The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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

Tag: Travelling

My last academic trip to Bergen, Norway

PhDs are a journey and like all great journeys, they’re punctuated by moments, stages and turns. It felt surreal and a very long journey to on the eve of heading off to Norway for my final international and what was to be my last official conference as a PhD student. In my university at least, PhD students are expected to present their work at faculty and university level but to prove yourself you need to present on the world stage. You’re expected to present at both national and international conferences during your term as a PhD student. I’ve been fortunate to present at 4 national and 3 internationals both in the UK, Croatia (which can be read here My visit to Split, Croatia) and finally, here in Bergen, Norway.

What made the final conference trip special was not only was it in a place I’ve always wanted to visit, but for the first time, I’d be presenting twice. Alongside my PhD and my many hobbies, I work as an Editor for the International Journal for Students as Partners. It’s been a fantastic project I’ve been involved in from its inception, and while I still feel like I shouldn’t be there (good old imposter syndrome again), it’s very much been one of those amazing opportunities that I couldn’t turn down. It was most definitely when the opportunity arose to say yes and to learn how to do it later! To be an editor as a student and at this age is unbelievable and so rewarding, despite the amount of voluntary time it takes up in what is a busy schedule. I’m fortunate to not only work on a fantastic and vital journal with world-leading experts in SaP literature but to work with them on the editorial board. Despite the 9pm meetings with colleagues in the UK, Canada, USA and Australia and with the new addition of Hong Kong and Malaysia, it’s been a rewarding and challenging experience. Ruth, my longtime mentor (I’ve gone from being her student to her RA to finally my colleague at IJSaP, we share co-editor responsibilities for all Case Studies the journal receives) was presenting at the ISSoTL 18 conference about the journal alongside her work. What made it special was other colleagues on the board would be presenting too and after years talking to them via a computer screen in our meetings, I’d finally get to meet them all in person!

“The ability to present what was most likely my last academic conference with my mentor, where it all started. It had a nice full circle feel about it.”

It’s felt like a long journey from my first ever international conference in Amsterdam when I was an RA for Ruth. Way back then the world of conferences and most certainly at International level was a whole new and confusing world. However, Ruth has been and continues to be an excellent mentor, she guided me through that first international and even allowed me to present solo in that. Throwing you in the deep end was the best way to learn. Therefore, I felt proud and thankful that (a.) I arrive in Bergen comfortable at International Conferences with a few under my belt and (b.) The ability to present what was most likely my last academic conference with my mentor, where it all started. It had a nice full circle feel about it.

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Great opening at #issotl18 so far!

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Bergen in Norway was a place that always looked so beautiful, charming and at times, rugged. Nestled in the Fjords with it’s delicately painted shop fronts I was so excited to finally go and a fitting place it was for my final jaunt as a PhD student. With my laptop, camera and the all-important USB stick with my presentation on, I was off to the airport. I flew with a new airline this time (SAS) and on a brand new aircraft type for me, the Airbus A320 NEO (Avgeek win!). Getting to Bergen isn’t that easy! I had to fly from Manchester to Oslo, wait for two hours and then fly onwards to Bergen.

What actually happened, however, was a technical fault with the NEO meant that after a severe delay sitting on the plane, what was meant to be 2 hours turned into a 15-minute dash across Oslo airport including passport control, another security check and then a 2-mile run to catch my flight to Bergen! However, the landing in Oslo was terrific, as was the landing in Bergen! There is something special about flying after sunset across the frozen north, I was tired but filled with excitement for the next few days ahead.

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It's a bit cold here.

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After what felt like a very long day, I arrived in the cold rainy airport of Bergen, Norway, in the dark. After 40 minute tram ride I arrived into the city for the first time, the clatter of my Case behind me. My hotel was near the central train station of Bergen, and through the drizzle and low cloud, I could just about make out one of the three giant mountains that flank this small city. The glow of the street lights that crisscrossed up the mountain disappeared into the darkened sky. Cool, really cool, I thought. My hotel was a typical Scandinavian style, small but well equipped even if it did take me 5 minutes to work out how to turn the lights on! I was on the 8th floor with a giant wall to floor ceilings which made the room feel bigger than it actually was but good luck finding a big hotel room in this part of the world! After a shower, I was off to sleep.

The next morning I awoke to an amazing buffet breakfast and joys to me, free coffee! Nordic countries know how to make super strong coffee, which is just to my taste. The conference weirdly didn’t start until the welcoming ceremony in the evening, so it gave me a full day to go and get a feel for this city, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Within moments of walking through this city, I fell in love with it, it had that rustic charm that I found so endearing on my time on the maritime coast of Canada.

This place reminded me so much of St. John’s that all the memories came flooding back, it was just as cold as that place too! I loved the cobbled streets, the brightly coloured wooden shops and houses. In this part of the world, the sun rose late and set early, so I was out way before sunrise, but as the sun rose as I explored the city, I had a big travellers grin on my face!

As followers of my travels will know, I always go and climb the biggest thing there is in any new place I visit. What’s bigger than a mountain top? After a pleasant walk around the city, I put on my hiking boots and set up on the climb to the top of the mountain. After a fantastic walk through streets which turned into gravel tracks lined by dense Norwegian spruce forests, which then cleared away to reveal the city and the Fjords below. Simply stunning and well worth the effort of getting up here, a just reward indeed! I scoped the top of the mountain off for photo opportunities with my camera, and I went for a hike through the forests. I love hiking, especially alone in new places as it has that relaxed adventure vibe that I love. Plus, it’s a new challenge to get the best shots out of this stunning scenery in front of me. I came across dense forests and little lakes with tiny waterfalls. I loved it!

Waterfalls and rain Walkway to the mountain through the forest

However, I couldn’t spend too long as it was down the mountain on a train, which was cool! See the video!

Before it was back to the hotel to shower and change for the opening night of the conference, after all, that’s why I was here! I was presenting as part of the IJSaP team the next day and my PhD work on the final day of the conference in three days. So I devised a plan that evening and the following day I’d spend at the conference. The Friday, I’d go explore more and take a cruise around the Fjords (how could you not when you’re here!) then the Saturday was another conference day before I had a final free day to explore. I won’t talk too much about the conference but wow, what a conference to finish on! A genuinely supportive and enjoyable event to have been a part of. I loved meeting loads of new people, I loved presenting my own work and as part of a team, and it was great to finally meet my fellow colleagues! It truly was a super ending to my time as a PhD student on my final ever international conference.

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Time for a Fjord cruise!

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Away from the conference, however, I skipped a few sessions (don’t judge) to go and explore more of this beautiful city and the surrounding fjords. In between, my two days of presenting, I took a day off from the conference to go and explore the Fjords (I wasn’t the only conference attendee to do so either that day!). I looked online the night before due to the first day with no rain forecast since I got here, for around £60 a cruise would take you out for three hours into the beautiful fjords, I couldn’t turn down such an offer!

My mind casts back to when I sailed out of the river Mersey in torrential April showers with the Battle of the Atlantic fleet, all 26 warships heading out into the wild Irish Sea was a fond memory, but, a distinctly cold one. I’d never been so cold, until this cruise! Walking to the harbour, there was a crunch of ice underfoot as the rising sun glinted off the frost on the ground. I thought I’d get to the boat 30 minutes before departure, but It seems everyone else had the same idea, so I was already far back in the queue. Annoying too as I really wanted to get on the top deck. I was aware of the potential for, but how could you sit inside a boat when you were surrounded by all this beauty! Living in a Norwegian Fjord

Morning in the Fjords

I watched as our ship pulled alongside and before long everyone was boarded and I found a really nice little spot on the top deck. As we trundled out of the city and past the giant ice breaker resupply vessels, it was decidedly calm as we crossed the harbour wall and out into the fjords. Well, that illusion was shattered as the captain opened the throttles, and as the waves and speeds increased, so did the biting icy wind. I had thermals on but I might as well been wearing a t-shirt that’s what it felt like! The pain of the cold and particularly my fingers curled around my camera soon disappeared as I got lost in the beauty of it all. Morning fog hung in the valleys of fjords and the island like a fluffy blanket, the sun now lost behind a thick grey layer of cloud. I couldn’t stop myself from taking hundreds of pictures as I slowly watched the bridges and the fjords loom out of the mist, to then watching the mist swirl and form different shapes and then finally, the sun broke through clearing the mist from the water to reveal stunning peaks and troughs, snow-capped mountains and cascading waterfalls.

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😍

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This has to be the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I get it now, I really get why people put up with the cold to go cruising around the Fjords. As an avid World War 2 follower with history, I was brought to the thoughts of what it was like for both allied and axis ships patrolling such waters in horrific weather and especially the Bismark and Tirpitz who would hide out in the Fjords. Such idyllic location for such a war to be fort, the juxtaposition of the best of mother nature and the very worst of humankind. After three hours and well over 500 pictures, we arrived back on dry land. I could barely move, and my muscles ached from the constant battering of -25c wind chill. I exited the boat and walked straight across the harbour to a coffee shop. The heat inside wrapped around my chilled bones like a much-needed hug. Weirdly, in Norway, everyone’s English accent is well, weird. I’ve heard South African vibes, I’ve heard American and in front of me serving my long Americano was a quintessentially British woman. “Ah, you’re from Liverpool?” I guess my accent was a give-a-way for that. “Yeah, where in the UK are you from?”…”Oh I’m not, I’m from Oslo, I go to university here”. That messed with my head!

“I spent two hours drinking coffee, wrapping my hands around that lovely hot bean juice as each sip thawed me out.”

As you know, I am a fond coffee lover, and I’ve sampled many coffee shops all over North America and Europe. There is something about coffee shops, their vibes, the music, the constant chatter and often that cosy feeling. This little coffee shop that looked out into the small busy cobbled streets of Bergen with the harbour glistening behind me was much like the fjords, perfection. I spent two hours drinking coffee, wrapping my hands around that lovely hot bean juice as each sip thawed me out. I chatted to the locals and tourists and flicked through my pictures. What a fantastic morning! Back in the hotel, I got the hottest shower I could cope with and got in bed to edit my photographs.

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Coffee views!

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After a sleep and some food, I headed back out into the city to climb that mountain again. Despite still feeling a little frostbitten, I was so amazed by the photo opportunities in this city that I just had to get back out there for a sunset and some star photography. I think whatever you do in life you have to go watch a sunrise or a sunset from the peak of a mountain for you to truly appreciate natures beauty. As always on my trips, I’m often fortunate for mother nature to gift me such epic and truly wonderful sunsets.

After the sun had set and the thermometer dropped well below freezing I ended up hiking through the forest in the pitch black to find a nice spot for some star photography. I felt completely safe here but its possibly not the best idea to hike through a mountain forest with no map or torch, in the pitch black. Not my best idea, but sometimes you have to risk it for a great shot. Of which after stumbling upon a little lake, I was so glad I didn’t turn back. However, out of nowhere, the fog from this morning rolled back in, and I could barely see my own feet.

Nighttime on the lake

Star spangled forests

I used my phone camera to light the way, and suddenly I heard footsteps behind me! I was ready to use my tripod as a weapon, but what it turned out as it passed me in a blur was a local, obviously very used to the weather fell running at night! What a crazy Mofo and I certainly nearly had a heart attack! As soon as it came, the fog went again and the summit cleared to the twinkling lights of Bergen. I sat on an ice-cold slab of concrete with no one else around gazing at the stars and the views of the city far below. I reflected on what a fantastic final conference it had been and how far I had come. My journey as a PhD student was ending, but as I sit looking down upon high, it had been one hell of a journey!

Full album of pictures can be found here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmmmE7Rj

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: My last stop. Toronto for thanksgiving

My North Atlantic adventure ends in Toronto where i visit my favourite Island and spend my first Canadian Thanksgiving with my amazing Canadian Family!

After a fantastic few days in Charlottetown I was heading to one of my favourite cities, Toronto! I’ve been to Toronto countless times and it never gets old, in fact I was there last April to visit family before heading across the country to visit more family in Edmonton. To me that’s what Toronto is, it’s about the family that is there and how unbelievably welcoming and awesome they all are. After such a long and epic solo journey it felt very fitting to end it with my Canadian cousins. When I was looking for hotels I noticed that hotel prices in Toronto for the three days were almost the price of all of my hotels combined on this trip. It was only when Barb my cousin was so happy that I was over for thanksgiving and told me I should stay with them for it, did I realise it was Thanksgiving weekend! We don’t have such a thing in the UK and Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day to the Yank’s one. I like the idea of Canadian thanksgiving, if I understand it correctly it’s about giving thanks for the harvest before the long cold winter ahead. It’s all about family and spending time with them with some great food. So again a fitting end to the trip! I was super excited to stay and be with my cousins again. We may live thousands of miles apart but the bond has always been there and it felt after this trip it was closer than ever. I am proud of my Canadian roots and they’re proud of their British ones. They are so incredibly welcoming and so totally on my wavelength with humour and outlook on things.

So while I boarded my very large plane for such a small airport I was away into the air leaving P.E.I behind. I was flying on Air Canada Rouge which gets a bad rap but those people have never flown Ryanair, so Air Canada Rouge is like first class compared to them! After a 2 and a half hour flight I touched down into the wonderful city of Toronto. Last time I landed here I was greeted by Dave my Cousin’s Husband who gave me a tour of the airport and let me sit in the cockpit of an A380 which can be found here Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands. I had great memories as I collected my bag and jumped on the train into the city. After spending a few weeks in small cities in the Maritimes, just like last year as soon as I exited the train station I had to stand in awe at the towering buildings, the noise, the smells, the colours. A world away from all the places I had been to on this trip. No fresh air and green mountains here. I was clearly still on maritime island time which was chilled and relaxed. In Toronto, like every city, everyone is in a rush. Especially trying to get home for Thanksgiving weekend.

As it was late afternoon I didn’t want to disturb my cousins so I booked my hotel for the one night before staying with them for the weekend. Part of the reason for that was I fell in love with the Toronto Islands last year on my visit and I wanted to go back again but I also came for a picture (which sadly I never got properly!). In our living room we have a large panoramic of the Toronto skyline at sunset taken from Snake Island, the Island I found last year. So I wanted to add that to my photo collection by getting one myself. I checked into my hotel, the Double Tree Hilton Downtown, which I stayed in last year. I still love the personalised welcome cookie on arrival and the rooms are huge! I freshened up, grabbed my camera gear and headed out into the chaos that is a major city in North America. No Photographer can shoot on an empty stomach though so I stopped for an amazing teriyaki glazed steak for tea!

After that I walked down to the harbour and paid $6 for the ferry across Lake Ontario to the Islands. It was so much quieter this time in late afternoon than when I visited here in April, it was peaceful. It still amazes me a 10 minute ferry ride and the city skyline looms behind you but it’s so peaceful and fresh with nothing but the gentle waves and the birds chirping. Once the ferry had pulled up I set off to find the little unmarked track through the woods I found last year to get to Snake Island.

CN Tower from the Islands

They’d had some bad flooding a few weeks before and you could tell. The amazing bench and trees were washed away and it looked less than idyllic than it did over 12 months ago. But, the fallen washed away tree made for a great foreground for my shot.

Toronto Skyline from the Islands at Dusk

I waited as the sunset and sadly it never gave me the colours I was hoping for so I guess I’ll just have to come back! I loved the hours I spent just taking pictures, watching night fall and the lights coming on across the water, no one around just complete serenity. I love this place so much!

Sunset and CN Tower

By time night had fallen I packed my gear up and jumped on one of the last ferries of the night. The ride across the water with the skyscrapers looming and reflecting their lights in the heat of the night is special and certainly nothing like it here in the UK. After a walk back to the hotel I grabbed a shower and went straight to sleep. Another brilliant day ticked off on this trip.

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Nice warm night in Toronto!

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The next morning after a Tim Hortons breakfast I jumped on the train to head back to the airport where my cousin Scott and his Wife Katrina offered to pick me up and take me out for the day. You can tell we’re related as Scott is an avgeek like me and we both love military stuff so a day was planned to visit Hamilton air museum, Canada’s version of Duxford or Hendon and then onwards to Haida a Canadian Warship. What a fantastic day out that was! I had such a laugh and a great time with both of them. Hamilton is a fantastic place to visit with so many different aircraft types and brilliant exhibitions. What I love about this place is nearly all of the aircraft are flyable and unlike in the UK, you can pay a few thousand dollars and go up in some of them! The Canadian’s have the only other flying Lancaster bomber in the world alongside us and it’s based here. I was so lucky to see them both flying when they brought it over a few summers ago and to see it in its home base was very special.

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After there we drove to walk around Haida, a fantastic floating ship of many wars! It was really cool to go around and appreciate what these guys went through in such conditions. I wish we had something like this other than HMS Belfast in London, Liverpool could take Haida as an example of how to do it!

After that I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had before we visited the Merchant Navy memorial. We have very close ties to MN from both sides of the Atlantic with many family members having served and it was a real pleasure to see my great Uncle Wals ships listed. I still miss him and Audrey a lot and I know they would both be looking down with a big smile on their faces to see both sides of the Atlantic family being so close together!

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Scott and Katrina ❤

After the long drive back I arrived at my Cousin Barb’s house and dropped my bags off and we were off to a house party of one of their friends. Oh how the Canadian’s live! Everyone has a pool because they get the weather and I wish we had that lifestyle but the UK just does not cater for it! Considering it was October, it was till in the 20’s by night. I don’t think that has ever happened in the UK past August! That was a fun night catching up with Barb, Dave, Betsy and Erin. It’s so hard for me to express how much I loved being there with these guys and how happy I was to see them all again!

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The next morning me, Barb and Erin went hiking with the dogs. Erin’s dog, Sevvy is the size of an actual horse. He is huge but what a wonderful dog. Those who know me know I’m not a dog person, give me a cat any day of the week but by the end of the trip I wanted to take him home with me! The hike through the escarpment was spectacular and again I am jealous they have all of this on their doorstep!

Autumn and Fall in the forest

One of my absolute favourite parts of this trip though was sitting down with coffee, breakfast and just chatting to Barb and Betsy about their dad Wal. He is the reason we have this half Canadian Half British family and he was loved by everyone. He was such a wonderful guy and it was a real pleasure talking about him and swapping stories and for me, hearing some new exploits about his time during the war and how lucky he was at times. It was just great to sit down and chat and it to not feel like I was on holiday. It felt great to catch up and share stories of back home and plans here. Even the simple things like going on a drive to the shops with my cousin Erin. Moments I treasure because I don’t get them every day and it’s always a laugh and I just loved it. Although saying that, I don’t think I’d ever understand how Canadian supermarkets work! They’re not laid out logically to my UK mind!!

This all came together on my first thanksgiving day. I must thank Barb and co for some excellent food and them being so accommodating for my lactose intolerance! I know its a bloody hassle and they made no fuss about it all! What I loved about thanksgiving though was not only spending it with them but I got to see my other cousins too, Bob and Robin and their Daughters Becky and Sarah. It was also great to meet Mark for the first time too! Last time I was in Canada was the first time I had ever met them and their wonderful families and once again I was made to feel so welcome! They’re all absolutely amazing people from their kids to their partners and I loved seeing them all again. I particularly relished the sparing of wit between me and Dave!

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Canadian Fam!

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Canadian Cliffes!

After wonderful food and company it was time to leave and I was super sad to say goodbye to everyone again. Canada is like home for me and like any place it’s the people in it who make it so special. I am forever grateful for everyone who made me so welcome again and so accommodating on my visit in Toronto and for family who drove for hours to come see me or take me out places. While we may have a giant ocean that sits between us I feel the bond between us all is as strong as ever and while I was sad on the car ride back to the airport, again thanks to Betsy for taking time out of her day to drive me all the way to the airport, I was happy to know our Anglo-Canadian relationship is as strong as ever. I can only hope to see them all over here one day when I can repay their kindness and hospitality! It really was tough to say goodbye to them all.

Like last year, I was gutted and sad to say goodbye to family as I headed back home but again, it offered me one last amazing gesture. Last year I got on the plane and got upgraded to First class and I enjoy a lie flat bed, champagne and steak! The odds of that happening again were incredibly small. Well, I guess Canada loves to send me on my way in style. I check in and the check-in girl upgrades me again to first class for my flight back to Iceland! Flying back in first class does lessen the blow of leaving a brilliant few weeks of travel.

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Cava before departure 😉

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I had the front row to myself in first class and I enjoyed my 12 a.m., 4 hour flight across the Atlantic to Iceland. A quick hour wait in Iceland I got on my connecting Icelandair flight to Manchester, 2 and a bit hours later I was finally home after what was a truly superb holiday. I had walked on glaciers and volcanoes, I had stood and watched nature at its finest under the dazzling spectacular of the Northern Lights, I had climbed mountains on rocky outcrops of the North Atlantic, I had fallen in love on P.E.I and saw sunsets that have yet to be beaten and I had closer ties with my Canadian family than ever before. What a truly fantastic adventure it was and memories and stories I will cherish forever. It really was one big North Atlantic Adventure.

 

Missed the adventure? Find more below.

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

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

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

North Atlantic Adventure: Prince Edward Island

Avgeek Videos of this leg of the trip:

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 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: Iceland – Part Two

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

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

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

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Ready for 9 hours out in the Icelandic wilderness

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

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

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

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Breakfast of champions

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

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

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

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Eyjafjallajökull in all her beauty

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

Skógafoss waterfall

Skógafoss waterfall

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

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A planet i mean a village called Vic

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

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Standard i’m trying to look like a Geographer photo

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

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Sólheimajökull Glacier

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

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

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

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My first glimpse of the Northern Lights

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

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

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The Angel

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

 

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

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Hallgrímskirkja

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

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Bye bye Iceland! You are beautiful!

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

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

Foreword

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

The land of fire and ice

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

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

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Standard worn passport pre-travel picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Icelandic Purple sunset

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

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

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

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

“Turn it off and back on again”

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

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To the book tower!

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

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Mmmmm coffee

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

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Taken at lunch time on our walking tour

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

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

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Giant Germans

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

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

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

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Enjoying our final day

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

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The Spanish Synagogue

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

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

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

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

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Another great Czech sausage…without sides 😦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time to head home!

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

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

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Prague Trip Report: Day 3 – Bye bye money, a sausage and a castle.

I slept right through tonight, a combination of exhaustion and my brain realising that no real threats existed in the apartment. I guess they could kill me at any time but I was hedging my bets that they wouldn’t do that…at least not tonight anyway! I did have a weird dream about being stranded by the both of them on this giant escalator however. Their dream selves were not very kind! At some point in that dream Laura was speaking Chinese. I was confused as to if I was dreaming or I was awake. She was incredibly loud and why she was speaking Chinese I have no idea, so I assumed I was still dreaming. I have a little chuckle to myself about the dream and the appearance of the Chinese speaking Laura while I was in the shower. While getting changed I could hear the both of them talking and Laura laughing. After I exit the bathroom I tell them both about my dream and how they left me on a huge escalator (to which they both agreed they’d totally do that in real life too. MEAN!) And then I explain how Laura appeared to be speaking Chinese really loudly in what I thought was a dream. Turns out Laura was actually sleep talking but in English much to Katie’s amusement after being terrified anyway. Why my brain translated it to Chinese I’ll never know!

Today we planned on going to the castle and then going for a walking tour. On our way to the castle we crossed over another fancy bridge (Yey! Bridges!) And had our obligatory morning selfie. One thing we learnt is that Czech drivers love to speed over bridges!

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Got to love a bridge selfie!

Looming up after the bridge was a ton of steps that snaked up a hill to a weird pendulum thing but offered just the best view of the city. It was amazing! The view of the city and the bridges was stunning, all surrounded by a stunning park and gardens. What a hidden gem! To top it off a Czech Military Hind helicopter (very rare to see so happy Avgeek) graced the city with its presence! You couldn’t ask for anything more.

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Such a beautiful view!

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Good to look at and i guess the view isn’t bad either.

We spent ages trying to find the entrance to the castle which is far harder than you actually would expect! The streets around there were so beautiful though that it almost felt like I was walking in some sort of Alex Rider novel! Especially as these amazing old houses had some armed guards outside. This certainly was the rich area of Prague! Eventually we found our way to the castle and made our way inside.

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The Castle!

After finally going through security which was more of a brief half arsed look through the bag and the guard asking me if I was carrying any knives in there, to which I replied no. This was sufficient enough for him to stop the search and wave us through. Thank god all terrorists are truthful people hey!

We were greeted by a large impressive court yard with these fancy buildings all towering around us. To the left was a long snaking queue towards the information office which had tickets underneath the sign. We had no other choice but to join the back of the queue and wait. We were in the queue for no longer than two minutes until to the right of us was a smaller building with a door that also said information and tickets. Me and Katie kept our place in the queue while Laura went into the building to scope it out to see if we could buy tickets from there. After some trouble with opening a push door by pulling it, she disappeared inside. She was gone for five minutes with no word from her and by this point we were pretty close to the entrance to the original building. I tried to phone her and Whatsapp her but I got no response. We decided that Katie would now hold our place in this line while I went on a rescue mission. After entering the building there she was just about to pay for her ticket. “I tried whatsapping you!” she shouts. Fair enough I notice my data hadn’t even connected. Doh! I wave Katie over and we join a very short queue. Why every other moron was standing in a big ass snaking line in the sun is beyond me! There were many different ticket options, you could walk around the palace and the cathedral for free but you couldn’t go in anything unless you paid. Ticket prices for admission were very reasonable and with an International Student card you could get almost half price tickets! Well, that’s if you were a student aged 18-26. I used my card and got my discount. Katie however despite being a full time student and having an international student card, just misses out on the 26 upper limit. The woman on the counter was very cold in pointing out that she was not 26 and would have to pay the full amount. Proper ageist!!

Me and Laura both felt guilty that we had got discounted prices but Katie had not. She may take the piss out of us “young ones” not being able to go a day without a nap but at least we got in for cheap ;)! In all seriousness though we did feel guilty and we both offered to pay the difference to her ticket. She politely declined the offer as we walked back out into the blazing sun of the courtyard. If it’s one thing I hate and that’s injustice and something being unfair, so I offered again. My offer was to hand her 50 Koruna which works out at around £1.50. She refused again to which I state “Well, you either take it or throw it away I don’t care. I’m offering, stop being stubborn, take it!”

“I will throw it away if you give it to me Tony!” she exclaims.

Meh. I slipped the 50 coin into her pocket. I thought I was doing a nice thing and she’d just accept the offer. Big mistake! I learnt very quickly that Katie is not the type of person to make idle threats! I watch, mouth half open as she places her hand into her pocket, and weighs the weight of the coin in her hand before with a smile, launching it across the court yard. I watch as my coin skims off the cobbles and through some tourist’s legs! I was too in shock to say anything. By this point Laura was laughing and in just as much shock that she actually threw it. Both of them however burst into a massive fit of laughter when a European gentlemen in broken English taps me on my shoulder and says “You’ve just dropped 50 Koruna there”. That was the icing on the cake for them two as they had tears coming down their face from laughter. Now I’m not sure how Europeans drop money but I doubt its launching them across a fucking courtyard! Now I had no choice but to trundle through the courtyard, pick up my coin and reluctantly put it back in my pocket.

“I cannot believe you actually just did that!” I say with a laugh as I walk back to them both, I did find it very funny! I’ve known plenty of independent women before but Jesus ha-ha “Fuck me Katie you mad woman!”

“I did warn you Tony! I told you I would, bitch!”

More laughter ensued.

Katie 1 – Tony 0

I guess while I’m here I should fast forward you to another story on the last morning of the holiday. Katie was getting far too much enjoyment out of empting the water bottles and standing on them to crush them before putting them into our little bin. I was watching on in amusement from my sprawled out position on the bed. I had bought a big 7Up bottle on the second day of the trip and had barely touched it. It sat there waiting nervously at the sink as it watched its fellow bottles be crushed. “Tony, are you going to drink this or are you going to empty it and bin it?” she enquires. After a short contemplation “Meh, probably not! You can go ahead and empty it and bin it if you’d like?” I reply with a smile and wink for good measure. Katie folds her arms with a smile on her face “Tony…It’s yours, you can do it yourself!” (Edit I’m 100% sure Katie swore at me here but she recalls differently haha)

Like a scolded child I get up off my bed, empty the bottle, crush it and then place it in the bin. Doing what I was told. “See! Wasn’t so hard was it!” she quipped, her words dripping in sarcasm and laughter. “I hate you” I countered with a laugh back. For a strong independent man, I’m seriously whipped by that woman that I fear my chauvinistic ways are officially dead hahaha! I would later go on to recite that story to my parents once I got back to the UK to which both of them clapped and exclaimed “Well done Katie!” So that’s now Katie 2 Tony 0. Sigh. A worthy adversary! I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll hear of it ha-ha.

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When she’s not throwing away my money she can be nice!

Back to day three and we follow the path my poor coin had taken only moments before. After walking through an archway we were greeted by the giant Cathedral that dwarfed everything. One of my other travel quirks besides the Hard Rock Café T-Shirts is I often try to climb the highest thing in the city to get a good view and I’ll visit their Cathedral. Often those two things go hand in hand. Usually for a small price you can walk up many Cathedrals and they offer excellent views of the city. As a photographer, I love the light in Cathedrals and the Architecture and grandeur of it all. Despite being raised Catholic and spending my High School years in a school run by Nuns, I’m very much not religious in that sense at least. So visiting Cathedrals has no draw to me other than their stunning architecture and design. There is a weird feeling about Cathedrals though. They all feel the same and it’s a hard one to describe. I guess they’re designed to make you feel like there is a presence there or a higher being watching. I do get that feeling every time I go in one. Kinda’ creeps me out! The Cathedral was stunning if not a little busy! We did try out the whispering arch ways but that didn’t work. We must have looked like right weirdos (which we are anyway I guess!) talking into archways!

After the Cathedral we were quite peckish and in a smaller courtyard with a fountain there was a Czech food vendor. I am quite partial to a bit of sausage…oh wait no. That didn’t come out right. I guess I always try to eat different sausa…actually no way can I write this without immature people (myself included) laughing or thinking of anything other than the innocence of eating a food product. What I’m trying to say is I love trying different types of sausages (stop it! You’re old enough!) and I was glad to try some proper German Bratwurst when I was in Berlin. Here, they were selling some Czech Paprika sausage, which I had to try. Especially for what was only around £3. Oh wow. It was so so good! My fellow sausage connoisseur Katie 😉 agreed that it was a far nicer, milder and sweeter Chorizo. Well done Czech people. You know how to make a sausage!

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Nice Sausage

Now suitably stuffed we went to the Basilica, the golden lane which was a y’olde type street. That was pretty cool especially the row of Knights armour throughout the years and the torture chamber was pretty grim! Katie made a valid point that we’re the only species who takes pleasure in creating different types of ways to kill each other. Other animals just club each other to death whereas we like to put spikes in chairs for fun.  Grim.

After that we plonked ourselves down on the floor in the courtyard with our backs against the fountain. It was so lovely to have the sun and blue skies feeling on your skin. It was lovely to just sit there and watch the milling about of fellow tourists. Now I don’t mind the sun or the heat. I’ve been in 45 degree heat before and numerous days in the desert at 38c. Summer is my favourite season…as long as I’m doing something in the sun. I can cope. If I’m just sitting there baking then after 20 minutes I can begin to hear my skin sizzle as I start to bake in my own body. For them two, they only have to look at the sun and turn brown. So. Jealous! Any burns for them in the day by time we were getting ready for bed they had already turned brown. *Sobs*.  For me I have plenty of Irish blood and therefore I only have to look at the sun and burn to a crisp. Something they both found hilarious at my expense. While not once did they apply any sun cream throughout the entire holiday, I lathered myself in factor 30 constantly and still burnt! You’d think Irish heritage working on farms all day that we’d have better skin but then I remembered Ireland never gets any sun, so that makes sense! However by day 5 I did go from a brilliant white to an off white so hey, that’s a tan for me!

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After 30 minutes and drinking that horrific water which now was as hot as a cup of tea, I asked politely if we could move before the very real possibility of me spontaneously combusting occurred! So on that water. While I love all types of water, I do have a tendency to drink fizzy water. I honestly don’t mind still or sparkling but for them two, sparkling water is probably on par with drinking death. They both despised it! So yesterday I mention about the whole water system in Europe. Blue Top should be still. Blue was not still to their horror. I still think it was still water but there were a few different bubbles in there. It had a horrific metallic weird taste to it. The name on the bottle was Magnesia and with a water drop logo had Mg on it. Now, they’re adamant that Magnesia was the name of the brand and that it tasted weird because it was fizzy. I drink fizzy and still all the time and fizzy water does not taste like that! I personally think for some odd reason the water had extra magnesium in it. Giving it that fizz feel but horrific metallic taste. We may never know. All you need to know was it was fucking disgusting and we only drank it because that’s all we had until we could restock later that day!

We decided that we should cancel our walking tour and to reschedule that for tomorrow. Good call guys! That gave us extra time to have a look around the place and visit the Castle. Castles in Prague are not like the Castles we’re used to but damn it was fancy! The architecture here is just stunning. It was starting to get to late afternoon by time we left the grounds of the Castle to be greeted by stunning views of the city. Which means more selfies…obviously!

Walking down the Castle steps is one of the must do things in Prague and we duly obliged as we went about our way to find the world’s narrowest street. We made a pit stop to an Italian Gelato café and once again, excellent call by the ladies! I had a mango sorbet and the girls had these really cute different flavours that were made into a little flower cones. So many flavours! Once again, curse you lactose intolerance! Grrrrr.

We found the world’s narrowest street, now I’m not sure what constitutes an alley way to a street but I guess as this narrow street down steps and between buildings led to a restaurant that counts. It’s so narrow that it has a traffic light system! That was really cool to go see and walk down.

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The worlds narrowest street!

After squeezing through the narrowest street in the world we headed back over Charles Bridge and back to the apartment. After a refresh it was back out for tea. This time, inspired by our Czech lunch we wanted to have some traditional Czech food for tea. We found a decent enough place that was underground. It gave me the feel of some Soviet Union bar/nightclub vibe. Very cool! Czech food isn’t particularly refined or looks very good! It’s Eastern European hearty food, good for those cold winter months. The number one Czech dish is Beef Goulash over there and since day one I wanted to try it. It may not look great but it tasted really good! Like the insides of a really nice beef and ale pie but instead of pastry you got bread dumplings! Katie had another Czech dish although they’ve clearly taken inspiration from their Austrian neighbours with the Chicken Schnitzel. Whereas Laura had the only real Czech vegetarian dish which is fried cheese! If that was a year ago, I know that’s all I would have eaten here!

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Czech’s number one dish.

After a good meal and an awkward selfie with the woman on the opposite table trying to avoid getting in it! We went out for another night time walk of Prague. It felt so good for everything to still feel so hot even though the sun had long set. The girls had a traditional Czech dessert which is a Trdlo. It’s basically a donut texture in a cone and Katie had hers filled with ice cream, whereas Laura went for Nutella. If I could, I think I’d have joined Laura with the Nutella choice! I did try a bit and none of us could quite place the flavour. It deffo wasn’t donut that’s for sure!

We spent hours getting lost in the city at night, just walking, taking pictures, chatting. Getting lost and just walking with no real destination is such a fun thing to do with people like these two! After a few hours we ended back up at the apartment to conclude another brilliant day in Prague. With only one full day left in Prague it was time for bed. I really don’t want to go home!