Following on from my last post about my previous trip to Scotland I thought Id make a few modifications to my arrival after the last fiasco. Id booked both trips at the same time and the same details so instead of driving for hours I realised this time I would be arriving during school holidays so get a car park near the school, put the reflective window blinds up in the van, put up blackout blinds, open the window slightly, spread the sleeping bag out and a couple of hours restful sleep..
..of course I chose the morning the municipal bins get emptied…. One of these days Ill get it right or just spend a few quid extra and book a ferry at a reasonable hour.
The plan this time was along the same lines as last time except do the east coast instead of west. So start off with a couple of days in Edinburgh, then up to Inverness, attend wedding, nurse hangover, then go down the north east coastline to Aberdeen, then down to Dundee and home. Simple enough.
It was difficult to get a hotel in Edinburgh city centre and although I was driving ended up getting a hotel on the outskirts on a bus lane and just bussing it in to town. I remembered driving into Edinburgh 15 years ago and it was a nightmare then, and all other trips had been by coach/air to the ice hockey so was drunk most of those trips.
A couple of days before leaving I realised why it was so difficult to get hotels, it was right smack bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival. I briefly considered touting around for some festival work as I was bringing the van and could bring more kit but decided against it, festival work meant late nights, sitting up editing then sleeping in and missing all thats going on around you. So it was the usual shoot from dawn til dusk then see what parts of the festival I could fit in around it.
Like the previous trip, I had been coming to Scotland for years but between the days in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh I saw more of Scotland than I ever had before.
I love Edinburgh, the new town and old town are beautiful parts of the world and between this trip and the ice hockey trips Ive seen it summer and winter. The buzz in and around the festival should be seen and sampled at least once in your life as is like nothing Id ever seen before. The sheer volume of events and people trying to drag you for free into low turnout daytime events makes it quite a lottery.
The weather was kind for the first couple of days which is unusual for Edinburgh summertime but allowed me to cover most of the photos I wanted to take in the first day and a half. Which left a couple of evenings free and I went down and chanced my arm for the Edinburgh Tattoo tickets.
Id tried their website before leaving but it was all booked up so hoped I’d get a chance of a cancellation ticket. So half hour in line and I had my ticket. I wasnt sure what to expect as I was a bit wary of the whole British Military thing and if it would be a gung ho type of show but I was pleasantly surprised. The show started with a flypast of a Tornado jet on full afterburner. From the reaction of the people around me I wasnt the only one that thought it was something coming from the speaker system other than a real live jet!
What followed can only be described as one of lifes true experiences. Dozens if not a hundred assembled bagpipes and drums playing in front of one of the worlds most picturesque castles to the setting sun. Any photos or videos dont do the whole experience justice. One group particularly stood out was a drumming group from Basel in Switzerland – google them and have a look at some of their youtube videos.
Go, see, hear, feel and enjoy.
The rest of the time was spent just wandering from place to place, running up blisters on my feet, sitting down briefly before moving on quickly for fear of missing something. Edinburgh, like my previous London trip will have to be visited away from the festival just to see some of the galleries and other ‘normal’ events. The only other show I managed to take in was Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell. I had photographed Andrew Maxwell before when he fronted a comedy show for Amnesty International during the Belfast Festival so it was good to go as a punter and watch the show rather than working.
If there is a problem with these busy places in busy times is that people dont really have time for interaction. When I was in Glasgow people had the time to stand and chat all day, but Edinburgh was just too busy so it was one of those trips where it was just a run around taking lots of pictures. A better trip for archive purposes but a bit dull on the travel side.
For that reason I was glad to get on the road and just head north to Inverness. The plan was to get booked into the B+B then head down to the Castle to have a look over the wedding preparations and inevitably get myself a job or two to do. Yes you did hear me right, a Castle.
Seeing as I got there and helped out I was elevated to family status and get to spend the wedding night in the Castle with a few hairy arsed Irishmen who unlike myself decided to dress up in skirts for the evening. Spend the night in 600 year old Castle, yes I’ll have a bit of that! Haunted? Nahh dont worry to much I’ll probably be that drunk we will be singing along in no time.
Somewhere along the whole stag weekend to wedding timeline someone had told the bride that myself and one of the other Irish guys had ‘sensible heads’. Now that can mean anything from helping to tidy up after the event, to explaining in haltering french to a series of CRS riot police with barking snarling rottweilers that your friends arent fighting, they are merely singing boisterously and will leave if I ask them (yes true story, and yes Im glossing over it). So I was put in charge of the evening BBQ, so long day, alcohol, fire, etc etc. You get the picture. I was also put in charge of lighting the chinese lanterns. Its a good job it rained the day before as that Arboretum in the Castle had taken hundreds of years to mature and we almost (see the use of the word we there instead of I) wiped it out with a few misplaced chinese lanterns.
I decided not to take any pictures the next day. I think sitting in front of the computer a couple of weeks later saying WTF quite loudly a lot before realised Id just wasted hard drive space and shutter clicks on photos which couldnt even be described as ‘arty’.
What I did remember though was speaking to someone who suggested I take a day trip up to Orkney. Sure enough there was one the next morning but it was a 3 hour drive and left at 10, so up at 6am before breakfast at the B+B. Still not happy about that. Now anyone that knows me will know I dont take breakfast but I do when travelling, you cant wander about from dawn to dusk without one. I know it makes no sense to ignore that when at home but I never said I did make sense do I?
I called the ferry company and told them Id be leaving early and to give me a ring if anything happens so I can turn round. Only now do I realise that at no point did I leave them my number, I guess Im used now to ringing people and them quoting my number back to me on caller display.
You can see where this is going, cant you?
The weather in Inverness was crap, the weather in Scotland was crap, in fact the only clear part of the whole British Isles was Orkney. Looking good!
I missed the bit about the 35mph winds.
So up at the crack of dawn, no breakfast, 3 hour drive, got to the ferry office only to be told ‘cancelled today, come back tomorrow.’ Slight problem with that in that tonight Im supposed to be in Aberdeen which is a 7 hour drive direct from here and then on to Belfast.
Now John O’Groats is known as the end of the earth, and I swear to God that the map had ‘here be dragons’ over it. A bleak desolate place whose only claim to fame is that is a bleak desolate place. I shouldve known really!
At least they have a cafe. Can I have a breakfast please? Sorry no eggs or bacon. I can do you sausages and toast though. By this stage Id have ate my shoe leather if Id had any shoe leather.
So got out my trusty tablet and had a look at nearby attractions which were indoors (was raining horizontally at this stage). A couple of miles up the road there was the Dounreay nuclear power station visitors centre. Now when I first read that I thought if I turned up there my balls would end up glowing in the dark. Maybe I shouldnt have shared that particular piece of information. Why is it when anyone mentions nearby nuclear power station I feel I have to put a lead shield in my boxers. Its not as if the rest of me is immune.
Anyway it was the only thing within any range that either was open or looked mildly interesting…
…the fact it had closed 3 years ago hadnt reached internet land yet.
Nor had I noticed that Id left my satnav directions on shortest rather than quickest so pissed off, tired, hungry, I thought Id just head for my hotel in Aberdeen – 7 hours away, get something to eat, hot shower, early to bed and see what the morning looked like.
Of course the shortest route was along 40 odd miles of single track road which, if I’d been in my alfa, would have been one of the most memorable driving experiences of my life. I wasnt, I was in a high sided van with dubious brakes and with an odd noise coming from the gearbox in an area with no mobile reception and no houses, towns, anything. By the end of that road I could have crushed coal into a diamond if Id put it between my ass cheeks.
On the way back to Aberdeen I took a detour past a couple of RAF bases, Lossiemouth and Kinloss. The clouds were low and the Tornado jets even lower. The displays those guys were putting on made the tattoo display look pedestrian.
So I arrived into the Granite city to rain and more rain. Jesus what a place. Dull cold and grey. Id been told about how grey the place was and to say everything was granite didnt really prepare me for how grey the place was and yes everything was made of granite. Thoroughly depressing looking place. Im sure even sunshine wouldnt brighten this place up.
Cold, tired, hungry again I checked into the hotel and just went out for Pizza. Getting back into the lift I was joined by a young lady on the same floor who happened to remark on how good my pizza smelled. I was past the point of caring so did the old ‘I’ll share it with you if you want’.
I’ll not go any further with this part of the story, except to say, Aberdeen turned out to not nearly as bad as I’d thought and I’ll be buying more pizza and travelling up and down in the lift in every hotel I visit from now on! Although at the time of writing Im in Las Vegas and some of the ladies Ive met in the lifts will obviously not be swayed by mere pizza!
I was a bit tired the next day so thought I’d just drive home and pay the obligatory, get the hell out of Cairnryan early fee.
Which explains why Im sitting in a hotel room at 6am in rainy Vancouver catching up on blog posts from earlier on in the year. When I say Jet Lag its probably more to do with not knowing what time zone im in and if I do get to grips with it by tomorrow, I’ll be changing time zones again. More of that later.
For now I’ll skip back to May this year and I trip I took to Scotland.
I cant say Ive had a love/hate relationship with Scotland as I used to go with a girl from Glasgow and spent some time there and did come to genuinely hate the place. Except for trips with my football team (playing not watching) before that time and trips to see the ice hockey after that time, I honestly dont have any good memories of the place. That does say more about me than the place so with trepidation I booked a few days in Glasgow on the way up to the highlands to join a stag weekend in Glencoe. Yes, I know, I should know better but it seemed a good idea at the time….
The trip didnt start the greatest as in an effort to save a few quid I thought Id book the 3am ferry. Yes I know now how stupid that was and yes I really should have tried it out before booking the same ferry on the trip to the wedding later in August….
..but you see my plans made sense, if only in my own head, I’d drive over, find the first parking space, pull in , get the sleeping bag out, kip down in the van and the jobs a good one.
Well thats the theory….
and relied on finding a parking space handy, away from the road, away from people walking their dogs and away from primary schools, police stations, no stopping zones, car parks and laybys with ‘no overnight parking signs’ etc. As you probably have already gathered it wasnt the easiest task in the world. So after two hours of driving, an hour of which was busting for a piss….
…so a couple of hours later I woke up in a car park where the local womens group had decided to descend to take part in a sponsored walk. Now my van does have blacked out windows but I thought Id wait until they set off before climbing out of my sleeping bag, wearing only my boxers. FFS ladies, get a move on!
By this stage I was all ready for the heart attack on a plate that is the scottish breakfast. Its a bit like an Irish breakfast but with even more cholesterol.
On to Glasgow and parked up at the hotel. The hotel was reasonably cheap and just across the river from the financial district, somewhere I wouldnt even have stopped the car 15 years ago when I used to frequent the place, never mind walk alone, day or night.
Oh how Glasgow has changed, I thought as I walked across the hotel car park, then again maybe not as I saw clothes and broke open suitcases strewn about the hedges outside the hotel. I thought Id just go back and recheck nothing could be seen in the car.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur to be honest, that fear of being recognised by relatives of the previous ‘next ex-mrs fox’ was tempered by that ‘Im too tired to give a shit’ feeling. That and the continuous drizzle reinforced my record of never being in Glasgow when the sun shines. If indeed it ever does shine on it. Any wonder Ive long thought of Glasgow as a dirty dreary hole of a place.
3 days in Glasgow in the rain now seemed like an eternity (unlike the last 3 days in the rain in Vancouver but again more later).
Photographically very poor so the best idea was to wait until check in, get back to the hotel and get some sleep and see if the mood changes with a good nights rest.
It didnt… well not really.
Rain was heavier in the morning but it did clear up in the afternoon and the sun even came out at times. What a difference it made, lightened the mood and gave me the opportunity to walk around the city centre in the redeveloped areas.
Im bring unfair on Glasgow, yes I still think its a dirty hole but like Belfast, like Liverpool, its a victorian industrial city and you have to expect that. Its not an Edinburgh or Rome or Paris and you cant expect that, but like Belfast, Liverpool etc its the people that really make the city. People have time to talk and will generally help out strangers. Thats not to say the city doesnt have its share of problems, like every big city but people will share a laugh and take an interest. Give me that over beautiful sites every time.
That night I did something which wasnt even conceivable the last time I regularly visited Glasgow. I set out at night with tripod to go down and take some photos by the river Clyde. 15 years ago walking along the river through the Gorbals and Govan would have been a death sentence back then, only marginally less so now. A lot of the area has been redeveloped including some private areas which restrict access to the river walkway. Not that that would put me off but I have to apologise to the lovely young lady lying on her sofa in her pyjamas eating ice cream when I just walked past her window. Now I have to elaborate on that a bit, I hadnt just walked past her window but stalked past it. I had noticed as I left the hotel (other than being followed by the biggest urban fox I had ever seen) that people crossed the road before coming up to me. I didnt pay it much attention until I caught a glimpse of myself in the previously mentioned young ladys window. Black combat boots, black combat trousers, puffa bomber jacket (black), black stealth rucksack and carrying a tripod bag which the way I had the strap looked more like a rifle bag. I dont think I need to add in the black hat and gloves. Im sure shes stopped screaming by now…
The only thing that would have rescued the situation was probably a box of milk tray.
Expecting sirens, helicopter searchlights and a full armed response team at any minute I thought Id better just get a few photos and get out of there… just as they turned a lot of the lights out. Brilliant!
The next morning I saw something Id never seen before, Glasgow in full sunshine, so it was a bit of a mad scramble to drive around and get as many photos as I could in the time left before driving North to Glencoe. It does look a very different city in sunshine but I think the tourism board still have their work cut out for them. It has changed significantly with more upmarket shopping, good range of galleries and theatres but I think they are still being sold short by pitching themselves as 2nd only to London in terms of x or y. So why go to Glasgow, if London isnt full?
As usual, on the drive North the words of my good mate Peter were ringing in my head ‘lets get the fuck out of dodge’.
I drove up loch lomond and was meeting a friend in Fortwilliam before a night in Glencoe and then back to Fortwilliam. In all the time Id spent in Scotland previously, Id never really spent any time in what I now refer to as ‘real Scotland’, the highlands. Id been to Loch Lomond for an afternoon once and briefly drove through Glencoe on the way to one night on the Isle of Skye so what a missed opportunity.
I think somewhere on the road past Loch Lomond, my love affair with Scotland began…
I spent the night drinking with an old friend in Fortwilliam, the rest of the night is a haze. We then moved to the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe and realised that Id seen the place before on a lot of tv programmes. The guys had picked it for the stag night because they were going to go on a hike around Glencoe to work up a thirst. My hiking days are long gone so I had a couple of hours to drive around the Glen and get some photos. It was one of those mad days where the sun split the trees then there was a snow blizzard then rain and then sunshine again. Magical!
The Inn is famous because it is near the site of the Glencoe massacre where the British led by Campbells massacred 38 of the MacDonald clan who had accepted them in and gave them hospitality. All to do with allegiance to the new king or lack of it, although as usual miscommunication and inter clan rivalry played more of part than any plan or design. The entrance to the inn still has a ‘No hawkers or Campbells’ sign.
The bar apparently has a selection of over 200 scotch whiskeys. I dont think I went through them all but bearing in mind I went to bed that night with the light on so that when I did open my eyes I could focus on something and stop the room spinning. I wish I could say I dont remember a lot of the night but I do remember promising my friend I was there for him on his stag night before escorting two ladies from Liverpool off the premises with not so much as a backward glance.
I could leave the story there but as usual there is more to the story. Thinking I was on to a sure thing I made the fatal mistake of asking ‘how do you know each other?’. The straight out of a bad porno film line came back ‘shes my daughter’. Now, not that Im familiar with porno films you understand but Im told that usually leads to exploits that for me anyway would induce a number of muscle strains, ligament tears and perhaps the possibility of a light bone fracture. In this particular instance it was more like that needle scraping across the record moment when everything goes silent. Better rejoin the guys in the bar then.
The next day is a bit of a blur as I returned to the same hotel in Fortwilliam Id left the previous morning. They didnt recognise me returning but to be fair by this stage I was a pale shadow of my former self.
The next day I took the opportunity to visit an old photographer friend down near Oban. He lives in a Castle. No really, he does. On the phone the driving directions were, turn left at the castle, go through the archway of the courtyard and park next to the stables, I’ll meet you there and we can go out for a tour of the estate in the landrover…
..I hate him.
That night it was off to Stirling and a walk round the old city before retiring to the bar to befriend some chinese students watching a champions league football match. Weird.
I like Stirling, Id actually been to a wedding in the castle a couple of years ago. A really posh do with a lot of society type folk at the table I was at. No I was invited, I didnt just sneak in. During the meal one of the gentlemen at the table asked why I wasnt wearing a kilt. Who would have guessed that not being Scottish wasnt a valid enough excuse! Looking back years later I sort of see the point, it would have been good, more getting into the spirit of the thing to get kilted up. So would I be wearing a dress to the wedding in August, hell no!
After the meal at the wedding another gent remarked on how good the champagne was. I said it wasnt champagne it was sparkling chardonnay. It was another one of those needle across the record moments, with noone more incredulous than my date for the night, who just stared at me with a mixture of ‘what the f*** and shut the f*** up’ looks that women learn in primary school. I of course took it a step further, tasted the wine and said ‘If I had to guess it would be 1991 or 1992′. So someone decided to call my bluff and call the waiter over and show him the bottle. The bottle was unwrapped and to everyones surprise it was sparking chardonnay 1992. Silence. I didnt even gloat.
Later that evening my date did say she was impressed but knew I must have had some sort of angle. Maybe she knew me quite well after all. After some bullshit about how you can tell the difference by the size of the bubbles, I said it also helps if you take a nosey wander through the castle and see them unloading the crates from the van!
Back to present time and it was time to go home, well it wasnt really but I decided not to wait for the late ferry home and race for the early evening one. Certainly sir but that would be an extra 50 quid. Hmmm let me think about that, 7 hours in Cairnryan or 50 quid. Shit, 150 quid would still have been a bargain!
So my first extended trip to Scotland in over 5 years had come to an end, I still dont like Glasgow and probably wont be back, but I exorcised some demons there and now have neutral rather than bad memories of the place and I’ll take that all day long. What this did introduce me to was the Scottish Highlands, a harsh, bleak, remote environment which is a truly magical place, filled with friendly welcoming people. Its a beautiful place to spend any amount of time and if you can manage to spend time with magical people there, theres very few better places on earth.
I awoke with tired legs from the last couple of days walking round and dodging the throngs of christmas shoppers. It was one of those dull grey flat days that I had been expecting for the entire trip, Id been lucky with the weather so far. Luckily enough this was the day Id picked to go calling on clients and most were organised for mid to late afternoon when it would be getting dark anyway. So to compensate for the late start, the dull crappy day I thought I’d sample some of the local cuisine (yet again). When I’d stayed in London before everthing was horrendously expensive, I thought this trip would be no different. I’d ordered an oyster card in advance and loaded it up with the equivalent of day rates for the trip. Its not hard to believe that after only 2 and a half days in London, the transport costs had exceeded the entire hong kong trip!
The hotel had a couple of ‘greasy spoon’ type cafes across the road so I thought Id give them ago. Id chosen to stay between cricklewood and kilburn as Id wanted to sample a bit of non-tourist London. One of my aunts had lived up near Tottenham for a while so was keen to get out and about with ‘locals’. The ‘locals’ in the cafe consisted mostly of Irish and Polish men, the type of guys who would be usually working on building sites at this time of day if it wasnt for the recession.
The fry up would have choked 2 horses, never mind one, and cost about 7 quid and I genuinely thought I wouldnt eat anything else for a week. Prompting the later in the day well worn phrase of ‘no, I’m not hungry, but I could eat something’ that became the passphrase for my Canada/US trip last year.
Spending most of the morning in and out of the London transport system you get the feeling of how it has seemed to have grown organically rather than someone actually sitting down and designing it. It may have been designed, indeed it wasnt until I was 21 that I realised that Northern Ireland busses and railways actually had a timetable rather than just turning up and waiting for the next one.
Glad I wasnt taking many photos today as the train broke down, tube line was closed, roadworks for the busses and I only had 200 quid cash on me so couldnt take a taxi into town.
I could have been a one off but in my 4 month sojourn in London I decided Id try out this commuting lark for a week to see if I could hack it. My girlfriend at the time was living in Felixstowe so Id get the 6:30am train to Ipswich with the supposed connection to London Liverpool street which would put me at my desk by 8:50am. Well thats the theory… I dont think I was at my desk before 9:15am any morning. Im sure things have improved but at the time I worked with a guy who had a similar commute, he saw his kids only at the weekends despite living in the same house. He would be out of the house in the morning before they got up and back home long after they went to bed. I know its necessary but what sort of a life is that, not one for me really.
So I ask again, how on earth are they going to carry off the Olympics? Im only adding these lines in to wind English people up, every time theres an Olympics or World Cup or any major event, a lot of the pre-event publicity is on how much of a shambles it is going to be.
Reminds me of sitting in an internet cafe in Tokyo during the 2002 world cup. A number of US journalist were giving one of the fifa officials earache about all the problems they were having and one said ‘we told you about these problems yesterday’, to which the very polite official said ‘no sir, the problems you told us about yesterday have been fixed, these are new problems’. I suspect that wont be the case in London
As well as spending the vast majority of the morning in various states of waiting for parts of london transport to arrive I thought Id head over to Harrods and have a look round at how the other half lives. There had been an edtiorial in the papers about how Knightsbridge and Kensington had some of the most expensive parking in the world. I can well believe it as one of the houses I walked past cost more to rent per month than my whole house originally cost me!
I took a walk past One Hyde Park and joined the window shoppers outside the McLaren shop, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. I felt I didnt have enough money to even stand on the street outside! Across the road is Harvey Nichols and I’ve never been there, billed as the young persons Harrods I’ll have to have a look the next time Im over as I needed to get across town for various meetings. Just as I walked down the side, one of the security personnel asked me to move on. Well I was moving on, just not quick enough obviously and I wondered what was up. He said he thought I was paparazzi and Lady GaGa was about to come out and they’d been asked to clear the pavement. I laughed saying Id photographed her before but was heading on anyway. Oh PS mate, your building is on fire….
In between meetings I managed to get to the Imperial War Museum and their Don McCullin exhibition. I only had a quick look round, not enough to do it justice. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
I had a few follow up meetings on my last full day but during the free time the weather did work out for me again.
The phone apps Id mentioned in my last post did work wonders for highlighting some of the current events and I made a detour down to the South Bank for the chocolate food festival. No purchases here but wandering round the smell of cooking chocolate was enough!
It might seem odd but in the whole time Ive been coming to London I cant remember ever going anywhere near Buckingham Palace. Probably one of the must sees, if for nothing else than to say you have seen it. Its one of those weird places where tourists gather and just stand and stare. I watched loads of people just staring through the gates and I wondered if they thought the Queen would just pop out and say hello. Its not as if they just stopped, took a photo and cleared off, it took me about 15 mins to walk past the area and most of the people who were there when I arrived were still there and still staring through the railings. Would hate to see if if there was something on!
I enjoyed my trip to London, maybe I needed that break away from it to go back and appreciate it as one of the outstanding tourist cities instead of just a place to work ridiculous hours. I certainly saw more of it in my 4 days here than I did in the whole 4 months of working there. It was good to go back and wander round some of the old haunts and have a look round some new places. I’ll certainly be planning a return sometime in 2012, but maybe not anywhere near the Olympics
It had been almost 14 years since I last stayed in London. Well not strictly true I had spent a few nights in London since then but part of a medivac journey doesnt really count
London is one of those places I love to visit but would hate to live there. 16 years ago I spent about 4 months working in the west end of London. It involved working there 5 days a week and returning home to weekends which really meant getting in late on a Friday night, doing the washing and drying clothes on the Saturday and then packing for a Sunday night flight to be at my desk for 9am on the Monday. Not much of a life really and sounded a lot more glamourous than it actually was. After a month or so I tried to work 12 hour days monday to weds so I could get home earlier and when the offer of a permanent job came, I was never so glad to turn a job down in my life. Yes I spent time in some great hotels and got the opportunity to eat in some great restaurants but after a while all you want to do is go back to your hotel room and get room service and watch tv.
So I spent some time away from London but would always get over sometime during December, if for nothing else than to take a wander round Harrods and splash out a little.
Id organised this trip to go over and do some quick coffee meetings with some of my London clients. Its odd but I worked for a client in London for over 4 years and it was a good relationship with the client but we never met once in that period and I realised that this was the norm with my current clients so thought Id make an effort to press the flesh. I know I was probably asking too much to get the chance to go round and do some stock photos as it would be totally weather dependent and booked a month in advance it was pretty much a see how it is when you get there trip. If all else failed I’d go to a few exhibitions and I might even do some tourist stuff.
The way the flights worked out Id arrive after dark in London and had pretty much the first evening to myself. The question was then do I take in a show, go for a wander, go to the cinema, veg out in the hotel or… …well to cut a long story short I ended up at Chelsea for a champions league game. A great chance to get some quick street food which looking back on it I wish I’d missed. Not long after returning from Hong Kong where the street food there had sort of spoiled me So when I couldnt decide if the bap had more bread than the sausage I knew Id made the wrong choice!
Still the game was a good result for Chelsea and when the great Fernando Torres was introduced at 80 odd minutes it was time for me to leave and get a quick train home. Turned out to be a great move on my part, with delays, breakdowns and so on it took over an hour to get across London. How on earth are they going to hold the Olympics?
When I worked in London one of my bosses was one of those typical London bosses, when he invites you out for Lunch, it is of the liquid variety. I learned this to my cost one Friday afternoon when I went out with him and a load of the senior managers. After 4 pints I couldnt remember what my name was but I do remember the whole pub laughing when I kept saying ‘no seriously lads, what are we having to eat’. I have no idea how I ended up back in Belfast that evening. The guys had always said that if I was ever in London looking a pint at 6am that I should get myself down to Smithfield Market. Under the market theres a pub called the cock and as long as you order breakfast you can get drink as well. Now as a light drinker the pint didnt really interest me but rather the opportunity to get a fryup that would choke a horse and be made up of every meat under the sun. I waited 14 years for that fry and can I say it was worth the wait. I would thoroughly recommend it and get yourself down to the Smithfield Meat Market (London City Markets) if you ever get a chance. If you are a social networking afficionado (I occasionally use twitter and use facebook for family and friends) then please dont send a message to everyone you know saying that you are enjoying a breakfast at the cock. Innocent enough until some so called friends leave the ‘breakfast at’ part out of their requoting. Sigh!
Seeing as it was such a ridiculous time in the am and the sun was just coming up I headed down over the river for some early morning city views. Going past St Pauls I got a first glimpse of the Occupy London protest and the ‘ring of steel’ around the London Stock Exchange. Lets be honest I remember some of the rings of steel thrown up here in Northern Ireland,so a few crash barriers and fat lads in dayglo jackets doesnt constitute a ring of steel London.
I do have to say it was an absolutely beautiful morning and whilst cold was probably one of the best Ive ever seen there. I would have mostly stayed there in the summer when at times the heat is oppressive, I remember coming out of an air conditioned office one day for lunch only to stay in the revolving door and go and get crisps and cola from the vending machine.
I spent most of the morning wandering in and around the City hoping to set upon some bankers and give them what for but they must have all been sitting in their office, banking, or something like that.
I had a fair idea of the types of photos I wanted so took a wander up around Westminster and in and around Whitehall. It was a good opportunity to try out some of the travel technology Id first tried at my path to enlightenment in Hong Kong. I had downloaded a london transport app, a tube map, walking and guided tour apps and was using google maps to navigate. Despite having an engineering degree and a masters in electronics this felt very weird. Id always travelled everywhere with a map and found it strange to be standing in Trafalgar Square and then finding the nearest highest ranked pub lunch within 100 yards. Sure enough my facebook and tripadvisor friends didnt let me down and I ended up in the excellent porter house just off covent garden. Of course only after Id sat down and ordered did I realise it was an Irish pub and just across the street from Rules where Id unsuccessfully tried to book a lunch.
I then made almost a fatal mistake, I decided to go for wander up round Regent Street and then Oxford Street in late evening a couple of weeks before Christmas. Only the previous weekend the police had closed Oxford Street because there were just too many people in it for safety.
Im sure it was nowhere near that now but John Lewis is an odd place to sit and have your dinner, like a bad comedy sketch Id tried to get in somewhere to sit down and made the mistake of trying to navigate through shops when I found myself outside the John Lewis Cafe. With the glories of trip planners, sat nav, tube maps I worked out that it would be a hundred yard dash to Regent Street tube station and then only one change to my hotel.
Ok so I’ll admit it Im chicken and I bottled out and went back to the hotel to watch the football on tv. Theres only so many shopping crowds you can brave before it takes its toll and if its this bad now, whats it going to be like come the 2012 Olympics?
The main areas I wanted to visit were Stanley and the Stanley market, the Aberdeen ‘village’ and its fish market, Sha Tin and the 10,000 buddhas monastery and if possible fit a trip in to Ngong Ping on the morning I was leaving.
Travel in Hong Kong is so easy and so cheap, stanley and aberdeen are less than an hour on the bus and probably less than 2 quid return, Sha Tin is a bit further for a few quid more and Ngong Ping isnt that far from the airport (if you can avoid going anywhere near Disneyland).
I didnt think Id been to Stanley before but walking round the market it did look vaguely familiar, if I had been there before it was only to the market. Thats not really a surprise as the first time I was there it had been a closed peninsula due to the British Military base and the 2nd time it had just been turned over to a Chinese military base. 14 years later commercialism and development have taken over but the market is still thriving and the peninsula has mostly been opened up with only a small part of it still reserved. I took a wander up to the Military Cemetary and walked past a field that was very familiar to me. Id definitely not been here before as it was within the old military base and it took me a while to work out why it was familiar. Back in 1977 when I was seven years old we had a batch of photos sent to us of my cousins in Hong Kong and here was the very same field complete with school on the cliff face in the background. I think I still have that old yellowing photo somewhere but here I was standing in virtually the spot the photo was taken. I resisted the opportunity to take a photo from the same spot as it wouldnt have anywhere near the meaning and time has moved on. How much time has moved on is almost like watching a sci fi film at the time. Back in 1977 the post took weeks to get to us and if you wanted to ring HK we went down to the only phone in the street and contacted the international operator and ‘booked’ a time for the call. That night I went back to the hotel and sent my cousin a message on facebook!
As well as the hustle bustle of the market where the prices seem to be lower and more ‘fixed’ than the other more touristy markets in Kowloon. The market here seems to be more for doing business than for haggling and getting the feel for things. Dont quote me on it but my feelings of Stanley market was that the goods were of a higher quality than other markets, certainly the silk/traditional clothing and the electronics. Times have indeed changed when you walk through the market dodging low flying toy helicopters.
The Murray building and the Tin Hau temple are worth a look, the temple if for nothing else than to see the weird tiger skin hanging on the wall. The official story was that it was shot by a local policeman as it ravaged the place, others say it was an escapee from the zoo shot by the Japanese during the invasion as well as other equally wild but equally plausible stories. Why its hanging on the temple wall 70 years later though isnt really explained.
I didnt get the chance to sample the waterfront restaurants as the US Navy was in town and the place was bunged and they didnt look like the type of guys to argue with… …although saying that I do remember starting an argument with Dutch special forces in a night club in Prague (over women of course) which ended up with us in a singing competition at a tram stop long after the sun came up with no women in sight (well none that didnt have a look of disgust on their face).
Moving swiftly along the next trip was to the quaint fishing village of Aberdeen. To be fair though even 14 years ago it was skyscrapers and very little left of a quaint fishing village.
I fancied having a wander around the famous fish market where the local fishing boats unload their catch and it is auctioned off, packed into lorries still alive, then shipped around the country. Its a proper working area so isnt accessible to everyone so as long as I watched my steps, got out of peoples way and didnt make a nuisance of myself Id be ok. Surprisingly I did do all of the above but my problems came from a different direction. Learning my lesson from the previous trips out at rush hour I went against all guide book advice to get across first thing and thought Id catch the last hour of trading, which was useful as the workers were more open to photos than during the mad phase of the operations. I also thought I’d learned from my blisters of the previous few days so first thing I burst all the existing ones and dressed the sores…
…only to find out the whole fish market tanks are live fish, crabs etc. Now back home everything is packed in ice and then sold, here they are kept in live tanks, transferred to live tanks, then transferred to vans with live water tanks and then into the restaurants where they swim about until lunchtime. What has this got to do with blisters, well all the tanks overflow keeping the fish alive so the full floor of the fish market is under about 2 inches of water. Salt water. Ow…
I thought that there wouldnt be a better place to get some seafood for lunch so took the courtesy ferry across to the famous jumbo floating restaurant. Id been to the restaurant before but hadnt actually eaten there but this time would be different. Its an amazing place and again I had old photos of my aunts dressed to the nines having nights out on the 3 storey floating restaurant complexes. Of course I was in my usual look like a pauper and try not to get robbed sweaty travel clothes so thought a cordened off screened area awaited. I got the top restaurant and asked for a table for one. Certainly sir, what name is the reservation under? Eh? Its sunday lunchtime, we are fully booked. Ah balls! I still havent eaten at the jumbo restaurant!
It was the same story in a lot of the restaurants and the town centre was hectic so I took a sampan tour of the harbour (again dont pay the main price, haggle, pretend to walk away and so on) before heading into the town for some Char Siu fast food style.
The journey to Sha Tin was interesting as it was good to be back on an integrated transport system, tram from the hotel to central, subway to Kowloon Tong station then old KCR train to Sha Tin station, no more than a few minutes delay in each station and no more than a couple of quid single. Oh how Id long for that a month later in London, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Id avoided Sha Tin for a couple of days as one of the big horseracing meetings was on. Now with family history and considering Id been going to Horse Racing since before I was born (think about it) I did feel Id miss out but needs must and all that, gotta use the good days for photos!
Id missed the 10,000 buddha monastery on previous trips so thought Id pay it a visit this time, directions were simple, out of the train station, past the traditional chinese village, up the hill and its on the left hand side. I did this but didnt think it looked like any of the photos Id seen in the old guide books but having had enough photos published in guide books and mentioned in blogs before about trades descriptions and photos in blue skies etc I though it might just be one wee small area of the monastery that all the photos are taken of.
It was hot, humid, very polluted and a lot of steps to the top of the hill (which the guidebooks warn you about). I got to the top and most of the lower levels were chinese columbariums where the ashes of the dead are placed. Not having been to a big buddhist monastery before I didnt know it was normal.
Up until this point Id been walking around on memory, a 14 year old guidebook and well, lets be honest, using the force. Standing at the top of this hill, sweat pouring out of me, sore leg, finding it hard to breathe with the pollution and almost out of water I thought Id turn to technology. I had downloaded the trip advisor hong kong app and thought Id just check with it using my smartphone and waited on a gps fix….
…Standing in this Buddhist temple I started to contemplate my own personal path to enlightenment as the gps fix locked and the trip advisor app loaded. I clicked on the tourist spot the gps indicator was flashing at. ‘This is the Po Fook Hill cemetery that many people mistake for the 10,000 Buddha monastery which is on the opposite facing hill’.
I turned around to see the monastery, on the opposite hill indeed with all the steps down and all the steps up. I had indeed had my path enlightened although I dont think Buddha would have approved of my language at this point. Further reading of the Po Fook Hill site revealed the presence of a lift to the top from the car park. I know buddhists sometimes ring bells but do they have a clucking one?
Down at the entrance to the real 10,000 Buddha monastery I was accosted by one of the fake monks who inhabit the site who block tourists path until they part with some cash. This guy was head and shoulders taller than me and kept stepping in my way. Which didnt do the bad leg nor the blisters any good. When he grabbed my arm he got a full mouthful of Belfast vernacular. Im assuming he wasnt fluent in English but the speed of his letting go and backing off did indicate I had helped enlighten him somewhat.
When I say the top of the path to the ten thousand buddha monastery was breathtaking I meant it. I couldnt bloody breathe! Good job theres a wee shop up there selling tea and water etc. The monastery itself is worth a visit and check out the embalmed body of the founder mounted on the altar! Take a trip up to the top of the 9 storey pagoda. You cant see anything out of it, I just want you to suffer like I did
Every so often, no matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad a day you are having and how wrecked you feel there is always something that will crack you up. Just outside the toilets in the monastery was a sign, which yes is well meaning and warns tourist to not feed the monkeys but….
Just the mix of the words ‘beware’ and ‘monkey attack’ had me in near fits of laughter as all I could imagine was me standing taking a piss in the loos only to be set upon by Bruce Lee trained ninja monkeys. The idea of monkeys all dressed in black flying out at me through the bushes was just too much!
On the train back I had a look through the trip advisor app and the number one tourist attraction in Hong Kong was the symphony of lights down at the harbour. Now I hadnt seen this before and everyone raved about it online. So I went down an hour early, picked my spot, got jostled endlessly by ignorant tourists but thought it would be worth the hassle. In the hour or so before the kowloon promenade speakers were knocking out classical and some rock music, just the sort of accompanyment you would expect to a sound, light and laser show which incorporates most of the buildings in Central Hong Kong and some of those in Kowloon (the Avenue of stars is the best place for viewing). When the show started it was a half hour long and to be perfectly honest seemed like a lifetime. Those who rated this the number one thing to see in Hong Kong were either staying on a boat in the middle of the harbour or really need to get out more. Now I appreciate the music may have been ‘classical chinese’ music but to me it was just ding ding noise but then again Im starting to sound like the tourists I used to slag off the last times I was here, so heres a short clip of the finale so that you can make up your own minds but dont hold your breath…
The last trip was up the Ngong Ping cablecar to the Ngong Ping tourist village and up to the Big Buddha. The plan was simple, get to the airport, check the bags in, get to the cable car and then spend some time at the big buddha. Of course what it didnt tell you was that you can check your bags in at the airport express terminal…. … in Hong Kong Island, not at the airport and I really thought I was going to be stuck here all day lying on my bags in an airport. Thankfully there was a left luggage place so I went to the cable car unburdened! Which was just as well as an hour standing in the queue with it just long enough to think it wasnt worth spending the extra tenner for the queue jumping ticket. Trust me it is! You can also opt for the glass bottomed cable car. Not for me in a million years – my fear of heights is bad enough but when you are in a cable car and can see planes taking off way down below you, gaving a glass bottom is quite likely to bring on an evacuated bottom if you know what I mean.
Speaking of which, Ive always had this ‘rule’ of traveling. Dont eat anything dodgy during the entire stay and if you want to go for say that chinese herbal tea from a street stall or the seafood prawns from hong kong harbour then do it on the last night/day, that way if you get the shits on the plane home it doesnt really matter. This has been a good rule for me and one I tell everyone, probably because Ive never ever put it into practice…
…until now. It wasnt the fear of heights that scared me on the cable car trip, it was the fear that every fart might end up sounding like trying to squeeze the last bit of shower gel out of the plastic container.
Packing the immodium in the left luggage perhaps wasnt my brightest idea.
The pollution was so bad you could see very little and almost had to be on the big buddha so photos were pointless and with my stomach doing somersaults discretion was the better part of valour and time to start winding my way home.
Overall it was a good trip, Id seen a lot more of Hong Kong than both my previous trips combined but thats down to this being a work trip rather than a holiday. I would recommend Hong Kong to anyone, even if it is just to wander around the place, get some good food, do a bit of haggling and shopping and maybe get to some of the outlying places rather than just central and kowloon.
One of the most famous, accessible, cheap and most memorable sights in Hong Kong is the star ferry journey across the harbour. As I mentioned in my last blog post the journey isnt as long as I remember it due to the land reclamation in the harbour. Some locals joke that in a few years you will be able to walk to the island without getting your feet wet!
IF you have a couple of hours only in Hong Kong make sure you take the trip. If you have more than a day make sure you take it at night as well. Check out the seats as they are all reversible and you just move the back depending on which direction you are moving in. Also keep an eye out for the moving gangplank when boarding, particularly in a heavy swell and sometimes the night crossing can be a bit hairy in one of the most congested areas of sea on the planet!
After the food excesses of the previous couple of days it turned out to be a McDonalds day. As much as I dont eat this stuff, well almost ever, out where my hotel was the cafes and restaurants didnt open until 10am (another reason for lying in) and McDonalds was open from 7am. 10am is all well and good in the summer months but when it gets dark at 4:30-5pm and you need to get photos taken then time really is money. So using my octopus card I just went in pointed to a breakfast menu and stood and waited. Normally Im very anal about research but how far wrong can you go?
Well ok you get this…
When I first took the lid off I thought WTF? Someone has accidently dumped my egg, burger pasta and cheese into a bowl of hot water. Then I thought hold on check around and see what other people get. Yes the same thing. Odd. As usual I ended up wearing some of it and realised I’d better go on a diet when I get home because I dont stain the top of my trousers any more I stain half way down my shirt (you can work that out yourself!
I had a few things on my must see list from previous trips and one of those was to see people do Tai Chi in the parks. In the previous trips I’d failed to see any purely because it seems to be mostly done at 7am and well, lets be honest I only see 7am if Im coming home or if the house was catching fire. So rather than the mass numbers you see in all the guidebooks (usually old looking photos – does it happen any more?) I happened to catch a few folk in one garden in central.
Down at the Star Ferry terminal the previous there had been loads of police knocking about with cordoned off areas. Nothing unusual there I just assumed it was a queue for some famous person signing or queue for a ticket launch or some other thing. I found out today when I saw the length of it that it was the queue for the launch of the iPhone 4GS. When I say queue I mean over 3000 people queued up. Yes three thousand! I was at the opening of the apple store in Belfast and I think there was one sad loser who queued all night and felt a right prat because number 2 in the queue didnt show up to 6am. There were perhaps about 150 people total, if that? Now all the mac evangelists I know are quite sad people. Its a cult or religion rather than a piece of over styled average technology but come on. At what point did people turn up and queue for 3 days think ‘maybe they only have 2000 in stock?’. Maybe they had more. Very sad indeed, get a life folks its a bloody phone and not a very good phone at that! The reason why the police were there was that scuffles had broken out at the front because people had been paid over 1000 pounds to stand at the front of the queue for other people. Now I can understand queueing up for 3 days and nights for a grand, I would be tempted myself but paying the grand? plus the price of the phone? Come on. Still it didnt stop me exploiting the situation and wiring in a few photos to a news agency.
One other thing on the list to see was the noonday gun down in Causeway Bay. A hangover from the British occupation where this cannon would be fired on the shoreline every day at noon by the Jardines company. It had apparently stopped for a couple of years but was going today. Give it another 6 months and it wont be anywhere near the sea which will be odd having this row of Cannons on a pier a few hundred yards inland. Access to the gun is limited to the half hour after the gun is fired and access to the gun area is a bit convoluted, down through the basement of a hotel. One of those times you ask for help or directions and are led down stairs, down a corridor, past heating ducts into the darkness when every ounce of sense you have is screaming at you to get the f**k out of Dodge and you laugh at the stupidity of such people in daft horror or zombie movies. Well I followed a couple of women down so I thought if they started disappearing one by one it was time to leg it.
The whole firing the cannon ceremony was typically British lots of spit and polish and loads of old colonialism thrown in for good measure but ultimately pointless. Still it keeps the tourists happy.
Speaking of the British and colonialism and all that. On my first trip to Hong Kong it was still a British Colony and I found most of the tourists were the panama hat, linen suit wearing brigade whose daily duty it was to be loud and thoroughly insult and be rude to the natives. A few were looking forward to going back to Mainland China control to get rid of the foreign oppressors. Of course now the chinese people barge into you, are loud and seem to spend the day being thoroughly rude to the natives. The American Navy were also in town and… well you get the picture. I guess most tourists seem to be the same regardless of where they come from and where they go.
Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise but it isnt as cheap as it used to be. As I mentioned in the previous post everything seems to be available on ebay for not much more and without the hassle of lugging it around, luggage weight restrictions and customs declarations but it is still fun to haggle regardless. Todays markets were the fresh food market in Yaumatei and the Jade Market. Now my first experience of a chinese fresh food market involved my first trip were we went into China for the day. The food was fresh as it was indeed, still breathing. The coach trip didnt realise that if you went around a market pointing at things they were generally fished out of their tank or cage and beheaded on the spot. 10 mins in to our 1/2 hour visit I was the only one left in the place.
It reeked of cow faeces, blood and the noise was amazing. I didnt mind the tying the goat up and slitting its throat, food has to be got somehow, what turned my stomach was the guy clearing his head, nose, throat and lungs up and spitting it into the fish tank to be completely devoured by the fish. Now I know you are probably retching now at the thought, I can still see it and will probably see it to my dying day. Thats one thing that has improved. My first two times people just decided to dump the contents of their mucal cavaties at each and every opportunity. You would never put your bag down on the floor in a tram, bus or even restaurant. To be fair to one of my previous travelling companions even my chicken dinner didnt taste the same when the crowd of builders at the next restaurant table put half the contents of their brains on the floor next to us.
Im assuming the outbreaks of SARS and bird flu hit all that on the head. Originally I thought people wearing facemasks about town were just paranoid, turns out it is a health issue but its one enforced by doctors in that if you have a cold and go in to town with millions of other people you wear a facemask to limit the chances of infecting someone else. A couple of weeks later on the London Underground I wished that rule applied here. Would probably breach our human rights…
Markets now are a lot more civilised places but the food is still fresh and some of it is still breathing. When I say food I mean things that you could possibly stick in your gub. Im assuming the more disgusting it is the more of a ‘delicacy’ it becomes. You cant say its not fresh though and remembering my first trip I remember seeing every single part of four pigs hanging up for sale in a butchers stall. When I say every single part, I mean every single part and you could tell there were a couple of male pigs in there as well. Think about it… ….but it took me a long while to eat pork sausages again.
The Jade Market is another good memory having visited it on previous trips with a couple of cheap souvenirs still around the house. As long as you realise you are probably buying cheap plastic then you cant be far wrong. Lets be honest if someone asks me for a tenner for a piece of polished jade stone and settles on a pound then the odds are its up there with my jade dragon story. If I havent already elaborated on that one before I’ll do a later blog post on the tat, sorry souvenirs I’ve bought around the world.
Ive mentioned the silk embroidery before and theres nothing like this and the range available from Hong Kong, just make sure you haggle in the night markets although places like Stanley Market shops have better quality and the prices on show are pretty much it although in bulk with cash you can get a deal.
Ive mentioned my chinese rosewood furniture before and the hollywood road is one of the places to go but a better deal was had on Queens Road East.
Unfortunately or rather fortunately the shop I bought all my stuff from had moved. To cut a long story short (would be a first) I ordered a dining room table and wooden bureau to my spec, colours, seats etc and paid the money to have it delivered half way round the world. Simple transaction and of course my mate (who also ordered some stuff) only researched how to do business in China after we came home. Oh the handing money and business cards over with two hands is polite and one is rude. Oops, now who were acting the colonialists? You dont do a deal straight away as its more polite to accept the sweets they offer, ok so I insulted the locals too, talk about family, ok yet again, and then come back the next day and do the deal. Ok you get the picture about insulting the locals.
So it would take six weeks to make and six weeks to ship in a container. It was only when we got home and arguably sobered up that we realised we’d just paid a couple of grand to a stranger in a small shop halfway round the world and did we really expect the stuff to be delivered on time. Well I can tell you it wasnt delivered on time, it came a week early. Despite the jokes from people at home it backed up all the advice we had been given before going that chinese people do business with trust and honour and I had hoped to call into the same shop and thank the owner or more likely their son or heir for the great service we received from them.
Ive had a fascination with Hong Kong ever since I was a kid. I’ll not blame one of my favourite cartoons ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ and I’ll not even blame one of the greatest marketing exercises of all time with every cheap plastic toy known to man being branded as ‘Made in Hong Kong’ but rather that two of my aunts lived there for for a couple of years in the mid to late 70s.
One of my aunts sent us some chinese style pyjamas – all black with embroidered dragon on the back and her house when she returned to the UK was full of beautifully carved dark chinese rosewood furniture.
I first got the chance to go to Hong Kong back just before it was handed back to the Chinese. It was an interesting trip as I went with an ex-girlfriend who wasnt ex when we booked it. Interesting is certainly one way to describe it. As a result I thought I had unfinished business there and went back just after the handover with a couple of mates. The rest is a bit hazy and although I did buy a lot of furniture and had it shipped home I still dont think I did the place justice.
Cut to last year and at some point in the year the wee voice in my head said ‘you should get yourself back to Hong Kong’. So when a gap in the schedule opened up in November I thought – why not, good to go and see how the place has changed in the last 14 years and update some stock photos. Oh and not to spend any money on ‘stuff’. Saying that though I did go out with a half empty bag just in case. Well not so much just in case but to bring back some tacky dragon embroidered pyjamas for every kid I know!
As usual nothing is straightforward. I hadnt flown British Airways since my accident on their plane back in 1999. I wasnt looking forward to that aspect of it but time to try and put some demons to rest. Of course BA require some extra passport details and it being a relatively new passport (less than a year old) I didnt know them offhand. I got the passport out and filled in the details until I got to the ‘sex’ section. Right here in block letters was the word ‘female’. Oh shit! Only 3 days to go no opportunity to get the passport changed. I convinced myself that it wouldnt be a problem as I had already been allowed into both Canada and the US on this passport. Maybe the border guards were too polite to say or maybe just thought it was a bad hair day. Either way it put paid to any plans to nipping across the Chinese border into Shenzen in case I couldnt get back to HK and be stranded in the special economic zone until the end of time.
There was probably a greater likelihood of being detained at heathrow but either way passing through immigration in both places would be squeeky bum time.
I need not have worried as other as the interminable delays in getting through to heathrow terminal 5, nothing of any real interest happened on the way out. Ive always disliked heathrow but now its just a hole of a place. 3 hours to get from terminal 1 to terminal 5? I could have crawled it quicker.
It was my first time at the new Hong Kong airport, the last trips were to the old Kai Tak airport where you flew between the skyscrapers and then banked heavily and hoped you landed on the runway. I’d always heard stories about looking out the window and seeing people on balconies above you. Id put this down to exaggeration but I can honestly say it was a sight to behold and one of the truly remarkable sights I’ve ever seen.
The rain had followed me all the way and although it was ‘cold’ by local standards, standing waiting for the bus to the island I couldnt get rid of the jumpers and coats quick enough. The bus was straight to the hotel door and then it was changed, showered and out down to the star ferry. Its here the changes became noticeable. A couple of extra skyscrapers but the old shoreline is now well inland, something that would sting me later on when I recognised some places from my previous trip and thought ‘sure its only just down there…’. Yeah, maybe 14 years ago but the ferry crossing is now about 1/2 the time it used to be and the boats havent got any quicker!
Hong Kong was as manic as I ever remembered it with the added complication with people stopping or slowing down to reading texts, websites, facebook etc on their phones and tablets.
The last trips I didnt really get the chance to eat some true chinese food as one person refused to eat anything that looked dodgy and on another trip travelling with a mate who thought a spring roll was a bread roll with salad in it!
Off I went to the temple st night market and to temple spice crab cafe. I of course ordered the spicy crabs without actually knowing what I was getting. At 30 quid for a street cafe meal I really should have had my head read but was glad when this arrived….
…of course never having eaten crab before I really didnt have a clue. I was also out of practice with chopsticks and no-one around me was eating crab so I didnt have a guide. Firstly let me warn you, when they say spicy crab, they mean spicy! As I enjoy chinese food I have a cupboard full of chinese ingredients so you would think I would recognise spicy rice full of dried chillis. Well you would think so, wouldnt you. It burned on the way in and it burned on the way out. Finally a couple of New Zealand tourists took pity on me. They recognised I came from a cold place in the Northern Hemisphere and that we need to use tools to crack crab legs because the shells are thick! Down here its warm water and the shells are so thin you can crack them with your teeth. They obviously havent seen my dental bills! When Id stopped eating bits of shell and putting out the fire in my mouth I really started to enjoy the spicy crabs, but it had taken me so long to get round to it that the place was closing with that famous chinese way of letting you know your time is up by taking your table away and turning off the lights.
I had a quick look round the market then went back on the ferry. By this time the trams had stopped and public transport was winding down, so instead of getting one of the cheap taxis I thought Id walk back to the hotel. It was a lovely warm balmy night, leg was fine and sure it wasnt that far from what I remember….
Next morning it was out with the antiseptic cream and time to bust the blisters from the night before!
Since my last visit almost all of the transport and some of the small shops and restaurant chains (7eleven, mcdonalds etc) use the octopus card. This is a smart car payment system which makes the whole transport thing so easy which calls into question last nights exploring! Just touch it to the payment terminal and away you go. No fumbling for change on the tram! Probably one of the more useful things I bought in hong kong, particularly as it is soo cheap to get around. I think I spent about 25 quid in total for all the travelling, some breakfasts and supplies from the 7-11. Compare that to over 40 quid in London a month later for half the time and far less travel….
I was up reasonably early for a couple of reasons, one being jetlagged, two being the jcb dismantling the building next to the hotel and the dynamiting going on beneath the hotel in extending the MTR. The view from the hotel window wasnt exactly scenic and for me at least is one of those views you only get in Hong Kong. Not a view of the harbour but a road on stilts snaking through the high rise apartment buildings and one of those buildings being dismantled from the top down by a JCB. How the hell do they get up there in the first place? Heavy lift helicopter?
It was still a crappy day and really poor for photography so I thought Id change my plans, get out early, get up to the markets, have a look round and then get some general tight in shots of things. Of course in hindsight getting on the ding ding local tram during the rush hour commute into the central district probably wasnt the best idea in the world. A good excuse for sleeping in for the rest of the week.
The tram may be cheap but it is slow and crowded so although I was head and shoulders above everyone else on the tram it meant my head was touching the ceiling for the whole journey. About half way there I cracked, got off and went for a walk down the dried seafood street. Id seen a programme about shark fin fishing a few weeks previously and this seemed to be the place where they were all sold along with every sort of dried ‘thing’ you would think it was possible to eat and an awful lot of stuff you wouldnt think of eating in a million years! Maybe starbucks for breakfast isnt such a bad idea after all! Although very weird to get a christmas latte and cranberry danish with piped festive tunes in 21 degree heat in the middle of china.
Lunch however was a totally different proposition. Id read in the guidebooks about the dim dum restaurant up in Mong Kok that is the proud owner of a michelin star. I have eaten in michelin starred restaurants before (all the ones in Northern Ireland) but never for less than 10 quid! There are no bookings here, so you turn up get a number, be told it will be ‘about an hour’ and then wait.
One tip is not to go in a group, split up into groups of 2 and just go an enjoy the food and talk about it later. It is a very small restaurant so if you go singly you will be put at the table with someone else. Luckily I was put with a chinese man who was interested in where I was from, what I was doing and why I had ordered enough food to feed a family of 4. I thought he was joking. He wasnt and my doggy backpack was testament to that. It was still less than a tenner and michelin starred! My about an hour was really about an hour so I’d went for a wander, came back filled in what I wanted and then crammed into my spot right in front of the serving area. This is what Hong Kong is all about, ordered chaos but with a superb result.
I had read people saying that the pork buns were to die for and again thats no exaggeration. I hardly touched the congee and if I knew what it was in advance I’d probably have not bothered. The chicken feet were ‘interesting’ and I can say Ive been there and done that and the sticky rice would indeed have filled me as it was. So if you want something to fill you up, takeaway from a michelin starred restaurant without waiting then I recommend ordering the sticky rice and pork buns then finding one of the small local parks to sit and eat in.
If you only eat in one place in hong kong make it one dim dum ( Tim Ho Wan) on Kwong Wa Street Mong Kok. It is worth the wait.
Hong Kong is a great place for markets, from the night markets to the jade market, the goldfish and bird markets to the ‘fresh’ food markets some of which is still alive, be sure to go and visit as many as possible. The night and tourists markets just seem to be a physical implementation of ebay these days but in the days before ebay they really were sights to behold. Well worth a wander round and be prepared to barter and never go for the top price.
Even though I said I wasnt going to buy anything, I did think I’d get myself something for Christmas! Pity it didnt last beyond Christmas but what do you expect for a tenner, although Im glad I didnt pay the 30 quid asking price!
I really have to get better at this whole blog thing and not just post when Im travelling. Incidently Im off today to the beautiful (when it doesnt rain) west coast to do a wedding later in the week for a friend. My usual excuse applies in that I have been busy, honestly I have been, but in case the tax man is reading, business is desperate! Its now the end of my wedding season and yes I do do weddings but this weeks is the last one I have booked. Im not really interested in being a wedding photographer per se, rather a photographer who occasionally does weddings. Its the photography that interests me and although I was asked by a local venue to be official photographer for the site the idea of going to the same place taking similar pictures week after week just fills me with dread. I love hearing peoples stories and yes I suppose I am a romantic at heart but I see the photos telling the story of the people, as well as the day. I suppose its hard to explain but then again thats why I only do a few per year and only if I really really want to tell the peoples stories. That might come across as arrogant (would fit in with the wedding photographers rightly) but my view is that this is my job, I have to enjoy my job and if I enjoy it that comes across in my photos. I tell that often enough to my students so I’d be a bit hypocritical if I didnt practise that myself. So other than weddings Ive been doing a fair bit of dance photography. As with the weddings I’d love to show you the pictures but they arent stock images so arent for sale, plus the dance photos are embargoed until the performances and brochure materials get produced so I’ll save that for a later blog.
I’d love to say I’d been out on the boat, fishing away in the lovely weather we have had but I’d be lying on both counts. The weather has been terrible and the boats engine broke down. Thankfully the engine went as we were casting off so no harm done other than 3 weeks waiting for parts to come from America that didnt work! I then couldnt get the boat in for repair due to bad weather and only having the backup engine to get the boat from the marina to the harbour ramp. Eventually I got one evening when I thought it was calm enough to get the boat in and you know when you utter something incredibly stupid and know you will live to regret it? Well when asked how I would get the boat in I replied ‘by being assertive’. Well let me tell you no amount of bravado or assertiveness can make an 18 foot boat go into a 15 knot headwind with a 4hp backup engine. Its at this point you know bringing a fresh battery for the emergency VHF was a good idea and that you hope the liquid running down the back of your legs is only sweat. All was well though and I now have an expensive driveway ornament until work calms down a bit and I get the chance to work on it. I do have an engine manual but following some of the steps would have required a wetsuit and flippers whilst still in the marina. It reminds me of the time I replaced the engine in my old fiesta car. Followed the haynes manual to the letter through all 200 steps of engine removal, seal and gasket replacement and putting back in again. Step 201 of course had the ‘note – remember to put the flange between the engine and gearbox correctly’. Oh that would be the thing left lying on the floor there. 399 steps to go…
Speaking of car repairs, I got the Alfa up and running again….
In the very few times it hasnt been pishing out of the heavens Ive also managed to get out and get some stock photography work done. Bit unfortunate for this whole radharcimages project that Ive had 20 days of good weather in 2 years and been working for clients for most of them! The Irish side of the project is well and truely stalled and this is the primary reason.
Ive more usuable images from USA/Canada in a month than the whole of Ireland in probably the last year. Still there should be some good crisp clear winter days to get some work done but with limited daylight it might not be economically viable for more than a full days journey.
I eventually got all my Canada/US travel images edited, captioned and uploaded so now Im looking for a new project so I’ll be off on my travels again, this time I’m going back to Hong Kong for a week. Ive been there twice before. Once before the British handover and again the year later. Two completely different trips but not for handover reasons. The first time I went for a week and I had booked the trip with my then girlfriend. Of course by the time we came to go on the trip we werent boyfriend/girlfriend any more. I dont really need to explain too much more, do I?
The following year I went out there with two mates for the weekend. Yes the weekend – £250 quid flights and accomodation from Belfast, out on Thurs night, back on Tues. We drank the whole flight there… I dont really need to explain too much more, do I? I’ll go into that trip more when I cover the next one but I must have been drunk the whole time as my house is full of chinese furniture!
Whilst the total rainfall in Hong Kong for November is about the same as the total rainfall in my garden this morning, I have been thinking about getting the place ready for winter. Whilst out doing some stock photos of barley crops I got talking to some farmers who say we are in for some snowfall later in October. So Im prepared this time with the snow shovel, snow chains, gloves, hat, spare clothes, etc for all those car emergencies, or alternatively I’ll just light a coal fire, crack open the bushmills and just look out the window.
Well it has been over a month since I got home and well over a month since my last blog post. When I wrote the last blog post I was still sitting in Canada, pretty much packing up and ready to get the flight home. Did I say ready? Well prepared to get the flight home is more appropriate.
Its hard to believe its been a month already, just as it was hard to beleive a month traveling had gone by. In the last few weeks Ive been catching up with my other photo work, getting back in touch with students, starting to wade through the thousands of images to be edited, captioned and uploaded to various sites and sitting watching the rain bounce off the windows.
Its been a tough couple of weeks, not just from the work perspective and the fitting it all in whilst trying to get a house and everything back to normal. The boring mundane ordering of heating oil and cutting the grass dont quite compare to flying over nigara falls in the helicopter but they have to be done.
Its also been a wrench leaving my friends, its not that I dont have good friends here but there is something about traveling together that bonds people. I have 3 close friends that I have traveled the world with and I remember the first day they met, it was down in dublin airport and none of them had met before. I had traveled with them all individually but not as a group so hadnt even considered the dynamics. Our first task as a unit was to report all our luggage missing on arrival so it was a baptism of fire. There is something about the bonds of friendship made whilst traveling that go beyond normal friendship and I have that in abundance now with my friends here, in Canada and in South America.
People have asked what the highlight of the trip was, of course there are loads of things I could mention and already have in the blog but like my trip to South America there is one thing that stands out for me, the people I travelled with and the people I met. Whilst I didnt quite need emergency room treatment as in Buenos Aires, I was treated like a friends by strangers and welcomed into the family by people who didnt need to do that.
Oh but here, did I mention we got buzzed by a crop duster in North Dakota?
With the recent events in London and indeed Belfast it is sometimes easy to draw the conclusion that the world is going to hell and in a bloody quick manner but when someone in nowheresville Iowa comes over to your table and asks how you are and what you are doing there and recommends the platter then its not that bad. When you are invited to a family barbecue even though you arent part of the family but feel like it by the end of the evening then it shows there are more good people than bad in the world.
But Im not knocking the sales of water cannon photos or soldiers on the streets.
It was my first trip to Canada and definitely wont be the last, I felt at home there, I felt as though it was the same as here only different. Ive been so taken with the place I spent the first couple of weeks looking at visa regulations and work permits and the like. There is a danger that the grass is always greener and boy if I complain about the winters here then…
…well you get the point.
I have always been a traveler, even when I didnt know it, its not really about the start or the end or even the bit in the middle, its about the journey as a whole, its not so much about what you see but how it affects you and what you do about it afterwards. Its about meeting people and seeing that we are pretty much the same the world over, we want to be fed and a roof over our head and if we can all have a laugh in the process, so much the better. The world financial system can go down the toilet but as long as you can put food on the table, thats pretty much all that should matter.
I am back to earth with a bump here but it is home and always will be home, I missed the soft grass and the soft rain (ok Ive had enough of that already) and sitting out on the lough fishing as the sun goes down is now an experience having met someone who has never seen the sea. Not to mention the freshly caught mackerel barbequed with friends.
Im waxing lyrical about the trip and the place but I’ll bring it back to the people, it would not have been half as much fun without the old and new friends on the trip and I think if we’d sat in the house for a month it would have been equally as enjoyable.
Just saying thank you isnt really enough, I am a wee boy from the Falls Road in Belfast, I should never have seen the things Ive seen (good and bad) and would never have imagined Id have been to the places I only ever read about or saw on a wee small black and white portable tv as a kid. That means its all an experience, its all good (even the bad bits).
Life is not a rehearsal so even if its just lying on the grass, sitting out in the rain, go and do something you havent done before, say yes to something you would normally say no to and see what happens along the way.
So thanks to everyone I met in the US/Canada, its been emotional Its also been great craic and would I do it again – 4 weeks ago I’d probably have said no, now I’ll say maybe, in 4 weeks time I’ll probably have a bag packed.
After Ive got the rest of the photos edited of course…. ..better get back to work and pull a few all nighters!
The time on this trip is really flying in, Canada Day marked the end of my third week on the road and also the start of my final week away. Its an odd sort of feeling as Canada has proved so far to be the same only different. What I mean is that there are a lot of familiar things yet they can all be done differently. Yet again I find out that companies I thought were Belfast/NI only are global – my first incarnation of this was when I was a kid and was surprised to see England had Woolworth shops!
The trip has taken a lot out of me, the rest days are becoming more frequent and we are back in the land of the mosquito bites!
Trying to learn from my experiences in Argentina I went down to the Saskatoon Jazz Festival with enough chemicals to mark me out as a target for WMD inspectors. Saskatoon is a great place but Ive only seen it in the summer and trust me I probably wouldnt want to see it in winter. Its like the place hibernates for 6 months of the year then explodes into colour, sound, taste and everything else that has been hidden away. The whole town seems to want to experience all life has to offer before the Winter sets in again. It makes it an interesting and lively place. Its where my official residence is during my stay in Canada (in case the border officials are reading) but the place Ive probably spent the least time in.
All too soon we would have to leave again for the Winnipeg folk festival for the guts of a week although we did get to see Canada Day out in the park and afterwards with friends and family.
Having worked for a Canadian company in a previous life I did know about Canada Day so was interested to see how people celebrated it. I had a hog in a bap and an elephants ear. All quite traditional so Im told.
As was the barbecue in a bag. It looked revolting, you open a packet of doritos (silver foil bag naturally – other nacho chips may be available) and pour in some meat and cheese and add a spoon. You then add in some hot sauce which apparently goes with everything and then just shovel it into your gub as you walk around. Im sure somebody somewhere will have a proper description of how to serve and eat but thats it in a nutshell.
I had once spent Independence Day in the USA, I went to Disneyworld where a hurricane hit. It was almost empty apart from a few kids who had bought bodyboard type things and were then surfing down main street. I then made the mistake of going to watch the film Independence Day on Independence Day, in America. A lot less laughing during the film than when I saw it again back home but definitely more whooping and hollering. A hell of a lot more calls of ‘Go Marines’ and ‘USA, USA, USA’ etc. To be honest after the film I wanted to get the hell away from there before they got out into the car park and started shooting up into the sky.
We had briefly considered packing up the gear from the Diefenbacker park stage and just hitting the road for the 9 hour drive to Winnipeg but saw sense and planned to get up early in the morning and head East. We had difficulty with the early in the morning bit as well.
I once turned down a trip to Canada as the way work schedule worked out I would have to drive pretty much across country from Calgary to Toronto and figured that would take 2 weeks and I only had 10 days. The way we have been driving, it would have been about 2 days! The roads here have to be driven to be believed. Long, straight, flat and bugger all people here. The danger would be falling asleep so it was 9 hours of almost arse numbing tedium to Winnipeg interspersed with splash and dash stops, sometimes petrol as well and of course, food.
The air around Winnipeg was full of the most beautiful dragonflies I had ever seen. These were the full size, real deal. Clouds of them shimmering blue in the lovely warm evening light.
Pity we were going through said clouds at about 80mph.
Winnipeg has the reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in Canada. Although thats all relative and there are dangerous spots. One thing I would say though is that if Id only seen Toronto and Winnipeg on this trip Id probably have classified Canada as been there and done that. I now see why a lot of the city dwellers aspire to a prairie life and call it the real Canada. Im very lucky to have experienced this and hope to do so again and maybe travel up North and or into the Rockies on the next trip.
Back to Winnipeg, we got in at a late hour and as I hadnt booked the accommodation I didnt know what I was in for. We were all put in a student house belonging to the University of Winnipeg. Not too bad as accommodation goes if you ignore the smoke alarms sitting on the chair, the mousetraps in the corner of the room, the no air conditioning, 40 odd degree heat and the one working shower between 10 rooms carry on. OK on the second day we had two working showers.
So important wee travelling tip, if staying in a hostel/campsite whatever get your shower at night. Another caveat to that, dont do what I did in a Geneva campsite by paying for a shower token, turning the shower on, getting the temperature just right, turning the shower off, getting bollock naked then jumping in and turning what can only be described as skin stripping ice old water. Sometimes the dont waste water environmental message has to be overlooked!
One other issue with the festival was that no photos during the workshops so I was again free to wander about the place during the day.
The pancake house down in the Forks area was highly recommended so we went down for breakfast on the Sunday morning. Id highly recommend it if you are there
At this point I was left on my own and would like to apologise profusely to the city and people of Belfast Northern Ireland. I ranted earlier about how nothing is open in Belfast on a sunday but Winnipeg this sunday morning made Belfast look like Metropolis. To be fair though it was the sunday of the Canada Day weekend and there was no-one here. And when I say no-one I really mean no-one, I felt like I was Will Smith in I Am Legend at times, wandering around with nobody else here. Canada is closed, come back tomorrow.
As usual when we arrived the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky, now its dull and overcast and useless for tourist type photos. Thats been the problem this whole trip, what I had planned to do and what I actually have done have never overlapped. I thought climate change was only an issue with Northern Ireland ‘summers’, I see its now a reality everywhere.
So wandering round with only dull skies to photograph I just happened to walk past the Winnipeg Goldeneyes baseball ground so thought Id take a look in. Id always wanted to see a live baseball game but never had the opportunity. Similarly with NBA (the previous lockout was on when I had the chance) and the NFL (teams playing away). This time I was 20 mins late but because of the rain which hadnt started falling yet, the game was delayed. Its funny you laugh when you hear that nobody plays here in the rain, thats because in Ireland we get lovely light soft rain most of the time, today in July there were thunderstorms with hailstones the size of marbles. Ok maybe the rain is slightly different here.
Which was much in evidence due to the flooding mentioned earlier in the trip and even here where the two rivers meet the steps just went down into brown muddy fast flowing rivers and some 10 feet above the riverside walkway.
I paid my 10 bucks and rushed up to my seat to get the hot dog that seems to go with ballgames.
Then the rain came down, and my God did it rain. An hour later we were ready to start. An hour after that I realised we had started. An hour after that when the blue skies returned I thought my legs would never work again.
Dont get me wrong, for 10 bucks you can sit all day in the sun, drink cold beer, eat hot dogs and fill in stat sheets that look like world cup wall planners but its definitely up there with cricket in the arse numbingly tedious sports category.
2 hours in and we were a third the way through. I love to get a bargain and on an hourly rate this would be hard to beat but only 4 runs had been scored. I decided Id seen enough baseball when I yearned for the 9 hour driving tedium! Afterwards in the next 3 hours between the two teams they managed to score another run. This wasnt Major League Baseball and perhaps Im being a little unfair as with a few mates and a few beers or the kids and a picnic it wouldnt be a bad day out but I think I’ve been there and done that for baseball.
The weather had cleared up so I wandered back to the house taking a few tourism type photos on the way back. With the soaking I got from sitting down on the ball park seats, it was easy to hide the sweat stains in the arse of my shorts in 35C heat. Pity it took me 3 hours and 2 coffee shops to get back to the house and they had dry seats. Note to self to ditch the light grey shorts which have dark grey patches looking like Id pissed myself every time the temperature goes above 25C.
I was a bit of a sorry state the next day, Id obviously been bitten by mosquitos the day before at some point and my leg had taken a bad reaction to a couple of the bites. One in particular had grown to a blister about an inch in diameter and definitely needed treatment. I decided it would be another rest day so a bit of shopping in and around the house and some tidying up some loose ends from home on the net. It was back to my good mate Tim Hortons place for breakfast and I thought Id call into the local drug store for some cotton wool etc to dress the blister once Id burst it.
As usual I picked the line with the person who couldnt understand what the 3 for 2 offer meant, the person with the stuff with no barcodes on it, the person who couldnt remember their debit card pin and the old lady with 14 tins of catfood and a huge bag of margarita mix. No seriously you couldnt make this shit up.
All I had was a 99 cent bag of cotton wool balls FFS. My mood wasnt lightened when the girl on the till asked if I was part of the over 55 discount scheme. I suppose I should have said yes and got my discount but it took all my strength to just say the word ‘No’ and not try to beat her to death with my cotton wool balls.
At least the nuclear alert status had been removed and the people had returned to the streets, as had the heat and the thunderstorms so I spent the rest of the day wondering if I could move rooms and just put me and my stuff in the massive fridges in the kitchen. They were only filled with beer and pizza anyway!
If Im totally honest I dont do mornings. Well I’ll rephrase that, I dont do mornings without a strong coffee. Ive sort of detoxed on this trip slightly as most of the coffee on this trip could only be classified as a cup of hot brown. So being back in Canada and with Tim Hortons so close I thought Id go out and get breakfast there. We were staying across the road from the University of Winnipeg and as the storms had cleared and the old building was beautifully lit this morning I thought I’d go take a pic of it and then cross the road to my mate Tims for breakfast.
So took the photos, looked right, no traffic, took half a step forward and the wind from the bus wing mirror racing past blew my sunglasses down my nose. Id made it almost a month being careful to look both ways to be almost wiped out a couple of days before coming home. It really was a wake up call in all senses of the phrase. Go and sit down, have a coffee and just wait until you are more alert (which could really take a while).
If you havent travelled with this intensity before its one of the signs that you either rest up for a week or go home. Ive well documented my issues with my bad leg and at times you just have to sit down or take time out as you can be a danger to yourself. Even when I was fit and healthy – I would add good looking but thats a lie, I only had surgery on my leg, not my face there were times you had to just rest up. Ive done the being operated on away from home thing and its not pleasant, it wasnt pleasant for me and it wasnt fair on the people with me. So scrap the plans for spending the day and night taking photos and just see where the day takes me.
Well first of all it took me to Tim Hortons…
Not far away from the University is the Manitoba Legislature building, its a nice enough building with nice grounds from the outside but last night Id stayed up with a couple of the local musicians who were of French Canadian origin who filled me in on a bit of the history of the area and told me to go check it out and the grounds.
I wandered into the building and was met by two huge security guards armed to the teeth and wearing flak jackets. First thought was ‘well thats the end of the trip’ but like everyone else Ive met in Canada they were very pleasant and got me to sign in to the visitors book as I was from somewhere that had to be spelt out Just in time for the guided tour as well, plus it was cool inside and by now baking outside.
After the previous nights conversation I headed over to the French quarter and in parts it was just like walking into France. The streetnames, some of the businesses had only french names, the hotel de ville and a lot of other stuff. Canada so far had been a mix of home, england, scotland, north america and to some extent indigenous people. Here was a whole lot of French thrown into the mix. Im beginning to like this place more and more, maybe in the French quarter I can get some great bread and nice coffee!
The guys last night had said to me to check out the grounds of the Cathedral as one of them had ancestors who were the original white settlers in Canada, French ‘Voyageurs’ who transported the furs and eventually settled here. Their graves are still marked in the graveyard
Then it was back to work taking some photos at the Folk Festival meetings. Again the people here were falling over themselves to help out, something I wish a lot of people back in Ireland and the UK would take note of.
Not a lot else happened later on, apart from a final night party and session back at the house after the show. The folk there asked if we had the like of this in Ireland – food, drink, singing, musicians.. I said we did but theres usually a casket in the middle of the room!
A great nights craic was had by all oh and I happened to sing (despite my best protestations – they were the the musicians and singers – I just had a couple) in front of a multiple JUNO winner…
…I felt her pain.
At least the following morning all the showers were fixed and so it was a 9 hour road trip back home.
Id say nothing much happened but we did make a 90 km detour just for a milkshake – not quite real rock and roll but one day we’ll do the whole entourage thing and make a point of this sort of extravagance
We had one of those ‘oh shit, cops’ moments that makes you hit the brakes even though you arent speeding…. maybe I should say, maybe if you werent just doing a bit over the speed limit because you took a 90km detour just to have a milkshake. We did say 8pm for dinner didnt we? It wasnt as big a bowel relaxing moment as the off ramp in North Dakota. Nothing in my mirrors for miles then all of a sudden the rear and side view mirrors filled with white mustang flashing its lights at me. I was about to utter ‘will you look at this wa……’ when the blues and twos came on. I’ll not say my heart stopped but it wasnt far off. In the end he just wanted me out of the way, his donuts were probably on order or something to be going that speed.
Oh and a life ambition, hanging out of the window of the car, sorry if law enforcement officers are reading, I didnt really undo my seatbelt and hang out of the passenger window to take a photo of a Canadian Pacific train… What was I saying earlier about being careful when travelling?
Theres something about the 8 year old boy in you that when a train almost a mile long blows its horn and rings its bell when it sees you being a buck eejit hanging out of a window that makes it all worthwhile.
Sure where would you get it?