a Winchester Walk

I’m so glad I made the drive to Winchester. I had been before, but I couldn’t remember anything of this city. And oh, how I wished I had kept a blog as a kid (maybe a diary, blogging didn’t exist back then)! You could say I was spoilt as a kid; aren’t all kids these days? Not with the latest gadgets or fashionable label. I was spoilt by my parent’s passion to show me not only the world but the country which I call home. It’s with slight sadness of heart that I didn’t appreciate the efforts they made then as much as I would have now.

Winchester was once the capital of this land. This medieval, cathedral city has an abundance of incredible buildings and has history etched all over it. My visit wasn’t long enough, nor did it do it full justice. I did not see it all. Oh, how that disappointment of not seeing everything has already whetted my appetite for a return visit. The city is surely a must see for anyone who lives in England or wants to visit these shores. Not too far from central London or the southern coast, its development at this location can be understood. It became a Saxon capital and a powerful base for bishops. It also plays host to two of this country’s mystical characters – Alfred the great and Arthur and his knights of the round table.

On arrival, I quickly left my car and headed on foot in the direction of the cathedral. Why not, I thought, as I had done no planning or research. Why not just get lost and explore? Immediately I was captivated by the wonderful architecture that is spread all over the city. After capturing a charming pub with oak and white washed walls bathed in glorious autumn sunshine, I crossed the charming river Itchen. Rumour has this was the inspiration to John Keats ‘Ode to Autumn’. It was by chance I noticed a National Trust property on the bridge (a mill) and immediately marched in. It wasn’t my intention to visit a National Trust place today, so a quick peep before leaving in search of other sights was complete in no time.

Straight after leaving the river, the statue to Alfred the Great casts its watch over the city. A sword and not a wand is in his hand. He looks directly up the High Street, and what was described as the oldest high street of the land in a visit to a museum. His statue is as old as the building to his left. The guildhall attracts you to the brighter side of the street. A look in it its doorway distracts you for a little while. But wait! In search of more than a doorway, I stroll off in search of better things. Not much further up the street, a left turn was made through one of the 5 gateways in the walls that once guarded the city (not much left now) and towards the cathedral.

There it was, a 11th century masterpiece, one of Europe’s longest. To say I wasn’t impressed on first view is an understatement! Crowds, enticed to the local lawns for entertainment, were distracted from an interest in the building. Who could blame them, for on the outside it is unremarkable; not one of England’s finest. Taking an inquisitive step inside changes all of that and confirms that truthful saying that beauty is only skin deep. I stood in amazement first of all at the sheer size of this incredible building. I felt so small and lost in such a vast space. After picking up my jaw off the floor I spent my time taking those customary pictures. Every step seemed to discover a fresh, mind-blowing view. I feel that I could have spent all day in there.

I was sad to leave especially as the organist was enticing me to stay with the pleasant sounds he generated. Outside, the amazing autumn sunshine was waving its magical light all over the city. My meanderings took me off the beaten track – as they always do – in search of that amazing discovery. It led me to two things. Firstly, a church that had been converted to flats – an epitome of how religion is portrayed in this ever-dysfunctional modern era. The second discovery was, after getting lost around the converted barracks which have now been converted to flats, the Great Hall. References to King Arthur and knights of the round table were a thing of childhood imagination. There is a round table mounted high up on the wall of this 13th century building. Sadly, this was closed to me due to an event. My fascination with this myth will ensure that this is ticked off on my next visit.

A wander to the top of town seemed like a chore and nothing like the wonders below. A quick visit and a climb up into the Westgate museum, didn’t give the desired city views. So as the autumn chill set in and a need to leave, it was with haste that I left. A visit to “England’s oldest pub” was completed before departure. Can this be true, how will we ever know? It just seems that this statement is published to entice the people in.

Another walk in Winchester will be done. I cannot wait – castles and colleges await! Until then I shall try and remember those long-lost childhood visits.

Deer Dyrham

On this visit to a National Trust property I wasn’t sure what was the greater attraction-the deer that reside in the ancient deer park or the exquisite 17th century house. Being told that the deer were in the furthest part of the park, I set off to find them on a long walk around the estate. I saw a group but too far off the path for a picture, so made my way to house. Near the house I was extremely surprised not only to find a huge herd, but to see how incredibly obliging they were to sit or stand and have their pictures taken. Brits being Brits meant we had the silly children who thought that it would be a good idea to pet them or get as close as possible for a picture.

After taking a bucket load of photos in the hope that I got a decent shot it was time to get out of the stifling heat and take a visit inside the house. Its former residents were not very famous, but perhaps had one of the best looking houses around. The house, grand in appearance on the outside, seemed normal and not too extravagant on the inside. It was mostly decorated in grand paintings of its past inhabitants, and the only thing of real notice was the sign that said only 4 humans on the staircase at one time. This modern sign was in place because the building was undergoing major restoration which meant that the staircase was supported by scaffolding. It’s remarkable how these places were even built.

This was my second time visiting this place and both times have proved to be at completely different seasons. My first visit was at the back end of the snow and heavy rain at the beginning of the year. Sadly I couldn’t explore the glorious grounds that time; I had to stick to the driveway which highlighted how steep and hilly these lovely grounds are. I knew upon my first visit that I would need to come back to explore the near 300 acres of land.

My second visit came during the heat wave that has engulfed the UK and the rest of Europe. I’m not one to complain about it being a sun worshipper but the effects it is having is startling. Is this the biggest sign that global warming is really happening? And have we left it too late to do anything about it? The heat sadly had taken all the colour out of the grass and flowers and made the grounds look almost like a desert. The formal garden would have shown the beauty of the western side of the house: sadly it looked like something from the Sahara.

After walking up the final hill to get the stunning view looking down on the house I left the impressive Dyrham, and a renovated Dyrham Park is perhaps one of the best in the National Trust portfolio?

 

North Island Appreciated!

View from Henrys Peak – Mt Egmont National Park

As I find seat B in row 68 and try to get comfy for the long flight back home, I have sadness in my heart that this trip to New Zealand (NZ) has come to an end. The end of any trip is always a bag of mixed emotions, and I guess this time is no exception.

As I look out of the window and get my final view of Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) our ascent takes us out of and over Auckland, I have to admit that Auckland isn’t the best memory with which to leave. Auckland was one of the disappointing places we visited on this trip; maybe if the flight path had taken us over New Plymouth or East Cape I would have been reminded me of happier times. The memories I have created on this trip to both the south and north islands will last with me for a lifetime.

My return home doesn’t excite me; ~28hrs flying time and a 4hr stopover in Hong Kong Airport gives me enough time to realise that I’m leaving behind my escape from routine and returning to the mundane daily grind full of busyness and gridlocked roads. The lack of excitement is also because I don’t have my next adventure planned as yet. Thinking about it, though, it may be that this is a good thing for all the plans that one makes may mean that one misses out on whatever opportunity arrives tomorrow. Planning was a big part of the preparation for this trip but changes to plans meant that unexpected alternatives were enjoyed.

I read something well known that challenged me while I was away, and I feel applies to me more than anything else that I have read of late – work to live, don’t live to work. Some people aspire to be successful in the workplace and devote their lifetime to the pursuit of position and status – that isn’t me. Yes, I work hard but only so that I can fulfil the dream that I have, which is to discover as much of my homeland and to learn and appreciate as much of this beautiful world as possible. It strikes me that until one travels one does not realise what a wonderful world it is we live in. Travelling has been the greatest education I’ve ever had; it has shown and taught me life, opened my eyes when I was ‘blind’, and for that I can only be grateful to my parents for instilling this travel lust in me and for friends who have been prepared to share my experiences.

I thrilled in an action-packed adventure, some of the best scenery this world has to offer, witnessed nature enjoying freedom, have endured endless miles of driving, sipped on some beautiful wine, met and partied with some delightful people and I wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing. I have covered more than 5500 miles in the 5 weeks spent on both islands. The NZ roads are tailored for road trip lovers and driving enthusiasts. Being neither, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the almost regular occurrence of having the road to myself for most of that particular part of the journey and with outstanding views around me – how different from driving from city to city and within cities back home. 5 weeks probably wasn’t long enough to do the country justice. It feels that I just scratched the surface, and probably didn’t spend enough time enjoying this incredible country.

The North Island is almost a different country from its neighbouring South Island. My feelings are so mixed and torn about this island. It is light years ahead of the South Island in commercial terms and its similarities to the rest of the world make for my lack of enthusiasm for the North Island compared to the South Island. The modernity of the world in which we live with its commerce and technology, necessary though it may be, can be depressing. I make no secret of my belief that we find far too much entertainment and pleasure in modern technology, lack the ability to communicate with the gifts we were given (ears and mouths rather than fingers and thumbs), and have little enthusiasm to get outside and enjoy the free things in life. We’re more concerned with what other people are doing rather than living our own lives. It is probably only a matter of time before the fear of doing anything other than checking Facebook finally takes over. Parts of the North Island are, in this respect, like the rest of the world, and as I flew out I found no desire to return to these places. The next trip to NZ will bypass certain places. Perhaps this is why I fell in love with Havana in Cuba and appreciated the South Island so much more.

The North Island, apparently fished up by the demi god Mauri, is replete with rolling hills, lush green land, wonderful coastline and dense forests. Parts of it resemble rural England or Sweden. As a whole the landscapes are less dramatic than the South Island but there are some wonderful volcanic mountains to be seen especially in the centre of the island. Wonderful displays of culture may be witnessed in places like Rotorua.

Over 75% of the country’s population live in the North Island, and 60% of the nation’s population live in Auckland!! Like London in England, Auckland is almost its own country within a country, and so completely different from the rest of the land.

Travelling the west coast led to the discovery of New Plymouth, one of my favourite spots on the North Island. It is home to the usual NZ power icons, an impressive mountain, beautiful beaches, endless treks and incredible surf. It was easy to see why this part of the North Island soon became my favourite. Almost undiscovered by international tourists it is more of a holiday destination for locals. It was charming, peaceful and provided everything I need for how I would love to live my life.

Forgetting my stop in disappointing Raglan and Auckland, the next part of my trip took me to the Bay of Islands. We were lucky to avoid a massive thunderstorm (what would the boat trip have been like had we been caught up in that?) and I was able to enjoy a truly wonderful day, blessed with unexpected sunshine, exploring one of NZ’s iconic locations. This pleasure was made even more so by the brilliance of Captain Billy, not a Kiwi by birth but clearly has adopted the nation’s passion for the outdoors. His knowledge and skills were truly incredible, and my appreciation can’t be put into words. When you see nature in the raw one cannot help but feel a slight anger towards these waterparks and zoos that trap these animals. After seeing so many species on this trip and recalling previous encounters on a safari, I never want to visit a zoo/aquarium again. There is something truly wonderful about experiencing these animals in the wild but, to be fair by not forgetting how blessed I was to be able to get to the other side of the world for a third time, to get to see them may cost more than going to the local zoo. Sighting dolphins was a small part of this whole day trip and all too brief, but Captain John and the wonderful coastline made for more than adequate compensation.

I fell in love with the East Cape just like I had the west coast. It has been a long time since I have stood a while and appreciated the sunrise. What an experience it was in this location.

It was here that, again, I realised what an incredible world we live in. Standing on the beach, filling my lungs with fresh air, watching the sun change the colour of the sky almost like evolving art, the birds singing in the trees behind, the fresh sea water running over my feet as my toes dug into the ground, I was whisked away into a semi trance. Not disturbed by anyone, a smile and happiness on my face at that moment, thankfully not captured on camera (resisting the temptation to take the ubiquitous selfie) this was unbridled joy. Wherever we find ourselves shouldn’t we all really take the time to ensure that we start each day with the realisation of its newness and freshness, how blessed we are to be alive and enjoy that alone, forgetting about all the worries and problems in the world and get lost in that moment in preparation to go out and live. We should be grateful for each day – we do not know if tomorrow will come. Carpe diem and all that.

This blog gives a brief insight into a few of my favourite moments of this island. I could talk and talk about each and every day, but there is no need to bore you all. I haven’t even covered the discovery of Tauranga, delightful Doubtless Bay, the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua, brilliant Gisborne nor criticised the disappointing Hawkes Bay. The memories are etched in my mind forever and ever. Perhaps these will be shared one day, in a blog or over a pint, but for now they will remain in my memory bank. Until the next adventure!!

Spectacular South

Star jumping at Monkey Creek – Fiorland National Park

Kia Ora. This is my first blog on New Zealand. My whole year has been dedicated to this trip due to its cost, annual leave entitlements and seasonal conditions. My final itinerary for this trip, tried to cover everything that this country has to offer – its culture, cities, lifestyle and scenery.

The start of my journey began in charming Christchurch and has finished with the delightful ferry across to the North Island through the Marlborough Sounds. It also took in the unforgettable Stewart Island plus many more memorable stops along the way. This first half of my 5-week adventure has blown my mind and opened my eyes to some of the most spectacular scenery, met some of the proudest people and participated in many awesome activities. There were emotional post-earthquake scenes in Christchurch, the amazing Milford Sound, the spectacular Aoraki Mt Cook and the surprising Stewart Island are to list just a few of the highlights. Beauty comes in many forms (people, scenery, buildings, are just a few) and this country has delivered so many beautiful “post card moments” I’m sure if we all look at our own countries we could find such other amazing areas of beauty. But as one of the hostels I stayed in says, “Travel changes your perspective”. As a result I have set myself the challenge of finding that beauty back home, before I go off exploring on my next adventure.

The South Island is so diverse, full of myth and mystery, such different dynamics in every region. It’s so rich in everything it has to offer, I have been well and truly spoilt in the weather and everything I have seen. The east coast so dry and well populated (the two major cities are here), the west coast in complete contrast is wet and remote (feels like a million miles from anywhere). The north so pleasant and warm, in complete contrast to the south

where it’s generally cold and chilly. The middle of the island has been sculpted to leave some of the most panoramic lake and mountain views I have ever seen. My time here has been limited, due to my work commitments but I have tried my hardest to view as much of the country as physically possible in my time. If only I had longer?!

The South Island’s reliance on tourism is increasingly evident the more you travel around it. There is proof that the lay of the land has been reliant on agriculture, but not as much as I first expected. The native people realise this, they are proud of what they own and are only too glad to show it off to anyone who visits it. Maybe something we could learn from back home in the UK?! The NZ government also has a huge part to say in this and is ensuring that the legacy of this incredible country lives on.  The Kiwi people have an adorable charm about everything they do, which has been manifested in the time spent with them. It has also highlighted that time also seems to evaporate with them. Something about tourism here is so completely different to other parts of the world, comfort issues, the begging for tips, passion in every person, etc. are noticeable differences.

The main tourist activities of the TranzAlpine train ride, Milford sound, Queenstown and Kaikoura were wonderful in their own way, but were expensive and overcrowded. Take yourself off the normal tourist track and discover a true New Zealand. Find cascading waterfalls, many national park walks, visit the sound of silence and escape reality, and finally visit Stewart Island one of the highlights of my trip!

Some of the main tourist activities referred to above have generally been too commercial to appreciate fully, and this is reflected in my loving them less than the other places I have visited. Like back home, and the rest of world, the need to capitalise has overtaken the beauty there is to appreciate. Maybe I could have been a little braver and tried to find a way of doing these things on my way or terms. The days I’ve loved the most have taken me on a voyage of discovery, that has somehow taken me out of my comfort zone and has rewarded me in riches that will never ever translate into monetary value. The way I feel now is that I am the richest man alive.

Nature has created so many of the things that I have been able to appreciate on this exploration. It’s created and defined a lasting legacy, and is still trying to have an effect. The recent earthquakes have clearly destroyed parts of this land, but the people accept it as part of who they are. They live and deal with it. They don’t hide behind it; they accept it and move on. I found myself wanting to join them with a respect for it and doing my best to preserve it. Perhaps we should all look at our daily lives and think how we could reduce the impact we have on the environment? It was heart breaking that the one thing I wanted to complete on this trip was to see whales in their natural habitat, sadly that was deprived of me due to nature speaking itself in gale force winds. Hopefully I will be able to see that in the second half of the trip.

It’s with sadness in my heart that the first half of my trip has concluded. It’s been more than I expected, the stuff of dreams and fantasy, and has been achieved through desire, passion and hard work. I look forward to some rest and family time over Christmas before tackling the second half of my trip this time around the north island.

Where time stood still!

In what is rapidly becoming a depressing era in which to live, how refreshing it was to visit Havana. This escape from my real world was so magical that I wish I’d stayed longer. There was history at every corner. I was able to enjoy the city’s famous rum and cigars, and its music and dance entertainment.

Havana stole my heart!

Of course I had images of what to expect, but I hope never to have these again on all future trips as they often leave you disappointed. Havana itself didn’t disappoint; it blew my mind and it is without doubt the best city I have visited so far on my travels. It had always been a dream of mine to get there; I had heard so much about it that I was intrigued to go to experience it and prove that dreams can come true.

After visiting this capital, it is my opinion that everyone should visit Havana at least once in their lifetime, and visit it as soon as possible. I’m torn as the place needs some TLC (probably more now after the recent hurricanes that affected the area), but a huge part of me hopes that modernisation doesn’t destroy the unique beauty of this place. Time has almost stopped on this city and as the rest of the world develops and loses it soul and identity, Havana has retained its own. The spirit of the city lives on. Unlike the rest of the world nothing is fake. It is real; it lives and breathes as you admire and experience this iconic city. Havana is Havana; it doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to be something it is not and if there are other cities around the world like this then I want to see them.

As I continue to blog, you will learn that I like to walk. I experience everything that a place has to offer by foot. I reckon that I see so much more than one does on the open top bus tours. I get to experience the real city; I get lost; I stumble upon those unexpected views, unearth those gems, discover those fascinating people, plus the health and environmental benefits are incredible. The everyday hustle and bustle isn’t there, you can relax and enjoy yourself, the sound of music galvanises and entertains. The non-existence of iconic designer shops, coffee and food outlets that have proliferated so many cities around the world adds to Havana’s unique charm. Walking the streets of this famous city, I’m not having to fight with people for my piece of pavement; it is so refreshing to be ​​able to enjoy the city by foot, to look at people and see the twinkle in their eyes, the smiles on their faces as they enjoy life, everyone is polite and friendly, smiles greet you wherever you look, nobody is distracted, people mingle and enjoy each other’s company, there are no tears or sadness around.

One cannot ignore Cuba’s history or present situation, I did try to understand its fascinating history, but I feel I just scratched the surface. There is much to learn of its relationship with America and Western Europe, its revolution, the Castro family etc. The former presidential palace is now a museum (Museo de la Revolucion) and displays some evidence of Cuba’s intriguing past. It is constantly guarded by the nation’s soldiers and is worth the entrance fee. I cannot forget to mention its relationship with America – the rest of the world can’t seem to live without America – Cuba seems to have managed without one!! When I arrived the the Americans had just got their embassy, situated on the famous Malecon. I have never seen a building so well fortified, so much so that I felt a little scared as I wandered by.

The Malecon, the 8km road that stretches around the north of the city, is probably one of those ‘famous drives’. By day nothing is going on apart from some locals fishing off the sea wall’s edge as it is battered by the Atlantic. Stare out towards the sea and see nothing but ocean. The lack of boats and freight ships creates a unique sense of calm. Only one big ship making a delivery was seen in 3 days and a harbour doesn’t really exist apart from 1 or 2 boats moored in an inlet. The Malecon by night is the hub of activity as people flock to meet likeminded people in search of love and romance. What a contrast to the digital dating that now has changed our world. Sit here and enjoy some local rum and lookout almost into a black abyss.


Leave here and head towards some of its squares, each one a complete contrast to the other. Plaza de Armas, peaceful and quiet, is dominated by a local market or book sale. Plaza de la Catedral is dominated by the Catedral de San Cristobal, and the others, Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza Veija, are lively being filled with bars and restaurants. Everyone flocks to these places and enjoys companionship. One cannot ignore the Revolutionary square either though it is more than a little walk away. It is worth the visit – walk through Vedado district to get there. It is home to the Cuban government, and has various monuments to key revolutionaries with their images wired on the tall buildings almost signalling their importance to its history. I was hoping to be able to get to the top of Memorial Jose Marti but I was sadly rebuffed by soldiers.

My time here was all too brief. It should have been a longer visit, and hopefully I will return one day, or find another city that offers an escape from this so called digital world. For now, I will live in this farcical digital era, with accusations and confessions and wonder what on earth will happen next.