Category Archives: travel

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

The 2017 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was a fantastic experience. In many ways it all that is best about the United States. Impressive, friendly and well organised.

I arrived at Dawn on the first day for the Dawn Patrol which has a smaller number of balloons permitted to take off in darkness. The burners and colourful canopies roaring to life in the darkness is a spectacular sight. I described it as watching baby dragons wake up all snorting fire and noise.

Then the mass assent takes place as the sun rises with six or seven hundred balloons taking off and you can wander through them lending a hand when asked. It is so good natured and friendly without a hint of health and safety nonsense just sensible people having a good time.

Two things, apart from the balloons, spring to mind. At one point a grandmother had lost her grand-daughter in the crowd of 50,000. She was in a panic but a marshall got on the radio to the police who had her. A kindly visitor had handed her in. It was done so effortlessly it was a joy to watch.

The whole balloon festival is spectacularly well run from courtesy buggies to get you from the massive car parks to the gates. A lack of parking charges (normally $15 but I was never charged) to plenty of places to sit.

I had never been to a balloon event and this was the ultimate experience being among these giants in the New Mexico dawn.


In search of vistas and balloons

In about a week I’m off to the United States for 9 days to photograph the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta as well as stops along the way at the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and various diners on Route 66. It will be just me, my trusty rental car and a phone full of audiobooks.

Why Albuquerque you might ask? but you need to blame Steve Davey who wrote Around the World in 500 Festivals for the inspiration.  A book that’s well worth buying if you are planning a photography-inspired trip

My plan is to focus on sunrise and sunsets and do the driving in the bits in the middle. It should be moderately challenging as I think I’ll be driving 1400 miles but I’ve identified various kitsch diners along the way where I can stop and listen to endless versions of Route 66. I plan to stop in Gallup, Kingman and Flagstaff as mentioned in the song.

I’m not sure what to expect in the current political climate as I’m visiting two red states and two blue. Should prove interesting. I will try and post updates along the way together with various images.

For photography fans I’m planning to work in Lightroom Mobile on an iPad Mini and edit as I go.  You can check out my photographic progress at


London’s City architecture: a triumph of vanity and capitalism

I went up to London on June 4th to photograph London’s City architecture. Two things of note about this. It was the morning after some terrorists drove a van at people on London bridge and then attacked them with knives. I went up with the Hampshire Social Snappers, a Meet Up Group.

We agreed to to meet at Monument Station and said we’d find each other because we we’d be the people with the cameras. Sadly the world’s press were there all filming down London Bridge but we eventually met up and fought our way through the associated bloggers, vloggers and mainstream press and started our walk using a map provided by the Corporation of London.

We walked across the City to iconic buildings like the Walkie-Talkie, the Gherkin and the Lloyds Building. We were lucky with the weather with blue skies and nice white clouds.

I last worked in the City nearly forty years ago and so expected the cityscape to have changed beyond recognition. And it has. It feels more like Manhattan than London but tucked between the glass and chrome of new London were the gorgeous Wren churches I remember from my time there. However the thing that struck me most was the sheer quality of the architecture.

I’ve always felt that good corporate architecture is a mix of sheer vanity and flamboyance. Most companies who build a mega-structure are basically waving their dangly bits in the face of their rivals and saying ‘mine is bigger than yours’ in a 60 story,thrusting,glass and steel sort of a way.

The architecture is also a triumph of capitalism. You cannot imagine a government funding the Gherkin or the Willis Building. It simply requires too much money and imagination and governments aren’t very good at that sort of thing.

So this was an exciting trip that started with the aftermath or terrorism, moved through world class architecture and ended with a tango demonstration in Spitalfields.

I decided to try and find unusual angles so I asked an Italian tourist if I could photograph her and her glasses with the Gherkin in the reflection.  She was a bit stunned initially but readily agreed.

Not the greatest shot but she was a good sport and I took a picture of her and her friend on their phone to say thank you.

A wonderful day out. Lunch at Wagawama and then the train home to the New Forest.



Clevedon Pier

My wife had broken her foot just before we were due to head off to Bath for a few days. So with a non-cancelable hotel room in our name I decided to shoot off to Bath and then onto Clevedon for a spot of photography.

Clevedon is a funny little Victorian seaside nothing, famous for its Grade 1 pier and from what I can see very little else. It’s an hour west of Bath and in addition to the pier it has a marine lake – basically a sea water pool.

I arrived intending to shoot the pier a sunset but with a couple of hours to spare I shot the marine lake in what started as overcast conditions and moved swiftly onto rain and then torrential hail.

Just before sunset I moved onto the pier and met a strange bloke who shoots the pier every night and claims to have over 14,000 images. It’s good but let’s be honest not that good.

Berlin: A remarkable story of courage and politics


The last time I was in Berlin was 1975. I was a fairly fresh faced fifteen year old on a school trip. A day trip to Berlin was the wonderful excuse for skipping lessons for the day. We flew from Gatwick with Freddie Laker at the crack of dawn and arrived in Templehoff in pouring rain.

We were driven around West Berlin in a coach while the terribly eager tour guide told us how many more trees there were in the West than the East. She even claimed ideological superiority on the basis that West Berlin has more dogs than East Berlin.

This reminded me of a meeting I attended at SHAPE where a US Army colonel explained the mineshaft theory, claiming the Soviets would ‘win’ because they could hide more of their population in mineshafts than the US to avoid nuclear armageddon .

Eventually we were dropped at Checkpoint Charlie and literally moved from a world of colour and neon to black and white. East Berlin was all grey concrete and most of the shops were closed. I remember going into a book store that seemed to only carry every word written by Marx or Lenin in every language known to man. I bought a hard backed copy of Das Capital in English for about 20p.

A gang of us school boys went into a foreigners store with visions of cut price caviar and vodka on our minds. Strangely the only things they had was picked cucumbers and Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Despite the gloom there were no street lights on and the whole of Unter Den Linden looked like a set from a spy movie. Which in many ways in was.

We came back through Checkpoint Charlie and as the only kid with an American passport mine was held back for checking. I made some quip about them not having to worry because I was a spy. That went down like a bacon sandwich at an ISIS convention. But I was 15.

Then back to West Berlin and the lights came on. Neon spewed from every bar and shop front. Our teachers foolishly gave us an hour to explore so a bunch of chums found the nearest bar where the staff were only too happy to sell us high tar German cigarettes, Rott Hande, from memory and we fired up these super cheap gaspers while guzzling our beer.

So Berlin was part artificial capitalist shop window and part hideous endorsement of the failure of the Eastern Block. Both sides maintained a high state of tension secure in the fact that West Berlin was capable of being over run by the East in about fifteen minutes.

Fast forward thirty five years and I’m back in Berlin staying in the fabulous Hotel Adlon in Unter den Linden by the Brandenburg Gate in what was East Berlin.

Yes it’s changed out of all recognition but the reason for this post isn’t the physical changes it is a salute to the politicians and people of Berlin.

Most cities suffer catastrophic upheaval maybe once in a century. Berlin had it twice, in 1941-45 and 1961-1989. However, it’s not the destruction that I want to focus on but the spirit of the city.

Germany as a whole has been very upfront about acknowledging it’s Nazi past. Hard not to. Berlin has many powerful memorials to the Jews of Europe who died.

The Holocaust Memorial is particularly powerful as you walk between concrete blocks all of different heights symbolising the individuals who died. The unnerving bit is that you hear voices in other rows rather like the voices of ghosts. Go. And take your time.

I was expecting the Nazi past was going to be the most central theme in Berlin but of course it couldn’t be. The division of the country from 1961-1990 was the greatest wound the country suffered in many ways and the supreme act of political will in reunification it’s greatest triumph. The sensitivity in which the city has both commemorated and celebrated the wall and it’s fall is an object lesson to cities everywhere.

wp-1463514479108.jpgThe path the wall took is remembered by a double row of bricks that snakes around the city pavements in a seemly never ending band. In places single sections of the wall remain with plaques explaining the history. It is a remarkable and powerful reminder of the division that effected not only city but the country.

So visit Berlin but understand that this is a special city with a unique history and set of challenges. But the effort required in reunification was immense and I applaud them for their success.

wp-1463514437264.jpgNow onto the political bit. I am by nature a glass-half-full person so the idea of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union depresses me beyond belief. If you want to effect change then roll your sleeves up and try and change things from within rather than stand on the sidelines chucking rocks. Or come to Berlin and see how politicians with vision and people with courage can effect change.

Musing on Cruising #6 Should you go on a cruise or is it the ultimate in luxury non-travel?

imageOf all the aspects of why people go cruising the psychology fascinates me the most. Cruising is a multibillion dollar business serving millions of passengers every year but the great question for me is why do people choose to take this most peculiar type of holiday.

Imagine for a moment the following fictitious ad for a new hotel

Come to the Hotel Queen Mary 2

Applications are now being taken for holidays at the Queen May 2 hotel. You will join over 2000 other passengers in a 1200 feet long hotel from which you will not be allowed to leave for up to seven days. You can walk around the deck in 70mph winds if you wish. The hotel will spend most of its time passing identical martime scenery and the may list uncomfortably if the sea conditions or wind are unfavourable.

You may experience prolonged periods of nausea but highly priced medical services are available. You will not however be permitted to leave the hotel in mid-holiday.

You can spend your time eating and drinking to excess and then exercise in one of the ships 7 minute hip-baths we laughingly refer to as swimming pools.

There are a wide variety of diverting entertainment few of which you would ever consider attending if you were not staying at the hotel Queen Mary 2 and in the evening a draconian dress code will be enforced together with a ridged class system in order that those with more money feel extra privileged.

Due to poplar demand bookings are now being taken for 2018

It doesn’t sound too appealing but the strange thing is that cruising actually works and I thought I’d spend a while trying to decipher why this strange and bizarre form of tourism isn’t just popular but is thriving.

Having spent almost three weeks at sea both crossing the Atlantic and the Caribbean I am convinced that Cunard are probably the most sophisticated psychological marketers on earth. By the use of a large variety of subtle psychological techniques and triggers they not only shape and control the experience of over 2300 people they manage to make it highly enjoyable.

There are so many things that simply shouldn’t work but they do and in many cases work spectacularly well. In no particular order here are my thoughts

Continue reading Musing on Cruising #6 Should you go on a cruise or is it the ultimate in luxury non-travel?

Musing on Cruising #5 Transatlantic in December

imageWhen you think of cruising your mind conjures up images of sunshine, steamer chairs in the deck, white jacketed waiters bringing you iced drinks. That may be the case except in the Atlantic in December. Here you should be thinking about Master and Commander, The Cruel Sea and any other movie that features black seas, violent storms and a pitching ship.

As I write this we have been at sea for five days. We have seen the sun for twenty minutes and the wind speed hasn’t dropped below Force 7 or about 38mph. Our record this afternoon was Hurricane Force 12 with wind over the deck of 78knts or just under 90mph and then it started to snow.

The wind causes a few problems with stability but the Queen Mary 2 is very sure footed. The problem is the pitching. When the swell is a moderate 10 feet most people wither retire to their cabins or totter about the ship looking slightly drunk as they gently bump into walls and furniture. Here is my guide to transatlantic wind speed and how to judge it

20mph – 30mph      Moderate swell

Brits are talking about it being a smooth as silk and Americans are jogging around the deck

30mph-40mph         Rough Force 8

Brits are using words like ‘choppy’ and have switched from beer to spirits. A few Americans are still jogging.

40mph-50mph         Rough Force 10

Brits are talking about having a light supper and only one cocktail. Last American still jogging

50mph-60mph       Big Swell Hurricane Force 11

Passengers using both hands on the banisters, bars half empty, doors to the decks are closed. No Americans jogging

60mph-70mph         Hurricane Force 12

Shows cancelled but the Balls carry on regardless. Dancing style goes out of the windows as people try to slow waltz by adding extra steps in a desperate attempt to keep their feet on the floor. Spin turns result in couples exiting the dance floor uncontrollably and ending up in the bar. Or was that just us.

70+mph        Armageddon

Brits crash into one another in corridors smiling while saying “I haven’t had my first gin yet”. All soup is cancelled. Every second lift is shut down and the Captain makes impromptu announcement that we needn’t worry as the ship will be the through the worst of this in the next six hours. Seats available anywhere you want. The sea looks like it’s going backwards and the wave hit the windows on deck 7. People start hallucinating claiming to have seen dolphins, whales, Wales, submarines, land or mermaids out of the windows.

In reality the condition aren’t too bad if you have reasonable sea legs but I wouldn’t do a transatlantic again. Six days at sea with no sun is just too boring regardless of however many balls and dinners they offer. Either start in the sun or start sailing when there is the remotest chance of some sunshine however brief.