Category Archives: Travel

Iceland Day 3: The Land of Ice and Fire

That should probably be more Snow and hot water…. I’ll talk to the tourist board about that…

Tonight’s location is the bar of Foss Hotel Reykjavik. (that’s my hotel, I’ve not just wandered into a random hotel!) To be clear, the bar is in the corner of the room. The room being the breakfast room with a couple of lit candles and the lighting on dim…. a tad less inspiring than the Hamilton DC. (I’m going to get kicked out mid-writing this…. as the bar shuts strictly at 11!) They do serve a lovely Icelandic Orangina (same idea different name)… it was £3.50 but was still the most reasonable thing I’ve bought today. (EVERYTHING IS SO DAMN EXPENSIVE!)

Last night, about 1.30, I decided to go out for a drive to try and see the northern lights.  I’d noticed a gap in cloud cover on the forecast, thought it lined up with Þingvellir so thought I’d drive out there and have a look.

On the way, nature decided that a snowstorm was in order. This made for fairly interesting driving conditions. Once in Þingvellir national park there were no other tyre tracks on the road which was cool. There was also next to 0 light pollution too.. so even at night you could see the clouds as white on the dark of the sky.

I soon watched another car go past… I didn’t see any others before that in over 40 mins!

I stopped for a while just off the main road at the entrance to a closed road. Safely parked and visible to any cars that might come (None – I hadn’t seen any in over 40 mins by now!) I switched off engine and lights and sat and waited. There was a lot of clouds and while I thought I saw something, a spot of further driving and cloud movement confirmed it was just the moon! 🙁

This morning I had a little lie in (I was shattered!) and got up, dressed and headed literally across the road from the hotel to look at the view!

The world is flat here in real life, I promise!

Then I decided to head out towards Reykjadalur – Steam Valley. I stopped just off the main road and had the most amazing salad for lunch (Create your own, Chop’d style) with incredible smoked salmon. So good and so big that it came with me as a dinner too!

From there I drove a bit further towards the foot of the Reykjadalur trail to go to the hot springs…. I could have taken the very easy road of going to Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon, paying a ticket fee and sitting in the geothermal springs… but I decided to opt against commercialism and go eau natural.

The website said that the hike too about 30 mins… Great I thought… except it was throwing down snow like you can’t imagine. Now back home, the Met office would thrown Black, Red, Sparkling flashing and fizzing warnings out to everyone to lock up their children, buy tinned food for 9 years and not to go outside. Here, the weather was decidedly “Fair”.  (Someone even said “this isn’t even winter here”).

Thankfully I started, turned round to pop my camera back in the car and met some people on the way – 2 foresters from Canada and a brit who has become a Glacier guide here in Iceland. Without the company I’d most certainly have given up very early into the hike and gone back to the warm car.

White, just white everywhere

To semi-quote the sound of music, we pretty much Climbed Every Mountain.  Up, Over and down the small peaks we went. Frankly this was the most challenging thing I think I’ve ever done and conquered. It has meant that I now have a bit of a want for walking again…. lets see how I get on with keeping that up!

About halfway I fell foul to what we thought was a bridge – one of the girls went over first, I soon followed to find that the bridge was actually snow and that my right foot was about to get a soaking! (A warm soaking mind you!)

Eventually we knew we were getting closer to the springs as pools emerged smoking, bubbling water with signs warning you that the water was ~100 Degrees centigrade. Unsurprisingly these were not the rivers for swimming in! (They are like mini Geysirs and you can see the water bubbling like a saucepan on a hot hob!)

As Colbie Callaitt said… Bubbly!

After what felt like about 3 years but was more like 2 hours. We reached the top, where we found some, erm… windbreakers. In the thrashing snow, we stripped off, popped on swim gear, nearly froze our feet to the floor, and jumped into the river. My laces had become frozen together so took a little defrosting before I could even start!

It wasn’t as warm as we hoped – The snow doesn’t help! But the experience was incredible. We were up a mountain, in the snow, in hot water.  (Laying there and keeping yourself from moving was a great core workout, I thoroughly recommend, but everything is going to hurt tomorrow!)

I got in the water! I promise!

Eventually we were brave enough to jump out. OH SWEET LORD WAS IT COLD! Thankfully my coat had held down sheltering all my stuff and soon I was dried, dressed and ready to roll.

We started to descend and the snow had decided to hold off for a little bit. The amount that had fallen was incredible and in places we were up to our knees in snow!  At one point I slipped a little and my water bottle (Courtesy of Hilly Jilly Dilly of Hong Kong Fame) decided to jump out the side pocket of my bag and take a slide. Thankfully it went cap first, and got lodged just a meter or two down so I could slide down (Myself already on the snow) and retrieve it!

The Descent!

As the snow had stopped, the view had cleared and we had the most amazing views of the valley and hot pools as we descended! Strangely the descent was shorter than the ascent (Employing sarcasm here!) and soon we were back at the car.

Bit of thermal river action… the water was much cooler here though!
When the snow stopped you could see the amazing views!

I finally understood the reason that car manufactueres invented heated seats and heated steering wheels! I treated myself to a coffee and a cake at the bakery I’d eaten lunch before heading back to the hotel.

The snow was back and it was a little more tretcherous than before. Worst in the city centre where a run in with a taxi driver nearly ended up with me bespokely redecorating the side of my car. (Thankfully I saved it!)

We’d discussed at the end of the walk the public pools and how they were great so after finishing my salad (yes I waited 30 mins Mum), I decided to go 4 blocks up to the Sundhöll Reykjavíkur. I actually decided against the pool but instead spent my time in the Hot Tubs (39 and 43 degrees). The hot tubs were rooftop so all the while the snow was lashing down on us. It was incredible.

The pools here are like an institution. This one in Downtown Reykyavik is fairly old but very well kept.   They are very strict on washing before entering and I’d read that regulars will send you back if you haven’t had a proper full on naked shower before you swim. (“Naked shower” was exactly what was written on the signs all over the showers!) You could tell who were the sort of people who could become “Shower police”!!!  (I didn’t get into trouble, don’t fear!)

Watching the people in the pools was incredible. (I love a good people watch!) Mainly due to the different types of people that were there. I was the only English speaker for the majority of the time so had to kind of guess what was going on but there was literally all walks of life there – Couples, Women friends meeting up for a bitch,  “Lads” having a lad night out, (They’d be getting drunk and having fight at home!) Girls having a girls night out, and people just there alone for some peace and quiet!

All in all a fantastic experience for just over a fiver… which is  surprisingly comparable to home! If I had more time, I’d go again… It’s open til 10pm!

All watered out, I slid/drove back to the hotel (I just couldn’t face walking through the snow storm) and sat for a moment reflecting on the last few days:

Tomorrow I’m going to try and go inside Hallgrímskirkja the huge church before the flight home and then that’s pretty much it… I’ve got an afternoon flight, but have to be at the airport at midday and lord knows how long it’s going to take to get there so this could be the last blog post…. (I might update it with Hallgrímskirkja for my own record!)

Tomorrow not only marks the end of my holiday,  but also begins the end of the limbo I’ve been in for the last 2 months…. I’ve done some serious life evaluation over the last 2 months, (not just doing some of “The life changing Magic of Not giving a fuck” book that one of my old suppliers sent me and an excellent xmas present!) but I can honestly say I’m in a much better place that I was… probably actually this time last year!

I’ve learnt that no matter how much you think you love something, you really do have to check that you don’t just get into the rut of loving something for the sake of loving something…

Parts of the last 2 years I have really really loved, and I have made some amazing friends worldwide whom I know I will keep in touch with for years to come! Thanks to anyone who has put up with me, in person, down the phone, down a dodgy Whatsapp video call, or over email, snail mail or any other means… and thanks to those who stood by me while actually my soul was being eroded away inside.

I’ve seen amazing changes in myself not just mentally, but also physically with my skin clearing up (Partly helped no doubt by these new drugs… but assisted by circumstance) and it’s really amazing to hear from people “you just look generally so much better”… it really reinforces the fact that you’ve made some right decisons, for yourself. (especially when you’re looking much better on the inside too!) I have a habit of not putting myself first, which I finally understand the importance of doing!

I know a lot of people have asked me what’s happening next, and if you’ve read down this far, well done… I’m pleased to say that I’ll be starting at a little firm you may have heard of called Amazon in their IT Department. (No, I’m not delivering the parcels. Not funny anymore!)

Nervous, worried and excited  are only three words which describe how I feel now… (looking forward to a bit of routine again!) meanwhile I best go and get on packing… Suitcases sadly don’t pack themselves.

Peace out. Steveey P, SuperStiv, Stevo, Knobhead (Just you Angie!!), whatever you call me…. Over and out! 🙂

 

 

Iceland Day 2: Sometimes you have to ignore TLC’s advice…

Lots of people in this life give you lots of advice. Some you decide to listen to and some you decide to drop… “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rives and the lakes that your used to”…. is something I’m gonna drop. Today I chased all three! 🙂

So I woke up about 9, went down for some breakfast and made myself a couple of rolls which were wrapped carefully in serviettes and popped into my pocket ready for lunch. (Think March of the Living Sans Tuppaware, if you’ve been!)

From the hotel I headed towards “Road 1” or as some locals like to call it “The ring road”. Think M25, but also think often single lane, questionable weather, single lane bridges (i.e. one lane two directions) and think at some points, gravel! FUNs.

I headed south on the ring road hoping to get to Vik, practically the most southern point of Iceland, to see it’s cool cliffs and amazing black sand… I was not far out of Reykjavik on Road 1 when the conditions became interesting.  The road goes uphill quite steeply and the wind at the top was doing all sorts of things. I’m pretty sure I now know what a pilot feels like when a plane hits turbulence!

The views while driving, which were meant to be stunning were unfortunately obscured by the low cloud and rain. BOOO.

I’d got over halfway to Vik, when I saw from the road an amazing looking waterfall in the distance. I was obviously going to stop and have a look!

What I found was the Seljalandsfoss and another which I’m not sure of the name of. I also found LOTS of rain…. and also managed to ensure that I saw all the usual candidates!  (I always say you can go anywhere in the world, and always find American and Chinese people!)

Featuring the river it flows into!
Ft. Chinese lady losing her coat.
Smaller falls nearby….
Around the Mountain….
Picnic anyone?
Sticking to the Rivers I’m used to…..

It was truly beautiful if not truly soaking! I wandered around and watched the water flow beneath the ice  – I uploaded a short video of it to Youtube here… https://youtu.be/7D4DMJWzNA8

From there I got back in the car, took all the wet layers off (Thankfully I was wearing many layers)… was a little upset I hadn’t bought a spare pair of trousers…. cranked the heating up to full, laid the clothes out on the passenger seat like a clothes horse and set to dry as well as set off to Vik.

On the way I noticed I was passing the Eyjafjallajökull which erupted in 2010 causing all those delays/cancellations to flights. Turns out those waterfalls run off from the volcano! (they say it’s the land of fire and ice and they ain’t wrong!)  Sadly it was so cloudy I could only see the very bottom of it! 🙁 (Bastard in 2010, still a bastard in 2017!)

Eventually both the clothes dried and I arrived at Vik. Initially going directly to Vik, and stopping in the food/icelandic wear shop (Useful stop for the loo!) before heading back a little way towards one of the popular black sand beaches. (It was still raining and although I was already damp, I just couldn’t face the thought of a wet 15 min hike!

I arrived at the beach and took heed of the friendly warning signs….

Thankfully you can’t see clearly the bit about the Chinese man who got swept away…

…and then headed (Yes, VERY Carefully Mum, Aunty Nicky, and anyone else who will send me a warning. I WAS CAREFUL!) onto the beach.

It was truly spectacular and the waves were truly terrifying. I was stood a long way back taking a photo and the next thing you know the very end of the wave (the foamy bit) was lapping at my feet! The rocks are really cool too – the way they are shaped is to do with the way the cliffs were formed from magma cooling….. Ill leave that to the geologists, BUT THEY COOL AS HELL!

While at the beach I took a moment to stare into the space of the waves, in my own little space where it was quite and just reflect on things. ( a bit deep but really actually I felt so much better afterwards!) I thought for a while about the stress of the last 2 years and the effect it had on me as well as my upcoming challenge starting a week tomorrow. (AAAH)

Yup, that’s sand and it’s black
Cool rocks
Cavernous!

Reality hit me as the rain became more aggressive (Dry is underrated) and I realized I should probably head back as light was fading. (We’re only getting light about 10-4ish). I tried to head to another waterfall but the light was gone so decided to turn round and head back home.

Even wavier than the crazy waves last summer in Mojacar… (hehe)
More cool rocks

I stopped to fill up on the way back and asked for directions for some good food locally. I was given VERY detailed instructions by people who swear their English wasn’t very good… to find you could actually see the restaurant, 200m down the road from the petrol station.

Fish and chips was nice, but VERY expensive.  I did worry as I was the only person in the place, and there was a lot of horsemeat on the menu. I’m pleased to say they didn’t mince me a make me into burgers. (the man was really nice and we spoke literally about the weather!!!)

On the way back, things were going to plan, until I hit the rather tall hill which was turbulent on the way out… It quickly turned in to a snow storm. Thankfully only a small amount of Large Car Toboggan took place, thanks to the 4WD and snow tires!

When I got back to Reykjavik, I stopped off at the Hallgrímskirkja just to get a photo at night… I plan to stop by in the day for a visit!

Breathtaking architecture

I’m now posting this and am off out again – it’s very cloudy here and chances of the northern lights are LOW due to the cloud… but I’ve seen a spot of the forecast near where I was yesterday which has little cloud. I’m hoping I’ll catch something as it’s forecast lower and cloudier tomorrow! 🙁

One day left! 🙁

That’s why Mums….

What a day. Well actually what a two days. In true “Iceland Style” (frozen food supermarket not country), I’ve had a 241…. Actually more a 222:

2 Days
2 hours sleep
2 countries

To suggest I’m tired is an understatement.

Having got a lift to Newark, I gingerly placed my bag on the scale to find out that actually surprisingly my bag was underweight! (I’m not sure how!) I popped some more stuff in and headed towards the gate….

I’m still unsure why people would want to “preboard” the plane. You’re gonna be sat on your bum in that seat for the next 4, 5 or however many hours… Why have extra time sat down?! Anyway… We boarded, I’d been switched back into an exit row (following a 3 time switch debacle!) And due to the man behind wanting to sit next to his partner ended up making a new friend in Emma (shout out to Emma, who for the record agrees with my preboard point!).

I somehow managed to pick up 2ish hours sleep. I don’t sleep well on planes…. Oh and a very nice new blanket for the collection! Some shluf, Sour Patch kids Courtesy of Emma and some conversation later we land in Keflavik Iceland…

I head straight for the “Shuttle bus to car hire” Pickup point (Outside in the cold, not wearing appropriate clothing) to realize that actually I was being met in the terminal.  I got back in side just before a quick snowstorm and tried to buy a coffee. Apparently “The coffee machine doesn’t open before 8am, but the one over there works”… Who knew coffee machines had feelings.

Eventually I was on my way – rumbling along in my Opel (Vauxhall!) Mokka 4×4, with Nails in the tires! (Good nails – Spikes out, NOT Bad Nails – Spikes in).

The man at the car rental explained that it wasn’t going to get light until 10am, and that there wasn’t much do/see when the sun was down but I could head to Grindavik and drive the very long way round to Reykjavik that way.

On arrival at Grindavik I found nothing…. Well nothing but a very off road road which led right down to where the land met the sea. (And at times, the water did meet the land, and I had flashbacks of Mersea 2015 – 4×4 copes better in water than civic!)

This tiny dirt track of a road led me to watch the sunrise over the sea by the lighthouse. Pretty cool!

Light it up baby

From there I headed to Reykjavik, stopped off for another coffee and cake before realizing that I couldn’t check in until 4 so I ought to do something with my day!

So I headed out to do my own version of the “Golden Circle” tour that a lot of tour operators here run for me this included

  •  A hike/walk/stroll/slide round bits of Þingvellir National Park
  • Seeing the Geysirs
  • Seeing the Gullfoss waterfall

I’m not really going to write much more about it, but just leave you with some pictures!

I had dinner tonight in a restaurant round the corner from my hotel and now I’m off to bed but first must decide what to do tomorrow… sadly no northern lights were visible tonight 🙁

 

The beautiful landscape just keeps on going!
Þingvellir Views.
Beautiful waters
Thermal pool, the water is just under boiling
‘Cor Blimey what a geezer!

Sunset game = Strong
The noise was immense!

DC Day 3

(Apologies for the lack of photos…. see my Capitol Building 360 on Facebook!!)

So today’s post is going to be a short one…. Mainly as I’m writing it on a very short flight – 34 mins flying time to be precise. (More on that later!) but also as I’ve only really done half a day’s worth of interesting things!

This morning I headed out from the hotel to the Capitol Building where I had booked a tour! The Capitol building is the American equivalent to the houses of parliament where the Senators and Representatives sit making the decisions which govern the policies of America. (I did try to get a rule passed to have Trump removed but they said they’d let me know!)

The building itself is old…ish. As I  found out in the Museum of American History, the history of America is not all that long! The Capitol was finished in the 1800s but has gone through a few changes since being “finished”…. both Senators and Representatives have moved where they sit as the numbers of each have grown. We got to go to the original halls for both groups as well as to go to  the beautiful rotunda. I didn’t realise that the British were here first and that the Americans fought against us! (now I’m more than aware thanks to the wonderful video that played at the start of the tour!)

From the Capitol tour, I took a walk round to the front of the Capitol Building on the National Mall to take some more pictures, as well as to take in the reflection pool in front of the building… (DC loves a reflection pool!).  I jumped in a cab and headed back to the hotel to pick up my bag before getting the Metro to the Airport.

Regan National Airport turned out to be great for people and plane spotting, as well as listening to the hilarious Southern Drawl announcements which were going on! (I’m not sure why as Washington DC is not south!) We boarded the plane and after pushing back and beginning to taxi, we found ourselves with a 40 minute delay. I’d made friends with someone in the know, who told me that it was due to a VIP being moved. This tallies up as in the cab earlier I’d heard trump was set to be leaving the White House for Airforce One in order to go on a lil trip. (I did ask him if he had room for a lift, but he declined… he just doesn’t want to chat to me!)

Meanwhile we’re nearly back already. The lovely cabin crew have handed out drinks and pretzels and almost instantly collected cups back in… Originally they quoted a flight time of 36 mins before changing their minds in a funny announcement where we were corrected to 34. Those two minutes made all the difference behind a 40 minute delay I’m sure!

The way these planes are back and forth between cities amazes me. I know they have Megabus here but it really is like the national Express coach service of the US. They call it the shuttle, and it’s no lie… This crew has another 4 runs today!

There’s going to be no update tomorrow as I’ll be chilling out, but plan to be back with something on Saturday from Iceland! “Cabin Crew, Take your seats for landing please.”

DC Day 2: Monuments, Museums and Mammoth Amounts of Walking!

Greetings readers and welcome to Blog day number 2!

Today involved LOTS of walking. Everything aches and is certainly deserved of a bath, however following a rather chilling experience with the bath here yesterday, I’m going to opt out! (Let’s just say not EVERYTHING in the states is bigger than at home!)

Before I tell you about today, I’d like to take a short moment to write about my current surroundings in which I’m sat to write. When booking a cheap, central hotel, I didn’t think I’d end up in the nearly 100 year old Hamilton Hotel which is on the National Register of Historic places.
Tonight I’m sat in the foyer. Perfect people watching position, in the back left hand corner. It’s small but perfectly appointed nicely scented (Important) and has more gold leaf than you can shake a stick at. It just feels great and a perfect place to write… (especially with music like Carole King’s Tapestry gently playing in my ears – shout-out to Spotify!)

Classic and Classy. Carole King turned quickly into the well fitting Big Band Jazz!

As I’ve written this, someone has started hoovering. It’s 10pm…. SHHH!

Anyway… today:

Today I was up and out fairly early for me on holiday (before 10!!) and headed down to the Washington and Lincoln monuments Via the White House.  (to be clear, the President’s house, not the Kosher Take away in Hendon/Golders Green). While by the White House, I noticed a lot of Police Cordons, followed by a helicopter overhead. This then was followed by a convoy of about 20 police bikes, a good 10 or so police cars and then three black “State Cars”….. The cars headed into the driveway of the White House…. I assume that was the president coming home. (Sadly I didn’t get any photos!)

The “other side” to the photo I posted on Instagram/Facebook. This is the front of the White House!

From the White House, I walked back down toward the Washington Memorial. In daylight it’s just as imposing as it is at night! I now know that it was built to commemorate the first President of the United States, George Washington… and that when built, it was the tallest structure in the world, later trumped by the Eiffel Tower! (I know some more but I’m not gonna bore you with the facts… wikipedia has it all should you desire!)

Boldly piercing the blue sky.

From the Washington Memorial, I walked along to the WW2 Memorial, amazed by the immense detailing present on the memorial and the thought that had gone into it. It’s at the end of the Lincoln monument reflection pool and gives great views of both the Lincoln and Washington Monuments.

Details…

I wandered along the Lincoln Monument reflection pool in the bitter cold (It’s -5) up to the Lincoln Monument, Watching the reflection of the Washington monument grow as I walked.

Proud of this shot, even if it meant crouching down and nearly exposing my bum to a group of Chinese tourists.
It’s much bigger when you’re up close. Almost like an Italian or even Greek structure!

When I got to the Lincoln Monument I froze for a moment at the sheer size of it. While the Washington is tall and imposing, this is tall and vast and just kinda of BAM hits you in the face. I climbed the steps and entered inside to see the statue of Lincoln in the center.

While in the hall, I over heard a mother shout in a southern twang “Mary, Mary, get in front of Abe for a photo” (Mary, obviously pronounced “May-Ree”)… I decided that Abe probably would have been a fan of a selfie, so did the obvious.

Hideous of me, but Abe looks good… You can see Mayree off to the left!

From the Lincoln Memorial, I walked back toward the National Mall via the Korea memorial (because I was passing) toward the museums.

They view from the Lincoln Memorial Steps of the Washington Memorial. The Capitol Building peeks its head out from behind the Washington memorial if you stand on the sides of the Lincoln memorial!
Korea Memorial

 

Soon I found myself at the Holocaust museum. Even having been to Poland, I felt compelled to visit and saw a number of artifacts and items which I hadn’t seen before. It’s got a similarity to what I can remember of Yad Vashem, where the main museum is dark, but you cross a number of times, through the light of the center of the museum. It’s cleverly set out across 4 floors ending at the Memorial Hall where I lit a candle in Remembrance of the distance family I lost at Majdanek. ( I only learned of them Via my Cousin, Sherman when visiting…. More about that trip is here)

Never Forget.

From the Holocaust Museum, I headed up the National Mall towards the Capitol Building Stopping for lunch at what was effectively an office mall full of business people. (A bit like Canary Wharf)… the food court had a load of options, and I had a lovely Falafel pita.

Satiated, I headed towards the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. There were lots of planes and a few spacecraft to see. Oddly, I didn’t really take any photos. This is probably as I was a little… well let down by the museum… Thinking about it, the reason I was so let down is because last time I was in the states I went to the Kennedy Space Center which was hands down the best museum/working place experience I have ever been to. (I’m still blown away by Atlantis!)

From the Air and Space museum, I crossed the National Mall and had a wander round the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately again, I felt a little let down, most likely as we’ve got the impressive Natural History Museum in London. (Which houses a sample taken by me! If you don’t know the story, ask me next time you have half an hour to spare!)

From the Natural History Museum, I headed next door to the Museum of American History. This turned out to be a Bizarre collection of things, Trains, Cars, Buses, Clothes… all sorts.  I did manage to go and see the Original “Star Spangled Banner” made by Mary Pickersgill in 1813. As the flag is now kept under special conditions, It’s now in a no-photo area, so you’ll have to trust me when I tell you I’ve seen it! (And no, It’s laying down so I can’t say that, that star spangled banner yet waves. *rimshot*)

As I left the Museum, I managed to grab this pretty nice shot from the center of the National Mall:

Beaut Sunset!

I was in need of a bit of a sit down so got the metro back to my hotel (I just couldn’t face the walking!) and relaxed in front of the telly for a bit before heading out to a kosher restaurant for some dinner.  – I’ve eaten my body weight in meat and am more than satiated yet again!!

I don’t want to bore you all with more transport geekiness, but I’m gonna. In stark contrast to NY’s Subway the Metro is very clean, clear and uniform. All of the underground stations I’ve been to so far have been of a VERY similar design – Impressive vaulted horizontal cylinders. Platforms have lights on the edge which flash when the train is approaching and there are machines inside the gateline to top up your card if you run out of credit when you get to your destination. (Nearly, but not yet used by me!)

It’s a strange space age situation which is unbelievably airy for being underground!

There’s also quite the mix of trains – I thought when I arrived that things were still a bit “classic” here but have since been set right with a ride on the (I assume) brand new trains which include  3 types of display to tell you where you are and what’s next! They ain’t messing about!

Right. Enough train talk. I probably ought to get to bed. Tomorrow morning I’ve booked onto a tour of the Capitol Building! Hoping to pass a bill to sort out the man in charge…. No Promises but I’ll try my best!

Night y’all!

Leaving… On a Sleeper Train

I wasn’t going to write but now it appears, writing I am. (Knowing full well the extent to which this is probably going to sound like a sad, poor man’s Michael Portillo’s Great Train Journeys!)
I’m a mix of feelings: Worry that I’m going to get no sleep, trepidation ahead of meeting colleagues and work tomorrow and of course, deep down, pure geeky excitement that I’m on one of the country’s only two Sleeper Services.
It sounds dreamy: “The Night Riviera”. Go to bed at London Paddington, wake up in Penzance Cornwall. How dreamy the reality is, I shall have to let you know – It better be good – I’m coming back to London in the same manner tomorrow night!

img_20170723_222015
At Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great and imposing Paddington, the train is waiting for me at Platform 1. I take a stroll past Paddington Bear, and wait for a while in the First Class Lounge. I was lucky enough to manage to sneak into IKB’s original feature waiting room. Complete with a monogram for George the 6th.

img_20170723_222452
I charge my phone a little, help myself to the wares on offer. (Cup of Tea and a fair few packets of glorious Boarders Biscuits.) I sat and people watched before making acquaintance with the couple next to me. We were reminded (regularly) that the train was ready for us to board, and eventually I caved in and headed for the train.
The isle was narrow. Very narrow. I had a backpack on my back and couldn’t turn around in the isle. I found the attendant and was checked in. The room (or berth) is small but functional – a bed, a sink, a hanger and a small box with soap, a flannel and some lip balm. You also get a tiny towel!
I’m in Coach G. The back of the train. Sadly, berth 1 – backing on to the toilet. Thankfully I packed my earplugs and should hope to get a good night’s kip. Breakfast has been booked with my friendly attendant – Coffee and a croissant.
I heard the automated voice heard at every other national rail station announce “The 23.50, First Great Western Service to Penzance” and headed to the back of the train. I hung my head out the window for a moment. I could see the grand station clock and Paddington Bear. The doors clunked. Locked. We were ready. Mere seconds later, the whistle blew, a green flag waved and we were off!

img_20170723_234840
The back of the train has no engine car, so I could see “Where I’d been”. Watching the Great Paddington station get left behind, a tube train try to race us along the track but most importantly, London being left behind.
I left the back of train and made my way up the endless feeling corridors to the Lounge Car. Got myself a tea and a whiskey and sat down (As it happens with the couple from earlier) to take in my surroundings.
There is something special about this. Something I can’t explain. Something just feels right. It feels somewhat poignant, almost like this sort of travel was what was envisaged when IKB build the fairly imposing arches of Paddington Station. The trains are tatty and worn. (They’re undergoing a refurb) They don’t have plug socket! (“Shavers only!”) The Moquette on the walls has gone a bit dull and the buffet car dated. Yet still it feels oddly classy. Classic perhaps and somewhat romantic.
I’ve finished my tea and whiskey and the train has just left Reading… I think it’s time to trundle back through the coaches and test the bed! Night!

Tea in a Pullman cup. Classy. Actually so classy.
Tea in a Pullman cup. Classy. Actually so classy. 

Leaving a mark

Originally was going to be called “The one when I write about the train”.

I initially wrote this a few weeks ago. I never published it, but tonight on the tube home I came across it again and thought for a moment how, earlier in this week, people who had previously had no common denominator, other than being in the same place in the same time, just as I’d been on the train with the people below, were thrust into a common sense of being… A mark in their life, and sadly in some cases a mark of their life….

The tube is mundane. Every day for the last 13 months, I’ve chucked myself out of bed at the crack of dawn, thrown myself through the bathroom, wandered (or ran when late) to the bus stop. Shoved myself on the bus before spending best part of an hour crammed into a metal tube train.
There is a very good reason why some lines on the London Underground are described as “tubes”. Small circular tube shaped tunnels with small circular tube shaped trains. You’re often in closer proximity to a stranger than you’re happy being in with your friends, and most of the time during rush hour it’s an unpleasant experience.
Yet this evening, post drinks with an ex-colleague, I found something beautiful in the experience. Thinking a little about it, the enjoyment possibly stems from the hell-like experience before dinner. I took the Jubilee line. Typically British were the queues on the platform, yet unlike Brits, in the least prim and proper way, it was a free-for-all to find a small space to cram yourself into once on the train. A man placed his arm in my face and left it there… There I was, three stops inside a random man’s arm.
Yet tonight, I got on the train somewhere else, somewhere different to my normal commute. I missed the first train. I couldn’t see the screen as to where it was going. As it left, I said to myself, “There’s a reason that happened”
The train arrived and it was fairly empty. Three people in my section, another couple of people further up the carriage. We spread ourselves out (As only the best British, non-communicative commuters could do) and got hard to work ignoring each other.
Whilst doing our best to ignore each other, headphones in, kindle in hand, and nervously playing with a shopping bag, my mind started to wander. Wondering about the lives of these random people sat so close to me. So close, yet so far. I studied for a second the diversity within the carriage. I noticed the lady opposite me was wearing a Muslim headscarf. The lady further up was holding a bag from a supermarket which didn’t have an English name. By now others had got on the train. Some tourists holding a book, a man with ripped jeans and a bright red coat. He had blonde highlights and I noticed the bright contrast of colours.
I started wondering about these people’s lives… Their upbringing, their personal history. A story I’m so close to, yet in a few moments time will be yet again so far away from. Had the Muslim woman always worn a scarf? How would she feel if she knew the music playing in My IPod was a Jewish song? Where did the woman with the supermarket bag come from? What did the man in the ripped jeans do for a job?
As I started writing this, I noticed that almost as I was studying each person for a split second, they got up and left the train. As this percolated in my head, I realised I could have spoken to them, smiled at them… I became so close to making a mark in their current history, their life, their moment, but didn’t. I’d stopped paying attention to the music playing in my iPod and was focused on them for a split second. But they had no clue.
I came to the conclusion that chances are they wouldn’t want me to make a mark in their lives. I’m a randomer on the train. But… It’s made me think deeply about the mark I leave on other peoples lives… My family… My friends… The people I work with.
At the end of the day, we’re all just on a train to our destination… No train service in the world runs perfectly without delay. There’s always the chance to get a red signal. But while the service is good, you have to make the most of your journey and ensure you leave a good mark on those in your carriage. Everyone gets off at a different stop in life.
(Talking of which, it’s time for me to get off this train!)
In memory of the 22 people unjustly murdered earlier this week at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester.

“We must fight terrorism as if there’s no peace process and work to achieve peace as if there’s no terror.” – Yitzhak Rabin

Day 12: My Bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

and off I went… I left Hannah’s and headed straight for the Airport… My suitcase had a little tape on it to patch up the break it received on the way down… and that was that… bags checked in… home time final!!

I popped back to the Car desk to thank the Lady from the car hire for the amazing car!

Dodge Charger... With a pretty large bonnet.
Dodge Charger… With a pretty large bonnet.

…Then I headed through security and to the gate. We were delayed half an hour. I’d not been assigned a seat so went to the desk and asked… he assigned me a seat and said “Good news, I’ve got you a window this time” (as I’d explained I’d had no window on the way down)…

Fat much good that was….

Oh yup, That's the engine!
Oh yup, That’s the engine!

After taxi-ing… we were told there was a further 20 min delay before we could take off… 20 mins passed and the pilot came back to say that there were engine issues and we’d have to go back to the gate. Joys. Eventually we were off and on the way to JFK.

From JFK I transferred terminals and waited for my flight home home!

On the plane home, it was pretty empty… I tried to get upgraded to business with no avail.. but instead managed to bag three seats to myself to try and sleep on. Nice try. the arm rests didn’t lift fully and it’s just not comfy.

On arrival back home at Heathrow, I phoned dad to let him know I was about to get on the tube… when him and mum popped up and surprised me… they had come to pick me up as a surprise… YAY I really wasn’t looking forward to the Piccadilly line! 😀

I’m home! I’m sure I’ll do some sort of concluding post soon… Meanwhile I ought to get looking for a job to earn some money so I can go back!

Day 11: Errrr Shopping and Sarasota…?

I’m out of ideas on this one… All suggestions gratefully received.

Today I slept in! (It’s a holiday afterall!) I met Hannah for lunch on the beautiful USF campus.. and we had lunch on the campus “Beach” (Sand round a lake!)… I even got a keyring from the “Bookstore” to add to my collection (They really didn’t just sell books!)

From there I went to International Plaza… Imagine Brent Cross, bigger, nicer, better and cheaper…. I did some more damage!! Teehee!!

From International Plaza I headed down to the lovely Sarrasota for dinner with Sarah who is living out there… I’m a little jel.. it’s a lovely place to be!

From Sarrasota I headed back to get some sleep before flying home tomorrow! 🙁

Day 10: I bless the Rains down in Africa

Ok… Tenuous again… but we saw lots of animals that could have been in Africa….!

Today we went to Busch Gardens! It’s like a theme park and a Zoo/Safari all mixed into one! Crazy…

After some fun getting parked we headed on in.. and got lost! but eventually ended up at Sheikra (via Animals and children’s play areas!) Floorless and twisty… it was fun! 🙂

We then went for ride on the cable car which gave us a fab view of the park and the surrounding area! After the cable car we made some friends with some animals…

Flamingos.... HUGE Flamingos
Flamingos…. HUGE Flamingos
Colourful birdy!
Colourful birdy!

We grabbed some lunch and carried on looking at the animals and carried on getting lost! We managed to find the train station and went for a ride round the “Serengeti Plains”…

Naaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba... How Lion King!
Naaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba… How Lion King!
It's a heffalump!
It’s a heffalump!

We also went for a ride on another of Busch’s Roller coasters… I don’t really think there’s much here to describe!

Before long it was getting dark and Busch was closing so we headed home… or tried to… we got a little lost getting out, but eventually made it!

For dinner that night we went to a place in Soho Tampa which was a really funky Mexican… They were closing but managed to squeeze us in… really lovely food! We drove along the really lovely seafront boulevard and then went to Ybor city (really nearby) for pretty chilled evening!