The only way is forward.

Blog, Travel

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Standing at a crowded Euston Station today, it made me think that life is a succession of journeys. Some literal and geographical, and some metaphysical and emotional.

I guess our direction of travel is really important – it should always be ultimately forward. Today, I literally travelled to the post-industrial town of Blackburn. I discovered it is most definitely a place of opportunity.

In travelling, not only do we discover new places, but we discover ourselves too. You often hear the phrase, ‘enjoy the journey,’ and that is certainly true. We should always do that, wherever we are going in life.

For me, the travelling is as important as the arriving. It’s all about never missing the moment, because life is made up of moments such as these.

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Waxy’s Little Sister

Blog, Travel

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On the corner of both Lisle and Wardour Street in London, just tucked inside Chinatown, you will find Waxy’s Little Sister. And in case you were wondering, it’s an Irish pub.

A curious name I hear you cry! Well it refers to the Waxy O’Connor bar across the road – which I guess must be like the mothership.

I soon got chatting to the Mirko the Italian barman. So now we have an Italian barman, working in an Irish pub, in Chinatown in London. Well London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the face of the earth. What else would you expect?

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A good chat about all things Italian ensued as we discussed the culinary and otherwise delights of Emilia Romagna in the north of the country. Mirko himself hails from the lakes area near the Swiss border, but loves London.

You can’t keep a good man down though… After a brief spell in Italy at the end of the summer, he’ll be off to Paris. There are so many interesting people you can meet, if you just take as little time.

As I gazed outside at the myriads of tourists, workers and locals, once again the clouds shed their heavy load and a torrent of water from the skies poured downward. Well it is Britain isn’t it?

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Shallow Seas.

Blog, The Bahamas, Travel

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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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The Day that Sandy came to town.

Blog, Travel, USA

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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

Blog, India, Travel

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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

Travel, USA

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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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A Tale of Three Cities…

Italy, Published Works, Travel

Published in the Western Morning News on Sunday, 15th November 2015

Bologna

The Italian City of Bologna is situated in a region known as Emilia Romagna, north of Tuscany. It is reckoned to be the nation’s gastronomic beating heart, and for this reason alone, it is well worth a visit.

Yet despite that formidable reputation, I get the feeling that Bologna can often be passed over by would be travellers, for greater tourist honeypots like Rome, Naples and Pisa.

Undeterred and accompanied by my eldest daughter Becky, we arrived at our apartment right in the heart of the city, just off Via dell’Indipendenza. This is the main avenue that will lead you inevitably up to the central Piazza Maggiore. This ancient square magnetically draws both tourists and locals alike.

In this wide open space, you can sit, relax and enjoy an espresso or a chilled beer whilst taking in the impressive sight of the beautiful, but unfinished 14th Century Basilica di San Petronio. Opposite, you will find some open topped tour buses that will whisk you around the city for about €13.

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If you have a got a head for heights, why not head for Le Due Torri (The Two Towers), situated in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana at the head of Via Rizzoli? It is the taller ‘Torre degli Asinelli’ that is open to the public, and from there you can enjoy commanding views over Bologna

This comes at a price though; you will need to climb an impressive 498 steps to reach the top, so a strong pair of lungs as well as a head for heights will be required.

Unsurprisingly, Bologna is replete with restaurants, trattorias (less formal than a restaurant – think Bistro), café’s and numerous gelateria. I guarantee that you will be more than satisfied.

And being the home of Bolognese sauce (hence Spag Bol), you can of course try the real thing – known more accurately as ‘Tagliatelle al Ragu.’ The term ‘Ragu’ is distilled from a French verb meaning to ‘stimulate the appetite.’ Or why not try another local favourite, ‘Wild Boar and Polenta?’

Venice (Venezia)

Situated in the neighbouring region known as the Veneto, Venice is a two hour train journey from Bologna. Emerging from the Railway Station you are immediately wowed by the impressive and beautiful Grand Canal.

With a 24 hour Vaporetto (water bus) pass in hand, purchased from the tourism office on the platform (€20), we headed immediately for water bus stop number 1.

Vaporetto No.1 basically stops everywhere between the railway station and Lido de Venezia (Venice Lido). The Lido is one of the outlying islands, and has an altogether different feel to the main city itself.

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Now the Vaporetto may not be the most comfortable option, as the boats are usually crowded, but it is cheap. Cruising down the Grand Canal as it snakes its way through the heart of the city is an absolute must. One beautiful building after another slips out of sight as you glide down this main arterial waterway.

The front doors of these fine-looking & elegant buildings along the Grand Canal are perched precariously above the waterline, often with a boat tied up nearby just the way you would park your car on the drive or road.

As we stepped off the Vaporetto at the iconic Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), we were treated to that thoroughly unique and truly Venetian of sights: a flotilla of beautifully crafted gondolas, and their gondoliers, bobbing on the Adriatic. Truly, if romance is what you are looking for, then Venice has it by the bucket load!

Any visit here should include popping into the stunning Basilica di San Marco. The interior of this cavernous cathedral will have you literally reeling as you look inexorably up at the dazzling sight of the gold mosaic covered walls, arches and domes.

Florence (Firenze)

Hop on a train again at Bologna Centrale and this time head south for a mere 40 minutes, and you will arrive in the Tuscan capital of Florence (Firenze if you’re local). A leisurely 10-15 minute walk will bring you into the beautiful Piazza del Duomo and face to face with the marbled façade of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Known simply as, Duomo.

Whilst entrance to the cathedral is free, you can purchase a combined ticket for €10 from automated ticket machines nearby, which will give you access to the dome, baptistry, bell tower, crypt and the museum. However, it is Filippo Brunelleschi’s magnificent, red tiled dome that is the real draw here.

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Once you have ascended the 463 stone steps (not for the faint-hearted), to the top of the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore, you will be treated to unparalleled views across this historic city in every direction.

Food is never far away, and having exited the cathedral, we soon found ourselves in nearby Piazza della Signoria, tucking into pizza just across the way from the remarkable and imposing Palazzo Vecchio, which overlooks the square.

A further 5 minutes walk will bring you to the classic arches of the Ponte Vecchio which span the Arno River. Medieval in structure but Roman in origin, this eye-catching landmark will at once be immediately recognisable, and is a definite ‘must see’ whilst in Florence.

Famed for the many jewellery shops that inhabit both sides of this crowded and busy bridge, you will find plenty of gift ideas for your journey home.

Hello America!

Blog, Travel, USA

I’d only just emerged from Seattle Tacoma airport, and we were heading south on Interstate 5 (i5 to the locals), when I spotted the signage for one of these beauties.  You may be thinking cynically, ‘ yes and your point is…?’, but for me Taco Bell is just one of those places you have to experience in America. It’s as American as Mcdonalds and when in the States it constitutes a virtual rite of passage.  Or was it just because I really like Burritos…?

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Blog, Travel, USA

Well it’s day 2 and me and my dad wander into the legendary Fish Tale Brewpub in the state capital, Olympia.  We were after some much needed liquid refreshment after baking in the hot midday sun.

Inside we found plenty of locally brewed beers and a most inviting menu to boot.  Sat at the bar with the locals, we soon got talking to a guy called Doug about two things: The Seattle Seahawks, who won the Superbowl earlier this year and consequently are the State of Washington’s pride, and secondly, his job.

Turns out that Doug was a firefighter and had been one for 29 years.  He was obviously proud of what he did and we soon got taking about the horrific events of 9/11. Doug told us that 343 firefighters had died that day, trying to rescue others. 343 was a number I found hard to forget.

He told us also about the parade of some 70,000+ firefighters a year later through the streets of Manhattan.  This was to remember all of the fallen during that dark, dark day in human history.  Doug said the city of New York ‘ opened its heart to them,’ and no firefighter paid for a drink that day in any bar in the city.

As I tucked into my of mountain of nachos the bargirl had just placed in front of me, Doug bade us farewell.  He said we may well see him again as he is most definitely a regular here at the Fish Tale.  Having found a little home from home here , I think he might just be right…

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Sleepless in Seattle

Blog, Travel, USA

Sleepless in Seattle.  Well almost, because I’m about 60 miles south of the fair city. However it is 4.30 in the morning so I guess that kind of constitutes sleeplessness.

Somewhere in the distance I can hear one of those enormous American trains blowing it’s horn, announcing it’s transit through our neck of the woods.

America is a visual feast for a Brit like me, with its wide open spaces, gun stores, proliferation of fast food outlets, and drive in everything. Talking of driving, I had my first attempt at driving on the Freeway yesterday – what a blast!

Now the dawn is breaking here in beautiful Washington State.  Outside in the woods I can hear a cacophony of unrecognisable bird song greeting the new day. Reminds me of the handiwork of our creator & and the wonder of life itself…