Australia – Kings Park Botanical Gardens

Tree top bridge Perth Kings Park
Tree top bridge Perth Kings Park

I woke up with a slight headache, I call it my travel hangover, always the second day after travelling. I took my time having breakfast and left my accommodation just after nine. I chose to walk and headed towards the city center, grabbing a coffee on the way. By the time I had reached the Botanical park, the headache was gone. The weather was sunny, warm but there was a cool breeze.

 Pokémon Fans
Pokémon Fans

The gardens are up high overlooking the bay, on the way up I stopped to take some pictures of the view above Jacobs ladder, locals were walking up and down to get exercise. At the visitors center I got a guide to the birds in the park and then went for a stroll around. Pokémon is still big it seems on Ox, I kept bumping into groups of people tapping away on their phones, sometimes the group was as big as 25.

Spring Flowers Kings Park Perth
Spring Flowers Kings Park Perth

There were plenty of birds to spot, including a White Ibis pair flying over, whilst I sat in the shade of a large Eucalyptus. I was at the café at 14:00 so I opted for a late lunch, of fish and chips which would save me having to got out in the evening. I had a table with a view across the gardens, the bay and the Perth skyline beyond. Fish was battered Flathead fillets very handy because they form.long fingers which make it easy to eat with your fingers.

Perth Skyline from Kings Park
Perth Skyline from Kings Park

Time was getting on so I decided to head back to the apartment via a different route to see some new stuff. I passed thought a very neat area that seemed to contain the Perth parliament buildings, in the trees leading to it were the every present Rainbow Lorikeets. Then I passed through a shopping area which was like any shopping area.  Just close to my destination I discovered the Perth Mint which contains the world’s largest gold coin, unfortunately it was to close in 30 minutes, so rather than wasting £10 I chose to leave for another day.

I grabbed some supplies for dinner and retired to my room to watch the Grand Prix and process my photos.

Australia – Rottnest island

Rottnest Island FerryAs expected I was awake at some point in the night, my body needed to adjust. I checked my phone, wondering what to do on Saturday, I came across Rottnest island, only a few miles off the coast of Perth. I figured I figured I would probably be up early so getting the 10 o’clock boat would be easy, or so I thought.

I woke up quite sleepy at 07:00 so I forced myself out of bed and had a quick breakfast. The drive to Fremantle where the shortest ferry goes from was straight forward. It was the first view of Perth in daylight, it was just like the promotion photos you see clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight. Luckily once in Fremantle there was signs to the the Rottnest ferry.

Rottnest Island views
Rottnest Island views

I decided my best bet was the days bus pass, with stops all round the island I could get on and off as I pleased. At about stop four, the bus driver mentioned a volunteer was there to talk about the island and walk to the next bus stop. Mimi the volunteer had moved to Australia 44 years ago, and it turns out had lived in the Chilterns around Chartridge, an area I knew well. She was very informative, I spotted Pelicans, Nankeen Kestrel, and even saw a King Skink.

Rottnest Island lighthouse
Rottnest Island lighthouse

I walked on to another bus stop after Mimi returned to her post. I got a bus to the stop near the lighthouse, where for $10 you could climb the stairs to get a view over the island. The lady doing the tour has a distinct Scottish accent. The building was made of stone from the island, had been built twice each team by aboriginal prisoners, and took 7 years each time.

From the lighthouse I followed a trail to skip a couple of bus stops. I got to the bus stop just after the bus was due so I waited for a while, but realised I must have missed, so I carried on the purple trail, and I was glad I did. The trail eventually runs along the beach at Strickland bay, which is beautiful and with the sun shining the sea was a bright turquoise. At the end of the beach I checked the bus time table, I had 30 minutes to get to the next stop which was close by, so I got a time lapse set.

Rottnest Island view
Rottnest Island view

It was quite hot out, and I think I was a bit jet lagged so I was not up for a lot of walking so I got the bus for a few stops. Whilst waiting I saw three Osprey. The bus had to stop to let a King Skink get out of the way. I got off near a salt lagoon hoping to see some waders, I dipped on the waders but there were some Pacific Shelduck, same shape as the European ones but much darker and brown where I would expect white. A few bus stops down I got back on for the last leg back back to the settlement where I got a cheese and onion sausage roll and a custard tart for lunch. I had to watch out for the Australian Ravens and Silver Gulls from stealing my food, and the very tame Quokka hung about eager for a crumb. My next venue was the small but informative museum which told the human and natural history of the island.

QuokkaThe ferry was due in about an hour so wandered around the settlement, and stopped at the beach for a time lapse. Then headed to the boat with 15 minutes to spare. I managed to get one of the few seats outside being solo makes that easy as you just need one space. The seat was next to Linda the volunteer who had showed me round the lighthouse, which was a stroke of luck, as she put me into a couple of ideas. Beaches in the way home and imminent sunset, and in particular Cettesloe Beach where there is a Rainbow Lorikeet roost very colourful birds but noisy and a nuisance apparently. I had a mission, but before I spotted the migrating whales from the back of the boat.

I parked up at Cottesloe beach and immediately saw groups of Rainbow Lorikeet flying in and I could hear the squabbling in the Norfolk pines. Down at the beach everyone was waiting for the sunset, so I joined them and got some fine shots in the warm light. It was dark when I left, but I navigated my way back to where I started and as a bonus I got a parking space round the corner from the apartment which was free till 08:00 Monday.

Cottesloe Beach sunset
Cottesloe Beach sunset

I dumped my stuff and headed back to my new favorite Italian restaurant where I had prawn and courgette fettuccine in a light creamy tomato sauce. My Little Creatures pale ale was delivered by the chef, perhaps they consider me a local now! I retired to the apartment just before 20:00 I had some photos to process.

Australia -The journey to Perth WA

Qantas Business class
Qantas Business class

An exciting opportunity came my, a few months back I was on the phone to our FD and he asked me in passing if I could go to Australia to help out with an ERP implementation, “When do I leave?” Was my response. My wife saw it as a great opportunity, although we would miss each other for the couple of months I would be away. It wasn’t long before my departure date came round, I would be flying to Perth on a Qantas flight via Dubai.

I didn’t sleep too week the night before, as is usual when I have to travel the next day, I think it is the anticipation, that makes my mind busy. Helen had the day off so we had a leisurely breakfast together. The driver was early, so it was a quick good by. It would be really strange to be apart for so long, even when Helen was at university most weekends Helen was back.

Dubai Airport
Dubai Airport

Did I mention business class? Our company policy is that if your flight over a certain time you can request to go business class, I figured it would be rude not to. The driver was very friendly and we discussed are various hobbies and travel stories. He dropped me off at Heathrow Terminal 3, and I found the Business class check in. Once checked in I was informed that there was a fast security queue as well as access to a lounge.

The lounge had various sections, but it was a strange time to be there between breakfast and dinner so I settled for a coffee and a glass of water. We were called to the gate and I tried a timelapse, but had to balance the camera on a radiator, and the shutter was enough to make the camera move, so it did not work out well. I had a window seat, and luck was on my side as no one was in the seat next to me.

Emirates business class
Emirates business class

I settled in and sent my last emails and Facebook posts, before airplane mode was required. Champagne was offered but I resisted, settling for a glass of wine with my four course meal. Bread and a small salad starter, followed by a potato cake and salad, followed by some sort of Kufta with dhal and rice, and finally lemon tart. There was still 4 hours to Dubai when I had consumed all that.

The lie flat beds sound very appealing, but in reality in the noisy setting of an aircraft, ear plugs don’t work, so sleep is very difficult. Don’t gete wrong it is nice to be able to lie flat and change postition, but they are quite hard and the gaps between the cushions where the seat articulates are never in the right place. Give me a proper bed any day. With about an hour and a bit to go the lights came on dim, and coffee and more food was distributed around the cabin, thus making the slim chance of sleep even more remote. I sat up and smelled the coffee, and a nice coffee it was too.

The lights came on fully about an hour before we landed slightly early despite hold for a 360. The business class queue through security was short, I had my boarding card so there was no messing about. Apparently the temperature outside in the middle of the night was 35 degrees Celsius, luckily the airport was air conditioned, however you got a sense of how warm and humid it was as we walked up the gangway to the terminal building. Dubai is just like any other airport, but multiplied. The same shops, and food franchises. I had a wander round before heading up to the lounge which was massive. There was plenty of food on offer, as well as drinks you just help yourself. I settled for an apple juice, I did not need any more food.

Emirates Bar flight to Oz
Emirates Bar flight to Oz

My fellow passengers and I turned up at gate A9 at the allotted time and hung around for a bit while the airline employee took phone calls. Eventually we were told there would be a delay so we all sat down on the lounge again. There was only about a 30 minute wait and we started to board. Interestingly there was an ad-hoc bag search at the gate, they confiscated my water from the previous flight.

The Emirates business setup is better in my opinion they stagger the seats so you can get in and out with disturbing your neighbor if they are lying flat. You have your own little pod with handy shelves to stow stuff. The TV screen is much larger. I found a film I had been wanting to see for a while, The Founder, about the beginning of the MacDonalds business empire, I enjoyed it. I find it hard to watch films in planes as I am easily distracted.

The air stewards came round with a thin mattress for the seat which seemed to make all the difference, as I although I was not aware of getting any sleep I think I did doze off for a few hours. We were served a breakfast at the beginning of the flight, then the lights were dimmed for about six hours. There was a lot of activity in the cabin as I guess there was always someone who could not sleep or needed a pee.

I got up for a pee just before the lights started to go on, and ventured by accident into first class looking for a vacant WC, I was soon shooed out. I passed the bar in my search, and returned with my camera to get a picture of myself drinking coffee! The bar area is quite roomy, and bright. Sweet and savoury food items are available, as well as nuts and olives. Our lunch order was taken when I got back to my seat.

For lunch I had an Arabic Mezze which included Shanklish which is a traditional cheese, they describe it as stinky cheese. Main course for me was grilled cod with a lentil dahl and vegetables. It was all served on Royal Doulton bone china! I skipped desert, and there was an hour and twenty to go. They came round with the fother and final hot towel of the flight during which I had crossed the equator, and was in the southern hemisphere for the first time.

Getting through immigration and customs was a breeze, I had registered my passport so could use the machines, I told them I had no infectious deseases, and they wavedcme through customs. Perth is quite a big airport with 4 terminals, I would be dropping off the hire car at a different one. The car was automatic and has satnav but I was not impressed, it was already dark and every so often the arrow on the satnav had me off road so it was difficult to determine when I should turn. Eventually after a few wrong turns I found a multi-storey car park close to the apprtment that had been booked for me.

The apartment has a kitchen diner, bathroom (with washing machine and tumble dryer) and bedroom. I dumped my stuff and ventured out to get some food, settling for a really close family run Italian, I had pizza and a beer called One Fifty Lashes on the way back I stopped off at a supermarket for breakfast supplies. Then to bed for a long overdue sleep.

Plymouth and a Legend on a rainy day

We woke up to the blue skies disappearing, as the storm clouds moved in in front of the promised deep low. By the time we were ready to leave the house it was raining hard, and the wind was blowing a gale. The plan was to drive to Plymouth and take a look at the National Aquarium and then take in a new film called Legend about the height of the reign of the Kray twins. Although it would take over an hour to get there we had seen the trailer and decided the drive was worth the effort, particularly as we had not see a decent film at the cinema for some time. Needless to say the drive was a wet one, and the one highlight was the chance to pay £1.50 to cross the Tamar bridge.

By the time we had parked up we thought we might have made a mistake the storm was clearing, the sun was out. The National Aquarium costs £14.75 to get in, not unreasonable for a big venue attraction. The building is part of the renovated dock area, and was modern and bright, glass steel and wood exterior. There were lots of families visiting probably with the same idea as us, a good place to be on a rainy day. The museum itself is a procession of aquariums of differing sizes, some small some several stories high including 3m sharks. It would have been nice to see some of the behind the scenes stuff but there did not seem to be that option. Once we had done the full tour we gave the cafe a miss it was full of screaming children because there were two bouncy castles in the cafe.

We headed round out of the museum and round the port but had to wait for the harbour gate to open, and let a fishing boat in. We soon found a place to have a sandwich, a cocktail bar at night and snack and coffee place during the day. I had a chille prawn sandwich and Helen a feta cheese and oregano salad sandwich, both came with a salad, coleslaw and tortilla chips. They made a good coffee too. The name of the place was Rakuda Kitchen and Cocktails http://www.rakudabar.com/

We walked the full circuit of the harbour area back to where we had parked the car, and took the short trip to the Vue cinema. The film lived up to the trailer and reviews, it was beautifully filmed and the same actor played both of the Kray twins which was quite cleverly done, both twins looked different and had different characters. The drive back to the cottage was tedious as we were in the middle of Plymouth rush hour. We stopped off at the Sainsbury in Bodmin for some quick supplies and were back by 18:30. The seas was quite rough in Polzeath but there were still a few body boards mucking about near the shore.

Castle Drogo on the way to Cornwall

Polzeath Beach Cornwall
Polzeath Beach Cornwall

We were up earlier than anticipated and left the house to go on holiday  just before 8:30. Our late summer holiday was going to be in Polzeath down in Cornwall followed by a week in Devon. Sat nav told us the best way to go was via Bicester and Oxford then down to Swindon and onto the M4 before joining the usual road  to the south west eventually ending up on the A30. We hit the usual big traffic jam at Bristol but the traffic pretty much kept moving and by the time we stopped at the Sedgemoor motorway services just after Bristol we had only lost half an hour which is pretty good going.

As is traditional we had planned a stop at a National Trust property on the way there today choice was Castle Drogo. Helen was not amused when I decided to follow the single track signs to the property. It meant having to stop a few times to let cars and buses go by. In any event we got there without any mishaps parked up and got our tickets to have a look around the Castle. It turns out the castle was in the middle of a very extensive renovation project. The whole Castle is completely enveloped in scaffolding and plastic sheeting. On the inside of the castle they have some of the stuff in storage but they had special art exhibitions on in various rooms where you could see some of the historic things that might have been out had the house was open. The building itself is grey granite which looks very structural and it is a house I would like to return to someday. Our timing was not that great the trips up the scaffolding tower were shut for lunch, so rather than wait an hour we went to get some lunch at the visitors centre.

The queue at the cafe was interminably slow they needed someone to come in and do a time and motion study to get things moving a bit faster. We didn’t fancy the soup of the day or sandwiches so we both settled for cake, we are on holiday after all. Suitably replete we got back in the car and headed to Wadebridge where we wanted to pick up some supplies before heading the cottage in Polzeath.

Marina Vista Polzeath Cornwall

On the smallish road that got us over the A30 we came across some slow traffic, a couple of caravans, which looked more like chicken huts on wheels and were being towed by vintage tractors, they were from Germany!

We did a quick tour of the shops of Wadebridge and I managed to get a hair cut without queuing, the hair dresser corrected my pronunciation of Polzeath apparently it is zeath pronounced like wreath. The co-op supplied us with some salad ingredients and emergency pasta meal, so we were all set to arrive at the cottage.

We had earlier got a text to say that the cottage was ready which I thought was a nice touch. The final few miles to the cottage were very rural. We found the cottage easily by the instructions provided. It over looks a valley which is a caravan park and even has a distant view of the sea. We were not prepared for the many steps up to the front door. I was regretting buying a new large holdall for holidays, I had to stop for a rest on the way up.

We unpacked and had a sit down then walked down to the beach to have a look around, it was a bit grey and the sea was a bit rough. Luckily for us there was a bar Cafe on the beach where we could get a beer, and some WiFi. Helen had committed the ultimate crime of booking a cottage with no WiFi!

We had salad for tea and I was in bed fairly early with a book.

Double Hubble in London

Great Court British Museum
Great Court British Museum

My birthday was coming up and Helen had arranged a treat in London, for the Saturday so we were up earlyish and out of the house to catch the 0915 from Berkhamsted. We managed to find a spot in the free parking outside Berkhamsted castle. We got travel cards from the machine and only then did we notice delays and cancellations on the Euston line, apparently due to signalling problems. It turns out that we would have less of a wait because the 0901 was due in at 0908 so we only had time to get a coffee before the train arrived.

I had plans for the trip too, I was going to choose a new light tripod, with a tilting centre column to help with taking photospheres. I thought I might also have a look at a Canon 8-15mm lens, which would enable me to apply to be a Google trusted photographer.

The weather was grey with the threat of rain, temperature was below 10 degrees. It turns out the signalling issues were near Tring so it did not affect our journey time. We got on the 68 bus and because we were early I suggested that we get off the bus at the British museum. I thought it would be a good idea to take some photospheres of be fantastic roof inside the british museum.

London street
London street

Helen tried to help some Chinese guys looking for the university of London once I told Helen that she had the map upside down she send them on the right direction. We can across a load more Chinese tourists outside the museum some of them in factory overall suits, not sure if they were the guides or something else. Once at the museum helen send a happy half an hour with the elgin marbles while i went round and took photos of museum roof.

Suitably photographed we left the museum and got on the 188 and alighted on Waterloo bridge, then headed to the BFI iMax cinema which was the surprise that Helen had arranged, the film was about the Hubble telescope in 3D, which I was well pleased about. We had time for a coffee at the Costa franchise.

The film was excellent it told the story of a mission to upgrade the Hubble telescope in 1990. The result I on of imax is very high and the footage from n space was stunning. After the film we headed to o the National Theatre just in case there was a photo exhibition in the lobby, it turns out there was not but in the past we have seen the press photographer of the year and landscape photographer of the yeat., both free and well worth a visit to. On the was to the NT we past a street food market and after some deliberation I had an excellent griddle toasted sandwich and Helen had a Polish cottage cheese, onion and potato dumpling.

We decided to walk to Tottenham court road, I wanted to check out Park cameras. I looked at the to pods and liked the look of the 190 carbon fibre model with 4 sections, it is small light, has a 90 degree centre column feature and is very expensive. So I bought the even more impressive Canon 8-15mm USM lens because I asked and got a £50 discount. It is likely to become my goto lens as it covers that wide angles I look and is suitable for photosphere sets. Oh forgot to mention we also stopped off Foyle’s and helen bought some books.

Having spent enough money for the day we headed back to Euston on the 73 bus.

Business trip to Poznan Poland

Strange hotel room at the Platinum Palace Poznan
Strange hotel room at the Platinum Palace Poznan

A few of members of my team work out of our Poznan office, and although we manage to function as a team using email, phones and video conferencing there is nothing like meeting face to face. So the start of this week I will be spending my time in Poznan. The flights from Luton were a bit inconvenient, the flight there would be reasonable being at 0800 but the flight back would have meant a start at 0300 to catch the feeding flight of the 0800 out of Luton, I would prefer to avoid that. So I settled on flights from and to London Stansted, the flight out was at1235 then I would return late afternoon on the Wednesday.

i was in the office by 0730 to get two and a half hours in before having to leave for the airport. Unfortunately I could not get started straight away as there was a networking issue and I was the only person in to resolve it, I may have been better off working from home. The drive to the airport was pretty uneventful (around the M25 was clear) I did see a lorry on fire on the M11, there were flames and smoke and a driver stood well back on his mobile. I guess I may have been fortunate as there was the potential that the fire brigade would have shit the motorway due to the dark smoke.

The river that runs through Poznan
The river that runs through Poznan

I had pre book Mid-term parking which came with the fast track service through security, which was good but did not save me much time as the queues were quite short. Air side was very crowded so they clearly shift a lot of people through so the low queues suggest to me that the airport is well run. The signs and queuing at the gate were a bit confusing and one queue were told to face the other way as they were the end not the front of the queue. Boarding was pretty smooth even though only the front door was being used to board us passengers.

The flight was pretty straight forward I used the time to catch up with emails and type up a few documents. At the other end we were quickly through security. I got the impression that Poznan is not a busy airport as there were not many people about. The taxi driver had a sign with my name on it, which is the first time I have had that, it made me feel more important than I am. It was a short drive to the Platinum Palace Residence my abode for the next two nights. The name is interesting as I could imagine that a marketing department or brand management company did some brain storming and came up with the three works and just strung them together. Platinum a rare metal so think exclusive, Palace is where monarchy live in luxury, and Residence is what they call posh hotels. The hotel was modern and all shiny inside with a big light fitting that draped down in reception. My room was very different, the door was the only black one on the first floor, and when you entered there was a shiny purple wall in front of you, with a 1m corridor down each site to the far end of the room where the bed was under the window. So essentially the room had a room within it like a Russian doll. The internal room consisted of a shower cubicle with glass doors an a W.C. with a glass door, beyond the glass doors there was a mirrored wall. The corridor around the inner and outer room was about 1m wide.

Market Square Poznan
Market Square Poznan

The evenings are light so I took the opportunity to walk into the centre f the city, but not before catching up with my emails and reconciling a report. Walking into town took about 40 minutes the weather was sunny but I needed a light coat. I was heading for the old town but missed it and ended up at the river where not much happens so I turned around and headed towards to the old town using Google maps. The main square in the old town is full or bars/cafes/restaurants but there were also lots of stalls as a festival was going on. Complete with a singer and band on a stage.

I wandered around the square taking in the sites, and took the opportunity to take some hand held panorama sets, you may see the results here if they work out OK. I could not decide what are where to eat as Poland is not that vegetarian friendly, but then I spotted a restaurant that was selling Pizzas so I stopped for pizza and a beer. Suitable replete I walked back the hotel but took a different but parallel route so as to take I more of the sights.

I was in bed pretty early 09:00 I found I kept of getting woken up quite a bit as the hotel was near a main road and tram line and the trams are quite noisy as their solid steel wheels ground along the solid steel tracks. The room however although weird in its layout had air conditioning which worked so the temperature was just as I wanted it. I was up at 07:00 to give me time to have breakfast before the taxi arrived, to take me to the office in Rokietnica.

It was the first time in Poland so I was paraded around the offices and introduced to everyone before I could get a chance for a coffee. Once that was over I got down to some work with the team, the aim was fact finding and to find out what good stuff they do which could be shared across out division and suggest some of the good stuff we do in GB and Ireland that might be appropriate in Poland. The factory is in a fairly rural location and the IT guys office looks out on to a wheat filed and a scrubby but f land, I was pleasantly surprised when I spotted a Marsh Harrier quartering the scrub. Things are very civilised in Poland I was well looked after, for example in the UK if I visit a site someone will usually arrange a sandwich for lunch, in Poland you get a menu and a hot meal is delivered, on the Tuesday I had salmon and potatoes with a salad and on the Wednesday I had grilled trout and potatoes and salad, all delivered by a local company.

The guys had agreed they would take me out and show me the sights in the evening and they picked me up from the hotel and took me to an Italian restaurant that also did contemporary Polish food. I had spinach for a starter with Parmesan, followed by steamed Perch-Pike with apple and cabbage and spinach dumplings which was very nice. For dessert I has proper baked cheese cake. The guys suggested a special beer for me which contained honey in the brewing process, it was very nice. After the meal they wanted to go and try traditional vodka but I was not keen as I find it is very easy to get hangovers so I really do limit my alcohol consumption. Instead they took me a walk showing me some of the sites unfortunately I had seen most of what they showed me, although it was great to know what it was I had seen the day before, and nice to know that by just following my nose I had managed to see a lot of the things worth seeing. They insisted that we at least have one more beer and we ended up in a pool hall where we had a couple of rounds of pool. We eventually left the establishment and I was back at my hotel before midnight (just). I hope this does not become a regular thing when I got to Poland as I am not good at staying up late on school nights especially in a hotel where trams trundle by in the night.

The next morning the taxi was early and I was ready so I ended up at the office in good time 08:15 (or 07:15 UK time), my flight was at 16:05 so would have to leave at 14:00, but that would give me a chance to meet up with a couple of people in Finance and finish going through the things we had on our list, and have my chosen lunch of grill trout. The queues at the airport were reasonable long but moved long, and they opened a third x-ray machine as I got to the front of the queue. I was right about Poznan not being a busy airport there were none of the crowds that I had encountered at Stansted, there was plenty of room for everyone. Looking at the departure board there was only one screen of flights (15) between 15:30 and 22:15 which is not many.

The flight departed on time, once at cruising altitude I got out the Polish looking custard like pasty I had purchased which was very once and quickly consumed, then I settled in to the flight reading some articles I had downloaded before I departed the office, and caught up with a few emails. We used the Stansted shuttle to get back to the terminal once landed, which was interesting the shuttles are line horizontal list they arrive the doors open you get in the doors close then open again when you get to the terminal all without a driver.

The drive home was about an hour so all in all the flying and travelling was not too bad.

 

A final trip to the Eelsfoot Eastbridge for 2013

Eelsfoot Eastbridge Suffolk
Eelsfoot Eastbridge Suffolk

The Eelsfoot pub at Eastbridge Suffolk near Southwold, is a gem of a pub we found quite a few years ago when we rented a cottage in the village. We have probably managed about two trips a year since. This year we were there for new year but have not managed to visit at all since. We both had a days holiday to take so just to keep up our records we booked two nights.

We left the house at what for us was a tardy time of 10:00 so we did not get to my aunt’s house until 11:30. After catching for an hour and suitable filled with coffee and cake we headed back onto the A12 destination Minsmere RSPB, and arrived at about 14:00.

We had a late lunch of cheese toasties and hot chocolate. On the way out I was tempted by a small pair of Swarovski binoculars, Helen owes me a birthday present but although the 8×25’s were lovely they were expensive at £400 and I would have liked to have tried a pair of 10×25’s so we left them for another day.

It was the middle of December so the light would be gone by 16:00 so we decided a walk out to island mere hide and back before some Christmas shopping in Southwold. It was raining so we did not spend much time on the way to the hide looking for birds. We joined for other hardy souls who were having to peer through windows covered in rain drops. We were so rewarded by a bittern fly by over the reeds across the water. There was not much else to report home about. The rain stopped so we took the opportunity to walk back to the visitors centre for some RSPB Christmas shopping.

Eelsfoot Eastbridge Suffolk from the back
Eelsfoot Eastbridge Suffolk from the back

Next stop would be Southwold just 25 minutes drive away. Parking is usually difficult but late on a rainy Friday afternoon in December there were plenty of spaces in the free car park near the top of the high street. We were quite successful on the Christmas shopping front, sometimes things just come together when you don’t try too hard. We just came across thing that made sense for the people we still had to buy for! I saw a male onesie in a shop window coloured grey and red stripes, luckily no one on my Christmas list deserved it. We got to the pub at about 17:30 so we chilled out in our well appointed room till about 19:30 as H&N would not be joining us until after 21:00.

The of first pint of Adnam’s is always the best way one and it did not disappoint. We had some great food I had cod and chips and Helen had cheesy chip and a side salad there was some ying and yang going on there somewhere the salad cancels out out the chips doesn’t it? N&H turned up at 22:00 they had not had the day off like we had. We caught up and discussed where we should walk on Saturday.

We woke up at a reasonable 07:30 and took our time getting ready for breakfast at 08:39. Very precise time you might think, N had suggested 8:30/9 and we thought he meant 08:39, but it was within N’s range. They have changed the breakfast routine at the pub you used to fill out a form the evening before but now they make to order. It does mean you can make up your mind at the last moment. It turns out that we prefer the pre-ordered breakfast. We sat down and had to wait quite some time before we were asked if we wanted coffee or tea, then once that had turned up we waited again before our breakfast order was taken. In all breakfast took over an hour!

The weatherman had offered us sun all day for Saturday and we were not disappointed blue sky horizon to horizon. We took the path from East bridge to the sluices down by the sea. The sluices are being renewed and there is lots of machinery and temporary piping. In the gorse we spotted a pipit but could not decide on water or rock, a stonechat was also perched as usual on top of a bush. from the east hide we saw some waders amongst the usual ducks, including godwit, redshank, and knot. The star duck was a single male pintail. Next stop was coffee at the coast guard cottages, and some of my mums Christmas cake from last year, which we had to freeze on large lumps and take on weekends away over the course of the year, it lasted well and was a much better alternative to an energy bar.

Minsmere RSPB Reed bed
Minsmere RSPB Reed bed

We headed across Dunwich heath in the hope of seeing dartford warblers, it did not take us long to find a few, quite close in and given the low winter sun, the views were cracking. Towards the end of the Heath we took a path which would lead us back round to the visitors centre at Minsmere RSPB where the cafe provided a great late lunch, including parsnip soup, baked potato, spinach bake and cheese and onion toastie. Suitably replete we headed out to Island mere hide where we were hoping to see bitterns, but we failed to see any, but we did get great views of a hen harrier, a bird I have never see before. It was very distinctive with light grey wings tipped with back feathers at the extremities. We left the hide at about 15:30 hoping to see some barn owls over the fields near the pub but they were not out hunting. We got back to the pub at 16:30 and retired to our rooms and agree to meet up at 18:00 in the bar, it had been a long day and we anticipated an early night.

The sweet potato and chickpea curry went down well so did the Adnams, the Eelsfoot won the annual best cellar award, so you would expect it to be good. We were relatively restained and retired to bed at a reasonable 22:30. Next day the sun was shining when went to breakfast at a tardy 09:00, when service was a bit more friendly and swift. We packed paid the bill and headed to the visitors centre at Minsmere RSPB. We did a quick loop along the new sea wall to coastguard cottages then through the woods and back to the reserve where Helen and H did plenty of shopping. The weather had clouded over and it was threatening rain. We had some lunch in the cafe but had to sit outside because a coach party had taken over most of the cafe. We left at 13:30 and made good time to be home at 16:00 with rain all the way. A great weekend with a lucky weather window.

The Luton airport toothpaste test

W H Smiths self-service kiosks run windows XP
W H Smiths self-service kiosks run windows XP

Another trip to Northern Ireland thankfully on a Wednesday when the airport is traditionally quiet. I was up and parked in short term in good time and ready to fave security at 06:30 with plenty of time for the 07:50 flight, and I had priority security pass booked.

There was no queue so things were looking up, but I spoke too soon, my tray with coat and liquids was chosen for a check, and it was about fifth in the queue for trust that needed to be checked. Add to that one person was on tray checking duty whilst the other people were on stand around and chat duty. Twenty minutes later after they had checked that my tube of Colgate was a tube of toothpaste, luckily they only needed a sample as we all know once the toothpaste is out of the tube you can’t get it back in.

I had about twenty minutes to wait for the gate to be announced, and splashed out on a coffee with 5 minutes to spare, I prefer to have a hot drink when I get on the plane. We were allocated gate 25 a new experience for me, it is about as far from the departure lounge as you can get but you turn right rather than left as you leave the hall.

I was informed that hot drinks were not allowed on the buses, so I assured them the drink would be cold by the time the buses turn up. We were soon on board a plane which was about 10 percent full but we had to wait a while for the aircraft to be prepared.

I was listening to a Twit network podcast called Tech news today. The big story was about Microsoft buying the Nokia mobile phone business. This has been quite some time coming. Some time ago Microsoft bailed out or went into partnership with Nokia a company that once had 40% of the mobile phone market. It now has only less that 4%, Microsoft needs away to push it’s mobile phone OS as it is supposedly having to pay Apple 30% of the revenue of Office 365 on the app store and a cut to Google at the play store. They have a long way to go because Android has an 80% share of the smart phone market. It is hard to imagine Microsoft overturning that big a share of the market, but given how closely the OS is tied to windows and the office suite they are always likely to have some sort of foot hold in the market.

Once landed, on time, at Belfast I went to the hire car desk only to find out my car was at the City Airport, that is the second time they have done that I made a point when I booked this time to stress International Airport, but the message was obviously lost. My colleague in the queue behind me had the correct booking. Apart from a short delay due to and accident I was in the office in good time to get my name on the sandwich list which has a strict closing time.

Belfast International Airport Tarmac
Belfast International Airport Tarmac

My day at the office was long, mainly due to a conference call at 17:00, a time when really I want to be going back to my hotel room given the early start. Any way after a chat about phone systems and then budgets with a colleague I was sat eating by 19:30. Roast Monk fish with coconut rice, stir fry Pak Choi, and curry oil was light and tasty, just the ticket. Then it was off early to bed for an early night then back to work to fight another day.

Compared to yesterday today was one meeting followed by another ranging from project updates through project launches to important “go live” decisions. We also wished a colleague luck on his wedding after the weekend in foreign parts, combined with farewell as he was leaving the team for pastures new. He will be sorely missed but we wished him well in his new challenge.

I left a little bit later than usual as we were celebrating G’s departure with tea and cakes. Even if though I left at 15:10 I was still in time to pass through security with time to spare. Gate 18 was the chosen parking spot for EZY186 today, and it departed a little bit late but nothing that could not be made up on route.

I returned to a very hot mainland where the temperatures had been 28 degrees during the day.

How I saved someone’s weekend at Luton airport

Belfast International view
Belfast International view

Friday would not be my day of choice to fly out of Luton, particularly in the morning, but needs must and I had a face to face meeting with my boss in our Belfast offices. Apparently I read somewhere that 40% of flights out of Luton leave before 08:00. Luckily I was up before the alarm and out of the house earlier than planned at 05:40, because when I got to the airport the signs were not good, the check in hall was packed and the escalators to security were stopped for safety reasons to stop a car crash of people at the top as the travellers were dumped in the area where people were queuing.

I had splashed out the £3 to use the priority lane for which there is not normally a queue, but today there was. A few people tried to push in and in true irritated travel fashion they were told in no uncertain terms that there was a queue which they needed to get to the back of. Not a beep was heard as I passed through the metal detectors. In the lounge I had the time to check the over night system emails to check all the processes had run successfully.

Worryingly the Belfast flight had no indication of when the gate would open, which was unusual. My fears were soon allayed when we were ordered to board at gate 9, about as far from the departure lounge as you can get. I grabbed a coffee from Pret and headed on down, my delay getting coffee was about to save someone’s day. I was stood in the queue behind two young lads with Irish accents, one of them was using the Easyjet app. I commented that it is a brave person that uses the app, for two reasons: one apps can be unreliable (as I have learnt to my expense) and two what if you run out of batteries? One of them explained that he had run out of batteries!

Waiting on the tarmac
Waiting on the tarmac

I had the app but had also printed my boarding card, so I offered to let him see if he could use my phone to get his boarding card. It did not work as the app and the phone and the Easyjet account seem to be somehow tied together. Things were looking unfortunate for the poor guy who was probably on his way home for the weekend.

Then I remembered I had a USB battery pack with me, you charge it up and then can use it to change up phones and the likes. He plugged in his Galaxy Note II and it sprung in to life. Things were looking up, but the battery was so low it refused to start. We waited as we inched forward in the queue and the desk got closer for the battery to get enough juice. When we got to the desk it still was not on so we stood aside for a while and waited.

Eventually it turned on and after a long boot and a wait for the mobile signal to lock in he got the app open and his boarding card was displayed. He quickly shoved it under the bar code reader just before the batteries died again, but he was checked in that is all that mattered to him. We were one of the last to board the bus to the plane which was clearly running late.

The flight made up time and arrived on time at Belfast. Some tourists were grabbing their car from the Enterprise queue but also wanted to discuss the best way to get somewhere, they were on holiday and had all the time in the world. I was already behind schedule and thought to myself we need queues for tourists and queues for business people. When I got to the front of the queue they had made a mistake with my booking the car was waiting for me at the other Belfast airport, so it took a bit longer to transfer the booking to International, but I was grateful and soon on my way.

Boarding the Airbus
Waiting on the tarmac

I arrived at the offices slightly later than anticipated at 10:15, I had time to catch up with a few people before my face to face with BF at 11:00. The meeting went well and reminded me that phones and video conferencing is all very well but sometimes it works much better face to face, and this was one of those occasions. That meeting was followed by another one which took me up to the time I needed to leave to get to the airport with enough margin to ensure getting the flight. The traffic was a bit heavier than usual and I had time to fill up the rental car on the way.

At the airport I handed back the keys and then sped up as I got into the building to get in front of the two Hen parties and a Stag do that were heading towards security, I did not want to have to queue up behind them if I could help it. As it happened I was in the lounge with plenty of time for a coffee before the gate was called. I passed the time catching up on my emails and making a few phone calls which I had not been able to do whilst in meetings at the office.

The flight was called at gate 17, not one of the usual gates for EZY186 to Luton. It has a strange herding system I have not seen elsewhere, after they have checked your boarding pass you are send to a pen made up of rows of seats bolted together, where you stand and wait while the plane is prepared. The flight left slightly early and we were back in Luton before the scheduled time of 18:15. Traffic was light and I was home just after 19:00, it had been a long day but I had the weekend to look forward to.