The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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

Tag: Experiences

My final day and my goodbye

The final day

Every journey must start with a small step. Every relationship starts with a simple hello. Every memory recalled must have been lived. For three years I’ve crawled, walked, run and flew. I’ve learned how to fail through bitter experience a thousand times but how to get up 1001 times. The funny thing about journeys is you’re always aiming to get to a destination, a final fixed point in time or locality, always on the move, always getting closer. Often the destination is the ultimate goal but its how you get there that’s usually better than the place you’re trying to get to. While every journey must begin with a small step, it must end with one too. Every hello always ends in a goodbye. Today is my last official day as a PhD researcher and the last day of being a student.

I walked back through the doors of that grand old house, Holmefield, my home for the past three years today. Since day one, the strong white stoned pillars guarding the entrance with nobility always gave me a feeling of assurance. As assured as the giant sprawling trees that lined the lush patch of grass outside of the door, who’ve watched countless students throughout the years. In three years not much has changed, the chandeliers still glint in the shaft of light that trickles through the window illuminating the specs of floating dust, a never-ending dance in the air. The staircase that clings to the wall I must have walked a million times up to my office and now it was to be my last time. Punching in the code and pushing that oak door open, I was greeted by silence. My desk untouched since viva, a mass of paper and copies of my thesis, an untouched coffee cup and notepads. The other desks were just as I last remember them, a mass of books, paper and post-it notes, evident signs of feverish work that goes on in here. With each book I placed into my bag, each file I copied from the pc and with every pull of a picture or of a poster from the wall it hit me like a dagger. I’m dismantling my life with every item that goes into the box. In no time at all the only signs I was ever here is a small polaroid picture I placed with a firm thumb on the wall. A picture of H105 occupants dressed in Christmas jumpers posing for a photo, the caption underneath simply read

H105 standing together, forever

I walked down the quiet corridor and popped my head into my old office, the office where it all started in H003. Again, empty and silent, I walked towards my old desk, taking the last steps in the same steps that I took my first on this journey. I’m surrounded by the ghosts of my memories, I watch as I recall my first hello with Laura, then Vic, the Cara, Hannah, Rosie, then Katie, then the rest of the PGRs. I laugh to myself when I look out of the window and recall walking to the shops with Rosie in hurricane force winds. It’s nice to see that crack in the window had been repaired since, a shiver ripples through my body when I recall that first bitterly cold winter in that office where water and wind would rattle through the gap in the door and the broken window pane. I recalled each individual hello as if it were yesterday, the feeling of being apart of a team and getting to know them, in the beginning, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

With a sad goodbye, I left the old office and walked back up to H105, the office where it really cemented our friendship. I longed to turn around and hear that chirpy morning voice from Laura signifying it was time for our daily trip to the café to drink coffee for longer than we should, discussing everything from life to work. I miss mine and Rosie’s chats about TV shows that my mum and she might like or have watched along with plenty of banter. I miss that I’ll no longer hear footsteps up the stairs and be like with a smile, oh this must be Vic! For the door to the flung open and her smile and greeting to light up the room. I’ll miss Katie’s sarcasm towards me and the many inappropriate jokes/comments that only our childish minds would find funny. I’ll especially miss drawing little post-it note doodles to fill up her wall, I never did reach my goal of trying to cover it floor to ceiling!

I take a look around looking at all of the memories in this place. Sure, it’s just an office, it’s nothing special its four walls and a door. To me, it was home, it was safety in all of the chaos of PhD life. A life raft in the stormy seas. These four walls saw us grow as individuals, its been an honour to have grown with these exceptional individuals, kind-hearted, dedicated and loyal. These four walls it saw us achieve big things, it saw us fall many times, it saw us pick each other up. It’s seen us cry and its seen us in tears with laughter. Oh, the laughter, how that room was always so full of the bellowing sounds of our laughter.

I feel a huge lump in my throat as the silence takes hold, the clatter of keyboards have fallen silent, the laughter fading. This truly is the end. Walking back out of that door for the final time with the confirmation of the heavy click of the lock. My time had come, my journey was over.

My Dad helped me load the rest of my things into the car and we drove away, that part of my life now over. “Are you sad?” my Dad asked as we drove away I managed to muster a “Yes” fighting back the iceberg-sized lump in my throat “Of course you will be, it’s been a huge part of your life” he replied.

He’s right. I’m not just saying goodbye to friends, I’m not just saying goodbye to PhD life and the travel, the coffee and the experiences, nor am I saying goodbye to the best version of me. I’m saying goodbye to a part of me that’s been me for eight years. Eight years I’ve been a student or a staff member in higher education. Now, I’m saying goodbye officially to my identity as a student. Really, while the PhD has been a three-year journey, this journey really started way back in 2010 when I was a lost boy who needed a new challenge from that of high school. A much needed new start when I arrived as an undergraduate Geographer, finally with my wings unclipped to be who I wanted to be not what school clicks and politics deemed you to be. All of the highs of finding yourself on a cold windswept beach in Slapton under the clearest starry night sky and for the first time in my life feeling like I’m valued and as part of a genuine team. To laughing until I nearly threw up in a desert on my Masters. To all the lows of breakups and failing medicals for ATC and all the stresses of work and sacrifices of an RA, at times it felt like I was stepping out into the night with only a positive attitude and hope to guide me. All those at times dead-end alleys were actually a straight line to where I’m meant to be today.

So today, I said goodbye to my life as a student. A life that’s seen me change with each new adventure and chapter. My undergrad, I found out who I was and who I wanted to be, my masters I consolidated that and grew more confident in myself, in my RA years I became far wiser and more mature and the final series, the PhD has taken all of those three things and has turned it up to 11. I am a changed man from the man I was at the start of this journey. It’s impossible for this experience not to change you fundamentally. The most brutal of worlds, the most intellectually and emotionally challengings thing a person can ever do, it’s bound to change you. But it’s changed me for the better. As sad as I am to leave, I leave as the best version of me. That’s all down to the office of H105.

Vic taught me to lighten up and find the joy in life and when things are terrible, you can always make a joke about it and smile. She’s taught me the real value of loyalty and selflessness and treating others as equals. Katie has brought out the fun side of me, the Jokey Tony instead of “Sensible Tony” which was my nickname in Chester. She also taught me how to soften my very direct nature at times and how sometimes my direct unemotional prefer logic approach might not always work for very emotional driven topics and issues (I’m still working on it! Tony the Robot!). Rosie taught me to stay true to myself and my principles, to be steadfast and stoic towards a goal, oh and I now know a lot about TV and I still don’t eat sweets before 12pm!  Laura actually taught me to love again and to find self-worth again in myself. Laura became a true best friend, a confidant, while we’d argue…a lot!…we’d always resolve it through well-reasoned debate. I miss our non-date date nights, I miss our Sunday cycles, our times spent righting the world over a coffee, and I miss travelling to new places with her. I think I speak for everyone in H105 when I say the office was never the same without you when you moved away.

I leave the PhD a wealthy man, not in terms of wealth (I wish) but in that I’ve won the lottery when I’ve had the opportunity to be surrounded by people like that, people who I can call true friends and friends for life. Not just them but friends I’ve made outside of H105, the fellow PGRs who I know will be friends for a very long time.

So tomorrow I will walk across that stage for the final time, I’ll shake the VCs hand and I’ll get my doctorate in hand. The destination reached. There is despite everything, a truth in that we must all face, whether we want to or not is that everything eventually ends and everything has its time. I’ve worked hard for so many years to reach this goal, and I’ve worked my hardest with the right attitude and commitment, doing it the way I wanted it, with compassion and by building others up instead of stepping on them to get where I needed to be. I hate endings, I hate that every hello always ends in a goodbye. I hate that ending. I hated the last day of summer before a new term started, the end of a perfect day with friends or the turning of a final page of a great book. Endings are a fact of life, the seasons change, the sun will rise, and the stars will shine. Life simply goes on around you. Tomorrow is one of those days, an ending, a closure. I say goodbye to everything that was familiar, everything that was comfortable, I’m moving on, taking my final steps on this journey but new ones on a new adventure. While it hurts to say goodbye, just because I’m leaving some people and experiences, have become so ingrained in me that they’ll be with me no matter what. I don’t know what the next chapter of my life holds, I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll do but I do know that in amongst all the chaos of life I have a sanctuary, a solid ground in those select few who I dropped walls for, for those who fought by my side. They will forever be my moral compass, my guiding star and that voice that will always be there for me.

As I hate endings, I’ll simply say with a heavy heart and a tear in my eye, thank you to everyone who’s been on this journey with me. Instead of goodbye, “I’ll see you around” xxx

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How to prepare for the PhD Viva

The Viva, the word that is never far away from a PhD students mind. The mythical almost legendary word that looms over everything that you do. When you start the PhD, it seems a long and distant prospect and as you progress, the Viva looms ever larger like a storm cloud bubbling up on a clear summers day. The Viva is the final battle all PhD students know they must face but never want to. The Viva is the most important battle a PhD student will face as if all the other constant battles weren’t enough already! A hill to either die or survive on, the outcome of you becoming a Dr relies on your ability to survive a two to three hour (on average) defence of your thesis with at least two experts.

Many people outside of academia are simply unaware of what a PhD is or even the amount of work, sacrifice and challenges that come with it. Simply too many to list in this blog that’s for sure! However, many people are aware that by the end of your PhD, you will produce a thesis of substantial word count, for example, including references and appendices my thesis came to 212,000 words! If I had to include all my rewrites and deleted and changed words over the course of the PhD, I’d be looking at having written over 300,000! Yet, people don’t understand outside of academia that writing of the thesis is less than half of the PhD, the rest comes down to the Viva. The word that sends a chill up any PhD student (sorry fellow PhD students for the trigger!).

The term ‘Viva’ is actually short for ‘Viva Voce’ which is Latin for absolute hell. I joke. It actually translates to “by live voice”. In layman’s terms, you’ve walked written the walk, now you need to talk the talk. Every country is slightly different, but in the UK at least, it’s an oral exam, a defence of your thesis between usually an external and an internal examiner behind closed doors. They will have read your completed written thesis multiple times and now you sit in a room where they’ll ask you many questions about it for which you have to justify every decision and action made in the time you’ve been on the PhD. As a general rule of thumb, the examiners are looking for three things (1.) Is it your own work and have you written it (2.) Do you understand what you’ve written and what your results are saying and (3.) Does what you’ve done actually contribute new and original knowledge to the scholarly community.

So, how do you prepare for this showdown to get your PhD? Below I’ll outline how I tackled my Viva preparations and if the Viva is on the horizon for you, I hope it may give you some ideas about how to get yourself in the best shape possible for it.

Read, re-read and when you think you’ve read enough, read one more time

By now you’re probably downright sick of your own writing and if you’ve been editing, you’re perhaps resenting your own work with having read it so many times. However, it is vital that you go back and re-read, multiple times from cover to cover. There where three critical aspects that I took to my viva prep re-reads. Firstly, I read a chapter or two chapters a day, making no notes, just reading, remembering and understanding my work. It may seem obvious, but some of your writing is over two years old and with so much going on and so much different sections that you’ve written its good to refresh your brain. After reading it thoroughly, I then went back through and re-read it under a critical eye. I looked for any formatting, spelling or grammatical errors. If you’ve rushed to get your thesis in you’ll probably find a lot of them but even me, someone who spent three solid months of editing and checking my work prior to submission I still annoyingly found 13 errors including an utterly wrong graph!

I hear that many people don’t want to re-read their work for fear of finding exactly that, a mistake. It happens and the examiners will know it happens too. You’re writing in excess of 100,000 words there is bound to be mistakes. Of course, in your edits its best to catch as many as you can but even if you’re diligent you’ll still miss one or two. Chasing the perfect error free thesis is chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, a nice idea but ultimately, a futile one. If you submit a thesis that is strung with spelling and format errors because it’s been rushed or you failed to re-read it before submitting it doesn’t mean the Viva will go badly, but it will cast some doubt in the examiner’s minds I’m sure. You’re giving them more ammunition if you’ve failed to check your work. Use software, colleagues, supervisors and friends and family to check before you submit! If, however, you still find mistakes, relax! Make a note of them (I highlighted mine) so that if the examiners point them out, you can be ahead of the curve as you’ve identified it (my examiners didn’t even point out the mistake in the graph which I was stressing about so much, so don’t worry!). Also, it’s super rare that the outcome of the Viva is no changes, you’re most likely at a very minimum getting minor corrections so don’t stress, you can correct those errors in the post-viva corrections phase!

Highlights and sticky notes

After reading my thesis multiple times, I went back through again and brought out my trusted highlighters and post-it notes. I used different colours to represent various aspects of the PhD. Green, for example, was a simple identifier for me of where each chapter began, thus in the Viva when referring to individual chapters if needed, I could just flip to it straight away. Orange I used as fundamentals, i.e. research aims, questions and critical results where purple I used as potential sections of note be that an important paper or parts I feel they may well grill me more on or want to know more about. Find whatever works for you, you don’t want to over complicate it and highlight absolutely everything in your thesis, it’s best practice to only refer to the thesis in the Viva if absolutely essential. So highlight what you feel are the key things and use a system that you know.

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My thesis and appendices with my post-it notes

Prepare Questions and Summary

While making your post-it note decorations on your thesis, I opened up two word documents. The first one I used to summarise each of the key points of that page. For example, when summarising your methodology outlining the key papers and 3 principal pros and cons of the method chosen. This helps in your re-read to focus your brain, and the day before the Viva I found it really helpful to just focus on those summary notes because that gave me the key points I needed to focus on without getting too lost in all the details.

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Example of my summary pages

As I went through, I also came up with questions that they could potentially ask me about those sections and I wrote them down. I also utilised some fantastic sets of questions out there online about viva preparations. The most effective way of preparing for the Viva was actually to be asked the questions so that I could answer them verbally. It’s all well and good preparing your answers in word, but it’s far better to practice verbalising them. My friend Rosie skyped me a set of questions from her Viva cards, I made a note of that question and then answered it. It’s seriously great practice! For example, she asked me what the theoretical implications of my study where and I gave a very long winded and pretty terrible answer. We discussed together how I should tackle that and be more focused and low and behold a similar question came up in my Viva, and I was able to nail it because I had been prepared. So get a friend, a supervisor or even your family to throw as many questions your way as possible. Below is the 19 random questions Rosie used from her cards to help me prepare. After answering all 19 that came to just under an hour of talking, so you can see how quickly a viva can go, especially as these are generic. Sadly, you can never truly prepare for the very specific and in-depth questions the examiners may have!

  1. Why did you narrow your focus of enquiry to this?
  2. How did research questions emerge?
  3. Which previous studies influenced your work?
  4. Who or what was most influential?
  5. What is the area in which you wish to be examined?
  6. How did you choose your methodology and were there any constraints?
  7. Limitations of your method and study?
  8. Did you encounter any problems?
  9. Talk us through how you analysed the data?
  10. What steps did you take to mitigate errors and bias the data in your qualitative methods?
  11. Do you believe your methods entomologically aligns?
  12. If you could start again, what would you do differently?
  13. How did your thinking develop as you went through your research process?
  14. How do your findings challenge the established literature in this field?
  15. How long do you expect your work to remain current?
  16. Where did you go wrong?
  17. What are the theoretical implications of your findings? What are the policy implications of your findings?
  18. How can it influence your findings?
  19. How do you intend to share your research findings?

Give yourself some space

I can’t stress this enough, it seems counterintuitive that as you scramble to cram as much in and practice as much as you can for the Viva that you should give yourself some time off. But seriously, trust me. Do it. Take a day off, go for a walk, go do something you enjoy. A tired brain is not a brain that’s going to perform well in the Viva. I know that its really hard to do because your mind will keep going back to viva prep, but you need to force yourself to do something differently, even if for an hour. I am forever indebted to my friend Ro who gave me no choice but to go out for a walk or my parents who forced me to go food shopping to take my mind off it. It seems small and daft, but it really worked. It gave my brain a few minutes of breathing space and especially on that walk realising that, yes, while the Viva is probably the most significant thing you’ve ever done to date and yes, so much is riding on it. That you have so many people who support you and there is so much more to life than getting three letters after your name. It does put things into perspective.

The day before try not to throw up and get some sleep

I read that some people say not to touch any viva prep the day before to give your brain a rest. I agree in principle, but I still did some prep. I read those summary pages a few times throughout the day and then gave it a rest. There comes the point where you know you’ve done all you can, and you feel as prepared as you can, so doing more won’t help. I spent a lot of that day sitting in the sun listening to music and trying to take my mind off it. Whatever coping mechanism you use to deal with stress now is an excellent time to use it! I also read and made notes of the latest papers that had come out since I submitted my thesis. A read a lot of these viva prep blogs who placed so much emphasis on you knowing every single paper since you’ve submitted. Please do not spend a load of time on this! Examiners can ask you to make sure you’re aware of how your research fits in, but they cannot directly examine you on any paper that’s been published post submission. Focus on your own work, I wasn’t even asked about any new literature in my viva. Imagine if I had dedicated so much time to that, what a waste that would have been!

Go and smash it and some final tips

The Viva is undoubtedly massive, and there is no denying that the day is enormous and massively stressful. You will feel like you’re crap, that your thesis is rubbish and you’ll feel vastly underprepared despite being the most prepared you’ve ever been for anything. It happens. I felt awful before my Viva! I think any PhD student who says they’re not nervous about the Viva is either a liar or incredibly naïve, or at worst has delusions of grandeur. Well, they’ll just set themselves up for a fail. Remember, and again I read this before I went into the Viva but didn’t really believe it until after the Viva, the examiners are not there to trick you or catch you out. They’re doing their job and your examiners should ask some very tough questions, you should expect them, it is a PhD after all. But any question is never a personal attack and its never to catch you out. Remember, despite the feeling of imposter syndrome, you really are the expert in the room. You should try and enjoy it as much as you can too. My Viva was brutal and tough but it was really enjoyable once I got into it. There is no other time in your life as a student where someone outside of your supervisory team will have read your thesis cover to cover, and you can sit in a room and discuss it at length with people who are just as enthusiastic about it as you are. My parents, for example, have only read my acknowledgements of my thesis so, yeah, make the most of two strangers taking an interest in your work because your family don’t!!

I found it vital in my preparations to be critical and honest with the thesis. What is good about it and what are my weakest points. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to know before I went in what I was going to defend until I was blue in the face and what I was happy to let go. You need to know what battles you’re going to pick in the Viva. You don’t have to defend every word, in fact, if you do you could be posing more problems than its worth. An example, if I defended the term pedagogy in my title and following sections, I have no doubt I would have had major corrections instead of the lower end of moderate. I was wise enough to know it was my weakest part of the thesis and the examiners saw it too, I was happy to not defend it, I’m glad I didn’t. On the flip side, my examiners weren’t that excited about my large section on UAV regulations and asked not once, not twice but three times was it critical. This, to me, was a fundamental aspect of my argument in the thesis and one of my mantras in the conclusion so three separate times, I defended it in the viva. I would have justified it a 4th if I had to because that was one part of my thesis I was going to defend until the end. Of course, by time they asked me a second time there was a flicker of “they’ve asked me this again, should I concede?” but no, it was a test to see me stick to my argument and defend it. By time they asked a 3rd time I was more adamant than ever to keep it in!

Be honest. Seriously, this is my final point and one that is vital in the Viva. Be honest. In mine I was asked if I was familiar with a particular set of literature which to them was essential if I had mentioned one thing, I really should have mentioned this. I was honest that I wasn’t familiar and they simply said thanks for being honest, one of your corrections is to do a small section on it. Then that was it, happy days we moved on. If I had tried to blag it, it would have caused so many more issues! You’re not meant to know everything in the Viva, you’re human. If you don’t know it put your hands up and admit it, they’ll be absolutely fine with it. If you don’t know it and you try and blag it well, they view that very dimly that’s for sure. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be thought of as a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

So try and enjoy the Viva, if you’ve had the right attitude, if you’ve prepared well enough then I am sure you will survive, and you will get what you’ve worked so hard for, you’ll be a Dr! Good luck and godspeed to you!

If you have any questions or even if you want me to read anything or even Skype you with some viva prep questions, let me know in the comments or get in touch on social media @TonyCliffe210. I’m currently in the process of writing a book about my PhD experience and how to tackle the many issues it throws up, so get in touch if you want to be involved in that! Or you can read about my Viva experience here: The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105 

Or read here my thoughts i penned before the viva: Some thoughts about the PhD journey as i near the final battle.

If you want to chat about the PhD or viva, get in touch, us PGRs need to help each other out to survive.

Go and smash it guys! You’ve got this!

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Post viva you get to wear cool badges!

The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105

“So congratulations Dr Cliffe” my internal examiner raises a huge grin and leans across the table to shake my hand, followed by my external then a slap on the back from my supervisor. I slump back in my chair as I thank them. I’m exhausted. I take a deep breath as I feel the stress of the viva flow through me and out with every breath. I can’t quite believe that I’ve survived. Is it over? There is no rising movie score of epic proportions, there is no confetti canon or wild cheering. A formal handshake completes the epic journey, a refined act for what has been an epic battle from day one. I’d just finished a PhD in 2 years 8 months and come through a tough viva, but I feel numb, completely numb. I’m happy, of course I am! But I’m also acutely aware of how instantly tired I am. When you’ve been stressed and working so hard for what felt like forever, with the goal reached it was that surreal moment of reaching the summit of the highest mountain you’ve ever climbed, looking back from where you’ve come from and then looking out at the view and just standing in amazement. I had reached my goal and now what was my first thought.

But more than that, I’m numb with bewilderment because I thought I had lost it all within 2 minutes of the 1hr 45 minute viva. I had done the best I could in the Viva but felt that my best wasn’t good enough, too many torpedo hits and not enough patching up to stop the ship from sinking. I was wrong, I had survived, I had done enough. Brutal. Intellectually brutal is the only word I can describe for the Viva. Nothing compares, and nothing ever will. I get it now, I really do when they say getting a PhD and particularly the final battle of the Viva is the hardest intellectual thing you can ever do. It all became apparent how hard it is to get a PhD in this moment.

There is no amount of patching up that you can do to save it, and no amount of effective counter weapons can save you and your thesis either.

I replay the morning ahead of me as I took a deep breath and thanked them all for their time, collected my belongings and walked out of the room. I could barely feel my feet under me, my mind still ultimately shell shocked at the whole experience, not just the Viva but the cumulation of nearly three years of solid hard work was over. Like a solider that’s been told the war is over, looking down at his dishevelled uniform.

To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Rosie, she once offered her pearl of wisdom about the PhD and torpedoes. In essence, your thesis is a ship in a battle, and there are certain things that you’ll do or write that will come under attack from the examiners. So it’s your job to make sure your thesis is as watertight as possible, yet that is impossible. The examiners will always find something, they’ll send their torpedoes directly towards your ship. The point of her analogy was that there will be small torpedoes that you take the hit and move on, but there will be fundamental torpedoes such as your methods where if you’ve got that wrong, the examiners will send a direct hit, and you’ll be sunk. There is no amount of patching up that you can do to save it, and no amount of effective counter weapons can save you and your thesis either.

That analogy flashed across my mind as I watched that torpedo ripple under the waves towards my ship. The opening salvo of the battle of the Viva had begun, and in my head, it had felt as if I’d already lost. “Have you written a thesis that matches your title? We don’t think you have”. Boom. Damage report. Flashing lights and noise fill my head as I scramble to right myself, any sense of I could win this had vanished, any plan of attack I had and had prepared to defend my thesis was thrown out of the window. I scramble for a confident tone in my voice despite feeling my heart in my mouth and my entire PhD crumble around me “Yeah…I have…Absolutely”.

In my head, a million thoughts are rushing around my brain, and an internal dialogue goes on in my head, What have I missed? What has everyone else missed? I’ve planned for this worst-case scenario, but I never thought it would come true, what do I do? Have I failed? Is this a test question? I’ve come so far ahead of the curve people are going to be so let down if I fail. Did I gamble not ever working a Friday? Fuck. Fuck. Breathe Tony. Fight, you know your stuff, believe in your work. Come on! Battle stations!

For the next hour and three quarters, a healthy and in-depth viva discussion occurred with my excellent examiners. I had to take some torpedo hits that I was willing to let happen, but I fought back with my own, defending my thesis and my journey to this point. It was constant, question after question, no time for rest or composure. An intellectual debate of the highest order it had felt as if my brain was in a boxing match. From defending the use of certain words in the thesis, to a discussion of changing my title, to me shouting about the merits of my innovative EVFG that I’d created. Despite that initial blow, I felt that I had recovered throughout the Viva. The examiners seemed pleased with my answers to their tricky questions. I thought I had defended my thesis when needed and let it go when I needed to. For example, I have the term pedagogy in my title, I’ve never liked it, always felt uncomfortable with it in and its corresponding sections in my thesis. It showed in my writing. That torpedo they sent my way was directed right at that. My weakest section, my ships design flaw. They’d honed in on it straight away, a vulnerability I had recognised but put up with because I was in an education department, so it had to be in there, despite my true self being a Geographer, not a pedagogic researcher.

“Pedagogy means something very important to both of us. Why is it in your title? We both agree this is by far your weakest section, everything else is great but this. Let’s get to the bottom of it” was something like how they approached this deciding question of the thesis. I told the truth. I agreed it was my weakest and I explained how I didn’t ever really want it in there but gave it my best shot at putting it in there. I hoped my defence was enough, but there was no real telling from their responses from my perspective. My external sends a giant torpedo my way, I know at this moment that it’s the big one. Depending on my answer, I was either going to be sunk entirely, or I was going to stop that torpedo before it hit me. “Did you make your virtual field guide to enhance the students learning? Or, did you make the virtual field guide to prove a concept exists and if it happened to enhance their learning that was a byproduct?”

I answer without hesitation. The examiners despite the title had seen my vision and my work, I had created this brand new model to prove that as no one has done it before, that the concept could be done and it has benefitted students and educators in their learning on fieldwork, but that is just a fantastic bonus. I’ve proved the concept works, I was so glad that they agreed and were so enthusiastic about it. They saw real merit in it. In this moment I thought I might actually survive.

After what was the longest and quickest 1hr 45 mins of my life and after more thesis defence, the battle of the Viva concluded and I was released to enter the staff room while they spent 30 minutes conferring what my outcome would be. I had no way to tell how it had gone, I had fought back from that opening but I prepared for the worst.

“Oh, here he is!” Tim, my supervisor, exclaimed with a grin as I enter the staff room. “Fucking hell, Tim, that was brutal!” I exhale as I slump into the chair.”Ah can’t have been that bad?” he says jokingly as I turn to him “they want me to change my title, Tim!” I exclaim in exasperation. “Oh” is all he could offer. I then debriefed him on how it went, blow by blow, torpedo by counter torpedo. “I don’t know Tim…after that it could be anything, I suspect moderate but prepare for major. It all depends on if I’ve done enough to let the pedagogy go and defended the VFG well enough…” is my concluding statement of the debrief before I’m interrupted by the internal examiner knocking on the door asking for me and this time Tim, to join me in the room.

The walk up the stairs felt like the longest walk I’ve ever done. In my head, as I always do, expect the worst case scenario, and if its better than that, then that’s a bonus! Sitting down at the table, there were no signs from my external or internal which way this was going to go. My external commends me on how much work I’ve done, which according to him felt like 3 PhDs worth! And commends me on a great and in-depth viva before saying “congratulations Tony, We’d like to award you the PhD pending moderate corrections” I didn’t hear much after that! The examiners went through what corrections where to be made, what to remove and what to add. It had felt earned this moment, despite being mentally exhausted. It had been a hard viva, as hard as everyone says it was going to be. But weirdly, I’m glad it was hard. If the examiners had just said okay that’s great it wouldn’t have felt like the PhD was earnt but now it did. Both Gary and Judith as examiners where exceptional. No question was asked to catch me out, all their questions were to draw out of me clarity of my work and to see me defend every word, every action over the past 2 and a bit years which accumulated in the thesis. A textbook example of how a viva should be done. I can only thank them once again for what was the toughest but ultimately rewarding experience in my academic life thus far.

When I exited the room, I noticed that my old DoS’s door is open, a woman who I could not thank enough for getting me where I am today. If this were indeed a research war, she would have been my commanding officer. Fran was my DoS for just under two years before going on maternity to which my 2nd supervisor Tim took over for the final stretch of the campaign. I also realise at this moment how fortunate I was to have them both! Fran had made her way in especially for my Viva, to be there whether it was good or bad news. I guess while it was nerve-wracking for me, it was in my hands. For Fran, she hadn’t seen or been updated on the PhD for months since she was on maternity so I can only imagine what she must have been feeling as I ventured into that Viva!

I offer a weary, tired knock on her door and enter, god knows how I must have looked! I placed my stuff down on the table as she looked at me with a face that said: “Well, how did it go?”

I manage to raise a smile and just two words “Dr Cliffe!”

Seeing how happy she was for me, it slowly started to sink in just what it was that I had just achieved. In 2 years and 8 months and only working Monday to Thursday on it I had completed a PhD! I give her a quick debrief about the moderate corrections the examiners want me to do. “They’ve given me three months” I relay to her to which she replied “Knowing you, you’ll have it done in three weeks!” she knows me well! I leave and head down the old staircase and out into the bright blue sky and sunshine as I lug my giant thesis between my arms, what once was a mental weight on my shoulders has been lifted as I breathe in that cool fresh air. I offer myself a wry smile as I walk down that path towards my office that I’ve done thousands of times before with the crisp blue skies, lush green rolling grass giving way to the twinkling of the river in the distance capped by the looming Welsh hills. A sight I’d grown fond of over the years, a sight and a path I’ve walked for 2 years 8 months as a student, now finally a Dr.

I walk up to my office and notice a card and a blowup minion sellotaped to our office door. I raise another smile as I peel it away and open the door. For the first time today had I felt comfortable, I was home. H105.

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Thanks Sha!

Opening the door, my dear friend Vic turns around from her PC. I had grown used to and often looked forward to her cheery greeting and smile whenever either of us entered the office for the first time in the day, not so much today. “How did it go?” she asks a hint of nerves I detect. Which is my fault, I told her if I’m not back in 3 hours something awful has happened. A Viva shouldn’t be that long, so if it is that long, I’ve fucked it. As the Viva had started 45 minutes late and post debrief while it had only been 2 hours for me, it was touching 3 hours since I left the office for the Viva! Plus, how I looked hot, sweaty, and shell shocked probably didn’t do much to instil any good vibes from me!

“That was fucking brutal! But I did it! Mod corrections!” that hug was most definitely welcome! Vic joked later on that she’d never seen me like that before, that’s how bad it was! Outwardly and in person I have a firm control over my emotions and as such I have this persona of a very confident, calm and self-assured person. So much so that it is an injoke that I’m a robot. That had gone out of the window by time viva had come around! This robot was trying very hard not to malfunction! A few days before the Viva, I was out on a walk with my close friend Ro to clear my head pre-viva. “Wow, I’ve never seen this side to you before! Where is your confidence!?” truth of the matter is I never really have it I just think I have it!

We are the fellowship of the PhD

Vic came with me to the lunch with my supervisors and my examiners and Katie joined too with another welcome hug (and a fantastic Viva present, a llama lamp!). My mind was still spinning. The journey was over although I knew I still had corrections to do but I was confident in getting them done in a quick turnaround. After an hour or so, I thanked my examiners once again and my supervisors and was given what I was told is a tradition for passing a viva. A giant bottle of Champagne from Fran!

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Post Viva smiles!

I walked back with Vic and Katie to the office, just like so many times before. And that’s where it all feels like a double-edged sword for me, a victory and a loss at the same time. I’ve come and did my duty, I’ve fought my fight and I’ve won, I’ve finished, I’ve survived. Yet, I feel guilty that I’m not back in the fight with them anymore, I feel guilty that I won’t be in the office anymore, I feel guilty that I’m on the other side while they’re preparing to go through it all. They’re not colleagues, they’re not even friends or close friends, they’re more than that, so much more than that to me. They truly are a family to me, there are no other people I would have wanted to share this journey with, to stand shoulder to shoulder within this PhD war. In a war where everything does its best to not make you succeed, in a war which makes you doubt your abilities and in a war which takes you to some incredible lows, they’ve been there, a beacon of friendship, advice, solitude, a light in the dark. H105 and its occupants had become a sanctuary in the chaos. A bond that was forged in adversity would never be broken. We’ve faced it all together. I am forever indebted to them for everything, to them, to Laura, to Rosie and the rest of the PGR community. No words can ever express just how much they have meant to me on this journey. We’ve had highs and lows, we’ve laughed in the sun and we’ve wiped tears away in the rain. We’ve travelled to conferences together and had European adventures. We’ve been rocked by life and we’ve each been a shoulder to cry on. We’ve dropped everything to race to be there when tragedy has struck. We’ve celebrated the little and the big wins as if they were our own. I had to fight back a little tear as I read in my card “we are the fellowship of the PhD”. They mean everything to me.

 

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It really does pain me that I’m not going to be on the frontlines with them anymore, but I can offer something I couldn’t before. As the first to go through this process, I feel like I can be that lighthouse in the stormy seas. I have survived and I know they will survive too, I’m going to make sure that they do. Whether it’s the PhD or the Mphil. My family, my H105, forever stronger together. We can beat anyone and anything! The PhD and life here have thrown so much stuff our way, but we continue to defy the odds and come through it all. I cannot wait to be there when we’re all safe, when we’ve all survived, when we’ve all graduated. When we can all sit back whether we’re in academia or not, PhD or Mphil, and raise our glasses, to the best group of people I have ever known, I raise my glass to H105, the true meaning of the fellowship of the PhD.

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H105, the greatest office of them all

 

My look back at 2018 part one

 

 

Hey guys, 2018 well I’d give it a solid 7. The first half of the year was up there close to 10 but the second half of the year hasn’t been so great so brings it down to a 7 overall. I’ve had worse years, but I’ve had better ones that’s for sure. However, in this first blog, I want to look back with the help of my Instagram to talk through my year with some of my favourite images that have captured those moments this year. So let’s have a trip down memory lane!

January

For me, the picture above was one of the first ones I took in 2018, and it’s one of my favourites of the year. For Laura’s birthday, we made a snowy trip up to the Lake District and after battling snow and icy roads we decided to stop at the top of the valley, stand in the middle of the road to capture this image. It was a brilliant day and a great first trip of note in 2018. Even if I did have to run in the snow!

January wasn’t all play, sadly there was a lot of work too. By the end of January, I had analysed the first part of my PhD data, but that didn’t stop me going a little bit doolally.

February

By the time February came around work was well underway and the weather started to take a turn for the wintry. February is often one of my favourite months for photography, at least for star photography anyway. This year the full moon in February didn’t disappoint.

Of course, when it comes to wintry weather and merseyrail, they’re two things that never quite go together. This commute home took me a grand total of just over 3 and a half hours. It involved numerous cancelled trains and a 2-mile walk to then get a delayed train. Joys of commuting in winter.

When the weather abated it was time to get the bike out of the warmth of the house and head out onto the open road. It became a standard thing on Sunday to go out on our cycles together, this is one of many cycling selfies this year!

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Winter training continues in crosswinds!

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With the winter Olympics going on at the same time in Feb the office decided to get in on the action too with a closely fought sweepstake. Each day I would put the medal total on the large chart we made in the office, but after a close 2 weeks of competitive nature, Vic was the eventual winner of the 2018 PhD office Olympics!

Finally, after 8 years we finally got a good snowfall in Maghull!

I would often every Monday morning do a doodle to leave on Katie’s desk and this was a fitting PhD related message when everyone felt like they were in a slump, including me!

This picture still makes me laugh. I had walked home in the crunching snow and the closer I got to home the more the temperature had dropped. Underneath the snow was sheet ice, I hadn’t heeded the warnings of a few near slips as I ploughed on home. I often take pictures of St Andrews church near my house, but I’d never taken any pictures of it quite like this in the snow. Polar Express was playing in my headphones as I crouched down to take this shot with the glow of the street lights and the snow, my footsteps the only ones on the show. I love this shot, except as soon as I stood up it was a comedy of me trying my hardest to stay upright before eventually gravity won and I slipped on my arse and busted my knee. Totally worth it…

March

March saw the Beast from the East arrive. While this brought chaos to the UK with snow and winds for me, nothing sums the beast from the East up more than trying to have a bath, but the wind sounded like a train. Choo-Choo mother fuckers, the beast from the east has arrived!

As an office, we decided to do something cultural and have a look at the Terracotta army that had come to do an exhibition in the Liverpool Museum. I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by the experience, but that didn’t stop my usual humour replacing that disappointment.

March was fieldwork time for me, and the joys of being a PhD student is you get to look after your bosses dog on fieldwork. While that sounds like a great thing, I’m allergic to dogs and Pip wasn’t that happy with me but at least he stood still for 2 seconds so that I could get this picture of him!

I do love to get out of the office on fieldwork, however, and this picture sums up any Geographer on fieldwork. Muddy boots!

March also saw one of the greatest Six Nation tournaments that I can ever remember watching, and the mighty Ireland team won a grand slam. Dad and I were very happy!

I was off on one of my first solo trips of the year up north to see one of my favourite people ever!

Chloe has been one of my best friends since we first met on a cold Slapton beach on our first-year Geography field trip. I have a lot of women in my life, and Chloe has always been the one I often seek counsel on anything and everything. Quite simply my life would be very different today if the choices made on that day sitting by the River Dee were different. After talking through everything we both decided to take drastic choices, her to start a PhD and me to turn down the logical job offer and do the irrational thing of becoming an RA. If it weren’t for her clarity, I wouldn’t be here doing this PhD, and I’ve always owed her for that. We hadn’t seen each other for such a long time, since my Master’s graduation and so it was such a fabulous weekend meeting up with her again and exploring Hull. The best part of it all within 30 seconds of meeting up it felt like we’d never been apart. Next time I see her will be at her wedding! We’re all growing up so fast!

From one mentor to another, on my way home I popped into York to see one of my old students and someone who’s become a good friend over the years. It fills me with such pride to see her doing so well in the job up North!

April

April started off a little weird with me witnessing a Sparrowhawk take out a pigeon in my back garden. I love birds of prey, and while it was a bit gruesome to see, it was pretty awesome!

I was still getting bullied in the office by my female coworkers.

This evening was one of the most unexpected but brilliant evenings of the year. Laura and I skipped out on our plans and instead got coffee and roamed Liverpool on one of the first warm days of the year, chatting and laughing until the sun went down. One of those spontaneous evenings which just made it all the better! What a way to start spring.

Before long I was back on my travels again, this time with my sister from another Mr, Emma. This time it was back to the Lakes for a few nights away in a hotel that Beatrix Potter’s holiday home.

The weather was a complete contrast to when I came with Laura in January. The snow had gone, and the sun was up in the low 20’s. Emma not only drove me to the Lakes but drove the boat around Lake Windermere. That was the life!

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What a way to spend a Friday!

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We’ve climbed many metaphorical mountains together over the 10 plus years I’ve known Emma, but this day we climbed an actual mountain. 26c the climb up over 1000ft was tough, but the views were worth it that’s for sure. Well, it was tough for me, Emma accidentally dopped on Nurofen for a migraine and therefore was pain-free hiking up near vertical rock faces at times! Grrr.

Still the best Bath EVER!

It really was a fantastic few days away in the Lakes with many stories to tell that’s for sure!

I finally got around to cementing our office by designing our office door sign. When I finish my PhD, I’m taking this with me as a memento of my time in H105.

May

May I turned 26 and what better way to celebrate than with a long ride on one of the hottest days of the year!

What’s better than that celebration? A double birthday celebration in Wagamama’s that’s what!

May saw one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. The University 3 Minute Thesis final. I’d made it through the preliminary rounds to find myself in the final with amazing contestants from all the different faculties. I’ve never felt more nervous standing up in front of a couple of hundred people with nothing but a static slide and having to talk engagingly for exactly 3 minutes no more, no less, about your PhD. The winner would go on to represent the University in the UK final. I fell short with a 2nd place but I never expected to win, and I was so over the moon to get 2nd place and finally get an Education student on the podium! What a fantastic day and a nice cash prize too! A nice thing to add to the CV.

Sadly in May, I was off to Ireland for less than pleasant reasons, and Ryanscare still suck arse.

May also saw me make my best financial investment this year, buying an espresso machine. There isn’t a day that this baby doesn’t pump out some amazing espressos for me to guzzle down.

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Gone and treated myself! Mmmmm coffee!

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As good as an investment was, it’s a shame Karius in the Champions Leauge wasn’t as good as an investment as my espresso machine.

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Allez allez allez lads!! Come on!

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Best bank holiday ever.

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I've had worse bank holiday weekends

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June

Over the winter and spring, our Sunday rides cumulated in Laura’s first ever sportif, the Croston crusade which we bossed like Pro’s…well-ish. Hey, we finished me a great time, and for me, I made it up Hunters Hill without stopping, that’s 25% gradient in some places, a brutal climb. I was happy and no more happy to cross the line with her. Good job!

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Croston Crusade completed!

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Unfortunately, the highs of that day were overshadowed with the news that my grandad had passed away.

After the funeral it was back to work, banging my head against the desk trying to figure out how to make my models work for the umpteenth time.

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😴

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June is conference season, I had a nice little warm up at the faculty conference before heading out to Split, Croatia for my first ever international conference.

Which was all well and good considering my latest model said it was going to take just a little more than a few days to render :o.

Before heading out to Croatia, I was treated to the amazing night show and the rare phenomenon of the Noctilucent clouds. What a fantastic sight to see they were in this part of the world! They truly are beautiful.

My first international conference was a complete success, and I enjoyed every minute I had in Croatia to round off my June.

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Conference time!

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After Croatia, I flew from there to Geneva Switzerland where Laura met me 😀

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Look who i found in arrivals!😁

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Geneva was a fantastic place to visit, and this was a fantastic evening!

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Not as good as the palm house 😂

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END OF PART ONE

Geneva with Laura

Those of you who had read my last blog My visit to Split, Croatia might be asking the question of how do you go to a conference in Split, Croatia, and end up in Geneva? Good question. To answer it is in part logistics and well any other excuse to go travelling. I’m fortunate as a funded PhD student to get £1500 per year for expenses to use for conferences, travel and anything PhD related. As beautiful as Split is, it’s an awkward place to get to, that also makes it expensive to get to. Flights from my part of the world are few and far between, i.e. once a week! But annoyingly that meant that while I could get to Split the day before the conference, it meant I couldn’t go back until three days afterwards at the cost of £500 return, not to mention how much an extra three days in the apartment may have costed me!

While I could afford that, I knew I had applied for my second international conference in Bergen, Norway in October so if I was accepted, I needed the £300 plus for the registration fee. So I hedged my bets that I’d get accepted and therefore needed to keep the money left of my expenses for the year (they run August to August) for that conference. So I got creative. The flight out to Split was £110 one way. I went on FlightRadar24 and had a look for departures from Split on the Saturday after the conference to see what destinations they flew to and using my extensive avgeekary I know pretty much all of the destinations served from Liverpool and Manchester. So my plan was to find somewhere I could fly to from Split and then after a few days get home again. That’s when I saw Geneva on the departure board. Much like Croatia, Switzerland and specifically Geneva, was on my 12 holidays in 12 months plan but I never got around to it, so it felt like a perfect excuse to go! The flight from Split was £60 and the return to Liverpool £80, bargain! As I book so many hotels every year I’m a genius member on Booking.com, so I get 15% off most hotels, I found a brilliant 4* hotel in Geneva for less than £200, and before I knew it that was my plan post-conference!

Those of you who follow my blogs know that 90% of my travels are solo affairs and I’ve written many times about how much I love that. However, they can get lonely at times, and as much as blogs and pictures try to convey the experiences it’s never really the same, and sometimes you can create special memories by sharing it with other people on the trip. While out on one of our many cycling rides, I told Laura about my plan and that all she needed to do was get her bum on a seat to Geneva and everything else was paid for. Yay! I had a travel buddy and even better that we decided to go hire some bikes to cycle the beautiful Lake Geneva.

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Time to head to Switzerland

Usually, as I waited for the local bus to the airport from Split, I’d be sad to leave such a fantastic place, but the thought of another couple of days away was exciting. I thought Split was hot, but Geneva and central Europe were in the grips of one of the most blistering heatwaves in recent times and so was in the high 30’s and the day we had planned to go cycling it was expected to hit 38c! As much as I loved Split, one thing let it down, and that was the airport. My god, that airport is shambolic. It’s such a shame too! It’s too small to handle the summer traffic, and for 2.5 hours I had to stand in the departure lounge due to a lack of seats, and there was only one tiny booth selling food and drink. I have never been in such a chaotic airport departure lounge. I watched Laura’s flight from Liverpool take off on my app, and before long, I was up in the air myself heading to Geneva.

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Lack of seats meant chaos trying to walk through the tiny terminal

As much as the landing into Split was epic, flying over Mont Blanc and the Alps on approach to Geneva was really awesome! The views on the flight flying over Venice, North Italy and then the Alps certainly made up for the cramped wait in Split. With clear blue skies and a gentle landing, it wasn’t long before I was in the arrivals hall waiting for my bag and I exchanged what leftover Croatian money I had into Swiss Franc which is probably the most Monopoly-ish money I’ve ever had! The great thing about Geneva is their exceptional system of providing free travel passes to visitors to get you from the airport to anywhere in the city (including trains, trams, buses and ferries… all for free!) all you had to do was press a button in the arrivals, and the only stipulation was you had to use it within an hour of getting it.

Laura’s plane had arrived about 45 minutes ahead of mine, so it was a comedy of WhatsApp calls trying to find each other in the arrivals, but we eventually did! For me, it felt like two spies meeting in a neutral location to swap stories, but that’s probably just the author in me! Laura had become one of my best friends in the short time I’d known her and is still one of my favourite humans, so I was really looking forward to exploring this new city with her.

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Meeting up in arrivals!

We navigated the train and ended up in the city where a wall of heat hit me. While Split was hot, there was a constant sea breeze which made it pleasant. In between the heat of the buildings of the city of Geneva, the heat was oppressive, which didn’t help to lug a giant suitcase through the streets. With thanks to Google Maps, we ended up at the hotel, and there was another brilliant perk of Geneva. Any guest staying in a hotel within the city boundaries is given free travel passes for their entire stay to use again on trains, trams, buses and ferries (such a fantastic idea to increase tourism!).

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The chair

After quickly freshening up we headed out to explore this place but not before going on a wild goose chase to find a supermarket! Wow. I mean that was a trek and a half to find this supermarket! After loading me up like a human packhorse, we headed to our closest landmark from the hotel, the UN building and the chair. I’ve visited the other UN building in New York, so it was really cool to see and get pictures with the main UN building! The chair is also iconic, and I didn’t know its three legs is a symbol of a reminder of landmines hence the one leg blown off, kind of neat in a weird way. After plenty of pictures outside the UN, we walked through their botanical gardens, which were sublime! Sitting on the grass felt surreal chilling like we usually do but miles away from home in another country like you do on an average Saturday!

 

 

 

 

Walking along the lake with the views of the city in the distance was so cool and walking through their park (and the customary picture with the WTO building. Geography bucket list tick!) it made us both think what giant city parks should be like. Sefton Park is okay, but it wasn’t a patch on this place. Music, parties, the smoke and smells of numerous BBQs drifted across our path. There was a wedding, there were family picnics, and people were jumping in the lake. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the buzz and vibe of this place were already fantastic. You know what too? People were drinking responsibly, cleaning up after themselves and everyone was out enjoying the hot Saturday afternoon sunshine with no agro! If only our British culture weren’t so opposite! I can only imagine the scene in Sefton Park if this was to happen there.

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Lac Leman

After a long walk along the lake and as the sunset over Geneva, we went and got some food (that classic Swiss dish of McDonald’s) and headed back to the room for the night. The next day was really what we’d come for, a cycle around Lake Geneva!

For £20 you could hire road bikes for the day and what a bargain that was! I had been lugging my cycling gear around with me since Split, so it felt really good to finally use it! I’ve only ever cycled abroad once, and that was around Valencia, and we all know how badly that ended with a flat tire and a 45c 10-mile walk back to the city centre! I hoped that this journey would be a little less troublesome. Switzerland is also known as a fantastic place to cycle, and I was so excited to clip in and head out on the open road for our less than usual Sunday ride! By the time we arrived in Geneva, it had become our thing to spend Sundays together cycling, chilling, cooking food, so it felt like a typical Sunday for us, except here we were in Geneva!

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Ready for our epic cycle!

The bikes we hired were fantastic road bikes “we’ve just got them in” in a thick French accent the guy tells us, cool. What wasn’t so cool was nearly having an argument with the arsey French guy about SPD vs Look cleats. While I respect that he owns the bike shop, he really ought to have known the difference, and while I would love to say his arrogant attitude was because English wasn’t his second language, I just think he was typically French!

My biggest concern cycling here was about being on the wrong side of the road but that never actually became a problem (except at roundabouts where you had to really use your brain). After heading out of the city (thankfully the roads early on a Sunday morning were lovely and quiet) we started to steadily climb out of the city, passing through these stunning Swiss villages. Glass free smooth roads paved our way as we cycled past vineyards, farms and cute houses. Before long, we reached the brow of a steady hill, and we both just had to stop and take in the scene in front of us. To our right the Lake had appeared below us, fields of giant sunflowers lead down to the lake, the morning sun shimmering off the blue water and right there, across the lake was the tall Alps rising in the morning mist to meet the sun. Just a stunning view that I will remember for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

We pushed on North following the Lake until we came across a small town called Rolle’ and we decided to stop for a coffee. We found this quaint little waterfront cafe, lined by manicured flowers with a view of the Lake and Alps. We parked our bikes up and using GCSE French and with the help of Google Translate managed to order two black coffees. Those of you who know us both will know how much we love coffee and I think I’m safe in saying that not only was that the most scenic coffee I have ever had, I feel like we both could have spent all day drinking coffee and looking out at the view. We cycled around a little castle and just admired the view. It was a perfect morning. This village was perfect!

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What struck me the most about cycling here was how effortless it was here. Cars gave you room, the pavements were incredibly smooth, it was a dream. Since that trip cycling in the UK is far harder and a lot more painful! We carried on as we tried to reach halfway around the lake until the dreaded fear of the hired bike became a reality. You read horror stories of bikes snapping in half or cassettes exploding on plenty of cycling abroad blog sites. By now it was in the mid 30’s and well into the afternoon, the heat once you stopped was crazy! While the mechanical on Laura’s bike wasn’t as dramatic as some of the stories of hire bikes, it was no less annoying. As they were new bikes, they hadn’t adjusted the limit screws or indexed the gears correctly. So anytime she tried to put any power down up a hill the gears would jump and skip, not only is that annoying but it can be pretty dangerous! The most annoying thing as we decided that it was better to call it quits and cycle the just under 30 miles back in one gear, was that it was a simple fix if you had the right tools. All it needed was a small screwdriver. I’ve adjusted my gears and indexed them many times on my own bike, so it was frustrating to be defeated by a simple mechanical.

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Zwift like Swiss villages we passed on our cycle

But, It’s cycling abroad, while I stayed in one gear to sympathise, at least this time I wasn’t walking back! Maybe next time I go cycling 3rd-time lucky mechanicals will stay away. On our trip back, it was no less beautiful, but I did become concerned very quickly about the heat. By now, it was 38c, and we had no water left at all. I was under no doubt that the sweat had probably washed away any of my sunblock. It’s a Sunday and nowhere is open and no water fountains to be seen. Laura suggested that we should stop at a Café or restaurant and just ask them to fill them up with water. Me being me was like they’ll never do that! Turns out as usual with her, I was wrong, and she was right. If it weren’t for her, I’d have been that pigheaded person who would have died on the bike through dehydration because I didn’t want to ask for water in French!

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LakeGeneva by bike

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Other than the mechanical, we arrived back after 50+ miles and 2400 feet of climbing! An epic ride, even more so when factoring in nearly 40c heat! It felt so good to get a shower after that’s for sure. As tired as we were, there is a euphoria of completing an epic ride like that and no doubt memories we’ll take away from it for a long time. For me, I feel it will take an exceptional ride to top that!

 

 

 

 

We didn’t stop there though, we got changed, got some food, then headed out for a sunset view around the town and the see the Jet ‘Eau at sunset. By the next morning, we checked out and headed back around the city, exploring and picking up some souvenirs for friends and family. By late afternoon we were flying back to Liverpool, and that brought a close to a fantastic few days away and for me, a brilliant just under 2 weeks away. Geneva is a city that I highly recommend you visit. Not only is it beautiful, clean, friendly and impressive, it also has a vibe about it that isn’t touristy. By that I mean, Prague last year with Laura and Katie was a fantastic and beautiful city, but you knew it was a tourist destination. Geneva, however, just felt like an ordinary city with people going about their daily lives and was very Swiss! If you get the chance to hire a bike head out to Rolle and enjoy a coffee with stunning vistas it will be worth it I assure you! Due to work commitments and moving different places in the country that was to be our last weekend together for a very long time, so it was sad to part ways at the bus stop at LJLA but what a tremendous mini-break away with one of my favourite people!

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North Atlantic Adventure: Prince Edward Island

I’m half way through my two week adventure as i head to the wonderful Island of Prince Edward Island. A great part of my trip with fantastic weather, sunsets, views and friendly people!

Charlottetown not Charlotte’s town as I was calling it for most of my trip is a place for some unknown reason I’ve always wanted to visit. Not just the town but the island itself, the island that is known as P.E.I (Prince Edward Island). I’d love to say it was down to an advert where I was captivated by the deep red cliff and sands of the Island, the abundance of sea wild life and the stories of the many lighthouses dotted around the place. I’d love to say it was due to the famous book Anne of Greengables for which this island is most famed for but no neither of them. While I’d seen adverts, my curiosity and desire to visit this place was almost innate, a draw to this island for no particular reason. It certainly wasn’t the book, I only heard about it when I was doing my research for what tours to take while on the island and despite visiting her house on this trip, I’m still very unclear what it is about the book that has captured the hearts and minds of so many!

Today was a pretty long travelling day as I head south from St. John’s. Awaiting me was a 2 and a half hours flight to Halifax before waiting for an hour to catch a 30 minute flight on a teeny tiny plane across the Gulf and into the Island that is Prince Edward Island. More on that flight later!  The short taxi ride to the airport the skies continued to be grey and the thermometer hovered between 2 and 3 degrees above freezing. Before I left the hotel I checked the weather in Charlottetown, a lovely 25c! That weather was to stay for the rest of the week and was going to be in the 28’s in Toronto. Lovely! As a Brit we rarely get anything above 17c after the first week in September and after spending the past two days in -5 wind chill I was certainly looking forward to blue skies and warm sunshine.

The flight from St. John’s to Halifax was just as beautiful as my flight over, passing over tiny islands and plenty azure blue water. After a quick club sandwich in the airport café I went down and waited for my flight. I was super excited about this short hop over the Gulf for one reason….a reeeeaallly small plane! Jets are great and all but there is a thrill about getting a plane that only holds ten people and it’s so small there is no door to the cockpit so you can see right out of the front! That’s a very rare thing in today’s high security aviation world. Getting up close to the plane, the co-pilot greeted you at the door and this is an experience you just don’t get in the UK anymore and I couldn’t wait for those engines to spool up.

The flight was boarded up quickly and I watched as the propellers began to turn and the vibrations messaged my seat. It was quite the sight to see the pilots working through their checklists just before take-off. The noise on take-off was quite simply, deafening! I’ve been on many loud planes before, heck I’ve been hanging out of the back of a C-130 Hercules over the Bristol Chanel in my RAF cadet days and I thought that was loud but it was nothing compared to the ear splitting pitch of a Beech 1900D on take-off. If you ever do happen to find yourself on one of these tiny planes bring ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones, your ears will thank you for it! That to me though just added to the excitement of it all, real old school flying but I know it won’t be for everybody. Flying so low and slow across to the Island was a real treat and I greatly enjoyed what felt like a mini private flight.

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Like flying over the amazon!

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Upon landing I thought they had landed at a local flying club rather than an airport but no this was P.E.I’s airport. Again, tiny. Advantages of that is I was waiting for a taxi with my bag 4 minutes after getting off the plane. As the airport is so small there was only taxi and the next was not going to arrive for another 10 minutes but “more were on the way” I was assured by a woman who I’m pretty sure offloaded my bags and was checking people in! Behind me in the queue where two Canadian businessmen with their brief cases talking about if they’d make the start of their conference in time, I turned to them and offered them to take the next cab rather than me as I was in no particular rush at all. They declined politely and instead asked where I was heading and if I was visiting judging by my accent. I explained about my travels and he welcomes me to his Island and says jump in the cab with us and I’ll make sure the driver drops you off at your hotel first, you’re a guest to Canada I’ve got it. What a lovely gesture! Turns out they’re JCB type truck owners and there is a big conference at one of the hotels on the island in Charlottetown where I was heading. He was one of the biggest sellers on the island and it was really cool chatting to both of them! They both had family in Missagura where my family live and they had family from England so it was nice swapping stories for the 20 minute drive into the town. I shook their hand and thanked them as I departed the cab and walked into my very grand hotel which was apt considering it was called the Holman Grand. It was fancy! Check-in was a breeze and I headed up to my very comfy and lovely room which had a super view!

I dropped my bags off into the room, grabbed a shower then headed out for something to eat and grab somethings for the room and for tomorrow’s tour. As always I just head out aimlessly to explore a new location. I wanted to head towards their waterfront as I had read there was a nice boardwalk that went around this part of the Island, so off I went. It was late afternoon by time I had arrived the warmth felt so lovely after such a cold few days! Every street I turned onto I felt I had to take a picture of. Yet again this was a place like no other, a common theme on this trip. This place had captured my heart instantly. From the amazingly presented quaint old wooden houses, to the bright flowers to the old gas lamps to the friendliness of the people I was blown away. Everyone said hello. Everyone. Young or old it didn’t matter. It had that small village feel to it despite it being a town, quite possibly the prettiest town I’ve ever been in that’s for sure.

After a few pictures and walk along the waterfront I ended up on the main high street which was oddly full of red bricked buildings, something I really did not expect to see. I shouldn’t have been so surprised with this being the oldest part of Canada, in fact this place is exactly where Canada as a nation was born! Lights hung across the street, flowers and manicured vines went up the side of buildings, bunting fluttered in the wind. Simply stunning. I wandered into an Irish bar called the Old Dubliner which to be fair to them actually looked and had the vibe of an Irish pub. After a whiskey or two and a steak I was suitably refuelled. If you find yourself in Charlottetown which I hope you do, I fully recommend it! I stopped off at a convenience store before I headed back to my room. I was going to relax and have a quiet evening after all the travel but I noticed some clouds around and they were beginning to change colour. I had a great feeling about the weather and had that photographers feeling that this sunset would be good. I slipped my shoes back on, packed my camera gear and headed towards Victoria Park that hugged the water via a boardwalk just outside of the city. It was only a short walk and I was ultimately captivated by it all. It was so incredibly peaceful and Mother Nature gave me one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever had the pleasure to have seen. The birds chirped, owls hooted, the waves lapped the shore. A moment in time I’d love to replay constantly. Ultimate at peace with the world, yourself and everything!

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P.E.I Sunset

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I had my tripod set up and people kept saying hello, chatting about the sunset and two people came next to me to ask about camera settings. All locals, all incredibly friendly. I cannot express enough how warm everyone was I have never and I don’t think ever will visit such an incredibly friendly city as here. The walk back to the hotel as night fell was surreal. Walking through leafy gas lamp lit streets as the moon rose above the city. I stopped on the corner of a street and just paused for a second. I had fallen in love with this place and I felt like I had come home. I had no idea why I’d always wanted to visit this place but here I was thousands of miles away from home in a place that had captured me like no place other. I was home. It felt like a part of me needed to come here and here I was. I’ve heard stories of people saying they’ve found their place in the world or reciting stories of places that they’ve left a part of themselves in. I’ve loved many places I’ve visited but I always thought that was people being melodramatic. Now I understood. If I was to ever move to Canada, it would certainly be this place and I have missed it every day since I left!

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Nice sunny day on P.E.I

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After a great sleep and breakfast the next morning I headed out onto a pre-booked tour. It was me, a guy from Australia, a mum and daughter from Oxford and two old American couples. One of which was so incredibly loud and for some reason the guy decided to befriend me. He was this giant of a man called Bob Johnson from Chicago. He was so loud! I got talking to him while we waited for the bus to arrive and he loved Victorian England history and visited “CornWaaaall” where his wife’s family lives every other year. He decided to refer to me as “Hey England” for the entire 6 hour tour. I didn’t mind, he was funny and cool and his wife was just as mental. I would say mental but realistically they were just American. The tour took me to a little shop in the middle of the Island that made a variety of Jams and Chutneys. They had so many and I was well full after trying so many samples! After a short drive we headed up North to the area of Cavendish where the famous red cliffs and sands are before visiting and having an hour around Anne of Greengables house.

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Anne’s House

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Lovely setting and this was the reason everyone was on the tour. For me it meant nothing so I just explored the forest instead! After there we stopped at a few fishing ports and learnt about the Lobster quotas and listened to a local fisherman explain how they catch them before heading back to the city. The tour guide Roddy MacLaine was a fantastic tour guide. So much so I asked if he did private tours and he did. I gave him some cash and he said he’d take me on a tour of the Island tomorrow! That evening I went and tried out some Fish and Chips which was very good but not as good as St. John’s before taking some fantastic sunset pictures again in the evening.

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P.E.I sunsets are unbelievable!

My final day on the Island was a private 8 hour tour of the Island. Roddy was a really cool old Islander who had so many stories and was such a joy to spend time with him. Such a personalised tour was very special. We visited one of the longest bridges in the world the confederation bridge that spanned the gulf between the island and the mainland. I suppose a when in Rome moment did occur on this tour. He knew all the store people well and he explained that many of the tourists literally come to this store to get their picture taken as Anne from Anne of Greengables. After a mini protest I thought fuck it and proceeded to dress up as Anne. Why the hell not! No regrets. I think I suited it to be honest.

My personal highlight however was ending up in a small town called Victoria on the coast which had a lighthouse dominating the view. Roddy knew the owner of the lighthouse, a guy who made candles for a living who shipped these fantastic pieces of art all over the world! He opened the lighthouse up for me and gave me a tour. What an experience! You just simply would not get this kind of experience anywhere else! I really enjoyed my time on this tour and of the Island. Not one place was not beautiful, not one place you would not wish you had more time to explore in.

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Private Lighthouse

This didn’t feel like Canada at all, it was very unique and a place I highly recommend you come visit. I can honestly see why this is seen as one of Canada’s jewels in the crown and why so many people sing its praises. It’s a mystical magical island of red sands, dripping in history and surrounded by friendship and warmth from the locals. It was unlike anywhere I have ever visited and I wish I could go back. It was a real highlight of the trip!

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Real treat to be invited into his home workshop

I was sad to leave this warm beautiful Island as I took one last stroll as the sun began to set on my time here and it gave me one last unbelievably stunning sunset. I sat on the rocks and watched the birds roost as the moon rose and the waves lapped on the shore. I had found paradise and I long to return.

Tomorrow I start my final leg of this epic journey as I head to Toronto, one of my favourite cities and I finally get to meet up again with my beloved Canadian Cousins for my first Canadian Thanksgiving. The thought of that softened the sadness of leaving this place.

Flight Videos for you avgeeks

St. John’s Departure: 

Halifax Arrival: 

Halifax Departure: 

Charlottetown Arrival: 

 

 

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part Two

Part One: North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part One

In this adventure i explore St. John’s and the surrounding areas. I visit the most Easterly edge of North America, i climb a windy mountain, eat fish and chips and hide from the cold in a museum!

After a very comfortable night’s sleep and being completely unaware of the 80+ mph winds that battered this part of the world overnight I woke up, had my shower, and headed down to breakfast. The breakfast was served in the bar area of the hotel that was adorned with a giant picture of Mick Jagger while easy country rock drifted across the empty tables. I was greeted at the entrance by Lindsay, a really lovely and chipper server who looked after me for the following three days. Always nice to have breakfast with a smile and one day just sat down to have a chat as it was quiet!

After bacon, eggs, sausages and blueberry jam (yes together they taste good!) I grabbed my things and headed outside to await my tour. I booked onto it when I arrived on the Island for $80 for a half day trip, the reviews looked good and they were very accommodating letting me join the already pre-booked tour at short notice! The hurricane that had passed through had left not a cloud in the sky but a brisk wind. Stepping outside to wait for my 9 a.m. pick up the hat and gloves were very much needed at 2 degrees! A man sat down next to me and started smoking before taking a phone call while I watched the odd car in the distance. This part of the world for a city at 9 a.m. was pretty quiet! Not before long McCarthy’s tour bus arrived, a fancy looking mini bus to where the driver, John, got out and gave me a huge firm handshake and a welcome on board! He reminded me of your typical North American Dad! He was from the word go a legend and throughout the tour his passion for this part of the world, his jokes, his humour and his honesty was something that made this one of the best tours I had ever gone on. He introduced me to the rest of the tour who were all here as part of a conference. They’d all come up from Toronto and they all made me feel very welcome to. He let me sit upfront with him. As I buckle myself up he goes “Holy Mackerel where you just sitting next to Anthony Bourdain!?” I give him a quizzical look as I didn’t know who that was “Ah you guys my wife will go nuts! She loves him. I’m going to go ask him for a picture I’ll be right back”. And away he went, inside the hotel to get a picture with Anthony Bourdain. I ask the rest of the tour who he was to which they tell me he’s a very famous Chef, especially in this part of the world. Sadly since writing this blog I know he died recently which is a shame!

He came back and sent his wife a picture and that was a running joke for the rest of the tour! Our first stop after a beautiful scenic and informative drive was to Cape Spear. The most Easterly edge of the North American Continent. To mark the location is a large lighthouse that warns seafarers of land ahead after many miles of open harsh Atlantic waters. I love anything like this and I loved walking around the area, especially when it was so quiet at this time of the morning. It felt a lot like Cornwall! I like visiting the far edges of places I always think it’s pretty cool!

After half an hour we headed around the coast to a little fishing village called Petty Harbour. This was your typical postcard Newfie village and it was impossible not to see why some people call this rugged part of the world their home. Nestled up on the rising cliffs where the brightly coloured houses that are so famous in these parts, their colours a juxtaposition to the dark waters of the bay. Seagulls called and fishermen shouted as they pulled in their days catch. In summertime this harbour is a good place to watch Whales. Maybe I’ll come back this way one day!

Petty Harbour

Petty Harbour was a beautiful village

We drove back into the city and up Signal hill, the location of the first wireless message across the Atlantic, paving the way for communication as we know it today. Despite this historical significance, it’s actually called Signal Hill due to its elevated mountain position, the harbour could be forewarned of approaching enemy ships into the harbour by the signalman, hence the name Signal Hill. From this high up you could see out across the Atlantic for miles! I had a walk around the lookout tower and the views across the city and then the deep harbour nestled between the two giant mountains. I noticed one or two hikers and after talking to John he explained that instead of driving up there is a hike that winds its way from the harbour all the way up to the summit that some people like to do. That was my afternoon sorted then! As always I always find the highest thing in a city to climb, this is perfect for it!

Our final stop was a small village which had the peculiar name of Quidi Vidi! Again, another body of water nestled between two giant cliffs. It seemed like this was the norm here to have quaint pretty little fishing villages wherever they could! On the way back to the city he explained that the Duke of Duchess pub in town did the best fish and chips in the world. A bold claim.

Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi

After I got back to my hotel and put my hiking gear on I headed out to test this claim out! Even though it was Saturday afternoon the city was still fairly quiet but lovely as the sun beat down despite the wind. The pub was nestled up a side street and when I got to the outside it certainly didn’t look like an establishment that would serve the best fish in the world. Upon entering it reminded me of a classic old English pub with beamed ceilings and dull light. Liverpool FC were playing Newcastle United (my two favourite teams!) on a TV screen so I decided to plonk myself down and order my drink and fish and chips.

Well, it didn’t look like the best fish and chips in the world but my word it was AWESOME! Kudos to John for the tip. The fish is caught every morning and it showed. Excellent price and food. I watched Liverpool win and then suitably stuffed headed the mile along the harbour to the foot of the climb. I stopped into TImmies again (turned into a true Canadian now) and made my way to the start of the hike. The hike was stunning if not a little scary at times! They had built walk ways and bridges but some parts of the hike you had to shimmy along tiny ledges and hold on for dear life!

The views as you got higher were amazing and I find nothing better than being in quiet alone up a mountain. It gives me so much energy and relaxation, I just love being outdoors and this mountain had it all. I took my time up it, taking pictures and enjoying the views and tried my best to not get blown off the cliff in the wind! After the final steep climb to the summit I arrived to stunning views.

Signal Hill

Signal Hill

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I found a little alcove and just sat for just over an hour watching the ships head out into the setting sun of the North Atlantic. The temperature had dropped as the sun began to set and the wind blew but the sky was so clear and so pure that I didn’t want to leave!

Heading down the mountain was a lot easier going up and helpfully giant red chairs where placed along the route to celebrate the birthday of Canada. I can think of far worse places to rest that’s for sure!

I headed back down the mountain and to my hotel just after the sun had set, a spectacular day. A day I enjoyed from start to finish and was one of my ‘perfect days’. I just loved everything about it!

The next morning the clear blue skies had given way to dark grey clouds and a wind chill of -5 degrees. The wind was biting, the wind that cuts right down into the bone. Today was most definitely an indoors day if possible. After a great breakfast again and with me wrapped up I went to go get my coffee. I spotted a little board walk on my way home last night and found it again this morning. I drank my coffee to warm me up as a large cruise ship entered the harbour.

I watched this beast manoeuvre itself before I headed back up the mountain again. I walked through the little walk ways I didn’t do the day before and I even headed into the Geoscience museum which as a geographer I found to be amazing! I spent two hours in there before venturing back out into the freezing cold to get some more pictures and my last look at this oddly captivating city.

St. John's in the Autumn

Autumn colours of St. John’s

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Geocentre

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I walked for 12 miles that day! I ended up in a place called “the rooms” which was an excellent museum of this part of the world. It was also an art gallery and a theatre all set into this very modern tall glass building. Completely at odds to the rest of the city. I decided to pop in to get warm and for only a few dollars it was well worth it and I highly recommend a visit.

By time I left it was mid-afternoon and the temperature really had that winter bite to it. It’s one of those days that feels like winter and gives you that special winter feeling! On my way back to my hotel I chose a nice looking bar in George Street and had a fantastic burger and fries to refuel after a long day walking in the cold.I retired to my bed early after one of the longest and hottest showers I’ve ever had!

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👌

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Tomorrow I fly out to much warmer weather, 25c in fact as I head to Charlottetown via Halifax. Tomorrow was to be a long day of travelling as I headed a few hundred miles south to an intriguing Island that has always been on my bucket list. I was super excited but I was also sad to leave this part of the world. St. John’s and Newfoundland touched me in a way I didn’t think it would. I had done a complete 180 since arriving. Those first few hours I was unsure of the place, its rugged and quietness, its weather and scenery I didn’t know what to think. As the days went on and the time I spent here I fell in love with its unique beauty, its harshness, its industrial but quirky feel, its bright coloured buildings and its stunning landscapes. I didn’t want to go. Above all else the people I had met in this place from John the tour guide to Lindsay the babe of a waitress to the many people who said hello in the street to the cashiers in the convenience stores who welcomed me to their town and asked about life in the UK. Everyone was super friendly. People in this part of the world clearly look out for one another, despite it being a city. They welcomed me with open arms and the well-known hospitality of Newfoundlanders was so evident to me.

Thank you St. John’s for a unique and interesting experience, a place I am never likely to forget in a hurry. That town nestled in that stubborn rock in the harsh North Atlantic Ocean that took a bit of my heart!

Next blog: If St. John’s took a bit of my heart, Charlottetown took the whole thing!

To catch up on the adventure so far:

Iceland:

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

Halifax:

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

 

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part One

I leave Halifax and catch a flight 2.5hrs up to the frozen North. Off to the incredibly rugged small city of St. John’s the most Easterly tip of North America!

If you were to think of places to go visit in Canada, the small city of St. John’s on the most Easterly edge of the North American continent, battered by the harsh North Atlantic is probably not high on many peoples list. For me however, it was. The city sits on giant granite rocks weathered by thousands of years of strong and often brutal North Atlantic storms. Pictures of Signal Hill and the harbour nestled inside between two giant looming battered mountains dotted with brightly coloured houses seemed like such a cool place to visit. St. John’s is steeped in history too. It’s where many Irish and UK settlers arrived in Canada, before aircraft technology advanced this was often the first landing place across the Atlantic in fact the first ever non-stop transatlantic flight by an aircraft was made from here in 1919, not to mention the thousands of aircraft that left this part of the world during WW2 to help the allies in Europe and it is the site of the first ever wireless transatlantic message between North America and the UK. John Cabot first discovered this land in 1497 and is officially the oldest European settlement in North America. Newfoundland or Newfie as the locals call it hold such a strong sense of identity and links back to the homelands of the UK. For example their flag is a pink and green version of the Union Flag. The crosses represent the UK, the green for Ireland and the pink symbolises the bloodshed over the years of independence. The accent too, you’d swear you were in Ireland or Cornwall rather than on the North East tip of Canada. Overall this place had a rugged and harsh appeal to it. Something I’ve really been drawn to as of late, Iceland a prime example of that. This place is the foggiest, windiest and cloudiest city in Canada. That probably gives you an idea of how rugged this place is!

After a great sleep in my hotel in Halifax it was time to say goodbye to this place as I boarded my pre-booked bus for the 45 minute journey to the airport. As scenic as the drive was the day before to Peggy’s Cove the drive to the airport was less so. Tree lined highways for 45 minutes wasn’t too exciting so instead of listening to a passenger from New York discuss lobster with the driver, I zoned out and listened to music. Before long I was walking inside Halifax Stanfield International airport. It felt like only yesterday that I had arrived and now in daylight I could appreciate the airport. It’s not the biggest airport in the world but there is something about Canadian airports, they’re always very bright and welcoming unlike many UK airports which are dark and cramped. I got there two hours before my flight, a standard thing to do in the UK. Turns out Canadians will arrive about 30 minutes before their flight. I don’t think I’d ever get used to that! Using the self-service I checked myself in and spent five minutes trying to work out how to add the tag to my bag before taking it over to the bag drop. I was in the Air Canada section of the airport which consisted of only me!

I was greeted instantly by a very attractive check-in lady “Can I see your boarding pass please sir”… “Ah yes of course, one moment”. While I’m fishing my pass from my jacket pocket she goes “Oh my GAWD I love your accent sir! You Brits have the best accent, you always look so good and you smell so good too!”. Well the modest Englishman I am I politely thanked her, smiled awkwardly and disappeared towards security. That was now twice that a very attractive lady had commented on my accent. It did seem that this accent here gained extra appeal with the ladies … or she was just a friendly customer service agent doing her job. The juries out on that but it wasn’t the first nor the last time on this trip that the accent and ladies came into play!

I was through security in no time at all because I was the only one in line! Then I headed to Tim Hortons or Timmys as I called it now, damn it these Canadians were rubbing off on me! I explored the small departure lounge, found my gate and watched the whole what seemed like 4 planes to take off and land in the two hours I was there. Finally I was boarding my tiny Dash 8 Q400 to St. John’s, a 2hr 30mins flight up north. Or should I say the frozen north. Blue skies and 13 degrees at Halifax, low cloud and 2c in St. John’s. Eeeek! Last year I flew on a Q400 from Edmonton to Calgary and dear god if it wasn’t for my noise cancelling headphones I fear my eardrums may have split! It is such a loud propeller plane! Some people hate these small planes but I love them, they’re surprisingly roomy and with decent headphones the noise is bearable. No screens to watch but who needs that when you’re flying over many Island and blue waters?

I thought I’d have a seat free next to me until a business guy arrived as the last person on board. After a safety demo the engines were turning and we were away for our near three hour flight. The views of the islands and the choppy seas was quite the view!

By time we were on approach that blue sky had turned to dark clouds and as we broke through I got my first glimpse of this very rugged landscape. What an approach! You can see the whole city nestled between those famous outcrops of land and after a smooth landing by our female captain I had my bag in five minutes and was in a Taxi to my hotel, the Jag Boutique hotel, my home for the next three nights.

This was my first taste of the Newfie accent which is basically just Irish with a slight twang of Canadian, it is so weird! Everyone already was very friendly in Canada but up here, even more so. The taxi driver was an old guy who was proud of his city, he showed me round a little bit, pointed out some places to visit all for no extra cost! Pulling up to the JAG hotel the doorman greeted me, opened the doors and took my bag for me. I was a little taken aback by this. Turns out this is one of the most expensive hotels in St. John’s used frequently by celebrities (to which I unknowingly sat next to the next day!). I got three nights for £250 which turns out to be an amazing bargain on booking.com!

Check-in was seamless and my room was massive! I was cold though. Dropping to 2c and a strong cold biting wind outside with grey skies I turned the heating right up, unpacked and laid down on the bed. Due to the timezone change (again!) it was getting close to 4pm. I’d been up since 7 a.m for my mid-morning flight and the day was almost done. I wanted to just go have a nap but knowing night time wasn’t far away up this far North, I wanted food and I also wanted to get my bearings in this new city. Get a feel for what it’s like, what it feels like and have a look at the places I want to go visit. So I put my scarf on and off I went into the freezing grey winds of St. John’s.

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Time to see what this town is all about!

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What struck me first as I walked along the harbour where giant industrial sized icebreaker and resupply vessels hummed away was just how quiet this city was. It was 4pm in a city. Usually there would be loads of cars and people but it was virtually empty! As the clouds grew darker and the wind whipped up biting through my jacket, the desolate towering icebreaker ships, the old industrial buildings lining the road all set to a backdrop of those giant granite cliffs I suddenly became aware of just how far I was from home and just how rugged this place is. It hit me out of nowhere. I didn’t get that warm feeling that I had got in most cities I visit in Canada, it was an odd feeling. It wasn’t an unwelcoming feeling by any means but I think because it was so vastly different to anything I had experienced before that it threw me. By time I would leave here in three days I had fallen in love with the place, I had come to revel in its brutal rugged and quiet charms. On first impressions however I was unsure. I had grown used to Canadian cities being busy, horns blaring and most of all towering skyscrapers. Here, none of that. The largest building was a few grain silos and buildings were no higher than 3 floors max. It felt more like a small Canadian town or village and that impression only grew when I ventured onto St. John’s main high street (which just so happens to be by the way the oldest street in North America! How cool!). Low rise buildings, quaintly decorated shops with signs that swung in the wind, it was all an experience, just not what I was expecting but I liked it, it was certainly different. I needed the loo at this point, the cold weather does no favours for my bladder. I notice a sign for a shopping centre nestled within the small buildings. It says shopping centre, just imagine a combination of a few small buildings with shops inside is effectively what it was. Upon entering the much appreciated warm air I hear singing, a choir. As I turned the corner there was a local choir practicing in the now closed for the day food hall. They were pretty good! But I did feel a little creepy as I didn’t expect that! Just one of the many little quirks and surprises this place had to offer.

I’d read about a famous street in St. John’s called George street. This street was full of nightlife, pubs, bars and restaurants. Apparently the locals like to come out late into the night so the street was still pretty quiet except a group of guys drinking beer outside one of the bars who said hello. The street is full of graffiti but not the shit kind, the kind that an artist has actually been employed to do, you know, the good kind! With Irish music blasting out of an Irish bar in the distance I was starting to warm and get acquainted to this quirky rugged little outcrop of Canada. I went into the bar, had a Bushmills whiskey and after chatting to the waitress who recommend a local delicacy of Moose Stew, I took her up on her suggestion and waited patiently for it to arrive. A guy with his guitar was setting up while two old guys sunk a few beers and chatted about sport. My Moose Stew arrived and damn that was good!

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Trying some local food, moose stew! 😊

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After another drink I headed back out to explore the city which was done fairly quickly on foot. It’s tiny! The low cloud had started to lift and the wind had died down as dusk was beginning to fall. I wanted some water and some snacks for the room and my phone told me that the nearest convenience store was 0.5 miles away. St. John’s is locally known as the San Francisco of the North due to the many steep streets. Oh boy. Where they steep! By time I got to the top of the streets to the convenience store the tea was burnt off, I was hungry again and my legs were burning!

What I loved about this city though is because it is so small, a five minute walk takes you directly into residential lined street but not like any residential streets I’d seen before. Every wooden house is painted differently due to a law of not having the same coloured house on the same street. They’re called Jellybean houses and it really gives this place this amazing rustic, unique and quirky charm.

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Jellybean Houses

I was starting to really get into this place after my initial impressions. I walked passed about 10 people on my way back to the hotel and every single person said hello or how are you doing. That is just something you do not get at home. When I replied a few of them would ask if I was visiting or where I was from and all of them gave me places to visit and wished me a lovely stay in their city. These people were so friendly! What started off feeling quite isolating and miles from home in this rugged wind battered part of the world felt a lot more like home. I stayed out until night fell, walking back passed the harbour, the giant ships still humming the cold air stinging my face. I was grateful for the hot shower once I got back to my room.

Rugged St. John's harbour, Canada

Rugged St. John’s harbour

Today had been surprisingly long and had been interesting. This was a place I wanted to visit for its rugged charms and at first because it was unlike anywhere I’d ever been or expected it threw me a little. As my first few hours had passed I had warmed to it, I liked it for its different style, its quirks, its people. Tomorrow the weather looked good if not a little windy, an ex Atlantic hurricane would be blowing in through the night leaving clear blue skies but strong winds behind it. I had booked myself onto a tour at the last minute by phoning a company called McCarthy tours which was recommended so I was excited to go on that to see more of this city and the surrounding area. The tour was planned to take me to the most Easterly point in mainland North America, then to visit some Newfie fishing ports before a city tour and a drive up to the top of Signal Hill. A 9 a.m start though so I was going to get an early night until I get three knocks on the door. I peer through the spy hole to see a waitress with a cart and a small silver tray. I unlock the door and cautiously say hello and was about to say I haven’t ordered room service but she says “complimentary chocolate turn down service sir, which would you like?” and presents me with five mini boxes of chocolates! I take one, thank her, she wishes me goodnight. Wow. How cool is this hotel!? After a nice tasting chocolate I set my alarm and drifted off to sleep as the hurricane began to ripple through the Atlantic.

Tomorrow one of my favourite days of the entire trip awaits!

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.

Greenland Ice

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

 

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

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

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

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His and hers 😂 #cycling #roadcycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Packing the bike up for Ireland

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

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First time faster than a plane!

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

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

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

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Gulp. First assessment day.

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

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

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

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Brandenburg gate! #travels #Berlin

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

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My RPAS pilot wings came today! 🛩

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

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

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Cya work hello three day weekend.

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

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

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

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

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Hiking!

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

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

Part Two July to December coming up next!