Posted by: Sam Tanner | August 21, 2010

Late nights at London Zoo

When I saw a deal from Groupon offering savings on zoo lates at London Zoo, I immediately bought a couple and anticipated a beautiful August Friday chilling out with some penguins drinking Pimms. Then taking said penguins to a silent disco also held at the zoo.

Of course this was going to be pure fantasy, penguins don’t like dancing as Happy Feet quite clearly shows. What the zoo did quite successfully achieve though was open it up to a whole new audience and create an evening out for families and for groups of friends.

What I didn’t count on with visiting London Zoo late in the evening was that the animals were going to be tired and really confused as to why slightly drunken revellers were trying to stare them out. While we did get to see quite a lot of the animals, as soon as it started to get dark they, quite rightly, wanted to go to sleep. This means we didn’t see any penguins or gorillas.

However, while it was still light we did get to see some pretty awesome animals including a couple of warthogs, some birds, an okapi, a few zebras, a lion, a tiger and some pretty awesome giraffes. I particularly enjoyed the giraffes as I have never seen one in the flesh before and you could get relatively close to them. The otters were also very entertaining especially when they started playing with their bedding, fighting with plants and barging each other out of the way.

Giraffes

The absolute highlight of London Zoo for me though was the Rainforest section. When you enter into the building the first sight that greeted us was a sloth climbing though the vines set out on the ceiling of the enclosure. It was amazing to see how it would climb through the trees in the wild and absolutely fascinating to see one so close up. In the middle of this building is a jungle set up with monkeys, birds and other wildlife roaming freely which is great to see as you feel like part of the action.

Sloth in the Rainforest section

As expected the meerkat enclosure was absolutely packed with people trying to catch a glimpse of the most famous of animals. There was just one around looking totally intimidated by the crowd expecting him to perform, or as I half expected some of the crowd to want, put on a smoking jacket and speak with a Russian accent.

Although the zoo was a great aspect for an evening out, it did strike me that the food, drink and music aspect stole the show. The central area was rammed with people sitting and drinking away with some very drunk people around. For me it resembled more of a festival than a late night zoo visit and it took some getting my head around it.

The silent disco was well worth a watch firstly when it was completely dead with about ten people in this massive enclosure looking like they were having a fit and secondly when we were enticed by hearing a few hundred people singing Don’t Stop Believin’ at the top of their voices. Absolutely brilliant and completely compelling.

I wasn’t expecting the zoo late at London zoo to be as it was, which is not actually a bad thing. I enjoyed seeing the animals just as much as I enjoyed watching drunk people watch the animals. Had I known that the food and drink within the confines at the zoo was as expensive as it was, I would have bought my own. However, as somebody who always tries to sneak food in the cinema, I didn’t think it was allowed – but it is, don’t starve like we did!

The atmosphere was absolutely brilliant and as I said earlier it was more like a mini festival rather than a visit to the zoo. I didn’t expect this at all and would have been way more prepared than I was. We did have a great time but beware, the animals will slope off around eight – see them quickly. I missed all of the penguins.

For more information on the Zoo Lates and London Zoo, please visit http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo//

Posted by: Sam Tanner | August 18, 2010

Serene beach shot of the day

From the title you’re probably thinking it’s going to be a lovely shot of an exotic beach with white sand and turqoise water. Sorry to disappoint but this shot is from the UK. Taken at this time last year this picture is an early evening picture of Brighton in East Sussex. The beach was absolutely deserted even though it was still very warm.

Just goes to show that UK beaches can be as calm and beautiful as exotic beaches.

UK beaches are very awesome too

 


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This August so far has been miserable, I can’t remember anything like it. When I think back to Augusts of my childhood all I remember are sunny days, hosepipe fights, ice lollies, BBQs and playing in the park. All I seem to have now is dodging rain, remembering to take my jumper, and longing for my shoes to be waterproof.

Could we be in for scenes like this even earlier this year?

 

According to the weatherman on the BBC the other day every August is like this. This I do not remember. There’s also a great deal of speculation at the moment on how the weather is going to evolve this year. Matt’s mother told us at the weekend that snow is expected by October/November time and a colleague at work said that this cloudy murky weather was expected to last until November.

So we have had a long and late winter, a late spring and now an early autumn. Hardly seems fair does it?

However, if you look at the weather in major European cities on the BBC website, like I did, you’ll be surprised that there are places you would expect to be lovely and sunny but currently it’s raining. Nice = rain, Venice = rain, Geneva = cloudy, Stockholm = cold and rain Miami = rain. It’s not just the UK which makes me feel slightly better, but I still can’t help thinking that maybe as a joint force we should all throw a massive anchor onto Spain and drag the UK further towards the Med.

As that could never happen here are my top 5 destinations which are currently hot and sunny and where I would prefer to be:

1. Barcelona – 38 degrees and sunny.

Sunny Barcelona from the port

 

I can just see myself chilling out with a drink on Las Ramblas or exploring the extraordinary Gaudi architecture, topped off with a laze on the beach and a ride on a boat.

2. Lisbon – 31 degrees and sunny.

I like Portugal, my Aunt lived there for 10 years so whenever we used to visit her we lived pretty much like a local and explored the mountain top restaurants in the lesser known parts of the Algarve. I have never been to Lisbon bit have only heard great things, so would like to be there right now.

3. Rome – 27 degrees and sunny.

Sticking with the southern European cities for the moment and although Rome is warm, it’s not as hot as it was this time last year, making it ideal to potter around the city taking in the gorgeous sights and visiting as many churches as possible.

Scorching Dubrovnik

 

4. Dubrovnik – 30 degrees and sunny.

I was in Dubrovnik this time last year and it was around 40 degrees and stupidly hot. It’s a bit cooler at the moment meaning that I would take the walk around the city walls which was completely out of the question last year especially as I saw two people faint from the heat in front of me.

5. Muscat – 40 degrees and sunny.

I have always wanted to explore the historical city of Muscat and enjoy the ancient splendour. And there’s an abundance of sun. Maybe a little too hot, but certainly makes a difference to wearing a thick cardigan and nursing a hot chocolate.


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Posted by: Sam Tanner | August 15, 2010

Sydney Sunday – Photoblog

Sydney is a city that I could quite easily live in with it’s mixture of locals and tourists and immensely good weather. It’s just like London but newer and cleaner with a more laid back attitude. In addition, the city’s China Town is absolutely huge and a head massage only sets you back a few dollars.

Across from the Harbour Bridge and Opera house is the beautiful suburb of Manly which is crowded with surfers and families and definitely more cosmopolitan than suburbs of any English city, although some may disagree. Other great suburbs include Greater Western Sydney which brings you to the Blue mountains and Glebe which is where I believe I went to some random’s house party.

This year the city was ranked as the 10th best in the world to live in and I know why with beautiful beaches, lively nightlife and a great history I almost didn’t want to leave. If you do go to Sydney go up the Sydney Tower for panoramic views over the city – absolutely brilliant.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, the Botanical Gardens and China Town are also a must, as well as the tiny museums and galleries dotted around the harbour.

View over Sydney from the Opera House

 

Harbour Bridge with Manly in the background

 

Bondi Beach

 


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I had a peculiar thought the other day while idly surfing the internet to get me out of the UK, I wonder what kind of holiday I would have based in city hostels?

Maybe I was just feeling nostalgic after coming across a couple of Polaroid pictures from my trip to Prague six years ago, but the thought stuck with me and I questioned my boyfriend Matt about it later on in the evening.

“Shall we travel around Europe for a bit just staying in hostels to keep the cost down?”

“Er… No.”

“Why not?”

“Because now we’re in our mid twenties and have more money, surely it’s best for everyone if we just had a nice hotel room with a nice bathroom and bit of privacy?”

He makes a very good point. I had forgotten about some of the horror bathrooms throughout my time hostel hopping. There was the ant covered shower in Hervey Bay, Australia that required shoes for showering, the cockroach infested hostel in Cairns, the shared bathroom for about 20 people in Prague, the coldest room in the world in Amsterdam.

Although these places were cheap and served a purpose in keeping you warm(ish), dry and offering you a place to clean, what made them a great experience was the people that you met while drinking in the lobby or the bar. Whether it was the crazy socialist German in Prague or the Brazilian guys wearing thongs in Amsterdam who had to carry me to bed one night, it was the people we met that had made the trip.

While roughing it in Australia my friend and I went on a 4×4 safari around Fraser Island. There were two other 4×4’s in our group and we made sure that we all stuck together, all 30 of us. There were English, American, Swedish, Dutch, Irish, Welsh and Israelis all camping together which made for some fantastic conversations. The more the beer and wine flowed, the more surreal the evening became. At one point one of the Swedish guys went hunting for dingoes armed with an axe and a glow stick, he was gone for about an hour after coming back covered in glow stick juice and two axes.

Since then I have grown up, I have got a proper job, a flat with Matt and am constantly thinking about electricity bills and council tax. We can afford decent holidays in semi-luxury resorts with spas and posh gardens. However, in the back of my mind roughing it around hotels and campsites on strange sandy islands still constitutes a holiday. I even feel slightly guilty about looking at all inclusive resorts even though I know I can get out and explore the area.

I suppose it all comes back down to the fact that I believe that by going on ‘grown up’ holidays I won’t meet the characters I met in my teens and who I had a brilliant laugh with. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy holidays now I’m in my mid 20’s, but we’re in between that stage of getting away from it all and doing nothing and wanting to party every night. Essentially I think I’m becoming too old and want to experience the party atmosphere of my youth, but in reality now I have dinner and three glasses of wine and want to go to bed.

It’s a bit tough going on holiday as a young couple to get chatting to anybody as you’re usually surrounded by groups of friends and families. We once overheard a middle aged couple talking about us in a hotel in the Cotswolds saying that we ‘were a bit too young’. What at 24? Give me a break.

I’ll admit it, I miss my travelling sense and I feel guilty for losing the will to go travelling whenever I want, and most of all I’m scared I’ll turn into one of these people who visit the same resort year after year and don’t experience anything else.


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Posted by: Sam Tanner | August 8, 2010

Snaphot of the Sussex countryside

The weather may be unpredictable and the wasps will pester you for your sugary snack or drink, but there’s no denying that the British countryside is beautiful.

A couple of weekend’s ago we decided to walk up Devil’s Dyke in West Sussex, which if you take the route that we did, is rather steep. After dodging numerous cow pats and wondering how on earth the cows weren’t rolling down the slopes, we reached the top to be greated with this view over the Sussex countryside.

View from the top of Devil's Dyke, West Sussex

 

On the horizon you can just make out the Seven Sisters near Eastbourne and in the foreground is the village of Faulking which is where we parked and walked up from. The other side of the South Downs sees views out on to Shoreham, Brighton and Hove which look so peaceful from this height.


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Posted by: Sam Tanner | August 4, 2010

The world really is a beautiful place

Sunset from my flat

You wouldn’t believe it, but in the foreground of this picture is a busy Railway station. Squint a little bit and you can see the orange glow on the side of the train standing at the station. See it?

This is the view I have from my flat. Not very awe inspiring, unless there is a beautiful sunset like this. If you are a frequent reader of my blog you will know that I am a massive fan of naturally occurring events like sunsets, snowstorms, rainbows and moonlight cascading on water. I am what they call a romanticist and love aesthetically pleasing aspects of the planet we live on.

Back to the photo and on any normal day it is a station, I walk to it in the morning, I walk from it in the evening, I hear it as I watch TV and I can see it when I look out of the window. However, this time last week the sky was lit up by the most amazing colours, making the view from my one bedroom flat in Crawley beautiful for the evening.

It’s the little things like this that makes the world a beautiful place, even in Crawley.


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Posted by: Sam Tanner | August 1, 2010

Tales of driving through Bosnia

On our penultimate day in Croatia we decided to have one last adventure into the unknown and drive into Bosnia for the day. The previous evening we had got talking to an Irish couple who had ventured over the border and had highly recommended that we take the plunge in driving through the country.

Apparently trekking into Bosnia isn’t something that the tourists in Croatia often do, according to the man we hired our car from. He was thrilled that we were fond of exploring and gave us three different maps of Bosnia, including a city map of Sarajevo, which would have been too far to drive to, and a map of Serbia, which was certainly too far away. Although it would have been brilliant to explore Belgrade.

Our bright red Toyota Yaris with two massive white racing stripes down the middle really made us stand out, especially at border control. The armed police at the small stretch of coastline at Neum which divided Croatia in two actually looked bemused at what we were driving, no wonder they double checked our passports.

We decided to head towards Mostar which is the most important city within the Herzegovina region of Bosnia and home to the Stari Most, which is a beautiful bridge built in the days of the Ottoman Empire. However, having never driven through a city on the opposite side of the road before, we panicked slightly. We didn’t get to see Stari Most as Mostar was bigger than we anticipated and we struggled to overcome our biggest downfall – roundabouts.

Having taken a complete wrong turn somewhere along the way, we believe it was at one of the aforementioned roundabouts, we ended up driving through the mountains through rural Bosnia. It was in the mountains that we got to see another way of life in the villages – farming, goat herding, outside laundry and stunning scenery. We knew we had taken a wrong turn when we finally reached a dirt track and the road on the map just stopped, so we turned back and although we nearly died on a narrow bit of mountain road, saw the most beautiful views of Mostar below. Although the break up of the Yugoslav region is now nearly twenty years ago, the affects are still somewhat visible through bomb damaged derelict buildings and ruins that are peppered with graffiti and machine gun fire.

Mostar from the mountains from the car

Mostar from the mountains from the car

 

Although over half of the population of Bosnia is Muslim, the region we were driving through was proudly Roman Catholic as every mountain top displayed a large cross and churches stood as the epicentre of all villages we past through. However, no town in the region could possibly be as Catholic as Medugorje which was made famous in 1981 by six Croats claiming to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The town is now visited by thousands of pilgrims every year as a Marian shrine. Although Medugorje is not actually officially recognised by the Catholic church, it is a strikingly religious place. As atheists it was interesting to visit the place as someone from the outside looking in, but it had a very surreal atmosphere too. Nowhere before, and I suspect I won’t again, see crosses and beads sold in droves at the tourist gift shops lining the street. If you want a life size replica of the Virgin Mary, then head to Bosnia, you won’t be disappointed.

Shrine at Medugorje

 

A strange and eye opening day was had on our adventures of driving through Bosnia and something that no one I have spoken to has done. In fact, some people I have spoken to since still believe the country to be war savaged with its people living in third world conditions. I just stood there open mouthed at their ignorance. I believe the country is attempting to attract more visitors and it would be worth it, from what we saw it is a beautiful country steeped in pre 90’s history.


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Posted by: Sam Tanner | July 30, 2010

Escape to Byron Bay

There’s always that one place that you feel a special affinity towards, somewhere that you believe that you haven’t seen the best of no matter how many times you relive your experiences through photos films or books. Whenever you see that place on TV or highlighted within magazines or blogs you can’t help feeling that slight pang of jealousy that they have recently been and you have not.

For me that place, without a question of a doubt, is Australia and, more importantly, Byron Bay. We never meant to spend more than a few days in this laid back town in New South Wales but the chilled out and friendly atmosphere meant that over a week later we were asking whether we should just stay and not bother exploring other parts of the country.

Of course we decided that this was rubbish, but it was hard to leave. This was especially true when we ventured up to Cape Byron, the most easterly point of mainland Australia. Here the views of the coastline and brilliant blue waters were beyond spectacular. We were told that we could probably expect to see whales in other parts of the country, but we spied dolphins swimming in and out of the waves, which immediately etched Byron Bay on my mind as a place I would never forget.

I know raving on about Byron Bay seems like a bit of a cliché, what I’m saying now must be written on most blogs out there, but it’s just all so true. Looking back on my travel journal I kept while travelling around the country, my fondest memories are those of complete tranquillity sitting by the lighthouse staring out onto the infinite Pacific. Bliss.

Of course I’ll go back one day, but for now I’m happy exploring other parts of the world. But when it comes to days like today, or weeks like this one has turned into, I always think about eloping to Australia and to Sydney or Byron Bay, sometimes even Townsville.

I hope I’m not alone in this – where does everyone else escape to in their mind on particularly rubbish days?

View of Byron Bay heading up to Cape Byron


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I’m not exactly a fussy eater, in fact I will eat pretty much anything. I do, however, draw the line at such delicacies as kangaroo testicles and monkey brains. I would probably react in the same way as that woman in Indiana Jones faced with the prospect of cracking open a monkey.

That said, wherever I travel I will always try the local food and see what local delights makes the locals tick. I couldn’t wait to get to Greece just to get my hands on some authentic tzatziki and the pork based dish of gyros. Similarly with Turkey if I smelt lamb I followed by nose and found little side street restaurants serving the most mouth watering Turkish kebabs. None of the English late night rubbish by taxi ranks.

However, those who simply refuse to try the local food irritate me, especially if the country is famous for its high quality and tasty food. I see it as going to the world’s best meat restaurant and ordering a salad. When I was Portugal a few years ago we went to a fish restaurant and ordered whatever the waiter had recommended to us along with a local wine. The girls on the next table to us had ordered chicken and chips. All of them. What was the point of being in this restaurant? They were paying over the odds for something they could have picked up from a fast food place around the corner. Quick diversion – authentic Portuguese piri piri chicken served in mountain villages is so divine.

In Greece we were in a restaurant by the sea eating kebabs, gyros, Greek salads washed down with local wine while a whole group of Scottish guys on the next table had order chicken and chips and spaghetti carbonara. I kid you not.

It actually offends me when I see this although I know people have to eat. Some of the meat we tasted was so succulent and plain heaven and these guys will have been living on what they would have back home. However, it is on the menu so they have every right to order it. Restaurants aren’t stupid, they know that the fussy eaters out there will focus on a couple of dishes.

I do think one of the worst cases of fussy eating I have witnessed is when a group of us went to stay in a French seaside town about an hour away from Bordeaux. We ate out at a local fish restaurant on our last night which served the most amazing fish. We all made the ‘mmmm mm mmm’ sounds as we savoured each piece, while the one that had just asked for a plate of chips looked on bewildered. This could be because another friend had such a go at her, but I like to think it is because she realised that she missed out. I hope so anyway.

This is my point though, those who don’t at least try the local food or make an attempt to be interested will invariably miss out. This also goes for those who stay in all inclusive hotels and feast on pasta and chips night after night.

That said, what is local food anymore? With many more international fast food places opening up and restaurants catering for international tourists who demand their local delicacies (Schnitzel anyone?) who are we to say that the food we eat abroad will remain a local delight? But that’s a whole other blog entry!

Sorry to all those fussy eaters I must have royally offended, but please try it? Please? For my sanity? You may even enjoy it…


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