Posts tagged with “travel”

Posted 1 year ago
We are adept, if occasionally embarrassed, at saying what we make of places - but we are far less good at saying what places make of us. For some time now it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? And then, vainly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?

Robert MacfarlaneThe Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Chapter 2. Path

Just started reading Robert Macfarlane’s beautifully written book about walking paths in Great Britain and I’m hooked. Too many travel/psycho-geographical books concentrate on telling about other places and people, cataloguing anecdotes and outward observation, but I’ve always found travelling an inner, essentially self-centered personal experience. Whenever I travel I ask myself: who am I here in this place? What does this place do to me? Macfarlane’s questions turn inward to the walker-writer: they resonate with the uncertain explorer, the Odyssean traveller who travels not to settle elsewhere, but to return home enriched from the exploration.

Besides this fundamental philosophical understanding of travel (and walking as travel), what attracted me to this book was a renewed interest in rural Great Britain. Funny, not since I was a teenager have I been so attracted to the idea of hiking in the Lake District, driving through the Scottish Highlands, and returning to the Cotswolds - my favourite part of England: the beautiful hills and fields of Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and the Chilterns where I spent a few years while at university.

When I moved to London I turned into a complete urban creature, seeking stimuli and conversations with the past in the web of the city. Maybe this book will give me the necessary enthusiasm to go walking in the country again.

Posted 2 years ago


First Balloon in Iran - 1877

Posted 2 years ago


CityDashboard is a real-time infographic data feed about London, a project by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (University College London).

The dashboard includes weather and travel information, as well as real-time twitter trending topics, and ‘mappiness’ (a map that charts how happy the inhabitants of the city are at the moment).

Also air quality monitoring, rental bikes availability, and river tides levels.

Posted 2 years ago

Pic: Flying home with Icelandair, found a traditional lullaby on the pillow.

Airlines we used during this trip, ranked:

1. Singapore Airlines.  Spacious, clean, functional planes. The staff are simply amazing - efficient, friendly, attentive and unobtrusive. During our Singapore-Sydney flight I had a problem with the meal that was served due to a severe allergy; the stewardess couldn’t find anything for me to eat that wouldn’t contain the allergene, so she cooked me a lovely plate of scrambled eggs and cheese, and made me a fruit salad on the spot. All served with a glass of champagne to apologise for the inconvenience. Wow.

2. Air New Zealand. A long and tedious flight from Auckland to San Francisco went by in a whiff thanks to their comfortable cabin, and wonderful selection of wines. We asked to sample quite a few of them and were never refused. Even the meals were ok, and there was organic ice cream. Plus, they have the most entertaining safety videos I’ve ever seen, starring the All Blacks and some disco grannies - it was the first one I actually paid any attention to in the last 15 years.

3. Icelandair. Unimpressive airline with a great branding strategy. They don’t give you food, drinks, headphones, enough space to store your luggage, but you’ll find poetry on their pillows, language lessons on your headrest, and history on their napkins. Personnel was really unfriendly, from the ground staff at Logan Airport who were busy doing their nails  instead of talking to us when we checked in, to the stroppy stewardess who repeatedly hit BT with the food trolley because she wasn’t paying any attention to her movements. This would all be ok for short flights, but there are many more recommendable choices for a long transatlantic connection (Virgin, BA, or Lufthansa for instance, which we’ve used before.) It didn’t help my experience of Icelandair that I was sat next to a fat kid who played videogames in a very agitated manner, snored and farted loudly, and even started fiddling with my screen while I was asleep.

4. Alaska Airlines. Same as Icelandair, minus the poetry and the nice bits of design. The flight from Portland to Boston was visually spectacular, though. The unannounced checked luggage fee, much less so.

5. Jetstar. They’re Qantas’ budget airline, but they resemble an Australian version of Ryan Air, with even smaller planes and a bit less advertising. Enough said. We only used them for national connections within New Zealand, which were short flights under two hours. I couldn’t have lasted much longer than that in those tiny, uncomfortable seats.

6. American Airlines. Aka: AA, where one of the As stands for AWFUL, and the other for AAAAAARGH.

Posted 2 years ago
Posted 2 years ago
Posted 2 years ago

Next destination: 11,491km 
Home: 18,939km
Earth’s circumference: 40,008km

We’re half a world away

Posted 2 years ago

Arrived in Lake Tekapo last night in time to catch the sun going down behind the mountains while soaking and swimming in open air hot pools at the local spa. 

In the morning we went to a (fairly dull) local fair that reminded us of quaint Midsomer Murders-type countryside, complete with cheese scone competitions, terrible hot beverages, souvenir tack, and overpriced local crafts (minus the murders, we think). The lack of delectable foodstuffs got us wondering.

With some exceptions (a glorious meal with green-lipped mussels, charcoal grilled snapper and kumara mash in Russell; a great organic beef fillet, and the crayfish in Kaikoura; home-cooked meals by our amazing friends), food has been a bit of a disappointment here. The local ingredients tend to be fantastic, but somehow the food culture is not very refined or satisfying. Having said that, I had the best sushi of my life, and some mouthwatering Japanese-style dredge oysters from Bluff, in a sake bar in Epsom, Auckland just over a week ago - never mind the sake hangover that followed it. However, the national New Zealander dish appears to be fish and chips, and we had no intention to leave one nation that thinks that battering and deep frying fish is the natural way to respect the deliciousness of the sea (sorry, Great Britain, but really) to find another that practices the same religion. New Zealand: down with the Commonwealth of beer-batter! Undo the chains of culinary colonisation and embrace the wholesome ways of grilling!

This tirade on kiwi cuisine was the product of a nice trek to the top of Mount John (1029mt), where Astro cafe sits on top of the world, towering over the lake, and facing directly towards the summit of Mount Cook (3754mt). There we happily consumed soup and muffins, and entertained conversations with some exhausted German, Taiwanese and American trampers. Mt John is a UNESCO-protected starlight reserve, and the location of an astronomical observatory that belongs to the University of Canterbury’s department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and that doubles up as a night-time attraction. Great work is done here to protect the area from light and air pollution, while at the same time promoting knowledge and observation of the skies.

We walked back down and along the glacial lake and skimmed stones on its clear surface. The colour is jaw-drop beautiful, an intense turquoise with sensational transparency. In this part of the world the sky and waters are so incredibly alike and influenced by each other’s presence that you would be forgiven for thinking that the mountains are set in place to prevent them from merging.

At night you can see not only stars, planets and satellites, but whole clusters, galaxies, universes. Looking at unfamiliar constellations last night sent me into dreams worthy of Philip Pullman’s imagination - entire worlds placed alongside each other with thin, permeable borders. But once awake you realise that these lands are spaces for superhuman silence, wind, darkness: in all this sublime, vast nature, one feels small, noisy, clumsy, like a restless, messy guest. 

We’re resting tonight (hence the time to write such a long post) in preparation for driving the long way to Manapouri tomorrow, where for the final leg of our stay in New Zealand beings. Looking forward to the magic of Fiordland - we’re pining for the fjords, so to speak.

*Picture nr. 1 - Tekapo Starlight via
Posted 2 years ago

Last night’s sunset in Russell, Bay of Islands

Posted 2 years ago

Te Rerenga Wairua

Our destination today: Spirits’ Bay and all the way up to Cape Reinga.

"The name of the cape comes from the Māori word ‘Reinga’, meaning the ‘Underworld’. Another Māori name is ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, meaning the leaping-off place of spirits. Both refer to the Māori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld."

While I’m not a religious person at all, I do feel a strong pull towards natural sites with a spiritual significance. We have a Pakhea (=white New Zealander) friend here whose insight into Maori culture has provided us with the most valuable and fascinating tools to get to know this country. We’ll be meeting an old Maori lady today to accompany us all the way to the Cape.