Monday, December 19, 2011

End Of A Journey

We are set to fly out in a few hours making this our last day in London.   This coming April would have been 5 years and its hard to believe its coming to an end but before we do, we have one last post on London.

That's us, fresh off the plane April 3rd 2007.  I can remember it so clearly.  It was our first views of the Thames, Big Ben, the Eye, and Parliament.  Little did we know that handing the camera over to a friendly stranger would be capturing the beginning of such an amazing journey.  From far off places, to opportunities to the numerous friends and colleagues we have had the pleasure of meeting, it has been more than we could have ever imagined.

In honor of that moment, we decided to reproduce that photo, this time at sunset to signify the end of the journey.  Steph's hair is a little longer, mine a little greyer, but there we are December 17th 2011.  Same spot, same pose but a little wiser and older.  Whoa!

Steph and I want to send out a big cheers to all of our friends, old and new, to our family and everyone else who had a hand in or supported us the last few years.  You've helped complete the experience and we couldn't have done it without you.

Life is full of journeys and this one has been more than AMAZING!  Let the next one begin -  Rock!

London Shots

So, before we officially end our time in London, I wanted to post a few photos I've been taking the last few months of this amazing city.  Initially I wanted and get some sunset shots of the capital landmarks, but after the time change and the 4pm sunset, it turned into some night shots of London after work on Tuesdays.  Anyway, here are a few of my favorites.  I'm gonna miss this city - Rock on London!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December is All Change!

It's December and the moustache is gone!  

It was a successful Movember campaign with the team and I raising well £1100 for Men's health!  This is a great result and I want to send out a HUGE thank you for all of the generous donations and amazing support throughout the month.  It is very much appreciated!  You can see the final result in the photo, it was a beast!

In other news, this will be my final Movember campaign in the UK.  Steph and I are officially moving back to the US at the end of 2011 and will be living in New York City.  It's been an absolutely amazing 4+ years but it is time for us to get closer to home.  However, there will be plenty more to come because we are taking a little time off to travel before we officially settle back home.  So as the train drivers say, "all change please, all change".

Oh, and don't worry, we will be home for the holidays!  Only this time the cats will be making the trip with us.

In the meantime, I'm going to try and get a few final posts out to wrap up 2011, but with all of the move logistics you'll have to cross your fingers.

Feel free to drop me a mail if you want more specifics...Rock!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Timeout For Some London Sights

As I touched on in the last post, Zac was in town for the weekend a few weeks back.  He needed some time away and I had some time off, so he booked the red-eye to London for a few pints.  Normally October is starting to cool off but in the days leading up to his visit a heat wave set in.  Temps climbed into the 80's which is hot here and unexpected.

I'm going to keep it light on the weekend events, but Steph and I gladly played tour guide as we hit up some of our favorite places along with some of the better known sites.  Fresh off our trip to Manchester, we started by heading over to the the British Museum.   If you look close at the picture above you can see Zac and I in the spectacular atrium.  We went mainly to see the Rosetta Stone and the 2012 London Olympic medals currently on display but also enjoyed a few of other exhibits.

The weather continued to be hot and sunny, so the next day we decided to grab some lunch and head to near by Regents Park.  I had recently signed up for the bicycle scheme but had not tried riding from place to place yet. Feeling adventurous, we decided to take bikes instead of the bus to the park.  Hoping on the bikes we felt a bit unsure, only vaguely knowing where we were going, so we decided to stick to the side streets and take it slow.  However, on a couple occasions we had to make some quick decisions to avoid one way streets and ended in the midst of heavy traffic. Luckily we didn't have any problems but a few times cars were whizzing by as we waited to turn right.  We held our nerve and stuck to the cycle lanes using hand signals wisely to navigate our way safely to the park.  Who needs a coffee to wake you up, just hop on a bike in central London.  It will no doubt put you on high alert.

With Steph at work, we decided to visit the Imperial War Museum.  It's a site I'd been wanting to see after hearing some good reviews and it didn't disappoint.  You walk into this amazing gallery full of restored post WWI planes, tanks and jeeps.  From there you can see detailed WWI and WWII exhibits including a trench replica from WWI along with a eerie simulation of the Bombing of London.  This is all topped off by a heart retching Holocaust exhibit which is always hard to stomach.  There is so much to see and ALL FOR FREE!

Steph and I really enjoyed having Zac over.  It was good to grab a few pints, take it easy and explore London.  So before I wrap this up, I want to give a shout out to Zac's wife, Tara.  While walking around the south bank one evening, we stumbled on this chair that Zac was hoping you could make for the house.  Pattern and all!  Anyway, we wish you could have come too, hopefully next time!

Chips and Gravy at Old Trafford

A highlight for many sport fans is a trip to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play football, err soccer.  The problem is that tickets can be hard to come by.  However, a colleague of mine wasn't using his tickets for a match against newly promoted Norwich City FC, so I happily snapped them up.  This couldn't have been better timing because it was same weekend my brother Zac was in town for a whirl wind visit.

From London it's about a 2 hour train ride north to Manchester.  On the train we sat across from a father and son who make the trip for every home game.  Beside being avid fans and telling us about this game or that game over the years, they told us about a pre-game tradition of eating Chips and Gravy.  Now before you start thinking potato chips, let me clarify.  They were talking about chunky french fries.  You can see Zac above, looking slightly unamused holding two portions, including one with an additional topping of mushy peas.  That's Old Trafford in the background.  

The idea is this.  You shove your way onto a packed tram which drops you off a fair distance from the stadium.  The walk then gives you time to stop off stop off for pre-game snack.  You pick from one of the many vendors on the way, all serving the same thing.  Chunky chips with a dose of salt and vinegar, covered in gravy.  Appetizing?  Possibly not.  But good, Yes!  We both devoured our chips along with everybody else, then turned our attention to more important things, the game.

After working our way into the stadium, we found our seats then explored for a good photo ops.  We even had enough time before the warm-ups to join the locals in the concourse bar for a few pints to watch the last 30 minutes of the Liverpool game.  Not surprisingly, when Liverpool scored to go ahead, nobody cheered - except us!   Oops, another pint anybody?  Go United!  Time to duck out to our seats and watch the players to warm up. 
The seats were great, on the 3rd row of the upper tier in one of the end stands.  A good view with the rowdy sectio behind n us.  Most of the crowd was calm and seated, but the rows behind us stood the entire game,  cheering and chanting - sorry, most of the chants aren't repeatable here!  The game itself wasn't super exciting but a couple of goals on the end near us delighted the crowd, sending everybody home happy with a routine win for United. 
One thing to note is that there are rules to abide by in your seats.  First, no alcohol.  Who'd of thought, but it's needed to make sure people don't get out of control.  It can get heated in the stands between the home and away fans.  Second, photography is limited to point and shoots!  I started to argue with the security guy who took offense to my camera but I decided I'd rather watch the game.  Plus Zac told me to shut up and pointed he didn't want to get kicked out of the stadium.  Thanks bro!

All in all, it was a good way to spend the afternoon on a fantastic day in Manchester.  

The only thing left to do was to head into the center of Manchester and celebrate the win before our late night train home.  We meet a good friend of mine in town who showed us around.  Surprisingly, Zac made finding a pub harder than you'd think.  Notice his ManU jersey above?  On game days pubs have a decision to make.  They can do 1 of 3 things.  Allow home team fans in, allow away team fans in, or neither.  We weren't allowed into the first two pubs, both not allowing either team fans in, before finally finding a United supporting pub.  Again, who'd of thought, but its for safety.  Too many drunken fights I guess.

Well, rowdy turned out to be the theme of the day.  On the packed train ride home there were quite a few loud rowdy fans from the game.  The dinning car was closed and numerous announcements had to be made that calumniated in the police waiting on our train platform as the train pulled into London Euston.  It wasn't us! Rock!

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bon Fire Night

Remember, Remember the 5th of November so goes the rhyme...

On the 5th of November, 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested guarding a cache of gun powder and explosives hidden under the House of Lords in the Parliament building.  He was part of a group trying to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I.  Luckily this failed, preserving the famous landmark, but also providing a fantastic way to spend an evening each November.

In response to the failed attempt, King James allowed the public to celebrate with bonfires.  This tradition has stuck around over the years and every November 5th, people all over the UK get together to light fires and shoot off fireworks saying, "Remember, remember the 5th of November..."

These celebrations are well known and popular, but for one reason or another, we haven't been able to attended the last few years.  A little research revealed one of the best events is held a few hours outside London, in a town called Battle in East Sussex.  Funny enough, the town itself was once known for its high quality gun power, so it's only fitting that it host a a grand celebration for a gun powder plot gone wrong.

One of the things that attracted us to Battle was the idea of a torch lit procession.  Most of the London events are just big crowds with fire works in one of the various parks.  Battle offered something a bit different.  And it didn't disappoint.  There must have been a couple hundred people, all dressed up in various costumes from the past 400 years, walking in a procession through city center carrying old time torches.  Others pulled trash cans with small fires that people kept tossing in fireworks that were always randomly exploding.

Now I have no idea what a burning at the stake would have been like, but I can't help think this wasn't far off.  Thousands of people lining the streets as a criminal, in this case a fake Guy Fawkes, was paraded through the streets by angry vigilantes carrying fire lit torches, screaming for bloody murder.  Add in a grey haze with a light mist and you have a seriously eery night only fitting to celebrate an evil plot gone wrong.

Here is a quick video to give you an idea of the night.

Once the torches were put out, the crowd moved to the green where a huge bon fire was set up with an effigy of the infamous Guy Fawkes on top - seen above.  Up in flames he went to the delight of the crowd, before the fire works were set off to end the festivities.   This was all just in time for us to grab the last train back to London smelling of torches and fireworks.  Luckily Charring Cross was the last stop because we snoozed the entire way home!

Bonfire nights are a must!  Rock!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Movember 2011 Donations Needed

It has been a quiet few months for us from a travel perspective, but there is still plenty going on. Its Movember season!  As you can see above, the 2011 version of the 'Mo is coming on strong.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Movember, it's an annual charity event across the world for men to grow a mustache during the month of November raising money in the name of men's health.  We are supporting the over 10,000 men who will die of prostate cancer and the more than 2,000 men who will be diagnosed with testicular cancer this year.  Find out more at the Movember website.

Here's the deal, I need some help in the form of donations!  My team this year is 13 strong and they aren't messing around.  I am seriously lagging behind and I need to to rally some support.  Please if you are able, endorse my 'Mo by clicking on donate.  I'm counting on you all!

Business over, I need to give a shout to my other fellow 'Mo growers, namely my Dad and brother Zac for taking up the challenge!  Hang in there guys...


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spier And a Cheetah Encounter

You are seeing it right, that is Steph and I petting a Cheetah!

With volunteering over, we had a few more days left in South Africa. For this part of the trip we hadn't planned anything ahead of time, hoping for some good recommendations once on the ground.  After talking over some suggestions with some of the crew from the boat, we opted to visit a wine retreat called Spier that has a Cheetah reserve on site!

Picking up a cheap rental car from the airport we drove away but something just didn't feel right.  As we pulled on to the loop around the airport, merging into traffic, I hit the wind shield wipers instead of the turn signal.  Hang on what?  Then it hit me - this was the first time I'd driven a manual right-hand side drive car.  Adjusting to shifting with my left hand, all the controls reversed, was tricky at first but on we went with nervous Steph in the passenger seat.  She wasn't amused when I told her.  Anyway, despite using the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals the entire way, we made it to Spier without incident.

Set in the middle of the Stellenbosch region, Spier is just outside of Cape Town.  So besides wine and Cheetahs they also have a bird sanctuary that has numerous species of birds to see and hold.  Arriving as they opened, we had our pick of birds to hold which made for a few good photos.

The Cheetah reserve is actually called Cheetah Outreach.  Its a really smart program that is trying to tackle eduction in local communities to help the Cheetahs in two ways.  First they have started a dog breeding program that is working to introduce Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs into livestock herds to help prevent conflict between farmers and the endangered Cheetahs.  Basically the idea is that the farmers agree not to kill Cheetahs in return for the program placing one of their dogs into the heard for a year paying for all the vet bills.  After a year the farmer can keep the dog at their own expense or give it back.  It has been an extremely successful program reducing livestock loss from farmers participating in the program by 95%.  To fully understand this, you need to understand the cheetah - they are built for speed and agility, not conflict, so they only attack prey where there is little risk they will hurt themselves in the process.  So with a massive dog protecting the herd, the cheetah are discouraged from attacking.  This helps the farmers and helps the cheetahs - its an inspiring idea!

Beyond that, the outreach program also breeds Cheetahs in captivity.  They then train them to be social so they can take them to local schools and events allowing younger generations to interact with them and raise awareness.  This includes the reserve park itself where visitors can help support the program by giving donations in return for close encounters to pet the Cheetahs like we did above.

Getting up close and personal was absolutely amazing!  I just can't describe the raw excitement it brings out.  The cat we were able to see was named Phoenix.  It was just after feeding time so he was still happily purring away, staring into one of the other pens, allowing us to give him a few strokes across his back.  A genuine experience and honestly something we weren't expecting.  We told him about Mia & Gypsy in hopes of making friends but he didn't seem amused...

The rest of Spier was equally entertaining.  It was a large complex, almost like a little amusement park!  It had gardens to picnic in, shops, local artist tents, a singing and music and local food outdoor buffet dinner experience, a hotel amongst cottage houses and an excellent fine dining restaurant.  We enjoyed an aperitif at the outdoor dinner experience venue (imagine huge sheltering trees, tents, canopies, winding paths, tables tucked in little garden areas, tree houses, soft seating, fires and tiki lights - a lovely atmosphere!)  But we opted to have dinner in the hotel's restaurant where the food and service came highly recommended.  Besides, we were in South Africa - we wanted good 'ol fashioned steak!  Our fabulous steak dinner and bottle of Spier wine was far cheaper than any average night out in London - it was the perfect to meal to conclude our great day at Spier.   

A few more photos

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Klienbaai Sunsets

Our volunteer house for the trip was actually in the village of Klienbaai, an even smaller town just next to Gansbaai.  Other than the shark diving centers there is only a small convenient store within walking distance.  This means after the shark diving trips are over mid-afternoon, there isn't much else happening in this tiny town.

Usually after the boat duties were over, we'd go back to the house and shower, removing any chum smell, then relax until sunset.  That's when we would go for walks along the coast to see what we could find which lead some of the fun photos you see in this post.  The scenery was amazing.  The weather had the waves crashing into the rocky coastline and set against the mountain in the background lead to some great views.  There was also some interesting sea life to stumble upon.

Winding down after all the work on the boat on the coast for sunset was awesome.  In the top photo you can see the shark boats in the distance ready for tomorrows run.  After sunset moseying back to the volunteer house we'd get one more surprise, the stars!  There was no light pollution so the stars would jump out at you on clear nights.

Back at the house we would fix dinner and light a fire to ward off the cool winter evening.  Then we would make adhoc smore's with the marshmallows, chocolate and cookies we could find at the convenient store.  Simple but effective.

More Photos

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jack*ss Penguins

Penguins in Africa?  Well, yes - there are apparently many!  These cute little guys are more formally referred to as Jackass Penguins.  I'm not making that up, I swear!  They make a loud hee-haw noise exactly like a donkey.

With a day off from the sharks due to weather, we headed off to Stoney Point, Betty's Bay to see one of the three land based penguin colonies in South Africa. There is something special about seeing animals in the wild and in their original habitat.  No matter what animal, a first encounter is such a thrill.

And the penguins didn't disappoint.  What I can only describe as bumbling and stumbling around in there tuxedos, they were so amusing just going about their business - making nests, in and out of the water, grooming and sunning themselves.  On the site there is a board walk that allows you to wonder around without disturbing the penguins. It actually makes it easier to see them because the site is rough and rocky and would be hard to navigate otherwise for us humans. The penguins don't seem to care and have carved out paths which are like little highways allowing them all to reach their nests.

There really isn't much else to report other than what fun it is to just sit and watch.  One of the girls on the shark project who had already seen them said we wouldn't be there more than a half hour - well, she didn't know us and our amusement with watching animals and photographing them!  You just keeping wondering when they are going to topple over as they waddle around!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cape Agulhas

When traveling sometimes you go places and you just can't help picture yourself on an map.  For instance you are standing at the farthest point you've ever been away from home and mentally visualizing it on a map.  Other times it might be some remote place where you can picture how far you are from civilization.  Or maybe you are on some island out in the middle of the sea or at famous landmark.  Well this is one of those times.  Standing looking out to sea, I couldn't help but picture where we were on the map, the southern most tip of Africa - Cape Agulhas!

Its more famous cousin, the Cape of Good Hope, comes later on in the trip but, this is actually further south.  More than that, Cape Agulhas is actually the spot where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.  Initially I had visions of some big line that extended out in the ocean like some sci-fi movie or a big swirling vortex or some huge wall of water colliding, but no!  It was just a normal rocky coast line with waves crashing to shore.

The only real sign is a fairly simple monument which represents the geographical line scientists mark as the exact break between the two oceans.  Steph and I had a tug-of-war match to try and make the divide more dramatic, she won of course.

So besides dreams of Antarctica staring out to sea, we had a lighthouse to climb.  Red and white stripes as you'd expect, we ascended the steps to see what views awaited.  The views were great but it was so windy we didn't stay long.  Plus it was lunch time and a local fish and chips restaurant was calling our name.  We needed to refuel before trying to swim with sting rays.

However as exciting as that sounds, it didn't happen.  The sting rays were a no show.  Despite our best efforts, wet suits, chum line and all, we couldn't lure a sting ray into the bay where they frequented.  A combination of the wind and some off shore fishing boats were too much for our small trail of anchovy oil to overcome.  Oh well, maybe another day, we at least got a few good views from the small harbor.  

More Photos

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Danger Point!

Just down the road from the volunteer house was a place called Danger Point.  For some reason every time we drove past the sign I just had to mutter, "Daaaannnger!" in a low tone to myself.  So, you know us, that's all the reason we needed to go find out what was so dangerous.

With a name like Danger Point you imagine there is a story that goes along with it.  Well there is.  Back in 1852, the HMS Birkenhead carrying troops and other passengers wrecked on a rock out from the point.  As the ship was going down, the captain, as was customary, yelled "every man for himself"!  However, the British soldiers, true to form, lined up according to rank and stood still.  They were concerned that if one man broke rank then the boats with women and children may be compromised.  The result was that 445 men died that day.  The men stood fast allowing the women and children to get away safely.  This lead to the infamous, "Women and children first" call when abandoning ship, The Birkenhead Drill.

The point itself is named aptly from the 140 or so ships that have wrecked here.  A light house was eventually installed to help the ships navigate the waters.  While we were there the sea was incredibly rough and the waves crashing into the point only enhanced the mystic of this bit of coastline.  I was sure glad I was on dry land and not onboard a ship.

Check out this weird little foam circle we found nearby.  We had no idea what it was but watching it wiggle was odd.

Photos Collection