Archive for the 'Photo' Category

Mind Bites

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

This Flickr set is a nice group of research snippets set against interesting photo backgrounds. It’s a pretty nice set to flick through both for the pictures and the information. I particularly liked:

brainstorming dilutes ideas

You can also view the set via a funky (if slightly annoying) flash viewer at the creator’s website: http://www.will-lion.com/mindbites/

EU 2008: Brussels, Belgium

Friday, April 4th, 2008

From Bruges to Brussels on the train takes around an hour, but the difference between the two places is vast. Brussels is much more a typical European city, full of modern buildings and with flocks of people milling around.

Manneken PisI didn’t get a good look at the central market square as it was filled with a massive tent holding a stage and seating for some event or other. So I wandered in search of the Mannequin Pis, it’s not a big statue and I might have missed it had it not been surrounded by a bunch of tourists, a brass band and a group of people in black-face make-up wielding oversize items of cutlery. I wish I knew exactly what was going on but sadly I remain mystified. After that I managed to get hopelessly lost, the map the hotel gave me wasn’t very helpful and, worse, it didn’t match either the map in my book or reality. I did manage to find another Notre Dame to visit (one of the best I’ve seen).

Saddle of RabbitAfter finally working where I was I headed to a restaurant that I’d seen recommended on Wikitravel. It was booked out save for one table that I could have as long I was done in time for a later booking. I figured this was a good sign and immediately opted for two traditional dishes, eels in green sauce and saddle of rabbit. Both dishes were fantastic, the eels tasted very faintly fishy but with a lot fewer bones than I’d expected, I’m less convinced about the sauce which was just too herby for my taste. The rabbit came with it’s nice crispy skin but both the skin and the flesh didn’t have any real strong flavour, I’d expected something much gamier. I can see why the have the sauce over it to give the dish some oomph. The chips were excellent, they love their chips in Belgium and they’re good everywhere but these were simply the best chips I can remember eating anywhere.

The second day I travelled to the Atomium which is outside of the centre of Brussels (although it’s easy to get by train or tram.) The Atomium is a giant representation of a iron atom, built in 1958 for the Brussles World Fair, it was renovated recently and reopened last year. It’s excellent, just seeing this bizarre building makes the trip worthwhile but you can also go to the top sphere and get great views of Brussels.

From the top of the Atomium I spotted another attraction I’d wanted to visit, the mini-EU. I hadn’t known they were right beside each other so it was a nice surprise. Atomium SpheresThe mini-EU is a set of scale models of buildings and locations from around the EU, there’s little sounds clips and some of the models move too. It’s pretty great actually, you learn a lot of things about the countries and because all the models are to the same scale you can get an idea of the comparative size of things. It’s totally worth a day out of the town centre to visit these the area, there are a few other things around to visit, shockingly none of this was covered in my guidebook so you’ll might be better turning to the internet for help.

I did manage some pub crawling whilst I was there and whilst I liked Bruges better I did find a couple of nice places. Delirium is stuck down a side street, it’s massive and has a huge range of beers while it’s sister bar across the street is stocked with an equivalent selection of spirits. Well worth searching out, although it’ll be busy. I also found a nice little rock bar which is a nice break from the beer halls and the tourist traps.

To be honest I don’t see much reason to go back to Brussels, there’s plenty of more interesting places to visit in Belgium.

EU 2008: Bruges, Belgium

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

I’m going to split the Belgium posts to cover each city I visited. First Bruges, I took the ferry from Rosyth which drops you at Zeebrugge, from there it’s a short bus ride into town. The bus leaves you by the main train station but it’s only a ten minute walk to the centre.

Bruges CanalThe first things that strikes you about Bruges is just the whole picture postcard perfectness of the city, canals, narrow cobbled streets, open squares and some of the oldest buildings in Europe. The second thing that hits you is the smell, the place smells of chocolate and general deliciousness.

It’s another small city, all the main sites are within easy walking distance but there’s a few buses if you want to take it easy. The best thing to do is take a canal tour, not only will you get an idea of the layout of the city but you can see things that aren’t accessible from the streets. There are tons of places offering the boat rides, so it’s easy enough to find one.

Moules FriteI spent most of my time just wandering around being entranced by the scenery, although I did have to retire for an afternoon nap to recover from the boat trip. I’m surprised the place isn’t filled with tourists although I expect it will be during the summer. There are a lot of bars and restaurants that are geared up for tourists and, to be honest, the food isn’t that great. The traditional mussels and chips tasted exactly like you’d expect it to, although the desserts were superb. I imagine that getting further away from the centre might reveal better food but all the places I found further afield were full, perhaps wise to do your research and book in advance.

I do my research, however, when it comes to beer and after a brief dinner I’d planned a little pub crawl and an early night. My first stop was to be “‘t Brugs Beertje“, an excellent little pub, full of a ton of beers and a variety of locals and tourists. An absolute must if you’re in the city, I’d like to reel off a list of other pubs to visit but I must confess I didn’t make it out of the first one. Between chatting at the bar and sampling the beers I ended up leaving around one in the morning.

I’d certainly go back to Bruges, even if only to go back to that bar. They do a snow and ice festival in the winter and I might try to get to that next year.

Bruges Canal

EU 2008: Krakow, Poland

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Another overnight train to Krakow, and an early morning arrival in … Warsaw? Eh, that’s not right! It turns out that some cross-country European trains split up during the journey. If you’re in the wrong part of the train then you end up in the wrong place. You’d have thought that the conductors might have warned me.

So I hop on a train back to Krakow utterly screwing up the only part of the trip I had actually planned in advance. After a quick chat with tourist information and my hotel staff I work out I can still do the stuff I really want to do if I go on organised tours rather than trying to do it all myself. With that it’s off to the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Wow, just wow. Pictures don’t just do the place justice, you’re walking around and it’s already pretty impressive and then you turn a corner and there’s a bloody great church carved into the rock, 120 feet underground. It’s awesome, in the original sense of the word. Maybe this shoddy video will give you an idea, remember this is in a mine 120 feet underground:

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

I can’t recommend the place enough. I went with an organised tour (Cracow Tours) from the city but you can go on your own and wait at the mine for a group to form with a guide that speaks your language. The advantage of going on your own is that you can hang around and eat in the underground restaurant, although I suspect you’d need to book in advance.

BirkenauThe next day I used the same company to go on a tour to Auschwitz. The sheer size of the place is staggering, and it gives you some idea of the scale of the atrocities committed during the war. The downside is that it’s full of tourists, there’s something about groups of tourists being shepherded around a Nazi death camp that struck me as grimly ironic. Again it’s a place you should visit if you’re in the area but I’d avoid the organised tours and head there on your own as early as you can manage, if you get there before ten you should be able to get ahead of most of the tours.

Bigos Krakow itself is beautiful, the old town is a wonderful set of cobbled streets complete with horse drawn carriages, there are more pictures in the flickr set. The food everywhere is excellent, the drink is cheap. Make sure you head out of the old town to the Jewish District of Kazimierz which is cheaper and less touristy than the centre.

I’d absolutely go back to Krakow, there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t get to do and I’d love to get a group of us over there and go on the Crazy Guides Communism Tour. The flights are cheap from Edinburgh and it’s a perfect weekend getaway destination. Poland is my favourite country so far, I might try and visit somewhere in the north when I go to the countries up that way.

Krakow at Night

EU 2008: Bratislava, Slovakia

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

And so to Slovakia, the other half of the former Czechoslovakia. I arrive late in the evening and have to navigate my way to my hotel. Bratislava is one of those cities that’s covered with public transport but in such a way that it’s impossible to work out where the hell you’re going. The centre is small enough to be a walkable, but you’ll need at less a couple of tram rides to get to and from the train station.

Nový MostI’m wasn’t 100% sure where I was staying, but I knew it’s a boat (the Botel Marina in fact), meaning all I need to do is find the Danube and walk down in the right direction — amazingly I manage this with no problem. It’s a nice enough place but it’s around fifteen minutes walk from the centre and there’s nothing else around it — even the nearest tram or bus stop is a fair distance away. You do get a nice view of the Nový Most or ‘New Bridge’ with it’s UFO supported by struts leaning at an alarming angle.

I head out to the centre for a drink, there’s a few places open but generally they’re either packed out the door or almost empty. It’s here I’m accosted by my first Slovakian pickpocket, who employ the blatant approach of coming right up to you (on the pretence of asking for some change) and just going for your pockets. Suddenly I realize I’ve got more pockets to protect than I have hands. Fortunately it’s pretty difficult to get stuff out of my pockets so there was nothing she could really grab and run. It was a weird experience, pretty disturbing given that it’s happening in plain sight, in a quiet but not deserted square, obviously it works because it’s done by woman and men are reluctant to just physically push them off. The same girl tried it again later on (this time I did push her off and headed into a bar) and — more bizarrely — a different but identically dressed girl tried it the next night. Weird. That’s three times in two nights, in the off season.

Paparazzi

Cumil
The most interesting part of Bratislava is the old town, it’s small and full of cobbled streets and squares, with people milling around, taking pictures and dipping in and out of restaurants and bars. It feels like a typical European style town centre which would mean nothing but the rest of the city is, frankly, a bit grotty and plain looking so the old town really stands out. They’ve also dotted a whole bunch of quirky statues around the place, it’s a nice to chance across some bloke peering out a man-hole when you turn a corner. There’s pictures of a couple more in the Flickr set.

Aside from that there’s Bratislava castle, which is essentially just big square box, it’s not nearly as nice looking up close and it was almost entirely closed when I was there. If you do go to the castle it’s worth checking out Chez David, a Jewish restaurant, on the way back down the hill. The food there was excellent and very reasonably priced.

Bryndzove HaluskyThere’s plenty of bars and restaurants in the old town and there are a few places further out (although watch the trams, they don’t always go in the direction you expect). Like on the first night most places where either packed or deathly quiet, I think getting to somewhere at the right time is the key. There were a few stag parties going around and I suspect that that’s a sign of the future of the city. On the upside the food was good, Bryndzove Halusky is a traditional dish made of small dumplings topped with sheep’s cheese and bacon. It tastes exactly as you expect it to, at this point I imagine you’re either disgusted or think, like me, that you quite fancy having one of them.

Bratislava is the first place I’ve been this year that I have no real wish to go back to, there’s not much to see and I can only assume that there’ll be many more drunken tourists and more pickpockets during the high season. I think you’d be able to get a feel for the place by taking on a day trip, which you can do by boat or train from Vienna amongst other places.

Bratislava Castle

I may not want to go back, but I’ve been there, so that’s another one marked off.

EU 2008: Germany and the Czech Republic

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Bratwurst + PotatoesWell in terms of the resolution this is a bit dodgy … I was in Cologne for two hours and Prague for six, both waiting to change trains on my way east across Europe. I had been trying to avoid journeys where I had to change but they were never that stressful, everything went remarkably smoothly because European stations seem a bit better laid out and have better signage than over here.

Two hours in Cologne really only gave me time to grab a bite to eat and drink a few glasses of Kölsch. The beer is good, the sausage was alright but together everything was salty to the point of almost being inedible. Although I did have a bit of a hangover at this point so I wasn’t in the best position to judge.

Astronomical Clock, PragueIt was too dark to get decent pictures of anything else, I should have got an earlier train and then I’d have had time to see the Cathedral which is right beside the train station. Although then it would look like I’m travelling the EU visiting cathedrals, which I’m really not — I just have a thing for Gothic architecture.

Honeyed duck with beer I was meant to have a day and an evening in Prague but I’d decided not to do two back to back overnight train journeys and so I changed my ongoing train to an earlier one. The hours in Prague really only gave me time for a bit of a walk about and some more food (well, it’s a fair old journey overnight from Cologne).

So, it’s a bit dodgy, I’ve been to both Germany and the Czech Repubilc before and I’ll certainly go back to both but if I end up visiting every other EU country in 2008 except one or both of these two then I’m going to go ahead and count ’em.

EU 2008: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Friday, March 14th, 2008

The train from Paris to Luxembourg City is my first impression of European train travel. I thought my guide book was rather unkind when it said train travel was excellent and affordable in Europe:

… apart from Britian, whose rail system suffered massively following privatisation …

until I actually took a European train. The difference in price, organisation of the stations and number of routes available is pretty staggering.

Luxembourg BattlementsAnyway, Luxembourg. The guide book says to pay a bit extra and stay in the Old Town, I didn’t and frankly neither should you. The train station, surrounded by a knot of cheap hotels is literally ten minutes walk from the old town and it’s just not worth the mark-up. It’s difficult to grasp how small Luxembourg is until you’re there, but it does it’s best to make life difficult by being built around a ruddy great valley. So I reckon there’s more vertical distance to cover than horizontal plus you can end up on a road on the wrong level and it becomes a complete pain to get back to the level you were aiming for.

I was here out of season, which is a shame as many places were closed (notably the casements, a network of underground defensive tunnels). The weather was excellent so I settled for following the scenic tourist trail, up and down the hills ending up in Grund which is the lowest part of the city lying alongside the river. This area is supposed to be thronged with pubs, and I imagine it might be in high season but I could only find a couple that were open.

Pork with Broad BeansThe old town, where I was heading for food, is back up the hill again. Fortunately there’s a free lift so you can avoid the half-hour winding walk back up. My guide book strays further into fantasy when it says the old town is “crowded with inexpensive cafes and restaurants”. There are a fair few, but crowded is pushing it and they’re not inexpensive unless you’re settling for a McDonalds or a generic pizza joint. I sampled a traditional dish of pork and beans which looks exactly as appetising as the picture and would have been only average before I paid an arm and a leg for it.

The truth is the old town is a bit of a tourist trap with high street stores and chain restaurants, wander a few minutes away and you’ll find cheaper places with a more authentic atmosphere. It was here that I found the other dish I’d been searching for, Blutwurst, a type of Black Pudding. Much cheaper than the pork and infinitely more tasty, much moister and meatier than what we get here.

Blutwurst and mashEmpty Plate

If you want even cheaper bars and cafes then head for the area around the train station, although it’s noticeably more seedy and nowhere near as pretty as the rest of the city.

The advantage of this time of year is the lack of tourists, meaning you can get a good look at the places that are open, like the Notre-Dame cathedral. While not as impressive as the one in Paris it’s infinitely better for not being full of tourists.

Would I go back? Actually, yes. If I had some spare time, or if I wanted to go somewhere to unwind then I would definitely go for a few days.

Anyroads, I think that knocks Luxembourg off the list, there are a couple more pictures in the Flickr set.

Luxembourg Skyline

EU 2008: Paris, France

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Right, I promised ‘country’ posts to accompany my tour of Europe. I’m not going to do a diary style thing dealing with what I did day to day — I still have a vague idea of writing all my travel notes up and making some sort of travelogue one day. But this is not that, these posts are more my quick-and-dirty reflections on the countries I’ve been to.

Eiffel TowerAnd so: Paris, “The City of Lights”. To be honest I’m wasn’t really here to do the tourist thing, it was more of a stop off to visit friends, and there should be plenty more tourism coming up.

Arc de TriompheI knocked off a few main sites anyway, the picture to the left is one of the rare ones with me in it to prove that I was really there. We didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower, instead we climbing the Arc De Triomphe so we could see the Paris skyline with the tower in it. You can get a pretty good idea of the layout of the city from the top, if you’ve not had a heart attack from the stairs. Sadly my pictures from the top aren’t that great, so you get one from across the road instead.

I also got a chance to go round Notre Dame which is probably more impressive from the outside, it’s not that the inside isn’t impressive but one gothic cathedral is much like another and when you’re part of a shuffling line of tourists it kinda loses something.

Snails We didn’t eat particularly French stuff, in fact the best meal I had was in an excellent Sushi place, but I did make a point of getting a plate of snails. Just getting them out the shells is a bit of a challenge, even with the special tongs they give you. Once you get them out they’re kinda small, they have a texture not unlike a mussel and a taste I can only describe as earthy. Not bad, but not something I think I’d seek out again.

The problem with Paris is that it’s huge with a shedload of things to see and do, even if I hadn’t been spending a significant part of my trip knocking back Jagermeister I’d still not have seen a fraction of it. Paris is expensive too, a few more days could have easily broken my budget. Fortunately it’s only a short hop away so I can always go back and see more of it.

Effiel Tower in the distance

My advice for Paris is to plan ahead, now that’s true of anywhere but having a proper plan and a knowledge of where the attractions are relative to each other is going to help you get the best out of the place. As with anywhere the cheaper places are off the beaten track, but the sheer size of the place makes finding them difficult.

Would I go back? Yes, in fact I’ll almost certainly be back this year. There’s so much else I could do and it’s so easy to get to that there’s really no excuse for not returning.

But still, Eiffel Tower, Norte Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Snails? I think that means Paris counts as done, more pictures in the Flickr set.

Pictures

Friday, February 9th, 2007

I’ve finally finished uploading the bulk of my pictures to the site, almost every digital picture I have is now available on the gallery page. I say ‘almost’ because I’ve already taken a bunch more but they’ll probably get added when I’m back from my next jaunt.

There’s a lot of pictures there, and they go back a long way. There are gaps where I don’t have digital photos although some are actually scans of my prints. There are still piles of pictures that I haven’t scanned yet. I’ve resisted the temptation to remove anything so a fair few are naff, strange, or embarrassing. There’s also whole strips where I’m trying to get a particular shot or I’m just playing around, including a sequence where I’m trying to take pictures of myself via various methods.

The picture viewer is still pretty scrappy but it works for the most part, and it should make it easy to skip through all the duplicates. I’ve started filtering out good shots for uploading to flickr but it’ll take a while. I’m easily distracted.

Weekend away …

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

It’s been a interesting, if somewhat hectic weekend.

I’ve not really got a lot to say about Dublin, I wandered around visited Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral and learnt a wee bit of viking history. All good places to go, and cheaper than comparable places I’ve been to elsewhere. It does remind me how little I know of both the ancient and recent history of the British Isles. There are, as expected, lots of pubs — but a fair few of them were very much your new style commercial chain pub rather than the old style boozer I was looking for. I found a few to my liking tho’ — not sure I’ll be able to find any of them again.

The travel was interesting, thanks largely to the stinking hangover I had flying out on the Saturday. This was thanks to this fiend:

100_2993
and his birthday bash. Happy birthday drunken Cyberman!

I’m pleased to say airline security doesn’t seem to be holding stuff up much any more, no one more than glanced at my carefully bagged tube of toothpaste. I flew back — with less of a hangover, but early enough to have me up and about at 5am — on the Monday and actually made it into work earlier than I normally would have. Which is pretty impressive since I started the day in another country.

I wonder how far away I can wake up and still get to work on time …