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30
Apr

Edoras

It’s not often that you get to visit iconic locations from Middle Earth, but that’s what I did with my family this past weekend.  It reminded me how easy it is to ‘overlook’ the great hidden locations that might be tucked away near where you live, where-ever that may be.  This place is actually called Mt Sunday, since the locals used to meet here on Sunday’s … back in the old days.

Of course it’s been some time since the dwarves, elves, hobbits and ‘men’ -bustled about the village of Edoras (featured in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers).  However, watching that portion of the movie again … I can promise you that it truly is a windy place to visit.

From Christchurch, it is about two hours drive – the first 90 minutes was on sealed roads (although virtually no cars were travelling the same roads once turning off State Highway 1 in Rakaia … so an hour of peaceful drive), with the last half hour on gravel roads (again with very little traffic).  The first glimpse of Edoras is shown below.

We elected to take a picnic lunch with us, rather than simply take some obligatory photos and leave.  From the road, it was about 45 minute walk up to the top (although we took a bit longer since we stopped to take a lot of photos). It was fairly steep in some places, so I expect it would be quite slippery in the wet (since the track was generally over grass).  We purposefully picked a nice day, and that made the picnic much more enjoyable.

It was a peaceful place to visit, and provides some of the best 360 degree alpine panoramic’s that you will ever see. Photos don’t do justice to this mountainous valley, and even the video clips can’t quite capture the enormity of the place.  The rivers are clear, clean, fast flowing, and make a merry bubbling noise that soothes away any worries you may have.

Mt Potts Lodge is well advertised as you get closer, although when we went to investigate – were met by someone who didn’t speak English (which made it difficult to find out more). There are a delightful cluster of holiday houses at Lake Clearwater, en route, and with two lakes within walking distance … makes for somewhere to visit again in the summer (and a good option for a place to stay).

There are a variety of walking tracks in the region, and I’m keen to explore a little more.

14
May

Amsterdam

I’ve been to Amsterdam a lot.  Most of the time it was simply passing through the airport, but often times I had several hours layover … enough to go into town for a visit.  So, oddly, I have accumulated quite a lot of time visiting this city without ever having stayed a single night. While this might sound somewhat silly, it actually a great idea when you consider that the alternative is to sit around in an airport.

Amsterdam is an easy train ride from the airport, and doesn’t take long at all.  I often would go into town for a quiet breakfast at one of the local cafes, before strolling along the picturesque canals, shopping if needed, and then jumping on the short train ride back to the airport.

Bikes along Amsterdam Canal

Bikes along an Amsterdam Canal, ready for the morning commute.

Many years ago I nearly moved to Amsterdam to live on a houseboat, but choices were made and other paths pursued (like many watershed decisions we make throughout life).  However, I think there’s something intriguing about the idea of living so close to the water, somehow separate from the very heart of the city where you may reside.  It seems peaceful in many ways (like on the quiet mornings I would visit), yet it also seems that it could be loud and noisy from a vibrant city life (I am speculating). Perhaps I missed my calling, or perhaps I would not have liked it at all – I cannot say.

Houseboats on a canal in Amsterdam

Houseboats on a canal in Amsterdam

Did I say that there were a lot of bicycles in Amsterdam?  What an understatement … they were everywhere!  I liked that there were so many different types, representing the different character of the local residents. If I had been staying for any decent amount of time, I absolutely would have planned on renting one!!

Everywhere you looked there were bikes parked - everywhere!

Everywhere you looked there were bikes parked – everywhere!

To some the city has a reputation for certain activities, however, I found that morning life in Amsterdam started much the same as anywhere else in the world – with promise of adventure.

Morning life in Amsterdam

Morning life in Amsterdam

Dad’s Recommendation:
Get out of the airport if you have time on your long layovers!  However, make sure you have enough time to get through any customs, immigration and security protocols … so check these things out ahead of time (if possible, ask someone who has done it before).

P.S. Don’t do what Matt Barnes and I did one visit – to take tons of photos, then lose the camera before downloading the greatest pictures ever seen!!

2
May

Bullet Proof Glass

In some parts of the world you must be much more concerned about safety than in others.  Generally it’s not a good idea to go into places where there’s conflict or danger unless you have a very good reason that can’t wait until after the smoke has cleared.

Bullet proof glass is a little extreme in most places - but don't hesitate to consider safety for the journey.

Bullet proof glass is a little extreme in most places – but sometimes it’s prudent to be prepared (this photo was taken in Baghdad at the height of 2007 internal conflict).

Security companies can be found in virtually every part of the world, and they usually will have various levels of protection (and associated cost).  These firms are likely to have several ‘hardened’ vehicles available if you need a high level of certainty that you can safely get from point A to point B.  That said, you probably want to be safe at point A and point B as well, so static security is also an important consideration in dangerous parts of the world (usually provided by higher end hotels – at various levels of rigor). I’m not going to write more about this today, but be assured that there are many more things that could be said.

One thing most people don’t realise about hardened car doors with bullet proof glass … is that they are very, very heavy to open and close.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Plan ahead – and consider safety before you journey.  Bullet proof glass really does work, but isn’t a substitute for good planning.  Safety is a sensible thing to consider, no matter where you travel.

29
Apr

Anchorage

For many people it’s the easiest way to travel above the 60th parallel, by simply visiting Alaska’s largest city (with about 300,000 residents). At higher latitudes, the summer days are longer – just like the winter nights. However, the scenic beauty of this state is somewhat larger than life – especially for anyone who hasn’t had much time in the great-outdoors.  The mountains are big, the sky is big, the wildlife is big, pretty much everything is big … except the population.

The 'Anchorage Bowl' at sunset

The ‘Anchorage Bowl’ at sunset – from the vantage of my hotel room.

For some, a cruise is the preferred way to visit Alaska – just like my parents did some years ago.  For me, I like to get out on the road and drive out past the city limits, past the semi-rural homes and lifestyle farms, to see what the country really looks like.  I have spent lots of time out in remote mountains, and was truly invigorated by mysterious lure of the Alaskan mountains … and warrants a much longer visit than what I was able to tack onto my work trip.

Mysterious mountains cloaked in translucent clouds

Mysterious mountains cloaked in translucent clouds

Winters are cold but manageable for the well prepared.  The spring brings new life after the dark winter, but almost certainly is noted by snowmelt runoff and resultant mud.  Summers are very pleasant, with long days to enjoy to the full.  However, I visited when the autumn leaves were turning, and the snow capped mountains were adorned with green and yellow.

Geographic layers can be clearly seen on the side of this waterfront mountain

Geographic layers can be clearly seen on the side of this waterfront mountain

Dad’s Recommendation:
Alaska is too big to adequately capture in a few photos.  I suggest that you go and see it for yourself – and take a drive out into the truly great outdoors.

4
Oct

Spring Daffodils

Just a short time ago, I took my family to a park for some annual photos in the daffodils.  While the seasons are reversed between the northern and southern hemispheres … it’s still a great thing to make a tradition of something as simple as taking photos during the relatively short daffodil season.  It’s handy to have annual photos of the kids growing up, and while birthdays, Christmas or school photos are great, sometimes it’s good to have something scenic in the frame as well.

This is a photo of my youngest two children.  While travel may be lots of fun, it's much better with those you love.

This is a photo of my youngest two children. While travel may be lots of fun, it’s much better with those you love.

As noted in the photo caption, it’s much better to travel with those you love.  So, while sometimes it may be easier to travel through challenging foreign environments by yourself, it is better and safer to travel with someone else …. however, it’s much more fun to travel anywhere with your loved ones (especially once the kids are a little older).

Dad’s Recommendation:
Make some simple annual  family traditions, and capture them on film.  (To kids – a tradition is anything they liked, and which we’ve done at least once.)