12
Nov
14

scribbles from shanghai

Usually these blogs are written and posted whilst I am away in the country that I’m visiting. Thanks to the Great (Fire) Wall of China many US and western websites are blocked – including wordpress. What this has meant is this entry will be a bit postscript-esque as many things that I am doing are going to be plastered all over facebook and twitter whilst I’m away (courtesy of something called a VPN on my mobile phone, ssshhhhhh)

I’m not one for keeping a diary – in my early travel days in Sri Lanka I wrote something quite sweet to look back on but in all honesty was long, drawn out and included way too many unimportant, fairly boring details. I was pretty new to writing then though and I like to think I’ve learnt to cut out the mini details that really aren’t interesting (if you are wondering, yes my 5* hotel is amazing, the breakfasts are superb and the bed extremely comfy) I also hear someone at the back whispering that ‘I’ve changed’ due to the fact I’m residing in such plush surrounds; gone are the days of £4 a night dorm rooms in South East Asia!

Anyway I’m rambling. Here’s some scribbles from Shanghai.

Pie in the Sky –

OK, I understand people taking a bag or a suitcase that might be slightly oversized when heading on a hand luggage only Easyjet or Ryanair European weekend break. I also understand the need to take a bigger bag (or maybe a second one) if you are carrying a baby or a small child. But long haul, checking a bag in and still bringing something onto the plane the size and weight of a Shanghai Skyscraper really annoys me. Where are you planning on putting that case that is bigger than you? Oh, that’s right. Right on top of my correctly sized and weighted laptop bag….hang on, it’s now crushed. Thanks for that. Seriously, what do people need to bring with them that takes up that much space. And whilst I’m having a moan about fellow plane passengers – what is it with the growing number of morons that cannot sit in the correctly allocated seat? There is a diagram, pictures and words. Sit down for goodness sake and we can get going!

Who needs Facebook or Twitter? –

Not the Chinese lads and lasses it would seem. The large number of adolescents that ride the subway/metro system on a daily basis seem to find plenty on their smart-phones, ipads and tablets to keep themselves entertained without the above two websites thanks to China’s watchful, dare I say controlling government. I’m not sure what else there is to look at as my iphone’s battery has never had it so good with me as this week. Away from the hotels wifi (and beloved VPN) I cannot update my status, tweet my thoughts or have a little flutter on one of several betting apps on my iphone. Naomi always says I look at my phone too much – try coming here, its incredible – eyes glued to the screens whether sat down, stood up, or walking! The metro to Sheshan Golf Club is around an hour and fifteen minutes there and back every day. I’ve lost count at the number of people I’ve walked into because they are starting into a screen – technology bonkers.

Beautiful Bund –

The highlight of this weeks jaunt to Shanghai. Bund is the place to see and be seen in this part of China – a modernised promenade that stretches opposite Shanghai’s New and Financial District of Pudong, the walk along the banks of the Huangpu River is about as spectacular as it gets. Yes, the skyscrapers and the magnificently showy Oriental Pearl TV Tower are incredible feats of engineering. Yes, the excitement as day turns to night and the buildings neon lights kick in is evident. But what I liked most about this stretch was the fact the river was constantly in use as a busy shipping lane; bringing goods and people in and out of Shanghai – all whilst we were sat down or walking along admiring the sights of Pudong. You could imagine these same old fashioned, rustic boats and ships being in use fifty years ago before any of the skyscrapers even existed. A brilliant place to spend a few hours.

Never argue with the caddie –

Patrick Reed was the star of the US Ryder Cup side several weeks back. He’s won three times on the PGA tour in the last year or two and has won millions of US dollars on the way ($6.4 million apparently) I’ve just spent my golfing week alongside his wife, and ex-caddie, Justine Reed! I decided to follow Reed round on Thursday as he is a great golfer to watch, a bit of a marmite style character (you either love him or hate him) He splits opinion due to his outspoken interviews and most famously his silence gesturing to a baying Scottish crowd in the Ryder Cup whilst taking down Henrik Stenson in a win for the US. Personally I’m a big fan – he’s real. And so is Justine; a proper down to earth all American girl. As I was stood next to the green of his first hole a small blonde woman came up to me in a broad Texan accent and struck up a conversation with me. Anyway, over the next few days I walked the course with her watching her man going about trying and winning some more millions of dollars whilst I’ve backed him modestly at 50/1! Every shot, every hole, we’ve chatted golf, life, our partners (!) and gambling. The funniest thing is watching her take notes on her phone like she’s still his caddie (she gave up due to recently being pregnant and giving birth to their first child) whilst throwing grass in the air looking at which way the wind is blowing. Never argue with the wife, or the caddie…..top woman. Missed the last day due to an eye infection – had a chat with Patrick who confirmed it was hospital when they get back to the US on Tuesday. Get well soon Justine!

Travel has never been easier –

The mention of the metro above might make a few at home sit back and sweat (Not just the thought of being crammed in like tinned sardines at rush hour) The prospect of buying tickets, getting on the right platform, changing at the right station and finding the correct exit terminal is a terrifying prospect for many, especially somewhere like China where over three million people use this system daily. Imagine my surprise when I found the ticket machines had an English option, the signs were all in Mandarin and English and even the people on the help desk speak enough English to assist. When you throw in the fact you can take a screenshot of the metro map on your mobile and bring it up in three clicks, travelling round this mega city couldn’t have been any easier (ah, there’s a use for my iphone after all) And the other thing, a 25 mile ride out of town to Sheshan over two metro lines costs 60p. Incredible, take note Arriva Wales West you shysters.

Respect for Shanghai –

I must admit I expected to be culture shocked by China and its financial capital. I visualised a lot of poverty, language barriers, straight faced, nervous people (due to strict government) and chocking levels of pollution. What I found an extremely modern, reasonably relaxed and pretty darn clean city full of smiling, inquisitive folk in love with their gadgets. Perhaps I’m just mellowing and being less blown away or surprised by new countries or cities but Shanghai really wasn’t anything like I have read about in the negative sense. Fair play, an example to many big cities I haven’t seen eye to eye to, mainly due to rude folk or people pissing and shitting in public (thinking Calcutta here)

Sport abroad is cool –

The title says it all. My bets may have been disappointing but it was a bet that paid for this trip so I can’t moan (much) An awesome six nights in Shanghai spent in the company of a sporting giants wife from Texas and a nice guy from Colombia called Antonio who was in Shanghai studying. Travel is superb when you meet people like this, and once again sharing it with others made it so much more enjoyable. Now if only Jonas Blixt could of shot a good round Sunday……

Next Up –

Nothing booked, all holidays till December 24th used up. We have hit country number 41 and the semi-dream of hitting the half century before I turn thirty in March 2016 is still just about alive. I’ve got a few ideas for next year but really could do with a winning bet or two to make them happen……gotta’ be in it to win it!!

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19
Sep
14

friendly fendant in magical crans

I’ve been back from Switzerland for nearly two weeks now – shoddy effort in updating the blog so apologies to anyone who has put their life on hold whilst they wait to hear my thoughts on the quaint Swiss town of Crans-Montana……!

First shout out before I go any further goes out to the Swiss people I met in my four days in their spectacularly beautiful, clean and frankly marvellous country. I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere else in Europe where the general public are so friendly, courteous and welcoming. From the lovely elderly woman called Beatrice on the train from Geneva who I chatted to marvelling at the beauty of Lake Geneva, through to the waiter in a Crans restaurant that greeted me so warmly when I turned up for a second night running – the Swiss people left a great impression on me.

Anyway, after handing out such praise to the folk of Switzerland, it’s time to give some thoughts on a brilliant long weekender watching some top class golf.

As I briefly just mentioned above the train from Geneva airport through to Sierre was as spectacular a journey as you could imagine. I chose the right side of the train to sit on (in both senses of the word) as I soon left Geneva to be welcomed by sweeping views of the world famous Lake that stretches on and on through middle Switzerland. Being late summer, the lake was wonderfully clear and reflected a magical blue in the sun filled sky. The journey flew by – taking me through a city called Lausanne that I nearly visited back in February to watch Beady Eye (I chose Luxembourg instead!) It looked a decent spot mind, along with several other cities and towns on the way that were all dotted along Lake Geneva.

Crans was reached with ease thanks to the Funicular railway that climbed steeply up from Sierre to Montana Gare. The views got more and more spectacular as you climbed higher, the snow peaked mountains in particular were a highlight that never got tiresome to gaze at.

It didn’t take me long to sniff out a cheap bar. A well known champagne brand had set up a temporary bar on the street just by the golf course. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a local white wine called Fendant being sold for just 3.50CHF, about £2.30! Switzerland and Crans in particular was supposed to be expensive, right?! As I supped up a few glasses of the cold stuff, I noticed I was in the company of former Open Champion Darren Clarke and the evergreen Miguel Angel Jimenez – both stars of the European Tour for the past twenty years. Being surrounded by Rolex shops, Prada shops and plenty of people in posh suits and dresses – not to mention modern day golfing heroes, I could have easily felt slightly out of place in my adidas rain jacket, jeans and England cricket baseball cap. But the funny thing about travelling alone as much as I have, you almost grow some sort of thick skin where you’re not bothered about being judged by strangers! After a few more bargain Fendant’s I retired home for an early night, via a lovely little Italian restaurant.

As for the golf – I won’t bore you with the details other than saying it was every bit as fantastic as the views below. The standout hole was the 7th – you walked through a side road from the 6th green and out of nowhere this incredible panoramic view hit you. We were literally up in the clouds – a better sporting backdrop I am struggling to think of than this simply brilliant half mile stretch of land.

It was a hard walk – I reckon the first day I must have walked fifteen to twenty miles, around the course twice with two different groups of players plus the mile or so walk to and from my apartment.

So would I recommend Crans as a holiday destination? For a few days – definitely a big yes. Would I recommend it to any golf fan as a short break next year? I think you can guess my answer!

A simply brilliant few days away…..however I’m not sure that cheap street bar will be there when Darren and Miguel are not in town for those other 51 weeks of the year. Maybe I’m not the man after all to give advice on cheap bars in Crans Montana after all?

Ah well, I’ll have to go back next year and look harder………

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04
Sep
14

‘i’ve been there’

I don’t think there is a single place in the world that I’ve been to that somebody else I know hasn’t already visited. Either that or they know someone who has spent time in said place or is planning a trip there later that year.

This might seem a bit strange seeing as I’ve stumbled upon 39 different sovereign states in my near three decades on the planet; but I guess with the advent of cheap flights and the brilliant tool that is the internet, allowing everyone to be there own travel agent, the world really is as small as it ever has been.

‘Oh you’re going to the Gili Islands in Bali? I’ll be there at the same time, we’ll meet up if you like?’……’A weekend in Helsinki and Tallinn? That’s a great trip, we did a cruise there last summer’…..’Moalboal in the Philippines?! Great! I spent time in that village as well a few years back doing some scuba diving’…..And perhaps the best being the chap at work earlier in the year that kindly lent me his LP from the mid 90’s to the bustling metropolis that is Luxembourg City!

This blog comes to you from the old faithful departure lounge that is Bristol Airport. For I am about to embark on a short flight to Switzerland, just an hour and a half away from my second UK home.

Many of you reading this will be thinking ‘I’ve been to Switzerland or am planning a trip there later this year’…..I agree, there is not a lot of ground breaking in visiting what is a major skiing hub for many middle class Brits. Business trips a plenty to the money hubs of Zurich and Geneva go on day to day. It’s hardly an inaccessible long haul flight, internal flight, boat or bus ride away just to get there.

But the place I’m spending a few nights in might just be the first place in the world I’m going to that I don’t know anyone who has been – Crans Montana, situated high up in the Swiss Alps, a two hour train ride and fifteen minute Funicular journey away from Geneva, is the location I’m talking about.

Not heard of it? Thought not – neither had I until last year when I was watching Sky Sports!

I’m not going there for the sake of being the first person in my knowledge to have visited the picturesque, almost fairytale book style Swiss town. I’m going there to watch some top class sport – The European Masters golf tournament has started this morning and I’m lucky enough to be watching some of Europe’s best golfers tee it up over the next three days. It just so happens to be played in what looks on paper to be one of the most stunning locations you could wish to visit (oh the hardship, I hear you cry)

A love of sport has played a huge part in my developing my love of travel.

From short cricket holidays watching England win in Barbados and Mumbai to several weeks travelling across Sri Lanka and South Africa, all the way through to a full eight weeks watching a full Ashes tour develop, sport and travel have gone hand in hand throughout my adult years.

My last tour abroad with England was to the Middle East a couple of years ago, taking in test matches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It was on that final day in Abu Dhabi that a group of us England fans took advantage of a day off (England lost the test match early) to go and watch a top class field assemble in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Tournament.

I walked the course with household sporting names such as Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell. To say I was in awe would be an understatement and as such my interest in the game of golf over the past two years has all but taken over from the England cricket side who have struggled to capture my imagination after the recent Ashes / Kevin Pietersen debacles. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch practically every ball that is bowled in an England cricket match (just ask my missus or work colleagues) I just don’t feel the love for the side that I did twelve months ago.

Another reason my interest in watching test cricket in person has died down in recent years is the fact that the international cricket schedule is reasonably limited in its number of destinations you can visit. I’ve toured all of the main countries (except Bangladesh, New Zealand and Zimbabwe) and in some cases been back several times; such as three trips to India.

The (un)healthy obsession of visiting new countries coupled in with a love of golf has opened up a whole new world of opportunity to watch sport abroad. Looking at this years European Tour schedule the following are virgin territories for me –

Qatar, USA, China, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Turkey.

I’ve developed a major interest in punting on European and PGA tour events, winning big on a couple of occasions earlier on in the year. It was one of those wins back in June that played a big part in the booking of these two trips I’m about to undertake over the next couple of months. In November I will be off to Shanghai in China for a week to watch the worlds best seventy players play in the HSBC WGC but for now its the short hop to the Swiss mountains that beckons.

There are obvious similarities between test cricket and professional golf tournaments. Both are played out over four/five days. Both tend to be played in interesting, sometimes ridiculously glamorous destinations across the globe. Both involve a story-book style script unfold in front of your eyes over the course of its duration, with ebbs and flows that can add fantastic drama and excitement.

What could be better? A new country, a great sport, a new place to explore and a proper chill out……roll on country number 40, Switzerland!

So if you ever want any tip on Crans Montana – in a few days, give me a shout. I should be that annoying bloke that pipes up saying ‘Been there, I know a great bar…..’

24
Feb
14

a like for luxembourg

Wow, what a great couple of days away in Europe it was.

First of all I am well aware that Beady Eye are not to everybody’s taste, the distinct lack of ‘likes’ of facebook show me that! But I find it quite funny that over 50 ‘friends’ clicked on my blog (about 30% of my followers on facebook) over the two entries yet only four people took the time to ‘like’ either of the posts. I’m far from bitter about it, I just think it says a lot about Beady Eye and the image they have with the public than everything else. I can’t think of many other things I’ve posted over the years that seem to be so universally disliked…..

Its a real shame because as a band they were incredible on Friday night – I’ve not seen Liam, Andy, Gem and Chris as a band previously in their new guise, but saw them several times as Oasis. The first time was a sweaty affair at the Birmingham NIA, the second a huge stadium gig at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester in front of 70,000 drunk Mancunians and finally in Cardiff 2008 in front of several thousand – as equally a sweaty occasion as the NIA back in 2002.

Rockhal was the setting for Fridays gig, a new venue in the not very glamorous destination of Esch-Sur-Alzette, a half hour train ride out of the capital Luxembourg City. The arena holds around 2,500 when full and rather worryingly (embarrassingly) with around fifteen minutes till the band were due to come on I would suggest the hall was only 10% full. With imagination amongst the hardcore fans starting to head down the lines of the gig is sure to be called off, the arena filled up rapidly and I’d suggest there were a good 1,500 people watching what turned out to be a very polished performance.

I shared the gig with Robert (a French guy that had seen Oasis fourteen times and BE twice), Fiona (a Scottish girl, proudly sharing her twitter profile picture of her and Liam taken the previous day) and a Belgian lad whose name I didn’t pick up (who seemed to know every word of every BE song) It was great to be round these three who shared the same passion I have for the band and its members.

Anyway, enough of that. What about Luxembourg I hear the readers say after being bored to death of Liam and co for the past few days on social networks…….well it was a pretty cool city, with a surprisingly high number of bars and pubs everywhere you seemed to gaze. The city is separated by a rather striking and pretty unique gorge that is crossed by a number of impressive bridges, high above the ground below. As someone that gets scared of heights with the proverbial two pairs of socks on, it wasn’t the kind of place to look down when descending or climbing from the lower reaches to the upper or vice versa – some of the drops over the cobbled streets into the bottom of the gorge were enough to make me feel a tad queasy, even after a few Diekirch or Bofferding beers!

The main reason for the trip was obviously the gig – but I’d certainly suggest a night or two in the Duchy if you are passing through Belgium, France or West Germany. I’ve not been to a place easier to navigate (with no map I wondered round quite happily without ever really getting ‘lost’) even at night time, the gorge and the neon lighted ancient city walls helped you keep a decent sub conscious sense of direction.

On the first night I tried to find a pub showing the WGC Matchplay Golf but didn’t have any luck in the first boozer, The White Rose. A quick search on google showed a sports bar called The Britannia showed all types of live sport from round the globe – after a three mile hike down and up the old cobbled streets I found it with relative ease, only to find the two TVs showing the same boring football match the previous pub was showing. Never mind, I took a walk along the river and stumbled upon a tiny bar that served some of the best Thai food I have had anywhere in the world – a chicken massaman curry and a Diekirch later, I soon forgot about the golf and took in some people watching.

This was also my first trip abroad ‘by myself’ since I got into a relationship with Naomi a few weeks after I returned from the trip in March 2011. I’d done a couple of breaks away with Fred and had a fortnight in the UAE watching the cricket without her company in this three year period (where has that time gone exactly?!) but this little expedition to Luxembourg was the first time I’d packed by bag again on my lonesome since I struggled somewhat in Vietnam, January 2011.

I enjoyed the experience again of being a lone traveller, especially as it was only a couple of days away from my better half. Any longer though without ‘doing something’ and I’d have certainly been ready to meet up again. We both pack our bags together in a fortnights time for a trip to the Caribbean, some ten years after my first visit there. It will be nice to have Naomi back on my side for this one, as ever an experience is far better shared – especially with a loved one.

So its a big thanks to quirky Luxembourg for a cool couple of nights away – and an even bigger thanks to Beady Eye who made the trip so memorable for me.

Finally to anyone reading this (and I know the stats!!) I’d like to recommend travelling abroad to watch your favourite band, its a bloody brilliant experience.

I’ll even like it on facebook when you do😉

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21
Feb
14

tickets please!

Getting from Hereford to Luxembourg in a day was never going to be a complete walk in the park – especially without stepping foot on a plane. I’m writing the first part of this as I pull out of a rather grim, miserable looking Brussels train station, slightly embarrassed thanks to a schoolboy error that kind of sums up the difficulties faced travelling across the continent on such a tight itinerary.

Stepping off my first Eurostar experience in Belgium I quickly scanned the departures board and saw a train to Luxembourg departed in fifteen minutes time. I had planned to have a couple of hours in Brussels but the dull weather coupled with the fact I’ve been on the go since 4.15am this morning (some eight and a half hours ago) means I’m just keen to get to my destination, a three and a bit hour direct train from the Belgian capital and pitch up in a bar for some grub and a few pints.

I looked around for an ATM – no joy. What about a ticket desk? Nope, couldn’t see one. Thinking how hard can it be to use the French/Belgian language automated ticket machine I searched for ‘Arlon’ (the last stop in Belgium) to ‘Luxembourg’ tickets. Not difficult, even in a foreign language…..very true, or so I thought. As I entered my pin code and confirmed the purchase I had a moment wondering why exactly was the ticket mentioning Bruxelles Zone when I wasn’t buying an actual ticket to or from that station? I’ve already got my ticket out of here to Arlon thanks to Eurostar so Bruxelles or Brussels or whatever the ticket machine wants to call the place can keep out!

After a quick mull over whether or not I had made an error (clearly I had, but I can be quite stubborn and needed five minutes to admit defeat) I ran downstairs and suddenly located a busy departure lounge full of ticket sales people to all corners of Europe including ones to Luxembourg that now departed in just under ten minutes.

I tried to bargain a refund/exchange with a couple of different people but I was clearly not going to have any instant joy – I’d have to go to another desk to claim any refund for my foolishness. A kind woman sold me a bargain 10.80 Euros Arlon-Luxembourg ticket with the leftover Euro change I had in my bag from previous trips and I sprinted up the platform, slightly red faced and 20 something Euros out of pocket.

That’s not been the only small drama of the day. At 7.30am this morning somewhere near Swindon the National Express driver pulled over thanks to a faulty windscreen wiper. Some 45 minutes later we departed and finally arrived in London just over half an hour late. I’d been frantically searching for flights out of London to Luxembourg that afternoon as a back up plan but I need not worried. With google maps on my phone I located Earls Court Tube station thanks to a fifteen minute jog and got to St Pancras with just minutes spare before I’d have missed my train to the continent.

So as the train heads through Central Belgium and pulls into Ottignies (where?!) its time to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery*

*the scenery so far seems to be flat, grey, industrious, damp and ever so bleak. A bit like Cwmbran-Pontypool on Arriva Wales West.

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15
Feb
14

rockin’ all over the world

In my formative years the only thing I knew about Luxembourg was that they had a really crap national football team. As I played subbuteo with my football loving mates, it was the running joke of ‘Unlucky! You’ve drawn Luxembourg’ which basically meant the match would be fixed to ensure you lost by seven or eight goals. Only San Marino were more of a laughing stock amongst the 1990’s youthful football fans, playing out imaginary World Cup qualifiers during many sleepovers.

Fast forward to 2014 and I’ve booked a couple of nights in one of Europe’s smaller, lesser known countries.

The opportunity to visit somewhere new has become a bit of an addiction of mine over the past couple of years since some wise arse (I actually forget who it was, but I remember the conversation vividly) pointed out how great it would be to visit 40 countries before I turn thirty. As Luxembourg will be the 38th, that target has been amended up to 50 countries.

I want to go to places for a reason though. Whether it be for a relaxing holiday, a sporting event, a ‘must see’ sight or to visit a friend or family member. Or in Luxembourg’s case, a rock concert!

When one of my favourite bands, Beady Eye (Oasis minus Noel, see I told you I was a 90’s kid) announced their European tour I couldn’t help but scan the tour dates to see what new places I could potentially visit on a whim. Three stood out – Paris, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Now as a kid I had visited France which kinda’ counts towards the half century and besides, I like the idea of saving Paris to go with the missus one day. Once that was ruled out I looked at Zurich in Switzerland and decided that flying in and out of a venue would be pretty unadventurous. Luxembourg meanwhile was very reachable overland, via bus and train and in a day.

So on Thursday morning I set off on a mini adventure to mainland Europe, via London, France and Belgium before watching Liam Gallagher and co. in the well known destination of Esch-Sur-Alzette (!) on the outskirts of Luxembourg City on Friday night.

Rock n’ roll……

07
Dec
13

thrilla in manila

On our last day in the Philippines local boxing hero, and number one Filipino sportsman, Manny Pacquiao, captured the hearts of the nation in a victorious bout over in Hong Kong.

Manny is big news here, even knocking earthquake and typhoon victims off the front page for a brief time. Boxing in general is a big deal here, no doubt thanks to the legacy of that fight several decades back.

We had our own battle going on though. During the back end of the trip we found ourselves entrapped in a battle for the coveted prize (there’s not an actual prize, just bragging rights) of Uno Champion of South East Asia. After several matches ranging from ten through to forty games at a time, we found ourselves all square after Bohol. Sadly for me the better player won out in Manila, so congratulations to Naomi who takes over from the old dear who won out in a bar in Finland earlier in the year as current Uno Champ.

The Philippines were a great experience, but perhaps not as inspiring as other Asian countries I’ve visited, for varying reasons from slightly indifferent service to average foods across the four places we spent time in. I dunno’, perhaps I’m getting slightly spoilt but the country didn’t quite win me over as say a Cambodia or parts of Vietnam or Thailand have done in the past.

I’d recommend a visit to Boracay to anyone that loves a bit of beach life. Diniwid beach was a lovely spot. Cebu was alright and Bohol, well let’s just leave that to the previous entry.

Anyway, this is the end for now once again as work takes over for a few months. Next stop in the spring are return trips to Barbados and Prague, then, well who knows? They say part of the fun is in the planning……wherever that maybe.

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