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.
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.
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?
..I love shopping in the USA, I havent been ‘medium’ size in nearly 15 years….
..Non-Dairy creamer – like really? WTF is that? Its just slightly less toxic watercolour paint..
…continental breakfasts – now heres a thing – Ive always understood continental breakfasts to mean two things, firstly the continent is Europe and secondly its a minimal non-cooked breakfast.
Mostly its coffee and a croissant/pastry and possible maybe a slice of bread with a slice of ham/salami and cheese and even at a push a cold hard boiled egg.
Now I appreciate that North America is also a continent and perhaps thats what the ‘continental’ refers to but lets face it, bacon, scrambled eggs, mushroom stew or something, biscuit (fecking bun!), pastry, cereal, pancakes, gravy (never seen white gravy in my life before now) and shitloads of other stuff does not really constitute the worlds definition of a continental breakfast. Full dinner for a roomfull of people perhaps but continental breakfast for one? Saunter!
Meanwhile the food tour continues and although Im going on an enforced diet from now on its primarily to try to limit calorie intake to below 10 thousand per day. Oh and I might just introduce alcohol while Im at it.
My first night in Nashville was sort of a recovery exercise, I planned to take it easy and unpack in the hotel, write my previous blog and then go to bed early for the evening.
So after the blog writing I just thought Id go down and have a look at what the hotel bar looked like….
…I left at just after one after spending an evening with an aircrew from Atlanta. It was slightly disconcerting that this was their stopover and they were flying out the next day after a few whiskeys in the hotel bar but then again its not my flight and I’m sure they will be fine. I cant really go into the conversation much because my head really hurt the next day but that was probably the long journey but in case it wasnt watch out for the Yazoo dark ale in Tennessee. I did leave the aircrew with one legacy though, as I left there was a chorus of ‘Ah for fuck sake, dry your eyes!’ I might have said this once or twice in conversations about the price of gas (petrol) and other things. I just hope that if some person on a plane the next day complains about their non-dairy creamer not being skinny or tall or any of that shite that they get told to ‘Ah for fuck sake, dry your eyes!’ The world will be a better place.
Ive resisted the temptation to join the redneck nation by not buying a pair of cowboy boots or cowboy hat. I have to say though I do quite fancy a cowboy hat, if only for a laugh but the price of Stetsons and so on would make you cry. 200 odd quid for an off the shelf pair of cowboy boots and starting at half that for hats that dont look like they were bought in a joke shop.
Besides which the hats come in boxes which would need a plane by themselves. I know I could wear the hat home but lets face it, I look a big enough dick walking through airports with enough camera gear to run a small press office never mind sticking a bloody cowboy hat on. Besides theres a slim chance I might meet someone who knows me and outside the social wearing the cowboy hat as a joke scenario…
We headed out the first evening to a place called the station inn, which is apparently quite good..
So good it was booked up and we didnt even get to the door. There is something about a place that tells you to feck away off, they are busy by using a paper plate stuck to the door. Thats the type of informality I’m getting to like around here.
It was a lovely evening and unfortunately probably the last good one for the trip to Nashville its been grey skies and thunderstorms the whole week, which pretty much rules out a lot of photography so I’ll just have to keep eating…
In the car park of the station Inn we bumped into Vince Gill. Id now idea who Vince Gill was but apparently its a big deal….
It was then time for ice cream – why? Well when isnt it time for ice cream?
I thought Id go for a wander downtown in Nashville and see if there were any hop on hop off tours available. There were but you had to hop off and on at the same spot and the busses were an hour apart. They only ran from 10-4 with I think 8 stops. Which fecking genius worked that out? I booked myself on the tour to the Jack Daniels factory on thurs instead. Which reminds me I must read internet reviews in future before booking anything else!
For the rest of the afternoon it really did chuck it down, more of a singing in the rain than an all shook up.
You know the way people tell you stories of their travels and the further it gets from the trip the more exaggerated things become? Well apart from me who exaggerates it to start with. Id just like to add on the record that everything anyone tells you about jacks BBQ on Broadway in Nashville is true.
Unbelieveable food, tender slow cooked bbq’d meat falling off the bone and without doubt apart from a BBQ I had in Canada the best meat dinner Ive ever had in North America. If you only get to eat out in one place in Nashville, make sure its Jacks.
After jacks we went to the famous legends corner honky tonk bar and there was a guy called Matt Mason playing here. He has just won Country Music Television’s next superstar competition. Id never heard of it but apparently its a big deal…
We tried to make bookings for the Station Inn the following night for some famous show or other and halfway through the booking answering machine message I got facebook messages to not book it.
Now I grew up listening to all sorts of music, Ive all sorts of music on my portable mp3 player (mr Jobs doesnt sponsor me so I wont advertise him either) as well as my non i-whatever phone. From classical to rave, rock, pop, irish trad, irish contemporary, african, country and western and so on. Every sunday morning it was Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Elvis etc on the radiogram.
And I knew what the Grand Old Opry was as a lot of the live recordings were from there (and San Quentin ) I knew it wasnt the modern building before me but rather a black and white version of the old building in town.
At this point I’ll add a bit about the net reviews of the Grand Ole Opry calling it redneck central. Well it is and it isnt. I was spectacularly unimpressed with a lot of the cheap ‘buy my album and latest song for our troops’ shite from the first few performers. I hate that, wheeling out injured soldiers and the like saying they are heroes. Dont get me wrong I think anyone that dons a uniform and puts their life and limbs on the line in the name of their country should be looked after for life if they get hurt and if they are killed their families should be well looked after.
If you are going to dedicate stuff to wounded soldiers then give them all the fecking money, they need it more than you do. Not 10% or any other such crap, continue with your convictions.
Similarly theres a hell of a lot more innocent civilians lying dead and injured in squalor in far flung places due to actions of said military, but few people care about them, and they wont further anyones career.
The second half of the bill was just pure entertainment. I dont care who you are or what type of music you like but good music is good music.
Jeannie Seely had the place in stiches and despite being over 90 years of age Little Jimmy Dickens rocked the place.
The final act was a guy called Rodney Atkins who had some issues with his mikes and all that but still had the place roaring. Hes quite well known and although Id never heard of his stuff, its apparently a big deal…
Just a word to stave off any potential ligitation, the photos of the performers at the Grand Ole Opry are for illustration and blog purposes only, they are not for resale or intended to be offered for sale. That should satisfy the lawyers and PR people – although they were all quite nice and at least allow personal/blog use.
If I havent pee’d enough people off with the slight politics talk, I’ll now go on to religion seeing as Im on a roll… …Other than back home I have never seen as many churches, anywhere (ok possible exception of Rome but they are predominantly one religion). Its big business here and I mean big business. The bat building (AT&T) is only 1/3 full yet the religious ministries buildings are expanding. Drive out into the country and its seriously like driving through Northern Ireland, you are falling over churches.
I was told another ‘must see’ was the Loretta Lynn ranch and we drove like lunatics to get to the ranch for the last tour of the day at 4pm. Its a bit weird in all honesty, theres a reconstruction of her daddys old wooden home to show the poor beginnings. In reality I wouldnt mind living there as its bigger than my house! Yep a coal miners daughter was a hard life, no doubt about that but until the early 80s we were still crapping in an outside yard toilet and no central heating or running hot water.
Our tour guide had all the charisma of an England football team manager and glossed over certain bits (or just couldnt be arsed – which is more likely) but if you have an interest, its certainly worth a visit. Particularly to see the community that exists there now, theres a camping park, playground, communal grounds and a bike racetrack.
By this stage having raced out our stomachs thought our throats had been cut so instead of the bland pseudo motorway service station food we had been eating we stopped off at a wee mexican roadside diner.
Without doubt the best mexican food I have ever had and this coming from a guy who gave serious thought to opening a mexican restaurant in Belfast. A fail on the pics of the food but I was soo hungry I didnt bother, just a quick grab shot of the outside afterwards. Guess we might have to stop there again on the way out of Nashville tomorrow…
…another quick stop on the way back was to the Hickory Hollow Mall. It was advertised as being huge but its partly closed and a lot of the shops are shut, looks like the recession has hit it hard and a few tumbleweeds wouldnt have been out of place, just like some of the centres back home.
It did have the biggest American flag I have ever seen in my life though. Wonder if its just up for the upcoming 4th July celebrations or if its a permanent feature. The americans do love their flag everywhere.
Today it was off to the Jack Daniels distillery. Id booked a tour to take me there, to another distillery and a quick trip to Lynchburg town square for a bit of shopping (or lunch in my case). I missed breakfast as it was an early start and was worried Id be completely paralytic by lunchtime due to the whiskey sampling…
Only later in online blogs and reports did I notice that the distillery is in a dry county, so they arent allowed to serve you samples. Like seriously, WTF? Come to Jacks famous distillery and have some lemonade? It was nice lemonade but come on, if you are selling bottles of stuff that is only available here, then at least allow us to sample them somewhere. FFS! Like seriously, catch a fecking grip. Thats not on and a serious pisser to any whiskey fan. Then again to be fair any serious whiskey fan isnt going to touch most of it with a barge pole. Maybe its a marketing ploy, you have to wait until you get home to find out its dark pish in a bottle.
The tour was interesting because I was there but nothing I didnt know from 30 miles up the road in Bushmills. Im sure some of the residents of Bushmills would like it to be a dry county but at least there to get to taste versions before they do the hard sell on you. Even in the town of lynchburg they can only sell you the empty bottles. The town is just a square and they were setting up for their frontier day so it wasnt much to write home about. I wandered off through the rest of the town and got talking to the local sheriff. Well as usual I was going to get my collar felt and talked myself out of it We had previously agreed to spend the rest of the time at the town and skip the second distillery – if they werent in a dry county Id feel even more short changed than I do now. The ‘entertainment’ on the bus consisted of episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies and some other black and white show – andy something or other.
That was it really, slept on the bus on the way back and really pissed off that I now feel obliged to give a tip when I’d paid 45 dollars for a fecking bus ride oh and the 7 hour trip included the hotel pick up and drop off times as well which were an hour either way. Im glad I went but Id not really advise anyone to do it unless they were a real JD fan and one of the local busses would be quicker and a hell of a lot cheaper.
Right its getting to the stage where the immortal words of one of my friends comes to mind ‘lets get the f*ck out of dodge’. Close enough but maybe theres enough time for one more ice cream or maybe those cowboy boots after all. Tomorrows overnight and start of the journey back north should be interesing. In the last week one of the towns we travelled through has been evacuated due to flooding and tomorrows overnight could be in one of the US’s most dangerous cities. And no its not dodge city!
I think my headstone should say something along the lines of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ but more likely to say ‘watch this’ or ‘I know I shouldnt be doing this but whats the worst that can happen?’
Ive been here (whereever here is) too long already as I wanted to add ‘Eh?’ at the end of that sentence.
Its hard to tell where I am or when I am or what bloody year it is. I know Im sitting in the hotel foyer in Nashville, that bit is easy, it says it on the leaflets in front of me. I havent slept in the same bed twice in almost two weeks. Now normally that would be one hell of a boast but by now it just means a pile of washing and not believing what the gps says.
It was a simple concept this trip, Saskatoon to Nashville 2-3 days of easy driving, sightseeing, looking around us, 5 days in Nashville and the same on the way back. Put into that few a words and saying it not too loud and not mentioning it to anyone with any sense in their head and it really did seem like a good idea at the time.
We started well enough, we left Saskatoon early on Friday night (I think it was Friday, I had to look it up) and hit Regina and stay at Nathans house (promised Nathan a mention in the blog, so there you go Nathan, youve got a mention and thanks again for letting us stay at your house). So Nathan had been away himself for a while so looked a bit shell shocked when we arrived just before midnight. Nathan was off up himself in the early hours of the morning, before we’d managed to prise our eyelids open. I had heard a lot about him, his trips to the world cup in South Africa and various other football games. At another time we’d probably have spent a lot of time swapping football stories over a few beers but it wasnt to be – maybe in Brazil
We had great intentions of getting up and on the road early but it was absolutely chucking it down. Id been introduced to the concept of basements in Canada, where we tend to convert attics to add extra rooms, all the houses here seem to have basements to do the same job, Nathans was superb with the TV room underground. Also its common practice here to take your shoes off going into the house, probably why all the carpets and floors look really good years on.
But you dont want to hear about that, you want to hear about the Wicklow Cafe which was about as irish as well something that isnt really irish. I misread the menu and ordered their 8 oz burger, but what I had ordered was a double 8 oz burger. It was big enough to choke a horse or as a mate of mine once remarked, thats probably the whole arse of a cow…
Now I take pride in being able to inhale food rather than just bite, chew and digest like normal people but even I had to take one of the burgers out so I could get the rest in my gub.
Im pretty much setting the scene for this trip, its all really about the food to be honest.
That and the ‘Are you hungry?’ ‘No, but I could eat something’.
As we drove south the fields on both sides of the road were flooded, and I mean really flooded, at one point the protective banks had burst on the road and we were sent out the way by a cop, it will be worse probably by the time we get back. The train line was flooded and the trains stopped, some of the wee villages had their fire crews out pumping water from the centre of town. It really did look like something out of a disaster movie…. ….it would turn out to be small change.
The next big hurdle was the US border, last year I went to Argentina and the stupid idea of having to clear US immigration even though I wasnt leaving the airport for a transfer meant that one of my exit visa cards wasnt collected by the air crew. So at some point I thought I was going to be scooped. I didnt fancy sitting on a case for 11 days in the arse hole of nowhere waiting on my friends coming back to me. It would also be difficult trying to justify my photo selection for the tour book. ‘But these look like all the same pictures of the same place with feck all but horizon’, ‘Ah you dont understand art’, ‘get the f**k out of my office and dont come back’. Maybe I could get them to buy postcards and stick them in the album.
Even though Id a new passport I thought something would sting me so I got called into the office and there on the wall was my mate Barack of the Moneygall Obamas. I thought it might not be wise to mention this at this time. It was bad enough we crossed the border in an SUV with totally blacked out windows. Now my car at home has the rear windows tinted, the guy tinting them said not to get the limo tint would look like I was in a hearse…
…so even the border official couldnt see me, but of course the xray they were taking of the car probably did. What do you mean they dont x-ray the cars….
I suppose it could have been worse, I could have been chained up with a gimp mask in the back seat, I nearly bought one of those once, for a photo prop you understand but I did think that if the plane went down and my family went to identify my belongings, even though I was dead, it would be a hard one to explain. Still…
Oh and the old Jedi mind trick of ‘you dont need to bring me into the office’ didnt work either.
Anyway to exaggerate a really nothing happening, I got through and passed from the arse hole of nowhere Canada to the arse hole of nowhere USA. I dont mean that to be derogatory because they were definitely the best arse holes of nowhere Id ever been. Nothing but flat boring land for miles. It is weird and interesting but after 1000km it all gets a bit, well, ‘samey’.
As the sat nav had said we dutifully turned left at North Dakota and kept driving into the night.
Time to find somewhere to stay and being behind schedule we were never going to make it to Sioux Falls so we settled on Jamestown and spent a while driving round to find a hotel room and ended up in the Holiday Inn for the night.
Jamestown is famous for having the worlds largest buffalo statue. We saw it at speed from the road and it was a massive bloody buffalo statue. To be fair though I dont know what competition they have and if someone told me the worlds largest buffalo statue was 3 feet tall I would believe them.
Time to hit the road again and now whizzing through South Dakota, trying to keep within the speed limits. Whilst we did have the technical wizardry of a sat nav, my co-pilots had their trusty map with the route in yellow highlighter. Long thought out in advance but not the route I would take but hey looked more interesting. Of course the map was a one off, bought for the purpose, treated with care as it was the blueprint for the journey, carefully looked after, folded up properly and stowed in the same place.
Then of course some shit for brains photographer decided that a photo of the map with on the car bonnet (sorry hood) with a couple of coffee cups on it would add to the journey. I should have of course used empty coffee cups….
…it will dry out…
…besides its more lived in, needs some tomato ketchup, blood and maybe a bit of vomit and wee stains to make it a true road trip map but maybe thats just going too far.
Time for lunch, well its always time for lunch or should I say breakfast, even in Dennys at 10pm I asked what was good there and the manager read out the entire menu but highlighted the breakfasts!
It was a nice wee local restaurant with a staff of about four thousand, with more staff than customers but the people welcomed us in and asked where we were from and what we were doing etc. Really nice to see and the food was good too. This is a half skillet apparently. Id hate to see the size of a full one.
We were a bit unlucky as we hit about 50 miles of roadworks on the trip down to Sioux Falls and Sioux City. The plan was to see if we could get down to Kansas City or St Louis for the evening. Although I might make a detour along the way to visit someone I know from the internet. Now normally every person I have met on the internet or converse with is nice and a good person – I have to bloody say that, most of you are reading this and know where I live. But occassionally you just come across someone who one day would benefit from two fairly well built Belfast boys turning up on their doorstep in Hicksville USA, saying nothing and just smacking them in the mouth. ‘Thats for nothing, wait until you do something’. Wont be such a smart arse in forums then would we? Oh and we could still do it on the way home
All joking aside, the journey from Sioux Falls to Kansas City was a bit of a nightmare but nothing compared to what the people living there have went through. We had all vaguely heard something about floods last year and this but hadnt even thought it would impact on us, after all it was a while ago, wasnt it.
We were all dozing off through the afternoon as the heat creeped up but one ‘holy f*ck’ from me had everyone looking out of the window. Long diversions into the countryside as the main road just went straight under the Missouri River. The levees had been breached and there was devastation everywhere. Roads closed, houses covered, streetsigns just sticking out of the water and fields just looking like a big lake with trees sticking out of it.
Its one of the issues with travel in the US, all the roads seem to be a grid system, odd numbers north/south, even numbers east/west but when a road is closed you have to go across and then down and this added maybe a hundred miles to our journey. It did make it more interesting… …interesting in a Top Gear visits Alabama sort of way. Or put in the Belfast vernacular, a couple of dicks in a pickup truck and an ex cop car ‘acting the ballix’. Racing each other and us stuck in the middle, unarmed, in hicksville usa…
We managed to gt rid and get back on the highway again, just in time to ignore the roadsigns for the last 1000 miles or so that advertise which turns off the motorway turn into gas stations, food establishments and hotels. No we decided to take the turn off that took us into downtown St Joseph. Now buildings that are boarded up, people sitting on their porches eyeing up the fresh meat, sorry visitors. 20 mins of driving around produced the sort of physical reaction that meant it would be difficult to put a playing card between our arse cheeks…
Im not exaggerating how bad this place looked, earlier on the trip there was the floods devastation and we had driven through an area that had been hit recently by a tornado with the odd building wrecked but this was on a different scale. Maybe getting a few rifles as soon as we crossed the border might not have been a bad idea.
We decided to push on down the road to catch up time and go halfway between Kansas City and St Louis in a place called Columbia and try and find a hotel. It was my turn to drive and although I dont think Id ever driven in the US at night, nevermind in pishing rain, in a thunderstorm that there were weather warnings about, I thought Id give it a go. After all whats the worst that could happen. Besides which it would be a dry run for the return trip in case we were running late and had to drive through the night to get back to safety, sorry Canada.
One thing I discovered early on is that the US could fecking do with cateyes and luminous lane markers on the interstates and highways. Driving in heavy rain at night it really was a case of keep it between the hedges. The whole driving experience was interesting. A few friends work for a company that makes the see sensors that measure tyre pressure and other things to do with the wheels. These seemed to be widely used in the US and is it any wonder. There are so many different road noises, all of which would have me normally pulling in to check for a flat tyre, wonky wheel or part of the car falling off! But the sensors would tell us if there was any problem with the tyres. Good idea. Now tell us where the road is and we are laughing.
I managed to make it through the main part of the thunderstorm without shitting myself, well mostly.
As the roads cleared I just saw on the side of the road some sort of animal, now it was like a racoon or badger. It ran right across the road in front of me to the central reservation. Id slowed down but driving this big boat of an american car at night, in the rain on the wet road I wasnt going to break too hard.
Unlucky for the Racoon who was on a suicide mission and having made it to safety decided to retrace his steps.
This led to the inevitable ‘thump’ ‘thump’ and the inevitable ‘f*ck’ ‘f*ck’ from me. Silence from the rest of the car and then this big broad Belfast accent ‘Joe, weve had this car for three years and havent hit nathing! You bloody hit a raccoon on your first attempt’.
What could I say? I must have been in slight shock as what I thought I would say and what I actually said are two different things.
Firstly, ‘God I hope that was a raccoon and not a man in a fancy dress suit or davy crockett hat’
closely followed by
‘have you ever hit a pigeon? They just explode in a hail of feathers you know!’
Hard to drive through the night when you are fighting back tears of laughter..
We reached Columbia without further incident except to find out there was almost literally no room at the inn at 1am. So we would all have to share a room.
It had been a traumatic experience and eventually something has to give. Now if you consider Id been eating enough food to keep a small nation going for a week you can see where this is going.
When you make that sort of bathroom deposit, generally speaking a formal written apology might be more appropriate than the old ‘you might want to give that a minute before going in to clean your teeth’.
Id like to formally apologise to my travelling companions for any inconvenience or stinging eyes, runny nose or general feeling of illness caused as a result of my actions.
No more cracker barrell platters for me. Well not for a few days anyway.
Its late now and Im in a half decent hotel in Nashville and its time to get on with the rest of the trip so thats it for now. Just to say we took a quick run into the Gaylord Opryland hotel. And yes for all the Norn Iron people reading this who have just spat out their coffee, yes indeedy theres a huge hotel run by the Gaylord corporation. Now its childish immature and just plain wrong to laugh at the mention of the word Gaylord but you have to admit when you see a big butch guy who would beat seven shades of shit out of you wearing a t-shirt and cap with the words ‘Gaylord Security’ all over it, its hard not to laugh.
The place seemed quite dead and it wasnt until we went on the boat tour (yes they have an indoor river with fish and ducks and everything) that we realised that this time last year the whole building was under 20-30 feet of water. The mall across the parking lot still hasnt re-opened – probably a total loss. The cinema still has advertising posters from May 2010 on the walls. Brings it all home with a bump.
Ireland is often described as having 40 shades of green, its usually not until you go away from the place and then come back that you see this. On the bus from Belfast to Dublin airport for my trip to Canada and the US it was a good chance to take the time to look around me. Often Im just driving down the road and dont get to see the scenery rushing past. Im going to be seeing a lot of scenery rushing past over the next couple of weeks.
As I write Im sitting in Saskatoon, Canada. Home of the land of the living skies and they arent kidding. It does feel odd to not really see any hills and see cloud formations over prairies into the distance.
Its been a long journey so far, Belfast to Dublin, overnight in Dublin airport, then off to Toronto, couple of days in Toronto then off to Saskatoon.
Thing is though it doesnt really feel weird/different at all, it all feels pretty normal, another day, another city. Ive never been to Canada before but felt as if I had, Ive a few Canadian friends through my association with the Belfast Ice Hockey team and through working for a Canadian company for 4 years in a previous life.
So far its been the friendly welcoming country that everyone has said it would be.
I started in Dublin and got the chance to look at the new airport terminal as I was staying in the grounds of the airport for an early flight to Toronto. The new building is impressive but I got the overwhelming feeling that there were a lot of one way tickets being bought. A lot of young people at the airport with very heavy bags and a lot of tearful goodbyes. Looks like the old days of emigration have returned.
I was flying out with Air Canada and have to say I was impressed with the service on the flight, even though at one point the captain pointed out a Delta airlines flight only 1000 feet below us! Canadian customs wasnt as big a pain as their US equivalents and it was then on to the hotel via a bus with power connections and free wifi – whats that all aboot?
I was a bit concerned about the hotel in all honesty, Id booked it in advance via priceline and of course the day after Id booked and paid for it with no refunds allowed, two reviews came up which called it a dump, smack in the middle of the red light district. Charming! At least it would allow for interesting photos.
I neednt have worried as I somehow managed to get a suite, which I didnt know about until I got into the room and wondered where the hell the bed was – oh that would be down the corridor.
Quick shower and out and down to Yonge Dundas Square to have a look around. It did seem odd that the city tour busses started their last route at 4:50pm and there was no night version so be warned if you are only there for a day! The ticket is valid for 7 days but not a lot of use to me with only one full day in Toronto and then on to Niagara Falls. Did I mention I would be going over Niagara Falls in a helicopter? Ah minor point.
I’ll not go into too much detail about the trip, I’ll leave that to the photos when I eventually get home and eventually get the thousands of images edited and uploaded, I’ve just a few proofs done and uploaded here.
Toronto is a great city as you would expect, very welcoming. Id recommend the open top bus tour and the harbour tour but the weather I had was rubbish, more like Belfast than Toronto so do be warned. I didnt get the photos I had planned but then again what I had planned on a 36 hour schedule was probably unrealistic anyway. Certainly the blisters on my feet and the sunburn from an overcast day will testify to that.
Im not going to say Niagara Falls was a disappointment, it just wasnt that big a deal. I did the day tour which stopped very briefly at a winery and allowed me to purchase a couple of bottles of the famous ice wine and then little more than a drive through of Niagara on the Lake (which lets be honest is more than enough).
I was looking forward to the Maid of the Mist trip but had been tempered by comments from a few Canadians I met at Iguazu Falls in Argentina. Id been under Iguazu in a fast rib and when I say I got soaked there I got soaked right through to the shorts despite wearing waterproofs. Niagara was a bit tame in comparison.
Of course I still havent got over getting into a helicopter and just taking off so that was again a high point of the trip so far. Weather wasnt particularly great but the photos still arent bad at all.
Friends do say that trouble follows me everywhere so the flight from Toronto to Saskatoon was scheduled for the first day of the Air Canada strike so up early to see if I could get my flight at all! Got checked in ok and even got some photos of the strikers!
It was then on to Saskatoon and staying with my friends Stephen and Tera Maguire. Theres been a lot of catching up and just chilling out, but mostly eating! Tomorrow we depart on a 3 day drive from Saskatoon Canada to Nashville USA. Its a punishing schedule but should be yet another one of those trips of a lifetime.
Oh and I have to mention Tim Hortons, no particular reason but anyone who has been to Canada will know what I mean…
Will try to keep the blog ongoing as the trip progresses…
I made a point when I first started this blog that I would never use it to talk about photo gear or equipment except to perhaps swear really loudly at something that didnt work the way I wanted it to. I have no intention of going against this idea except to say that I do briefly touch on it.
Last week I took a quick flight across the water to Liverpool for a couple of days and due to security restrictions and overall general paranoia, flying isnt the pleasure it used to be. So for a trip lasting 48 hours I wanted to travel as light as possible to keep within restrictive hand luggage restrictions. Im not exactly a tight arse but for 48 hours I dont want to spend 4 of that in check in queues and waiting at the baggage carousel.
Back in the day when I used to travel regularly I could turn up at an airport with bag 15 mins before the flight and just walk on. Even recently Ive taken a couple of 48-72 hour trips to the likes of Rome, Berlin, Krakow just for the purpose of taking photos, but in the last year or two it has just become a chore. I obviously dont have the dedication to queue in line to be the first irish suicide bomber! Besides which they still allow alcohol sales airside – isnt that flammable?
Anyway back to the hand luggage problem, for this trip I would be just using my Canon G9 and my tablet computer. Notice I said tablet computer (advent vega if you must know) rather than ipad. Not that Ive anything against the overpriced, under specced, restricted piece of male jewellry, I just want something that does everything I want it to and not what someone else says I need and not to bother about all that other stuff I dont really need as they know best.
There are always ongoing debates in photography about quality of equipment and how you dont need to spend a fortune on equipment to get good photos. I always tell my students that this is the case, with a large caveat. Its not necessary to have good equipment to get good photos but it is necessary to have good equipment to get consistently and repeatedly good photos.
Dont get me wrong I love my G9, Ive an underwater housing for it and its got me photos I normally wouldnt get but it is incredibly limited. People get tied up in the number of megapixels debate that camera companies bandy about like boys getting into a pissing up the wall contest (or something a lot less polite) without actually discussing the quality of those pixels.
Of course the overpowering argument is that why should I spend in excess of 50 thousand on equipment for a photography business when I could just buy a 500 quid compact and be done with it.
Come to think of it, why am I?
The advantage of using something like a G9 is that it generally doesnt attract the attention of the thought police, put on my rucksack, add trainers to a 40 year old(ish) man and and anorak and you can happily snap away looking like a complete loser. Change that to 10 grands worth of camera body and lens and its a short cut to a body cavity search.
Of course the converse argument is that with the high end kit people push their kids in front of the camera, with everything else they shy the kids away from the weird looking man.
Id given myself a brief of documenting the journey and trying to use the camera with the limitations it has. Namely that its crap. Ok thats being unfair, the photos would have limited editorial use, they couldnt be used in low light conditions as the quality would be too poor to pass any agencies quality control and the total frame would have to be used as resolution is small as it is. Going back to the quality of pixels argument the dynamic range of the small cameras is very poor, what that means is that it doesnt handle both bright light and darkness in the same photo too well. Well it does but instead of being able to sell the pictures, I would just call them ‘art’ and add to the vast majority of my art collection and the ‘if this sells I’ll buy my friends a pint’. One such image is one I took in a bluebell glade in a woodland. I was walking down the hill and went on my arse and skidded the whole way down. Of course reaction was to hold the camera in the air and inadvertently fire off 9 frames a second for the whole journey. So I picked one ‘abstract’ and put it up for sale. I owe several people pints if it ever sells.
A couple of current affairs issues were apparent, there were a number of people with big bags and one way tickets, signs of the recession here in Ireland and Ireland continuing with its greatest export, its people.
Then the usual of taking your water off you and then getting you to buy overpriced water airside which is a complete pain someone like me who is advised to take aspirin tablets to fly due to previous injuries and help avoid dvt. Security measure or profit making – hmmm maybe Bin Laden has shares in bottled water companies.
The journey was reasonably uneventful and quite painless thanks to the pre boarding cards so the blog represents a little storyboard of the up, down, turnaround come back trip.
From a technical point of view, the camera performed well but thats within very strict guidelines and limitations. If it was possible for me to sell 50 grands worth of camera equipment and just get away with a couple of compacts, then from a business perspective I would.
Of course thats not to say that images produced from compacts wont and dont sell, I’ve sold some compact images for reasonable prices but never for a double page spread or advertising use. I could argue that if the photo was really important then I wouldnt take it with a compact so how do I expect them to sell, or put another way, everything finds its price point.
Various stock sites sell images for a dollar or whatever the equivalent is, in the vast majority of cases the photographs are taken with cheap equipment and thats not knocking them, everything has a value and a price point but its unlikely to produce long term growth except for a chosen few mass producers. At the minute the UK editorial market (newspapers by and large) are paying a pittance for photos, so using compacts for this type of work seems to go along with the price point.
My issue is when other agencies sell images that take years of experience to produce, are researched well and are shot on high end equipment sell them for pennies regardless. There is a lesson to be learned there though, over the last 4 weeks I have been taking some photos with minimal setup (although still using high end camera and lens) to see how they get on with other agents in the uk market.
Not exactly a great plan of action but an interesting experiment in trying to tailor production costs for the price points. It will be interesting to see if on a per unit basis how they compare with the higher end production cost photos.
Speaking of experiments, I had planned a number of ‘Top Gear’ style photo challenges for last year which Ive moved back to this year, one of which was a travel from easterly point to westerly point in Ulster in one day (dawn to dusk around midsummers day) and take photos of each county inbetween along with sunrise and sunset (hopefully). The Top Gear show last night did the reverse in England, driving from west to east from dusk til dawn….
…watch this space.
Following on from yesterdays disaster I did indeed get up at 6am. Needless to say consuming 3 litres of water in as many hours meant that sleep was almost impossible.
So by 6am I was still a bit sore but the water was flowing freely and going on previous experience the worst had passed or been passed but thats too much information.
So had a shower and got ready to go on the day trip to Colonia Del Sacremento. Which is in Uruguay a completely different country altogether
I had hoped for a longer trip to Colonia then on to Montevideo for a couple of night but just wasnt able to put it in the time remaining. If I had been able to plan as I wanted then the whole kidney stones thing would have hit me roughly as I was on a 2 hour bus trip from Colonia to Montevideo. Who says things dont happen for a reason.
So I packed my bag and put in 2 half litre bottles of water.
By the time I’d caught the underground and walked to the ferry terminal Id about 100ml left. Oops.
Due to the late nature in booking this trip Id booked the luxury trip (ferry, full guided tour, full dinner) etc and the cheapo seats on the ferry were booked up. So I had the option of premier class or first class. Since first class was only 3 quid dearer then why the hell not.
On arriving I had my ticket double checked (I always travel like a scruff, then again I always dress like a scruff so no change there then) and was escorted to the VIP lounge. I could get used to this. So priority boarding and up to the ‘special’ lounge which has more airconditioning, large lounge type leather seats, free drinks and table waitress service. Of course other than downing my coffee and visiting the loo I slept most of the way there.
Even in ‘special’ class with its ‘special’ reserve toilets the stink was overpowering, each toilet and urinal had a wee note explaining that the toilets were eco friendly and the odd colour of the water was because it came directly from the river. What was left unsaid was that the contents were probably rejoined with the river just as quickly.
I made a mental note that if the boat went down it would probably be a better bet not to put on a lifejacket and to forget that I know how to swim. Probably best to go quickly. As the ship left BA at a speed the seacat and HSS can only dream of all the huge dead fish in its wake told its old story. It also explains why when the tour guide in Colonia asked if we wanted the driver to stop for a bit by the river so we could go swimming. Silence. That will be a no then.
I dont remember much else about the trip over apart from some of the proles down in cattle class starting a fight. Oh they can be such ruffians.
Now out of water I thought I’d buy a bottle from the first class lounge, I didnt know if they took Argentinian pesos in Uruguay (they do) or if they had ATMs (they do) or what the currency rate is (about 30 to the pound). I didnt want to go to an ATM and take money out only to find I was presenting a shopkeeper with something that would buy a small car rather than a bottle of water. In my defence last nights research time was spent in casualty.
So I ordered a bottle of water, no make that two, no better make that three. So it came to about 18 arg pesos which although is about 3 quid is a massive ripoff, maybe I should have bought them down in cattle class.
As I started to get off the boat some of the pain started coming back, maybe all the movement in the boat had moved stuff around or dislodged stuff. Im not a doctor so stuff is as good as you get.
I got the feeling this could be the shortest day trip to Colonia on record but by the time I’d got to the terminal I was feeling less terminal. Immigration had taken place back in BA so it was straight to the tour busses.
Now. I love travelling alone or with friends and doing the independent thing but at times its nice just to kick back and let someone else take the strain in an organised tour. Since the luxury tour here was about 10 quid extra including a full meal instead of sandwiches and a coach tour to various spots, what the hell.
I have a dim view of most of these tours organised by local reps as I dont expect most of them to be anything like you read in the brochures or online literature. Looking through sites like the lonely planet forums or tripadvisor usually gives a decent bit of feedback.
Two ‘tours’ I always laugh about are the Moscow river and dinner tour and another one I took in Guangzhou in China quite a few years ago. The Moscow one wasnt cheap and we ‘cruised’ the Moscow river for two hours followed by a ‘gourmet’ dinner. Ive put two of those words in quotes and you can probably guess why. 30 tourists hiding under a plastic canopy in freezing July in Moscow whilst a tour guide rattled off names in Russian cannot be called a cruise by any dictionary in the world. I did find out that the big Stalin built (not by him himself of course) apartment blocks ringed the city so the one Id been using to get directions off was probably 3 different ones. The ‘gourmet’ dinner consisted of a starter plate of slices of tomato and cucumber (about 3 of each), followed by a tray of fried eggs between us all, followed by a baked potato with a small amount of pike, followed by a tray of chocolate eclair pastries. One of my mates doesnt eat fish or eggs, I suppose he got the better deal really although it was funny at the time. What was even funnier was when they served the chocolate eclairs, they lifted them off the serving plate, cut them in two then put half on each of our plates. I have to say having spent 3 days in Moscow this probably was gourmet and rather than complain was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen. People had stopped showing their disappointment, even to our ever present vhs camerman. Funnily enough we werent told we’d be videoed and were never offered copies….
The previous best to that was the tour of Guangzhou. The terracotta warriors museum (of which there were two and many mirrors), the kids of Kindergarden 1 performing (it was closed that day), the visit to see a panda at the zoo (well you could see the ear of the panda) and the trip to the market and the gourmet (that word again) dinner.
The market was brilliant, I mean brilliant from a cruel observer point of view. Many on the bus thought it would be a place full of trinkets, and colourful items and loads of plastic tat. It was in fact a live animal market. When I say live, all the animals we saw were live when we got there and a few had expired by the time I was the last one back on the bus. I have to say the people carrying off the fish and the chickens couldnt get much fresher, as they walked past the bus the animals were still twitching. I have to say though its easy to criticise other tourists but almost getting splattered by the blood from the goat who had just got his throat cut but managed to work itself loose would almost have put me off my dinner too.
We got to a really superb hotel and everyone relaxed, gold and marble everywhere, not even the Romans would have had somewhere as decadent as that. As we entered the restaurant are there were the usual row of fishtanks which most of the new arrivals didnt realise were our dinner options. Most people are familiar with the straight to wok noodles but straight to wok fish needs a bit of getting used to. Particularly the selection method which you think means ‘ahh look at that fish’ and which means ‘spear that one and cook it immediately’.
Once this had passed down the line people stopped pointing. Then as we all gathered one of the fishkeepers decided to clear his entire sinuses in a way only footballers know how. (finger over one nostril, blow like mad). He had great aim and it went straight into the biggest tank and was promptly devoured by a mass of fish.
Looks like nobody for fish then.
Surprisingly the most popular item consumed during the whole banquet was rice. In fact I think it was the only item consumed.
So back to Colonia, back on an air conditioned coach, there were only 5 of us on the bus, myself and 2 australian couples. Which isnt really a surprise. I love australians and their attitude to things, they get on with it and do it, no pissing around, no pissing anyone else off. Just leaving your job to go travelling round the world for 8 months, I just take my hat off to anyone doing it. Just Do It as the famous ad says. One couple were 2 weeks into a world tour which would last 8 months the other had been away 2 months and were on their last couple of weeks having been to Cuba, Colombia and Bolivia previously. Of course one of them had to have been of Irish descent and I said the only difference between his great great grandfather and mine was that his got caught stealing bread and mine didnt. Even the mutual greeting of ‘hows it going’ seemed to bond us all. Great travelling companions and a good laugh and down to earth as well.
The first stop was only 5 mins down the road, a walking tour round old Colonia. Colonia is a beautiful wee place and deserves the unesco recognition. It is a bit of a tourist trap but today it wasnt busy so we got time to walk around and see things, and from a photography perspective, time to assess light and see which places I could easily return to in the afternoon.
Id recommend a trip to Colonia to anyone, but only for a couple of hours, thats all it really takes, you dont need a guide and everything is signposted in different languages. Above all else it is very very safe, It relies on tourist trade and people cant do enough for you. They will accept arg pesos, us dollars and euros in the shops as well as the local currencies. Like any other tourist resort you can hire mopeds or quads and golf carts to get around. Although I didnt I would consider it. Did I mention it was safe to walk around with a camera? if I didnt, it is.
Getting to act like a real tourist for the first time since I’ve been here. Have to say it was refreshing.
After the walking tour (which was pretty much the whole of colonia) we got on the bus to visit the bullring and a homestead/farm (read tourist trap) place.
Id been interested in seeing the bullring but as we drove round it it had been fenced off as too dangerous. For some odd reason I thought it might have been working or had been working until recently. No it was built in 1910, staged 8 bullfights then bullfighting was banned in 1912. Still it looks like a mini colosseum but not even worth asking them to stop the bus for. The homestead was interesting as it was the first place we saw toilets and my current predicament I was thankful for that. Other than that a few photos, some marmalade and cheese tasting (not at the same time) was about it. Well not quite the owner of the place has quite a few collections of things, keyrings, pencils, perfume bottles, a whole house devoted to the collections.
Then it was back into Colonia for lunch. I have to say the lunch was superb and we took 2 hours over it, lovely restaurant, great service and real good food. I did say to my travelling companions that as an irishman it takes a lot for me to compliment the steak and potatoes elsewhere. They laughed as one of the couples came from a sheep and dairy farm and agreed with me. Lo De Renata was the restaurant and thoroughly recommended.
Id say the cost of the entire trip would probably have only cost twice would it would have cost for the dinner back home.
After lunch there was just time for a bit of wandering down to the handicraft market and then back through the town before pickup to go back to the early evening fast ferry. Seems like a hurried day but was just enough time without feeling rushed.
Back on the fast ferry I was greeted with a glass of champagne in the ‘special’ lounge but I bet theyve never had anyone refuse it before and ask for water. So whilst everyone drank champagne I had water out of a coca cola cup.
Thats my kind of travelling first class
I travelled to Colonia with Buquebus (who has one of the worst websites going and never answer their email) and would recommend the trip to anyone. Definitely something worth doing if you have a couple of days to spare in Buenos Aires.