Where to next?

Travel

My wife Emma is forever telling me I'm annoying! This, and trust me, is for many reasons. But, for all my faults, she sticks with me! But, the one thing that does annoy her is my constant wanting/need to book another trip, sometimes a year in advance and quite often before we have been on the numerous other trips we have booked.

Every year, and I've said this before, we tend to have a long(er) holiday, often long-haul and more than likely just cost us a pretty penny! So having just returned from a trip to Marrakech, I sat down and out of the blue just asked if we should go to Japan next year…or Canada…or Cambodia…or…

Emmas face firmly planted in to the palms of her hands!! “Can we get the next couple holidays out of the way first?!“, she said. I was quickly shot down when I suggested a long weekend to Jordan…or Israel…or…!!

Well, this is my problem. We have had a great time in Marrakech, and have South Africa tour in a few months, followed by couple trips to Italy (with one of them taking in the sites and sounds of the Monza Formula 1 Grand Prix!).

We both work very hard and don't get me wrong, it sounds as though we are minted. Trust me, we have our debts, our luxuries and usual day to day BS. We just like to put some cash away specifically for holidays. The problem is (my problem) is that I just want to do as much as possible in a very short space of time!

Quit your job I hear you shout….well, that's just not me or us. We both love our home comforts. It's just great to experience as many pleasures this world has to offer before it's too late.

Am I the only one like this?

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Marrakech – what better way to see it than run around it!

Running, Travel

We have just returned from Marrakech having spent 4 days and nights. We went to Marrakech with friends with the purpose of doing the Marrakech half-marathon – the annual event where circa 7000 people descend on this city with their trainers ready to hit the tarmac (and avoid pot-holes – which I quickly learnt to keep an eye out for!).

Marrakech is one of those places where I have always wanted to go to but will find excuses to not. Whether that is because there are other places I want to go to first, I don’t know, but it always seemed to slip out of my grasp. However, this year, we had paid and secured our position in the 27th annual Marrakech Marathon (half).

The marathon was held on Sunday 31st Jan, one day after our arrival. The anxious breakfast followed but the healthy walk to the start quickly widened our view to what we have signed up for! Nevertheless, it was something none of us had done before and one of those kinda goals in life. We wasn’t in it to break records but finish with a smile on our face. And finish we did (not sure about the smile!). No blistering times but at least the efforts put in over the winter seemed to pay off. Some aches and groans ensued but otherwise we was all good.

Our post race recovery included pizza and beer. Yes, even in a Muslim country you can find establishments that serve beer! It was whilst we was supping back our second beer (or it may have been our 4th or 5th!), we met a chap who had travelled out to Marrakech on his own for the sole purpose of competing in the Marathon.
Now this guy, as it turned out, was actually quite the “enthusiast”. He trained many days a week and can comfortably do a sub 3 hr marathon. Basically, in a completely different league to us! But, we had some interesting conversations.
We both didn’t “like” running, we did it to help battle the bulge! But the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. I was learning this in my fledgling running years. What he said to me was that running helped him explore the world he has longed to see. He has competed in Siberian, holy (Jerusalem), North-American etc marathons. This rang true. Why else would I be here? I have wanted to visit but other places, other things, got in my way. Participating (competing sounds too competent for me!) in the Marrakech half-marathon has enabled us to see a part of the world we perhaps wouldn’t have done had we not donned those trainers.
So where to next…??

 

Marrakech Here We Come

Travel

So, not sure if I’ve mentioned but Emma and I are doing our first half-marathon this coming weekend (31st Jan ’16) in Marrakech…yay!!! YAY!!! – I almost sound excited!!

We are going with some friends of ours who last September asked if we would be interested in doing the half-marathon with them. Sure, I said, why not?? Sounds like a great idea. I have wanted to go to Marrakech for a long time. Well, after having knee surgery in 2014 (cartilage removed) and then compound-fracture of my big toe in summer 2015, I thought what better way to kick-start 2016 but to dust off my trainers, grease my aching joints and get my lazy backside up and out!!! [*cough* – I’m an idiot]

Emma had been running for quite a while but me on the other hand have done absolutely nothing since my knee op. Truth be told, quite glad about that too…So I have zero idea what made me think that a few months training, heading in to the crappiest part of the year for weather was a great idea. >> Fast Forward a few months…

With less than a week to go I can say that Emma and I are feeling confident but with a hint of nervousness, if that makes any sense!!? We have over the last few months got ourselves out running in the wind and rain, whether that be for a 5K, 10K or 15K. Sure, I could have done more (drank less, eaten less etc), but I’m comfortable. I’m not aiming to smash any records. In fact, our aim as a group is to stick together, run at the pace of the slowest and just finish it it one piece. [Anyone would think we was heading off to war..]

par1

 

On Saturday Morning we catch our flight to Marrakech. We have a day of getting our bearings (although I’ve heard that’s very difficult in the Medina?), then race day on the Sunday. We then have a few days of exploring before catching a return flight back to the UK.

I will certainly be sure to post our thoughts and experiences when we return. In the meantime, if you have any recommendations and tips for our trip then please share.

Oma

Homeland

Travel

It was an unusual feeling but in November 2015 I seen my grandmother for the first time in approximately 10 years. There is no particular reason for not seeing her for so long. Life I suppose, in some unfortunate and selfish turn of events. I cant even use the fact she lives in Germany as an excuse – its only an hours flight away!

My wife and I took my mum too. She also hasnt seen her mum for 10 years. Truth be told, the last time we seen my grandmother was when she had settled in to a new care facility following a harsh stroke that forced her out of her home and in to long term care. Her husband, my grandfather, had died about a year before following many health deteriorating years. This was a direct result of the lifestyle he led Im sure. The disappointing part of all this was that my grandmother was just getting her life back after spending many years looking after her husband, that she too, unexpectedly, suffered the same fate as her husband. A major stroke closed the door on so many more able-bodied years and placed her in to a lifetime of care.

Over the first few years, we all kept in touch, but then somehow it all stopped without explanation. In this time, we understood my grandmother to not be in great shape. Whether this is just age related or consequence of her condition, who knows…

We had booked ourselves on to a early flight to Dusseldorf, a city we hadn’t visited before and a city I actually had no intentions of visiting. Not sure why, I suppose there are so many other places I would prefer to go to first. As it transpired, I was so glad we decided to spend our first night in Dusseldorf before driving to see my grandmother. The city really is the cosmopolitan stylish city I wasnt expecting. Lots of shops (too high end for me!), restaurants and bars, flash supercars around every corner. It really was quite the surprise.

The other added bonus was that it was the first weekend of the Christmas markets and no better place to buy a currywurst and a beer. That brought back some memories.

Well, the next day was all about my grandmother. We took off mid-morning and headed up the autobahn to a town I spent much of my childhood. As we got closer it was bringing back so many memories and I certainly arrived with a smile on my face.

Before we went to the care home, we went to my mums sisters (my aunt!) house. She lives close to the care home and was taking us there for our “introduction”.

When we arrived at the care home, I could see the face of my grandmother peering over a communal dining table. I could see she was looking at us quizzically and could understand why – 10 years is a long time.

As we approached, I called to my Oma (German for grandma), she looked up through her thick glasses with a wry smile opened her arms in readiness for a bug hug. A flood of memories and emotions washed over me, it was without doubt a homecoming.

Before we had arrived my aunt had told us of my grandmothers state of mind. In short, she is easily confused. She doesnt recall being told her youngest grandson (my baby brother) had died and after 10 mins of reuniting with her she didnt recognise me and only acknowledged her grandson Andrew as the person in the pictures hanging on her wall.

We left that day having seen the woman we loved very much. She was (is) the most amazing grandmother ever. But we left with a deep heart as we only seen glimpses of the woman we remember. She is someone her deserves better.

So whilst I/we achieved something, I left with disappointment and some guilt. I could have gone to see my grandmother sooner, I could have seen her when she was perhaps a little more “with it”. I could have perhaps seen more of the woman I grew up with, my Oma.

If there is something to be learnt it is this; dont put things on hold, thinking it will be ok until next week, next month, next year. Before you know it, you are 10 years down the line. Do it now, whatever it is. Tomorrow may never come.

 

 

Vegas Baby!

Travel

Vegas is, simply, an awesome place that every person must visit at least once.

For us, we went twice within 18 months because we loved it that much. With Christmas fast approaching (yes, I know, I said it….), its time to get your festive travels planned.

The last time we went was over New Years Eve 2013. We had no idea what to expect for this time of year, but it certainly didnt disappoint. Without rambling, I thought I’d show you what is was like down on the strip. Enjoy…

Measured by Food

Travel

How many times have you fell in love with a place because the food is just so damn good?

Chicken Feet

That place could on face value not be very special at all but the food just skyrocketed it up there with the best of them. Adversely, your destination could be a paradise, your dreams come true, only to be smashed by poor food experiences.

Pork Dripping

Here are some thoughts on destinations we have been to and whether they fell short or propelled them in to the must go destination. At this point it should be noted that I am no “foodie”. In fact I know bugger all when it comes to making such gastronomic delights. I just know what I like – good, honest cooking that tastes good!

Poland

Krakow to be precise. Besides being a beautiful city, there is a mass of dining destinations. Poland is great value, which makes everything better, right? Poland is renowned for its simple yet tasty feasts, almost always meat based. But, the city is full of restaurants offering an alternative, from Asian and Italian to Indian and Middle-Eastern. Throughout our stay, the food was exceptional and great value. Coupled with a thriving and visually stunning city, puts this place in our top ten European destinations.

Thailand

From Bangkok to Khao Lak, Thai food is AMAZING. I love spicy food and this country hit every taste bud hard. Delicious. The fish, rice, noodles, meat, chicken, soups…everything that was put in front of me was devoured. As you probably guessed, I fell head over heals with this place! Emma is a fussy eater and before our arrival, she was nervous about her food options. This was quickly dispelled with sensory overload. Her worries and concerns, gone, replaced with a large helping of green curry! Thailand is up there with the best.

Indonesia

From Bali to Flores, this country is stunning. The people are among some of the friendliest we have ever come across. The food however, well, disappointed us generally. I dont know why but we had high hopes of Indonesian cuisine. The easiest way for me to describe what we had is; dull. Nothing really jumped out at you as being so mouth wateringly delicious that you had to have more. It was all very edible, dont get me wrong, its just not that exciting. Maybe your experiences was very different to ours?

Italy

We have both travelled to Italy many many times, visiting a number of cities and regions. The thing with Italy, especially in the tourist hot spots (e.g Rome), is that the food can be a little slapdash and unimaginative. I have eaten in many restaurants throughout Italy (in those tourist traps) and have, on many occasions, had better Italian food outside of Italy! I will hasten to add that I have also been to many restaurants off the tourist trail and had some of the best food ever. For me, Italy has been hit and miss. Pick your restaurant wisely.

Germany

Well, what can I say about Germany other than vegetarians need not apply! Joking, in recent years, especially in the larger cosmopolitan cities, there is bundles of choice. But, there is no escaping, Germany is a meat feast. I am a little biased as I have German family and spent my early life living in Germany, but, the food is seriously tasty. You just cannot beat a currywurst sausage! After something a little more adventurous then there is plenty of great restuarants serving up stunning feasts – and not always meat based!

Whats your thoughts? Has your views on a destination been swayed by your food experience….?

9 to 5 Travelling Enthusiast

Travel

In the UK, employees are typically given 5 weeks paid holiday per year. In the USA, I understand this to be less. In addition to this paid holiday time, we have 8 bank and public holidays in a year (in England and Wales). The challenge of a 9 to 5 travel enthusiast is how to use this precious time. 

Many if not all of the bank and public holidays fall in to kids school holidays. For a couple that dont have children, travelling, especially in UK and Europe, becomes very expensive. So needless to say, we tend to avoid this time. However, we have learned over the last few years that long haul destinations (excluding the likes of Florida etc where this becomes a mecca for long family holidays) are not typically affected by the price hikes enforced upon us by the travel industry – thats a whole other subject!

As with everything, its all about the balance between time and money. We have many destinations in our minds and we usually have one 2+ week holiday per year with several other mini-breaks either side. But every year, we battle with decisions on where to go and what to do.

We are not a couple that can lounge around a pool, sipping cocktails all day and stuffing our faces from the all you can eat buffet (although that does sound really good about now!). We like to be active, whether that is exploring a city by foot or cycling around Brittany. 

We always have several trips planned for the year ahead. Some will be overseas and some will be just down the road. But despite all these things, we are always looking for the next spot. Oh the despair, what to do, where to go…

It has been suggested why not give up the 9 to 5, why not pack up and go explore the world we are so desperate to see? Despite our love for travel, it isnt about giving up on the life we have chosen. We dont hate the 9 to 5, we enjoy the challenges in life this brings. Its about escaping the norm, overloading your senses with something so fresh, new, different, that the 9 to 5 life is a distant memory.

Sure, these breaks come to an end and we are back doing what we was doing just a couple weeks before. But we are now refreshed, got great memories and momentoes and a new chapter in our challenge to escape, even for just a moment, the hectic lives we lead. 

The 9 to 5 enables us to enjoy the supposed luxuries of a nice home and lifestyle but also enables us to see a world beyond the bubble we and our 9 to 5 compatriots can become slave to. The challenge is thus; live now. If you have a thirst for travel, do it. It is doesnt have to be expensive or time consuming. There are many great locations just a short drive or flight away. Thats what weekends are made for!

A Glamping Experience

Travel

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

What went wrong in Iceland

Travel

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…

Travel

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!

External Battery Charger

Tech

Im sure you have seen plenty of reviews on external battery chargers, how they are essential to ones travels etc…. yep, YAWN! There are so many out there and are now so cheap that they are kinda disposable. Ok, ok, overdoing it somewhat! A good external battery charger is not so cheap and to some extent you get what you pay for. For most persons like me, I will use it once in a while to top up my iPad on a long haul flight, or keep my iPhone charged during those heavy photo snapping sessions. I have owned several external battery chargers and would love to say how they have got me out of sticky situations, survived a drop from the Empire State and is the must have item in my travel kit list. Nope. For me, they are just handy to have, not essential. However…

Having a good external battery charger is worth it. They come in different shapes and sizes so knowing what you want out of it is key. For me, my requirements was that it must be durable (Im a clumsy git), have two ports, be able to get a couple full charges out of it and not be too expensive.

I settled on the Zendure A3. Its durable, looks pretty cool and I got it at a great price from Amazon.

Zendure A3 Zendure A3

Ive used this several times and it does exactly what it should. What makes this different from others? Well, its shiny…

The Zendure A series is a great product, it is durable (survived a number of my clumsy moments) and its not a bad price. Would I chose this over my Mophie? Yes, because the Mophie is a battery wrapped in a pretty bow. One scratch and it just doesn’t look cool anymore. The Zendure is designed to be beaten up, scuffed, dented. Its ruggedness exudes a willingness to travel in hardship [although Im not…but its not about me!].

If you are in the market for an external battery to accompany you on your travels then I highly recommend the Zendure A-Series.

Im writing about a bloody battery….!!