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….
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.
Japan so far:
- Hakone and Nara
- Osaka and Fukuoka
- Mount Aso, Kurokawa and Kumamoto
- Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Koya-San
This post is a photo tour of the beautiful sights of Kyoto, with its many temples, shrines and stunning gardens, as well as the remote mountain town of Takayama and its surrounding traditional villages.
NOTE If you are reading this in a news reader such as Google Reader, or inside Facebook on a tablet, you might want to open this in a dedicated browser window as the photo layout may work better. And there are more photos from these locations available on Flickr.
Kyoto is one of the most famous cities in Japan, the former Imperial capital justly famed for its numerous cultural landmarks, the city which gave the world the geisha and set the standard for Japanese haute cuisine. Though it is a major tourist magnet now, both for foreign and domestic visitors, parts of Kyoto retain their charm. The city’s reputation for refinement survives despite now being part of one continuous conurbation with Kobe and Osaka, the latter a decidedly more blue-collar town.
The flipside of this is that as an independent traveller, Kyoto is also an occasionally frustrating city once you set about actually trying to explore it. If you don’t find yourself near one of the few subway lines, you rely on buses and taxis to get around, or bicycles if you are brave enough. Once you get to any of the major sights, you will find it completely swarmed with Japanese and other tourists. And, sadly, perhaps as a consequence of the tourist overload and the refined reputation, it is harder there to just walk into a restaurant or bar and get a warm welcome, if indeed you are let in at all. Still, this is one case where advanced research paid off and we were able to enjoy some great food whilst we were there, and did manage a friendly drink or two.
And of course there is the scenery….
Kiyomizu-dera Temple and southern Higashimiya
The Kiyomizu-dera Temple is justly celebrated as one of the major attractions of Kyoto, and isn’t shy about advertising itself either – a powerful spotlight beam emanates from the hill behind the site and sweeps across southern Kyoto, drawing in tourists by the coach load. This was easily the most crowded religious site we visited, and as it was our first night we were anxious about the rest of our time in Kyoto – were we to be jostled like human bowling pins for the entirety of our time here? But it was (just) worth it to see the famous view of the temple’s main hall suspended over the illuminated autumn-colour gardens. How I managed to get any sharp photos I couldn’t tell you…
Moving on from the Kiyomizu-dera we walked through the old-town pedestrianised hillside streets of southern Higashimiya, past a number of temples, to the Chion-in and its gardens, the famous Yasaka Shrine with its central dance hall lit by rows of (sponsored) lanterns every night, and ending up in the Gion district, home of the famous Geisha.
Northwestern Kyoto: The Golden Pavilion, Imamiya Shrine and Koto-in Temple
The next morning, we gingerly approached the Golden Pavilion, knowing it was one of the other “must-see” sights of Kyoto, and I remembered the last time I was here having to elbow my way past hordes of school groups to see anything. Mercifully, we happened to hit during a relatively quiet period, and were able to enjoy the temple grounds a bit more. We decided to have a walk through Northeast Kyoto after that, and ambled our way across to the Imamiya Shrine and finally to the Koto-In Temple, the latter experiencing a fantastic display of autumn colours in a serene setting.
Western Kyoto: Arashimaya and Tenryuji
After a comedy of errors getting from Northwest Kyoto to the Arashimaya district on public transport (perishing hunger and poor map reading skills do not make for a great combo) we topped up with some gorgeous soba noodles before ambling back out to the waterside to see the famous Togetsukyo Bridge, with its ludicrously colourful hillside backdrop, and just managed to make it along the river and into the picturesque gardens of the Tenryuji Temple before the sun went down and we were escorted out, politely but firmly, by a security guard with an illuminated wand, who put us in mind of fleeing from a menacing Darth Vader…
Eastern Kyoto: Silver Pavilion, Philosopher Path, Honen-in and Eikando Temples
The next day we struck out early for the Philosopher Path in eastern Kyoto, with the Silver Pavilion at the northern end, and a sedate amble along the canal path heading south to visit the small Honen-in temple and then to the larger complex of the Eikando temple, which boasted stunning autumn colours. Sense a theme here?
We had to run off after sampling the morning’s temple visits, because we had a lunch date with one of Kyoto’s finest kaiseki ryori / haute cuisine restaurants, Roan Kikunoi. This was a stunning foodie experience, down to personalised printed menus walking you through the many exquisite courses (more on this in a later post). One of the things we were fascinated with, sitting at the bar, was the deft knifework of the various chefs, especially when slicing sashimi or trimming fillets. I asked about the knives they used, and the head chef laid out the three knives below. It turns out they all started off the same length, but that the lengths they are now are a result of five-year increments of multiple sharpenings per day. Amazing.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The last major religious sight we would visit in Kyoto is one I missed on my last visit – the Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its famous ranks of thousands of red torii gates flanking paths snaking up the hillside, leading to miniature shrines with offerings and fox kami statues aplenty. There were also various Shinto ceremonies going on as we made our way around the grounds, jarring in a way as so many of the temples and shrines we visited seemed to be almost deconsecrated, odes to the past, and here was one that was still very much active.
From Kyoto we made our way North up into the Japan Alps, to the sleepy mountain town of Takayama. Famous for its preserved old town with its wooden buildings, Takayama is altogether more accessible than Kyoto was, though as we got there in the late afternoon and didn’t clock onto the fact that all of the tourist-oriented shops and restaurants in the old town area shut down precisely at 5pm, we wandered about for a while in the twilight increasingly worried that we had made a mistake and that Takayama was in fact not open for business. Thankfully a bit of research prior to the trip meant we ended up in a friendly (and, more importantly, open) izakaya where we sat around low tables, grilled our own Hida beef over a charcoal brazier, and were regaled with local drinking songs by the increasingly-inebriated neighbouring table. In fact we found Takayama locals to be by far the most welcoming and gregarious the Japanese we encountered on our trip, and we ended up exchanging rounds of drinks and plates of food and getting riotously drunk. So drunk that, defying all reason, we walked into an otherwise anonymous-looking door because we heard karaoke coming out of it, and ended up spending the evening in the company of the elderly mama-san and a couple of other old coots who had nothing better to do on a Monday night….
Takayama is also a handy jumping-off point to tour various preserved farm villages in the nearby valleys. We visited one called Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go, where a number of historic gassho-zukuri thatch-roof farmhouses sat nestled in the valley, and, as the early-morning sun began to melt the snow off the roofs, the steam rising off of them made for quite a sight.
Well that’s about it from Japan, barring a food-related post I have been mulling. The next stop will be the final set of photos of this trip, from a brief but very enjoyable stopover in Hong Kong. Considering we got home over two months, it’s about time!
Another week, another work trip, this time to Turkey to visit a partner. Luckily I was able to cap my trip off with a free night and a free morning to revisit this beautiful city. From the tourist hotspots of Sultanahmet, through the fish sandwich vendors of Galata, and the bazaar district up through to the Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul once again proved itself to be a most photogenic city and I look forward to my next visit there.
These photos may also be found over on Flickr in case you’d like to comment or share them individually.
A couple weeks back I got back from our holiday to the Greek islands and immediately had to turn around and fly to Bangkok for a business trip. Once business was out of the way I was able to spend a little bit of time visiting Bangkok, camera in hand, splitting my time between Jim Thompson’s House, Chatuchak Market, and the classic must-see temple complexes of the Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. It was a short visit – my first since 2001 – but a highly fulfilling one.
For a change I am trying out WordPress’ built-in gallery view for my photos – click on any one to start a slide show – but if you’d like to see them in a still larger format go ahead over to my Flickr set for the usual goodness. Also this is best viewed in a proper browser window – so inside an iPad Facebook window, or inside Google Reader may give you some formatting issues.
Once in a while you’ve got to remember to have a good old fashioned summer holiday, free from agenda, without every step being checked against a multitude of websites beforehand, with no plans beyond getting a tan, having a bit of a wander, and eating some good food.
This was one of those holidays. The Cyclades are a classic Mediterranean holiday destination, whose only mission in life is to host, for six months of the year, hordes of tourists, be they day-trippers from the cruise ships, two-week honeymooners, backpackers, or, in our case, casual island-hoppers.
Our first stop was Mykonos, with its classic maze-like old town, the bars of Little Venice, the inevitable decorative windmills, the beaches, the gays, the party crowd, and the omnipresent meltemi wind, always lashing the northern coast and making every beach visit an exercise in finding the optimal way to make sure your beach towel doesn’t turn into a sail. We largely avoided the “party” beaches and the ones where the sun loungers were almost on top of one another, and found some nicely sparse ones to the southeast called Elia and Lia. But we won’t be showing you the beaches here, because, well, that’s boring. What you’ll see below is a selection of shots mostly from Mykonos Town itself.
We enjoyed Mykonos and would go back, but the jewel in the crown was yet to come…
Santorini is the glorious island that launched a million postcards, the result of a massive volcanic explosion that blew the top off the mountain island and left just the rims of the caldera poking above the Aegean. Since then, on the main island that remained, Thira, the steep rims of the caldera have been colonised by dramatic cliffside villages, blocky white “cave houses”, blue-domed churches and luxury villas stacked on top of one another, tumbling down the hills. It is immediately dramatic and beguiling, and we were lucky enough to have snagged a lovely little villa in the village of Firostefani, just north of the main town (also called Thira). We made a number of excursions to other destinations (the beaches at Perivolos and Vlychada as well as the towns of Pyrgos and Megalochori and the fishermen of Ammoudi Bay) and had some truly excellent food at places like To Psaraki in Vlychada and Aktaion and Mama Thira in Firostefani. It was a grand way to end the week.
Of course the first thing every tourist guide and dog-eared Lonely Planet will tell you is that you shouldn’t miss the sunset from Oia. So we, along with every other tourist in Santorini, duly trekked north to participate in this mass ritual of sun worship. And I mean every other tourist. Despite the crowds we snagged one or two nice shots…
That was to be all for our Clycladic adventure, however I knew that when I got back to London I would have to turn right back around the next day and leave for Bangkok on a work trip. More to come on that matter…
Of course, as ever, there are more photos from this trip to be found over on Flickr.
Until next time!
As part of the same trip that started with a few days in beautiful Paris, we travelled south to the Dordogne / Limousin area for a few more days of exploration, relaxation, and degustation before joining up with some friends in the region for a three-day wedding extravaganza.
Our route took us from Limoges down to the Dordogne river itself, which is festooned with medieval villages and chateaux hewn out of hillsides and perched atop cliffs. Many of the villages and chateaux were variously at odds with each other during the Hundred Years War, with the French hunkered down in one redoubt while just a kilometer away, on the other side of the river, Richard the Lionheart might have been planning his next conquest. We were able to variously visit or canoe past many of these during our first couple of days.
Click on any of the photos below to view larger versions on Flickr – and click them again once you’re there if you want to see full screen!
Over the course of our visit we moved North, away from the Dordogne river, and visited many quaint (and quiet) villages en route, including Bourdeilles and the very picturesque Brantôme, “the Venice of the Dordogne”.
More images can be found in my Flickr set “The Dordogne and Limousin – June 2012“.