Salisbury Pilgrimage

Salisbury has a massive cathedral. It has been a place of pilgrimage for the devout for centuries. It’s also home to the Magna Carta if you’re into your history. And the city itself is not far from Stonehenge, in case you like your monuments rectangular and ancient.

But none of that was of interest to me. I went there for the Terry Pratchett exhibition.

salisbury museum

I’ve been a Terry Pratchett fan for a long time now. I’ll be honest, I even shed a tear when the good man died on the 12th of March, 2015. But more than that, his books have been an inspiration for me in my own writing, showing me how to write engaging stories where no character could ever be considered to be incidental.

So when I heard that Salisbury Museum were holding a Terry Pratchett exhibition – Salisbury was Sir Terry’s home town – I knew I had to go check it out. I also like Salisbury a lot, so was glad of the excuse to go too.

keen

If you’re unfamiliar with the Discworld novels, they are a series of fun, funny, engaging and enlightening books that I would recommend to anyone. They are ostensibly fantasy novels, but don’t let that put you off. They are really just great stories about people going about their lives, trying to make sense of the world, a world that for them is a round disc flying through space on the backs of four giant elephants who are in turn stood on the back of a giant turtle.

great atuin and the disc

Sir Terry explains it better:

about the discworld

The books are great. If you don’t know them already I’d recommend giving them a go. But don’t start at the beginning. I know that’s counter-intuitive, but reading them chronologically is not necessary. And, to be honest, The Colour Of Magic isn’t the best one. For boys I’d recommend starting on Guards! Guards!, as it’s where the City watch stories begin. To me the best set of characters. For girls I’d suggest The Monstrous Regiment, a stand-alone book which is superbly written and features some strong female lead characters (something Sir Terry was particularly good at).

on having female leads

The exhibition was great. Lots of pictures by Paul Kidby, who illustrated most of the Discworld novels,

the librarian

plus a great number of artifacts belonging to the man himself, that give you just a hint of his character and wit.

terry's typewriter

terry's hat

The t-shirt, which he wore to conventions, reads:

“Tolkien’s dead. JK Rowling said no. Philip Pullman couldn’t make it. Hi I’m Terry Pratchett.” 😀

There’s a lot of love for Terry Pratchett and his work. He made you feel like a friend he had over for dinner. You’d laugh, cry, ponder and reflect together, always in a positive way, and always with tongue firmly in cheek. And at the end you’d feel like the world was a better place, if only for having someone like Sir Terry in it. I know that sounds schmaltzy but it’s true. Terry Pratchett was a friend to his readers, and they were all friends to him.

Don’t believe me? Just check out the love…

messages to terry

These are notes to and about Sir Terry, which the museum will pass on to his family. I wrote one too. Mine said:

Richard Stark taught me how to write.
Stephen King taught me how to write well.
Terry Pratchett taught me how I wanted to write.
An inspiration, now and forever.

They don’t all go on the wall. There wouldn’t be enough room for a start. There’s a postbox nearby where you can deposit your messages. In true discworld fashion, it has a monster living inside it. Can you see the eyes?

wizzard headstand

That’s me dressed as Rincewind BTW. You can do a bit of dress-up while you’re there too. The lovely staff lady who helped me do the headstand I wanted to do (below) suggested it. It’s tough doing a headstand in wizzard robes and a pointy hat, but I think I pulled it off.

My main reason for attending the exhibition was to check out the recreation of Sir Terry’s office. I wanted to get a feel for the man, and it seemed a good way to go about it.

terry prachett's desk

It was kinda special to see where the magic happened (or maybe didn’t, I can’t be sure. He apparently had several offices in his home, and could write in any of them), and I had to celebrate being there in the best way I know how, with a headstand.

80. terry prachett's office headstand

This is number eighty in the series. One day I’ll get to a hundred, but really, I’m in no rush.

I finished off my visit to Salisbury with lunch at the Cathedral Refectory. If you’re in town I thoroughly recommend it. The food is fantastic.

cathedral dinner

I got a lot of inspiration from my visit to the museum. It’s a great exhibition which I think everyone will enjoy, full of awesome artwork and amusing little tidbits from the man himself. In fact I’m going to conclude with one for all you aspiring authors out there. If you want to know how to be brilliant, you could a lot worse that this…

draft zero

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Yoga Retreat At Mittersill, Austria

Boy did I need a vacation!

You don’t realise how much until you go on one. You think you know, but once you actually unwind, then you realise just how twisted up you actually were.

sonnberghof mittersill

I went on a wee yoga vacation with the Sivananda people, at the Sonnberghof Hotel in Mittersill, Austria. It was brilliant. I mean, for a start, just look at the view!

alpine views

And that’s just one direction. There were gorgeous views all over the place.

Normally my Austrian yoga vacations happen in Reith, but a couple of times a year the bio-hotel there closes down for holidays of their own, so some of the yogis decamp to Mittersill to run their retreats from there.

They have a nice yoga room,

yoga room at mittersill

and a nice wee meditation hall,

meditation room

for sadhana and satsang respectively. And in between the bouts of spiritual enlightenment the hotel has an outdoor pool,

outdoor pool

as well as a selection of sauna/steam rooms you can enjoy, with a nice lounge area for you to relax in.

spa lounge
 
swing chairs

The routine was the usual Sivananda one of satsang at 6:30am, yoga at 8:30am. Then lunch, followed by free time. Then yoga at 4pm, lunch at 6pm, and evening satsang at 7:30pm.

The luxury of being able to do yoga twice a day is always welcome. You really do feel the benefits of your practise that much quicker when you can dedicate your time wholly to it. Of course it helps if someone else is cooking the food and cleaning up after you.

The food was very good. The kitchen staff at the hotel seem to have really got their heads around cooking sattvic food. I had to limit myself. The tempation to eat way too much was quite high.

The teaching was awesome too. They do offer tailored yoga programs at Mittersill, but I was just there for a vacation. I learnt a lot as we did our sadhana, including some new exercises to incorporate into my yoga, and some new ways to correct people when I’m teaching too. All in all a very profitable vacation.

I even made a new friend while I was there…

making friends 2

If you’re looking for a yoga holiday I can recommend Mittersill. The combination of yoga and spa is an excellent one. I felt incredibly relaxed by the end of my stay, and of course I wish I could have stayed more.

Instead I flew back, drove to the Lake District, and did an epic hike to the top of Helvellyn, lol.

Helvellyn Headstand, Helvellyn, Cumbria, UK

Kind of undid some of my good work, but got another shot for my headstand series so, siwng and roundabouts, eh?

Back in London now, trying to keep on with my daily practise, see if I can’t keep the flexibility I earned in Austria. I also need to prepare myself for the Sadhana Intensive in August. It’s pretty full on by all accounts, and I need to be at the top of my game if I’m going to get the best out of it.

Two Out Of Three

Plans are afoot for some epic fun in the summer. I’m going to do the Three Peaks Challenge.

If you don’t know, the Three Peaks Challenge is when you climb the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in twenty four hours. There’s a lot of driving in between, and at least one of them your descend in the dark, but if you can do it I’ve no doubt there’s an enormous sense of achievement to be had.

Actually, individually, I have two of the three peaks in the bag already. Mount Snowden I did last summer,

Snowdon Summit Headstand, UK
Snowdon Summit Headstand, UK

along with Scafell Pike,

Scafell Pike Headstand, Scafell Pike, Cumbria, UK
Scafell Pike Headstand, Scafell Pike, Cumbria, UK

so obviously I’m really keen to add Ben Nevis to the list and complete my headstand collection.

NB: Scafell Pike is a new upload. Number 78 in the series. Hope to add a lot more this year, maybe even getting to 100! Wonder where I’ll be for that one?

**There’s still time to enter the Yoga Bum Giveaway Competition. Win yourself some choice yoga goodies, just a few clicks away! Check out the Giveaway Page for details.**

Meditative Walking

Here’s how you meditate: You sit on a cushion, close your eyes, and just breathe. Right? Well, not always.

Sitting is one way to meditate, when the body is still but the mind is busy. But there’s also another way, when the mind is still but the body is busy.

Any repetitive task can be meditative if done with mindfulness, and what’s more repetitive than walking? Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot… You get the picture.

I’ve been doing a lot of walking recently. Really getting into it all of a sudden. When you’re puffing your way uphill and concentrating on not slipping and landing on your behind there’s not much time to think about anything else. Talk about one-pointedness!

I keep joking that my little bouts of walking over the past few months are like a meal. The starter was of course the Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales.

over from the lodge

back down the valley

a valley peak

yogis at the water's edge

We saw some inspiring and energising sights, but the walks were necessarily short due to time restraints. After that course I was keen to do more. So, a few weeks later, when I went to visit my friend in Austria, I got to enjoy the main course.

My friend is really into her walking and let me tell you, it’s amazing how much you can get done (and how far you can go) when you get up and get out the house in the morning!

hilly

reflective

into austria

our overnight

moon rise

effects

I really caught the hiking bug when I was in Austria, and I think you can see why, so when I got back to England I kitted myself out in loads of new gear (I discovered jeans and Caterpillar boots are not ideal hiking equipment) and set out for a little bit of ‘dessert’.

Luckily, at the moment, the Lake District is right on my doorstep.

back towards keswick

valley 2

rolling greens

near the end, at the beginning

view from calf crag toward grasmere

Beautiful, no? You don’t forget sights like that in a hurry. I certainly felt like I’d eaten my fill. But, as it turns out, that was not to be the end of my ‘meal’.

The coffee/mint/brandy and cigars (?) to the whole thing was an epic walk to the top of the highest peak in Wales (and second highest in the UK) – Snowden.

This was where I found a good challenge. It’s all well and good doing a walk when it’s lovely and sunny, but when the weather turns on you then where are you? Hopefully, calm, concentrated, and above all well prepared.

When I set off you could see the weather was going to be a little ‘interesting’. NB: That’s Snowden in the background… somewhere.

rhyd ddu, snowdon obscured

the path begins

It started off getting cloudy…

into the clouds

Then it got wet…

a little damp

It got hard to see where you were going…

finding your way

Until eventually things started getting a little silly.

the way I came

Just before the top I had to huddle behind a rock to check my map, battered by the wind and hail. I wasn’t worried. I had maintained mindfulness of my situation all the way up, I knew where I was, knew the dangers, knew what I could handle, and if I couldn’t go on I was prepared to get back down safely if need be. Just one more benefit of maintaining a meditative practice.

As it turns out though I was just a few minutes from the top! I just couldn’t see it because this is all I could see (seriously).

view from snowdon

Conditions were a bit nuts at the summit. Really wet and windy.

to the top

So it was with a real sense of achievement that I made it there.

made it

at the peak

I even, for old times sake and because I haven’t done one in ages, did a headstand picture.

76. snowdon summit headstand

Couldn’t do it right on the top. The wind was too strong.

After the experience of getting up there, going in the summit cafe to warm up was both very welcome and highly bizarre.

summit cafe 2

summit cafe 1

You can get a train up to the top….

summit railway station

Which I heard in the clouds as I reached the peak, and which I thought was the wind. Really freaked me out. But not as much as walking into a room full of tourists. Quite a surreal experience.

I celebrated my achievement with some tea and cake (and a pie)…

my reward

And then it was time to contemplate the descent.

I came down quicker than I went up, because I knew once I got below 800 metres I’d be out of the wind and rain. Of course it started off wet…

the way back down

But soon things started to clear…

emerging from the clouds

the path home

And I could look back with a sense of achievement…

looking back

As well as enjoying what the future had in store.

snowdon ranger yha, below

Not least of which was a set of warm, dry clothes, lol.

drying off

Walking and leaving the world behind is a great way to centre yourself, and bring you into the here and now. Walking in a mountain top gale doubly so. But like all things in life, if you go forth well prepared, both mentally and physically, and you keep your head no matter what happens, then success is yours for the taking.

Mission To Berlin

My girlfriend and I love the Lord Of The Rings movies, as you probably noticed by our visit to Hobbiton and the Lord Of The Rings Tour that we did when we were in new Zealand.

We’ve also been enjoying the Hobbit movies, and have been to see them all at the cinema whenever they came out. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go see the last one when I was over at Christmas, and now that I’m back again Leipzig (where my girlfriend moved to a few months ago) no longer has it showing anywhere in English (you often get original language movies showing in German cinemas). So, what to do, what to do? Why, go to Berlin and see it of course!

That was how we found ourselves on a coach at 10am heading for the capital. The movie wasn’t til 5pm, but we planned on checking out a few sights as well while we were there. The only other time I’ve been to Berlin before was during a DB train strike, when I had to get a coach there and three buses across the city to catch my flight home. I missed out on all (indeed, any) of the sights then, so I felt like I had some catching up to do!

We got there around noon, went to grab the tickets, and then set off in search of something interesting. In fact we’d just got back onto Potsdamer Platz when we came across The Berlin Wall!

the wall at potsdamer platz

Obviously not the original wall, but parts of it set out along the old route of the wall as a sort of exhibition.

where the wall once was

If you look you can see a line on the ground going from the wall section up towards the top left corner behind the orange bin, which denotes where the wall used to go.

There’s even a map showing you where it used to be.

east and west

Strange to think how the Berlin Wall came down because of a bit of a misunderstanding, eh?

We were going to head to Checkpoint Charlie next but found that the Brandenburg Gate was nearer, so we headed there instead.

the brandenburg gate

As ‘gates’ go it’s pretty impressive. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to revive my Landmark Inversions headstand series, which has been a bit lacking of late.

Thankfully I had my trusted camerawoman along with me. Always ready to help out (and freeze her fingers off in the cold weather!). We just did a quick test shot to get the framing right,

headstand test shot

and then up I went for number 74.

74. brandenburg gate headstand

Round the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the German parliament, the Reichstag.

the reichstag building

It’s quite a building as well, though Lena was far more excited to find some ‘west German’ and ‘east German’ traffic lights right next to each other, so that she could finally show me the difference between the two (east in front, west in back).

stop and go

By now it was getting really cold, so we hit the Underground rather than walk all the way back to go see Checkpoint Charlie.

lost?

There’s actually not lot there when you arrive. Lots of ‘museums’ and ‘experiences’, lots of places called things like ‘Checkpoint Charlie Curry’, as well as places selling Russian and American army hats. But the actual checkpoint itself is just a little nondescript hut in the middle of the road.

checkpoint charlie, looking into 'east' berlin

There’s also a sign warning you you’re “Leaving The American Sector” (as if you wouldn’t notice the armed guards!).

leaving america

Strangely, the other side doesn’t say you are ‘Leaving The Russian Sector’ but ‘Entering The American Sector’. Have a think on that for a moment if you will.

entering america

For me it was time for another headstand photo, and this is the only one where I have explicitly paid to be allowed to take it (I’ve paid to get in places but any photos I’ve taken within have always been free).

75. checkpoint charlie headstand

It’s also the only one where I’ve gotten a small round of applause from the twenty or so people who suddenly gathered there while I was standing on my head, so all in all I don’t begrudge the two euros it cost me.

By now we were getting hungry, so off we went on our burger mission!

I’d found a place on Happy Cow called Sun Day Burgers, which promised a tofu burger with lots of healthy stuff to go with it.

sun day burger

They only sell the tofu burger, smoothies, and raw cakes, so there wasn’t much choice. We both went for the burger with chilli sauce (as I personally didn’t like the sound of the peanut or mango sauces). When it came it looked very tasty.

sun day tofu burger

Sadly the chilli sauce was so hot that after a few bites that’s all you could taste. I tried washing it down with my smoothie, but it had so much ginger in, it was overpowering as well! Perhaps we are both too sensitive to strong flavours these days, since we eat so healthily all the time, but we both found it a bit much.

We had some cake afterwards (which wasn’t cheap!); a raw pineapple cheesecake and a lime and avocado concotion,

raw pineapple and lime cake

but they too were a but heavy on the flavouring as well. All told it was quite an experience!

We like fries with our burgers, and since they didn’t have any at Sun Day Burgers we came away a bit hungry still. Thankfully, just round the corner was salvation!

chips!

Boy did they taste good. 🙂

happy belly

Our bellies finally full it’s off to the movies we go.

cine star, sony centre, berlin

The Cine Star in the Sony Centre to be precise. One of the last places to be showing…

der hobbit, in english

(“Der Hobbit”, in English)

It’s been out long enough you’ve probably seen it by now, but for the next paragraph I’m saying:

*SPOILER ALERT*

We enjoyed the movie, but it was a little long, and definitely not enough dragon. The whole Smaug bit at the start should have come at the end of the second film. They obviously only tacked it on here to make us go watch this one. Without it it’s just a lot of dwarves, elves and orcs (and humans) going at each other hammer and tongs. I mean, don’t get me wrong, enjoyable enough, but still no justification for stretching one small book into three long movies.

*ALERT OVER*

All in all it was a very successful trip. We saw a lot, did a lot of new things, and got the photos to prove it. Last LOTR movie seen, a new burger tried, and two new headstand pictures created. Fell asleep on the train on the way home, which is always the sign of a good day I reckon.

All told I think it’s safe to say,

Mission To Berlin : Accomplished

A Taste Of Things To Come

Since I got back from my big trip I’ve been up to all kinds of stuff, but you wouldn’t know that because I’ve also been a bit lax in my blogging.

I’ve also been a bit lax in doing my headstands too, having missed a number of prime opportunities for no other reason that either, A) I forgot, or B) I was just having too much fun.

But anyway, no more! I’m on a mission to reach 100, but to do that I need to catch up on the last few that I have done. And since some of them are for blog posts I haven’t written yet, they are also a wee taste of things to come.

So, let’s see if any of these tickle your fancy? 😉

From the Black Forest in Germany last year.

69. black forest headstand

From my recent birthday trip to Iceland.

70. geyser headstand

71. gulfoss headstand

From my visit to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour.

72. harry potter headstand

And from my visit to Stonehenge!

73. stonehenge headstand

How about that little lot eh? 😀

Now that they’re ‘on the line’ maybe it’ll motivate me to write about my adventures. Then again, maybe not. ..hehehe…

Either way, at least you got to enjoy them the once. 😉

Start As You Mean To Go On : The Aurora Borealis, part 2

Sunday morning, and time to rescue the trip after the let down of the night before. Life is a choice between what you will and won’t accept, and I was not going to start my fourth decade by accepting a vaguely disappointing tour as ‘good enough’.

sunrise over reykjavik

We wanted to see a bit of the Icelandic landscape, so we book ourselves on a Golden Circle Tour. This promised us waterfalls, geysirs, and national parks (with tectonic plates!). Truth be told I’m not a big fan of coach trips, but needs must, and it’s what we could afford, so off we went.

touring the golden circle

Iceland is fairly empty, so it wasn’t long before we were out of Reykjavik and into the wilds.

seeing the sights

iceland landscape 3

iceland landscape 2

iceland landscape 1

Iceland is run on geothermal power pretty much. Well you would if you had such an abundance of energy at your disposal. We went past the local power plant, with it’s geothermal vents,

geothermal vent 2

geothermal vent 3

geothermal vent 1

and zig-zag pipeline on wheels, that expands and contracts throughout the day, and so has to be that shape (and mobile) to stop it from breaking.

bendy pipeline

Oddly enough, the further in we went, the less snowy it got.

cabin by the lake

And we even got to see some of the legendary icepos! (albeit, from a distance).

icepos in the distance

First stop on the tour was the original Geysir (the one after which all other geysers are named).

thermal pools

Unfortunately it’s no longer active, after the land shifted and changed the underground plumbing.

the original geyser

But there’s another geyser next to it that goes off every 5-10 minutes, so you don’t miss out.

geyser

geyser eruption

Plus there’s plenty of other pools and streams around about that are interesting in their own right. They’re either full of colour,

colourful flows

(the photo doesn’t do it justice), or amazingly clear,

clear waters

or just strange and other-worldy!

steaming streams

I tried to get a headstand with the geyser, but it was tough getting the timing right, as you can see.

geyser headstand fail 1

geyser headstand fail 2

geyser headstand fail 3

geyser headstand fail 4

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun,

an old geyser, and his girlfriend

and that was just the first part of the tour.

Next we hit up the Gullfoss waterfall, a whopper of a falls if ever there was one!

gulfoss

over the edge

lieblings by the water

This time I did manage to get a headstand shot which I was pleased with.

70. gulfoss headstand

And we got to see some more of the amazing local landscape.

distant mountains 1

distant mountains 2

distant mountains 3

distant mountains 4

Iceland really is another world.

And that wasn’t the end of it! Our final stop was to be the Pingvellir National Park.

Pingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, or rather bid each other a fond farwell, as they are constantly separating, making Iceland one of the few countries that is growing by inches year in and year out.

This is the North American plate,

the north american plate

plate face

and you can walk the divide, which is interesting, but not that impressive to look at,

walking the divide

until you get to the end, where you can watch the sun set over the lake, a truly rewarding sight.

sunset in the wilds 4

sunset in the wilds 1

sunset in the wilds 2

sunset in the wilds 5

sunset in the wilds 3

And the sun going down marked the end of the tour. We hopped back on the bus to take the one hour drive back to Reykjavik.

On the way back we looked up at the clear skies and lamented. What a shame we hadn’t booked the Northern Lights Tour for that night. We were bound to see something. Such a pity to go home without getting a proper display. Of course, the answer was obvious! Do another tour!

The minute we got back to the hotel we booked a coach tour with the same company we’d just been out with, Reykjavik Excursions. Yes it meant more money, but at a third of the price of the 4×4 tour it was worth the risk. We went out for a quick curry, then soon we were back at the hotel preparing ourselves for another night out in the cold staring up at the sky.

I wasn’t going to be caught out this time. I wore my new wooly jumper, and yoga pants beneath my jeans for that extra layer of insulation. I also had my pockets full of what I consider to be essential aurora watching kit; camera, gorilla tripod, spare memory card, iPod containing Sigur Ros tunes, and cranberry chocolate.

aurora watching kit

We were picked up by the coach at our hotel, and after a stop off at the bus station to collect a few more people, we headed out of town.

Our first stop was not the most salubrious; basically a lay-by off the main road. We stood around for about half an hour waiting for something to happen,

aurora tour no. 2

but unfortunately no joy (and the nearly full moon didn’t help either).

by the light of the moon

Pretty soon we were back on the coach and off to the same car park where we’d ended our Golden Circle tour. Expectations were low, and people were slow, until someone exclaimed “It’s happening, right now, behind us!”, then the mad dash for the door began.

And not without just cause either. For the next hour we were treated to a full display right across the sky, which is much easier to show you than tell you about, so here it is.

aurora 2.1

aurora 2.2

aurora 2.3

aurora 2.4

aurora 2.5

aurora 2.6

aurora 2.7

aurora 2.8

aurora 2.9

aurora 2.10

aurora 2.11

aurora 2.12

aurora 2.13

aurora 2.14

aurora 2.15

aurora 2.16

aurora 2.17

aurora 2.18

aurora 2.19

And if you can make it out, here’s us getting our aurora on. 😉

lena and the aurora 1

lena and the aurora 2

me and the aurora

lena and me, under the aurora skies

I was very satisfied with that display. At least I now felt justified in saying I’ve seen the Northern Lights. Definitely got our money’s worth, and the coach experience wasn’t as diabolical as I thought it would be. We also got back in plenty of time to get a good night’s kip, which is always nice.

Our last day in Reykjavik we took it easy. Just wandered about a bit, seeing what we could see. We went up the cathedral tower and a got a good look at the city,

capturing the city

reykjavik bay

reykjavik

colourful construction

reykjavik boulevard

fosshotel baron

as well as some close ups of the cathedral clock.

getting the shot

inside the cathderal clock

light fingered

We also did a good bit of shopping and eating,

heart garden lentil burger

ending up back at the Laundromat Cafe,

the laundromat cafe

the laundromat, reykjavik

the laundromat lives up to it's name

to try their veggie burger (of course, lol),

laundromat veggie burger

and a local treat called Sorer

sorer

which I couldn’t pronounce properly (apparently) and which tasted somewhere between a chocolate mousse and a coconut macaroon; ie: delicious!

We ended our final day in Iceland with a stroll along the water-front to our hotel,

reykjavik port by night

reykjavik concert hall

before hitting the hay early. We had an early flight out, so much so in fact we thought we might see some more aurora before we left. But, alas, no luck. Instead this was out parting view of Reykjavik.

early morning reykjavik

We had a great time in Iceland. Saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. I had hoped to get closer to some icepos along the way, but instead we had to settle for this picture of a poster at the airport, lol.

icepos!

We both definitely want to go back in the summer, not only to experience the midnight sun, but to see the landscape at it’s best (ie: more green, less barren). That being said, Iceland any time of year is worth the trip. Just 3 hours from the UK, and not that expensive to get to, give it a go if you get the chance. You won’t regret it.

Flying Through Singapore

Well, my fellow yogis, it’s a new year and time for a new beginning. Time to make new plans, do new things, and go new places. But in order to do that properly we need to put the old to rest. 🙂

So here’s the last post from my travels of last year. This is what I got up to on my week in Singapore, as I waited to fly back to London. And since it was so long ago, and my memory ain’t what it used to be (I’m getting old y’know – I’ll be forty in February!), it’ll mostly be a post in pictures, with a few comments on the side.

I flew out from Bali. I love flying, even if I get a bit nervous over open water, and I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the take off.

fascinated

I finally got to have a good look at Bali,

bali from the air

tips

bye bye bali

but as we left it’s beautiful countryside behind,

islands in the sky

it was time to get down to business.

singapore reserves the right to kill you

It’s unnerving to read that a country reserves the right to kill you! Only when I read that did I remember that Singapore is the country that imprisons you for spitting (though when I was there I saw at least on person do it and get away with it). Made me a little uncertain about what lay ahead.

I was staying at the YHA, which was in fact part of a Butlins type resort. Meant it was full of people and noisy a lot of the time. And there was no kitchen so you had to eat out. But at least there was a bit of space in the room to do yoga.

singapore yha yoga

There wasn’t actually much I wanted to do in Singapore. It was just a stop-over on my way back to London. I planned on visiting the Raffles Hotel, and when I found out there was a Universal Studios there I wanted to go there too!, but apart from that the only other thing I was interested in seeing was the Singapore Flyer.

the singapore flyer

It was a bit rainy in Singapore when I was there, like thundery rainy, so I had to pick the least wet day to go. Even so it still ended up being a bit gray and miserable. Still, wotcha gonna do?

Here’s the whole thing in pictures. They’re fairly self explanatory so I won’t bore you with too many words. Not that I knew what I was looking at anyway, lol. It’s was just a load of stuff to me.

Boarding.

ready to board

The view.

the hub

coming in to land

A city of constant construction,

constant construction

and occasional Formula 1 races.

formula 1 pits

A shipping hub.

I see no ships!

metal and grass

A centre for commerce.

singapore 2

pod

we've peaked!

up top

Of course I did a headstand at the top, taken by one of these two gentlemen.

what's that?

It was a tough shoot, with the flat gray light. The out-takes were good,

right exposure, wrong angle

but this is the ‘official’ headstand shot. Number 68 in the series.

68. singapore flyer headstand

(I plan on reaching 100 this year! ;))

singa-ore flyer

buddies

the harbour

singapore

so much going on

Coming in to land.

shapes

wires

Disembarking.

off and on

While I was there I went to have a look at some of the crazy buildings they have round there.

unique construction

On the left is a hotel with a garden on the roof, and on the right is an art gallery. I was interested in visiting both, but they were too expensive, so i just hung around outside soaking up the atmosphere.

singapore 3

lillies and sky scrapers

water lillies

By this time I was hungry, so I used my Happy Cow app to find the Loving Hut which I knew was round there somewhere.

loving hut lunch, singapore

Delicious!

A couple of days later it was time for something I was really looking forward to; Universal Studios!

universal studios, singapore

I was keen to see how it compared to the one in LA. Of course it wouldn’t be the same, but I wanted to see the differences.

welcome to hollywood singapore

new york public library

I started off easy, with a stand and watch experience.

spielberg's movie set show

But it wasn’t long before I was strapping myself in for the ride! 😀

sci fi city

The Transformers ride was the same as in LA, which isn’t a bad thing. I loved the one in LA, and i loved the one here too.

The Battlestar Gallactica ride would have been awesome I reckon, but it was raining too much for the outdoor rides to be open unfortunately. 😦

dampened enthusiasm

I did the Revenge of the Mummy,

revenge of the mummy

which I forgot how scary it was, lol. And I did a couple of Jurassic Park rides.

jurassic park!

The Rapids Adventure,

jurassic rapids ride

at which I took distinct advantage of their Single Rider queue jumping policy! 😀

lone rider queue jump

The ride ends with a big drop into water at the end,

splash down

one film, two rides

the survivors

end of the ride

at which I got absolutely soaked! ..lol..

soaked!

After a very disappointing bit of food I hit the Madagascar ride.

madagascar ride

It was more for kids but I was on a roll and wanted to do as many rides as I could.

The best laugh was when I came out to find these guys knocking about.

madagascar

penguins!

a stranger encounter

Of course I had to finish off with the Waterworld show.

waterworld set

I really enjoyed the one in LA, so would this one be any different?

First up, the guys did a great job of warming the audience up, even going as far as having a bit of audience participation.

Then the real show began.

waterworld  2

waterworld 1

waterworld 3

waterworld 4

Ending of course with the grand finale!

And a smoky finale it was too!

waterworld, after the finale

After all that excitement there was just time for a cup of tea and a slice of cake,

end of day cake

and a quick stroll along the fake walk of fame,

(half) my name on the (fake) hollywood walk of fame

before it was time to head home.

dusk by the island

sentosa island

My last day in Singapore I headed back to the Loving Hut in Suntec City for a final good meal (almost, the airport would hold a nice surprise for me later).

loving hut, singapore

loving hut burger

Yup, that’s another burger, lol.

loving hut cheesecake

Then it was time to check out the Raffles Hotel.

raffles hotel sign

raffle ote

hotel fountain detail

raffles hotel fountain

I was tempted to have a Singapore Sling, but the place was so rammed with tourists, and I don’t drink anyway, that I decided to give it a miss.

the raffles hotel

And that was it really. I headed out the next day. There were a few other things I did, like some nice food I had,

komala's curry

and some rather un-yogic amusement I got from the funny shop names, lol,

wanko

heavenly wang

but mostly that’s what I got up to when it wasn’t raining.

I had one final amazing meal at the airport,

meal at ananda bhavan, singapore airport

which I thought was a real bargain!

cheap as chips!

Really sorted me out for the long flight home. Thanks again Happy Cow.

And with that I boarded the plane,

coming home 1

boarded a train,

coming home 2

and hopped on Shank’s Pony,

coming home 3

to wend my way back home. 🙂

And that concludes the post for my epic trip around the world. There’ll be another post coming soon outlining what I’m up to now (back at work) and what my plans are (Iceland, Germany, France), but for now I’ll just say Happy New Year and have a great 2014! 🙂

Om Om!

The Elephant Safari Park, Bali

Before I went away I tried to make a list of at least three things I really wanted to do before I die, but it’s hard. I mean I thought of plenty of things that could potentially go on there – swim with whales, learn to play a musical instrument, give a TED talk – but in reality there were only a few things that I absolutely must do at some point. As I say, I wanted three. I only managed to come up with two.

One was see the Northern Lights. Totally wrong hemisphere for that! The other though, was ride an elephant. Now that was do-able. In fact it was the main reason I’d come to Bali.

The Elephant Safari Park in Taro, near Ubud, is one of the best and most well known elephant rescue centres in this part of the world. It got Steve Irwin approval, so by that standard, anything good enough for Steve is good enough for me!

I booked the elephant ride package for $86USD (just under £55). Not cheap by any standards, and especially not for Bali. But for that you got the whole deal; hotel transfer there and back, park entrance, elephant ride, buffet lunch, the works.

I was picked up from my hotel at 8am. Elephants are early risers it seems! We drove around picking up the other people on the tour – a pair of lovely young ladies from California, and a British couple who were there on their honeymoon! – and we all chatted and got to now each other as we heading out into the countryside towards the safari park.

the way home

I got my first proper look at rice terraces along the way,

my first good look at rice paddies

and it just made me even more determined to see then close up for myself.

We arrived to find yet another Ganesha to greet us in the car park,

we're here

and immediately we signed in, eager to start our safari.

elephant safari park

Unfortunately they weren’t quite ready for us yet, but we got to stroll our way down into the park while we waited, meeting our first Sumatran elephant along the way.

my first elephant

We even got to feed him/her (I didn’t look under the hood to check, lol) some bits of banana plant,

feeding time

which was great fun.

Our first ‘encounter’ over, we got ready to meet our elephants. Unfortunately, as we were queuing up to take our ride the heavens opened and it started chucking it down.

the line for elephants starts here

Not that that was going to stop us. I mean, that’s why God invented umbrellas, right?

Being on my own I got an elephant of my own to ride,

my ride

which naturally came with it’s very own mahout (handler).

ma mahout

Climbing aboard was weird. You have to step on it’s back to get into the seat, and it’s not the most firm of footing as you might be able to tell from this picture.

beneath my feet

It’s thick skin moved above sideways, and my boots were not the best footwear for walking about on an elephant. But still, I made it, and this is me looking all excited about going for an elephant-back ride.

I'm on an elephant!

You start off heading through the park,

careful where you're stepping

the end if the road

but pretty soon you leave the paved roads behind, and head out into their own small jungle preserve.

elephants only (a little shaky)

NB: Taking photos from the back of a moving elephant in the rain whist holding an umbrella is not the easiest thing to do.

I should point out that ‘jungle’ is probably a bit of a misnomer. The environment is very organised and controlled, and as such is definitely more ‘park’ than ‘safari’.

That being said, it was nice to just roll along through the trees, just you, your elephant, and all the time in the world.

into the wild

It wasn’t long until I’d forgotten about everything else, and was just enjoying the gentle rocking of this magnificent creature as it ambled along.

plodding along

In fact, if you want to enjoy the elephants for yourself (right now!) you can, by checking out their EarthCam live feed!

earthcam

You only get a thirty minute elephant ride. I’ve no idea how long we were in the jungle bit, but it wasn’t long before we started seeing signs of civilisation again.

that's a lot of poop

Man, that’s a lot of poop!

Before long we were back in the park,

back to the park

just married

but that wasn’t quite the end of it. To finish off we got to stay on the elephant’s backs as they took a quick dip in the pool. Naturally, this turned into the best photo opportunity!

bath time

feeling lucky

look at me!

Do I look pleased with myself, because I felt it. 🙂

And with that our ride was over, but not the experience. We dismounted, and then got to go spend time meeting, greeting, and feeding the elephants, including the cutest little baby you ever did see!

meet the elephants

go on, touch it!

making friends

reaching out

come and get it

something yummy

strike a pose</a

grab!

the little ones meet

elephant feeding time

hungry little fella

I, of course, wanted to do a headstand. With some quick negotiations,

headstand negotiations

I was good to go! At least, that’s what I thought. I was half way up when I remembered I’d forgotten to tuck my shirt in.

wait, my belly's showing!

Not the first time, or the last, that that has happened.

Anyway, I got the shot,

67. elephant safari park headstand

number 67 in the series.

By now it was getting on a bit. Still morning, technically, but with the early start I was getting hungry! As far as I was concerned it was time to hit the buffet.

safari park buffet lunch

The food was good, and plentiful, and I enjoyed more than one helping.

After lunch there was a bit of time before the elephant show, so I wandered around a bit checking out the park.

elephant bath

ganesha (again)

around the park

goldfish by the waterfall

happy heffalumps

across the fields

elephant butts

Pretty soon it was time for the show. I’d no idea what to expect, but I have to say it was very well done and quite entertaining. From elephants just walking around

everybody wave

up we go

down we go

there's something on my nose

to elephants taking a load off.

just sittin'

elephant show

From elephants playing games,

he shoots...

two points!

and doing math,

elephant maths

and the answer is...

and even doing the hula!,

this show had it all.

But the most amusing bit for me by far was at the end, probably because I’d chosen to stand on the platform at the back to get a better view, and so was out of the danger zone, lol.

look out!

a good drenching!

soaked

And with that the show, and my elephant experience was over. We all hopped back in the vehicle and headed back into Ubud.

I’m glad I did the safari, expensive though it was, and I had a great time meeting the elephants and seeing them perform. The Safari Park certainly seemed to treat their animals with care and affection, and no doubt the fees from tours like mine go towards facilitating their conservation work.

As I’ve said though, it was a little ‘controlled’ for me. I wanted to sit astride the thing, do some serious off-roading, maybe even get in the river and bathe them, stuff like that. So even though I can scratch Ride An Elephant off my ‘To Do’ list, Nelly and I still have some unfinished business, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be meeting some more heffalumps some time in the not too distant future. 😉

From Camels To Elephants (and everything in between)

A post, mostly in pictures, covering my time between Alice Springs and Bali; including Darwin, Adelaide, and Toodyay (near Perth), via The Ghan and the Indian Pacific.

After riding the camel I went straight to the train station in Alice Springs, where I was surprised to find one of the Autobots loading our luggage!

robots in disguise

I saw a lot of bush fires as we headed north, some of them quite big, and very near the train tracks (ie: right by the window!). What I didn’t expect was all the smoke and ash in the air when we arrived.

smoke over darwin

I spent a week in Darwin just chilling out. I went to the movies a fair bit, including a screening at their outdoor Deckchair Cinema,

deckchair cinema

which was great fun. I also went to the night markets, which started with a gorgeous sunset by the beach,

darwin sunset

and ended with me eating this very salty deep-fried twirly potato thing.

twirly potato thing

chomp!

Darwin is really hot, even in winter (when I was there). It kind of reminded me of Ibiza, and not in a good way. The main street was pretty full of people getting drunk, and a lot of the shops were quite touristy,

toys!

though at the same time there was a plethora of unexpected wildlife around the place, including a great many wedge-tailed eagles flying about.

eagles

Having nothing specific to do there I got to do a full yoga session every day,

yha yoga

something I managed to carry on even after I left, finding time and space to do some in Alice Springs on the way back south.

alice springs yoga

The journey south again did get a little tedious at times. I mean there was the little side trip to Katherine Gorge you could go on,

katherine gorge 1

living the dream

(NB: That thing on the river in the bottom picture is a canoe. How lucky are they?! :))

where I managed to get another headstand shot,

65. katherine gorge headstand

but once the sun went down,

sunset on the ghan

there really was nothing to do but watch old episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

deja vu

Anyone get a feeling of deja vu? ..lol..

keeping yourself amused

With regards to my yoga, I was quite proud not only that I had managed to do it every day while in Darwin, but that I’d kept it up on the train. I was on track to a new beginning. That’s when the thing with the ambulance happened, and kind of threw a spanner in the works.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only trip to the hospital that week. Two days before I was meant to catch the Indian Pacific back west I came down with abdominal pains right in the area of my appendix. Not wanting to be on a train in the middle of nowhere when my appendix burst I thought it best to go get it checked out. Cue another ER and another CT scan to see what was going on in there.

Turns out it was just and inflammation of the lymph nodes in my digestive tract, right by the appendix, which closely mimics the signs of an appendicitis but thankfully isn’t one. I was cleared to leave, and the next day (on the train) leave is what I did.

This was the reverse of the trip I’d done in January, but it was quite different doing it in winter rather than summer. I mean the train was the same, but when we got to Cook, in the middle of the Nullabor Plain, instead of this,

welcome to cook

adelaide, that way

we had this.

rain in cook

cook, part 2

But at least this time I got to see more of Kalgoorlie than just the train station. I was able to do the tour, and see what a Kalgoorlie Super Pit Gold Mine looks like.

that's the front

super pit

66. kalgoorlie super-pit headstand

the superpit

My brother’s place near Toodyay was also very different in winter. When I went there it Christmas it was all hot and dry and red,

australia skies

but now it was much lusher and greener and a darn site cooler!

australia skies

I even got to see some of the torrential rain they get there,

rainy days in WA

something while always seemed to put a smile on my brother’s face, lol. Aussies love their rain. “We need it!” was an oft heard phrase. 😉

I got to know the farm a lot better when I was there this time, as I had six weeks or so to look around the place, and nothing else to do but sleep,

all tuckered out

cook,

unexpected kangaroo

the first loaf

and chill out after all that traveling.

contented

There’s all kinds of sights to see if you just have a good look around. There’s beauty in the landscape,

mark's farm

from the top corner

from what man has done,

the cottage

the old water source

the new water source

(Honestly, that was our water supply. We drank it unfiltered. There are frogs in there! Apparently that’s a good sign.)

to what came naturally,

blossoming almond trees

almond in the sky

almond blossom

almond blossom detail

roos in the paddock

orang clouds

cloudscape

moon cloud

sunset skies

farm sunset

and everything in between.

We all went to AQWA to see the fishes,

do you see them?

do you see what I see?

we attended the Avon Descent when it came through Toodyay,

avon descent

boat 3

run

boat 1

jump

spectating

looking away

on stage

what's this

and we toasted the odd marshmallow by the fire (before fire season starts and you can’t do it no more).

watching the sparks

this one next dad

warm yourself

sitting by the fire

But by far the most eventful day was Mark’s birthday. He and Gill got up well early to go on a dawn balloon ride, leaving me to feed the horses, get Luke to school, and get myself to yoga by 9 o’clock.

It was all going smoothly when I went out to feed the horses and found this waiting for me.

foal 1

foal 2

Believe me, that hadn’t been there when we went to bed the night before!

Of course it was expected. The horse had been due to give birth for weeks, and it could have happened any time (we’d had a few near misses in the previous weeks),

waiting for a birth

but of course it had to happen when the two people who knew anything about horses were hundreds of feet up in the air.

Thankfully everything was alright, and Luna, as she came to be known, was happily wobbling about the place, coming to grips with life in the outside world.

She was all legs and knees to begin with,

flash of white

mother and child

two heads

but it was only a few days later that she was fully loosened up and looking truly elegant.

standing tall

feeding time

munch munch

With all that I even managed to get Luke to school and hit yoga well early. The class went well, and I was even asked if I’d like to teach the next one! (which I did, and I’ll be blogging about both classes next time)

I spent my last week in Toodyay helping Mark’s mate Nick edit some videos for his website (a more arduous task than was expected, but all done, and satisfactorily so), and now I’m in Ubud in Bali, where I came with the express purpose of riding an elephant!

I’ve done that, and much more besides, but that’s for another post I think. That’s probably plenty from me for now. Expect more shortly, but for now I hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle-stop summation of a good two months of my life or so, condensed into one post! 🙂