Miss Mykonos, Aristotle, Athens, and two taxi drivers (an exploration of Greece).

Blog, Destinations, Greece, Travel

“You have to decide the kind of life that you want to live, or the person that you want to be.” Those were the words, or something similar to them that my taxi driver said to me, as I sat in the back, en route to Athens International Airport. The story he told me during the short 30 minute night-time journey left me with a feeling of incredulity.

He lived and worked in Athens as a taxi driver but also owned a holiday home on a Greek island, which provided a valuable source of income. He told a tale of oil rich Arabs from the Middle East that had arrived on the island with literally holdalls full of euros, and my driver had provided transport for these visitors to the island. They would offer him 10,000 Euros to go and get drugs, girls or whatever they wanted. Money was no object whatsoever.

My taxi driver was clearly an ethical and righteous man and refused their generous, but outrageous offer. As we parted company at departures, I pondered his account of the corrupting influence of money and the Aristotle-like wisdom he had offered me – all included in the price of taxi fare! Later, before I caught my flight back to Thessaloniki, I encountered Miss Mykonos 2018 with a small child in tow, which was a salutary reminder that however glamourous your day job may be, we have all got mouths to feed and bills to pay.

The Parthenon
Hotel Sir Athens

In the preceding days, I had spent three enjoyable nights at the superbly appointed Hotel Sir Athens in Greece’s ancient, political and philosophical capital, having joined my friends, Emmanouil and Antigoni in the city whilst they attended a conference. Eleni, the boutique hotel’s part-owner really looked after me and made me feel very welcome. Sir Athens was modern, comfortable, well equipped and conveniently situated.

I really loved Athens, or at least parts of it. I wasn’t so enamoured with the endless, uniform rows of air conditioned accommodation blocks sprawled out across the city marching towards the horizon, but if ancient culture and civilisations are your thing, Athens has it by the bucket load. And understandably, it has tourists by the bucket load too, and whilst not on the same scale as Venice in terms of visitor numbers, be prepared to rub shoulders with crowds of adoring travellers from all over the globe.

The Acropolis pretty much stands at the top of the list, including the Theatre of Dionysus, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Temple of Athena Nike and of course, it’s crowning glory: The Parthenon. Don’t forget the Acropolis museum just across the way though – it is superb. Three main floors of ancient antiquity to keep you endlessly fascinated, and it is not to be missed. The Areopagus is nearby and the fascinating Temple of Zeus is located in a different part of the city.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Having suitably feasted on the sights and sounds of both ancient and modern Greece, I decided it was time to return to my hotel. However, I soon discovered that I was having trouble explaining to the Greek taxi driver where my hotel was, so I phoned Eleni and gave the phone to the driver. After a fairly animated discussion between the two of them in their mother tongue, the location of the hotel was identified, but having seen her WhatsApp profile picture on my mobile, the taxi driver then exclaimed in English to her, “You’re beautiful!”

Well, that’s the Greeks for you, and as an Englishman, I suddenly felt very dull and inhibited although I couldn’t argue with his conclusion about my host. That eclectic mix and splash of local culture and colour is surely what travel is all about, and I love it. Greece and her people will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m sure to return.

And if you haven’t yet sampled the delights of this enchanting country ringed by the sparkling Ionian, Aegean & Mediterranean Seas, then as soon as you are able, I encourage you to book your flight and go and see, not just things and places, but meet the people that make it so unique. I had the distinct feeling that this short trip to Greece was going to live long in my memory. Kalinikta Hellas.

Hiking Mount Rainier, Washington State

Blog, Destinations, Travel, USA

Mount Rainier appeared like a mirage in the distance, summoning and calling us to ascend her snowy mantle. At last, my father, my brother and I set off towards her majestic peak beckoning to us for supreme adventure – and we were ready for that.

As we drove on and on, its icy cap filled the horizon with increasing dominance. Ascending higher and higher – we were heading for the Southern Cascades; that vast range of mountains that bisects Washington – reaching from the Canadian border down to the State of Oregon. We had arrived in the Olympic National Park, and our goal, the focus of our desire lay in front of us.

The excitement built and reached a crescendo as Rainier now loomed large in our field of view. Snowy vistas beckoned as we began our upward climb. Up and up through the snow we trudged, icy tentacles wrapping around our feet. The air was clear, still, and rarefied as we left civilization below us.  The snowy peak was calling us, daring and challenging us to come up higher. Overcoming tiredness, aching limbs, and with a steely determination, Jonathan and I persevered and pushed on up the mountain.

This time with my brother was precious; bonding, shaping, and connecting. Separated by so much distance and so many years, at last we were together. Climbing, ascending with the Southern Cascades as our back drop, mighty rocky promontories reaching into the still, blue sky announcing their majestic and undeniable presence.

Mount Rainier, Southern Cascades, WA

We reached 7000 feet, meeting triumphant and satisfied climbers who were descending from a much higher altitude.  We were now up in the land of the gods: glaciers, snow fields, mountain goats and marmots.

Finding the source of the Nisqually River, I drank from its sacred spring. Clean, clear, cold and unimaginably refreshing, I allowed the water to invigorate and refresh my tired body. The glare of the snow continued to shine and dazzle in the afternoon sun. Photo opportunities abounded; I felt overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of our new environment.

Satisfied, and having gone as far as time, energy and the now waning sun would allow, we began our descent even pausing to engage with a Mountain Marmot who was very curious about what we were doing. Maybe posturing for confrontation or seeking food – we shall never know. But as we descended, we met more explorers, climbers and hikers who were also enjoying the icy delights of this snowy arena.

Regrouping down below and eventually drifting homeward, I reflected that it had been a day like no other. We had come and conquered, and now felt fulfilled, contented, and grateful for this time together enjoying the sheer magnificence that is Mount Rainier.

New Delhi, New India

Blog, Destinations, India, Travel

I have been travelling to India for almost 25 years now, and it is fair to say that I have seen a few changes over the years. I have seen this country dynamically shift in some ways, and in other ways not. I mean India still has masses of terribly poor people eking out a living from day to day, and admittedly, the very-poor have always existed alongside the super-rich. If you go to any major city like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, or Chennai, you will see the slums and the skyscrapers together.

Photo by Aviral Swarnkar

However, what is different now here in the 21st Century, is the emerging middle class, the young, ICT literate and upwardly mobile – that generation of Millennials that have reached adulthood. This was never more evidenced than when I was riding the Metro in Delhi last year. Smartly dressed young men and women absorbed with their smartphones, as interconnected and aware as the rest of us on planet earth.

Delhi’s Metro is ever expanding and easy to use. Colour coded footprints on the walkways help direct you to the right lines; it really is a thing of beauty and an enormous asset for all city dwellers. Sprawling out like a spider’s web across the nation’s capital it transports the young and beautiful, and the not so young and beautiful to wherever they so choose.

My friend Varun, from Varanasi but now living in Delhi with his family, remarked that once you’re inside the Metro system, it’s like being in the UK. However, the moment you emerge, you are back in India again. I knew exactly what he meant; the metro is relatively new and modern and yet when you come out it’s almost like you have been in a time warp, because you are back to the rickshaw wallahs, the roadside vendors, the noise, heat, and pollution. But this is always the way that India has been – rich and poor living side by side.

Photo by Shadman H.

This is a vastly different story from when I first arrived in India back in November 1995. There was certainly no metro and the preferred method of transport was nearly always an auto-rickshaw, or an old ambassador taxi. But I guess now in this age of climate change, something had to give, because as you will know if you have ever visited Delhi, the smog there is fairly legendary. In fact, at times, it will bring the whole city to a halt because the visibility becomes so poor.

I always knew that air pollution was going to be a challenge for this emerging economic giant. The moment our 400 ton 747 landed with a heavy thud at Indira Gandhi International at Delhi, and its tyres screeched and smoked along the runway tarmac, I could smell the definite bitter, poisonous tang of heavy smog in the air. I cannot say that the air quality has massively improved since then, but with initiatives like greener, less polluting auto-rickshaws and the Delhi’s dazzling metro, things are sure to improve over time.

Photo by PS Photography

Love, life and Lebanon.

Blog, Destinations, India, Travel

Thirty years of age, from Tyre in Lebanon, Jabira had luxuriant, thick, tightly curled hair which contrasted with a complexion that was paler than what I would have imagined for someone from the Middle East. Faultlessly dressed in her pastel-coloured airline uniform, Jabira wore vivid red lipstick like a movie star.

Perching on the crew seat, at the rear of the aircraft by the galley, she told me that she loved to travel, and even travels on her day off. The conversation then moved in a more personal direction when Jabira told me that she was marrying a guy sixteen years her senior and that this was a good thing.

She preferred more mature men, and her rationale behind this thinking was that older guys are more experienced, they have seen lots of interesting things in life, were stable and are not always looking at other girls.

I immediately began to relax, because up until that point, I was going to be writing a stiffly worded letter of complaint to the airline head office. I was travelling to India once again full of anticipation and excitement, but I had just suffered the worst airline food and service in years of flying.

Feeling restless, I had torn myself away from the irresistible view of distant, foreign shores below me, and a vast, unending range of jagged, white-topped mountains interspersed with glacial lakes. Heading to the rear of the aircraft, I needed to do what every passenger must do after a few hours in their seat. That is when I came face to face with Jabira.

I interrupted her lunch break by remarking on the healthy and nutritious tuna salad that she was eating. Graciously, she then engaged in meaningful conversation with me and willingly surrendered up some personal and fascinating details about her life.

With an impending summer marriage, Jabira was trying to lose weight for her husband-to-be. She declared that at the age of 30 she was now old, and the older you get the more difficult it becomes to lose weight. Of course, I reassured her that she was neither old nor needed to lose weight.

Eventually, the Bursar came and interrupted our conversation, telling the crew it was time to attend to the needs of the passengers. I said goodbye to Jabira for now, and I wished her all the love and luck in the world.

Sitting down in my habitual window seat, now gazing out over a different landscape passing below like a geographical conveyor belt, I contemplated what had just taken place.

I had met Jabira and she had shared her life, hopes, and aspirations with me. My pent-up disappointment with the airline had all but evaporated because, at this moment, it simply did not matter anymore.

Later, she strode past my seat and gave me a knowing smile. I relaxed again knowing that I had been touched by the kindness of a stranger, and I was infinitely richer for it.

(Name changed to protect identity).

Rain, rain, rain.

Blog, Destinations, India, Travel

Rain, lots and lots of it. In fact, it was endless, and Sigra Road outside our hotel was rapidly becoming a river. It was September, and we were in Varanasi, North India, in the back end of the monsoon season. Clearly, all the locals were not bothered by it as everybody just carried on, even though by this time the street outside was under 1-2 feet of water.

Big, thick, deafening rain just kept falling out of the sky; heavily, incessantly, and persistently as we watched from the relative shelter of the Hotel Padmini, just around the corner from my friend’s house. I had never seen weather like it in the UK, and I was at once filled with excitement, awe and wonder at nature’s power to bring everything to a grinding halt.

The drainage along the road just could not cope. Too much water, too quickly with no let up. People were getting off motorbikes and pushing. Auto-rickshaws also could not withstand the deluge, and their beleaguered drivers had to dismount and physically force their vehicles through the dirty, brown water.

Cars broke down and again had to be propelled by human effort. But no one gave up, they just got out, got off and put their backs into it because that is what you do in this part of the world. You don’t let something simple like a massive weather system stop you from going about your daily business here.

Photo by Rahul Dogra

Dublin in a Day?

Blog, Destinations, Food, Ireland, Travel

Can you do a city break in a day? This is a question that has often perplexed me, so without further ado, I booked myself a reasonably early morning flight to Dublin, flying out from Bristol Airport. With a flight time of less than one hour, the capital of the Emerald Isle is very accessible. Living up to its green nickname, when the thick cloud finally parted over Ireland, the countryside below was the greenest of greens you can possibly imagine.

Down on the ground though I began to understand why, like my home county of Devon, it was so green. It was raining, heavily. ‘Good weather for ducks,’ my connecting coach driver was heard to say, and he was right on the money there. Not to be in the slightest bit perturbed though, I hopped on and took the short thirty minute coach journey into the centre of Dublin, arriving at Westmoreland Street.

Of course, arriving in the centre of any new city can be somewhat overwhelming, I mean what to do? Where do you start? I have to humbly confess that I conducted the briefest research into this fair city, but I was determined to make the most of my time here. It was now 10.05am and my return flight wasn’t until 7.40pm that evening, so here goes.

Dublin Tram

St. Stephen’s Green

Striding confidently in the direction of somewhere, I soon arrived at one of the green lungs of Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green. All the way there, I was constantly tempted to wander down one of the many side streets en route, but I resisted for now and continued onwards. This is a lovely piece of parkland , situated at the end of Dawson Street full of very tame pigeons it would seem. A quick wander through the park, down the autumnal leafy walkways and  around the man-made lake, and I was ready for next segment.

Beanhive Cafe

By now it was late morning, and I was feeling a little peckish. I had read about the Beanhive Cafe, so it was a simple trot across the road from St. Stephen’s Green to the top of Dawson Street. Now I have to say that if you don’t like queuing, don’t come here. Why? Well because I counted 8 seats inside, and 8 seats outside on the pavement. And since it was a cool, grey and wet day, unless you are of the more hardy sort, you probably won’t go for the outside pavement option.

The Beanhive, run by a lovely chap called Fan whose family originate from the Far-East, appears to be perpetually busy – and deservedly so. The menu is wide-ranging and jolly mouth-watering. So, what’s a man to do when in Dublin? Well he orders the ‘Full Irish Breakfast’ of course. I put my order in and soon as a seat inside became available, I sat down literally as my tasty breakfast arrived. I was presented with a vast platter of food which I duly tucked into, although I wasn’t sure if there was any difference between the ‘full English’ and the ‘full Irish.’ No matter, it filled the proverbial hole, and after a quick chat with Fan I discovered that his wife was the actual owner of the business. Goodbyes said, I was on my merry way to the next stop.

The Full Irish!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

No visit to Dublin would be complete without popping into a place of religious significance, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral is most definitely worthy of your attention, if only for an hour. Inside you will find a rich source of religious history and Irish heritage. There are statues and plaques to various notable dignitaries and historic men who have helped shaped the Dublin of today. It is without doubt a beautiful building within, and will hold you in rapt attention for some time.

St.Patrick’s Cathedral

The Oak

Just across the way from Dublin Castle and near the City Hall, the Oak is a great place to pop in if you have a major thirst coming on. Situated on the corner of Parliament Street, it’s a great place to watch the world go by. Perched on a plush stool, I was truly mesmerised by the stunning array of different whiskeys and gin on offer behind the bar. The usual major brands were present of course, but it was the sheer proliferation of independent distillers that was really eye-opening.

The Oak

So whilst at the bar with my pint of Guinness (well what else did you expect?), which by the way is always part filled up then left to stand before finally being topped up to the rim, I engaged the young Irish barman Joshua in conversation. We mused about the truly dazzling array of spirits before us, imbibing (no pun intended), as much information as I possibly could.

Well I thought I would try one of the local whiskeys and unsurprisingly, I opted for the curiously named ‘Writer’s Tears,’ which is probably some kind of reference to writer’s block maybe… It was very nice, but at 7.50 Euros a shot, perhaps it’s a reference to the price. Oh well, time to move on to my next port of call.

Dublin Castle

For a fascinating insight into Ireland’s troubled history, a visit to Dublin Castle is a must. Famous for the handing over of power to Michael Collins and the newly formed Irish government in 1922, a visit here will certainly help put things in context. Because time was now rapidly moving on, I chose the tour of the State Apartments which was without doubt very interesting and certainly a productive and agreeable use of my then limited time.

Dublin Castle

One of the most interesting rooms is where the Irish president is inaugurated every seven years. You can’t help but be impressed by the grandeur of Dublin Castle, which is still used regularly for state occasions. The sumptuous dining room where international guests are regularly entertained and the portraits of a long line of British Viceroys that ruled this land during our seven hundred year tenure of power, are truly fascinating. On a more mundane note, Dublin Castle also functions as offices for a number of Government departments.

Ha’penny Bridge

No visit to Dublin is complete without crossing the famous River Liffey via the charming and historic Ha’penny Bridge. Fabulously ornate, it will give you a snapshot of old Dublin. Charmingly, you will find masses of padlocks of friends, visitors and lovers attached to the bridge as a remembrance of their special time there.

Padlocks on the Ha’penny Bridge

Temple Bar

And so to the finale of my day, a visit to the Temple Bar. Here you will put up with expensive Guinness, but in return you will be treated to an undeniably Irish experience. Inside, two musicians, Alan and Josh, were busy entertaining the assembled cheering and whooping crowds with some real Irish folk music. It was for me the perfect end to a varied and interesting day. And whilst I by no means covered all bases within this fabulous city, I think I proved actually, that you can do Dublin in a day. So what are you waiting for? Ryanair are still flying last time I looked.

Thessaloniki, Greece: Part 1

Blog, Destinations, Greece, Travel

Sunset in Thessaloniki

It had been 14 long years since I had last visited the Port of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city after historic Athens. Capital of the beautiful region of Macedonia, it was pretty much as I remembered it, and no less wonderful.

Greece is famed for the stunning coastline of Halkidiki and its three fingers of land reaching down into the Aegean Sea, alongside its diverse and extensive archipelago offering a myriad of different experiences. But, if you avoid Thessaloniki you may be missing the proverbial ‘trick.’

For starters, it’s just a cool place to be and it is positively vibrating with life. If local cuisine and culture is your thing, it has it. If you love a bit of history, it has that by the bucketful and if your penchant is for a bit of glitzy nightlife, then say no more.

So, ambling down the promenade, I thought I would explore once again. After all, it had been a while. With the hot sun beating down on my receding hairline, while at the same time being cooled by refreshing sea breezes, I strode purposefully into ‘town.’

Stop and stare point number 1 was a newly wedded couple engaging in a photo shoot on the waterfront. This is a ‘thing’ now in Greece, or so my friend and local Thessaloniki resident Emmanuel tells me. After couples get wed, they can later find a suitable spot to have some more dramatic, artistic and different pictures taken. Well I think that is a great idea, and it was certainly fun and heartwarming to watch the happy couple posing for all sorts of romantic shots. Ah, true love never dies and all that.

Pirate Ship

Moving on, I carried on up the promanade towards the centre of Thessaloniki. Now it’s not everyday that you see a pirate ship but that is what I found parked in the bay. Not a real one of course (don’t be silly), but a suitably touristy copy for the holiday makers. Pleasure trips were the order of the day and since this one offered a free trip around the bay in exchange for the purchase of a single drink; well how could I resist?

Having boarded the pirate vessel, I soon discovered the exorbitant cost of aforesaid drinks. C’est la vie. Anyway, notwithstanding that, the ship pushed out into the shiny blue Aegean and the party started. And just to enhance the experience, one of the crew members was dressed very convincingly like a pirate. A definite salty sea dog in the extreme. The temporary crew members (us), were ceratinly loving it! Ah ha me hearties…

DSC_4986

Our captain for the trip

Well one beer in and I was having the time of my life: sun, music, sea and a pirate vessel to boot. What more do you want? Sadly, it was all over far too quickly but very enjoyable if only for a while. Would I do it again? Almost certainly.

Next, it was time to hit the White Tower which was clearly visible from the harbourside. This extremely historical monument is also an iconic meeting place for locals who will basically rock up here for all manner of events and celebrations. It’s just one of those natural meeting places; a bit like Trafalgar Square in good old London. But more about that in part 2!

Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne and the Bernese Oberland

Blog, Destinations, Switzerland, Travel

Geneva, in Switzerland,  is a short flight from Heathrow, and consequently, is easily accessible from the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe. It was my first time exploring this beautiful country, and I was not disappointed at all. Geneva itself, hugging the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), is a fairly cosmopolitan place by all accounts. But then, what would you expect from the city that is home to both the Red Cross and the United Nations? The Jura mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this lakeside metropolis, and the city itself is interesting enough with plenty of areas to explore.

Like in any city, street cafés abound where you can unreservedly indulge in a spot of people watching. Witness meetings between businessmen, couples enjoying each other’s company or maybe a pair of Swiss girls chatting excitedly in French in between cigarettes and food. To me, this is travel. It’s not just the places that you see but the people you meet.

DSC_2502

Before you go anywhere though, pop into the Swiss tourism office in downtown Geneva. I found the staff, especially Anna who just paid a visit to London herself, very pleasant and helpful. Bulk up on useful local info about this city on a lake, grab yourself a city pass which will discount a number of activities for you, and of course a free map on which the staff will indicate key places though the useful application of a biro. Chris, my travel buddy, and I emerged ready to explore Geneva’s altogether lovely and engaging tourist offering.

OUT & ABOUT

Bus Tour: No city break would be complete without the ubiquitous bus tour. This particular bus tour was informative and interesting but sadly not open-topped. C’est la vie… can’t have it all I guess. The bus will whisk you around various points of interest, including of course the UN quarter of the city, home to various wings of this world-famous organisation: UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR and of course the UN building itself. The final part of the tour is conducted, rather uniquely, on a land train down some of the more narrow streets.

DSC_2442

The Saleve: If you fancy something a little different, why not try a mini excursion up to The Saleve. A mini massif, just over the border in France, it affords amazing views across Lake Geneva and the city itself. Take a bus to the terminus, walk across the French border and ascend via a cable car to enjoy unparalleled views of the landscape below. It is well worth the effort indeed.

Boat Tour: No visit to Geneva is complete without taking a boat across, or around Lac Leman. It will certainly give you a different perspective on the city, and the boat tour I took was included in the price of the city pass.

Walking Tour of the Old City: This is also well worth doing. Old Geneva is fascinating, interesting and of course historic. You can wander around the old streets of Geneva, and in fact you should do – it’s immensely satisfying and relaxing. Strolling at your own pace, you can simply take in the sights and sounds of the old city. This is what holidaying is all about surely? We opted for the walking tour with an audio guide which was great. All the info you need right there in your hand and you can take things at your own pace. Perfect.

THE DAY WE WENT TO LAUSANNE

Well, it had to be done didn’t it? Hopped on a train we did and headed for that ultra-Swiss town of Lausanne. A train ride along the shores of sparkling Lac Leman on one side with row after row of vineyards on the other will bring you to this mini metropolis by the water. Like Geneva, Lausanne is interesting, historic and engaging. A climb up to the cathedral is well worth it (for the cathedral itself and the panoramic views across the city itself), so make sure that you include that in your tour, however brief.

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We even found time for a jaunty boat ride across to Evian, the home of spring water, on the French side of the lake. We didn’t really have the time to disembark, but the journey was worthwhile nonetheless. As we headed back, Lausanne loomed large on the horizon. Soon enough we found ourselves sat outside café & bar drinking a local brew. Like I say, travelling is all about the people that you meet and soon enough we found ourselves chatting to Pete and his buddies.

Turns out that Pete was from Cardiff, but had found himself in Lausanne some twenty years ago, met a girl and never left. Well there’s a story that has been repeated a few times around the world I should imagine. Pete seemed quite content with his life as an English teacher who regularly topped up his wages by busking on the street. Well, Switzerland is an expensive country you know. Soon, we were joined by his friend Christine and I somehow managed to end up paying for her drink. A chance encounter with the locals (ex-pats included); now that is travel.

THEN WE WENT TO GSTAAD…

On the final day of our trip, we decided to leave the sparkling shores of Lake Geneva, and head on up to the majesty that is the Bernese Oberland. We skirted by Lausanne, heading purposefully for Montreux where we would change trains and start the long climb through the beautiful Alpine meadows that are so typical of this part of the world. One Swiss chalet after another seemed to float by, as the train carried us inexorably up and up towards our destination. Eventually we arrived in Gstaad which according to my learned friend was an uber-posh Ski resort. However, since it was early April, it was a deserted uber-posh ski resort.

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After a quick visit to the tourist information centre, we were directed to the PostBus nearby that would transport us to the Aerial Cableway (very large cable car). The cable car runs every 20 minutes and takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the snowy peaks and ski runs of Glacier 3000. Halfway up, we stopped briefly only to be joined by a horde a skiers and snowboarders (unsurprisingly) and we were suddenly feeling very under-dressed.

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Actually, as we emerged at the top of Glacier 3000 Snowpark, I definitely was under-dressed because I was, well, basically freezing. However, the views are simply stunning and literally take your breath away (sorry about the cliché). Prepared to be dazzled by an array of no less than 24 x 4000m peaks including the Eiger, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. If you’re feeling daring and not afraid of heights, navigate the spectacular Peak Walk by Tissot between two summits – it is stunning. For more information on all this, check out the Swiss tourism website: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/destinations/glacier-3000/

No doubt there is much more you can do in this wonderful country, but I don’t think that is half bad as a starter for 10, don’t you? I invite you to come and explore Geneva, Lausanne, Lac Leman, Gstaad and the beautiful, stunning, incomparable Bernese Oberland. You’ll definitely be coming back for more!

Hickory’s Smokehouse, Chester

Blog, Destinations, Food, UK

Well here’s a thing. How about sitting by the river, drinking in the local vibe and enjoying some scrumptious food to boot? If that appeals, then I advise you to head for Hickory’s Smokehouse sat on the banks of the serene River Dee in historic Chester.

So, new to the city and feeling hungry, I left my hotel and followed the signs down to the river, and duly discovered Hickory’s. And for a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing with young and old alike; which is always a good sign methinks.

The menu is varied, interesting and quite frankly – very appetising. Yeah they have ribs, pulled pork (of course), Texas Style Brisket, steaks, skewers, waffles, burgers and if you’re feeling really hungry – the truly awesome Smokehouse Platter. This dish cleverly enables you to try all their classics in one go. I however, went for the XXXL burger.

Inside the 2 creaking halves of your burger bun (skewered to keep everything together), you will find the following: 2 burgers, pulled pork, streaky bacon, gherkins, cajun onion rings, lettuce, tomato, their rather tasty house sauce and American cheese. This fullsome tribute to some kind of American culinary dream is accompanied by fries served in a mug and their very own coleslaw. This of course can be washed down with a refreshing chilled beer. Perfect.

Not content with dinner, I returned the following morning for breakfast and swerved around the usual temptation to go for the full English (I was still full from the night before), and choose instead the pancakes. Not just any pancakes though, but the Hickory Pancake Stack complete with Blueberry compote and cream.

This comes with a pot of maple sauce, the contents of which I used to saturate and envelop my pancakes with a sweet, sticky sheen. Anyway, the result was absolute deliciousness, and since they are served all day, there is no excuse not to try them. Of course you can always come back later and go for the lunch menu which advertises 2 courses for £10.

So, if haven’t cottoned on yet, I’m recommending you come here when you’re next in Chester, or anywhere nearby for that matter. The location is great and the staff are real friendly too, which all adds up to a winning combination. Great for the food scene and great for Chester.

On the wings of an eagle…

Blog, News

DSC_4751North Devon is the home of a farm that is helping to rescue men from the iron grip of addiction and homelessness.

Eagle Community is a Christian 2nd stage rehab situated at Ovis Farm in North Devon, on the edge of Exmoor. They take prison offenders, and those who have struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism and street homelessness. The work is enormously varied, and no two days are ever the same as the residents tend to present different issues and problems on a regular basis.

Carole Jones, founding trustee and a director of Eagle Community, explained how she became involved in work here. Carole had lived in Zimbabwe for most of her life and returned to the UK in 2003. Eventually, she got a job working as an administrator at Ovis Farm which was then being run as the ‘House of Heroes’ drug and alcohol rehab. She said: “I worked there for seven years and then I retired. After a while Ovis Farm became vacant, the previous tenants left and the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November wanted the farm to be used for used for Christian purposes.

“So a group of us met regularly to try and think of a way forward and eventually in November 2014 I got a phone call from a woman who I had been supporting for some time who had previously been at the women’s rehab and she said, ‘My son is coming out of prison and he wants to get himself sorted out. What is happening about Ovis Farm?”

Carole went on to relay how in that very moment she felt a divine calling to carry on this work and start up the rehab again at Ovis Farm. “I immediately spoke to the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November, and within a week I had actually got two men and moved out to the farm and started Eagle Community at that point which was early December 2014.”

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The community can now accommodate ten men, and seeks to rehabilitate them through a program of practical work, the learning of life-skills, working with local tradespeople, training providers and offering valuable assistance with form filling, debt issues, and family and relationship problems. Counselling is available to those who want it, and the staff are always on hand to chat and pray with the residents. The work can often be long and arduous, but the rewards are immense when the men are able to really move forward with their lives.

Carole talked about some of the pitfalls and problems that she has faced over the years. She said, “The main problem has been the lack of finance. To start of with, the owners of property funded us until we could become viable which took about six months. Starting a thing from scratch, it’s quite heavy going particularly when you’re battling on your own. I did have various volunteers who worked with me over a period of time, but for the first two years, I lived in the house with the men and we went from there. The biggest thing was trying to cope with all the different aspects of the work; it was quite comprehensive.”

Thankfully, Carole is no longer alone in this work and has gathered a small but effective team around her. A key member of that team is Jason Huxtable, Projects Manager for Eagle Community. Jason described what he does on a day to day basis at the rehab: “My role is simply to try and organise a plan for each day, to make sure the house is in a fit and organised order and to listen to the men on a daily basis, not so much give advice but just be someone that can walk alongside them, chat with them, befriend them, and introduce them to God. It’s the last stage of people’s recovery where they can basically start to piece their life together before they move on. It’s a place where people can push the pause button. A place where they can meet God and start a new journey.”

It is very evident that the work that Carole and her team do here at Eagle Community is highly valued by both local authorities, clergy, the police and also the prison and probation service, as applications for prospective clients land on her desk regularly. I asked Carole about her motivation, and what was it that kept her going in such a difficult and challenging line of work. Without any hesitation she cited her God given passion to work with the men saying: “In this kind of of environment I just thrive, I really enjoy it, and that’s why I do it.”

If you would like to find out more about Eagle Community, including how to apply for a place here, please visit: https://eaglecommunity.co.uk/, email: eaglecommunityinfo@gmail.com or phone 01598 710726

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