A Glamping Experience

To camp or glamp? If like us, we like the idea of camping much more than reality. Shared bathrooms, noisy, damp, cramped, and generally a pain in the backside carrying and storing all that camping stuff. I don’t know how you do it. Having to throw some clothes on, walk past your fellow campers, toilet paper in hand…! If you are an avid camper, kudos to you, but for us, we do like to walk two steps in our PJ’s and pop the kettle on.

We both love the outdoors, taking long walks with our boy (dog!), Strudel, and cycling with the obligatory pub lunch. Well, this year, 11th July to be precise, was our 1st wedding anniversary. We decided to spend it with Strudel and go glamping.

We needed something local(ish) as Strudel becomes a pain travelling in the car but more importantly needed somewhere where dogs are welcome. We stumbled across a perfect little place called West Stow Pods in Suffolk. They have a wonderful woodland with four well appointed mega pods. Yes, mega pods! These pods have a double bed, sofa bed (which converts in to a double bed also), bathroom come shower, running hot and cold water, kitchenette, dining table and TV. Oh the bliss. So long campers!!

Glamping
Glamping with the family

The area, coupled with the fantastic weather (yes, even in the UK it stops raining every now and then!), provided a perfect base in which to explore the local area and beyond. Walks were plentiful, with some good pubs to stop and grab a bite and drink and continue on our way. After a long day strolling through the forest, it was an absolute pleasure to be back at the pod. Within 5 minutes on our return, Strudel was snoozing and we was on our deck, with a glass of wine in absolute bliss.

Approximately 45 miles away is a beautiful seaside town called Southwold. Home to Adnams, producers of some absolutely fine ales and to my bemusement, some cracking looking spirits. The town is described as one that time forgot. Not surprising as 45 miles in this part of the world takes forever! (we drove by the way!!)

The town didn’t disappoint, it really is a beautiful place. A gorgeous highstreet with some fantastic looking boutique shops and of course a handful of pubs with Adnams ales flowing. Its safe to say that I had a couple…!

Southwold Beach

Strudel Southwold Beach
Strudel having fun in the sun on Southwold beach

Time was ticking and we had to make our way back ready for an evening feast, hopefully to be dished up with a pint of Suffolks finest.

So, did we enjoy our glamping experience? YES. Would we do it again? YES. Why? because of the following reasons:

  1. Comfort – much more pleasant sleeping on a mattress with a duvet
  2. Privacy – better soundproofing than a tent (you mucky lot, I know what you are thinking!) I mean its much more pleasant chatting in your pod knowing you can’t hear others and they can’t hear you
  3. Convenience – want a cup of tea? sure, pop the kettle on. Want to watch the morning news? sure, turn the TV on. Want to read at night? definitely, flick the light switch on
  4. Security – If you want to go anywhere, just lock the door. Would you seriously head off for a day (hours, whatever) and leave your tent unattended?

The whole packing up thing as well….seriously, we packed a few bags and within 10 mins the car was loaded and we was on our way. If we was camping, we would have been there ages, and be honest, how long does it take you to square everything away?

Glamping turned out to be a wonderful experience and wouldn’t hesitate but to encourage others to get out and try it. Strudel loved it!

Strudel Glamping

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Taking the Plunge

Whilst working on some images from our recent trip to Indonesia (posts to come), I recalled videos taken when Emma took the plunge and went diving with me. As I have mentioned on our Twitter feed, Emma has a huge fear of the open water. Here are a couple of video’s that made me smile. Well done, Em, Ill make a diver out of you yet!

What went wrong in Iceland

A recount of our trip to Iceland in March 2013.

Emma and I decided Iceland would be our next weekend break. Its within a few hours flight from the UK and was a destination guaranteed to see the northern lights. In fact, we was told 2013 would be one of the better years for seeing this natural phenomenon.

Iceland isn’t a cheap weekend break (but where is these days!), its a place we was both looking forward to seeing something different. We booked this break through Iceland Air, which included a good quality hotel and more importantly secured our seats for our northern lights visual extravaganza.

We was staying in Iceland for 3 nights. The first night was essentially ours, where we would head in to Reykjavik centre for food and wine (my god! Alcohol was so expensive). The second night was our northern lights excursion and the third day was to be spent whale watching. There are so many other activities to do and we decided to fit them in and around these two main activities which had been pre-booked.

Day/Night One
Reykjavik is, simply, a cool place. Vibrant, energetic, artistic, adventurous, almost hippy-like (Scandinavian style!). We didn’t land until mid-afternoon so by the time we sorted ourselves out at the hotel, it was getting late so we headed straight in to town to check out the restaurants.

There definitely isn’t a shortage or places to eat but be warned they do get busy. If visiting for the first time, use your first day to look around and check out the restaurant menus. Its then worth trying to book a table otherwise you will run the risk of not being able to get a seat.

Iceland is famed for its menu of Puffin and Whale (amongst other oddities). If you want to try these then by all means. Look around first, as not every place serves these dishes. In fact, there is actually a high concentration of Icelandic people that disagree with the hunting of these animals. Anyway, choice is yours.

I won’t go in to too much detail, but our evening was lovely, great food, great wine, good restaurant (can’t remember the name of the place) and actually not so bad price.

We went back to the hotel for a nightcap and hit the sack ready for a day of exploring and deciding what to do.

Day/Night Two
As we sorted ourselves out for the day, we picked up some brochures and grabbed our phones and did a little research on fun things to do in Iceland. We had settled on exploring the inner City, get our bearings whilst there was light. Have some lunch then head back to the hotel, grab our swimming gear and head off to the blue lagoon for an afternoon of relaxation ahead of our evening pickup to chase the northern lights.

All was going well up to the point of trying to locate the bus station. The map pointed us up the road and was told we couldn’t miss it. Well, we did. Becoming frustrated and narky with one another, the heavens opened and absolutely p*ssed it down. There was only so long our water proofs held out. We turned around and went straight back to the hotel. Everything in my daypack was wet through. Everything from wallet, passport, camera…everything!

We grabbed a hot shower, got changed and sat in the hotel bar with a drink and had a little laugh about generally how inept and unlucky we are!

Time was fast approaching for our pickup and before we knew it, a reception staff member came over and advised us that the tour company have had to cancel the northern lights tour for the evening due to cloud cover. But (as if we should be highly thankful), they will try again the following evening.

Seeing as we paid upfront for this we thought we would scrap our plans for the last evening and try again.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day and whale watching here we come.

Day/Night Three
After several more drinks the previous night we woke with somewhat of heavy head. We sank a couple of cups of coffee, had some breakfast and grabbed our kit and made our way down to the docks to see some whales.

We kitted ourselves up and along with the many other eager visitors, went up on deck with our cameras ready to catch sight of these monsters of the sea.

Not Whale Watching
Not Whale Watching

P1000755

Three hours later, shivering, feeling a little queasy (Ill put it down to sea-sickness rather the previous nights alcohol!!), we had managed to see……NOTHING, nada, zilch!

P1000748

We really was getting the impression that Iceland was not meant for us.

We got back to dock, feeling a little dejected, hit the nearest bar for a beer! But, we still had the northern lights tour and fingers crossed tonight will be the night!

NOPE. Same thing as last time. Too cloudy. Oh, but they could fit us in the following evening. Unfortunately, this evening was our last so we’ll just have a refund and be on our “merry” way.

“Sorry Sir, there are no refunds!”

I won’t go in to what I then went on to say but in a nutshell, the fine print did state this. Crazy.

But hey, we did pick up a cheap bottle of vodka at the airport!!!

For the Love of…

It wasn’t all too long ago that Emma and I would browse the pages of the usual holiday booking sites, looking for our next summer break. The decision came down to price and guaranteed sun. Also having no children meant that we must avoid the kids summer holidays or watch the price of the holiday double and be the “weird ones” without kids.

These holidays usually took us to Turkey, Cyprus, Spain etc. The typical sun drenched spots that was within a few hours flight time (from UK) with unquestionable opportunity to get sun burn.

I don’t quite recall what the turning point was for us, but a few years back, as we was browsing the holiday web sites, we concluded that there was a lot of thought going in to what can only be described as the same holiday, year on year. The resort hotels are all basically the same, providing the same kind of service, nestled in to a beach, have a pool and one or two bars to grab your late morning beer! We both just wasn’t as excited about of our next holiday as we had been in previous years.

We decided we needed something more.

We headed to a travel specialist company that could help figure out, based on our very vague requirements, where we should holiday next. We decided it was to be the USA and with a lot of help we headed off on our mini-adventure to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Memphis and finishing in New York. Sure it cost us a lot more money than it would have done if we went back to Turkey but what a life changing experience.

It meant that as 9 to 5’ers we didn’t need to squeeze in a guaranteed suntan, we could actually get out and explore the world just that little bit more. We could experience something that many unfortunately never have the opportunity to do. Ultimately it meant doing something that had perspective for us, having no regrets and smiling, recounting the amazing journeys we have been on together.

Since our trip to the USA, we have been back several times and travelled to many other destinations around the world. Our stories have inspired friends to ditch the typical holiday package and challenge themselves during their limited time off work.

What has this all meant for us?

Well, it means we don’t have quite as much disposable income!! It means we get to experience many new things; cultures, cuisines, people, places every time we go away. It means we have something different to talk about with friends, it means we have life-experiences that challenge the norm, it means we do something we love with the ones we love – it helps if your partner has an interest in travel!

I suppose the point to this ramble is that if you have an interest in travel (or other things) try not let routine get in your way. Get out and challenge yourself and you will never have to tell the story of “I almost…..”.

Since our moment of life and travel contemplation, we have travelled to many countries and destinations. Some in our very own country and others many thousands of miles away. I can also say that since truly escaping the 9 to 5 (temporarily!) I have rekindled my love for photography, developed a keen interest in culture and history and spend more money on techie geeky stuff than I ever have! As Emma would say “2 out of 3 isn’t bad”.

As I say to my friends, its more interesting to listen when someone has something to say!

…..or maybe not if your are reading this blog!! 🙂

Whats next on the travel cards for us? We are glamping in July (our first wedding anniversary), coastal walks in September and looking to teach Emma (who has a terrible fear of the sea) to scuba dive!

Kick-Back to the Esquire

When travelling one of the things I love to do (even if its for just a moment or two) is sit on the balcony, stick some tunes on, have a beer and watch the world go by. There has always been one thing lacking in this ideology. Something decent to play my music!

Over the years I have generally bought some fairly cheap portable speakers and they haven’t lasted very long. Either by means of needing to change the batteries too often or the unit spends more time on charge than is capable of playing music. This time however I was adamant that I was to get something on our way to Indonesia and boy am I glad I did.

I picked up the Harman Kardon Esquire Mini. I had seen some reviews on this on my buildup to leaving for Indonesia and although the reviews were good, the price did initially put me off. Upon browsing the large electrical store (Dixons Travel I recall) in Heathrow T2 (since revamp, T2 is awesome (as terminals go!) btw!), I noticed the competition was either too bulky, didn’t look as good and just as expensive, if not more. Oh, and the store was running a promo so got £20 off the Esquire. Result!

Now, Im a sucker for sexy looking tech and I must always do my tech shopping on my own otherwise Emma makes me see sense! The Esquire Mini is no exception, this is one sleek looking bit of kit.

Esquire Mini
Harman Kardon Esquire Mini

The unit is about the size of an iPhone 6 (standard not the plus) but is a little thicker at about 20mm. Please don’t take my word for the dimensions, my statement is purely an observation. I have not measured it as can’t be bothered.

The Esquire Mini can pump out tunes by connecting a 3.5mm jack or by Bluetooth. The sound quality, in my view, is amazing. For something in such small form, I was amazed (and pleased as just shelled out my ‘hard’ earned cash). I am no audiophile, i just know what I like and damn this sounds good, and with 8 hrs battery life (reported not tested), this little beauty is destined to join me on many more travels.

Other than the fact you couldn’t get a battery charge indicator without pausing the music, the only thing that annoyed me is that Harman Kardon supply the speaker with a pointless leather wrist strap. In my view they would have been better supplying a pouch. Cloth, leather, don’t care, just something to protect it when out and about.

Other than this, the Esquire Mini, is great quality (build and form), great value and sound quality is brilliant. Couldn’t recommend this highly enough.

And…before I forget, the other cool thing is that if you are running out of juice on your phone, connect the charging cable to the USB port on the speaker and Bobs your Mother brother you have a portable charger too!

Auschwitz & Birkenau

Auschwitz is a place that has long been on my list of places to visit. It was a place discussed during history lessons at school and a place that has long since fascinated me. Fascinated in the sense that I cannot comprehend what happened, why it happened.

I posted some pictures on our Twitter feed and it was a tweet back from the Auschwitz Museum that hit me. “created by people for other people which is an important warning”. I have gone through my life just thinking of these criminals as monsters, not human, just satans soldiers. But these really were people, people with their own families, yet people that inflicted such pain and suffering to so many people. That one statement just confuses me, confuses me in that if these were people, how can they commit such terror?

Gallows Rudolph Hoss
The gallows where Rudolph Hoss, the camps first commandant, was hanged in 1947. The chimney of the crematoria and gas chambers in the background.

On our way to Auschwitz (which is about an hours drive from Krakow), our guide played a video. The video was original footage of the liberation accompanied by interviews with the Soviet cameraman who filmed it. This is the video that you can watch when first entering Auschwitz. The footage was just horrific. There was moments that I had to turn away and look out the window to gather my thoughts. It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to watch.

On arriving in Auschwitz the silence was awkward. I have never seen so many visitors in one place be so quiet. It was surreal, an awakening I suppose to what we was about to experience.

Auschwitz is a museum and to an extent somewhat sanitised but I understand why. You will wonder around from block to block seeing some truly disturbing things. The experience keeping you just at arms length but close enough for emotions to run high. It was a disturbing experience, one filled with dread and anticipation, disappointment and horror.

Victims
The faces of prisoners hung on the walls of all blocks. The haunting eyes staring right through you.
Barbed Perimeter
Barbed wire surrounding the facility. Its only job, to keep the prisoners in.
Halt
Warning signs line the electrified perimeter of Auschwitz, where prisoners would attempt to throw themselves against it to escape their misery.

After a couple of hours in Auschwitz we decided to move on to Birkenau. It is only a few minutes drive down the road. We parked up and you are confronted with the main gate to Birkenau. As we walked through, my pace slowed and eyes wide open as I witnessed and understood for the first time the sheer scale of this place.

Birkenau Gates to Hell
The main gate to Birkenau. Where trains would enter carrying thousands of prisoners. Often taken direct from the train carriage to the gas chambers.

Birkenau was enormous. 425 acres capable of holding approximately one hundred thousand people at any one time. Our guide explained that the Nazis had in fact plans to expand the facility to hold upwards of a quarter of a million people. These numbers are just too huge to comprehend.

Many of the buildings had been destroyed by the Nazis. They did this shortly before the liberation in an attempt to hide their crimes. Many of the buildings however have survived. As we walked around, I found it difficult to contemplate my surroundings. We walked in to some of the buildings where people were held. It was just disgusting. You imagine the hundreds of people bundled in to each building where there is one burner (but prisoners had to forage for their own fuel; twigs etc) that would barely heat its immediate surroundings. Imagine that in a wooden building, no insulation in the depths of winter…

Block
Inside one of the blocks where hundreds of people huddled for survival.
These stables were converted to house upwards of 400 people
These stables were converted to house upwards of 400 people.
Line after line with hundreds of people per building.
Line after line with hundreds of people per building.

At the far end of Birkenau is the memorial. An obvious Soviet creation back in the sixties. The most poignant part for me is the cobbles. Supposedly one cobble for each of the 1.5 million people who died here.

1967 Auschwitz Birkenau memorial. Surrounded by 1.5 million cobbles.
1967 Auschwitz Birkenau memorial. Surrounded by 1.5 million cobbles.

I could write pages and pages and share many more photos. For me, this is enough, but I’m happy to try and answers any questions you may have.

I encourage everyone to visit this place.

Egyptian Nights

Egypt is one of those places that is on the bucket list of nearly everyone I know. The first time I visited Egypt I was immediately drawn in by the friendly, cheerful people. Everyone always seemed to wearing a big toothy smile. But more importantly for me (at the time) was the scuba diving. The Red Sea is just phenomenal. The wrecks, the fish species, the coral, the crystal clear waters. Amazing. I spent most days on a boat, diving at least twice a day. I spent more time out on the water (or under it) than on dry land. One day however was my first time I ventured in to the local town.

Egyptian Coast

It was late afternoon so it was still sunny and bright but not that uncomfortable sticky heat as it was during the day. I hopped in to one of the cabs hanging outside the hotel. The car wasn’t in the best condition but they all seemed that way so it didn’t raise too many concerns.

The cab jumped and kicked like a bucking bronco as it headed on its way. The road leading away from the hotel was a dusty trail, no tarmac and nothing more than a sand dune and camel in sight. Quite pleasant really.

We then hit the main highway in to town. What seemed to be a three lane highway (at best), seemingly and suddenly became a banger racing track. Five/six cars abreast jostling for position at speed. It was the most chaotic ballet of cars you could imagine. Horns honking in harmony, the odd gesture from the driver and I’m sure an Egyptian swear word or two. From start to finish I think I blinked once, didn’t move an inch and drew a single breath. It was an experience for sure.

Leaving the cab, placing my feet on firm ground and taking a wide eyed big deep breath I headed deeper in to the local town for some tea and haggling.

The sun had long since disappeared and after several hours of tasting the local delicacies it was time to head back. It wasn’t something I was overly looking forward to. I hopped in to a cab and showed the driver the hotels card. He nodded in acknowledgement and away we went. He pressed firmly on the accelerator and his beaten up car belted down the road. It wasn’t until we moved further away from the lights of the town I realised the driver didn’t have the headlights on. I thought that he maybe just forgot, we’ve all done that I thought. We continued at pace, street lights becoming fewer and fewer. The headlights still not on.  It wasn’t until I suddenly seen other cars heading our way that I realised they also didn’t have their lights on.

I took that long, slow deep breath accompanied by that sort of slow blink in acknowledgment that I should call my family and tell them I love them. I’m staring at the driver, clinching to anything in the car that isn’t rattling, glancing at the speedo realising that isn’t working either. I’m not religious but in that moment, I looked up and uttered the words, “please, God…”. I don’t think I’ve ever come closer to shitting myself.

We arrived back at the hotel and the driver turned and gave me a huge smile. All I could do was turn around and say “thank you” followed by a tip!!!

Needless to say, that Egyptian night is something I do not ever want to repeat but I have been back many more times, white-knuckled it through traffic and even used taxis after dark. See you again soon, Egypt.