In June 2016, I set out with my friend Alfy Weston to do something that nobody had ever done before: kayak the length of Angola's Kwanza River, from source to mouth. Over the next 33 days we kayaked, hiked and waded through some of last truly wilderness areas in Sub Saharan Africa. Starting high up on the Bié Plateau, which provides water to the Okavango Delta, we made our way down the river to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean coast, just south of the capital Luanda. We transported over 100kg of expedition gear along 984km of kayaking and 300km of hiking. During our expedition we were attacked by hippos, sank in rapids and were even arrested and threatened with deportation by Angolan security forces.Read More
I spent four nights over the Easter weekend in Iceland with my family - a wonderful early birthday present from my impeccably brilliant genius of a wife. I have long wanted to go there.
But four days in Iceland is like dipping one crispy salted pretzel in Nutella and eating it. You can’t stop there. You need more...Read More
Every morning at 06:30 I stumble downstairs, sleepily flick the switch on the kettle and make myself a pot of tea. It might be green tea, it might be black. I quite often spill a bit on the sideboard. A few minutes after I have drunk it and perked up. At no time have I given a thought to how these dry fragrant leaves made their way to my pot.
This time last week I was deep in Sri Lankan hill country, hiking up steep mountainsides, rocky paths, stone staircases, through mahogany forests and the ubiquitous, far reaching tea estates that cover the mountains and provide this island nation’s major export.Read More
I am late with this blog post because I have spent the last week in Mallorca doing a lot less than I normally would, which in itself is quite positive for mind and body.
As I hinted at in a recent blog post I was able to find a little time to explore the wilder parts of the island, walking part of the GR 221 and here is a short video I made on the section from Port de Sóller to Tossals.
As always, before going away, I started researching the high points, interesting walks and areas of nature on the island. I had never been there before and, although I am way too old to party, I am not too old to climb a hill, rock or jump in a kayak.
I had half an idea to climb to the highest point in order to get, what I imagine would be, the most spectacular views but it turns out that the highest mountain in Mallorca is entirely closed to the public because it is a military base.
It reminded me that last month I was having to find an alternative route whilst hiking in Vojvodina, in Serbia. On that occasion my friend and I encountered a military facility and there was no going around it. It also got me clicking around the internet (avoiding work) and I came across a mountain that has been closed to the public for nearly 60 years and is about to hold a re-opening ceremony.
Mount Umunhum (Um, to the locals) was closed to the public since it was used as a radar surveillance post and subsequently "due to hazardous materials and unsafe, partially demolished structures from the former Air Force station”.
Mount Umunhum is the fourth-highest peak in California's Santa Cruz Mountains, and actually has quite an interesting and varied history, from Native Americans to the nearby quicksilver mines during the Gold Rush. During the Cold War the US Government procured it to build the Almaden Air Force Station, an early warning radar station that functioned from 1957 to 1980. Since it was closed to the public much has changed in the local area, not the least the “creation” of nearby Silicon Valley.
Whilst its history means Mount Um is far from what you might describe as wilderness, it is an interesting story nevertheless.
10 Mountains you will never climb
Access remains, of course, a hot topic in the world of outdoor enthusiasts all over the world, from the hills the UK to the Sacred Kingdom of Bhutan. Some of it is environmental, such as nesting birds, and some of it is down to landowners asserting their rights. Rights that you would imagine can be fought for… but there are some mountains that you will never climb. So this week we published a list of the 10 Mountains You Will Need Climb (Probably). Enjoy!
Since I first toyed with the idea of redesigning my life, in fact probably even a little before that, I started to change the way I do things. I have spoken before about how the chance to do the Three Peaks Challenge with some close friends, back in the summer of 2015 was a kind of catalyst in my evolving into the person I am now - happier and healthier in mind and body.
Since that moment I have been trying to find opportunities to get outdoors and to be adventurous in and around work, home life and even on the kind of holidays that, on the face of it, are not so adventurous.Read More
When we designed this summer's road trip I did have a sort of hidden agenda and that was to explore the possibilities of what sometimes gets described as adventure tourism or more precisely in my mind as the scope for enjoying the outdoors. And with this kind of agenda comes a certain pressure to "tick things off". It is not the kind of tourism I like, if truth be told, so we have tried to manage our time to ensure we allow ourselves the possibility to truly discover and not simply to pass through, as if speeding down the hallways of an art gallery.
That said... here are a few amazing adventure experiences that I have not written about, so far and that really deserved a bit more time. I have grouped them together because they are all relatively close.Read More
In the 1970s a young, hungry and penniless Robert De Niro found himself in this part of the old Yugoslavia. Taken in by the locals, he stayed for some time to recover his strength and was treated with such hospitality and generosity that he would never forget them. Many years later he named a daughter after their mighty river, Drina.
In the last couple of days we have followed the course of this fast-flowing river, immortalised by Ivo Andric (Yugoslavia's Nobel Prize winning writer) in The Bridge on the Drina, and inspirer of Hollywood’s finest. As if the romance of the De Niro story weren’t enough to want to believe it, the landscape and the warmth of the people gives it greater strength.Read More
After a morning of wine-tasting and car-failing we installed ourselves for the first weekend of our summer road trip, in Salaš Stojšić. A pleasant Salaš (a traditional type of farm in this area - my favourite being Salas 137), its stencilled walls and intentionally old-fashioned charm is typical of these rural farmhouses. Outside there is a wide spread of gingham-clad tables, fruit trees, a braying donkey and the mandatory charcoal perfume of grilling meat that seems to impregnate the hot, still air on a summer weekend in Vojvodina.Read More
One of the greatest things about quitting the rat race to redesign my life is the chance to work from different locations. Of course I am a father and a husband so I am at the mercy of my daughter’s education and the ability of my wife to have the same flexibility as me.
Now, as I type these words I am sitting in Amelie, a charmingly shabby little bar in Belgrade, drinking a coffee, half an eye on the world strolling by seen through a tatty net curtain.Read More
I went to the physio again yesterday and although it seems my "quads might be loosening" and I might be getting better, I have still not been able to run beyond 2 - 3km without knee pain since early January. It all happens at a time when I feel stronger than ever due to the specific strength training I have done and yet I have no way of demonstrating this to myself through a good, long and cathartic thrash across the fields.Read More
I recently came across something called the "Power Thank You", courtesy of Mark Goulston (American Psychiatrist and Consultant to Major Organisations). You will find this short quotation from Goulston’s book Just Listen, all over the internet, but here it is:
"if you’re deeply grateful to someone who’s done an exceptional favor for you, you need to express that emotion by going beyond the plain words ‘thank you’ and instead offer a Power Thank You. When you do this, your words will generate strong feelings of gratitude, respect, and affinity in the other person”.
This is as valid outside the workplace as it is in, and today, back from our travels in Thailand, I would like to say a power thank you to someone who made a difference in my daughter’s life, and therefore mine.Read More
I am mixing work with family fun by the beach, but it seems to me that everyone else is so preoccupied with getting that Facebook profile selfie right that they can’t actually enjoy themselves.
I look at my daughter, who is 5 years old, and she is having a whale of a time splashing in the pool, flicking sand over her legs or jumping over what she describes as “massive” waves, but are, in reality, the lightly frothing ripples of a calm and benevolent Andaman sea. I am 41 years old and happy doing pretty much the same as her.Read More
I decided a while back that this is a subject I would revisit on a regular basis in my own time and in my own thoughts and consequently in this blog.
This week I am in Thailand with my family enjoying some winter sun and fulfilling some of the travel ambitions of my youth. Last week, however, I was at a large trade show in London. I spent a couple of days in meetings, talking with people about the industry in which I have worked for 12 years. It was great to meet up with some people and talk shop for a while. Invariably I discussed my own availability as a consultant with some, and the single refrain that I found myself saying over and over was my willingness to work on time-limited projects.Read More
When I first met my wife I remember her telling me about the happiness she derives from planning travel. Believe it or not it is a simple pleasure I had long neglected, at least since the days of my late teens or early twenties when I still used up valuable hours imagining myself on classic Alpine routes… instead of actually being on classic Alpine routes.
Now, in this year of transformation, I find myself in a position to plan a number of interesting travels which in turn I intend to intersperse with smaller adventures. Next weekend we travel to Thailand and with us shall go a few guidebooks of the countries that make up what was once Yugoslavia (Ex-Yu).Read More
Last week I outlined some travels and adventures I am planning in 2017. Someone said to me this week that it was easy to make a life more adventurous when the financial strains are not so pressing. Whilst there can be some truth in this, I think its more down to the individual's mindset and it isn't just our wallets that can make us "stop imaging and start living".
When I turned 18 I was under the illusion that to have really big epic adventures you needed bags of money. I saw friends travel around the world and have amazing experiences and I figured it was something I could never do.Read More
I am writing this from Seville, the capital of Andalusia.
A year and half ago I spent a magical few days in this region with my family and some close friends. I was at a lowish point in terms of my working life and the seeds of my idea to change the way I work were first sewn...Read More
Has there ever been a more stressful time than the present? There is so much vying for our attention in the modern world and there is so much peripheral “noise” and pressure weighing directly on individuals that it seems any small changes we can make that may, in their turn, reap wider benefits to our psychological health should be considered. This is one small change I have adopted.
BOOK NOW!Read More
On Sunday I went to see a live sport that I have never seen before. Water polo. To many this may not sound exciting. It is not a globally followed game, in fact it is not well known outside a relatively small number of countries, largely in the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
But anyway, for me - a man irrationally obsessed with sport, especially when witnessed in the flesh - this was a treat.
The Kombank Arena in Belgrade. A vast and solid grey demonstration of the supposed permanence and power of the former Yugoslavia was conceived in the early 90s and planned for the 1994 Basketball World Championships but construction halted in 1995 due to the conflicts. When it was finally completed in 2004, it was in a new country.
This 25k seater concrete-columned cathedral of sport and music now serves up entertainment to the people of Belgrade and the wider region on a regular basis. It has hosted Davis Cup Tennis, EuroLeague Basketball and concerts from Bob Dylan to Beyonce’.
This week, perhaps the most audacious event to take place got under way as it hosts the 2016 European Waterpolo Championships. Don’t ask me how you install a temporary Olympic size swimming pool in such a venue. Picture Madison Square Gardens or the O2 with a vast body of water, centre stage.
This in itself tells you the significance of waterpolo, as a sport, in this part of the world. The players are bona fide stars, perhaps without the financial rewards that can accompany sporting triumph. But what they may lack in earnings they often make up for in terms of integrity and respect in what can be a brutal sport.
The underwater "wedgie"
Sunday was the first day of the championships and who better to grace such an occasion than the hosts Serbia and their neighbours Croatia.
Top class Sport is hard enough on land, where last time I looked humans are supposed to live. What happens under the surface in this game, God only knows! But where swinging arms and legs grapple I think it may go beyond the odd underwater "wedgie".
Above the water these mountainous men, buckets for lungs, rise at full stretch to throw canon ball shots at the opposing goal. All the time fighting their opponents as well as the water to seemingly maintain control of possession if not their lives.
The game was fairly one sided and Serbia never looked like losing as they waltzed to a 13-6 victory. Given the considerable presence of armed police outside the arena, perhaps it's just as well. Tensions still ride high as evidenced by the barrage of whistling whenever Croatia had possession which, in true Serbian style, was matched only by the home crowd whistling at their own politicians during the opening ceremony.
Stripey-shirted twits straddling swimming horses
Before Sunday I understood little of waterpolo, but then again I suspect that many of my countrymen would imagine it to be a bunch of stripey-shirted twits straddling swimming horses.
Fortunately familiarity is not a prerequisite to the enjoyment of live sport. In the right circumstances the collective fervor of the crowd can elevate any sporting spectacle to something more than a competition of skill. It can become a quasi-religious experience for the viewer.
A close encounter would have made for an even better atmosphere, but on Sunday the crowd was like no other waterpolo match. But I'm a novice so don't take my word for it, for those are the words of Andrija Prlainovic, Serbian stalwart, world champion and mild mannered hero of his sport. Despite the consistent success of the Serbian national team crowds are relatively small for a sport that, for all its passionate regional following remains in the shadow of its louder and brasher rival for public attention, football.
On Sunday night, in a reduced Kombank Arena, 12 thousand people sat, stood, jumped and cheered incessantly, in front of a temporary swimming pool full of world-class athletes.
So if you get the chance to watch any sport live, even if you are unfamiliar with it, take that chance. One man’s trash is often another man's treasure. You might be that other man.
It wasn't the first and it won't be the last school I visit. At 13:45 this afternoon Mrs Lee, the headteacher was just showing me around the classroom in which my daughter would be integrated. My eyes drifted across the inevitable mess left by a horde of 4 year olds and I was only half listening to her earnest spiel when my phone rang again. It was the second time in as many minutes and I excused myself. I expected to cut off my wife telling her I would call back later.
I didn't have time. She answered with a smile in her voice that had been missing for the last couple of months.
Before I could speak she blurted out the words I had lost hope of hearing before Christmas; "I've got my visa".
"Thats great I'll call you back shortly, I'm at the school". As I spoke the words they seemed utterly weightless and insignificant. I ended the call, turned towards Mrs Lee, apologised again for the interruption, and burst into tears.
The last weeks, for a variety of reasons have been stressful. Our daughter has struggled with her moods being without her mother and as we have travelled between the UK and Vienna to see mummy each visit has become more painful. The whole marriage visa application process, apart from being mildly intrusive, also seems almost wilfully complex and unfair - designed to turn people away.
So Mrs Lee, an acquaintance of less than half an hour, was left to pick up the pieces of my emotions as they spilled out. Perhaps more used to blubbing 4 year olds, the sight of a 40 year old man wiping tears of relief and repeatedly apologising after receiving a 20 second phone call probably did nothing to enhance my reputation as a stable parent of a prospective pupil at her school.
So my thoughts turn to all those families of lesser means split up by thousands of miles and a system that questions, ad nauseum, the motives of those looking for a better life. In the grand scheme of things my family is fortunate and, whilst I understand certain reasoning behind the visa process, I can't help but feel pity for the husbands, wives and children left miserable and lonely, waiting, hoping to one day be re-united.
I recently bought a white truffle. A small white truffle. I had finished a spectacular meal, in an exceptional restaurant in Vienna and the restaurateur was showing off his latest fragrant horde. So I bought one. Such was the euphoria that engulfed me after 3 beers, a cocktail, a bottle of chenin blanc and 4 courses of exquisite food. Mind you my wife was egging me on.
(Talking of which the chap told me to put the truffle in a Tupperware with some eggs in order to infuse them with the flavour, Hadn’t heard of that).
It was supposed to be a quiet romantic evening with my lovely wife - of whom I have not seen a great deal in the last 2 months thanks to HM’s immigration / Visa policies - but, in keeping with the best unplanned nights out, it ended up being an altogether more social affair. We shared a bottle of Tomac with the afore-mentioned truffle peddler and the couple from the neighbouring table, who turned out to be the restaurant's Greek supplier of olive oil and his Austrian partner.
Does anyone have a spare truffle shaver?
Strangely I didn't get much sympathy from family or friends when I complained at the difficulty of getting hold of a truffle shaver at short notice. One kitchen shop took an inordinately long time looking for one as I waited on the line. In truth I imagine they were all having a good laugh at me.
In the end I should be grateful no shop was able to furnish me with an item I would probably never use again. With a mixture of extreme delicacy and a mini-grater (sharpened a little for the purpose) I embellished my tagliatelle, risotto and scrambled eggs with this stinky delight.
I will probably never buy a truffle again. The price, whilst reasonable in the context of the white truffle market, is faintly ridiculous but I am glad I did. Mi sono tolto uno sfizio as a real truffle aficionado might say.