Category Archives: Travel

Commentaries and images from my various travels around the world.

Perros-Guirec, Brittany

You can get a measure of my life this year when when you realise two things: my trip to Brittany was the first time I took much more than a week off work in two years; and we went in June and July this year. It’s taken me nearly six months to even start to write this. And not even I know how many times I had to revise that last sentence so that it’s accurate now!

Perros-Guirec water front

As we did a few years ago in Tuscany, we hired a villa. Unlike last time — when we were a long way from anywhere — were a few minutes walk from the centre of the biggest coastal town in the area, called Perros-Guirec (or Perroz-Gireg in Breton).

Both were great in their own way but the flavour and focus of the trip changed because of the geography. Rather than the culture of Florence we had the beaches. They both had more than their fair share of pretty little towns nearby and attractive walks.

Mural near Perros-Guirec water front

Not that you had to go very far for a nice view. Perros-Guirec has a bay and a small town centre. The house overlooked the bay and from there you could see that the water went out a long way between tides, leaving a large collection of boats slumped on one side.

“Our” side of town didn’t have a great beach — and it was quite hard to access — but there were other, better areas only a short drive away. As we came with two toddlers, we spent a lot of time on Trestrignel beach.

Beach toys

Ploumanac’h’s beach was so large, if irregularly shaped, that you couldn’t even see the sea from the point nearest the town.

Pink Granite walk between between Perros-Guirec and Ploumanac'h

On the other side of the bay we stumbled across a beach near Trélévern which was pretty much deserted. While the car park was easy enough to find once you braved a long, slow and winding journey from the main road, finding the beach itself proved tricky. In the end there was a small bridge that you had to walk under.

Stone circles

Other than the beaches, the area is most famous for its Pink Granite rocks and a winding trail that passes along it, past some of the more attractive coastal towns. The trail is part of the GR34, one of the many long distance walking trails in France. (I did part of the GR20 when I was in Corsica.)

Dilapidated farm building

Fortunately the 34, at least the part we did this time, was much easier that the very challenging GR20. The rock formations and colours were very impressive and not spending most of the time wheezing and trying to catch my breath certainly helped in that assessment!

Pink Granite walk between between Perros-Guirec and Ploumanac'h

But one of the great pleasures of travelling to areas like this and spending time in them — rather than darting from location to location as we have done on a number of other holidays — is that you can aimlessly wander around, stumbling across towns that you’d never plan to visit.

Coming back from Lannion we found some stone circles and near to them where what I assumed to be some photographic dilapidated, abandoned farmhouses. It turns out I was only partly correct. They were actually being used and someone poked their head out just as I was about to push past the rusty gate…

Pink Granite walk between between Perros-Guirec and Ploumanac'h

Overall it was a low-key holiday, mostly geared around toddlers and other family. But we never let that get in the way of some good sight-seeing.

Finally, note that I wasn’t able to put all the pictures into the “narrative” so there are more to see on Flickr.

Barcelona

I went to the north of Spain twice in the early nineties and visited Barcelona for a day each time. I only remember bits and pieces — walking down the Ramblas and how weird the Gaudi cathedral was — and can’t find any pictures from either trip, so it made sense to make it the first city break of 2013 and the first time we’ve done something like this since the birth of Junior1

Catalan Flag

As it turns out, it was a great place both for a weekend away and for people with small kids. Even with a toddler we found it easy to get around, managed to take in most of the sights and eat some great food. What more could you ask for a weekend away?

The only real problem we found was that the locals tend to eat dinner late, long after we would have liked the little guy to be back in bed, asleep. (Actually, I’m blaming it on Junior here, though I’m not sure how well I would cope having to wait until 10pm for dinner!) After the first night eating in a passable tourist spot we decided to switch dinner and lunch on subsequent days. This allowed us to have something substantial during the day when restaurants were open and pick up some tasty tapas snacks in a bar early in the evening. Of course Junior still stayed up late, running around plazas and having fun while getting in the way of as many people as possible…

Tapas restaurant near the hotel

Our first plan of action, as it is on most trips, is just to wander around in the centre of town and see where that leads. We had already walked down part of the Ramblas on the way from the bus to the hotel, so we decided to amble down the other half which leads down to the water front.

The main thing, the only thing in many cases, that people told us before heading to Barcelona was to watch our pockets when walking down the Ramblas. Maybe we got lucky but it didn’t seem that bad while we were there. I can see how it might be a thieves paradise but precautions beyond any other big city felt a little paranoid.

Barcelona beaches

During that quick walk around we found that the centre itself was walkable but that the city was very spread out. Some of the main sights would require figuring out the metro system.

Barcelona metro system

One afternoon we decided to go to the park above the city, near where the Summer Olympics were held in 1992. Perhaps the most impressive part of the afternoon was the ride up there on the Funicular de Montjuïc. For people in a hurry I would really recommend having a toddler, as we were rapidly pulled to the front of the queue and escorted up a lift to the starting point of the ride.

Barcelona beaches

From the gondola you can see pretty much all of the city, from the beach and harbour on one side to the more built up centre. When you get in it feels like it should lift over the hill and plant you down safely on the other side, instead it deposits you in the side of the hill. We assumed that there would be lots of parks and green space where Junior could run around. We found museums and roads and an absence of maps. So the parks could be there but, if so, we missed them!

It’s difficult to visit Barcelona without seeing at least some buildings designed by Gaudi. We went to Park Güell, Casa Milá and Casa Batllò.

Park Güell

The park was hard work. Coming out of the metro station it wasn’t entirely obvious which direction to go, so we followed the crowd. Luckily this was the right option. Turning an unlikely looking corner we were confronted by an escalator. Which led to a series of more escalators and steep inclines. When you get all the way to the top it is impressive. It’s big and there are a lot of landscaped gardens, buskers and sandy play-areas.

We left the famous Gaudi cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, to the last day, just before the journey back home. It is as… weird as I remember. I mean that in a good way. They claim that it’s the most visited tourist attraction in Europe. It’s not clear how they measure that, but when we visited the queue went all the way around the block and it makes me very grateful that we booked tickets online.

Sagrada Familia

The outside looks almost organic, as if it grew, though the cranes, which were there two decades ago if I remember correctly, are a bit of a give away that other forces are at play. From the inside you get a very clear view of the stained glass windows. Since they’re new they are very bright and vibrant in a way that the glass in most other cathedrals are not.

Sagrada Familia

However one thing that struck me is that although it looks different from almost any other church I’ve seen, it does not appear — to a layman at least — to be constructed any differently to older buildings. Many of the new buildings in the City of London, for example, are built using implausibly small amounts of new materials, glass and metals rather than stone. It doesn’t detract from the building but I thought it was interesting.

And that was about it, that was our weekend away. I guess the ultimate test is whether I would go back again, and the answer is a resounding Yes (even though I now have evidence that I have been!). We’ve now done all the obvious “tourist” sights but I think it’s the kind of city that would be pretty neat to just “hang out.”

(There are more pictures available on Flickr if you’re interested.)

  1. Last year we travelled a lot less than usual, and even then mostly in the UK or for longer than a weekend. []

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012

Is wasn’t really my idea. I saw it in the newsagents in Rhodes Town and laughed but I never really thought of actually buying it. The credit for that goes to my wife.

I’ve been posting pictures of each month entry on Twitter and Facebook but I thought it would be nice to group them all together in one post. That’s what you’ll find here.

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, January

“Glory to God, I’m an atheist.”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, February

“What should I say now?”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, March

“So that we don’t forget…”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, April

“This is the life for me!”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, May

“I’m feeling very romantic.”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, June

“I took grandma skiing as well!”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, July

“Shut up and move on!”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, August

“For a bale of hay…”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, September

“Anything for tourism.”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, October

“We said tourism, but not like this!”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, November

“Come again next year!”

Donkeys of Greece Calendar 2012, December

“For a better tomorrow, we’ll talk the day after.”

I’m afraid that there’s no way that we can complete with this in 2013 so we’re not even going to try. I apologise in advance for your disappointment.

Happy Halloween

Pumpkin

I barely recall any mention of Halloween when I was growing up. That’s changed in the last few years. It’s certainly being much more heavily promoted these days and I want to say — though I have no evidence to support it — that it’s at the expense of Bonfire Night. Presumably children asking strangers for sugary treats is safer than fireworks and piles of burning wood?

In any case, it’s big in America and has been for a long time and one of the traditions is going to a pumpkin patch. Since I was in California recently with family, including two children1, it made sense to check out what happens…

Pumpkin patch

There was a friendly atmosphere and plenty of activities from horse rides and hay mazes to eating grilled food and drinking lemonade. Oh, at there were pumpkins for the taking.

I never really got the idea of dressing up, but it’s a popular thing to do. Whatever my misgivings, Junior didn’t seem to mind being dressed as a pumpkin. His cousin wore the same outfit last year (this year he was dressed as a tiger). He spent some time studying his (almost) doppelgängers before moving on to the hay maze.

Junior examines the pumpkins

Away from the stalls, the pumpkins progressively lost their vivid orange colour and became yellow and then food for non-humans.

Pumpkin Patch

We didn’t take one in the end — suitcases being only finite in size and Virgin’s baggage allowance not being overly generous — but plenty of other people clearly did. Around the local neighbourhood were many examples of some fine carving…2

Halloween Pumpkins

Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, I hope you’re having a great day. Here it may not be such a big deal but I had a fun day seeing what the run-up is like across the Atlantic.

  1. Only one mine if you’ve been keeping count. []
  2. Complete with plenty of purple haze. Thanks iPhone 5. []

Oslo

I Have really fond memories of summer 1994 when I did a summer job in Ipswich. (Yes, I’m talking about Ipswich in a blog entitled “Oslo.” Bear with me.) Now Suffolk isn’t a glamorous location necessarily but it was a good time for me and it was a great, hot summer. A few years ago I stopped back in the town on the way back from a wedding. I really wish I hadn’t. Maybe it was the grey and the rain or maybe the years had not been kind, but Ipswich just wasn’t what I remembered.

Oslo Harbour

As I went back to Oslo after a decade away I hoped that the same thing wouldn’t happen. I’d spent ten months working there mainly because everyone else in the office preferred to be in exciting cities like New York and I was the only one willing to go. It was, perhaps, an inauspicious start, but I enjoyed my stay there. The combination of the facilities of a capital city and the proximity to the water and nature were appealing. Even the weather wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting.

The last time I arrived I had turned up with only a rucksack. This time I stayed only for a week but turned up with a suitcase, my wife and my seven month old son. My life has changed a lot in ten years but, it turns out, Oslo hasn’t. I mean that in a good way.

Oslo street (Frognerveien)

The main difference I noticed this time was not a specific sight or location but the prices. Last time it didn’t hit me. I’m not sure whether things have really become relatively more expensive or whether the expenses deal I was on skewed my perception or even whether my lifestyle at the time just cost less, but I noticed this year. I had sticker shock with almost every purchase and you have to remember that I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world already!

After a while part of me just resigned myself to spending money like it was going out of fashion but the other part couldn’t quite get used to it.

Still, by staying in a serviced apartment rather than a hotel, eating in most nights and steering clear of alcohol most of the time I made it merely expensive rather than pushing me close to bankrupsy.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

I spent most of the early week re-visiting some of my favourite sites. We walked down the main street, saw the palace (currently being renovated and seemingly wearing a hat), the Stortinget (parliament building), Akershus Festning (from a distance), Vigeland Sculpture Park and Aker Brygge (shopping complex).

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Ten years ago I didn’t have Internet access at “home,” but this time I was able to find out that the National Gallery was free on Sunday’s, so we went for a quick look around. The exhibition that everyone comes for Edvard Munch was well hidden but I didn’t let them win. I didn’t know much about him, but what I did learn in that room was that I didn’t think that The Scream was his best work.

Mid-week we decided to go to the Holmenkollen ski jump and from there, the end of the T-Bane line at Frognerseteren where there are lots of lakes and country-side walks only twenty minutes outside the city centre. It’s one of the things I loved about staying in Oslo.

View from Akershus

But things didn’t entirely go to plan. When we got up to the ski jump, not only could you not look down the hill and see Oslo, but you could barely see the jump itself, even though it was right in front of us.

Then it started to rain.

We skipped the walk.

Changing of the guard

One new thing that I almost missed is the Opera House. I had read about a few years ago and, I think, I’d internally registered it as the new National Theatre. When we passed the “old” theatre my brain hadn’t connected the two concepts. It was only when leaving Akershus Festinig that we glanced a large, white… thing in the distance. It needed to be investigated.

Oslo Opera House

It was totally worth it, even though it involved pushing the pram up almost vertical inclines. (Okay, I exaggerate. But only slightly.)

Oslo Opera House

On the last full day we decided to head to Bygdøy, a peninsula just outside Oslo city centre where there are a number of museums. Previously I’d walked there but only got as far as the Folk museum. With a baby walking wasn’t really an option, so instead we took the bus and popped into both the Kon-Tiki and the Viking Ship Museum.

Holmenkollen ski jump in fog

While I associated “Kon-Tiki” with the Pacific I knew nothing about the journeys that this museum was about. In short, the main protagonist wanted to prove that it was possible to get to some Pacific Islands from the mainland using nothing more than a raft. Even coming from zero background knowledge it was interesting.

Moai cast at the Kon-Tiki Museum

The next stop was the Viking Ship Museum. This was much more familiar territory, but no less fascinating for it. There were three big ships and what was left of their cargoes. The panels described how the ships had been reconstructed from the fragments that had been found. I couldn’t help but think that it would be like finding a Lego set without the instructions. While they made a ship with the parts, they might just have easily made a space port, a house or a scene from the Harry Potter movies. You’ll have to trust them that they built the correct thing.

Viking ship museum

And that was about all for our trip around the Norwegian capital. But Oslo had one last reminder for me. One of the things I liked about many of Norwegians I worked with: their matter of factness (if that’s a word). On boarding the airport bus I noticed that it had a sign saying that they accepted American Express. Once I inside I proffered my card. The driver said “We don’t take Amex.” I noted the sign on the door. He said, “Yes it does say that. But we don’t. They’ve not updated the label yet.” I know it’s only a small thing but it amused me.

(There are a few more pictures on my Flickr stream if you’re interested.)