Category Archives: Travel

Commentaries and images from my various travels around the world.

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.)

Lake District

There are no guarantees when travelling in the UK. Even in May the weather can be all over the place, beautiful, bright and sunny one minute, drab, grey and miserable the next.

There are no guarantees when travelling with a five month old baby. They can be bright and cheery and laughing one minute and crying and screaming the next.

Boats on Windermere

Both of these things made my trip to the Lake District rather different to most of the travel I’ve ever done. Except when I travel with a tour group, I normally have a pretty relaxed schedule. That was more-or-less mandated this time!

But despite my worries, including less than ideal weather, things worked out well. Junior travelled like a champ, sleeping through the boring bits, thoroughly enjoying himself or just not noticing any of the changes.

Windermere

It’s fair to say that we saw less than we would have done if travelling alone, but we still managed to cram quite a lot of sight-seeing in.

We stayed half way between Windermere and Bowness, a short walk to either town. Or a long walk if it was raining. So on the first day we checked out both towns and went down to the lake front.

Bowness-on-Windermere

That first time by the water it was so windy that we almost got blown off our feet. I took a few pictures and gave up, heading back into Bowness. Here the wind quickly died down but just as quickly turned into rain. I ducked into a cafe. Too late for the cream scone it turns out, but just in time to avoid the rain and drink a quick latte.

The next day I drove by the side of the lake north to Ambleside and then back down the west side of the lake a little for a walk to a waterfall.

Tiremarks into a field

At least that was the idea.

We ended up doing a very pleasant walk by the side of a river up to a small town, but not a waterfall. That will teach us to rely on Google Maps and some vague directions. (We later found that we’d not been patient enough. A couple of miles further down the road would have got us to the right path.)

En route from Cockermouth to Grasmere

The forecast for the next day was worse, so we decided to spend more of it in the car and head up to Cockermouth, to the north west of the Lakes.

Sure is was grey and miserable outside, but the scenery was still undeniably beautiful. It’s crazy to think that it was my first time in the area.

En route from Cockermouth to Grasmere

Once in Cockermouth we walked around in circles, as we tend to do when visiting new places. We started without a real plan. Then, since we were with a baby, thought that maybe we should visit the toy museum. We found the brewery that was, according to the map, just past it but not the museum itself. Later we found that some of the signs were blacked out; presumably it closed at some point.

River, Elterwater

We had better luck with lunch. On our aimless walking earlier we had passed a number of pubs that looked worthy of further attention. Based more on the name than anything more scientific we ended up in The Bitter End, which turned out to be a good choice. You can’t go wrong with a pint and a pie…

Walk near Ambleside

On the way back to Windermere we stopped in a few places, included Grassmere for some gingerbread and some services for a loo (though they had been closed for some time, with the windows boarded up).

But this was to be our last full day in the Lakes.

Path near Windermere

We took our time heading back home. We stopped in Kendle for some mint-cake. And I found a new word that sounds like it’s swearing but isn’t: finkle. (If you don’t think it sounds rude, you can finkle off.) And we stopped in Settle for some lunch at “Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe” for some Yorkshire pudding and Cumberland Sausages. May seemed like the wrong time of year for such stodge but a quick look out the window confirmed that it was very suitable.

Blustry on Windermere

So even with the baby and the weather, we still managed to see quite a lot in only a few days. I find it difficult to believe that this was the first time I’ve visited. But I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

2011 Slideshow

I have to say that I love this slideshow feature in Aperture. I know it’s not new, it’s been there for a couple of years at least, but I just found it. To test it I put in a bunch of pictures that I took on my travels last year. I originally put some music on it too, but I had to take it off for the version on YouTube…

Glen of Aherlow, Ireland

I generally prefer not to cover the same ground twice. I’ve got something out of pretty much everywhere I’ve travelled to and I’ve no objection going back to most places, but, the way I see it, there is so much of the world to see that, all else being equal, I’d rather see something new. There are, however, exceptions.

Glen of Aherlow

Eleven years ago I had taken a driving tour around Ireland with my sister. We had covered a lot of ground but spent a lot of time in the south west of the country, staying in Cashel and Cork. This time a friend was getting married in the same area. So rather the just shooting in for the celebration, I decided to stay on for a while, and retread some of the same ground. If nothing else, I have a better camera this time around…

Pub, petrol station and shop

Last time we had a car and rarely stayed more than one night in any location. This time I decided to base myself in a hotel in the Glen of Aherlow, just outside Tipperary.

As soon as you arrive it is immediately clear why they call it the emerald isle: it’s so green and verdant… and wet. It rained quite a lot while I was there, but not so bad that it forced a change of plan.

"5 in a row my arse"

As with last time, driving was fun. Signs seemed to be scattered rather than planned, with dozens at some junctions and none at all at others. Getting to the hotel in the first place was made more complicated by a road closure and a diversion. A big sign directed me left, down a small road which finally intersected with a larger one. The diversion sign was the first and the last I saw. By the time I got to the main road there was nothing. I guessed right and then, seeing a lot of cars taking another right after a minute, I took a punt and followed them. After a few minutes it led to another sign. Unfortunately one that said “Road closed.”

To cut a long story short, it was necessary to ignore the signs, drive around them, and continue down the road regardless. After another few minutes there was the hotel.

Glen of Aherlow

Before the wedding I took a series of short walks in and around the Glen. Some started in small towns where the petrol station, pub, restaurant and shop were one and the same. Others started just off a main road, where you had to rummage around for ten minutes to find where it was supposed to begin. In either case, they were pleasant and easy and felt like a million miles from London, which is pretty much exactly what you want when on holiday.

Rain in Glen of Aherlow

On a few occasions I decided to sit in the car for a short time, hoping that the rain would stop. I got lucky for the most part.

Glen of Aherlow

When the clouds lifted and the sun shone through, it really is a beautiful area. Last time we had driven into Tipperary — more for the name than anything else — but had not stayed long. It was good to spend more time here.

Glen of Aherlow

In Tipperary itself there was in a party spirit. Tipp Town, as they call them, had a big game coming up and the whole place was covered in blue and yellow livery. Even one of the statues.

Celebration in Tipperary

After the wedding I decided to go a little further afield. Tipperary sits at one end of a triangle, with Cahir and Cashel at the other two corners. The former has a castle and the latter a rock. I’m not really selling the rock, am I? Well, on top of the rock is a church and at the base is an old monastery. It’s so significant that the Queen visited on her recent trip to Ireland. Make of that what you will.

Band in Cashel town centre

Of course the Queen had a welcoming party and tour guides and probably an easier time parking. I had a band playing in the main square. At least I assume they were for me. But I could have used a guide as I did not have an easy time finding The Rock. It’s is kind of bizarre when you consider that the town basically has a single attraction!

Pub in Cashel

Okay, I exaggerate slightly but I did take a wrong turning and ended up on completely the wrong side of town before realising my error. I don’t remember it being this hard last time I was here!

View from the Rock of Cashel

The church was covered in scaffolding and so not looking its best. I decided to walk all the way around the rock instead. About a third of the way round there was an unwelcoming fence but it wasn’t big enough to dissuade me. I clambered over and continued. From the rock I could see some way in the distance in all directions. The old abbey, the cows grazing in the fields, the wind farms on the distant hills.

View from the Rock of Cashel

Back in the car, I drove to the third corner of the triangle, Cahir. The main attraction in Cahir is a castle. I got lucky on two fronts. First, I managed to be there when they were offing free admission. Second, I arrived just as a tour was about to start.

Cahir Castle

Like many castles, it has a long and rich history and the guide, with her strong, local accent, drew our attention to the visible evidence of it all.

Cahir Castle

Unfortunately this was the last “real” day in the country. The last day I just drove to the airport, though I did take quite a detour. I went south to Cork. When I was here in 2001 this took half a day as the drive was entirely on smaller, winding roads. Since then they built a motorway so it only took an hour to get there.

Cork, again, struck me as a pleasant town, though one, seemingly, without significant attractions to photograph!

Blarney town

The nearest famous tourist destination is the Blarney Stone so on my way out of Cork, on the way to Shannon, I stopped off for a quick look around. I guess I assumed a big field with a stone in the middle, kind of like Stone Henge but without the cordon.

Don’t believe my gut instinct.

Admission costs €10, though, to be fair, it includes entry to the castle and gardens as well as the stone. It seemed like a lot for kissing an unhygienic rock, so I passed and continued down the road to the airport.

Spending a night at an airport hotel is not a terribly glamorous way to end a holiday, but the flight the next day was early and I’d have missed Cork, Blarney and Bunratty had I stayed in the Glen of Aherlow for another night. Ultimately you can’t see everything, but I was very happy with what I did manage.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of those places whose name I was familiar with but I couldn’t quite put my finger on anything specific that I knew about it. Indeed, one thing that I thought I knew about it — that it was in California — was only partly true.

Although I usually try to stay away from check-box tourism — that is doing things just to complete a set or increase a count — I did pretty well numerically this time. I got almost all the way around the lake, just missing out on the south east corner, and added another state, Nevada, to my tally.

Driving to Tahoe

The drive up from the Bay Area was fascinating in its own right. It’s easy, as a tourist, to see only the “obvious” places. In the Bay Area you see San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Alcatraz. I love to also see the “normal” parts of a country and a road trip is the ideal way of doing this. Stopping off en route for a quick bite to eat is a great way to sneak a quick look at the less travelled parts of a county, and that’s exactly what I did here, stopping at Davis and Auburn.

Driving to Tahoe

I stayed in a small town on the north shore of the lake called King’s Beach. It was small, even more rigidly grid-shaped than most other American towns I’ve been in and, except for the main road, very quiet. It was even possible to lie down and sleep near the water front.

Sleeping man

It’s easy to go hundreds of miles on the freeway, but it’s a little more tricky to figure out how long it takes to get around on smaller roads. So for my first trip out of Kings Beach I decided not to go too far. According to the guide book there was an easy walk to a fantastic view of the whole lake. It was not wrong.

Trees, Tahoe Rim Trail

The weather was good — hot even — and I was out of shape, which meant the walk was harder than it should have been but it was absolutely worth it when I got to the top. I can even say that I’ve done part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, a walking route around the whole lake.

View of Lake Tahoe from the Rim Trail

Even in July some of the nearby mountains still had snow on them. People had been skiing until only a few weeks earlier.

View from Tahoe Rim Trail

On my first day wandering around Kings Beach I did think about walking into Nevada. I knew that it wasn’t that far away but the map wasn’t great. It was either just around the next corner, or five miles away; I just couldn’t tell. It was hot and, well, I was lazy…

So the next day I drove around the coast, through Elevation Village (no connection with U2 as far as I know), to some beauty spots right at the side of the lake.

View of Lake Tahoe from near Incline Village

In late afternoon, with the low light cast over the lake, a couple of yachts slowly making their way north and the mountains in the background, it looked like a postcard.

Yacht on Lake Tahoe

I went back to Nevada a couple of day later, this time continuing on the road through Elevation Village and ending up about half way down the lake. I passed a number of harbours whose names amused me. The first one was prominently signposted: Secret Harbour. Not so much any more. The second was called Skunk Harbour. (The only reason I didn’t make it any further is that Glenbrook Bay isn’t nearly as funny.)

My destination was Spooner Lake.

Walking around Spooner Lake

When I arrived there were a number of tents erected between the car park and the lake. It turns out that there was a race and Spooner Lake was the end point. As I walked around the lake I was passed by a number of energetic and, sometimes, very tired joggers.

Towards the end of the loop, near the end of the race, were some bizarre signs, including this zombie haiku and a life-size poster of a zombie, complete with blood dripping from his teeth. I never did work out the significance of it all.

"Zombie Haiku #9"

The next day I headed further around the lake, to the south-west corner where there is a well known Scandinavian house and waterfall, called Vikingsholm.

View over Lake Tahoe

I guess Lora Josephine Knight must have been to different parts of Scandinavia to me as I didn’t think that it felt terribly Nordic. Though, in its defence, the location was stunning. There was a long, snaking path from the car park down to the lake. For much of the walk there were views across the lake, and down at our destination you could see that almost everything was taken from a palette of rich greens.

Eagle Falls

Down at water level, the path meanders past the house and splits off into various routes, some into the woods, some down to the water front and another, the one I decided to take, to a waterfall.

Tree in Vikingsholm

Perhaps because the winter lasted so long, the water seemed to be flowing very quickly and up on a viewing platform there is considerable spray and it doesn’t take long for a fine mist to cover everything from my t-shirt to my camera. I decided to head back to the car before it causes any serious electrical damage!

View over Lake Tahoe

For the last day near Tahoe, I decided to head back to near where I started. Shortly after the turnoff for the walk I did on the first day is another one labelled Tahoe Meadows. (Actually, the main indicator is a line of cars parked by the side of the road!)

Tahoe Meadows

As soon as you’re out of the car you can see why it’s called “meadows.” There are green, rolling hills going down some way before it turns into the familiar pine trees that seem to circle the whole lake. It doesn’t feel dramatically higher or cooler here, but there are still large expanses of unmelted snow on the ground. In the shade of the trees it’s still white, crunchy and untouched.

Tahoe Meadows

It was a relatively short and easy walk but very pretty with the lake making beautiful, sharp reflections of the higher peaks and the views all the way down to the lake and some of the distant mountains.

Tahoe Meadows

It’s a great area and I could happily have spent more time there, though I can, unfortunately, only afford to take so much time off work! Since they’re both areas of outstanding beauty and are both in California, I couldn’t help but think of my time in Yosemite a couple of years ago. I started thinking in terms of which was “better” but left thinking that they were both distinctive and had different things to offer. I’d happily go back to either!

Kamiros and Rhodes West Coast

The east coast of Rhodes has all the big name destinations, Faliraki and Lindos, but I figured that the west coast was worth a visit too.

The first thing that I passed (other than the airport which I wouldn’t be going to for another few days) was Pataloudes, better known as the Valley of the Butterflies. However, despite the name there were no butterflies.

Petaloudes

There are two reasons for the lack of butterflies. The first is the time of year. The bugs are attracted to the damp, shaded part of the island during the main heat of the summer. The weather was decent in April but hardly what you’d describe as “the main heat.”

The other reason is more fundamental: even in summer, they’re moths and not butterflies, but they call them butterflies as that sounds much more attractive than “moth.”

Locked monastery

But despite the lack of the animal that gave the place its (English language) name, it was still a pleasant walk. It wasn’t completely “back to nature.” There were maintained paths and bridges, making it more like Muir Woods than the Peak District.

I followed the path all the way to the end, where I found another empty ticket gate. Just after that were (closed) stalls where a little later in the year lunch could be purchased. And just beyond, I saw on a map, was a monastery. However, as I got to the top of the hill I realised that the gate to it was closed. I had no choice but to return the way I had come, back to the car park.

Ruins at Kamiros

Next stop was “Ancient Kamiros,” a well preserved 5C BC town. It was surprisingly large and the walls were very well preserved. As an added bonus, there were great views over the sea which was just a short distance away.

Like the acropolis in Lindos, Kamiros closed shortly after I arrived. But I got lucky again and had seen pretty much everything I wanted to see before I was thrown out.

By this time it was getting quite late and I was pretty hungry, so before continuing down the coast I stopped at a water-side restaurant. They claim to have been open for several decades so I assumed that they can’t have given too many people upset stomachs!

Kritinia main square

After Kamiros the next major sight was some distance away and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it there before the sun started setting. Still, I thought I should continue further south for a little while longer.

It was a beautiful drive. The road mostly hugged the coast, the sun was shining and there was very little other traffic.

After a while the road headed a little inland and I decided to stop at the next town. This town was called Kritinia, which was small, hilly and looked very sleepy. The town square had two guys chatting at a table and another guy leaning into one of the nearby houses deep in conversation with, presumably, whoever lived there.

Almost everything else looked closed, including the church, and the only other activity was a man feeding all the neighbourhood cats. Seeing a “normal” part of Rhodes seemed a fitting end point to my trip down the west coast. I turned round and headed back to to Rhodes Town.