Basil Pao Photography Exhibition

A very short notice more than anything else. With some spare time on my hands and while  in London yesterday I went along to the Royal Geographic Society to check out a photography exhibition by Basil Pao.


For those not familiar with the name, he’s a photographer and friend of Michael Palin who has accompanied him on all his big journeys, hence my interest.

It’s just a small exhibition with around 40 or so photographs, including aerial shots of waterfalls, stunning portraits of people in tribal attire as well shots of Palin on his travels. I actually found it quite good for new ideas and learning about my own photography.

It’s on at the RGS in London (Kensington) and free to visit until the 25th January 2013. I really recommend it.

Paddling for Paddy

Before leaving London I’ve been wanting to do something touristy as one last thing to do in such an amazing city. It’s very easy in London to forget what is around you. I often find tourists in London a general nuisance, walking slowly, getting lost, raising prices etc. which is probably pretty two faced of me given I probably do similar when visiting other places. It’s because of this I tend to avoid areas around Westminster and the South Bank despite this being a really attractive part of the city.

You can probably imagine how pleased I was when I heard about a kayaking trip down the Thames down to the Houses of Parliament. I quickly booked a couple of tickets for myself and Kat for St Patrick’s Day, one of my favourite days of the year having lived in Ireland during my childhood.

The paddle starts from Chelsea yah, and departs to coincide with the last of the outgoing tide before it starts coming back in to help you back upstream. Unfortunately the weather was looking pretty miserable when we arrived but from London in March that’s life. The instructors were super excited, encouraging us to draw slogans on the two man kayaks decked out in green tape for the day.

Once we’d got our gear on (waterproofs and lifejackets are very unflattering) along with a Paddy’s day hat and been talked through the basics of kayaking we were in the water. And very dirty water at that, as I put my paddle in I could see a party popper, empty crisp packet and a tampon …. grim. It did make a good incentive not to fall in the water, highly unlikely I’m told.

The actual kayaking itself is very easy, apart from perhaps a few steering issues (we had a tendency to go left very easily!) It’s an very different experience seeing a city from a river, the paddle took us alongside Battersea Power Station, one of London’s industrial relics soon to be regenerated into the one of the next areas of property, commerce and culture.

Paddle for Paddy's

A bit further along the river the riverbanks become more affluent with people starting to notice about 30 people paddling down the Thames in Paddy’s Day hats while the river gets busier and tourists on boats start to get their cameras out. I can’t help but think we were having a better time!

St Patrick's Day!

By the time we reached the Houses of Parliament bang on time, Big Ben was striking 4 O’Clock from which the loud chimes sent shivers down my spine It felt great to be experiencing something so many people associate with London which after 18 months in the city I had actually done. As we waited for the tide to turn and admired the scenery we noticed quite a crowd gathering on Westminster Bridge and the South Bank to take pictures of our group. Even people on the London Eye were pointing their cameras at us rather than the skyline of the capital.

The trip back up river was a little more challenging! You could feel at first the lack of tide helping you along the river making for harder work on the arms which were starting to tire in the cold. It now became more about the kayaking than seeing the sights as we had already taken most of them in on the way down. Now we were getting better at going in a straight line and were probably more confident and capable than before. However upon arriving back at the dock and after hauling the boats out of the water the Guinness was waiting for us, the perfect refreshment on Paddy’s Day!

I’d thoroughly recommend Kayaking London to anyone else. And you can see loads more pictures here.

P.S. A couple of days later it was too hard to resist a cheeky trip on the London Eye on a perfectly clear morning (shame the weather wasn’t like that for kayaking!)

London Eye

Goodbye London – Photo Blog


After 18 months living in London, I’m packing up and ready to leave. I’ve loved living here, there’s so much to variety to the city from things to see and do, places to eat and drink and random events happening … Continue reading

Ready, Steady …. Hop!

Watching Michael Palin travel shows as a kid certainly gave me a travel bug I still haven’t managed to shake off, but also introduced me to the world of Monty Python and all the spin offs it produced such as Fawlty Towers with John Cleese and the lesser know Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

Meeting Michael Palin & Terry Jones

To my surprise and delight when I first started writing this blog, I had a quick Google search for “Michael Palin”, mainly to see if he had any new travel shows in the pipeline. It turns out he does, it’s set in Brazil and comes out sometime in 2012, however the best thing I found was in the Ham & High about his attempt at a world record for hopping. The reason it turned out was to commemorate the re-release of Ripping Yarns on DVD. The first episode of the series involved a parody of public boarding school rituals, in this case involving a 30 mile hop – it makes much more sense if you watch it!

Hopping 400m around Hampstead Heath Athletics Track on a Saturday morning seemed like a pretty daft idea but this was a chance to a) meet Michael Palin and b) do something totally random I’ll probably never do again so I was in, and so was Kat. And after all it was only a 20 minute walk up the road.

So on a Saturday morning, instead of enjoying a lie in or nursing a hangover from the night before, Kat and I found ourselves arriving at the venue to find a random collection of people young, old, in fancy dress, sports gear, normal clothes all ready to take part in the hop. We  were all given t-shirts and waited for the arrival of Michael Palin and Terry Jones. It’s kind of strange to see a person you’ve admired for a long time, often they don’t meet your expectations and you come away disappointed however the former Pythons were amusing and friendly in front of the crowd of about 100 people.

After an explanation of the rules (you are only allowed to hop on the same leg, although you are allowed to stop and rest) we were taken through a short warm up where even Palin joined in for most of it, not bad for 68 years old. A few minutes after that, a handful of late entries from a military fitness class and the obligatory press calls had been completed, we were off!

Now I don’t care what you say, but hopping 400m turns out to be a lot harder than some people thought. I think I had only completed the first 150m or so, my right leg feeling the impact of me (quite a large chap) jumping up and down on it and I had to stop for a few seconds. Upon going again it was clear this wasn’t going to be easy, just a few metres further and I stopped again. By the time I’d reached the 3rd bend the leaders were crossing the finishing line, a minor embarrassment but I was at this point ahead of Kat. By this point I was probably doing 10-15 metres in between short breaks when I realised a man dressed in a banana costume had crossed the finishing line.

Spurred on by the slight shame, I continued, thinking not far to go and cheered on by the two Pythons crossed the line in a time of …. um err… actually I never even thought about that. Kat was just a few metres behind me with Michael approaching to give her some words of encouragement but as soon as she saw a video camera, cut short the conversation just feeling the need to finish.

Michael encourages a Hopper at the finish (Taken by Kat)

As every following hopper approached the finish the crowd grew louder with cheers of encouragement, some were struggling however crossing the line was an achievement. As the last person crossed the line, having completed the course in fancy dress there was some relief. The winners received medals to congratulate them and their winning legs from Palin and Jones.

Sadly the solo hop, nor the following relay competition were able to beat the Guinness Word Records but maybe we should consider including hopping as a late addition to the London Olympics this year? There might be some sore limbs afterwards, I think I’ve developed a funny little limp – Ministry of Silly Walks anyone?

You can see a video of the hop and an interview with Michael Palin and Terry Jones here.

Being a tourist at home

When talking about travelling and various places I’ve lived with other people, it often comes up how little we visit many attractions right on our doorstep. I know people who have lived in Paris and not been up the Eiffel Tower as well as someone living in New York who never went to Central Park.

I’ve lived in London for about 18 months now and I think like many people I’ve probably become accustomed to certain areas (Camden market, eating in Soho and lazing on Parliament Hill on sunny days). This past weekend, knowing I’m only going to be here for a couple more months until my big trip I decided to head to a different part of London – Greenwich.

There’s a bit of a North / South divide in London. Once people move to London, they often stay in a similar area or at least on one side of the river for quite a while, perhaps part of the reason I hadn’t been to the area before.

Greenwich is known around the world for its association with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) with the world’s time zones set from this spot. The system originates from the Royal Observatory located on the top of the hill in Greenwich Park. The area also has history in the British Kings & Queens with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both born here. The original palace since destroyed was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and went on to form the Royal Naval College and much of the surrounding maritime association of the area.

Not a bad view!

Located right on the Thames opposite the financial district of Canary Wharf provides Greenwich with some impressive architecture and scenery. From the observatory on the top of Greenwich Park tourists crowd to snap the perfect image of the London skyline. I think I did quite well myself!

This weekend really was the perfect time to break out of winter mode, with unseasonably high temperatures in the mid-teens (Celsius that is) and the perfect excuse to enjoy an ice cream milkshake or ginger beer float in the sunshine. There’s something great about being able to go somewhere new so close to home and made me realise how important it is to do the little things ahead of a trip so far away coming up in just a few weeks time now.

Expertly taken and edited by Katrina Mackey (well I did steal her photo)!

I find that many parts of London get a little bit homogenised with big brands coming into areas were previously considered to be cool or upcoming. Camden has certainly been fighting these trends, Pret a Manger & All Saints just don’t feel like they should be around Camden, though thankfully the market has banned chains despite many stalls selling similar items. Greenwich still has cool independent and shops markets with varied eclectic things for sale unlike other places that feel big but undifferentiated, although that’s not to say some chains have been creeping in. My little bargain was a set of antique shot glasses for all of £2.

On that note about something new, watch this space. Next weekend I will be taking part in a world record attempt for the world’s biggest hop. Fans of Michael Palin may remember the TV series Ripping Yarns, if not then watch the episode “Tomkinson’s School Days” because next weekend in Hampstead they are relaunching the DVD with a ridiculous PR stunt, fingers crossed I can tell Mr Palin himself about how it’s his fault I need to set off around the world ….

5 UK Destinations to Escape London 2012

Before I leave Britain for a little while, I thought it would be good to say something about the place. Where better to start than the Olympics, something that has been in the papers every day for what seems like forever now.

It’s a big project, anyone who goes to Stratford (not the Shakespeare one, the former ghetto one in East London) can see that. Thousands of acres of contaminated land has been turned into a giant construction playground that is bearing fruit. It’s phenomenal what they’ve built there and even more astounding when you consider 5.5m people will visit with many from outside the UK.

There’s just one big problem, London may be a big city but the parts of it that will be used for the games are actually quite small. It’s the Olympic Park for much of the sporting action while most of the visitors and some other events are held in Central London which really isn’t very big, you can walk across much of it in less than an hour. That means London is going to be bursting at the seams with people, lots and lots of hot sweaty congested people. If you don’t like the traffic normally, the special Olympics lanes won’t help; and if you don’t like the Tube to commute, it really won’t be fun; and if you hate queues, well you get the picture.

So for many people, why not get out of London? Or if you’re a tourist here for the games, see another part of a wonderful country? I’ve listed my top 5 places to visit.

5. Nottingham

Often when I’ve met local people on my travels in some more random parts of the world and I’ve told them I’m from England, after the excitement of them recalling David Beckham and their love of football, the next name to be said is ‘Robin Hood’. It’s party because of this and partly because I went to University in the city that I’ve listed Nottingham here.

Nottingham proudly claims to be the home of Robin Hood and despite Doncaster’s claims that it is the home of Robin Hood, I’d rather send a visitor here. No offence Doncaster.

Nottingham is a small city with 2 big universities. This has helped provide it with a bit of a cosmopolitan feel to it with plenty of bars, restaurants and clubs to keep your typical visitor happy. I particularly like World Service, Warsaw Diner, Cucamara’s and Rock City.

Not many cities have their own deer!

With visitor attractions such as the castle, Wollaton Hall, caves and a good shopping centre there is enough to keep you occupied for a decent day out as well as a couple of good hotels in Hart’s and The Lace Market Hotel for a decent night’s sleep or otherwise.

4. Gower Peninsula

I never thought I’d be suggesting the Gower as one of the best places outside London to visit, I had it in my head that Swansea and the surrounding area was a bit of a dump. How wrong I was when I went there to visit a friend last year.

Just 30 minutes drive out of Swansea you will find spectacular coastal scenery, empty beaches, rolling hills, rocky cliffs and even some good surf spots. Prices around here are very cheap in comparison to London so if you get out here, hire a car and explore. I especially enjoyed Rhossili.

How about this all to yourself?

For the night owls and party animals, head to Mumbles for the ‘Mumbles Mile’, a stretch of pubs by the sea for a pint in each one.

3. Manchester.

Manchester is one of those cities with a soul, it’s gritty, northern and cool – if you don’t believe me then go pick a fight with one of the Gallaghers (either the musically talented but squabbling brothers or the fictional characters of the TV series Shameless).

Manchester is home to the best football teams in the country with United and City currently fighting it out for the Premier League, a whole host of musicians from the Smiths to Oasis to Elbow to up and coming artists like Ren Harvieu. Be sure to catch a gig there.

Despite being down on it’s luck a few times in recent years with the collapse of industry and events such as the IRA attack, the city has always re-invented itself with areas such as the Lowry and Media City in Salford or the trendy bars and shops of the Northern Quarter.

It’s well worth a weekend and to top it off you can stay in Europe’s tallest hotel, the Hilton on Deansgate.

2. Cotswolds.

There’s a reason many of the richest and most well known people in Britain have made the Cotswolds their home. Think Jeremy Clarkson, Kate Moss, Liz Hurley and a whole host of bankers, lawyers and directors. It’s because the Cotswolds offers some of the most attractive countryside in England while only being an hour or two’s drive or train journey from London.

With all this upmarket gentrification (thank you GCSE Geography) the area is full of gorgeous country cottages, gastro pubs, boutique hotels and luxury shops for you (or your significant other) to make a dent on the credit card while at the same time enjoying a bit of peace and pampering.

My personal favourites are the Lords of the Manor Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter for a bed and/or a cream tea, the Horse And Groom in Oddington for dinner/drinks and Stow on the Wold for a bit of retail therapy. If you’ve got the kids with you they’ll love the maze and other attractions in Bourton-on-the-Water.

To tie in with the Olympic theme, the Cotswolds has actually been home to the ‘Olimpicks’, their own quintessential sporting event for the past 400 years!

1. Glasgow

My winner and top recommendation for anyone visiting somewhere outside of London during the Olympics, or just needing somewhere to get away to is Glasgow.

Glasgow has never had the best of reputations, many simply recognise it as being run down or dangerous and although like most cities it has it’s dodgy areas they could not be more wrong. Glaswegians are just about the friendliest people in the UK and the most likely to get chatting to total strangers at the bar, in the street or when queuing at a shopping till.

The city itself may not have a castle like Edinburgh as its postcard image but it is littered with attractive architecture throughout the city, partly thanks to previous residents such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh whose famously designed tea rooms exist to this day. Other gems include the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Botanic Gardens, SECC Armadillo, Necropolis or the more modern Riverside Museum designed by Zaha Hadid.

The River Clyde, you can see the stunning SECC on the left

To get around many of the places to see in the city, visitors will need some energy or just a place to chill out afterwards and the city doesn’t disappoint. With trendy but homely bars such as McPhabbs, Brewdog and The Blind Pig there are plenty of places for a refreshing pint. Gourmet’s will love the city’s restaurant scene with highly acclaimed chefs serving local produce at Stravaigin or the Ubiquitous Chip in addition to Italian places galore such as Sarti or La Fiorentina.

And if that isn’t enough to persuade you to go, you are only an hour from the scenic Loch Lomond or the much visited Clyde Coast.

Anyone actually heading to Glasgow should check out WhickApp, an iPhone travel application I made with @andrewsmatt.

As good as London is, it’s very different from the rest of the United Kingdom and this summer should be the perfect opportunity to experience it.

Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on where they’d sent people to visit?