Sunday, 16 June 2013

Kelis, sledging and Iceland's unpronounceable volcano

Eyjafjallajokull rock
Clambering aboard a sledge in the middle of June and sliding down an icecap while listening to Kelis: an activity worthy of gracing anyone's bucket list. Apart from Kelis's, perhaps. Or Bjork's. Welcome to Iceland. 

So surreally brilliant was this experience that it surely pushes the northern lights, waterfall gawping and Brennivin gulping under the midnight sun as one of this weirdly beautiful north Atlantic island's highlights. That it took place on the summit of Eyjafjallajökull, the impossible-to-pronounce volcano which spouted ash across most of Europe in 2010, made it all the more memorable. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

A slightly cynical Sri Lanka travel guide

Goyambokka Beach, Tangalla, Sri Lanka
Lonely Planet named it the top country to visit in 2013, Rick Stein told us to "go there because the curries are so good, the beaches are so unspoiled and the countryside will charm you" and, much to my chagrin, Lorraine Pascale would be visiting at exactly the same time as me. If only I had known while I was there, sigh.

But Sri Lanka, despite being 'back on the map' following decades of civil war, is a country that continues to divide travellers' opinions. In February I spoke to Simon Calder, The Independent's travel editor, who claimed he "couldn't see anything much transformed". Meanwhile, former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka Gordon Weiss warned that the country is "sliding into tyranny", such is the power and ubiquitous presence of its controversial president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

London Marathon 2013: The Mad Hatter and other characters

London Marathon Mad Hatter
This isn't a nightmare. This is happening. The Mad Hatter is hurtling towards you with the likely intent of your kidnap and subsequent smuggling to Wonderland. Fortunately, you just so happen to have a vuvuzela on your person - so you blow it in his face and hope he goes away. Which he does; completing the marathon in a respectable four-and-a-half hours.

The above happened at today's 2013 London Marathon. As did the other stuff below, some of which is arguably more terrifying.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Robert Macfarlane on walking, writing and judging the 2013 Man Booker Prize

Robert Macfarlane - The Old Ways
Imagine putting your coat on, opening the front door, closing it behind you and turning the key (you may not have to imagine the last bit if you have a door that locks itself, in which case I deeply envy you). You begin strolling along the pavement to a little field path and decide to keep on walking - the sun is shining and there's only so much of Tim Wonnacott a man can take, so why not? It proves a wise decision, because eventually you end up in Spain, the West Bank and the Himalayas, rambling to your heart's content and meeting lots of lovely people en route. When you arrive back home five years later, you decide to write a book not simply on the journey per se, but on landscape's influence on the human condition. 

It may sound like a collective fantasy of the red sock brigade, but the above project belongs to author and Cambridge English lecturer Robert Macfarlane, whose 1,500-mile perambulation is documented in his most recent book, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. I sat down with the man himself to talk about walking, writing and being on the judging panel of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, two out of three of which I have direct experience of. No, that's right, I'm not much of a walker. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Travis Elborough on London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing

Travis Elborough - London Bridge in America
I sat down for a chat with the lovely Travis Elborough, author of London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing, to talk about one the most bizarre chapters in Anglo-American history: the upheaval and subsequent plonking of London Bridge in the Arizonan desert.

The London Bridges of old were famous for involuntarily falling down, but in 1968 the one built in 1831 - a far sturdier structure than its predecessors - was voluntarily dismantled, brick by brick, and transported to the Arizonan desert, where it was rebuilt for the benefit of holidaying Americans.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Shard: View from the top

At 309m it's the tallest building in Europe (by tallest in Europe I mean western Europe, and by tallest I mean second-tallest after the 324m Eiffel Tower; though that's not technically a building because it's a structure, right? But if we were to include creations like Gustave Eiffel's, the Shard, which opened to the public last Friday, is only the 10th-tallest construction in the UK, let alone the continent - a full 55 metres shorter than that most celebrated of north-west landmarks, the Skelton Mast in Cumbria), and last night I decided to take the two kaleidoscopic lifts up to the Shard's Level 68. Despite the many and varied fingerprints, Brylcreem streaks and camera flashes, I managed to take the following slightly-too-grainy images thanks to a whopping great ISO setting. If you don't know what that means, move along; you're not wanted here.

Shard: View from the top

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Michael Lee Johnson's on foot to freedom: Walking from Beijing to London

Michael Lee Johnson On Foot to Freedom
Imagine clambering aboard an aeroplane in London bound for Beijing. In just ten-and-a-half hours, your jet-propelled metal cocoon will have carried you more than 5,000 miles en route to the Chinese capital. Now imagine bedding down for the night, awakening bright and early the next morning, lacing up the walking boots and strolling back home to the UK, alone and unaided, through some of the most volatile countries on the planet (Belgium in January; a nasty, nasty business, let me tell you), and minus the crow's advantage of travelling the most direct route. So, add another 4,000 miles onto the 5,000, slow down the average speed from 450 mph to four, and you're looking at a journey that will take three to five years to complete. Yes, the margin for error is as great as a hamster's life, a simile that achieves precisely the opposite effect I intended.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow in London: Slightly clichéd photographs

Occasionally, the mercury plummets to such depths that it becomes too cold to snow. Which is, of course, absolutely untrue - the people spouting such myths clearly haven't roamed the snowy wastelands of the Arctic or Antarctic. I digress. It 'felt' a positively polar minus 7 degrees C in London today, and the snow-clogged clouds dutifully deposited their fluffy white contents over the capital's streets as I was plodding around during my lunch hour. So naturally I joined in with everybody else struggling with their camera's exposure and white balance settings to take the following slightly clichéd photographs. Ka-boom:

Snowing in front of Big Ben