Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Looking for a cashpoint?

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Here’s something useful I discovered today:

Plug in a location, it plots the closest cashpoints on a map. Not 100% accurate, but probably good enough in a pinch…

Categories: Travel

A week in Tuscany

July 14, 2008 Leave a comment

Following the last post, surprisingly enough nothing *did* go wrong and I got back at the weekend from a very enjoyable week in the Tuscan village of Vibbiana,

Map image

in the depths of the Garfagnana region. It’s an absolutely gorgeous spot, this is the view from the front door that greeted me every morning:

The Apuane Alps

We had a great time wandering around villages, buying (and eating) lots of salami, prosciutto and cheeses… And climbing a mountain 🙂 Luke had already done the research into where we would climb, from a guidebook that recommends ‘A walk is not over until your legs are under a table’ – so true, a beer at the end of a walk is essential.

We started off walking through one of the huge marble quarries that Michaelangelo got his stone from:

That's a big-ass statue

To give you some scale, the smallest blocks on the right are about 4 metres high… Must be 30 metres in all? Absolutely amazing, and one thing the camera really doesn’t capture is how brightly it reflected the sunlight – and this is at 7.30 am before it got hot!

The walk got pretty steep towards the top; this is 2/3 up, looking to the summit:

Lots of signs!

And the views from the top were simply amazing. 1781m is the highest I’ve climbed, and we were just above cloud level on a great day for it:

Click to Enbiggen

You could see how far up the mountain the quarries went, bearing in mind we’re above 6000 feet here:

Monte Pisanino on the left there...

And on the top, a cross and a guest book diary – we filled in our names on the wrong day to start with (I blame heat, lack of oxygen and the 2 hour climb to get up there)

It wasn't that windy...

And finally:

An awesome morning’s climb 🙂

Categories: Travel

European Transport – fun

July 4, 2008 2 comments

I spent last week in Italy, and a day before that with work in Athens at my last graduate scheme training. Having finished the ‘Career Workshop’ and the MACH scheme graduation dinner, drunk a fair amount of beer and spent most of the night on the beach playing Mafia, I had plans to leave Athens, fly to Rome, then to Pisa (where I was meeting Ali), then get the train to Piazza Al Serchio. Fairly straightforward, I’d left lots of time at all the changeovers as a nice relaxed start to my holiday.

After the late night Mafia-ing, I only got a few hours sleep. I also forgot to charge my phone, so my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up at 0700, my flight was due to leave at 0905 and the taxi ride from airport to hotel took a good 30 mins on the way there.

So, quick pack (no time for a shower – I’m still quite beachy) and out of the hotel. Panicing (if I miss this flight, I’ll miss all the connections and won’t be able to meet Ali), I get in a taxi and immediately hit Athens rush hour traffic, but arrive at the airport about 0815. (At least I remembered my passport, unlike Chris). They let me check in, I got through security and onto the plane with a few minutes to spare.

New panic: my phone’s about to lose battery, and there’s no way I’ll be able to meet Ali if I don’t have it. So, scour Athens airport to find a power socket- no luck at all.

Flight to Rome, airplane sandwich, touch down a couple of minutes behind schedule- nothing to worry about. Until I discover that I’m in the wrong terminal for domestic departures. Summoning my minimal Italian skills ("Scuzi, per favore" and then English) I find that it’s a 5 minute walk away, no problem. Looking at my watch, it seems to be an hour and a bit before my next plane leaves – not too long to wait, should be just enough time to find somewhere to charge my phone. Except I’d forgotten to put it back a time zone – actually have 2 and a bit hours to kill. And my flight’s been delayed, another 30 mins. Great. Finally get the departure gate, (eventually) find somewhere to charge my phone a bit and settle into getting bored.

Ali hasn’t left London yet, and actually any delay to my flight is good as it’ll mean less hanging around in Pisa for her to touch down. Feeling ok at this point.

And then my flight gets cancelled.

The poor Alitalia girl at the gate instantly gets about 15 angry Italians shouting at her (probably less scary if you can understand them) and a handful of completely blank faces from the non-Italian speakers as she explains what’s happened. It’s Ok, I remember there was a later flight around 1700 – but no, that one’s full. We all traipse back up to the check-in area and get told they’ll lay on a bus for us. This wil be ready to go in 20 minutes and take about 3 hours – if I know anything about the transport industry, especially in the Mediterranean countries, that meansit’l arrive in 30 mins and take 4 and a half hours to get there. And it’ll be a really rickety uncomfortable bus and looking at my fellow passengers I didn’t fancy spending any longer with them than necessary… Thinking about the timing, I’d probably arrive at Pisa about 730 or 8.

So I decided to get a train – I’ve heard great things about Trenitalia so it can’t take that long, right? Back to the Alitalia desk to get the train fare (actually, it turned out to be €10 less that they gave me) then up to the train station. I should mention that all this time I’ve been sending texts to Ali and her folks to keep them updated and my phone is down to one bar – main source of panic is the phone once again.

I get a ticket from a very helpful man, and the train into Rome pulls in a minute later – just time for me to remember to validate my ticket in the stamping machine: very important and have had this impressed upon me by everyone who has previously used the Italian trains…

All is looking good, it’s one of those funky double-decker trains (we REALLY need to get them in the UK) and it’s even got air con. Until I look at my watch, look at the time that my connection to Pisa is and remember one of my Italian colleagues telling me how long the train into Rome is: about 3 minutes longer than the time till my connection leaves. New panic!

I get to Roma Ostiense exactly a minute after it’s due to go, with practically no battery left in sweltering and humid heat. Not feeling great at the moment, little concerned because I’m not sure when the last train out of Pisa to Serchio is. Fortunately the Italian train system isn’t quite as punctual as people made out and my connection is 10 minutes late. It’s only a single floor train, the air con is broken, but joy of joys they have power sockets in all the seats! I’ve spent the last 2:30 hours in a giant greenhouse, but I’m just about to pull into Pisa Centrale, Ali’s waiting there on platform 1 and she’s already got tickets for rest of the journey.

What can go wrong? 🙂

Categories: Travel

The Weekend from Awesome

March 4, 2008 1 comment

Woo \o/ LAN and running is a great combination. Considering how badly the weekend started it was pretty good fun!


We (me and Ina) left my house at about 930, was expecting to me in Birmingham by 1200 easily. I’ve driven from Bath to Birmingham in 1:30 and we figured it can’t be much different from Reading, right? Well, we realised after just leaving that we’d picked up the chocolate I’d bought for Ali from Munich (should explain: I’ve been away with work for a week and then disappeared off for LAN – bought Ali chocolate to make up) so turned round to take that back. Drove on to the motorway and turned the wrong way. Good job. Oh well, we’ll turn right at the next junction and head up to Oxford. Nope, missed that turning too. Ok, where’s next? Swindon. Oh, sure that’s fine we’ll head directly north. Yeah, or we could continue to get lost. Although the routes above suggest a minor distance increase, we got to the LAN about 1300. Which wasn’t too bad in the end as everyone else was only just getting set up anyway… Played a good few hours of UT and BF2, always good for a laugh. Also reaffirmed mine and Ina’s place as king(s) of the geeks by getting twice the points in the quiz 🙂 We demonstrated exemplary knowledge of Star Wars ("More powerful than you could ever imagine!"), Drake’s equation (Very likely) and Megaman box art (it was the yellow crotch that gave it away) that all CompSoc members should aspire too 🙂 Followed it all up with a much quicker drive home including a one of the best tea and doughnut stops I’ve ever made, in a service station just this side of Oxford…

If Saturday was geek day, Sunday was activity day. Ran the Reading Half Marathon: 13.2 miles in 2:09 which I’m told is a pretty good time, especially as it was my first attempt! Go me. Now I just need to fix my ankle and knee – both feeling a bit grindy :S Followed the morning up with an awesome roast dinner (thanks Ali) which has also made my dinner tonight – soup is a great invention.

Categories: Travel


November 9, 2007 Leave a comment

Ok, one more travel post. I spent a week in Amsterdam, officially on training although it wasn’t a very good workshop, and then had a weekend with Ali to have a nose around the city. We’ve already been once so didn’t do the Van Gogh / modern art / other museums. In fact we spent most of the time just walking around – it’s such a beautiful city, especially at this time of year with the leaves turning.


<Point: I’d left this entry till, well, now to finish. It’s been a couple of weeks…>

Um, yeah we did some other stuff in Amsterdam it was over a fortnight ago, I don’t really remember. Some pics:

Yellow dino-slide-a-go-go
A yellow dinosaur with a small bird on his head and a slide for a tail. Not so bizarre, apart from it being in a fairly small alleyway with no other ‘park’ type stuff nearby.

Lizards. Not so scary, as they're mostly metal.
Not quite as cool as the animals from my last holiday but not bad 🙂

Slightly phallic too
Cool waterfall/window thing. Ali added for scale and ornamentation.

Ooh, and we found a Cat museum – very cool, really random. Nice alternative to the Van Gogh/Rijks etc.:

Slightly evil look to it. /want

Ding ding-ding dinky-ding
Highly bizarre pachinko/pinball table with little china Chinese cat things that all make slightly different pitch ‘dink’ noises as the ball hits them.

Schipol has a Lego model in it:

 I miss Lego.
I imagine Copenhagen has the same 😉

Categories: Travel

Lion Park

October 26, 2007 Leave a comment

Johannesburg is a magical place where dreams can come true. Like playing with lion cubs:

He was pretty much asleep

Very cool and very much like stroking a doormat. As was the giraffe:

Even my phone camera looks ok from this distance!

Some people ‘played’ with the lions a bit more than others:


Best of all, I saw my last of the big 5: a leopard 🙂 Didn’t get a picture unfortunately – my phone wasn’t quite good enough… He was looking a bit unhappy, though, and kind of pacing up and down the front of his cage. Actually, I wasn’t generally very impressed with the way these animals were kept. The lion cubs had plenty of space and interaction, and the lion prides seemed to have enough room too:


There were a couple of cheetahs, jackals and hyenas in enclosures that seemed a bit small too – there were paths worn in the grass around the fences which kind of suggested that they were pacing around a lot…

Looks like a gap in the fence but I'm told it was safe...

We also got to see the keepers feeding the lion cubs, while the cheetahs watched, looking rather hungry and making such a feeble little noise, just like a house cat… Did have a video but for some reason HTC record video in an MP4 format that Windows can’t read without some codec or other that I can’t be bothered to hunt for. Maybe you’ll get to see that at some point 😉

And so ended the South African awesomeness. With the obligatory night out at the end of the trip, at a restaurant that served all-you-can-eat Zebra (like horse), Giraffe (tough), Kudu (gamey and tender) and Crocodile (light, tastes like chicken). Excellent 🙂

Some eastern Europeans enjoying a beer.

Categories: Travel

Kruger Park

October 15, 2007 Leave a comment

Part two then.

We’d booked a hotel just outside the Kruger National Park and arrived after dark, pretty tired and just went to bed as we had a 4.30am start.

For breakfast we had these guys to keep us company:IMG_1289

One of them decided that doing a dance  whilst his mate stole our apples would be a great idea…

We set off for our game drive about 8am. Yes, we got up 3 hours earlier than we needed to, because the safari company screwed it up and sent the driver to a different hotel… Turned out good though, you’ll see why in a minute.

The Kruger game drive was really interesting, comparing it to the game drives I did in Kenya, the Kruger has much more developed infrastructure. The roads were mostly asphalted, Kenya (well, my memory of it 😉 seemed a lot more off-road. Either way, we’d spotted a ton of impala within about 5 minutes and Andrej managed to spot, before our guide did, a giraffe hiding in the bush:


Ok, so this isn’t the one hiding in the bush, we found a couple of other ones (collectively, a tower of giraffes) with better photos 🙂 We drove through this sort of bush for quite a while, it’s a very different environment to what I expected from Saturday’s drive – I expected greener but apparently SA’s had a really dry year…

These things are called Kudu:DSCF2256

And they taste pretty awesome. Somewhere between beef and venison, we’ve tried them in sausages, as dried meat (biltong) and as a massive barbecued hunk of meat. (Actually, we ate at a restaurant called Carnivore, a kind of all-you-can eat affair with 10 or so different meat(z), including impala, kudu, crocodile and giraffe). Andrej’s eagle eyes spotted this MACH, SA 211

There’s a hippo in there somewhere 🙂 Don’t worry – better snaps coming up…

And again, before our guide could say anything, Andrej spots this guy coming out of the scrub:


Even my little phone camera could do him justice 🙂 I swear our guide wasn’t really trying…

Easier to spot were these:IMG_1308

I’m so happy to finally have seen some elephant as it’s the only thing I really missed in Kenya. I’ve now seen 4 out of the ‘big 5’ game animals – Lion, Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant and the Leopard which still evades me.

In the heat of the day most animals are fairly lazy, and we weren’t expecting to see anything of interest past about 11am (this is why the game drives normally start so early, and why we were a bit disappointed with the rubbish start to the day…). So when we heard lion reports on the radio we weren’t expecting much, and true to form:


‘Flat like a carpet’ was the way our driver described them 🙂 Still, Lion’s a Lion, right?

Bit more driving around after lunch, and we see some more elephants crossing the road, in pretty much the same place as before. Yawn, seen it all before now 😉 There was a lot of them though, and the little baby ones were so cute…

It’s a huge video by the looks of things – Andrej’s camera does full SD video and soapbox doesn’t seem to downscale… apologies if it takes a while to download or eats your bandwidth 😉

As promised, some better pics of hippos:DSCF2281

These guys are massive, everyone says they’re really dangerous but pretty awesome. We didn’t even notice the crocodiles at the water’s edge until we got the photo back on a computer 🙂

The game drive was originally meant to be 0530 – 1230 but as we started late the driver let us stay in the park for a bit longer, which turned out to be really fortunate. On the radio, we heard of another lion sighting and headed towards it.

Sure enough, there were two cubs and a lioness sitting under a bush in the shade.


Pretty cool, but they were sitting around being pretty boring. There was a guy in a car with an enormous telephoto lens taking pics of them who got bored after a short while and drove off. More fool him, about 30 seconds later the cubs get up and start looking at some bushes over to our left. IMG_1353

We can see a couple of kudu rustling around there and the lions have clearly noticed too. Their mum gets up to join them, beautiful slinking through the scrub, and start chasing the kudu. IMG_1348

The kudu appear to have discovered the lion’s dislike of the roads and run across just near our car, the lions disappear into the bush.

Wow, lion hunt 🙂 If there hadn’t been the confusion over which hotel the driver was picking us up from we would never have seen this. A fantastic opportunity to see lions in the wild and lucky to see them so active in the middle of the day.

All in all, awesome weekend 😀 sorry it’s taken me over a week to get this post up!

Categories: Travel