Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Getting excited!!!!

It's T minus three weeks until we jet off back to Thailand for three and a half weeks of heat, humidity, temples and beaches! WOO HOO!!!

Also mossies, sunburn and heat rash . .  so OOOO NOOOO!!!!

First up we pay a return visit to the hectic, frenetic Bangkok and a second stay at the New Siam Riverside, so hoping for as good a stay as we had last time.

Then we're flying North to Chiang Mai for more shiny cupolas and buddhas then you can shake a stick at. Plus three days jungle trekking, elephant riding, white water rafting and then bamboo rafting.

We''ll sleep out under the stars by a river for a night (Mossies are pricking up their ears .. if they have any) as well as spending an evening in a traditional jungle tribe hut too.

Then it's a quick nip South to spend the xmas week in Phuket for some beach lolling and R and R.

Best start thinking about packing a bag, then unpacking, then repacking, then unpacking, and repeat . . .

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Front line fireworks

The Spanish really love their fireworks and the bigger, louder, noiser and more war like the better!!

On our last night in Valencia we, along with about 7,000 locals, watched a midnight fireworks display. In three quarters of an hour they let off about three tonnes of fireworks!

It was more like being on the front line than a pleasurable experience. With ash and debris raining from the sky it was rather terrifying.

Even with a police corden keeping the crowds away from the dry river bed , the explosions still seemed uncomfortably close with some rockets only just clearing the nearby apartment block roofs!

The noise was epic. How I would expect standing near a ground to air missile when it detonates would sound! You could actually feel the whoosh of air knocking your legs backwards.

So many fireworks were set off that the actual explosions were obscured by the amount of smoke in the air.
All in all rather a fear inducing experience, and, with sore, ash filled eyes and ringing ears, we finally made our way back to our hotel.

Along the way we saw pretty much the whole city thronging the pavements, tooting their car horns and heading to the profusion of bars and cafes that were still open way into the earlier hours.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

City of arts and science - futuristic architecture

We took a leisurely stroll to see the futuristic City of Arts and Science.

There's plenty to do inside the buildings if you're feeling flush and have some dosh.

But it is equally worthwhile just to wander around the outside of the complex, gawking at the amazing buildings and soaking up the sun.

Kids scramble around in inflatable balls on the water, squeaking and flailing, while groups of teenagers try to sneak a toe into the tempting waters.

Set in the bed of the River Turia, this complex was designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela and is a dazzling white display of sci fi like buildings set in tempting pools of azure water.

Cooling as the water looks, you're not allowed to paddle! A man in a golf cart whizzes around blowing a whistle if you try . . .  . so of course we broke the law (a little).

The complex is made up of a variety of different buildings including the Hemisfèric (IMAX cinema and digital projections) designed to look like an eye floating on the water.

There's also the Principe Felipe Science museum, the Oceanográfico (the largest aquarium in Europe with over 500 marine species) and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.

The deep blue Agora hosts concerts, exhibitions and other things.

There's also the Umbracle a landscaped vantage point and car park.

There's a peaceful winter garden type affair to stroll through which is very welcome for a break from the sun and the crowds.

There are also some planet and astronomical type installments that you can try out.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Trip to Sagunt

We hopped on the train to Sagunt, a little town about half an hour from Valencia. Mainly to take a look at the castle at the top of the hill.

We trekked up the hill in the scorching heat, armed with supermarket picnic, ready for a cultural adventure. 


It was closed.

When will I ever learn. Spanish castles are never open. Here's Neil in a hole instead.
Here's a bit of blurb, in lieu of any actual pictures of the inside!
Sagunto Castle covers an area of almost one kilometre in length.  It was declared a National Monument in 1931.

So instead of the castle we had a roam through the back streets of Sagunt (which apparently used to be a city called Arse!!!)

Inside the main town the old Jewish quarter is a lovely, attractive quarter with narrow, cobbled streets, medieval houses and arches over the entrances to some streets.

 It was the home of the Jewish community until they were expelled by the Catholics in 1492.

Here's a traditional back street scene complete with Bouganvilla and cracking paintwork!

Image of the day - working girl

Here's my latest image of the day. Taken in the market place in Jodphur again, after a busy few hours in the Clock Tower market place. A bustling, frenetic whirl of humanity, stalls and produce.

This little girl just happened to meet my gaze and her carefree grin is at striking odds with the physical load weighing her down.

It seems to be capturing the last vestige of an all too short childhood as she teeters on the threshold of an adult world that is already full of responsibility and toil.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Valencia - sun, markets and epic firework displays!

So blog fans, I'm back from five days in sunny Valencia, the lesser known of Spain's main cities.

Crammed full of gorgeous architecture both old and brand spanking new, amazing food markets, botanical gardens, beaches and castles.

We stayed at the Hotel Senator Parque Central, a nice, spotlessly clean, if somewhat impersonal, hotel within walking distance of most sights.

About 20 minutes walk to the old town and same again to the city of arts and science. Check it out here:

Even though the weather had given it around a tepid 22 degrees, cloudy and with showers we were optimistic as I seem to attract the sun, especially as I do not want to!

Needless to say it was 30 degrees every day, cloudless and beaming sunshine!!! Que some painful leg sunburn . . . . .

First up on my list of must sees is the Central Market, one of the largest food markets in Spain with around 1,000 stalls ranging from fresh fruit and veg to spices, pastries, seafood, offal and all manner of meats.

As well as being full of food the building itself is architecturally amazing.  With blue and yellow tiling to the outside, lovely modernist stained glass and train station style metal roof arches.

Of course I was in photo heaven!! The market opens from 8am to 3pm and gets very busy on a Saturday. (closed Sundays)

Here's some photos!

Mixed mushrooms are just one of a multitude of foodie delights!

Piles of fresh produce, grown in the farmland that surrounds Valencia, are mounds of jewel bright eye candy.

Lots of dead stuff too! Angry fish and skinned rabbits. There are endless stalls selling every conceivable animal from pig faces to sea anemones.

Hmmm don't fancy getting too up close and personal with this pair!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Image of the day - backstreet art

Wall art is just one of the incredible sights I saw in Northern India.

From Maharajahs riding horses on pulled down shop shutters to elegant goddesses adorning dirty backstreet walls, every passageway, building, wall and brickwork is adorned with decoration.

Udiapur is one of the places with the most prolific artwork.

Blue skinned Vishnus stare over stacks of motorbikes, prowling tigers stalk homesteaders and a pantheon of deities stand guard over the lake city.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Image of the day - monkey love

Today's image of the day is of this adorable pair of langur monkeys taken in Pushkar. These inquisitive, long tailed creatures are considered holy by Hindus.  

They are seen as a symbol of the deity Hanuman whose monkey army rescued Sita from the demon king Ravana. 

Hanuman himself suffered burns in the attempt and the monkeys' black face and hands are seen to represent that.

Pushkar is one of the oldest cities in India and is located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan.

It is one of the five sacred dhams (pilgrimage site) for devout Hindus.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Images of the day - the potters yard

This adorable group of Bishnoi children were being co-opted into a photo shoot by a very insistant group of snap happy Japanese tourists.

The youngest boy was not amused, especially when made to hold a goat . . .

The potter still throws his pots in the traditional manner, propelling the wheel by hand with a large wooden stake used to speed it up.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Image of the day - Bishnoi life

As promised here's another couple of my favourite images, again from our trip to India back in in 2010 / 11.

We spent new year's day with the Bishnoi tribe in their desert home.

These pictures are of the tribal elder whose lined face shows the price that his hard life has taken. 

 The word Bishnoi is derived from bis (twenty) and nai (nine)

It is used to designate the followers of 29 principles given by Guru Jambheshwar who spread a very early eco frindly message to protect trees and wildlife around 540 years ago.

The tribes people adopt a very simple life, living in mud huts amongst their chickens, extended family and goats.

The 29 Principles of Guru Jambheshwar
  1. Observe 30 days state of untouchability after child's birth
  2. Observe five days segregation while a woman is in her menses
  3. Bath early morning
  4. Obey the ideal rules of life: Modesty
  5. Obey the ideal rules of life: Patience or satisfactions
  6. Obey the ideal rules of life: Purifications
  7. Perform Sandhya two times a day (a religious ritual)
  8. Eulogise God, The Lord Vishnu in evening hours
  9. Perform Yajna every morning ( a ritual offering into a consecrated fire)
  10. Filter the water, milk and firewood
  11. Speak pure words in all sincerity
  12. Adopt the rule of forgiveness and pity
  13. Do not steal
  14. Do not condemn or criticise
  15. Do not lie
  16. Do not waste the time on argument
  17. Fasting on Amavashya and offer prayers to Lord Vishnu
  18. Have pity on all living beings and love them
  19. Do not cut the green trees, save environment
  20. Crush lust, anger, greed and attachment
  21. Accept food and water from our purified people only
  22. To provide a common shelter for male goat/sheep to avoid them being slaughtered in abattoirs
  23. Don't sterilise the ox
  24. Don't use opium (which our tribal elder must have forgotten!)
  25. Don't smoke
  26. Don't take bhang or hemp
  27. Don't take wine or any type of liquor
  28. Don't eat meat, remain always pure vegetarian
  29. Never use blue clothes

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Image of the day

As I'm bang upto date with all my travel adventures and waiting eagerly to head off to Valencia, I thought I would take some time to highlight some of my favourite travels  photos from the past few years.

Some I have shared before, some I've dusted off and bought into the light for the first time. All of them evoke memories of amazing countries, incredible sights and a sense of adventure that reminds me of why I travel to begin with.

Today's photograph is one of my all time favourite snaps. Taken in the busy Sardar market in bustling, chaotic Jodhpur. We were on a whirlwind trip around Rajhasthan in North India, saturated in colour, noise, taste and humanity.

I had struggled to get any sharp shots of the shy women of the north, swathed in their jewel bright saris they would always look away or cover their faces.

Until I managed, or was allowed, to get this picture of one of the market stall women. It was only later at home that I actually got to appreciate the direct, frank gaze that she levelled on me!

It instantly takes me back to our first ever chaotic, polluted, dusty yet exhilarating visit to to India.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Trip advisor addict!!

It's official, I am addicted to the marvellous prosumer site Tripadvisor.

It seems impossible for me to stay in a hotel, visit an attraction, eat a meal or even look at a view, without getting on the laptop and tap tapping away at a review!

From local cafes and restaurants to wonders of the world, I've analysed, sized up, cogitated and commented on it.

These days I never book a hotel, trip or b and b without sizing it up on the great TA first. It generally works like this: 

1. pick the places we want to see,
2. decide how much we want to spend
3. check out the top rated accommodation on Tripadvisor.
4. gradually go down and down (and sometimes down again) the list until we find the best hotels that we can manage on our meagre budget.
5. Then it's onto various hotel booking sites to find the cheapest deal and hey presto - booked!

It's never failed me yet and I've yet to stay in a bad hotel thanks to my diligent research.

Obviously there's been a lot of talk about fake reviews, competitors leaving bad comments on their rival's sites and people threatening to leave bad reviews unless they get freebies / upgrades etc.

However it's usually easy enough to weed out the fakers, if there's 100s of brilliant reviews and then a couple of dire ones then I always take a look at the other reviews done by the people who are complaining.

Often there are no other reviews or they have only recently joined the site, whereas most genuine reviewers will have at least a few other contributions.

In-case you're interested, here's my contributions to date (316 so far!!)

Monday, 9 September 2013

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas Tour, Birmingham. September 8 2013

The smoothest pensioner in pop glides onto the stage and strikes a stance, legs apart, fedora tilted forward to hide his weathered, expressive face.

So begins the culmination of a lifetime's dream for me – to see the great man in person, to hear him perform songs that have haunted, sobered and uplifted me since I was old enough to hear them.
Part lecherous uncle, part evangelical preacher, the body may have aged but the wit, the pathos and the soul are as fresh as ever.
Watching him sink to his knees then shimmy around the stage like a fading Fred Astaire, we're captivated - just as surely as his infamous worm on a hook.
He solemnly addresses the crowd saying he knows that it's been a while as he didn't want to impose but then who knows when we'll meet again. A fleeting acknowledgement that, at his advanced age, this could well be his swan song tour - but boy what a swan song.
Seamlessly moving from tried and tested favourites such as Bird on a Wire, Suzanne and So Long Marianne to his later acerbic hits such as Darkness, Cohen has the audience in the palm of his hand from the get go.
At 79 while others are using a bus pass and reminiscing about lovers long gone, frisky ole Len still has a definite twinkle in his eye.

His cock of the walk soft shoe shuffle off stage left makes your heart throb far far more than an elderly man really should be able to manage.
His voice has aged, less like a fine wine and more like velvet covered gravel swirled in a vat of bourbon and then coated in ground glass. So low it reverberates in your feet, your heart and other places.
Sometimes a singer, sometimes a growling poet, crooning and seductive, plaintive and broken but always fascinating, riveting, mesmerising.
In the sarcastic words of Len himself “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”
A voice and a talent that the world rarely sees, and which will, all too belately, be celebrated and lauded when it finally moves to the tower down the track.
Part way through the show he muses that next year - when he turns 80 - he's decided to take up smoking again and waxes lyrical about the nurse in sweet little white shoes that he'll get to offer him up a cigarette on a silver tray, whilst massaging the bubbles from his IV tube.
Musings on growing old disgracefully aside, other highlights of the show included a bitter sweet lament to his thieving former manager Kelley Lynch to whom he ruefully says “we were both guilty.”
There's a stunningly simple version of Alexandria Leaving sung solo by Sharon Robinson and a barnstorming version of First We Take Manhattan, complete with flashing backlights - the closest thing you'll get to upbeat with Cohen.

A subdued version of Hallelujah changes the mood again, with white light strafing the audience as the angelic harmonies of backing singers Charley and Hattie Webb interweave with his rumbling take on love and loss.

He's a whirlwind one minute and an oasis of still contemplation the next. Limitless in his energy and humility, he's a one-man masterclass in showing them how it's done.
There's no backing dancers, costume changes, lasers or pyrotechnics needed, this man is pure entertainment, a 79 years young craftsman who calls himself “a lazy bastard in a suit”.
And what a suit, looking dapper and slick as ever Cohen electrifies the stage with his presence whether he's dropping to the floor to tell us a man never got a woman back by begging on his knees, to standing, hat in hand like a mourner in New Orleans, as the organ virtuoso Neil Larsen plays gospel.
I for one hope that he has many many more years left to create albums more of his introspective, intimate, sweeping, desolate and glorious work.
With all the drive, energy, talent and sardonic wit that he has at his disposal, when that glorious, gravelly voice finally calls closing time, the world will be a colder, darker and far less humorous place without him.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

Leonard Cohen.