Saturday, June 24, 2017

Venice

Venice! Swamp to merchant capital of the Mediteranean. 118 islands joined by foot bridges and ferry lines. A city's worth of tourists every day to become engrossed and lost in its maze of footpaths and canals and for one week in the summer of 2016, Gemma and I joined them.
Baiky snags a summer spritz.
We never intended to stay there for the entirety of our trip. the previous year we spent nine days in Nice (can't find the photos so no blog post), which was nice, but a little stagnating. When we arrived in Venice we had only booked our hotel for three night and we intended to stay in nearby cities for the remainder of our holiday. But Venice is a place like no other.
Venice: non-stagnating
If I followed our every minute activity this post would go on forever, but it truly was fascinating. No cars, just boats and gondolers; winding lanes so narrow that barely one person can squeeze down;
A venetian highway.
everywhere you turn toursits, tourists, and more god-awful tourists (yes, I realise the irony); and then at 4:00am, poof, like magic, everyone is gone and Venice becomes a ghost town devoid of sound but for the gentle lapping of waves.
This was taken at about 5:30 in the morning. At any time past 8am hundreds of people would be crowded around the statue and traversing the street. This, buy the way, is the secret to good photos in Venice...
It was chock full of surprises. Despite the buildings appearing to be tiny, our first hotel room was massive. Everywhere you turn there was massive church or cathedral (not surprising) that had been turned into an alternate use or museum (hugely surprising).
Also surprising, the huge glass replica of puffer fish.
And it was built on top of a swamp. By chance (not really by chance, the main tourist area of Venice is not that big; we were bound to find out about it) we came across a carthedral converted into a Leonardo da Vinci 'musem'. They had hand's on scale models of da Vinci models and inventions. It was like Questacon, if it had been designed in the 1400s.
We stumbled across a Zaha Hadid exhibition, an influential architect whom Gemma likes. We saw to the Interpreti Veneziani play Vivaldi. We travelled out to colourful islands of Murano and Burano and traipsed around Torcello (I decided we should move to Torcello but thought it would be too boring).
Murano and Burano were both like this, I admire the dedication at keeping the paint so bright!
We sipped Spritz in the sun. We marvelled at how pure stillness of the canals in early morning perfectly reflected its surroundings.
Reflections in the canals.
We climbed St Marks Tower and went to the Basilica where we made all the requisite ohhs and ahhhs. And yes, we got stuck in Acqua Alta. Twice. Its alright though, my shoes are waterproof.
No story to thsi photo, dad just gets annoyed if I do no have a picturen of me in a blog post.
All in all it was a good trip, and while I enjoyed myself Gemma absolutley adored the place. After being there we would love to return, but I also feel strongly for the locals and how the sheer volume of tourists is impacting the true spirit of Venice. We might return and we also might not as Europe still has a lot to offer.
Gemma and I indulging in a selfie.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lake District

Pretty much exactly 12 months Gemma and I decided to spend the May Day long weekend in The Lakes District, a National Park in the Cumbria. It is famous for it's glacial ribbon lakes and rugged fell mountains. Now, I am not going to lie, I still haven't the foggiest what a fell actually is but it seems to have something to do with moutainous...
Mountains! In the Lake District! With Snow! (which makes me question why we came here...)
As with our stay in the Peaks District 12 months prior, we decided to camp. Unfortunately, the May Day weekends have not poduced weather that is particularly accommodating to our plans. On this occassion, the rain was so thick on the Friday evening that halfway to the Lakes we decided it was probably best to head back home and try again early on Saturday morning!
Gemma and Baiky on a bridge across over the Micklden Beck. Why they just can't call a creek a creek I do not know.
The next day dawned considerably dryer and much brighter, even if our campsite in the Great Langdale was a sodden mess. We set up camp and proceeded to check out the local walks. I was pretty keen to make my way to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, but first Gemma and I wanted to walk up to the Stickle Tarn, a nearby glacial lake.
Gemma dn I stop for a bit to eat on our way up to the Tarn.
The view of the area was pretty amazing from the Tarn, and it was here I decided to take the scenic route home and run back over the Lagdale Pikes (I think a pike is a rocky outcrop in the top of a peak, in the end, they always have amazing views).
The stickle Tarn.
I scrambled my way to the top of all the pikes. I kinbd of got stuck on the Pike of Stickle as it was a tough scramble to get to the top and didn't really know how I was going to get down. I then caught up to some adventourous runners who were prepping for the 10 peaks challenge (cheats were using GPS) for a bit of company across the Martcrag Moor. They took a route off the beaten path and we pretty much immediately fell knee deep into a quagmire, which hampered our progress. After which they pointed my towards to Cumbria walking path where I ran as hard as I could back to the pub to catch up with Gemma's drinking.
This is where I got stuck. The trekkers at the foot of this rock heap were of no help either.
Sunday dawned soaked in clouded misery so we drove to some nearby towns Grassmere, Ambleside, and Windermere. Grassmere hosts the founder of Grassmere gingerbread, which has stayed in the family since 1854 and is widely known throught the UK. It also is the resting place of William Wordsworth (at the local church, not the gingerbread bakery).
Another photo of Baiky and the Stickle Tarn, because I just didn't take that many photos.
Ambleside is home to the Applice Pie Cafe and Bakery where I indulged in my favourite dessert, the humble apple pie! We got to Windermere just as it was closing and spent our time on the lake.

This is looking back across Sticle Tarn and over the Great Langdale. Our campsit is somewhere down there. 
Finally Monday rolled around and I rose bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to make my run to Scafell Pike, only to be greeted by fog so thick I could barely see the map in my own hand. Reason won out over desire and I decided not to go on a run through unfamiliar territory with no visibility and so Gemma and I packed our car and sludged our way out of the Lakes, with Scafell's untouched peak beckoning me back for another trip...
 View from the top of the highest point I made it too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Mourne Wall Challenge: Bested by a Wall

I was excited at undertaking and defeating the Mourne Wall Challenge; unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. It was my second day in Northern Ireland and the sun had barely dawned when I beaved my way out of tent. Heavy rain, high winds, limited visibility set me up for a real test of character. I loaded myself up with all my wet weather gear and set off. My camera suffered water damage after 5 minutes and I met three other intrepid adventures all who had turned back on the national park and strongly advised I do the same (the phrase idiot came up a lot). 
My first view of the wall. Admittedly, the weather also gave me lots of warnings not to partake this particular adventure which I dutifully ignored!
I alternated sides of the wall to best protect myself from wind as well as walking on the wall of the ground became to marshy. I soon learnt that slippery/greasy grass had a hidden bonus, and it was much easier to slide down the slopes on my bum then actually run the downhills. Admittedly, I probably slid through a load of sheep poo, but the rain washed that right off. My brief meal breaks were spent hunkering down in the wall corners for the best protection from the elements. All in all, the challenge, despite the exteme conditions, seemed achievable. I got to the top if Slieve Donard, traipsed through Silent Valley, and clambered through forest. 
Silent Valley was surprisingly quiet.
Then I hit the river. I do not know what it is called, and I cannot remember exactly where it was, but it seemed as though all the rain was collecting in one place and been forced down the one waterway. Ohhh, I tried crossing. I tried crossing four times; yet four times I was nearly washed away like president-masked bank robber on a surfboard. It was here that I had to concede defeat, and with a heavy, waterlogged heart I trudged to the nearest service station and called for a taxi. He also thought I was an idiot.

The reservoir at Silent Valley. From my expereince this area was in no need of conserving water.
I do not have many photos. The rain destroyed my camera as shown by the fuzzy photo from the start of the trek. It randomly started working again in Silent Valley (which was remarkably silent and free of bad weather!) but ceased functioning once I had returned to camp. And, to add a little bit of stinging salt to my open wound, I lost my pocket watch while trying to cross the river. Ultimartely is was this that sent me home. Without a watch to keep track of the time, I did not feel confident completeing the run/trek.There was a vast chunk of trek which was a bit too far from civilisation that I did not want to get stuck in come sun down, and my watch was the only methof I had of keeping time and ensuring I was not out after dark.
The night day before my challenge looking up at the mountains; eerily calm and dry. Oh, how that was to change.

Summer Holiday: Northern Ireland

So, in the summer of 2015 I went on my first European motorcyle tour. My recently purchased Bandit was loaded up and one Friday evening in July I slogged through a deluge that is the archetype of British weather and the jammed motorways which is quintessential to any British holiday to catch a ferry from Liverpool to Belfast (kinda hoping that the ferry wasn't made in Belfast if you know what i mean), and thus my adventure began...
Another adventurer I met in my hostel in Derry.
Now, if there is anything I leant from this little jaunt across the Irish sea is that law-maker Murphy was, indeed, right on the nose with his adage about fortunes and timings and that the stereotypical British climate is not really sympathetic to the poor motorcyclist. Especially when a tiny tent is one's evenings abode.

Baiky in Belfast at the Titanic Museum.
You see, even though I carefully planned my trip for the height of summer I seemed to have hit upon a, well, let's call it a wetspell. I had even carefully checked historical weather reports for added security but not even this could save me from Murphy's pervasive law.

A fine sunnt day! This was the first day and the last I saw of the sun.
The first day dawned delightfully. I puttered off the ferry into Belfast and cruised along the coast of of Ards peninsula through Comber and their titanic memorials, past Donaghadee and a left-of-centre kids festival, and across to the monastic ruins of Mahee Island.

Snake charming in Donaghadee.
The Portaferry ferry ferried me across Strangford Lough and I followed the Antrim Coast road towards Newcastle and the Morne Mountains for my first night camping. Yes, it was truly delighful. I set up my tent and prepared for my next day, the Mourne Wall Challenge; 12 hours to follow the 22 mile loop of the Mourne Wall. It was cold, it was wet, it was incredibly fun, but ultimately I was defeated by the weather gods - perhaps this is a short story for another time...
Just a tittle in of rain in Ireland!
I briefly pottered into Republic of Ireland to visit the Hill of Tara (and by pottered I mean raced 100 kms through driving rain), the seat of the High King of Ireland. It was a landmark missed on my previous vist to Ireland, Following this I spent a couple days riding up to Derry by circling Lower Lough Erne and visiting for St Patricks Cathedral in Amargh and St Patricks Cathedral in Amargh. Nope that's not a typo and yes there are two, about a half mile from each other. I am sure purists would tell you things like one is catholic and one is anglican, but all I can say is that as an outsider this is hilarious.
St Patricks Cathedral.
The hilarity, of course, tapers pretty quickly once I got to Derry and Belfast and began to understand the significance of religious conflict in the area (which I know was not between Anglicans and Catholics but is representative of the segregration caused through religious beliefs can fortify political conflict). 
As typified by the Bloody Sunday memorial in Derry.
I also took the challenge of sussing out St Paticks Chair and St Patricks Well, conveneintly located next to each other in Altadeven Wood, but still not particularly easy to find.
Baiky sitting in St Patrick's Chair, not too sure of the detour and hunt through the forest was worth it...
I arrived in Derry and the weather had started to improve. Derry; it was, by far, my favourite part of the trip (although the Chair and Well were pretty hard to beat), but it was here that I finally began to understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Peace Bridge in Derry; some rude tourist told the locals just to huild a bridge to get over it...so they did!
I then spent a couple of days following the Causeway Coast stopping off at places like the Giant's Causeway, Musseden Temple, and the Old Bushmill's Brewery (I broke my free sample taster in my bag; tears were shed but my clothes now had a hint of honey whiskey). 
The Musseden Temple as seen from the coast.
It was a spectacular ride, but I admittedly found the Giant's Causeway disappointing. I then wandered off the beaten path to visit the Dunlop memorial and the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, ran around the Glens of Atrim, and strolled through Cushendun Caves. 
The Joey Dunlop Memorial in Balleymoney.
All in time to arrive in Belfast just as the heavens once again opened up, just to remind that I was in Ireland, and if I was not wet, then clearly I was not having fun.
The Musseden temple from cliff. 
I think after Derry, the impact of the conflict in Belfast did not have the same impact factor. I spent half a day in a black cab tour, which was excellent, and we spent quite a bit of time visiting significant murals and the Peace Wall as well as looking at other ways in which the population have chosen to remember the conflict. 
The Peace Wall in Belfast.
I also managed to find the time to drop by the Titanic musem, Donegall Quay, City Hall, and go on an organised bar crawl, which, in tru Gatt fashion turned out to be much much more, as all the other participants were having a going away party for a mate of theirs who was moving toooooooo......Australia. I didn't want to, but felt obliged to honor the Irish tradition of getting outrageously drunk.
Baiky sneking my whiskey at Bushmill's.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I arrived in Edinburgh late on a Thursday evening and so I found the closest bar that did 2 meals for

£10 (that's a thing in the UK) and proceeded to replace a truckload of lost calories through hotdogs and burgers. This was supplemented with enough pints to get me beyond tipsy before retiring hurt (but not out) to bed ready for a long weekend of Edinburgh!
I was super glad to see this sign!
Now before we get started I want to make one thing abundantly clear - I have travelled to many places on this fair planet and Edinburgh is my favourite city. Granted, I was there in summer and not winter which I reckon would have a significant impact my outlook but I loved all of it.

Baiky, straight to the grog of course.
Now, Edinburgh was not just a favourite place for me but also for philosophers, artists, and authors alike. JK Rowling found insipration for Harry Potter and wrote her early books there and philosopher David Hume, did, uh, philosophy there. It even has artistic theives who stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in a daring robbery and food artisans that deep fry Mars Bars (although, strictly speaking, this is more of a Scottish thing than Edinburgh thing)
It has a castle and a church with a dog mascot (GreyFriars Bobby); Arthur's seat, a massive cliff; and lets not forget the Grassmarket, currently filled with pubs but was also used for public hangings back in the day. It was here Maggie Dickson died and came back to life after being hung for allegedly killing a baby. See, its a lovely place!

View showing a 'lovely place'; old town, from Greyfriars.
Of course, I was there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. Gemma and I indulged (Gemma joined me by plane, I called cheating!). We saw a show about the history of the Blues; a crazy mix of ballet and juggling; a story telling of the the Book of Love performed by one women completely in mime; a British bloke telling his favourites stories about Australia and zombies (same bloke, separate acts); an act focused fully on video games; and, the hidden gem, the Card Ninja.



Baiky: beer ninja.
Now, if all of that isn't enought to whet your appetite for a bit of Scottish love I will top it off with the best bar ever that really, just ties the city together. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

My Epic Jouney: Leicester to Edinburgh

So, a year ago (yup,  have been lazy with keeping up to date). I decided it would be fun to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So I threw a tent and sleeping bag on my bike and started an epic journey north in search of adventure and comedy.
This should be easy, shouldn't it?
My journey saw me heading through Loughborough (of course) before angling slightly more easterly through the barley fields of Lincolnshire to Hull where I took the bridge over Humber.

Humber Bridge in Hull
Once on the other side of the Estuary I hit the coast and pretty much followed it north, passing through Scarbarough before ascending into the North Yourshire moors and descending into Sunderland and Newcastle.

Scarborough - clearly a popular place. The line of cars trying to get into town stretched back for miles and miles and I got to glide past all of them suckers!
A ferry ride saw me across the Tyne and I soon found myself exploring the Northumberland Coast Area of Natural Beauty. I continued North with a brief detour to Holy Island before striking inland at Bewick Upon Tweed. My westerly path through Northumberland took me to the Scottish Border, where I again turned north and I slugged my way through hilly East Lothaine until I once again reached the North Sea. From here I meandered to Edinburgh, where after 6 days and about 500 miles I had finally reached my destination!
Sunrise in Sproatley.
While the short description above makes it simple, it wasn't without its trials. Almost immediatly after leaving Loughborugh I had tube troubles that saw me arrrive at my first destination at 11pm at night (6 hours late) without any spare tubes left. By this time I had deduced I needed to replace my tyre, but the nearest bike store was 30 miles away. Sure enough ten miles in to the next day Gemma had to meet me with a new tire and tubes...

One day in and I'm out of tubes, out of patches, and out of luck.
Another time, just in Scotland I flew down the bottom of great big hill and realised Baiky had jumped ship! Pretty certain I scared all the nearby grazing sheep with my curses as I slugged my back up and over the hill to Foulden where Baiky was resting casually on the side of the road.
 Baiky taking a rest in Foulden. Bloody free loader.
But, without a doubt, the good times were worth it. With the exception of some heavy rain on the first day and some more on my second night the weather was spot on. On the second day the sun rising as I passed through Sproatly followed by the clouds rolling on over the North Sea as I passed through Mapleton was spectacular.

Mapleton looking over the North Sea.
The odd farmer and sheep sculpture on Reighton's roundabout and the random row boat in a public garden in Cresswell were among the highlights of sculptures as well as the memorial to fallen soldiers in Seaham.
Reighton's Roundabout. Nearly left Baiky here too.
While the North York Moors weren't to my liking, Scarborough was stunning as were the beaches by Sandsend. Crossing the tidal causeway to Holy Island during sunrise was breathtaking, which ony improved when I stumbled across the stone stacks on the beach overlooking Lindisfarne Castle.
Stone stack's and Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island.
And, of course, I met a slew of interesting people on the way. Two fellow cyclists who ahd never really cycled before, but quit there jobs and decided to cycle around Europe for 6 months (the were about 5 hours into the journey when I met them).
Weirdos!
The generous owners of various camping grounds I styaed in offering me spare tyres (none fit) or introducing me to their turkeys (or were they geese, I can't remember). The retired bloke living on a caravan park in South Shields who gets up every morning in summer to watch the sun rise (admittedly summer is pretty short in the county of Durham).
Eleven O one sculpture in Seaham.
But I guess the real question is this. I spent six days slogging through rain, sun, sand, up hills, on major roads I shouldn't have been, got lost a couple of times, and had to back track looking for wayward seals. Gemma spent 40 minutes on a plane...
 But then again, I got to visit Brandy Wharf.