Balmy Bali

Just got back from two amazing weeks in Bali – amazing weather, great food, lovely people and a whole pile of fun. In summary – the best holiday I’ve had in about ten years. Consequently feel a whole lot more relaxed, look a whole lot more tanned and am generally annoying people who have had to deal with two weeks of very cold British weather.

So what did I do? Landed into the airport and spent a few days at Legian beach, slightly less hectic than the Aussie-ful Kuta , where I slept a lot to recover from our recent app release busy-ness, surfed, swam and had more massages than I care to mention. All fully family appropriate, don’t worry 😉

Next took a car across the mountains to Lovina, where I wandered the black sand beaches and had my first proper dive in a year – and the best dive I’ve had in five – at Pulau Menjangan. This was good news, as it meant my ears were behaving so I could get on with some serious diving. The next day saw the dolphins at dawn, hundreds of them, before driving over to Tulamben to dive the amazing off-beach wreck there. Stunning.

No rest for the wicked, Ubud was my next stop – a beach-free central town dedicated to monkeys and the more relaxed, hippy arts. Ironically had my worst massage here, but everything else was amazing including the villa I stayed at with outdoor shower. Sunlit & moonlit showers are the best, at least in tropical temperatures. Plenty of culture and temples to see, and also monkeys – who are violent beasts it seems and not as cute as you might think. Hint: do not carry food on your person.

Ubud was very hard to leave, but the idyllic Gili islands off Lombok were calling, and after a few hours drive and a few hours in a boat I could see why. Blue seas, an island small enough to walk round in two hours and white sand beaches – not to mention no dogs or petrol vehicles – amazing! I ended up staying here for the rest of the trip, getting in plenty more diving, sun & just pure relaxation. The dives had everything – seahorses, turtles, sharks and an overload of cuttlefish, my favourite sea denizens. Not quite paradise, but a pretty close approximation to it and highly recommended.

So all in all an amazing trip and can’t wait to get down that way again. Meanwhile I’m still fighting the jetlag, and adjusting to a balmy 3 degrees C in the UK (a tenth of what it was there) – so that means I’m already starting to go through my photos. Something of a miracle given my current backlog. The photo above is the first to come, at some point you’ll see my picks of the 8,000 odd more I took. Coff.

Kyoto, May 2010

Click here for more photos of Kyoto

Ah, the sudden flurry of uploading strikes again. This time for the amazing Japanese city of Kyoto, home to geisha and temples, plus it ranks highly on quality of life and when you visit you’ll see why. Unlike nearby Tokyo, Kyoto mostly stays low to the ground, a few stories high. There are fast moving major streets, but people and bikes take priority on the back roads – and even bikes stop to let people and cars past, there’s something you never see in London. All of which combines together to make an enchanting city that is well worth a visit.

Continue reading “Kyoto, May 2010”

Osaka, May 2010

Pictures from Osaka, Japan 2010

Finally, some pictures from last year’s Japan trip. Osaka was the first town we stayed at in Japan. It wasn’t a planned part of our trip, but due to last year’s major event of this time – the volcanic dust cloud – we ended up in Japan over Golden Week. Sounds pretty doesn’t it, but it’s not a pretty experience for anyone wanting to book a hotel in Japan as Golden week is the one week in Japan where everyone goes on holiday. Literally everyone. So Kyoto had no hotels available and Osaka was the nearest town worth visiting on the way. Such is life.

Footnote: A year ago the volcanic dust cloud seemed like a major disaster in our lives. This year, tens of thousands of people have died in Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami and much of the country is still affected by this tragedy with many still missing. You can donate here if you want to help. In the meantime my thoughts are still with those mourning their loss.

November in Paris

Last weekend we jaunted over to Paris on Eurostar for an Autumnal long weekend break, a chance to catch a breath in what’s turning out to be a very busy few months. Paris in the fall is always a mixed bag, as the continental weather can get pretty wet and cold but luckily for us the forecast torrential rain held off leaving just a few light showers in its wake. This trip we stayed at Adrien’s beautiful flat in the 10th, near to Gare de l’Est – a fortuitous coincidence as he had his own jaunt off to New York literally an hour after we arrived, so we got to share a brief breakfast before he headed out. A big thanks to him, as it’s one of our favourite areas comprising central location via the walk along the St-Martin canal. Magnifique.

After so many trips to Paris we tend to avoid the tourist activities, instead reverting to a mildly obsessive attempt to see every Parisian Space Invader. Thanks to a previous birthday present of Invader’s Paris invasion guide we now have some highly accurate maps to help us, and guide us around areas of Paris we would otherwise never go near. The stand-out this trip was a long strip of invaders on the edge of Belleville opposite a full-on street market that seemed to specialise in stolen goods and loud arguments and an ethnic mix that reminded me more of Jerusalem than anywhere else. The upshot of our hunt, was that we now know the first ever Invader is no longer there, and that M is better at spotting them.. winning 37 to 32 in new sightings. That puts us having seen about 100 off of the now 1,000 placed in Paris.. so plenty of opportunity to claw back a second frame there.

Other than Parisian street art, of which Invader is flanked by Shepherd Fairey and Faile but little else, we enjoyed some splendid meals. Brunch at Les Enfants Perdues was a set menu joy. Cafe Charlot provided good solid cafe food during the day and traditionally French service. First night we went to La Fidelite where the opulent packed surroundings was highly enjoyable, although my mild food poisoning from the cod was less fun – c’est la vie. On Saturday we went to Hotel du Nord and had a splendid time, highly recommended.

Food aside the highlight of the trip was a visit to Deyrolle, a French institution where you can buy all forms of preserved animals – from butterflies to polar bears and everything in between. Expensive to buy, but fascinating to wander round and proving that however many times you visit Paris, there’s always something new to find and enjoy.

Hotel Reviews from Korea & Japan

Yes, yes. I know I’m ridiculously behind on getting photos up from our Korea & Japan trip. In the meanwhile though ‘our’ official reviews of hotels from that trip have been published. So for your pleasure, explore the delights of the W Seoul Walkerhill, Four Seasons Tokyo Marunouchi and, my favourite, the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Mmm… you want to go to there.

Korea & Japan

(Not) Geishas in Kyoto

At the end of April this year we were lucky enough to head to Korea & Japan for two weeks. This was our first trip to this part of the world, and although it was way too short we did manage to squeeze in a lot – albeit mostly food. Oh, and taking some photos. About 7,000 of the buggers. I fear that I’m not quite at the ‘one exposure, per motive‘ level that I aspire to, and the side effect of this lack of in-viewfinder editing is a large amount of in-Lightroom editing.

So, as usual, apologies for not having posted any photos yet apart from the above, they will be up as soon as possible along with a full travelog. In the meantime all I can say is: Japan & Korea – you want to go to there. And we want to go back as soon as possible.

A Quick Travel Shout Out

I just wanted to say that over all my years of travel there have been many websites that helped me out – but one really stands out of late. Kayak, which now owns rival SideStep, is a flight comparison engine that works in browser to search multiple flight sites and suggest the best price. It’s not always right when it gets to the final price, but even so it will generally point you in the direction of the cheapest flight. Thanks, Kayak!

I Love Barcelona (and Marmite)

Hate / Love Marmite Wall
Originally uploaded by ultrahi.

We’re just back from an impromptu short trip to Barcelona. Our plan for the week off had been looking round London areas to move to, but the Great British weather had other plans. So as a result of a hangover (good to see you, TIm) and easyJet we went from getting up at 10am with no plans to being in lovely, warm Barcelona at 7pm. Splendid.

Barcelona was wonderfully relaxing. Eating great tapas at Set de Born in the evenings. Walking along the beach in the sun. Slow, languorous breakfasts at Kasparo. Comfy designer chic at the Soho hotel. Getting lost in the old city. Perfectly perfect.

We even enjoyed our virgin easyJet experience – something I’d been dreading with some of the stories you hear. Now we have some easyJet ‘tricks’: do internet check-in to get on the plane quicker to choose your seat, their unlimited weight carry-on policy means you only need to pre-buy a single hold allowance if you want to buy wine, and bring some food, books & other entertainment. That and the check-in at Barcelona airport is miles away from the main T2 building (at sector C), which in itself is confusing to get to from T1 (you have to go downstairs to level zero to get a connecting bus) – but the BCN aerobus is cheap and quick.

Barcelona photos will be uploaded soon(ish), especially as Lightroom now has a release candidate that supports the wonderful Canon S90, but in the meantime enjoy this wall of stickers from the pop-up Marmite shop on Regent Street. Mmm… marmite.

How to Invade – Space Stylee

These days city visits, and even my daily walk into work, have an added bonus – tracking down every Space Invader hidden alongside the ‘real’ tourist sights. Space Invaders, little (and sometimes big) mosaics stuck onto walls, are colourful distractions from the every day. They’re whimsical and always surprising, and now you can see how the Space Invader himself does an invasion.

The Night of Knives – Jon Evans (4/5)

Picture of book cover for Night of Knives - by Jon Evans

The Night of Knives is another seat gripping tale of epic travels, technological wizardry and global wheeler dealings, and a damn fine read to boot. This time author Job Evans has set his tale in Africa, the technology is mostly mobile phones and the subterfuge… well, you’ll have to read that to find out as Jon plots a fine sequence of twists and turns that will keep you guessing and happily sitting on the edge of your seat – whether that seat is on the tube or on a sunny beach somewhere. Hopefully a beach somewhere safer than Jon’s Africa…

Go buy it now!