Thursday, September 21, 2006

Drinking my way around Oxford...hic!

I'm spending much time in and around Oxford these days (well, weekends, anyway) and have been introduced to some lovely river-side pubs.

The Head of the River (see pic), just near the Folly Bridge in the centre of Oxford is well worth checking out, as is the Trout Inn, in Lower Wolvercote, just on the outskirts of Oxford.

Cheers to Antony, and my new drinking buddies, Di, Andy and Rob!

PS. Just on drinking, which is a national past-time here in the UK, the Beer In The Evening website is a great resource. Foaming with features like profiles on what seems to be thousands of UK pubs, a pub crawl generator, ideas for pub crawls (I'm thinking the animal theme looks good) and a list of beer festivals, there's something for every boozer.

Travel Writing advice from Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing is a great resource for aspiring travel writers. They profile a bunch of seasoned, professional travel writers and give some practical advice about how to pitch and place travel articles in markets like the US, UK and Australia.

Like any books on writing, the main theme is to practice! Write. Lots! It's the only way to refine your craft.

And in the mean time, I shall keep blogging about travel and waiting for my dream travel writing/documentary production job to come flying through the door. *sigh*....must be time to book another trip!

Categories: Books

A new way to present travel pics

For anyone that loves photography and the digital revolution, is a brilliant site, and was a fantastic recommendation from one of my digital camera-toutin' mates.

As well as letting you upload digital prints and share albums with friends, the PhotoBook feature is hugely cool.

Creating a PhotoBook is pretty much idiot proof - simply upload your favourite pics, choose one of 5 colours for your PhotoBook's cover, and then drag and drop your pics into one of a bunch of page layouts. The page layouts accommodate up to 4 photos, and they cater for combinations of landscape and portrait shots. You can add captions too. A 20-page album starts from £20, you can add extra pages in sets of 2 for £1.20, and postage and delivery is minimal.

For my first (test) album, I created a summary of my travels in 2005. I reckon it took about an hour to create a 22-page album one Saturday afternoon, and they said it would arrive by post in 3 days. True to their word, my PhotoBook turned up on time, and I was mightily impressed. I chose a black cover, and was really pleased with the quality of the matt paper and binding.

My photos looked great! I think the presentation hides a multitude of sins, and the general "wow factor" of seeing your pics in an actual book is pretty impressive.

PhotoBooks would make beautiful gifts for weddings, anniversaries, baby memories, holidays, and pretty much any other photos that youwant to tart up and preserve in style. I was thoroughly pleased with the service from Photobox, and the quality of the albums (and reprints, which I also saw examples of). So, if you're looking for a funky way to present your next travel snaps, check it out!

Categories: Photos/WIWT Archives

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A refreshing approach from Explore

I had an experience last week that personally proved to me that companies who take the time to engage with bloggers can start to truly get to know their customers in a way that database segmentation or direct marketing campaigns could never achieve.

On this blog, I have written about some of the tours I’ve done lately with Explore. My experiences with the company have been entirely positive – the tours I did around Iceland and Croatia with Explore this year were excellent, and I would not hesitate to recommend them to family and friends. Explore tours are well organized, great value for money, FUN, and have a great combination of structured and free time. What really appeals to me is that they get to some really obscure places. I plan to do more Explore tours as time and money allow – and no, they are not paying me to say this!

What impressed me about Paul, the “ECommerce Bod” from Explore who emailed me, was that he offered help in getting me more information if I needed it, offered some information about their affiliate program (which I may or may not pursue, but it wasn’t a hard sell), and shared some personal observations about Lake Bled, Slovenia, where we’d both visited recently. It was clear he knew his stuff. He was authentic – and that’s important.

When I replied, he continued our conversation about the rather scary cable car that scales the cliffs surrounding Lake Bohinj en route to the ski resort that overlooks the entire valley. Talk about great views! He mentioned that the next Explore brochure was coming out soon, and to keep an eye out for more tours. As if I need any encouragement!

I thought it was cool. And relevant and appropriate. It makes me feel like the people at Explore are actually interested in what their customers are saying about their company – good or bad. They talk to me about stuff that interests me, and not in polished corporate speak but with a friendly, conversational tone. The tours themselves are great, but this personal touch, way after the fact, is really refreshing.

He also said he’d keep reading my blog. So, Paul, if you are reading this, thanks for your emails, and I hope you get to do one of the Explore train tours soon.'s travel section's online travel section is one of my favourite travel resource sites. I like the way they incorporate "proper" travel articles, travel resources, and a travel blog, with all sorts of travelling tips and tricks.

I'm also loving the fact that they published two of my recent photos, one of the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, and one of Split's Harbour in one of their Reader's Holiday Snaps galleries. My pics are #6 and #7 in this gallery. Well...I'm excited!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A quick zoom around Ljubljana

Day 3 of the long weekend, and we headed up to Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana for a wander round the city before the flight back to London.

We really didn't have much more than a couple of hours to wander round the Old Town, but it is like most European old towns - quaint and crowded.

Small markets lined the river, and a broader market area occupied a large square beside the Town Hall. It wasn't actually market day on the Monday we were there, but a few stalls remained opened, and we got to sample delicious honey brandy, Slovenian wafers and delicious smoked meat. The find of the day was cherry honey - it has the consistency of honey, but is a dark, rich ahem...cherry colour and tastes like cherry.

I suspect I have a huge part of latent European in me, because I love European old towns like Ljubljana's.

Ironically, we found a great Italian restaurant and had an amazing entree of pan-fried goose liver and main meal of creamy scampi pasta, which seems to be a specialty in Eastern Europe.

We then found a fabulous Slovenian chocolate shop, and sampled some delicious rose dark chocolate. Yum-O.

The taxi ride back from Ljubljana to the airport was horrendously scary. The driver thought we were running late for our flight (we were just running late for the 2-hour check in deadline), and decided to propel us along the highway at beyond 100 miles per hour. I was watching the needle on the tacho climb beyond 100 miles per hour and decided it was best I stop looking.

Waiting in Ljubljana's airport was the usual end-of-trip yawn, but we did spy a guy (suspiciously looking like he was on a stag do), with both arms in slings, and looking rather sheepish. We pondered whether he had had a bad parachuting experience, had come off a mountain bike, or had simply fallen off a pub stool - all of which is possible in the adventure-filled Slovenia!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Beautiful Bohinj

Day 2 of the long weekend in Slovenia, and we set off for Bohinj, about 45 minutes by bus out of Lake Bled. Even in August, the flowers were still out in bloom, and it was a splash of colour everywhere we looked, with huge sun flowers springing out of almost every garden and red geraniums overflowing from window pots.

Pulling into the the small, alpine-like town, we came across a prominent statue of some Slovenian explorers looking up over the mountains they sought to traverse. Further round the road, Lake Bohinj revealed itself, with the gorgeous Church of St John punctuating the backdrop of pine trees.

We stocked up on food supplies and set off for an easy walk around the lake. The track was well marked (and rather crowded) and we stopped in a lovely clearing for our makeshift picnic. Bees continued to dive bomb our food and drinks, although we managed to remain unbitten.

The scenery around the Lake is ahem...stunning. Sometimes it's hard to find new superlatives! What is amazing, is the colour and clarity of the water - it's a blue in some parts, clear green others, and pure turquoise in yet others. Everything was green, but I can imagine the valley would look amazing in Autumn as the leaves were changing colour.

At this far end of the lake, is a caravan park and cottages, and a range of kayak and boat hire facilities. About 2 kilometres walk from this part of the lake, is a cable-car up to the Vogel ski resort which overlooks the entire valley.

The ski resort is serviced by a rickety chair lift, which actually looked too old to be running...and it was a bit odd that it was running with no apparent supervisory staff. I guess Europeans are used to chair lifts, but it did look a tad dangerous...

The views from the top of the ski resort are fabulous. You can see right bck down across the lake and valley, and over the mountain tops in the distance. Some of my more adventurous travel buddies decided to take the near-vertical climb/track up to the Black Lake as we rode up in the cable car on the opposite side of the valley. We watched the massive black storm clouds roll in over the valley, and hoped they'd not over-committed themselves...they eventually all made it down safely.

From the cable car, we wandered through a crowded campsite and waited for the little boat to take us back across the lake to our start point.

As we waited for our travel buddies to climb back down from the Black Lake, we had a quiet grappa and watched the peaceful world of Lake Bohinj go by.

It had a very different feel from Lake Bled - it was busy, but not as commercial; less built up and probably more "rural" than the town surrounding Lake Bled.

It was definitely worth the visit, and I would go back again in a heart beat. I tend to stay in cities when I travel, and this trip reminded me that getting out into the countryside is definitely a great way of experiencing a different aspect of a country.

Categories: Slovenia

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bring on the superlatives for Slovenia's Lake Bled

Slovenia was the destination of choice for the August Bank Holiday weekend. The weekend had been planned well in advance, and the final party of 10 comprised of some Aussies and Brits, a Norwegian, a Canadian and a Kiwi – a mini United Nations if you will.

I can’t believe I booked flights on an airline called Wizz Air…the service was entirely fine, but just the idea of getting on anything branded “Wizz Air” made me check my insurance policy a couple of hundred times. And the Wizz Air planes were painted fuchsia and hot pink…pink is my favourite colour, but somehow planes seem less credible when they’re hot pink…

Anyway, we arrived in Llubljana’s airport, stocked up on Tolar (the local currency), and found our transfer bus down to Lake Bled.

Hotel Jadran came as a recommendation of friends who had visited Lake Bled the summer before, and we were not disappointed. A first floor lake view room afforded stunning views of the lake, Bled Castle and Church of the Assumption, that make this place famous. Oh, superlative check coming up, but the scene was straight out of a postcard with the towering mountains in the background. I can only imagine how beautiful it is in winter.

Numerous hotels and restaurants surrounded the lake, and kayaks and small punt-like boats drifted round amongst gaggles of geese and ducks.

Lunch was a simple but tasty affair - Slovenian food is similar to Croatian food, with a big dose of Italian influence. Pastas, risottos and meat dishes were the main choices everywhere, and you could get a solid lunch and a pivo (beer) for about $£10. One of the yummy specialties was deep fried cheese - we weren't sure enirely what sort of cheese it was, but served with tartare sauce, was delicious.

We continued a lazy walk round the lake, through some local markets and past the gorgeous church. A steep, windy path took us up a 100-metre cliff to Bled Castle, where we saw two weddings and had a spectacularly scenic pivo to celebrate.

Bees were rampant everywhere we went in Slovenia, but they seemed particularly enthusiastic around Bled Castle, and insisted on dive-bombing our beers all afternoon.

Categories: Slovenia

Citizen journalism and the London Fire Brigade Exhibition

I love photography, it's importance in the news, and the way it provides a permanent reminder of a particular scene.

So the current exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery in London was a perfect way to spend an hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The London Fire Brigade Archive is a small exhibition at the gallery running until 17 September and features nearly 100 black and white images from the broader collection of some 300,000 images.

According to the official blurb: "The captions of each photograph will also form a prominent part of the exhibition. They document a verbal account of what happened which was recorded and attached to the back of the photograph. This documentation is a fascinating insight on how the recording and documentation of incidents has changed over the years."

Before you go into the actual exhibition, there is a smaller, equally engaging photo montage about how citizen journalism came into play during the July 7 bombings last year. It analysed which newspapers ran with some of the more shocking pictures taken with the mobile phones of commuters trapped in the various carriage and underground stations. It was still chilling to see those pictures more than a year later, but certainly interesting to see how citizen journalism did and will continue to re-shape the news agenda by providing pictures and commentary of world-changing events.

Categories: England, Photos/WIWT Archives