Devon.

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There surely is no shortage of natural beauty in the lush, green county of Devon. There’s a reason why it rhymes with heaven.

2 coastlines, distinctively different from each other, 2 vast expanses of open moorland, sheep, cows, clotted cream and sleep inducing fresh air are what makes this place special.

I could wax lyrical about wooded valleys and babbling brooks, but I think you get the picture. Space, peace and tranquillity are what this county is all about.

And yes I know it rains a lot in between the sunshine, but how else would it be so green?

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Shallow Seas.

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The name ‘Bahamas’ literally means ‘Shallow Sea.’ And when you first arrive in this archipelago of some 700+ islands, you immediately begin to see why Christopher Columbus graced these islands with this name.

We found ourselves on Great Exuma, a beautiful cay (pronounced key), shot over by cobalt blue skies and surrounded by turquoise waters. We drove down to Little Exuma too, which was no less beautiful.

Eventually, we discovered Coco Plum beach, said to be the finest in the Bahamas. Well I couldn’t possibly comment because I haven’t explored many of the other islands, but I think we’ll let the locals fight that one out. It was pretty stunning though, and that’s probably an understatement.

Things were fairly quiet round there though. I mean, if a beach was busy, you may see 10 or so people occupying a half a mile stretch of pure white sand. If it was quiet, then nobody – except you of course. Just the way I like it.

And with many of these remote beaches serving cold beer, rum (of course) and delicious, grilled food, what more do you need?

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You don’t have to travel too far.

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You don’t have to travel too far to get a little piece of paradise; well you certainly don’t have to when it comes to roaming around North Devon.

Just a little peramble down the scenic coast path, with the wind in my face and the gush and babble of the incoming tide lapping the estuary shores – brought me to this lovely secluded, sandy beach.

And except for a couple of kitesufers, capturing the fierce Atlantic gusts in their sails as they raced across the bay – absolute peace and solitude reigned.

Like no place on Earth.

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Venice. There’s simply no place on Earth like it, or at least no place like anywhere that I’ve been anyway. You can’t help but be wowed by this city on the water, a city that was originally built on a malarial swamp many centuries ago.

Gliding past people’s front doors on the Grand Canal, courtesy of Vaporetto No.1, you can only imagine what life on the water must be like. No cars in the garage here, but a small speedboat tied up outside, is the mode of transport around this iconic city on the Adriatic.

And if in the end the architecture and history of Venice is of no interest to you, and it’s romance that you’re after, then this surely is the very epicentre of all things love. Actually, even if you don’t have a significant other, then I tell you that the city itself will capture your heart!

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The Day that Sandy came to town.

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After a three day standoff with Hurricane Sandy, we are permitted to leave the breezy shores of Great Britain. New York City eagerly beckons and finally embraces us as we descend and come to rest in JFK, Jamaica Bay – a world away from the Caribbean.

We have arrived the day after Sandy came to town. The Big Apple is bruised but not eaten. The East Coast is battered but not beaten. New York skyline stands tall and proud, seemingly indomitable. Trash and filth sprawls across the streets.

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Myriad yellow cabs defiantly speed on their way, relentlessly ferrying their cargo to every corner of the city. New York City Police stand silently by looking, gazing, and chewing gum like modern day gunslingers. New York has survived another attack.

On board the open topped tourist bus, the wintry air wraps around my face like a wraith as we travel ever slowly southward, to the tip of Manhattan. Sandy’s playground is a mess. Damage & destruction, pain and hurt are left in her wake. Grey skies look on dispassionately. A silent reminder of the storm that was.

Emergency responders scurry to clean up, even the army has come to town. We drive up Water Street, aptly and

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cruelly named. Pipes emerge snakelike from the bowels of offices, restaurants, people’s homes disgorging their contents into the street, returning to the open water from where this surge emanated.

A tree is uprooted outside a building; symbolic of devastation and horrors past. Chinatown, normally fervent with energy and light is quiet and subdued in the darkness of a total power outage. Nearby though, Wall Street is mystically aflame with light, life, power and money. The wheels of commerce grind on relentlessly, taking no notice of mere human misery.

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Café owners toss their ruined stock and furniture on the sidewalk. Buildings lie silent and dormant – mute testimony to the force of nature which has conquered and restrained this proud city, temporarily anyway. We take photos but then feel ashamed and quickly put our cameras away. We observe helplessly, there is nothing we can do.

Later, within the refuge of our 7th Avenue hotel I complain to the receptionist about the lack of hot water and heating. She is a kind, middle aged woman from Staten Island. I have a problem but they are the ones with real problem, for across the water Staten Islanders are crying for help.

Yet, this lady still has time for my minor inconvenience and speaks reassuring words in her own brand of New York accent.

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What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow

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‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.’ That was how the conversation went on a train heading out of Kolkata towards the railhead of New Jalpaiguri, in the far north of West Bengal. Having found our seats in the carriage, we discovered that by an administrational error, we were sat opposite Monojit & Sudip, a reporter & cameraman from an Asian TV news network.

They had been tasked with interviewing some Bollywood stars and were en route. As everyone settled down in the carriage, old & young struggling by with impossible amounts of baggage, we chatted about some of the more notable figures in Kolkata’s cultural landscape. Artistic luminaries, such as Rabindranath Tagore, the film director Satyajit Ray and the world famous Ravi Shankar were all hot topics for our discussion.

DSC_0013_1It was during our relaxed & entertaining banter that I began to grasp the kernel of truth they had imparted to me. Tagore & Ray hailed from Kolkata, and Shankar having Bengali parentage, had helped make this city a centre of artistic & intellectual enlightenment. This was far removed from the clichéd black hole that many mistakenly talk about!

In between our scholarly exchange, food vendors and chai wallahs with their vociferous cries shuffled past plying their wares. Hot sweet tea and tasty, spicy snacks served to sustain us for a further long night’s chat where east was most definitely meeting west.

Our new friends’ extravagant and of course, locally biased statement of cultural life in West Bengal, drove us inexorably to one inescapable conclusion: compared to the sprawling masses of the rest of India, the good peoples of Kolkata were most definitely ahead of the game.

Early next morning I sat by the open door of the carriage enjoying the ever changing landscape, fresh morning air and warmth of the sun. I reflected on my ‘local’ encounter and realised that you can make friends just about anywhere you may find yourself. Well they do call Kolkata the ‘City of Joy.’ Now I see why.

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New York baby

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I remember walking the entire length of Central Park with my 2 daughters and arriving in Harlem. So many boroughs and places within New York city are well known and so iconic, and Harlem was no less so…

Harlem seemed far removed from the glitz and glamour of Lower Manhattan on the other side of The Park. Yet, whichever part of this famous city you visit, you cannot fail to be absolutely bowled over by it, and I defy you not to fall in love with the Big Apple – whichever bit you find yourself in.

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Rocks, pebbles & sand…

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Not an original thought, but I remember hearing on the radio a few years ago about rocks, pebbles and sand. Our lives are like containers that we fill with rocks, pebbles or sand.

Rocks stand for physical, emotional & spiritual wellbeing, family and friends. Pebbles represent things that define you: hobbies, interests, things that you are passionate about and activities that you just plain enjoy.

Sand on the other hand is everything else in life: work, chores, TV, emails, the Internet and all the other stuff that we fill our lives with.

The question is this. If our lives are like containers, what have you and I filled them with? Rocks, pebbles or sand?

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