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Four Dutch Cities In Summer

  Leaving Amsterdam for day in Utrecht and Rotterdam By Train So during June & July, my flights took me to the enjoyable small country of Holland. I flew twice times this summer to Amsterdam all for about 24 hours or less. I also took a long drive to Maastricht from Frankfurt airport but ending up spending an evening there only. Though I was staying in Amsterdam due to my flights, I decided I wanted to spend the day exploring new cities. I choose Rotterdam and Utrecht. The country is so small both the cities are less then 30 minutes away by train from Schiphol airport. On top of that the Dutch rail networks are so convenient and as I discovered in Rotterdam, that the station was unexpectedly, one of the most interesting station I have been to My first trip though was a visit Maastrict, a place I have visited many times before in my late teens since I had Germans friends living closeby across the border. We used to go there and enjoy what Holland has to offer and have always oved this old romantic cobbled street city that feels nothing like Amsterdam. This time I flew into Frankfurt and decied to get to Maastraict by driving thru a very rainy Luxembourg, the adrenes forest and ending up at my hotel/suites by evening time. Despite going off topic from Holland, I wanted to see one new country and that was Luxembourg somewhere that I would not have the opportunity to visit with my job. This super small country was struggle on the day I went since it was pouring with rain and hard to see much of the sights, plus parking was a nightmare. However, I did see a amazing looking building, Luxembourg Bank and the famous Adolphe bridge. Luxembourg - Luxembourg Bank Building Luxembourg - Adolphe Bridge There are some nice building and city seemed very clean, it felt very much like being in parts of France and Belgium but nothing like Holland or Germany. I spent little time there because of the weather. So its one place I need to go back to (though not in a hurry). I continued my drive through Belgium into the Ardennes regions. Being a big fan of the TV series “Band of Brothers” I decided to do a quick stop in the village of Foy where the infamous Battle of Foy happened that took many American and German lives. It is featured in this series as one of the biggest battle scenes. Deep in the Ardennes Foy offers beautiful countryside somewhat similar to England with a large forest. Along the main road there is a statue for those Americans of 101st Airborne Division that died there. belgium-foy-band-of-brothers-memorial My understanding is that it was agift to the village by Tom Hanks. I also ventured into the nearby forest and saw some holes that looked quite clearly like they were former trenches. It had an eairy feeling of darkness of war that occurred here, plus made me some reflective thoughts of where we are in the world today. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6926,6927"] Anyway by around 8pm following the road parallel to the Meuse river without time to stop in Liege I finally arrived at my hotel, which was more of a b and b suites place but in relaxing garden setting right on the river. My first encounter was a request of a taking a photo of a couple that just got engaged. Once I finally unpacked and drove into Maastricht everything was shut, apart from a few bars and restaurant. Since parking was also a pain, if you don’t want to pay, I had to walk quite far away but this gave me the chance to just walk around this old quiet university city. The interesting cobbled old squares mixed in with cosy little terrace house, gave a romantic feel. As I said I didn’t spend long but did take a couple of snaps. It’s a city that feel totally different to all the others. For one its more old, stonewall with a cross mix of border culture, since Germany and Belgium are very close. It looks like a nice place to live and the river enhanced that. Despite such a short time, I had a beer and some dinner, spoke to some people and found whilst everyone was polite and blunt, it had that north/south divide like in England, more reserved and slight air of snobbiness compared to these other Dutch cities I saw in the North this summer. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6928,6929,6930,6931"] My second city was Rotterdam and I really did not know what to expect, the Dutch cabin crew on an Asian airline highlighly recommended I visit a market that has these unique cubed apartments. These were kind of ugly but artistic at the same time, the yellow colour looked a bit gross. With the windows formed downwards it did give wonders on how the set up is inside. Imaginations such as lying on a pillow on the windows facing down must be an interesting perspective if some are set up like that.  Just below are really nice bars to have refreshing beer. holland-rotterdam-cube-houses Rotterdam, being the largest port in Europe is very industrial, large office building tower over the many canals and rivers and first impressions or perhaps the way the route I took was certainly not much historical buildings or cosy cobbled streets houses, like in Masstrict which is why some people have described Rotterdam to me as the ‘Dutch Ghetto” . I was only there on a beautiful sunny day and walked about, mainly in search to get to the tallest tower, since I love to see a city from above. holland-rotterdam-art holland-rotterdam-river However I found the city to be unexpectedly very cool, and why because of the random and amazing art works found on the walls, statues and even the large park with some strange unusual sculptures. All this instantly made this dull industry look of a city an adventure as to what new art would be found around the corner etc. Its retro and its iconic. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6935,6936,6937,6938,6939"] After finally arriving at Euromast, it looked a bit disappointing in terms of size since it looks a lot bigger when your not up close to it. Measuring 95 metres it looks dull but in someways iconic, it is sort of an old retro building, since an 80 year old Dutch man sitting next to me on flight from china said he watched it being built, while studying for his degree in the park below. holland-rotterdam-euromast Its cost about 10 Euros for an adult which overall was reasonable- you get to standard floor where to walk around and take photos but its not very high. The lift then takes you up to the top though never stops, it has seating and revolves around slowly going up and down also slow to the top and back a few times giving you a full 360 perspective from your seat- the first I have seen in the many tall towers I have visited.This meant you could really enjoy the view without moving and taking it all in – this huge port and seemingly large unnoticed from the ground, green parks The lift ride lasts about 10 minutes. I found it relaxing and would recommend people visit it. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6943,6942,6941"] However as an alternative when returning to the very impressive structure of the central station, which looks a bit like a landed space ship that I really taking pictures of, you cant say that about many train stations. Holland- Rotterdam Centrall Station To the side though is a tall long large wide stair case that takes you to top of a building, also 95ft. Its free to go up though and the reason for it is that it is to celebrate 75th anniversary of Rotterdam’s reconstructions following the German blitz. The view from the top is very good but its not as good as the Euromast, but still great for photos. There are tall facing office building in front so the view is not that far but does offer a great view of the station. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6946,6947,6948,6949"] As I saw in all parts of the city, there is this baby face art pictures, which I never found out the reason but I believe it is some festival happening since some musicians also played under a large baby shaped stage not far from the station. Overall I rated Rotterdam, it was an exciting city, less congested and hectic as Amsterdam though it is very industrial, it has character that is very creative. I hope to go back and certainly visit the museum in park It was an enjoyable city to visit for a day and walk about especially in the spring summer time. Though I can imagine like Amsterdam its quite a dark place in winter. My third city is Utrecht this was on another trip and again I decided to take the train down. This is the 4th largest city in Holland and is full of history. I very picturesque place somewhat half way between Amsterdam and Maastricht in the way it looked. It is also a student city.  I really wanted to go up the Dom Church, a tall church that is 112 metres high that is suppose to have an incredibly impressive view of this city. I was very gutted I didn’t get there in time, but it means I will return next time. holland-utrecht-dom-church I had a few beers by the side of the canal and its like a relaxing Amsterdam, without the stoned tourists. The buildings are very interesting, traditional old Dutch arictechture and cobbled streets. I didn’t do that much in Utrecht other than stroll around but I liked the vibe. It was relaxing and the canals like in Amsterdam are very picturesque. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6951,6952,6953,6954,6955,6956,6957,6958"] Back in Amsterdam in the evening is so different to all the other cities, its very nice in the summer and I used to come here frequently about 15 years ago. I’ve been to many of the main dance music festivals and the Dutch really know how to party. Amsterdam is this really. As you walk about in the evening the smell of skunk looms in the air, which is mostly from the millions of tourists there but everyone seems chilled and happy. Its just so busy but perhaps because it was  asaturday night. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="6959,6960,6961"] Such as contrast to somewhere like London, wherby in Amsterdam no one is really rushing around or looks stressed, though the vibe is certainly different in winter. I enjoyed walking about despite how busy it was. It simply the most unique city in Europe. holland-amsterdam-sunset So that was my various in/out trips of Holland this summer. I have to say I think I liked Rotterdam the best.

Killing a Day At The Mountains Near Los Angeles

Every time I visit LA my return flight is always at night, therefore with the hotel standard check –out times, there is always a whole day to kill until my return flight. With so many 24 hour visits, in last few years I have been hiring a car and exploring.  Prior to this website launch, I drove around Hollywood and had a few great meal and drinks in Malibu at Moon Shadow, saw Venice beach, saw Santa Monica, even drove out to Santa Barbara and San Diego. One thing has always intrigued me though; this comes from having a window seat as you fly in to LAX – that large mountain range in the east that really shows how huge LA is really is in terms of space. USA-Los-Angeles-Mountains_From-Aircraft Please note these picture were not taken during this visit as they show snow capped mountains, which wasn’t the case. USA-Los-Angeles-Mt.Brady_Mountain-Range_From-Aircraft I know it’s where the locals go Skiing in the winter, making LA the all-round place beach and Ski possible lifestyle. So I decided on this trip to spend my free day before my evening flight and check these mountain out. Some small research indicated Mt.Brady was the closest place to go and it is where the highest peak is. Looking at cities to stay nearby it seemed the city of Chino was a good location to stay, really because the road the hotel was located on leads directly all the way straight up to the Mt.Brady Road. Chino is famous for its Prisons. The city has the typical US atmosphere of a new city, large lots everywhere of main highways with super markets, large stores etc. Rather dull and no as such like walking main town area (like Santa Barbara), at least that I could see it seemed everywhere you need a car. It was a long drive from LAX, around 1.5 hours away. I hired, well choose the Jeep Renegade, I wanted a SUV to get up the mountain. It was ok of which fortunately had an excellent sound system so I was entertained for my driving experience with my music. So the next day I woke up late as shattered since I flew from London, via Manilla. I put Mt.Brady in the GPS and off I went. It took about 30 minutes until I got closer to the mountains, even in Chino, whilst looking at google maps it looks relatively close to the mountains but during the day light, the mountains seemed miles away. Mt. Brady road I heard is the road to the peak where my objective was to have a beer at the Top Of The Notch Restaurant (insert link) ; the restaurant on the top. So the road winds and turns through the dry California terrain, which shows scattered thin forest and dry rocky lands. You drive thru some tunnels and the road is quite fun with some stunning landscape scenary en route. USA - Mt.Brady-Road (California) USA - Mt.Brady-Rd-View (California) Eventually you arrive at the town of Mt. Brady. This small little town consists of a post office, restaurant, small store and information centre. The wooden cabin style buildings look unchanged for over 50 years, it gave a feeling of going back in time which was nice. So I stopped at the visitor information centre where I got my Mt. Brady magnet and was clearly directed by the enthusiastic old man as to where this top of the mountain restaurant is and ski lift. He even was encouraged to show me all the hikes to the top. Beyond Mt. Brady town, is when the road becomes the most fun, it winds with tight incline up bends round and round, and this is when the x4 wheel drive SUV really coped well. I mean any car would have got up there as this was spring with dry roads but I am not sure about small cars in the winter. There was a lots of road signs warnings of ice and mandatory chains on wheels so if you come in the winter prepare for this. The roads are quite tight, with not much places to stop, but if you’re lucky and no one is behind you you can stop and get a photo out of the window. Finally, I made it to the ski lift. There is a small porta cabin with car parking of which just sells clothes so was pleased I got my magnet in Mt. Brady town as there is nothing in the way of souvenirs at this place. This is where you have the option of hiking up there (3.5 Miles) or be like me and be lazy (also I was against time) and take the ski lift. The ski lift costs quite a lot I thought, round trip $25. But it was fun and worth it, if you don’t want to hike. USA - Mt.Baldy Ski Lift Sign (California) I love ski lifts, since never skiing before I am new to them and love how you just hang there.  It's my 2nd time, last time was in Krasnoyarsk Siberia and the route up to the restaurant takes about 15-20minutes. It was the end of April and warm in the car parking area, so I thought nothing of staying in t-shirt and boarded the ski lift but as I ascended I noticed how many people coming down on the opposite side had coats and wrapped around there face, a couple different people coming down screamed to me "bro its freezing up there" I guess highlighting the fact I as in a T-shirt only and yes the higher I got ascends the freezing winds lent chills thru my body. However not much I could do now, but anyone going up I would highly recommend a hoody even in summer, as its this high wind that is freezing. USA - Mt.Brady Ski Lift (California) As you see in the above picture the landscape is kind of unusual, its obviously so dry from the drought that has been damaging this state, but it’s like very rocky, dusty with the odd pine tree, bush here and there. There are walk ways below as I watched some of the hikers doing the various routes, some easy, winding but longer routes with slower incline and shorter like below the ski lift that had high inclines, I saw a few doing this one from my lift, they looked experienced both of which had climbing sticks. Either way when you get up it looked as though you will be tired and this I would not say is for the non-healthy un-recent exercised like myself. Also not for young children. Arriving at the top you land right by the restaurant, the people that warned me were right it was freezing up there a wind that blows freezing ice chills- even the ski lift guys have scarves covering their mouths with overhead hoodies. I even noticed on the mountains nearby snow still existed in patches and there I was in a T-shirt. USA - Mt.Brady Ski Lift (California) I headed straight to shelter to the famous restaurant ‘Top of The Notch’ after looking at the signage outside, confirming that it is over 10,000ft now.   A map shows the route to the actual summit is about 3.5 mile walk away, I was disappointed I didn’t have time and a jumper to do this but it simply was too cold to stay outside for more than 15 minutes. The Ski lift going up was painful enough and I was dreading the descent with winds ploughing face on at you. USA-Top-of-the-notch-restuarant mountain map (California) The restaurant is sort of bar cafeteria range. It’s simple, nothing special really just the view being the highlight and all the bar food reflected very high calorie junk food, burgers, hot dogs, the sort of food you would find at a dive bar. The bar tender explained people don’t want salads after they have climbed 7 miles, they need high calorie food to retain their energy. Overall a burger will set you back $14 and appetisers like fries are $8 so it’s not that cheap but to be fair you in a unique location and the price reflects that. Apparently a cafeteria is usually in operation but wasn’t when I was there. Other than the bar/restaurant there is not much else, some sort of shop with hoodies (I was tempted but at $45 I thought they were over priced). There was no staff at the shop either and sort of seemed not in operation as all clothes were disorderly. I wasn’t sure what to eat so went with the bar tenders advice and took chilli cheese fries. It was a mess to eat and quite heavy but was enjoyable with a beer. USA - Chilli-Cheese-Fries Mt.Brady (California) So I finally achieved my objective and had a beer outside looking over the view, which was stunning. [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="5862,5863,5864"] After my beer, it was time to be brave and head back down on the ski lift. Certainly it was a struggle in the T-shirt but hey the view was so amazing that I just absorbed the atmosphere and allowed my arms to freeze up. Obviously the lower I got the warmer it became so once down at base, it was fine to be in a t-shirt. USA- Mt.Brady- Ski Lift Down On the drive back down the mountain I noticed more things like this awesome looking bar called Buckhorn Lodge, shame it was closed as it had a real old authenticity about it. Looked like an interesting place to stay if I ever came back. USA-Buckhorn Lodge-Mt.Brady Rd (California) At one point on the drive down I stopped for a photo, which really showed the different landscape ground from the top, which incidentally isn’t snow but rock and rumble to green pastures and forests. USA - Mt.Brady Landscape Photo (California) So that was Mt. Brady. Worth it for a day out of LA if you’re staying in the city and want some time out from the glitz to see some nature, as well as Ski if your there in winter. Don’t expect the Rockies, in Colorado but nonetheless a fun drive up, amazing view and interesting landscape. It was a day well spent finally seeing those mountains. If you’re like me and need to get to LAX after expect 2-2.5 hours’ drive at the least from the bottom of the Mt. Brady road.  This maybe because I did this at 5pm in rush hour. My GPS back to Alamo car rental in Inglewood took me off the interstate for some reason on to Slauson Avenue for 7 miles taking me thru the cities of Vernon (the smallest city in the LA metropolitan area) and Huntington park. Avoid this road if you can as so much traffic and took 1 hour to do 7 miles since so many traffic lights. However, it was interesting an area of LA that is far from the glitz, factories, poverty & derelict buildings. With the Sun slowly going down, it did feel a bit like the movie ‘Training day” as I drove past these neighbourhoods. USA - Slauson Av. Huntington Park City (California) This area of LA seems like the Mexican part of the city as there is so many taco places and shops in Spanish. It was interesting to see; making the wait in traffic I suppose better than be gridlocked on the interstate. I liked this Alloy place that I drove past. Overall a nice day out and made my flight to Manilla. USA - Miranda Tyres- Huntington Park City (California)  

A Few Days in Koh Samet

So with a friend visited me recently and wanting to visit an island with 'least hassle of travel' from Bangkok. We decided on the weekend short stay island retreat favored by Bangkokians : Koh Samet. I am aware there are other cheaper ways to get there but to observe in my friends request we took a taxi from basically close to Sofitel on Sukhumvit road. This after some negotiation with the diver came to 2000 baht. The taxi agreed so long we paid the road toll fees (less than 150 baht). Others wanted 2500 but he had a SUV so was more comfortable.  We left about 2pm thinking it would only take 1-2 hours not 2.5-3 which it did, but this is the main road to Pattaya, so did have quite heavy traffic. As we drove we figured we needed to get to Bai Phe port by 5pm for the last ferry. So the long drive was uneventful until we did a rest stop somewhere enroute the road to Pattaya that had the biggest amount of shops & restaurants, I've ever seen at any rest stop. Thailand - Drive Rest Stop (Pattaya) It basically had housing and a market with all kinds of foods including fast food options. It was after this that the ever so quiet taxi driver perked up. We joked maybe he took something or just drank x2 super strong Thai redbulls, but the very mention of Ladyboys he launched into this crazed state of laughter doing ladyboy impressions and noise examples - it was incredibly entertaining and the very word 'ladyboy' would spark him off again, he was quite funny. We finally arrived at Ban Phe port & he picked up this large lady, 'look my fat friend' hs says laughing. As predicted this lady was a planned interaction to take us to her speedboat desk in which she offers direct speed boat to the hotel on Hat Sai Kaew beach. It cost 600 each both ways, you share with others and the journey is half the time of the ferry. However the ferry only costs 50 baht but at the same time it doesn't drop you off outside your hotel. At the same token, the island we later found out is so small that one end from port to other probably takes 15 minutes. Ferry Vs The Speedboat Thailand - Ferrry Crossing (Koh Samet) Thailand - Speedboat Crossing (Koh Samet) It was quite funny speeding past in the ferry where the speed boats really does go up/down quite hard against the waves yet no life jackets are given. The ferry plods along slow and smooth & you see everyone wearing life vests. However there was an impressive sunset as we travelled across the 25 minute journey to the island. Thailand - Sunset Crossing to Koh Samet (Koh Samet) We finally arrive at the Hat Sai Kaew Beach and the speed boat drops you about 5 metres from the beach edge - so expect to walk in sea a little bit. Though staff at the hotel will meet & greet you taking your bags to reception. There were some issues with hotel but basically if your wanting twin beds don't book the Thai traditional cottages. The bellboys made us laugh as we got to our room he took us to the balcony and pointed to some building and said 'girls in this bar' we kinda of laughed but same time I felt embarrassed that obviously we looked the characters that would be interested in the seediness to make him say this. Anyway the hotel had banging house music playing in this late afternoon and we watched some really impressive fire shows even from a 10 year old doing the hoop hoop with a ring of fire. It was impressive. Thailand - Friendly Bar Fire Show (Koh Samet) After having a beer at the hotel we continued to explore the night life. Hat Sai Kaew is the main beach for night life, though in comparison to other islands its more of watered down (just like the cook tails) chill beach as less than a handful of bars existed. It has some good and bad points- the sand is lovely & powdery, it's fairly clean. The sea on the other hand is full of boats though there is a dedicated swimming area. The sea was hot cloudy & the odd piece of plastic floats up to you. There is no real swimming just jumping the waves. Jet Ski’s, Para Gliding and boats are all in this beach - which is probably why the sea itself didn’t feel that clean. The general Island vibe felt much more for Thai's & Chinese groups, we white farangs were at such a minority with the occasional Russian couple that it was quite interesting. Not judging but it was obvious it's not a farang island. Some of the general interaction and lack of effort with service reflected this. It had an air of Thai snobbery and in my opinion out of 6 islands I have visited in Thailand- it was the coldest or at least Thai’s working there were not that warm and hospitable. Our hotel bar was probably appeared to be the best night spot as it had lots of seating, plenty of bean bags, seating on layered levels that face the sea. It’s a whole neon experience at night. The only issue the live DJ music, likely directed to the young Thai crowd. Terrible EDM David Guetta dribble or hip hop so badly mixed that the DJ just flips the fader without any skill. It was ok for a few drinks but the music gets annoying very quickly. We ventured down the beach to explore further, we found basically Chinese/Thai restaurants that didn't look too appetizing or inviting to the none part of these groups. Though seats were taken there wasn’t the usual vibe of staff outside pushing you to try their food.  We did though found a cool bar called 'friendly bar' it had those floor Thai pillow triangles & was very chilled out with a tiki hut bar. They also had a fire show. Thailand - Friendly Bar Fire Show Instruction (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte This was the only bar where we actually chatted to people, we met a group of Lithuanians, an Irish man & really cool Thai bar tenders. Though when we saw lights further down the coast asking what kind of bars are there, the bar tender response 'you don't go there it's only gay bars'. By no means are we homophobic but we took it that he didn't want to leave his bars. Thailand - Friendly Bar Tender (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Friendly Bar (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte The next day I woke up early and observed the very chilled out Sunrise where monks were walking down the beach. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Sunrise (Koh Samet) This was the nicest point the beach got, very relaxing and no boats in sight. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Sunrise by Sea (Koh Samet) That day we sunbathed, the sun and sea are so hot that back to the room for AC refreshment is much needed every hour or so. There were lots of traditional beach chairs. Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Beach Day (Koh Samet) Thailand - Hat Sai Kaew Beach Chairs (Koh Samet) This evening we actually noticed a street as my friend had to go to pharmacy it's quite a small street with two 7/11 directly facing each other, massage places and restaurants. Occasional shops but not much else. This is where we noticed that people can hire mopeds (350 baht full day) or golf carts (1000 baht full day- with some strong negotiation). We decided there and then to explore and get a golf cart. We also realized after a bit of a bar crawl that we had arrived at the so called girl bar, the bellboy had pointed out- since this was 50 metres from hotel not on beach side. Thailand - Girl Bar (Koh Samet) What a weird place, the pool table is what attracted us to it. The place has a moody bar tender that looked exactly like Mr. Miyagi (from the movie Karate Kid)) but the beers are cheap. There was a closed room that we were both initially afraid to go in. So we remained outside, Thai girls just linger about but speak no English. Its cheap but its got a weird vibe. Eventually I ventured into the room and it was just tables of guys and girls with only thing seedy were the whole room was lit up in UV lights but no seedy undressed or anything like that. My friend returned to this bar the next night while I had an early evening kip and he said, he eventually was brave enough to venture into this room, he said karaoke was being played but in the most weirdest description. He said the people weren't actually singing but miming to the only song karaoke songs that were being song. Very strange. Our next day was golf cart today we had no real idea about this island, it didn't look big but we were determined to do one end to the other. Though we were worried these battery charged carts would last. Thailand - Golf Cart Driving (Koh Samet) Well the drive was interesting up and down hill with signage % declines showing up or down so at least we knew what to expect.  The golf cart almost near stops with our weight on the uphill yet uncontrollable on the downhills, with the steering being  hardest thing I've ever experienced. Coming down hills with foot on brake was pretty scary as the cart just swerves about- clearly the bearings if they have them couldn't handle the speeds down with two full size blokes in it. So we ended up at the end of the island at a place called Ao Karang it had some pathway through foliage saying 'view sight' .We came across some people leaving, we asked what's down there and the British guy's response was basically 'it's just a few rocks mate'. Thailand - Ao Karang (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Ao Karang Above (Koh Samet) So then we decided we needed a beach so we looked on Google Maps to the nearest beach  and came across a resort called Paradee Resort. It looked rather fancy and we could feel it had a vibe not open to non guests, so as a blagger goes we said we were meeting a guest here for lunch. Security escorted us to reception whom then got escorted to restaurant, told if I want to walk anyway else to let the staff know. I decided to go and check out the beach Ao Pakarang & Ao Kiew Nanok walking past a nice pool with a huge sign saying guests only (we were told we couldn't eat at beach despite tables set up & pool bar). I checked out the beach and the waiter had clearly come to tell the lifeguards that I wasn't a guest so I quickly returned to the bar. It looked like a nice place but very Thai snobbery. We decided against lunch, had a beer and continued our drive to the next beach place. It was probably the nicest beach on the island and if you’re a Paradee resort guest it’s all yours. Thailand - Paradee Resort Beach (Koh Samet) Thailand - Ao Pakarang Beach (Koh Samet) We continued down to find Samed Villa Resort and decided to check out that beach: Ao Wai. It had one or two resort with a chargeable pool option (300 baht) but it was nicest beach we saw on the island that you could access. It had like nice trees (not palm) leading over at the edge of the beach so you could get some shelter. Lunch was pretty good and staff were really polite - this seemed like the chilled secluded beach for couples and people wanting to mediate etc. as only one boats and cleaner sea - though still cloudy. Thailand - Ao Wai Beach (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte Thailand - Ao Wai Beach 2 (Koh Samet) Photo by Ieva Jokuzyte We decided to continue on after some time lazing about and swimming in the sea. The next place was called Ao Wong Duean , it attracted us to it due to a big foam party sign on the main road so we followed it down a lane to see if anything exciting was happening. I have to say the golf cart despite its simple looks can handle off road deep sandy condition driving quite well. Thailand - Ao Wong Duean (Koh Samet) This beach was bigger with multiple resorts, curved but again many boats. There are a few bars and resorts and we stayed for a drink. This seems like the beach was more chilled than ours, but probably more boring as well. The resorts certainly looked better. Again we left and we drove past the so called 'gay bars' which weren't so and one bar in particular between the two beach’s (ours next along)  had a neon paint wannabe full moon party vibe to it. We later went here and it was the only place with energy watching all the young backpackers drench themselves in neon paint so they could dance to crap EDM music under a blue neon light. As my friend said it was lively but the music was painful, Steve Aoki type stuff (sorry for those that like it but I prefer more underground stuff like Sasha). Thailand - Neon EDM Bar (Koh Samet) Back to the golf cart, we had to return but there was two more places to visit- my friend was adamant there was enough battery power but I wanted to risk so we drove to the only beach on the sunset side, a beach called Ao Phrao. Here there is security as it seems this is the place the top rate premium resorts. You can't enter with any vehicle unless it's the resorts one. There was some parking for motorbike but the security guard had discrimination against the golf cart, we didn't really understand why but he wanted us to park it right up the hill close to the dangerous road edge. There is a cliff with a view point above that showed a nice sunset shot. Anyway this beach was nice , it was an opening between two large hills one of which we took a photo from & was very nice. The resorts looked nice and we sat and brought the beers we had from our minibar. Unfortunately due to the evasive golf cart hirer we had to bring it back by 6, so our time there was short. [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="5843,5844,5845,5846"] Our last stop was the wharf, which is only 500 meters from our beach Hat Sai Kaew. I was told magnets would be there as I needed a Koh Smaet one, alas no luck. But I did find an awesome shop on the walkway from the town to Hat Sai Kaew Beach. Thailand - Wharf Pier (Koh Samet) Upon returning that was it we had seen the whole of Koh Samet. I decided to chill at the beach & had a watered down Mojito and watched the sun set on my beach which was ok. It had a nice vibe. [gallery link="none" size="full" type="slideshow" ids="5848,5849,5850"] In my opinion, it's ok but resorts are more expensive than Koh chang. The island is definitely aimed at the Thai market and overall we found a slight attitude from Thais to us, perhaps they thought we were perverts from Pattaya having a break (well I thought anyway). The place though is pretty dull there is not much to do and though the beaches are nice I don't think I would take say future guests staying in Bangkok with me there. To put it simple it's boring the sea is not that clean the night life is annoying EDM music, why can't they have reggae or chill out. There are simple no excursions to do either unless you return to the mainland (or hire a gold cart). We also thought it was expensive place to visit, drinks are a rip off and I would advise if your visiting to not order cocktails as they are most definitely watered down. However, for a few days of sun out of the big bad city of Bangkok it was relaxing. Our taxi driver back wasn't as exciting but he did have a dvd pull down TV, just shame we didn't have any DVD's to watch.

36 Hours on Palawan Island

I was very lucky that I was given a schedule that enabled me to visit the beautiful island of Palawan, voted number one island in the last few years from Travel surveys conducted by travel magazines: Conde Naste & Travel + Leisure. However as usual my time was very short, 2 nights but with awkward flights meaning I had 36 hours on the island in total. Unfortunately, the 8 hour drive to the most spectacularly beautiful spot of El Nido, mainly responsible for the awards, was not possible. After some research & finding out that Palawan island has what they call the 7th nature wonder of the world : Puerto Princesa underground river, which is about 2 hours away. I decided to stay at the closet place to it, a small village called Sabang. The best place in my price range was a large resort called Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa in which they provide the 2 hour one-way van trip from the nearest airport Puerto Princessa International Airport) for 500 peso shared but they do offer the opton of a private van, in which I used on the way back. That costs 2800 pesos but negotiable with taxi drivers in area to 2000 pesos. The sunset drive thru the city of Puerto Princessa was interesting, a very clean city compared to the likes of anywhere else I’ve seen in Phillipines especially Cebu. However the drive though becomes progressively arduous after about an hour when the road has at least 100+ tight turns thru the mountains. I found it fine in the front seat, but recommend motion sickness tablets, if you dred such a journey. That's the basic problem with Palawan, it's big and nothing beautiful is near the airport so long transfer times are required to the beautiful spots. There is though a small airport at El Nido (ENI) where small propeller (ATR’s) fly to, currently only Air Swift fly’s there from Cebu and Manilla. So I arrived at the Sheridian resort in Sabang to a warm welcome & confirmation they had booked my underground river tour. (Please note you need a permit in which can be got in the city of Puerto Princessa but the hotel will process this if you email them in advance with your passport. Highly recommend you do this if your stay is short like mine- since a limited amount of permits are offered per day so it make take a few days to process if you just arrive and do it there & then. Next morning I wake early and firstly enjoythe beautiful grounds and sunrise of the location I am at. Philippines - Sabang Sun Rise (Palawan) The underground river tour starts early at 730am in the hotel lobby. A group of about 12of us were briefed in the lobby about the process, the two boat rides, waiting time & warning of monkeys attacking you if you have plastic bag or smile - in reality I only saw one monkey so don't be too concerned just don't smile, as showing teeth is a sign to them that you want to fight. We walked over to Sabang wharf & waited there for about 45 minutes dealing with the bureaucracy as they have re-register every visitor- though staff do this, you just sit & wait & watch the van loads of tourists doing the same thing coming from all over Palawan island. It didn’t seem staying at the closest major resort next to the wharf had much priority or difference in price from staying in the city of Puerto Princessa & doing it as a day trip. You just can wake up a bit later and don’t have that terrible drive both ways in the day. Philippines - Sabang Wharf (Palawan) The first boat is really cool, you go at an enjoyable speed & able to see the landscape of Palawan from the boat- which includes the sleeping giant - a mountain shaped like a man sleeping. Philippines - Sleeping Giant Mountain (Palawan) You then arrive at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park on a beach before walking into the jungle a bit and again some waiting while they install audio kits. This is a result of the river experiencing a huge bat decline, which they relate to noise so there is no talking inside the river therefore this one ear piece audio does the tour for you. After this you walk thru some jungle before you see the lagoon area where the cave entrance is and paddling boats are. Philippines - Underground River Beach (Palawan) Philippines - Underground River Sign (Palawan) Philippines - Underground River Entrance (Palawan) So the UNESCO world Heritage cave river consist of 5.1 miles / 8.2km though you only travel thru 1.5 miles meaning the tour, in which cost me as part of a group; 1,800 peso actual inside cave time lasts about 20-25 minutes. Birds are flying small bats are everywhere but they never flew into you or boat. Many mentions of not looking up with mouth open for reasons of dropping bat urine. There are some very alien wall structures, on which you are not allowed to touch as it damages them. It's a relaxing boat ride, but they cram you in & as a big fella I found the boat uncomfortable though luckily I got front seat. The tour explain rock formation shapes that look like food & even they have found what they describe as the face of Jesus Christ. The guide in your audio goes into much detail about different parts of the cave such as St. Pauls area which is the largest open cave area, apparently based on the London cathedral that early explorers described it as. Overall it's very interesting but it is a relief exiting the cave as it can feel a little claustrophobic at times. One of the annoying things is the boat paddler handles the light and he moves around frequently which makes it hard to film as you will notice on my you tube video. I would recommend bring a nice powerful torch like a LED tactical tactical flash light. I wish I had brought mine but didn’t think of it at the time. After disembarkation I was lucky enough to see this huge lizard called Asian Water Monitor in which looks like a baby Komodo dragon but it is not harmful to humans. Unfortunately, the minute he spotted me he legged it so ended up with a poor shot. Philippines - Asian Water Monitor (Palawan) So back to the wharf where the tour ends. Here your find some amazing fresh fruit juice stalls which was great before I headed back to Sheridian Resort to relax and sunbathe, though 30 minutes in April (the hottest time) on the boiling hot beach sand sent me to my room for an hour after nearly suffering sun stroke- yeah it's that hot. The beach is clean though as is the sea but you it is cloudy. There is many boats chugging along to the river tour, which isn’t too noisy but it affect the otherwise idyllic ambience. Philippines - Sabang Beach (Palawan) So my second tour occurred a few hours later, the mangroves & zipline. I was so tired I decided on chill out & do mangrove tour first. The highlight though was my transportation to the sight - an original 1942 American world war 2 jeep picks you up on the beach & drives you to the sights- it is awesome. Philippines - 1942 WW2 US Military Jeep (Palawan) Philippines - 1942 WW2 US Military Dashboard (Palawan) The mangrove tour includes a paddler & tour guide, the tour guide emphases at the start that they are volunteer in which I got the assumption that get ready to tip at the end - no problem. The tour is very relaxing you just go deep into swamp land with huge roots shooting out of the small river occasionally seeing small Gold Ringed Cat Snake circled up on tree I which the guide will spot for you. They sleep during the day circled up on branches but it’s not something you want falling in your boat. Philippines - Sabang Mangrooves Tour(Palawan) I got to climb up on this huge mangrove tree as a photo opportunity and that was fun.. The guide also explains the trees and on the way back of the 30 minute boat ride, the paddler and guide sing a song for you, about preserving the natural habitat- it was a bit cringe to me but nice for a family with kids. They were really nice people though and I found the paddler in particular more interesting talking about the Japanese occupation during WW2 and how the locals hid in the Jungle. Philippines - Sabang Mangrooves Tour Guides(Palawan) After this an adjacent bridge follows signs to the zipline which then leads to a 10 minute walk down the beach before you climb a steep hill which is quite tough for the unhealthy and the path seems to go on forever thru the jungle, about 25 minute walk from entering the beach. I guess no one really does the zipline twice because of this. At the Zip Line you have 2 options sitting zipline (500 peso) or superman zipline (750 peso) which is lying flat - highly recommend the latter as the sitting down one I noticed people were spinning around a bit. The superman is so amazing it like you are coming to land as you launch of a mountain side over the sea to the island. It was awesome - again see my video to view it. Philippines - Sabang Zip line (Palawan) After all this my body aches from jet lag plus climbing the zipline mountain so straight to the hotel spa, which I was incredibly impressed with. The masseuse fully unknotted my back, I used the Sheridian Spa which is more pricey than the open beach ones but it was meeting an excellent standard. After I did what would become my favourite thing to do on Sabang, lying in the hammock between trees listening to sea & watching the sunset was about the most relaxing thing I've done in a long time. I could of slept there that night. A stray dog joined me underneath. Philippines - Sabang Beach Hammock (Palawan) Next morning before my lunchtime departure, the hotel was kind to offer me a snorkeling tour following some advice I offered their corporate marketing management. The snorkeling tour as a private boat is costly at around 3000 peso. You get taken with one of the hotel guide and snorkels by private boat to a random small island with small amount of coral surrounding it. Philippines - Sabang Snorkeling Island There you board a floating bamboo hut and you launch into the sea from it. Initially as you see in my video there is the odd fish all small & not as special as I've seen in Fiji & Indonesia but the nonetheless the guide caught a sea turtle, which I felt seemed a bit harsh to pull him out from under the sea rock as it was struggling, he looked scared so I told him to eventually let it go. I also saw prongs of a lobster poking out if the coral sea terrain & finally I actually found Nemo which was awesome highlight to end my video on. It was fun and overall worth a snorkel the people at the place also swim about on the look out for you in which was helpful. Back to hotel & off to the airport completed one of best 36 hour visits anywhere I've been to. Tiring but well worth the fun. Sabang offers a good amount of activities & Sheridan resort was so chilled out - they even have outdoor movie night by the beach. I would say for short visits to Palawan without enough time to El Nido, Sabang is an excellent alternative. Hotel website link: http://www.sheridanbeachresort.com Please check out the first Travelman video which films my experience.

Night And Day In Vientiane, Laos

I arrived mid afternoon in Vientiane for my first visit to Laos. The city seemed very small compared to all the other major cities in South East Asia. After checking in to the Vientiane Golden Sun Hotel I decided to head to the famous Patuxi Gate, being that it is one of the major sights of Vientiane. Interesting architecture on the walk, very communist and interesting to look at, my welcome to one of the worlds few remaining communist states and also South East Asia’s poorest. Laos - Communist Office Building (Vientiane) Laos - Decaying Office Building (Vientiane) The Patuxai Monument is an interesting looking feature, its trasnalation is Victory Gate. It was built in 1968 and is dedicated to those that fought in the struggle for independence from France. Also known as the Arc de Triomphe due to its resemblance to the famous monument of the same name in Paris. It feels less grand but the palms trees surrounding it make it a striking sight in this small city. Laos - Patuxai Monument (Vientiane) Laos - Patuxiai Monument Ceiling (Vientiane) When your underneath, be sure to look up the ceiling as it has an especially interesting depiction of the Gods: Vishnu Brahma and Indra. At one of the corner of the posts is a staircase that you can enter and walk upstairs after paying a fee of $1. It is worth doing as it really is the best way to see the city as a whole, plus there are these amazing Buddhist bars on the windows; great for photos. There are about 4 floors - the first two have central covered buildings (where the staircase continues), here you will find tourist paraphernalia, some quite random articles like flick knives and other weapons, however there are also some interesting antiques as well as some local crafts and nationalistic articles. I found a shop that was especially great for magnet collectors. See my collection here. Laos - Patuxiai Monument Shop (Vientiane) After I headed straight to the top, where there are some impressive Buddhist metal frames on the window arches. Laos - Patuxiai Monument Roof View (Vientiane) Laos - Patuxiai Monument Buddha View (Vientiane) My next stop on my walking tour (yes the city is that small) was to head over to That Dam. That Dam is a large stupa which is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics used as a place of meditation, as quoted from Wikipedia. Laotians believe it is inhabited by a seven-headed nāga who tried to protect them from an invasion by the Siamese army in 1827. Laos - That Dam (Vientiane) Without meaning to offend the Laotians, an abandoned French colonial building faces this temple directing on one side which I found far more interesting to look at. The beautiful looking architecture had a sad atmosphere of neglect. I was quite absorbed by it, as you could feel a haunted atmosphere. I spent about 30 minutes just looking at it and wondering the history it had. Laos - Old French Colonial House (Vientiane) Anyway, I walked up a random street with no plans and had my first negative experience of the Laotian people; a tuk-tuk driver. They have big tuk-tuks in Vientiane, the biggest I've seen in Asia, as they sort of have a bus behind them that could carry up to six people. What they try and do is sell it as a bus, so a small distance of 1-2km, they will quote you $10 USD, more than in New York city. So when you refuse what they do is find someone else to join the ‘tuk-tuk’ and then the fare suddenly becomes $5. I was dropped off with the intention of checking out a market on the otherside of town, sadly it already closed. It so happened that the same tuk-tuk driver was driving back and offered me a ride to the riverside for $5, after driving around in circles looking for more customers he went back to the original parking spot and decided it was now $10 to the riverside. I disputed that and he said "ok you pay me $5". I gave him $2 and ended up walking away after we drove past the riverside and he wouldn’t drop me off. He was just trying to look for other customers, it made no sense and sadly it left a lasting impression that tuk-tuk drivers here have no compassion like you might find in Phnom Penh. I just walked to the Mekong river but unfortunately due to the tuk-tuk mess, I only caught the end of what must have been a beautiful sunset over the river. Laos - Mekong Riverside Sunset (Vientiane) The riverside of Vientiane around sunet and after is the cities main hang out, lots of Laos couples walk with their partners along the sidewalk or sit watching the sunset. Everyone is just hanging out there, there is also a market and even two large exercise routines playing some beats type music where the teacher narrates like a drum 'n’ bass MC in time with the beat. Laos - Mekong Riverside Group Work Out (Vientiane) I noticed a lot of people walking down to the banks of Mekong River so I thought do the same. It takes around ten minutes to walk down a steep slope on to a sort of farming land (that I noticed the next day), along a thick sandy pathway until you hit the river where you can see Thailand on the other side. Laos - Mekong Riverbank Walk (Vientiane) Quite a romantic, relaxing and chilled out spot, I sat on a rock and watched everyone. Guys playing football, couples walking up to the shore, children with their families looking for that stone/shell. There was even a guy playing guitar with his friends. It had an interesting vibe, like it was a special place - not just the banks of the Mekong River. Laos - Mekong Riverbank People (Vientiane) Laos - Mekong River Bank Dusk (Vientiane) By the riverside where the main walkway and road is, a market that runs through a park parallel to the main riverside road. The odd stall had nice crafts and pictures but for the most part it was not a typical tourist market, with most shopping aimed at locals such as toys, clothes and electronics. Laos - Riverside Market (Vientiane) There are some nice fruit stalls and places to get that delicious coconut. Overall I found the prices to be not as cheap as expected, it was certainly more expensive for food and drink than Cambodia and even a basic foot massage was more expensive than Thailand. Laos - Mekong Riverside Fruit Seller (Vientiane) After a delicious coconut, I decided to walk around the streets and try to find my hotel without having to use a tuk-tuk. I saw some unusual sights for an evening. Whereby most places are closed even in Bangkok following sunset. In Laos it seemed everything opened. For example, two orthodontists were sitting in their window waiting for customers, somewhat appearing like the massage girls you see on Sukhumvit waiting for customers in Bangkok - yet they were Orthodontists? Laos - Orthodontics Store (Vientiane) I saw an old lady, quite old & frail waiting for customers to cut their hair. Laos - Old Lady Hair Dressers (Vientiane) Walked past some food stalls before eventually getting on the right path to my hotel. It showed how small the city was as I had practically covered the whole centre in an evening. It also seemed to be the quietist city I've ever walked through. Laos - Meat & Fish bbq store (Vientiane) The next morning there was one more major sight to check out before my afternoon departure – Pha That Luang, the gold covered Buddhist stupa. While thinking how to get there as it's about 5km and a bit too far to walk, the hotel advise me to hiring a bike for $1. I really wished I'd known this before losing $7 on a pointless tuk-tuk. This is the real way to see the city, so long you're healthy enough, I'm probably not but at least there were no hills. It is quiet so traffic is not an issue. It's not dangerous to cycle like it is in Bangkok and it's a slow moving town-like environment, so cycling is the best way to see this city. Laos - Cycling towards the Patuxai Upon arrival at Pha That Luang, you enter a Buddhist temple before you see the main Stupa. A very colourful Buddhist display welcomes you to this small area with some market stalls and the odd Buddhist Monk walking about. I found a reclining Buddha down this pathway which was a nice size - not too huge but interesting. The Taiwanese around me took plenty of selfies. Laos - Pha That Luang Buddhist Temple (Vientiane) Laos - Pha That Luang Lying Buddha (Vientiane) As this point I saw the large Stupa, which I thought would be larger - nonetheless a very impressive sight. En route I came across a lady that put a bad vibe across this nice area, she was persuading me to pay her to release birds. I understand how poor the people are with the need to make money and I almost wanted to hand over some money for the box to be opened to release them but this only encourages more of the same business. I just hope they got released. Laos - Pay Money to Free Birds Pha That Luang Temple (Vientiane) I also came across some weird market stalls, selling really odd items, such as below a J/K pop looking doll wallet that I imagined could only really attract the possible Paedo to buy it, as it certainly looked disturbing.  This next to a nasty looking hammer/saw combo. Very odd mix of items and disturbing at the same time. From initially thinking I found the most beautiful sight in Vientiane, a short walk thru this market made me think Karma is not really at work here. Laos - Pha That Luang Temple Market (Vientiane) However after entering the actual Pha That Luang, I decided it was an impressive structure that did have a positive relaxed atmosphere. I lit a candle and jok stick and did my hands clasp to the Buddha, that I always do to respect the sight. There were 4 corners of these sights, which as grass ardens surrounding the Stupa. You can’t enter it, if it is ever open, but the ground show ruins of Buddhas and the place is very relaxing. It was definitely worth the bicycle ride. [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="5628,5629,5630"] After leaving I had another hour to kill so I cycled to a Buddhist monastery in the hope I would find a Buddhist monk to do a mediation, it is offered but much later in the day. I was unlucky as the only Buddha I found was not trained enough to do a foreign mediation, however the place had a nice Buddhist tower. Laos - Buddhist Temple Tower (Vientiane) I then cycled on to the riverside to see it during the day, this is where I came across the King Caho Anouvong Statue. He led a Laos Rebellion in the 18th century. The area is nice, his statue faces out to the Mekong River and Thailand beyond, there is a nice garden behind the statue that leads to the back of the main palace. As you can see the tuk-tuk driver in this photo seems unimpressed as I sit on my Bicycle and take the photo. Laos - King Chao Anouvong Statue Tuk Tuk (Vientiane) Overall Vientiane was an interesting city, it is small and can be done with a stay of 1-2 nights, depending how you much you need to explore. It’s quiet and the Mekong River was a relaxing spot. Laos seems more dated to the modern world than its neighbours which in a way was nice and authentic to see, the people overall are nice but many don’t speak English. It’s not as cheap as Cambodia but not as expensive as Thailand on some things. I enjoyed walking about watching the locals and sitting by the Mekong river. I hope to see the rest of the country in the rural parts. For an overnight stop, if you’re not tired you can see a lot very easily. Just hire a bicycle.

Mixed Feelings On Texas But A Positive Lasting Impression

5 hours in San Antonio, 15 hours in Austin and 2 evenings out in Houston There has been a delay with this blog about Texas and it has been amended slightly because it was initially quite negative and lacked a lot of information about Houston. However, since my first visit I was fortunate enough to return to Houston a second time. We’ll come to that towards the end of the blog. On my first visit I had 48 hours in Texas, arriving and departing in Houston with late arrival and departure times. I planned to check out Houston and it just seemed like there was nothing much there, other than some Museums, which I get bored of easily and off course there’s NASA. Everyone I spoke with, friends that had been and cabin crew, plus what I had read online prior to arriving described it as an ‘extremely underwhelming’ place to visit. It doesn’t even rate that highly on Trip Advisor. I wasn’t sold on staying here and mostly thought about finding other places nearby. From my old job and in general from my interest in Music, I had heard so much about Austin. I knew the famous South by South West festival takes place in Houston and for that reason I really wanted to visit this city. Unfortunately I was 10 days to early (for the festival) but I still wanted to check out what many have described as the coolest city in the southern states. Plus it gave me an excuse to drive, which I have missed immensely since moving to Bangkok. The first night I arrived so late that I just slept in Houston at the Hyatt in the Galleria area. This is the main shopping area of the city, where there is a large mall and not much else but shops and offices. It didn’t really seem to offer much else of any interest so I went straight to bed for the planned early start. I looked at maps and thought I’d check out the city of San Antonio first and then continue to Austin for the night to see a bit during the following day before returning to Houston for my late departure. The Drive The drive to San Antonio is four hours but it can be done quicker. However I avoided the tolls and planned to take some side routes in order to see the countryside of Eastern Texas. I was pretty excited to be back in a car for a nice long drive so John Digweed’s latest 2 hour set in London banged out of my hired Chrysler car speakers. Whenever I drive I need the music to fit the environment but this didn’t fit the location, I mean I wasn’t in California, so the music went from Digweed to The Chemical brothers and then to Burial followed by some Thom Yorke. Eventually I ended up listening to Sigor Ros. If you’re not familiar with any of this music I started listening to some decent techno and gradually ended up listening to well, kind of depressing atmospheric progressive rock. None of the music really fitted the journey, simply because it was just about the dullest drive I have ever had. One hundred and fifty miles of almost straight roads and barely anything to see - just dull eerie bleak plains of flat land into the horizon. The highway had huge tall signs adverting gun shops, ranges, adult stores and mortgage companies – it was depressing. Coming off the main highways was even worse - True Detective Season 1 is the best way to describe it. Run down houses, battered trailers and old rusty cars on the lawn every ten miles showed the poverty but also gave rise to my inner imagination that this really was the rural southern America in need of hope. Cults, guns, Jesus Christ and depravation. Judgemental and ignorant of me I know, but I was so bored on this straight endless road. I even thought some of these trailers on the side of the road would be an interesting photo but I wasn’t going to risk being shot as I was still very aware I was in Texas. The Travelman | Drive To San Antonio The Travelman | Drive To San Antonio | Eastern Texas Even this bull gave me the look as if to say ‘come on my land I’ll shoot ya’. The Travelman | Texas Angry Bull   Stop 1 – San Antonio So, I finally arrived in San Antonio. A historical city dated back to 1691 established by Spanish colonials. The sat-nav said I was one street away from ‘The Alamo’ – A UNESCO world heritage site. I looked around for somewhere to park and the only available place I could find was outside a bar that had a meter in front. A man stood outside on his phone looking at me in disgust like I had taken his space, so I asked if it was okay to park here. ‘So long as you got quarters’ which I didn’t so he said I’d better use the ATM in the bar while he watched the car. I ventured in, got the cash from the ATM and asked the bar lady for change. She seemed fed up and the change didn’t include many quarters so I figured I had better buy a beer so I can get some more. I started to notice the bar was kind of weird. It had a few pool tables, grubby looking characterless decor, the odd poster here; very run down and had no real character. It’s a local’s bar with a grainy screen showing a baseball game. A slightly rough atmosphere to the place. I overheard two men arguing about Donald trump, one thought he can get things done the other thought not. Many of the locals were pretty heavily tattooed and wearing bandanas, not the kind of place you’d take your Grandma. I sat and drank up and thought I’d take advantage of the toilet while I can. Wow. The graffiti in the toilet summed up where I was. This was by no means art, just the crazed mumbling writings of messy locals. My first experience in San Antonio appeared to be a visit to an angry cocaine/crack bar. The Travelman | San Antonio Cocaine Bar No sooner had I made this assumption than I heard a couple of guys shouting at each another. Definitely an angry bar, so for me it was time to leave and check out the sights of this city. This first experience was interesting. So the Alamo Mission. A very old looking brick building faces me, with a flag. I have no idea what this place is about. A cop outside with a cowboy hat says its free entry and then I see another guy shout “video about to start”. Perfect timing as I had no idea what this place was about. To cut a long a long story short, Texas was colonised by the Spanish and this former Roman Catholic mission was where the famous battle of Alamo occurred in 1836. Though the building dates back a 100 years earlier. It was actually built to educate Native Americans of Christianity. The Mexican army occupied it but then surrendered it to the Texan army following the Texan Revolution. However, this pissed off the General of the Mexican army & he wanted to fight the revolution that resulted in creating a siege around this building and the eventual deaths of all the Texan army in it including Davy Crockett. The building has some further history following on from this. It was saved by from demolition by two women in 1905, Adina Emilia De Zavala and Clara Driscoll. They successfully convinced the state to purchase and preserve the building. Various other things happened there but I’m not going to go on much more about it, if you’re interested there is plenty of information available online. It is great that it still remains standing and is probably one of the oldest buildings in the states and quite a popular tourist attraction for this reason. It is so important in American history that it has world heritage status. There is nothing much to see inside though other than the odd sword or metal cup used by soldiers. These are protected within glass cabinets that you not allowed to photograph. But it is free and quite a nice place to take a look at from the outside. The Travelman | Alamo Mission After leaving I noticed a tower, now as this is early days in my venture to the world of blogging many readers are probably not aware that I am obsessed with towers. Going up them and taking photos from above makes the Travelman a very happy man indeed. Most are dull but I feel I haven’t seen a city until I’ve seen it from the highest building I can. So far I have 26 city towers under my belt. This tower had to be done, it’s called ‘The Tower of the Americas”. Not that big but it’s a tower none the less. The ticket prices included a 4D video that I was told was a must see. This is where my impression of Texas went downhill. The video could have been interesting; it could have focused on the fascinating history of Texas, but no. It was like watching a propaganda film about ‘how Texas is a state of mind’, how it’s the greatest state and the best place on earth but there was no substance. I believe the narrator even said those words, ‘a state of mind’, no, it’s actually a state physically located in America along with a lot of other states. The video follows a helicopter hovering over each city and bumps you about with your seat moving in a tacky way while you wear 3d glasses. It’s not worth it, in fact, I would pay good money never to have to experience that again. The Travelman | Tower Of The Americas Anyway, I came out of it thinking yeah right, the state that has magnets showing guns saying ‘we don’t call 911’, the state that kills more people on death row, and lets not forget the war mongering Bush family and more recently Ted Cruz. Apologies for being political but Texas really can’t claim to have bred the best. Anyway the view from the top was equally unimpressive, a bit like Dubai but it didn’t matter, it was another tower ticked off the list. The Travelman | San Antonio Skyline Before leaving it was time to visit what Trip Advisor rates as the number one thing to do in San Antonio: The River Walk. So I thought I might as well check it out, grab a beer and some food. The river lived up to its expectations and I enjoyed the walk, it was very well constructed and had a sort of Disney (due to it being man made) Venice Canal feel to it. People go up and down on boats but I had a 25 minute gap on the new meter as I had moved my car from the angry cocaine bar. The Travelman | San Antonio River Walk The Travelman | San Antonio River Off course I had to go for the Tex-Mex food, which Texas is famous for. My goodness I must say the Chicken Quesadilla was very good and so good a duck joined me and we ate together. He was keener on the nachos and the guacamole; I guess cheese doesn’t digest too well on a duck. I wondered if he was on holiday from across the border, he was so at home with his nachos with a bit of guacamole on them. After making a mess with the cheese and having had the waiter look rather unimpressed with me, I decided it was time to drive to Austin. The Travelman | San Antonio Quesadilla The Travelman | San Antonio Duck   Stop 3 – Austin So I finally arrive in Austin after another tedious drive, but I did drive past what looked like the biggest petrol/gas station I have ever seen - maybe 100 pumps but read online it has 250 employees, it’s called Buc-ee's. Petrol or gas is so damn cheap in Texas, $20 will fill a tank. The Travelman | Buc-ee's Gas Station Upon arrival in Austin, which seemed like a big looking yet small city, I checked into my hotel, which had really very nice staff. A huge Texan guy comped my parking and gave me a free drinks voucher. Now that’s the kind of thing I like, just how it should be, so knocked back a gin as my throat was feeling a bit dry and I looked up and enjoyed the hotels décor watching the lifts go up and down. I was now in the so-called music capital of the world, though the clientele around me looked as if there were at a car insurance conference. I suppose I was in the Hyatt though. After trying to arrange to meet an old school friend I was told use Uber. The kind bar staff explained to me to how to use Uber, I had never used it before but had the app on my phone. They assisted me well and I thought ‘wow’ Texas people are really nice and natural. The view from the bar after knocking back some neat gin… San Antonio Hyatt | Bar View The Uber car arrives. I’m picked up by a fella that I think had just finished his shift at Walmart. “I do this on the side” he says and he briefly explained the concept of Uber to me. I asked if he had any run-ins with regular cab drivers and he ignored the question, like it was a touchy subject. So anyway, the planned bar to meet my friend turned out it to be in another part of the city but he made the effort to get me there. To cut along story short, a mishap meant that my planned meet up with the old school friend didn’t happen but I ended up on the very famous 6th Street anyway and so I decided to walk through the city back to the hotel. It was around an hour to walk back and I enjoyed observing everything on the way. Austin is a strange place. People mentioned to me prior to my visit that if I liked Boulder, which I did, then I’d love Austin. My view on that is that Boulder, Colorado is a hippyville, holistic, with no major corporations on the streets, yeah everyone is stoned but Austin doesn’t actually have that same vibe. Maybe it did years ago but just from my observations it feels more like a mix of hipsters, hippies and yuppies - this is a drinking city full of corporations. There is a decent artistic independent bar scene and many great food trucks, mostly trailers & streamers. I decided it was a bad comparison and nothing like Colorado. My walk started off great, I walked past a few very cool artistic looking bars but at the same time I asked one of the guys inside about directions, had a beer in another and I can’t deny while these bar looked cool the hipster vibe was try hard, not like London but that kind of “oh dear, did I wear the wrong t-shirt kind, is it not ironic enough kind of vibe”. Meaning I felt it was not that welcoming but I can be quite an introvert and at times and socially anxious so perhaps It was just in my mind. Anyway after half a beer I decided to continue my walk. I walked past these guys with a high tech projector on a wall, which they were using as a stencil to paint – I guessed this was because it was night and perhaps that is normal but I did also wonder if a real graffiti artist might consider this to be cheating. Were these guys just pretenders? The Travelman | Austin Texas Graffiti Artists As I continued to walk past more cool looking bars and trailer food stalls. I eventually entered the main city, it now felt a bit more like the live music capital it was claiming to be. You could hear bands playing loudly from the bars, all kind of indie stuff. The problem I found was looking at the patrons, they appeared to be an interesting mix of wannabe hipsters and yuppie businessmen acting like idiots on the sidewalks. Pissed and not dissimilar to what you might see in New York in midtown. It was here that I also walked past huge Ernst and Young offices, GE and other major healthcare/insurance type buildings. All major hotel chains are there too. Plus, now seeing the mayor’s office – it became very clear that this city to me felt like a southern Washington DC at the same time lacking the conveniences you would find in a place like that. For instance I needed something from a pharmacy like CVS – no sir this closes at 10pm. What this? It’s a major city, the capital of Texas the bars ram on until 2am but everything else closes. I also noticed for some odd reason that in the centre of the downtown area, tons of cyclists like doing their evening exercise, it looked fun but it was 10pm, so many streams of cyclists going along the streets. I thought maybe this is an Austin exercise ritual. However I kind of wished I had a bicycle and could join then. I continued my walk as my hotel was across the river, then I came across a huge highway with really cool purple neon lights on the underpass below it, it looked cool but as I got closer, it became obvious that this was the major homeless place. It was almost as if this city had them all placed there out of the way like rubbish shoved under a carpet. There were possibly a hundred homeless people, just lying like piles of unwanted rubbish. It was sad seeing so many poor people living like this and sad that the city of Austin clearly isn’t doing much to help them. Again it’s no different to DC where I saw many homeless people confined to the lawns. The Travelman | Austin Texas Homeless Area After getting back to my hotel I decided to get up early and take pictures of some of the things I saw at night when it was too dark for my iPhone to capture decently in the dark. This is Austin; the big corporate America capital of Texas. The Travelman | Corporate Texas The Travelman | Corporate Austin Texas At the same time full of cool art work and bars. Strange juxterposition. [gallery size="full" type="slideshow" ids="4974,4975,4976,4977,4995,4996"] I had this great smoothie at one of the food trailers, but must say it seemed a bit overpriced. I was due to go to a Rodeo that evening in Houston and I asked the guy what he thought about this. His response was interesting, “Well it’s like country music festivals, rodeo and nascar; I go to these places just to simply watch people to figure out why they like it”. I thought it a rather pretentious response. Why waste the money? The Travelman | Austin Texas Food Trailer In the end I never made the Rodeo, whilst the drive back to Houston was better than to San Antonio, I started to feel ill and went to a hotel to sleep it off before my flight that evening. Overall I took more photos and have to say I felt these two pictures sum up Austin perfectly. It’s a city of conflicting lifestyles and the original hippies know it. Texas is one of the most conservative states, whilst Gun laws are lax, it’s one of the strictest states for abortion, medical marijuana is still not fully legal from my understanding has the highest number of death row executions. It’s a harsh state ruled by some seriously conservative anal cowboys. When compared to states like California or Colorado it is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Whilst the Mexican food is good there are no Mexicans serving it. Perhaps the Texans like their food but not the people? I dunno, I’m just blogging my observations but this is my first impression of Texas. I guess if I spent some more time there it’s possible that I could view the place differently.
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Houston As few weeks later I was fortunate enough to fly back to Houston there on a business consultancy trip and met a variety of interesting characters, from the cow girl to the gun crazy duck shooter and everyone in between including various Uber drivers. My perspective sort of changed a bit about Texas or at least Houston. I think despite some differences of attitude to thing like Guns, and politics, which I never avoided debating. The strength of Houston is the people, everyone is so warm and friendly. There was no attitude felt at all like you might find in the major coastal cities of the US. I spent an evening in the Heights area of Houston where I went for some drinks with a colleague and we were both dumbstruck on how nice the bar tenders were. Maybe because we were English but really friendly bar tenders, millennial twenty year old girls that were not all about trump but did love a good Gun. It was interesting hearing their perspective and American society but there was no pretentiousness all like I sort of felt in Austin. Just down to earth people in a very arty neighbourhood that had some cool restaurants and bars, north of downtown in the suburbs. One such bar war was Little Woodbrow which had a great selection of beer and that kind of old nice US vibe to it. Despite looking older than 35, bald I was asked for ID which was first in a long time but took it as a compliment. The Travelman | Austin Texas | Little Woodbrow Another great place we visited was Christian’s Tail Gate Bar & Grill where we ended up chatting again to the bar tender and her colleague for ages, they have superb burgers. Apparently award winning but oddly they put bacon inside the meat as opposed to on top still delicious. Though the best burgers I had overall was at Ruby’s Diner in the international area at The George Bush Intercontinental Houston Airport. Amazing! Another evening we decided to visit Mid town, where we told is most active place in the city for bars and restaurants, so we went and did the Uber driver thing again. Again the driver was so chatty and it was very interesting learning about Uber, how he makes $25 an hour, no issue with cab drivers like in Paris as he explained current cab drivers are changing to Uber anyway. All it requires is a $200 investment a car over 2010, with more money to be made the newer the car, drug test from the city and an inspection. He liked the fact he had freedom to do it as you choose when you decide to work simply by turning on the app. Anyway he dropped us off in mid town near the Breakfast Klub, a Zagat rated place for the best breakfast in Houston, unfortunately we were there for dinner and the area Breakfast Klub is in has a odd vibe. A side corner of bars and antique shop then a kind of shady vibe in surrounding area. However I liked it, it had amazing street art but my colleagues wanted to go to where the main part of mid town was which was about 10-15 blocks walk away. The art as I say was really cool. [gallery type="slideshow" size="full" ids="4983,4984,4985"] As we walked, I felt this city is one of the downtown cities that has nothing, like no shops, just offices and the odd fast food or coffee shop. Sort of reminded me of downtown Orlando. We did finally find the main mid town area, but it is quite small and certainly is not of any comparison to Austin’s 6 street. We decided to eat in a restaurant called Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen and try the famous Mexican food. It was astoundingly good. Everyone was very impressed. Generally, it is a famous place for huge Margarita’s but seemed quite upmarket. Again very arty inside and loved the fabric interior of the washrooms. The Travelman | Cyclone Anayas Mexican Kitchen Austin Texas | Somewhere Between Here And There As a conclusion to Houston it is not the most exciting city but there is a very creative vibrant art scene here and the people, well the people are probably some of the warmest people I’ve met in the US. There isn’t really much to do in this city for a tourist but its great place to chat to people, so if your on business and staying in Houston for a short time. Check out the bars in the heights or go and eat in Mid town, you will meet some friendly characters and see some interesting art along the way. Overall this 2nd visit left me with more of a positive impression of Texas.

My short visit to Fiji, Kava and Category 5 Cyclone Winston

So I have always wanted to see Fiji and the Pacific islands in general, a first for my travels. I heard it was the real natural tropics. Due to originally having only 2 days here, I decided to book Bounty Island since it’s the closest reasonably priced resort to Nadi, 35 minutes by the South Sea Cruises Catamaran. I booked a modest treehouse, £39 at the time in which is in the mid range accommodation, offering privacy and a private bathroom between cheaper priced  dormitories or  more expensive cement AC buildings. Mine only had a fan but it was fine. Since the whole island is owned by the resort there is no alternative place to eat on the island, therefore you must pay the mandatory 3 course meals with WIFI which cost around £35. Upon arrival I was greeted by a small boat that picked me up from the big boat, the guys want to know your name, introduce themselves and upon arrival I was greeted by guitar playing staff singing a traditional Fijian welcoming song. Immediately I was excited, the majority of hotels I stay in might offer the juice and towel but not a singing welcome. At check-in you get an intro, all the staff introduce themselves sporadically and you suddenly feel like you are staying with a family. I am bad with names but they remembered mine throughout and constantly asked how I was doing, addressing me by name, it was the start of being welcomed into what I assume is unique Fijian hospitality. The island itself is small; circumnavigating the shoreline takes no more than 20 minutes. There is a sort of jungle in the middle with plenty of spaces to loose yourself. Coming off a flight from LA as I always do from long haul flight - I felt bloated and fat, so I skipped lunch and went kayaking around the island for exercise, which is available at no cost. So popping my headphones on I listened to Lee Burridge’s Live @ Burning Man set, which fitted the mood for my journey around the island. It made me feel almost like a castaway; most of that side of the island you see no one, which is great. I noticed some guests on the beach far from the main entrance having their own peaceful time as I kayaked past occasionally looking down at the turquoise sea and coral below. It was hard see fish but some colourful formations were below me. The music and the surrounding had a sense of meditation, free of any thought, just absorbing the complete seclusion of paradise. Fiji water Once I got back I decided I needed to see the sea so I took the free snorkelling equipment. In all honesty there was quite a lot of damaged coral but plenty of fish, I had a 2-3 foot fish with a blue stripe on it's back which swam with me for ten minutes. It was awesome. Fiji is the place where you can swim with Reef Sharks and manta rays – it’s the real deal. I tried to swim around the whole island, which went on for an hour. It was hard work against the current so I gave up and just lay on the beach in the sand. It was a real sense of freedom with the calm warm water just brushing against my head. I just wanted to stay here for a while in total relaxation; it was just so overwhelmingly blissful. There were moments though back at beach when the weather had started to look slightly unpredictable. IMG_3742 Back at the resort I started to engage more with the staff. I had an interest in trying kava kava, a traditional welcoming drink in Fiji which staff had invited me to join them in. It’s the national drink of Fiji that comes from a root of a plant – it is suppose to have a sedative effect to aid you in sleeping but also to relax your muscles - it was described to me as like weed without any paranoia high as such but just body relaxation - I was interested. At this point I had just learned that a Cyclone was headed for Fiji. I get confused with storms, Typhoon and Cyclone I assume are just bad weather so I didn’t realise the severity of what was happening. It wasn’t until later that I made the connection to a terminology more familiar to me: hurricane. So rather obliviously I just chatted away to the staff and we sat in a circular group in the corner of a bar as I was introduced to Kava. There is a ritual to drinking kava - they swell the powder around in a cloth in rain water in like  large round bowl, constantly striving the magic formula, it is then handed to me, and I say “Bula!” (which means “wishing you happiness and good health”). I clap my hands before taking it and knock it back like a shot, it isn’t supposed to be sipped. The taste is unusual but not foul. It is kind of salty and spicy at the same time. My tongue tingled a bit, not unpleasantly so. To complete the ritual I handed it back and clapped three times and this is done by all as the drink is passed around our circle. A sort of tribal ceremony. The effect is not immediately obvious, but there was definitely a relaxing feeling slowly coming. Discussing with the staff, they said it helps with relaxing after work, the loneliness of not seeing their family for long periods and in general it aids to relaxing the muscles and helps you to sleep like a baby. Everyone smiles and everyone is very chilled out. I chatted amongst everyone and felt that I was in the company of friends that I had known for years. They offered me this, didn’t want anything back and I really felt this is so unique in today's world. Fijian’s are known to be some of the happiest people worldwide, the combination of the island life, the natural peace of the surroundings and I’m sure the kava helps to contribute to this. This area was once full of rival families and to resolve conflict they would sit together and share kava before they discuss their issues. In most circumstances they resolved the situation, I was told. I thought why can’t the UN, EU and G8 all have this prior to their meetings. After about 10 drinks I decided to go for dinner and later returned where the staff were now outside. I brought some new travellers that I shared dinner table with; a Dutchman and German girl. She had tried it before, he hadn’t. Both seemed up for it as I said I would return. I felt a real bond with the Fijian Staff as well a these travellers but not many others, there were three different crowds; the young on gap years staying in the dorms who partied at the bar like it was a musical chairs but without the chairs. The resort organised entertainment activities for them. There were people like me, happy to chill and hang out with the locals, some families too and a big group of Chinese of which only a young girl in the group that could actually speak English, they were having a great time in the swimming pool at night, all 8 of them.kava_session I liked the staff a lot, it wasn’t like your typical hotel customer service; it was personal, you are our friend, join us, do as you please and we don’t expect anything in return. They told me they just liked to talk to their guests. It kind of reminded me of working in hotels in Miami, I loved chatting to the guests but Miami was different, there was greed in Miami and all interactions had an undertone of a desire for being tipped well. The second kava session seemed much stronger, my lips numbed for a short period and my body felt totally relaxed, myself and the Dutchman decided to play ping pong. We didn’t care about rules or anything, we just wanted to keep the ball flowing, and we went for it. We were definitely under the influence of the kava, there was no competitiveness we just keep the ball flowing between us and were having a lot of fun.One issue with Kava is it makes you feel really hot, it was now night time and even with the fresh sea air I was dripping in sweat and this was even prior to the ping-pong. After the ping-pong we all sat round the pool, the Dutchman cooled down in the pool and I chatted to the resort’s engineer. It was then that he strongly emphasised how serious this cyclone was, that it was category 5 and was headed for the island within 48 hours. He had a relaxed approach and explained his previous experience of a cyclone. He was a interesting fella, we talked in depth about Samoa, Vanuato, Tonga - he had positive and negative things to say but he was most proud of his Fiji. I am now really interested in this very secluded part of the world where it seems nature is untouched and the people are the happiest I have ever met.After a few more kavas around the pool, the talk was increasingly about the cyclone and what to do. Mostly it was the guests who had extended trips that were concerned, the locals just smiled and the atmosphere was warm and friendly. I almost wanted to give them all a hug but it may have come across as weird - at least that’s what my western sensibilities were telling me. The talk of a cyclone being category five didn’t really bother me, I was only here for one day but perhaps it was the kava that made me think it will be fine; I was actually excited, thinking that it could be an experience. There was a huge circle around the moon that I gazed at - it was beautiful, the fresh air and peace was mesmerising. Maybe at that point I had had a little too much kava. Overly kavaed up if there is such a word but I just felt purely at peace and in my element, not many places offer this – there was no pretentiousness no judgement and everyone was so polite doing their thing. I went to bed early at 10:00, I still really hadn’t slept from the LA flight from which I had landed from 15 hours prior. Back in my room the fan was fine and a small lizard joined me in bed, I didn't really want him there but couldn’t be bothered to do anything so we just looked at each for a while before he’d had enough and jumped off. I guess I wasn't it's type. The day of the Hurricane “Everyone must be evacuated all islands, you will be taken by 12” was the welcome at the breakfast buffet. “Oh shit” I thought. I haven’t even seen the jungle yet or taken a walk around the island by foot. This was my priority; forget breakfast. So I put my headphones in, this time the Pig and Dan debut album which fitted the sunshine vibe great and I took a nice stroll. I came across a lady trying to explain to the Chinese man about the evacuation he didn’t speak any English but my “Ni hao” (hello to him in Chinese) made them assume I could speech the language, my quick attempt at sign language to say we must go, didn’t look well understood so I continued my walk. It was beautiful, the weather was cloudy but no real sign of a storm coming, the air was pure, the smell of the sea and palm trees on the small clean beach was just fresh as can be. I ventured into the jungle, which really was not that interesting. I found some pathways, which made the walk a little more interesting. The only real wildlife were birds, many beautiful ones, squawking and welcoming me to their home just like the Fijians, at least that is what I imagined in my high morning spirit. IMG_3773IMG_3775Back at breakfast there was some degree of chaos, some were calling their parents, others embassies, the Dutch guy was told by the Dutch Embassy to drink plenty of beer! The staff explained that boats were on their way to take us all to safety. I booked the 9am ferry but it never came, there were two boats evacuating: a small one, I guess part of a package tour which unfortunately included a Australian family with very young children, which made everyone worry as the children were young. Another scheduled service, a large catamaran which I booked as well as the rest. Mine was suppose to come later but never came. The sky was grey and the view to the destination in the distance showed dark clouds, the air definitely started to feel like something bad was looming. The sea became progressively rougher. By now the cyclone had already struck the northern island of Vanua Levu, the smaller of the larger islands quite far north. I felt sorry for the resort; they had a map with the predicted path showing the eye of the storm will pass straight to the island. It was due in about 10 hours. It took 3 hours before the first set of passenger were able to leave, the issue was that the boat to ferry passenger to a larger boat was just a small 10 seater. After loading all the luggage and passengers, it started filling up with water due to waves and the weight. Looking around people were becoming nervous as all the passengers had to get off while the boat sped off to offload the water. Everyone was begining to think ok, "so we are stuck" to brave the storm. Saying that the male staff had to stay so it seemed a little insensitive thing to think/say. Anyway, as the sea starting getting very choppy, I talked to the Fijians for a while before having a chill out session just watching the turtles. The resort had a turtle pond to protect the new born for a year before they then free them, its because the government say they will become extinct since their survival rate in the wild is poor now when first born. Fiji_turtles Overall the spirit got better but the current weather looked worse with sea waves getting higher. Certainly no longer safe for swimming. Much of the male staff were packing everything away, to avoid damage such as the food supplies, a few of us give them a hand. There was a community feeling and I felt like we owed it to them to help and at the same time the reality was that within 24 hours this island could be badly destructed, as shown by the path on the maps at reception. Unless the luck of the land was to make the cyclone change path. cyclone At the back of my mind I worry about these new friends of mine. They show me their underground bunker, which should be safe. But what if the sea covers the island I was thinking? I mean it’s a category 5 - the king of damage. We all wait around the pool and restaurant – everyone has checked out but waiting for the boats to take them to the big island under the instructions of the Fijian government. The younger dorm back packers are in high spirits, singing together to Celine Dion that is playing on the radio. Kind of annoying actually I was thinking at least keep the spirits high with something good like a Bob Marley classic.  I see the news on the BBC website ‘Megastorm To Hit Fiji’ which gets posted straight on my Facebook to mixed reactions from my friends back home. We were told that the last remaining boat would have to leave the island by noon after which time the port authority will shut down the boats. It was 12:30pm. The sea was so choppy its now that I think it’s best to fully cling film my laptop and other essential electronics up and cover my bags with the help of the staff- whom do this with everyone using clear bin bags. Eventually a Catamaran turns up at 1pm. But the small boats still need to get us to it, they think about it this time and only take a hand full of passengers 3 times to avoid getting water on board. It pretty full on ride but nowhere near as bad as what is coming. The staff still remain in very high spirits bless them. Fiji_evacuation On board the large Catamaran, We are told we need to go further north and pick up passengers from two more islands. The ride there and back to Nadi can only be described as hell. I have been through the worst turbulence and can deal with that, with over 1000 flights in the last 4 years it doesn’t generally worry me. Boats on the other hand I cannot deal with. I move to the middle after sitting at the side - the boat jumps, huge waves hit one side, it is quite terrifying and many people are vomiting. It’s almost like one of those pirate ships that you find at a theme park. Jumping up and down, the waves fully engulf it. I was just trying hard to hold down my food. Headphones in, I am now listening to dark drum and bass. It feel inappropriate but I think its making me trying to absorb the vibe. I was wondering if the boat was sturdy enough to take the constant battering of these big waves for a full 40 minutes. Fortunately all was okay and I was relieved to arrive in port. I said goodbye to my new friends the Dutchman and his German girlfriend who were a lovely couple and I wished them the best of luck through the impending doom. I had a friend that I am involved with in a business capacity, pick me up, she shows me her town of Nadi which reminds me of a high-street in New Zealand but also has that South African feel to it with some of the designs of the buildings. Overall it’s small but this is the largest island and the biggest town where the international airport is located. One thing I notice is that very few people have boarded up their windows. When I lived in Miami Beach, even the slightest mention of a hurricane, even a category 1, all shop windows and homes have wooden boards drilled in. In Nadi very little presence of this surprised me especially because so many places have full glass fronts. I even drive past a window shop which is on a 2nd floor, full glass windows. I wonder now as I write this what happened because it looked very vulnerable. I guess I will never know. My contact recommends that I stock up on fruit and water so we visit a very interesting fruit market. It is now raining heavily. The Fijians goodbye, after buying my bananas is "happy Hurricane" with a barrel of laughter - I love it here. Even the prospect of one of the worst cyclones coming does not damage the spirit of the people. Fiji_fruit_market I checked in to my hotel, The Toka Toka Resort, which is walking distance to the airport. Here I also learned that my flight was cancelled for at least 48 hours. The airline had moved all aircrafts off the island for safety. Once I checked in I asked the porter if he had any Kava as I was thinking how chilled I was the night before and with a night coming like this, I couldn’t think of anything better. With 5 hours to go, he came back and made it in the same way that they did on the island. We drank together and discussed the hurricane, he told me about his experiences in 2012. His house in his village was flooded, the water came up to over 7 foot causing his furniture to float - but he said he was right on the sea. I think about some of the fellow travellers that booked accommodation right next to the sea, and whether that was a good idea. For me I assume I am okay as I am quite far inland now. Not much happens other than a few staff join me for a kava now, i gotta an open door policy  until about 7 o’clock when I fall asleep. The wind is noticeably getting louder but not much to worry about. I talk with a security guard after I hear a huge bang, one of the palm tree branches had fallen on the roof, they are quite heavy you know. I then fall asleep. About 9pm, I can hear the wind inside my room. I opened my shutter windows and venture out of porch. It’s night but I have a powerful torch and shine on the leaning trees, a staff member comes and joins me for a kava. He explains the palm trees that surround my ground floor hut wont fall but some of the other trees will. He says they have been working all day cutting dangerous branches as so not to hit the multiple buildings, since the hotel is totally full due to flight disruptions. Again I fall asleep, I suffer from nightmares, which are rare for me and must be connected to the general energy in the atmosphere. At 11pm I am woken from the sheer roar of the force of nature – it’s scary. This is it, Cyclone Winston is above me. The force of nature beats anything else. It’s the noise the ceiling drips with water but impressively the lights remain on thanks to the hotel generator. My bed is getting soaked from ceiling water, I now worry the ceiling is going to take off so everything goes into the wardrobe. I just lie on the bed. I don’t have much fear but strangely enjoy this unique experience. To be fair the one drink of kava turns into 15. It occurs to me that this should really go in my website as a blog entry- we here we are. I wonder what will happen if the roof takes off. There is no local TV, no WIFI and the roar is unimaginable. It’s midnight – I open my shutters and although it’s dark, so much is going on outside that it’s hard to focus on anything, so much rain and wind that I recon is now almost 200mph. I also notice a huge puddle covering most of the floor of my room. I stop writing and I think about the new friends on Bounty Island, the guys that had to stay. I mean, I am on the main land but the island must be so devastated - I hope and pray that they are safe, I am not religious but I feel it’s the least I can do. I’ve drunk almost all the kava now and with the unrelenting wind blowing hard outside I fall asleep again. About 3:30am I wake up, it seems all is calm now. There is no noise; nothing and I decide to go for a walk with my torch. Tree branches block the path leading behind my hut but there is another path that is clear, I see a few trees down but no damage to the multiple huts on the resort. Just fallen branches, mess everywhere and I notice a bird shaking on the grass - the poor animals I think, this must be like some kind of apocalypse to them. The place is messy as expected but not as much damage as anticipated, at least to the building but surely other places do have. Staff come and find me and tell me there is a curfew in effect and all guests must remain in their rooms since they expect a second wave - they escort me back to my room. There is no second wave just constant rain. IMG_3808 IMG_3817 The next morning I can see the damage in full. All the guests are walking around. It seems that everyone is in good spirits and no damage affected anyone, most people just had water in their rooms like me. My door was slightly damaged as branches bashed against it in the wind. I couldn’t re-open it and needed assistance. One tree was down and that was it. It was not really that bad because it was the fastest moving Cyclone in the history of the south pacific had it stayed above for longer then the damage could have been much worse. IMG_3819 IMG_3830 Flights resumed the next day and luckily I got out on the first flight to Hong Kong. I will never forget Fiji that is for sure, it is simply beautiful, natural and such a happy place to be. It is as much the surroundings as the people that make it this way. It’s a shame it is so far from anywhere but New Zealand and Australia. I must come back. I hear the island survived okay, apparently no rooms were damaged and the staff were fine. A few trees came down but thankfully that was all. Here is the picture of the kind staff that made me feel so welcome. Bless them all. Fiji_bounty_island

My love of The Magnets

I started collecting magnets in around 2011, it all stems back to my father and his magnet habit. He is a collector and his objective along with his wife is to cover their large US refrigerator in magnets from all corners of the globe. Being a former B747 Captain he has acquired many magnets on his travels but due to restrictions of the routes he has flown he was unable to personally complete his collection. I have been able to assist him to acquire magnets from more countries and cities due to my new travel consultancy role. This is what set me off, when tracking down magnets for him I started picking up a few interesting ones for myself. Before I knew it I had picked up the habit, followed in his footsteps I started to develop my own collection. However, we differ in our approach, it doesn't matter to him if he has been to a place or not so long he has gets the magnets through other pilots or myself. I have much more stringent rules from which I never deviate. Most importantly I must always personally get the magnet in the country I visit therefore enabling me to log all the places I have been. Also, I don't buy anything for the sake of it, there has to be something about the magnet that interests me. To begin with I would tend to just buy something relating to the city I had visited but as I have delved deeper into the world of fridge magnets I have found that there are so many interesting little gems that offer a little inside into places around the globe. They cover everything from city scapes to weaponry, religion to drugs, with foods & ethnic statements in between and now if it intrigues me, I buy it. My aim is to eventually cover all the walls in a room and arrange them all into a huge collage of magnet art. I think I have around half a wall so far. As my journeys continue my collection grows ever larger. I will be posting all my new finds regularly, so check back to keep updated.