On the occasion of my wife’s birthday we decided to head for an impromptu 3-day city break to Prague. This was a bit of a risk in February as chances were good that we could suffer an ice-locked endurance trial of a city break – as had happened to me and my sister in 2006 – but fortune smiled upon us and we were blessed with clement and mild weather for most of our visit. We had a grand time and hope to make it back sometime in the summer.
More photos from this trip can be found over on Flickr.
2013 has been a great year; I got married, I had a great honeymoon, got a promotion, and got to have a lot of fun on the sides travelling around Europe and Asia and getting to a festival or two.
These are a few of my favourite experiences from the past year.
In March, on a work trip, I happened to spend one night in Rome on the very night that the new Pope – Francis – was unveiled to the world. I was in St Peter’s Square when it happened and the excitement was undeniable, even to a heathen atheist like me. Later in the year I returned to Rome and got to spend a bit more time rediscovering this fantastic city.
Provence & Monaco
A long weekend family trip took us down to the French Riviera, the Gorges du Verdon and the harbour of Monaco. More photos here.
Glastonbury Festival 2013
I thought I was through with Glastonbury, but the lure of Chic and the Rolling Stones proved irresistible; we had a blast.
Notting Hill Carnival 2013
Living in west London, I try to go to Carnival every year if I can manage, even if just for a few hours or one day of it. Always brings a smile to my face. More photos here.
At the end of August I went back to Bangkok for a work trip and managed to find time to search out some places I hadn’t been before, including Chinatown and the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. More photos here.
It’s safe to say our wedding day was the highlight of our year, and it was excellently documented by the talented Dean Govier. Go check out his portfolio of our day.
Neatly closing out the highlights of the year, and recently featured in this blog, our three-week honeymoon took us through Malaysia, Java, Bali and the Gili Islands, and was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It was hard to come home from this one!
2014 has a lot to live up to….
My new wife and I spent most of October in a post-wedding state of happy exhaustion as we traipsed around Malaysia and Indonesia on honeymoon.
Of course, many more pictures can be found on my big Honeymoon set on Flickr. There are a lot of portrait-orientation shots there that I’ve left out for the sake of the layout below.
All photos on this page are Copyright 2013 Luke Robinson – all rights reserved.
Malaysia – Tan Jong Jara
Most of the first few days of our trip were spent in befuddled recuperation at the Tan Jong Jara resort in northeast Malaysia, where our ambitions mostly extended to thinking of what we were going to have to eat at dinnertime. It was perfect after the cathartic release of the wedding week. We did manage to do have some expeditions – to the local market, a nearby island, and a sea turtle hatchery – but mostly we enjoyed not having a wedding to plan for the first time in nearly a year.
Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur
After five days on the beach it was time to return to civilisation (of a sort) for a short three-day city break in KL. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll agree that at least in food terms, it is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. A vibrant clash of Malay, Chinese and Indian (and Western, for that matter), KL is a feast in every sense of the word. My panoramic photo of the Petronas Towers at sunset from the top of our hotel made it onto the Flickr Blog recently and is doing quite well on the traffic / favourites front, I am happy to say.
Java – Borobudur
Next up was a quick flight to Yogyakarta in Java, and from there up the road a piece to the environs of Borobudur, the huge ancient Buddhist hilltop monument situated in a mist-filled valley of volcanoes. There is simply no other proper way to see Borobudur than by getting there well before the sun rises (and we were the first through the gate that day), so that you can see the first rays of the sun hit the stupas and Buddha figures at the top, and so the mist is caught between the palm trees in the valley floor. Magical.
Later the same day, we toured the nearby village of Candirejo, where they are striving to establish themselves as a local tourist alternative to the posh resorts nearby. The people couldn’t have been more friendly, from the tobacco farmers to the old dear who was making cassava crackers in her dilapidated house.
Java – Yogyakarta and Prambanan
In Yogya we found a busy smallish Asian city going about its business, mostly untroubled by excessive tourism, which was different to my recollections of 19 years previous. I suppose I have developed a thicker skin when it comes to pestering touts. In any case we had a gas visiting the Sultan Palace, the Water Palace, the town market, and the Hindu temples of Prambanan.
We went for proper island life next, moving onto the tropical paradise that is Bali. The feeling of paradise was enhanced by our poshest accommodation of the whole trip, at the Four Seasons in Sayan, a spectacular resort built into a river valley, the likes of which we won’t experience again anytime soon. It was extremely hard to leave our pool villa, but we did venture out for trips into nearby Ubud, a hike up the Sayan river valley, and a daytrip up to see the Lake Bratan Water Temple, the Jatuliwiyah Rice Terraces, and a few other highlights.
The Gili Islands and Southern Bali
After our five nights in paradise, we decamped to an even more laid-back environment, riding a tiny speedboat across to the equally tiny Gili Islands, three mile-wide sandbars, for all intents and purposes, off the coast of Lombok. We got off at Gili Trawangan and were overwhelmed by the bustle of its little waterfront – a sea of Bintang (in boxes and on the singlets of numerous Aussie backpackers). We had a great time on Gili T, snorkeling and mooching around, but it was possibly a step down the luxury ladder too far for us honeymooners so we made a snap decision to come back to Bali for the last two nights. This decision paid off as we ended up on the lovely Jimbaran Bay, where we spent the days on the beach and the evenings on excursions to the Uluwatu cliffside temple and the luxe double-header on the last night of the Rock Bar and the fantastic Sundara beachside restaurant of the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay. A fitting end to an incredible honeymoon.
Some good memories and good images to be found in Dean Govier’s coverage of our wedding festivities back in late September of this year at Longstowe Hall – go have a look. Dean is very competent and professional, and has an artist’s eye. And he’s a good sort. Recommended.
After a break of three years, we returned to the Glastonbury Festival and it was one of the best ones yet – the weather for the main days was lovely, the sheer quality and variety of entertainment on offer was mind-boggling, and of course many of our fellow revellers made for a great atmosphere throughout.
Musical highlights included Chic (staggeringly good), the Rolling Stones (epic singalongs), First Aid Kit, Goat, Tame Impala, Jagwar Ma, Ondatropica, Molotov Jukebox, Evan Dando, John Fairhurst and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.
Other assorted moments of happiness:
- Seeing the One Minute Disco in the Theatre Field. Basically a completely innocuous white van pulls up in the middle of a bunch of people, the back shutter rolls up and two men in boiler suits scream out ONE MINUTE DISCO! At which point dance music starts blaring out of the van and people run up to have a boogie. Sure enough, more or less one minute later, the music stops, the back shutter rolls back down again and it’s back o to being just a van, leaving a group of very bemused people.
- The view from Flagtopia / the top of the Park field either at day or night was simply staggering.
- Getting into Heaven at Shangri-la and finding not only posh, clean, flush toilets, but also the Snake Pit club, where our eyes were opened by a bondage / dominatrix / pyrotechnic act involving flaming whips and not a lot of clothing.
- Sunny afternoons getting into the spirit of things. Ondatropica at the West Holts stage, with its Colombian salsa, was just the ticket. And the sun coming out on Sunday just as First Aid Kit sang “Emmylou” got me a tad emotional.
- Great food from Goan Fish Curry, MeatLiquor (Dead Hippie burger), Anna Mae’s pesto & bacon mac & cheese, Buddha Bowl veggie curry, Grillstock pulled pork bun. Yum.
- Finding out that my “poo” photo which had been made one of the Amnesty International postcards turned out to be the best-selling one of the festival.
Only “lowlight” was occasional overcrowding and a bit of lairy behaviour in the Pyramid field – but on the whole not much to complain about!
The photos below are just a sample. Many more can be found within my Glastonbury 2013 Flickr Set.
In December 2012, at the tail end of our Japan holiday, we had a 48hr layover in Hong Kong, the dynamic former British colonial outpost, dangling off the edge of China, that has still clung on to its special status as something simultaneously Cantonese and… not. Still a haven of finance, expat excess (rooftop bars aplenty) and Western influence, Hong Kong manages to maintain its own distinct culture, soaring, impossibly thin tower blocks concealing jumbles of wet markets and street food vendors at street level. And the food… oh, the food. Dim sum and xiao long bao of the highest order. More on that later…
Our short but intense visit to Hong Kong definitely left us wanting more, and since we have some friends there who gave us such good tips this time round, we would love to return and explore at a more leisurely pace next time.
As usual, more shots can be found over on Flickr….
Last week I went on a work trip to Rome, my first visit in nearly 20 years, for one night only. So imagine my surprise to find myself there, totally by coincidence, the same night that a new Pope was elected…
Of course I knew that it was a possibility, but I figured that it was pretty likely that I would miss the event itself due to being at the office, and that it would be enough, perhaps, just to visit Saint Peter’s Square and see the pilgrims and the curious waiting for that magic puff of white smoke.
After I finished my day’s work and was dropped off next to the Forum, I snapped a few shots and then checked into my hotel before a look round the old quarter.
I took my new mini tripod out with me, and had the smaller Lumix LX7 in place of my normal Canon 7D, it being a work trip. It was raining and I got some nice shots of the Pantheon and the Piazza della Rotonda in the rain.
Then, as I meandered around in the area of the Piazza Navona, bells began to ring, and, sensing something might be amiss, I started walking in the direction of the Vatican, 1km away and on the other side of the Tiber. As I walked, a quick check of Twitter confirmed that white smoke had indeed been sighted, indicating that the Cardinals had selected a new Pope after several rounds of voting.
Learning this, I hurried through the back alleys of the Centro Storico towards the Tiber. Once out onto the riverbank, the evening rush hour traffic was besieged with pedestrians crossing haphazardly across towards the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuel II, which was blocked to vehicle traffic and was now full of Romans, tourists and pilgrims walk-running across to the Borgo Santo Spirito, the wide avenue leading to Saint Peter’s Square and the Vatican. There was a palpable sense of excitement and urgency, as all knew the square would fill quickly now that the word was out.
I entered the square, where tens of thousands were already present, a sea of umbrellas interspersed with roving camera crews interviewing anyone they could find to fill airtime while they awaited the coming announcement. I managed to make it inside the main crowd barrier, undergoing a cursory bag and body check, and then I was in, amongst the faithful and the merely curious (I definitely fall into the latter category).
Then the waiting began. I tried to fill the time with taking pictures of the Swiss Guards on ceremonial manoeuvres, and by putting my LX7 on the tripod, held in aloft in my head to get overhead pictures of the crowd. Typically for being in the middle of a historical event in the 21st century, everyone was in possession of a mobile phone and/or camera, and of course this meant that the 3G network folded. I tried in vain to share a photo or two with the folks back home.
Soon enough, the balcony lit up, the red curtains parted, and French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran made the formal announcement we had all been waiting for: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum… habemus papam!” – “I announce to you a great joy… we have a pope!” The new Pope was announced as being Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina, a Jesuit, who would be the first pope to take the name Francisco (Francis). This thrilled the crowd as not only was he the first Jesuit, the first South American, and the first Pope Francis, but he shared the name Francisco with the current star of the Roma football team – surely a good omen. Some Argentineans nearby waved their flag around like they had just won a football match.
One of the things that struck me that night in the Vatican was that when the announcement was made, and when the new Pope appeared for the first time, a sea of camera screens appeared in the audience: it seemed virtually everyone (myself included) was recording the event despite the TV cameras and press doing a much better job of it. Charlie Brooker was right, we have turned into a world of passive recorders, drones with phones. I realised that this would not have been the case in 2005 – as digital cameras were not nearly as pervasive – and the iPhone had not yet been released.
After a time, the papal rug was hung over the balcony, the Cardinals appeared along the side balconies, and the red curtains parted again to reveal the new Pope Francis. He waited a while for the crowd’s raucous applause to die down, and then began simply “Brothers and sisters… good evening!” He was disarmingly humble, and the crowd ate his words up, rapt with attention.
When his address was concluding, I was mindful of a dinner commitment with a colleague that I was almost certain to be late for, and I knew that this square would take a while to empty, so I moved towards the edges. Soon enough everyone had the same idea and the sheer number of people trying to get out of the north side of the square through the colonnades turned into a somewhat dangerous crush, as the barricades were rammed on the other side with latecomers who hadn’t managed to get in, and the guards were slow to open the gates.
After a hair-raising 10-15 minutes we managed to squeeze out of the gates and into the street, where I saw two groups of nuns from the same order bound up to each other and, squealing like schoolgirls, proceed to jump on each other and group-hug. Pretty sure I will never see that happen again.
Returning to the main avenue, a stream of people left Saint Peter’s the way they had came, nuns and all.
Although I am not religious, I felt incredibly fortunate that the first night I happened to be in Rome in 20 years coincided with the historic announcement of the new Pope. It’s not often you get this sort of chance to see history in the making, up close, and it’s humbling when you think of the relatively tiny number of people in the history of the Catholic Church who have actually been present to witness these announcements.
I only wish I had brought my big camera. The LX7 is a great little camera but no match for a proper DSLR with a good lens on it.
If you’ve made it down here this far, I will “reward” you with my own compilation of amateurish home video from the night:
The next morning I had an hour or so to look around the Centro Storico again before going to work, so I checked out the Pantheon again, before heading back to the Forum and the Colisseum. This short taster definitely whetted my appetite to return to Rome armed with more time, a proper camera, and my trusty travel companion and soon-to-be wife.
Of course, as usual you may find more photos from this set over on Flickr.