likely the end of me in academia as I've made the decision that I'm unlikely to pursue a career in it. Forget the avengers, this is my end game! No pressure. In the words of Leeroy Jenkins, "Alright. Lets do this!" . . #PhDchat

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The battle of the viva was brutal, difficult, challenging, but ultimately rewarding! After just over two and a half years after starting the PhD, I had survived! I had made it to the end, the end game of being Dr Cliffe had been achieved! April 24th, 2019. What a day!!

May:

I may well now be a Doctor, but that didn’t earn me any more respect from my family, as evident by my birthday wrapping paper.

This badge was a fun joke given to me by my sister, but I was so unbelievably proud to wear it! Fun fact, the head of the Doctoral Academy loved it so much that they put an order in for them, so all new Drs will get one! A lovely little legacy!

Each weekend me and Ro would go an explore new places to visit and walk and we stumbled across another little local nature reserve. It was quaint!

I was given three months to do my post viva corrections to my thesis, but I completed them in 3 weeks. It felt so good but also sad to finally finish!

I discovered a Llama/Alpaca in my coffee cup! Little did I know in a few weeks I’d be surprised by my family to go walking with them in the lake district!

May saw me heading down to RAF Duxford to watch some preparations for the 75th D-Day anniversary. A brilliant event, so many Daks on the ground and plenty of warbirds!

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Ready for D-Day anniversary para drops

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June:

Well, June started with a win, a massive win! 6 times, baby! European Champions!!!

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Yaaaaaas!!!! #LFC

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The PhD was officially confirmed and approved. I had finally done it!

Visiting the Philharmonic is always special, but listening to John William scores of Speilberg films was another level!

In June, one of my favourite night time phenomenons occurs. The rare Noctilucent cloud formations! Formed a few weeks either side of the summer solstice, sunlight below the horizon lights up ice crystals high in the atmosphere turning night time into daylight. It’s an exceptional sight to see, I was lucky to have a few days of it, but this particular night it lasted for hours and was such a strong showing of them!

I travelled down South to just North of London to go to one of my all-time favourite humans and one of my closest and dearest friends wedding, Chloe’s! I also had to screenshot my Insta story of that day, which sums it all up!!

chloe

From one end of the country to the other! I was back in the Lake District, one of my favourite places in the UK! Spending a few days away with the family was a perfect little getaway and something we haven’t done together for so long!

I was surprised by my family with a two-hour walk with Alpacas. BEST DAY EVER!

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What a day! Alpaca walking ❤

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Nice few days away with the fam

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July:

Graduation day arrived!!

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Time to graduate!

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Graduation photos have arrived!

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Mission Accomplished!

This family are awesome!

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Great afternoon with the fam!

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A week on from officially becoming Dr Cliffe, I went and passed my driving test after only 18 hours of driving! Yaaaas! Some people thought this day would never come but just shows you when I set my mind to something, it gets done!

So far *touches wood* 2019 has been a good year and I’m excited for what lies ahead for the latter half of the year! Where will the adventure take me?!

 

 

 

Why do I write blogs? It’s a window to the emotional me!

For someone who is well known for their public speaking, I’m often pretty damn awful at conveying emotion to people in speech, at least my own emotion. Sure, I think back to my closing speech as head boy, an address full of emotion and I hoped at the time, inspiration. Inspiration for what was at the time, the next most significant step in our lives. I can recall numerous passionate speeches or talks I’ve given over the years to an audience of 2 up to 1000. I can always find the right words and execute them without bother, to be emotive in speech. Yet, ask me to talk about my feelings, and I can’t do it, I get lost for words.

But, I can write them.

I’ve always been a writer in some form or another, in fact, I was very young when I penned my first short story in primary school as part of a project about “what your parents do for a living”, needless to say, it wasn’t my finest work. Put yourself in the shoes of my primary school teachers who read with wide eyes a story about how “My Dad brings a Doll home called Annie and he jumps up and down on it.” My Dad is a senior paramedic of over 35 years and at the time way back then, was either doing advanced training himself or was training others and therefore would bring home the Resus Annie Doll to practice various medical procedures with tubes etc. etc. Innocent enough! Thankfully my teachers knew what job my Dad did and apparently it gave great amusement to the entire staff room for about a week!

I always loved writing little stories here and there for projects or assignments in English but never thought much of it until as part of our GCSE English coursework we had to write a story. My path to writing was down to one woman, Mrs Bygroves, my English teacher, who asked me to stay behind after class. It was her words of encouragement and telling me I had a gift for conveying the written word and that I should write stories that ignited a fire that had been simmering. The following year I published my first novel and then spent the next few years writing my second one for Amazon.

While a pilot or air traffic controller is always my dream job, to be an established author has always been the dream goal!

Writing stories, however, is a lot easier in some ways because you can base characters on people you know, or make them up! You can make things up, you can create worlds, and the emotion the characters portray is not me. It’s them. Blog writing, on the other hand, well, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

I started writing blogs way back in sixth form when I was backed into a corner, while I’m glad those days of the infamous blogs about the daily carryon of morons are well and truly over, it gave me a vessel to explain how I felt about people that I couldn’t express in any other form. People would message me and agree with my points and wait eagerly for the next instalment. Each post was me poking a hornet’s nest which fuelled more blogs and so the circle went on. Then I realised that two things were happening. (a.) I was getting things off my chest and thus feeling better and, (b.) people liked the honesty of it all, and I had so many private chats with people about similar things in their ‘friendship’ groups that they could relate to, or I started to add little nuggets about things outside of sixth form or advice about things that again people could relate to. I began to see that maybe my words could help as well as hurt. A dangerous at the time, combination!

My blogs moved away from the subject of others (thankfully) by time I left sixth form (thankfully that blog site was closed down years ago, and all such posts have since been long lost to the internet graveyards. A dark time indeed that was!) and I started to use it more positively, as a way to document my life, my highs, my lows, my travels and above all else, I hoped that someone would get at least one small thing from each blog that I pen. Be that to know you’re not alone if you’re going through something I went through, or maybe you might have tried that piece of advice I wrote about and it worked or even if I inspire you to go visit the places I’ve been.

Writing is to me, incredibly personal. While the birth of my blogs was born out of a crap toxic time, it was liberating to wear my heart on my sleeve and how vulnerable that can make you feel. In-person, I have many walls, and as a person who usually people just open up to me, I listen and then give logical, rational advice, I often end up getting to know a hell of a lot about you. However, I have that knack of you thinking you know me really well when actually you know the surface. That’s in part, down to a well-tested defence mechanism, at least until I trust you or you pass the Tony Test! Slowly those walls come down and you get to know the real me.

Writing blogs for me is always I see it as a little window into the real me. Little glimpses and access to who I am. Close friends and family know me and who I am, but many people see me in person, at least, as probably one of the most calmest, rational, logical and unemotional people you’ll ever meet. I do take pride in that part of myself. I don’t think I’d be doing myself a disservice if I asked my close friends to list the top 3 things they love about me, I would bet my life that they would say something along the lines of one of the points being “You tell it to me as it is. A spade is a spade. You have such clarity to cut through all the emotion of a problem and look at it rationally, logically and objectively. Then you’ll base your advice off that”. I do love how I can cut through all the emotion in a problem! Plus I love giving advice too!

People can often be put off at times at my seemingly outwardly blunt approach to problems, especially if you’re a very emotionally driven person. You very rarely see me overly joyous nor sad, or angry much in person. People can mistake that for being unemotional or as a nickname that has now stuck over the years The Robot or Tony-Bot as I’m effectually called by some! What people don’t realise is I am probably the most emotionally intense person you’ll ever meet, it’s just I have such strong control over them that outwardly you don’t see the range of emotions that go on inside. That’s when I did fall in love all those years ago it was a beautiful yet terrifying few years because that was an emotion that I couldn’t just keep inside and control of and it was like a floodgate! Scary yet awe-inspiring.

As I said, I often find it difficult to express words of how I feel in person. Not to loved ones or close friends, I’m actually a big soft gooey soppy romantic! They know that. But to those who are not in that inner circle which I’ve dropped walls for, to others I do come across as that stoic, driven, logic guy. Actually, I’m just a big marshmallow with a tough exterior wall!

So for me, writing blogs is a window into the emotional me, the guy who sits behind that exterior facing wall. Writing, therefore, is super personal for me because of every word, every emotion I’m feeling I put it into each sentence, I mean every word that I type.

These blogs are fun to write because they vary so much. The humorous ones where I get to let out that fun side of me and showcase my funnybone. The advice ones I love doing because I can use that big old Tony-Bot logic to give objective advice that may help someone. The travel ones satisfy my inner adventurer, and the emotive ones become my ultimate favourite ones.

The emotive blogs come in two forms, either happy or sad. Writing is a release for me. Some people talk to others, some drink, some have a big old cry. For me, I write. It clears my head, gets things off my chest. When I write happy emotive blogs be that dedications to people or writing about something that has happened be that an epic trip with friends or recalling something in my life it’s my heart bursting with love and joy on the page for everyone to share. Although I still get super nervous when I write about people because I never know how they’ll react. In-person no-one ever tells the other person how they perceive them, but in blogs you do. So I’m always nervous that I hope they appreciate my sentiments and how I see them! Always a relief when they message you with positive feedback, only a few times I’ve had to post edit the odd post. Oops!

Yet for me, the hardest to write and the hardest but most rewarding to read back are when life isn’t so great. I’ve never been on in these blogs or social media to only ever talk about the good stuff. This has always been about me as a person, the good and all the bad. I feel some of my best-written work has been those emotionally charged ones when either I’ve been seething with anger, or I’ve been typing through tears from being absolutely done in and heartbroken. Weirdly enough, they’re often my most read by people, either people enjoy reading my misfortune because of the event, or they appreciate that every word is dripping in emotion! Not sure which aha!

Too many people in modern-day life and especially on blogs and social media paint a perfect life, they’re wonderful, they’re doing this well. It’s false. A perfect life doesn’t exist. It’s irrational and illogical to think it’s true. I’ve documented some terrible personal lows through my blogs, eulogies of passed on relatives, discussions about leaving places and moving on, heartache words of falling out with a friend, to my emotions and recovery of that breakup which at the time ripped my heart into pieces and where I spent the best part of two years teetering on depression and my well-documented recovery of that process.

Life is a rollercoaster and we all go through shit in life. So when times are hard, I want people to read it and be like yeah he doesn’t have his shit together at all. He’s normal. And I also want people to read it and take solace if they’re going through shit too. Plus, as a side note, although annoyingly this is my 3rd blog site now and the other two where deleted without warning! That I look back at those blogs written as a document of my life. I read again all those happy memories in the happy blogs, and I see how far I’ve come from the sad ones.

Writing blogs is an excellent way for me to document things, get things off my chest. As a reader, I don’t know what you get from these blogs, various ramblings from a distinctly average, ordinary guy! I have no idea. I hope that you read them and at times laugh, sometimes cry, I hope you get inspired, comforted, or advice is taken on board.

So when I’m asked, why do I write blogs? I write for myself, a voice for that big old emotional me who sits inside the Tony-Bot. Thanks for reading!

P.S. check back in at the end of the week because speaking of emotion, I wrote a blog many years ago about how female friends had influenced my life. That sadly vanished when my old blog closed down and as its been years since I had that P.C. it’s now gone. It was one of my all-time favourite emotive dedication style blogs. So, this week I’m writing a different one but on similar lines. A dedication to those who broke down the walls.

My visit to Split, Croatia

One of the reasons I wanted to do a PhD was for the opportunity to go travelling, all expenses paid to different parts of the world. I was fortunate to go on two such trips this year, the first one, to an international conference in Split, Croatia. Not bad that as part of your proving to become a Dr that you’re expected to present your work at an international conference. I’ve been fortunate to present at two internationals this year, but this was to be my first one. First one as a PhD student anyway. Ironically it was the very last week in my old job before I became a PhD student that I was in Amsterdam presenting RA work at my first ever international conference!

Weirdly enough last year Croatia was on my list as I attempted 12 different holidays in 12 months. I had planned out a possible trip to Dubrovnik but in the end, shelved that idea when I went on the North Atlantic adventure to Iceland and Canada. Croatia, however, I’ve always wanted to visit, in brochures it looked stunning and anyone who’s been who I’ve talked to have always had high praise for it.

My supervisors forwarded a conference to me about UAVs in the environment, and as my PhD is in that realm, I submitted my abstract, got selected and I headed out to Split for a fantastic 3-day conference presenting my work. You’ll be thankful that this blog won’t go into the technical details of the conference (it’s heavy going!), but all you need to know is my first international conference as a PhD student went great! However, this blog will instead talk about my fantastic time in this beautiful part of the world.

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Conference time!

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Flying out from Manchester on one of the first flights in the morning is never fun. While I did plan on sleeping on the plane, I decided to sip coffee while listening to Matt Monroe’s ‘On days like these’ as I flew over the Alps a much better use of my time. I did, however, have that horrible moment as a window seat passenger when you really need a wee (coffee goddammit, why do you always do this!), but your fellow two passengers are asleep. I tried at first to say excuse me and got progressively louder, but no, the two of them were not waking up. I gently tapped her on the shoulder as to not come across as a creep and I asked if I could get out to go the loo, what would have happened if they said no I’ll never know! Sorry. I must have apologised about 30 times for waking them up and being that window seat guy.

Before long the azure blue waters came into view of the Dalmatian coast, I could have been landing in the Caribbean for all I knew looking out of the window. After a spectacular landing (I’d hate to land in fog in this airport with the mountains so close!), I grabbed my bags and headed on the local coach to Split’s main bus terminal. There was a music festival on one of the islands from Split that was starting the day after I arrived and so the arrivals area outside the airport was full of the typical festival goers along with the walking stereotypical; ‘gap year’ or should I say gap yeeeahr people. Never have I sympathised more with Will from the inbetweeners!

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Time to relax!

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Unlike the gap year people who were probably sharing beds in a hostel and some other bodily fluids, I was staying in a 5* apartment in Split harbour, so I phoned Mia, my host with an ETA. After a 30-minute coach ride, I arrived into the cacophony of sound and people. When I entered into the heat of Split, I clattered my case through the busy palm tree-lined streets, dodging tourists and locals as I went. It struck me instantly how beautiful this place was. The water was unlike any colour I’d ever seen, luxury yachts and passenger cruises moored up, lapping against the waves all surrounded by old styled terracotta roofs. Brightly coloured stalls popped out onto the street next to packed bars with locals sipping coffee while waiters busily rushed around between the maze of people.

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Paradise

I was always a fan of the Alex Rider novels, and it felt like this was the perfect setting for one. Walking across the hustle of the main harbour with locals selling fresh fruit and vegetables with the scent filling the hot air, various accents lingering in the mid-afternoon sun, the vibe was exciting and adventurous as I walked towards my destination. Across the harbour I noticed two huge yachts, Silver and white protruding from the other side of the harbour like mini skyscrapers, glinting in the strong sunlight. As I followed the marbled path around the harbour, the ever-present clatter of my case behind me I neared my apartment. It became apparent quite quickly that this place certainly was the playground of the wealthy Russian and Eastern Europeans. Those two boats had armed guards patrolling their decks! (maybe this was an Alex Rider novel after all!).

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One of the many superyachts

After a quick haul up the ancient steps, I arrived to be greeted by a tall young attractive Croatian woman, Mia. She showed me around this fabulous apartment and then left, leaving me with 4 full days in this amazing place. The apartment was huge with two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen but best of all, my very own balcony looking out onto the harbour. Oh wow, I thought. If only all conferences were like this! I spent plenty of mornings and evenings out on that balcony I can tell you!

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My home for the next few days!

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After a quick nap, as always it’s my aim in new places to climb mountains or the tallest thing in the city. For me, there was a mountain that loomed over Split, its giant Croatian flag visible from the summit. By now it was late afternoon, and it was 31c. Was it a wise decision to head straight up to hike a mountain? Nope. Was the hike and the views worth it? Hell yes, it was! The views were stunning, and I’d fallen in love with this place already. The heat, the colours, the wildlife and the greenery, it felt a long way from home, but my god was it good to be on my travels again!

After my hike up the mountain, I took a stroll around the port and the harbour as sunset started to fall, the temperature seemed to only get hotter as the humidity rose as the sun set into the sea. The streets had only quietened down a little which gave me a bit more space to explore this ancient harbour and the stunning and unique setting. I could see why this place was so appealing to so many people. As night faded and the street lights reflected off the sand coloured paving, the clink of glasses and conversation floated in the now still sultry air of summer night on the Dalmatian coast.

After plenty of pictures I stopped into a local supermarket, no one spoke English so trying to understand the woman who was asking if I needed a bag was a distinct and lengthy challenge of charades! I cooked myself some food, turned the air con on thankful for it as it cooled the beads of sweat that were ever present in the humidity, took a shower and went to bed, I was out like a light.

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The next day was the first full day of the conference, and it was late evening by the time I got back to the apartment, and so I went and had some grapefruit radlers on the balcony and practised my presentation for the next day. It felt fun to practice into the night and in the direction of the harbour. Waking up the next day I was nervous as always. I always get nervous presenting but even more so for my first international PhD conference! I had some toast, it’s all I could stomach, and I headed off in 28c heat for the just under 2-mile walk to the University. Thankfully, it went fantastically well, and I was super pleased with it! Now that my job was done I was free for the next few days to explore this city. By the time I got back to my apartment, it was mid-afternoon again, and I decided that after a stressful but successful day I wanted nothing more than to go exploring, find a beach and just relax, so it’s exactly what I did!

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Just one of the many stunning beaches

There are plenty of beaches in Split although they’re mostly made up of fine pebbles. However, what was the biggest surprise was the many naked and topless women that seemed to populate the beaches of Split. For once, it wasn’t the old heifers who were topless but stunning 10’s! After a three mile walk, I came across a beach that was tucked away in an alcove. I stripped down to my shorts, got comfy and just relaxed as the waves washed up against the rocks and distant music blasted from two small yachts anchored in the bay. This is the life. Especially when a topless woman decided that the rock that was in front of me was a perfect spot to do a topless photoshoot with her friend, hey no complaints from me!

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Epic clear water

Alas, those that know me well know that even with factor 100 on I still burn and after 2 hours I had had my relaxing time, and I headed back towards the city but not before being buzzed by a low flying Hind helicopter! (Avgeek win!). On the way back I walked around some abandoned buildings and explored some more beaches on my way, the colour of that water was something else!

After some food, I decided I wasn’t done with walking today, so I headed up the mountain (again) this time in the hopes of catching a sunset. Clouds had started to bubble up throughout the day and often that means some great colours in the sky for sunset, I thought what better way than a 5-mile hike onto of the 7 so far today than to grab a summit sunset. It did not disappoint at all.

I love my solo hikes in different countries because you barely see anyone and it’s just you and nature. That hike that evening and into the night was probably my favourite one yet. Every corner the forest gave way to spectacular views or old churches carved into the mountainside.

It was unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before and probably ever go again. The heat had eased, but the humidity had skyrocketed as night fell and the clouds covered the sky (so much for star pictures tonight I thought!).

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Sunset on the summit

Walking back down the mountain to the views of the city at night was just stunning. The horns of the ships leaving, to the hum of traffic drifted across the landscape. I sat on a bench for a while just listening and taking in the sights before heading back for a well-earned drink on the balcony and a shower, a total of 18 miles walked and a conference presentation given…not bad for one day is it?

The next day, my last day in this beautiful place I headed out of the city on a tour which worked out at about £20 for a couple of hours. I visited the city of Meereen (for you Game of Thrones fans), an ancient ruined settlement and coliseum and then I arrived in the stunning town of Trogir.

Trogir is a beautiful town a few miles from Split, and it had charm in abundance. From the turquoise waters to the ancient terracotta roofs, I enjoyed my few hours in the city. It was also a place where Doctor Who filmed their Vampires of Venice episode which was really cool to see. If you’re ever in Split, I highly recommend a visit to Trogir.

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Another beautiful town here!

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When I got back to Split, I took a good walk around this stunning city. Through the old fortress, through the marble streets, passed vendors selling shiny trinkets to walking in the underground bazaar where smells of food and music hit your senses from every angle. I must have taken over 500 pictures because everywhere you went you just wanted to capture it on camera. It surely has to rank up there with being one of the most ancient architecturally stunning places I’ve ever visited.

After food, I took one last walk around the harbour as people crammed themselves into the many bars and restaurants that spilt out onto the harbour to watch Croatia play in the Euros. It was quite something walking past all the bars when their national anthem was playing, everyone was singing it as loud as they could into the warm night’s sky. For me, I retired to my balcony, sipping on coffee and looking out onto the dark sea, listening to the cheers of the fans and gentle clinking of the yachts masts in the harbour.

My first international conference had been a success, and it had brought me so many memories and stunning pictures of this truly wonderful location. While it was my last night here, it was not the end of my adventure. The next day I headed off to Switzerland!

 

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

I Travel from Iceland to the Maritime city of Halifax, Nova Scotia to explore this rich  historic naval city and the wonders of the Nova Scotia coast to Peggy’s Cove.

The peace and quiet of the Icelandic countryside felt a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Keflavik airport, in fact I’d go as far as saying organised chaos. Keflavik was never designed for this many passengers, as far as major international airports go…this is very much on the smaller size. Tourism has boomed in Iceland in recent years (it’s hard to see why it took so long!) and due to the connecting flights with Icelandair, Keflavik has swollen with passenger numbers. Throughout the day there is a constant pulse of passengers. From about 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. all of Icelandair and WoWair flights arrive across the Atlantic from North America flooding the terminal with thousands of passengers in those short hours. Those planes then carry on to Europe and then return before 3pm swelling the terminal again before leaving back across the Atlantic to North America between 4 and 6pm. It’s almost like a lung expanding and contracting as the day goes on. The issue is plain to see, while security was quick to go through well relatively. Travelling with all your camera equipment is a bloody hassle having to unpack it and then repack it after the x-ray machines, it never goes back in the way you packed it beforehand. What the issue is, is a distinct lack of seats. My flight was one of the very last to leave Iceland that day to head across the Atlantic to Halifax, Canada. That meant that by time I got to the departure lounge everyone else was waiting for their flights to North America which were about to board. Despite the cacophony of sound it was still exciting. Even if I did have to walk around for ages to find a seat.

Funky Icelandic Departure Lounge

Funky Icelandic Departure Lounge

You can’t go to your gate in Keflavik until it is called and if your flight is to the UK or North America which are both outside the Schengen free movement agreement you have to go through to the D-Gates. To get there you have to leave the Schengen area and go through passport control. I found myself a seat in what is a pretty nice terminal building despite how busy it is. I bought two sandwiches, some water and some Haribo gummy bears remember you get no food on this flight and its 4 and a bit hours long. After a wait my gate appeared and I headed quickly through passport control and I’m grateful to still be a part of the EU which allows me to use my chipped passport to go through the self-service control points. The queue for the non EU passport control was so big that I’m thankful that I’m getting my Irish Passport to travel on as to keep that privilege of quick access to EU countries. I watched a flight board from my gate and before long it was my turn, a quick bus ride to the plane, one last look at Iceland before I boarded my 757 to Halifax.

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Next stop Canada!

I couldn’t wait to arrive in Canada again. The Cliffe family have a lot of history with Canada and my bike is adorned with the Canadian flag next to my name. I fell in love with this country a long time ago and I’ve visited many places in Canada, all except the Maritimes which I was to tick off on this trip. Last year’s trip to Toronto and then Edmonton was such a great trip to go back to Canada after far too many years away. Canada and the family ties are really what my love for Canada is all about. Halifax, my first stop was fitting as during WW2 as Great Uncle Wal an engineer in the Merchant Navy would crisscross the Atlantic and in Montreal is where he met his wife. It’s really down to them two that the Cliffe family have both a UK and a Canadian split. Barb and Betsy, their daughters always kept in contact with my Dad and kept that bond across the pond close. As Barb has had kids and obviously my mum and dad had me and my sister I feel it’s great that the new generation keep as close a bond as possible. It felt like meeting them all again for the first time and in some cases it really was the first time I’d met Becky and Sarah and Bob and Robin when I went to Toronto last year. They could not have made their English cousin feel any more welcome! I was super excited to see them all at the end of the trip in Toronto again! They’re all awesome! I also love Canada, I love the way of life, the people and the scenery. It’s no secret. Part of this trip was to really look at could I move here and live here once the PhD is done. Halifax is a city that has a close tie to Liverpool and the UK and it seemed like a great first port of call for my adventure of the Maritimes!

My take-off from Iceland to Halifax

On long haul you never quite know who you’re going to be sat next to, of course I always book the window seat! It always pays to talk to your fellow neighbours on flights, last time flying back from Canada doing just that got me an upgrade to first class! I was fortunate enough to have two older ladies sitting next to me who I had a nice chat with across the Atlantic about their home city of Halifax which broke up the journey for a bit.

Taking off and waving goodbye to Iceland I headed out across the Atlantic, next stop Canada! I watched Death at a Funeral (the British original not the awful American remake) that brought back some memories of when I first watched that film! That life as a 17 year old seemed so long ago! I glanced away from the movie to see that we were flying over Greenland. Simply stunning place and I’m jealous my supervisor does research on the glaciers there, I keep dropping hints for me to take my UAV on research with him there but he’s yet to take my hints! Using the Wi-fi I live streamed our crossing over Greenland where icepacks gave way to Glaciers that fed into the sea. I thought it was pretty neat that I could live stream such an epic view! Again hurray for inflight Wi-Fi.

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Greenland from 38,000 feet

Before long the sun had caught up to us and after filling in the Customs Declaration landing card for Canada I took photographs of yet another truly stunning sunset that I would take on this trip. Everyone knows Sunrise and particularly Sunset are my favourite times of day. Specifically the civil twilight phase when it’s not quite dark but not quite light and the colours are so intense. Being so high up that moment lasts far longer than down on Earth and I savoured the view as my sleeping playlist played on my headphones. Perfect.

Evolution of a sunset from FL380

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After an hour in darkness I had arrived in Halifax, it felt so good to be back in Canada again! Icelandair were flawless yet again. The dreaded Jetlag did start to kick in but that was more about tiredness. After only a few hours’ sleep the night before chasing the Northern Lights and now being awake for 19 hours with still 2 hours to go before I would get to my hotel, I was starting to feel pretty tired. Going through boarder control was easy. The guy asked a few questions, saw that I was in Canada last year visiting family, he welcomed me back and with that stamp I was officially back in Canada again! Wahoo! I waited 45 minutes for my bag which was annoying as it meant I missed my pre-booked bus to the hotel. Halifax airport is a 45 minute drive away from the city itself so with this being 10pm at night in Canada the only way is via a taxi or a cheaper pre-booked bus. As I always plan for delays I had booked the last bus out at 11pm just in case there was a delay.

While waiting for said bus along with a few passengers the man at the ticket office comes out and asks “Does anybody speak French?” Odd question and I didn’t raise my hand. Whatever his issue was I doubt my C in GCSE French was going to be much good. I can count to 10, order a Cheese and Ham baguette and tell them about my weekends going to the bibliothèque but I don’t think that would help much. A woman however bravely said “I do…a little but I mean a little”. The guy produces an old French woman almost out of nowhere, not sure if he could summon her from thin air but she appeared and starts rattling off French and this poor Canadian good Samaritan was trying her best to understand. The older woman was getting irate with this poor girl only understanding parts of it “I think her flight is tomorrow and…something about her daughter…I think!”

That’s it. I couldn’t sit by and let three people struggle nor could my tired brain bare the sound of constant French. This old woman obviously had an issue and not a word of English in her understanding so I thought I would help out, although I kept my poor French to myself. “Sorry to interrupt, I couldn’t help but overhear…I have a translation app, it’s not word for word but it’ll help” I offer to the three of them. They agree and with Google Translation app working pretty well…well the odd word threw me “My daughter is with a chicken”. Maybe she was with a chicken I don’t know but google translated it as such. The bottom of the story was her flight was delayed so she missed her connection to the French Island of Saint-Pierre to visit her daughter and the next flight was tomorrow morning so she needed a hotel to stay in but all the airport hotels were full. The Canadian lady and myself searched online to find suitable and relatively cheap hotels. We left some numbers with the ticket guy as before long we had to board the bus. The Canadian lady stayed behind a little longer to use her broken French to make sure she knew what she had to do. While driving through the dead of night the Canadian lady phones her partner about the events “You’ll never believe what’s just happened. I haven’t used French for ages and I had to use it to help some old woman. Me and some nice British guy helped her”. I’m not sure if she knew I was on the bus or not but being described as a nice British guy is a nice way to start your trip in Canada. The bus dropped her off at the main train station after a 45 minute motorway trip, she catches my eye and thanks me again for helping out. “Not a problem my dear” I reply. “Thanks again, I love your accent”. I wouldn’t get tired of women saying that to me over here on this trip!

I was the last one on the minibus and I finally arrived at my hotel at 12 a.m. and I had been awake for 23 hours. I was shattered. The check-in was quick, the hotel and room was huge, I got a shower and then it was straight to bed. What a way to start a new location. The hotel in question was the 4 star Hampton Inn by Hilton in Halifax Downtown and cost me £232 for two nights.

By time morning came I was already up at 6.30 a.m. with my body still 4 hours ahead on Icelandic time. After a shower I went down for breakfast, packed my gear and off I went to explore the city of Halifax on foot. I only had a day here so I had planned to walk around the city in the morning and then I had booked to go on a tour to Peggy’s cove, the most photographed lighthouse in the world in the afternoon. The air was cool and crisp but at least it was sunny. I took a walk down to the waterfront which fun fact for you is the second largest ice-free harbour in the world, only Sydney is larger.

I was tired and needed coffee so headed to Tim Hortons Canada’s favourite coffee house. In my last blog I wrote about the whole drip/filter vs Espresso. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice but it’s not a patch on European coffee. I bought myself a cup of Dark roast which is a new blend by Tim Hortons which is their strongest blend and tries to somewhat emulate an espresso. Nowhere near but it was good enough and I loved the cups!

Tim Hortons 150th Cup

Good old Tims with some cute 150th birthday cups!

I walked along the waterfront where it was peaceful and quiet, I watched a warship head out, a cruise ship arrive, I sat on a hammock and finished my coffee while the hum of traffic and the city skyscrapers loomed behind me. Again and not for the first time on this trip the city had a lovely vibe about it. Even walking through the concrete canyon of downtown Halifax felt laid back and chilled, despite its very steep hills at times. As usual I found myself walking up the highest point of the city Citadel hill to which Fort George stood. With this being Canada’s 150th birthday pretty much all of these attractions were free. I walked inside and wow what a place for free! From old guards, to one of the best military museums I have ever had the pleasure to walk through including a live cannon salute. One thing I had noticed is British Union flags all over the place along with the Scottish flag and a lot of people walking around in kilts. Halifax has such a close tie to Scotland (it sits within the province of Nova Scotia which translates to New Scotland) and the UK and actually a very strong link to Liverpool. This part of the world was the first for UK and Irish settlers to colonise and that history it seems lives strong in this part of the world. It didn’t feel like Canada at all, it felt like an extended part of the UK. It was lovely!

After walking around there and enjoying the views, I headed back into the city for my tour to Peggy’s cove. It was a five hour tour for what worked out as about £25. Bargain. I got on a giant Greyhound style bus and our tour guide was a very funny and full of puns old guy who loved his job. While boarding the bus he asked everyone’s name and where they came from. “Hi, Tony and Liverpool, England”….”Ah you know John then?” … “As in the Beatle who’s been dead for years? Yeah really well…good mates”. He laughed and so did the others behind me “Oh you Brits and your wit” he remarks with a laugh. I wasn’t trying to be witty I was being sarcastic as I was fed up of people asking if I knew the Beatles personally or the Queen! The drive out of the city for 50 minutes to Peggy’s cove was truly stunning and it did make me wish I could hire a car to explore more of it. There are so many lakes and rivers and forests in this part of the world, I’m sure he said there are 2000 fresh water lakes here alone! Cities are great but to me it’s always about the countryside and the wilderness. I passed so many lakes and tiny fishing ports that would have been so good to explore.

We arrived at Peggy’s cove. Just stunning. A typical Nova Scotia village. I was in love. I walked along the sea rocks, snapped away at the Lighthouse (I think going early morning would be best if you want to visit it without the hordes of tourists though) and I just sat, listening to the waves crash on the rocks by my feet, the blue waters meeting the blue sky. Amazing place to visit and I can see why this location is so highly photographed. You really should go!

Peggy's Cove Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove

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Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Most photographed lighthouse in the world! My one to add to the collection of images!

The 50 minute drive back went a different way and was full of again, jaw-dropping scenery and full of funny stories and information from our tour guide. By time I got back to Halifax it was close to 4 p.m. There are a lot of Irish bars and pubs and on TripAdvisor this was the best in town so I popped in for a Bushmills Whiskey (my second favourite Irish dram after Tulamore) and tried their Fish and Chips. Seafood is huge on this coast and I thought I’d try Fish and Chips in every location to see who wins the battle of the best one. Even their best was not a patch on good old British chip shop Fish and Chips but this one wasn’t bad. It came second on my top 3 list this trip!

I walked back up the hill to watch the sunset, walked another 4 miles around the city at night before calling it quits to come back to my hotel just before 8pm. I was short on sleep, I had walked 13 miles around the city and the delights of Peggy’s cove so before I knew it I was out like a light. Tomorrow I would catch a 2hr 30 minute flight up to the frozen north of St. John’s for three nights.

End Notes:

I would have liked in hindsight to stay an extra day in Halifax. Halifax is a wonderful city and while it’s small it has a rich history, especially a maritime one. There were so many museums I would have loved to have visited, especially the Pier 11 immigration one and the transport musuem but just didn’t have the time. Halifax waterfront is one of the best waterfronts I have ever seen in a city and that’s coming from someone who lives in Liverpool! They have really developed this amazing board walk around the waterfront and the trail is superb. I think Liverpool could certainly take a leaf out of their books! The city itself however is pretty generic high rise concrete canyon North American city. The city itself certainly lacked the quirky charms of my next two locations St. John’s and Charlottetown but it was nice to see a lot of brickwork highrise rather than the steal ones. What it lacked in character certainly made up for in its surroundings. A drive in this place outside of the city is breath taking and that drive and walk around Peggy’s cove is an absolute bucket list must! Stunning scenery and every picture is postcard or magazine worthy. I would definitely hire a car and explore around this place for an extra day or two if I had the time, however the tour for £25 was very good value for money! Peggy’s Cove is as beautiful in real life as it looks in pictures and I would love to get a sunset or a sunrise picture there.

I was glad I decided to make this my first stop back in Canada and my tour of the Atlantic coast. I had fully enjoyed my day in this city and I was super excited to head north to St. John’s, a place I’d wanted to visit for ages!

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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.

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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

Prague Trip Report: Day 4 and 5 – A rude awakening, a sobering afternoon and a trip home covered in Anti-Bac gel.

Whenever I’m away travelling I still like to keep to my usual morning schedule, at least an adapted one. I don’t mind if my morning routine is disrupted or out of order, it’s just I like doing things in an order because my brain doesn’t have to think about it! It can stay in sleep mode for that little bit longer. Part of the routine is waking up, going to the loo, doing my teeth and then jumping in the shower and then having breakfast. The girls were well used to me being in the shower first by now. I’m an early riser anyway and I tend to be the first in my house to get a shower. My family constantly say I spend too long in the shower. I don’t think 10 minutes is too excessive but they both mentioned in passing that I spend ages in the shower. Hint taken but there are some things I will not budge on. My morning shower being one of them! I had reduced my shower down to about 8 which is as good as they were going to get.

Turning the shower on in the morning as I put my tooth brush away, i step into the bath and HOLY SHI-I-I-I-T my breath is ripped away from the ice cold water that had just covered my legs and nether regions. How I didn’t fall over from shock I don’t know! I try to clamber out of the bath and ended up having a fight with the shower curtain instead while ice water continued to cascade over me. Each new place on the body the water hit sending me to gasp for breath. Annoyed and now very cold, I look at the boiler which was handily in the bathroom. A red light was flashing and the temperature dial had been replaced with a flashing F22. Mother Fucker. I mutter to myself. Yesterday was a very hot day and it was a warm night so I needed a shower. A cold one it would have to be. I had PTSD flashbacks to SAS training camp in cadets, in the cold February plains of Shropshire where despite it being 1 degree, you still had to shower in ice cold water. Something about making you stronger mentally. More like abuse but we’ll let that slide. Deep breath, control the breathing and back in we go. After the initial cold water shock when it goes over your head, I had the quickest shower I had ever done!

Getting changed in a hurry to try and get warm I then exit the bathroom “well guys shit. We have no hot water!” … “I thought you were quick!” (not the first time a woman has said that to me before haha!). I was quickly onto google. F22 was a boiler fault that was due to low water pressure. I watched a Youtube video from a very cockney plumber who explained how to rectify it (he really needed a flatcap and pipe to go with his accent and look, it felt like he was about to break into song at any minute) by adding water pressure through different valves under the boiler. I explain this to both of them and then Katie notices that the pressure reading was still 1.5 Bar. So not a water pressure issue. “Get in touch with Aldo”. Out of ideas and lacking any plumbing skills I did indeed text Aldo aka Cisco. I guess if Aldo’s Central City’s doppelganger can invent new ways to stop meta humans then he should know how to fix an F22 error. I was right! His text was simple and to the point.

“Turn it off and back on again”

Unsurprisingly that worked. If in doubt always do that! Unless it’s a nuclear reactor then maybe not but hurrah we had hot water. They were both happy, I was still thawing out by time we left the apartment for the day ahead. Laura had rescheduled the walking tour for 11 a.m. in Old Town Square, which was becoming more and more like home for us now. We would walk through it on our way to and from the apartment, so much so that we knew all the streets and no longer needed to look at any maps. One building we would see in the distance each time we crossed this main road that had tram tracks that had trams running up and down almost every two minutes. It was what we thought was a church with its tower looming up as if it was stuck in the middle of this road. We decided to go check it out, it was only fair on the poor thing! Once we got closer it turned out not to be a Church or at least not an active one. Instead it was different floors of different activities, including a Whiskey cellar, a Whiskey shop with Whiskey tours and a bar/restaurant in the roof which offered views of the city. A converted church that had Whiskey in it. Now that’s a religion I can get on board with! Sadly it was closed so after a few pictures we went in search for one of Prague’s top 10 things to Instagram. Usually you won’t find many cities top 10 things involving a trip to the municipal library but here is where we were heading. In this library was a book tower, we’re all book worms to some extent, two of us have dabbled with writing books in the past and it was free! So after a short walk we arrived. It was really odd but incredibly cool!

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To the book tower!

From there it was time for our first coffee of the trip. I am truly surprised it took us this long to have one! I used to drink coffee occasionally, usually to get me through an assignment or a long day of coding. I was certainly not a massive coffee drinker (I still do prefer naps for a caffeine boost!) however since hanging out with these guys who are big coffee drinkers and doing the PhD my coffee intake has rapidly increased! So much so that I’ve even developed a taste for black Americano’s now thanks to Laura. Once we got to Old Town Square we sat outside this very fancy café called the White Horse and ordered our coffees. That was a very lovely coffee and there is something very fitting about drinking a good coffee in mainland Europe, outside in the warmth, people watching. It’s very tranquil indeed.  Until the bastard of the insect world appeared. Why do Wasps insist on being annoying bastards? They’re like the Go Compare man. Hangs around for ages with an annoying whine and just when you think its gone, It comes back. I don’t know if its my aftershave or their perfume but he was not budging from flying around us three!

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Mmmmm coffee

Before we could get stung it was nearly 11 a.m and the start of our tour. Turns out plenty of tours start here in the square and they all have umbrellas to identify themselves too. Not very helpful! We were on NextCity tours free tour. An odd concept for me but one that works very well. The tour is free. There is no catch. A man, in this case, James a young lad from Chicago who went travelling after graduating University and fell in love with Prague, takes you on a three hour tour of the city for free. All he asks is that if you want, that you can tip him. Of course everyone is going to tip him (although I bet some right arseholes don’t!) but it’s a good concept, pay what you feel its worth. Seriously though, it was well worth 200 czk tip! I cannot recommend that tour enough!

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Taken at lunch time on our walking tour

Before James took us on a delightful tour of the city, explaining many of the features, historical figures and the history of the place, for which Prague is steeped in. I won’t go into too much detail of the tour as I really wouldn’t want to spoil it for you as you have to come here and go do it! Some of the things we had seen on our walks before but it felt good to finally add some historical context to them. Little things like Defenestration which is the legal act of throwing someone out of a window in Prague. Totally legal thing to do! (I did get worried in case I’d end up being thrown out of a sky light now!). Although some of the things we hadn’t seen before…like a decaying arm of a thief hanging from the ceiling of a church! Yep. No bullshit!

So before we went on the walking tour he introduced himself and made the rest of us introduce ourselves too, our names, where we come from, what takes our interest (i.e world war 2 history, architecture etc.) and if we were an interesting person or not. There were two other Brits, a lot of Americans, a few other European countries and two giant German people. They were a couple but they were absolutely huge! See below. James is the same height as me so around 6 foot. They make him look small!

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Giant Germans

Many people introduced themselves and bar a Scottish guy who told us he burns very easily as his interesting fact (yep I feel your pain brother!) one girl and I quote for her interesting fact “For my interesting fact I’m a Vegan”. Euuuugh you’re the worst I inwardly moan in my head as I try to supress a laugh. Way to quash your Vegan stereotypes of “How can you recognise a Vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!”

The walking tour was amazing, lunch was delicious and for me two bits of information stood out for me on that tour. One was I love World War 2 history so a walk around the Jewish Quarter is a must do and seeing the Church the two Czech soldiers hid out in after fatally wounding Hitler’s right hand man the horrific person who designed and came up with the gas chambers, was very interesting to see. Crazy how in this spot that happened due to two guys and if they didn’t pull off that mission, to which wasn’t easy (the gun jammed and they had to throw a grenade instead) if they didn’t pull it off the war could have been very very different indeed!

The second was the story of the Prague Gollum which is apparently sealed in this loft since the 17th century. From this story came the word for Robot and Superman is in fact based on this old tale of the Prague Gollum. Truly fascinating!

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Enjoying our final day

After we paid James and thanked him for his service (we worked out from the amount he got that he’s on £36 an hour. No wonder he stayed!) we went to buy a ticket for the Jewish Quarter museum which gets you into the various Synagogues and exhibitions which were all museum pieces. James couldn’t recommend this enough on his tour so we all agreed it was a must thing to do. I cannot recommend the Jewish Quarter enough. You seriously have to go visit this collection of buildings and museum pieces.

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The Spanish Synagogue

Two places I still get a lump in my throat thinking about now. In one of the catacombs of a Synagogue is every name of every Jewish person from Prague and the surrounding area who was taken during the Holocaust. Their names were painted on the walls and ceilings of these vast four rooms. Listed was their family name, their first name, when they were taken, when they died and what age they were. To see their names covering this vast area was truly sobering. There were too many names to take in. I saw one child’s name who was 5 when he was killed. I wonder what he would have become if he was allowed to live. These names where shadows of a future that was brutally taken away in one of History’s darkest pasts. I was moved far more than I thought I would be at this. The sheer scale of it all really threw me. Hearing vast amount of numbers killed in this case 80,000 you can still distance yourself from that but when you see those 80,000 names inscribed in front of you for as far as you can see, was just a very sobering experience. Especially as there was a mournful Jewish soundtrack playing which just added to the feel of the place. I don’t think any of us barely said a word to each other for the entire time in there. I think we were all lost in our own thoughts and contemplation’s.

The bit that I really want you to go and see is the Freidl Dicker-Brandeis exhibition. In the labour camps this was the first instance of using drawings with kids to help them get over trauma. Freidl did this in secret with the kids to help them and hid the drawings in cases under floorboards. Freidl knew they were being shipped off to the next camp to sadly perish. On display were the original drawings and paintings from some of these seven suit cases that the children had drawn. That really struck a chord with me emotionally. Some of the children had drew pictures and paintings of happier times, a life before all of this. Happy family meals, Passover, playing with friends. That gave me hope that in the darkest of times for these kids that they could hold onto the thought of positivity and happier times. Yet many showed the true horror of what they had seen and what they were going through at that time. One picture vividly sticks out in my head. Its drawing of himself bearing in mind this kid was 6 years old, he’s standing outside a burning house (which I assume was his childhood home), his mum and dad are outside with skull and crossbones over their faces, while a German soldier in the most horrific gas mask over his head, with a rifle pointing towards his parents on the ground. He drew himself to the side looking on with tears coming from his eyes. I could actually feel my eyes well up a little as I looked at it. 6 years old. Having to go through that and relive it every day just because he believed in a different religion. It made me so sad and so angry at the same time. I can only imagine what he must have felt like being in one of those camps alone with only his thoughts. He never made it past the age of 6. Another life needlessly taken.

As emotional as it was that afternoon I am so glad we decided to go and do it. It’s a must see thing and to learn about the Jewish culture and WW2 history is something I fully recommend.

After visiting there we headed back to the apartment to get changed before heading out for our last night in Prague. Laura since the first day had wanted a slice of pizza from this little Pizza place on the corner that we kept passing, she finally got her wish! It did look good and certainly smelt good too! For the evening we decided to head back to the White Horse café where we had had coffee that morning. It was a beautiful warm summer evening as we watched day turn into night and watched the hustle of Prague’s old town square transform as night fell. I had another Czech sausage which apparently doesn’t come with sides!? So I literally just had a sausage for tea. Well bar Katie very kindly offloading some of her chips to me as I agreed when she said “Tony…that’s pretty much just a starter for you isn’t it?”. She wasn’t wrong haha!

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Another great Czech sausage…without sides 😦

I tried to drink in the atmosphere, the warmth, the noise and the conversation and commit it to memory. It’s so very rare in the UK that you can sit out in such a place like this and in this temperature, the whole feel about it was amazing. A busker had appeared and began playing some beautiful music on his piano as the night grew darker and the buildings grew lighter in that soft Prague street light glow. What an evening. Even the return of the bastard Wasp didn’t dampen our spirits as even he got bored before our meal arrived and buggered off to let us three enjoy our final night in Prague together. On the way back to our apartment we decided to go souvenir shopping. You’re certainly not short on places to get stuff from that’s for sure and at the end of the day it really is all tat but still, you do have to buy it! Loaded up on goodies to take home we headed back to the apartment. Some more cards were played along with a music quiz of British children’s TV shows. Damn those shows have some catchy themes! From Raggy Dolls to Poddington Peas! Although I can still never get the opening of Rosie and Jim out of my head. “JIIIIIMMM”. Oh god.

Our last morning arrived and after tidying up the apartment we said one last goodbye to what had been our home for the past few nights. On leaving we bumped into Aldo and said our goodbyes as we headed back out into the warm sunshine for one final time. One final coffee was the order of the day for breakfast. We found a nice little café in Wenceslas square and sat outside people watching as the time ticked closer to 11 a.m. I decided to skip coffee this morning and instead have some peppermint tea which is one of my favourite drinks! It came with honey and lemon too. Honey in fresh mint tea tastes amazing, lemon….not so much. Lesson learnt!

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Top tip…don’t put lemon in your mint tea.

That’s not before learning how to use a cafeteria. I think four days of not having my required 8 hours sleep had turned my brain to mush. Much to their amusement! I eventually mastered this simple technique but my brain continued to fade throughout the day! So much so that in the airport Katie says “I think we broke Tony”. I think they did!

After paying up and popping to the loo which had a world map where you could place where you had come from, we headed to Albert supermarket (a place we had visited every night to get supplies) and then we jumped on the Metro and then the 119 Bus to the airport. I notice that absinth is a popular drink here, I think the driver had a bit too much as it was one crazy ride! As the bus snaked its way passed the perimeter fence of the airport I turn to Katie and say “At least I’ve learnt one word on this trip” …”Oh yeah?” … “Yeah! Prezni!” I exclaim proudly, my linguistical tongue bound to impress with my perfect Czech accent. She gave me a very confused look “Prezni? What’s that?” she enquired. “It means please…doesn’t it?” at this point my confidence wavered for the meaning of this word. She gave me that smile which I knew would lead into a laugh “Please is Prosim Tony!” … “Oh great! The one word I learnt and it’s not even the correct one!” both of them found this very amusing indeed. I still have no idea what Prezni means! I did learn another word though which is Thank You but it sounds very much like Dick Weed, so I elected to not commit that to memory or use it on the trip!

Prague airport is very odd. Who has shops before security and that security being at your gate? I finally admit defeat that Priority boarding is a complete waste of time. Something I found very difficult to admit to Katie who had the smugness of the cat who just got the cream. It seemed we weren’t the only ones trying to get home. Air traffic congestion over Germany meant we had to wait an extra 45 minutes before we took off into the late European summer blue sky. This extra 45 minutes didn’t do much good for my bladder. Katie needed the loo too but the service trolley was blocking our way and plus she had the aisle seat so had all the power. Evil woman! Finally the trolley went passed us!

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Time to head home!

On my return I asked her if I could borrow her hand gel, something I always use after using a public loo because humans are dirty buggers and people don’t wash their hands! “Of course!” naaw isn’t she nice I thought as I held my hands out. That grin appeared before it was too late to react. She proceeded to pour a shit load (technical term of measurement) of hand gel all over my hands while laughing! I tried to rub it in but there was just too much. I found it very funny…especially as its something i’d deffo do to her but she got there first so probably Katie 3 me 0 now. It was good to know that my hands will be clean for the next 10 years now anyway! Plus, I’m sure the rest of the aircraft enjoyed the slightly peachy scent of Anti-Bac gel. Before long the blue skies of Europe had been replaced by the dull grey heavy clouds of North West England and we touched down. Our holiday was over and we were back home.

We said our goodbyes in the airport and exchanged hugs and the amazing five days in Prague with two awesome people was sadly over. What a trip it had been and above all such a funny one. I would definitely travel with these two again and I know we’ll have many more adventures together! So there we have it, one excellent trip to Prague. Holiday blues are replaced by the thought of my next trip, the biggest solo trip of the year to Iceland and Canada at the end of the month!

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