Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Belgian Anniversary Trip

Friday, October 25th, 2013

2 years!  It’s already been two wonderful years since we got married, definitely hard to believe.  This year in particular has been a busy one with the purchase of our first home (finally!) and it’s subsequent gutting and renovations.

In order to celebrate this year, we decided to keep it simple and found an excellent deal for a weekend away in Belgium with EuroStar.  It was our intention to spend our 3 days in Brussels, but we ended up hopping over to Bruges for one of the days and it was definitely worth it.

The first day we walked ourselves ragged all over Brussels visiting all of the local tourist attractions we could find.  The favourite was obviously the little Manneken Pis, photographed on different days in different outfits.  He’s actually really small, probably only 2 feet tall or so, but very cute and a big draw.

And here we have the little peeing boy.  Shot on 2 different days, they dress him up differently all the time it seems.

Danni had once again selected an excellent hotel (this is one of her many magical powers) and everything was easily within walking distance from our doorstep.  We spent the fading hours of sunlight in the Grand Place getting a few photos of the incredible architecture. The town hall in particular was stunning and I took an awful lot of images of it during our stay there.

I dragged my tripod along again and unlike our trip to Northern Ireland, this time it actually got some use.  In addition to the low-light photos, we also did quite a few portraits of the two of us.  I really should do more of these though, I much prefer looking back on the the photos we’re in vs. images of buildings (if you’re a random internet stranger you may have a different opinion on this however).

Day 2 and we were up early to catch the train (from the station directly across the street from our hotel, well done again Danni) to Bruges.   I’m so glad we went as I think it’s one of my favourite cities so far.  It’s everything you could ever want in a medieval European town.  Cobbled streets everywhere, old buildings, canals, lovely food, not particularly crowded and oh so photogenic.  I could have easily spent a few more days there just taking photos.

There’s definitely a Venice/Amsterdam vibe to the city.  To me, it felt like the best of both of those cities.  It wasn’t as claustrophobic as Venice, and the buildings and streets felt older and more interesting than Amsterdam.  I don’t know if we just picked the right time of year, but it was also much less busy and touristy than either (especially Venice).

We also go pretty lucky with the weather too I think.  It was moody and misty when we arrived in the morning, but by late afternoon the sun was out and prompted a lovely sky as dusk approached.

We had to make sure to get a photo of us in front of the clock tower.  We watched In Bruges before and after our trip (great movie by the way, subtitles are handy to understand some of the thick Irish accents though!) and the tower features in the movie a couple of times, as does the location of the next shot.


We had our anniversary dinner in the white building on the right at a lovely table by the windows.  It was a really nice evening and a great way to spend our 2nd anniversary together.

Our final day saw us visiting the Comic Strip Museum in Brussels (interesting, but apart from Astrix, Tintin and the Smurfs I didn’t recognize any of the strips and only about 20% of the information presented was in English), and shopping for Beer & Chocolates (yes, in Belgium they both need to be capitalized).

All in all, lovely weekend with my lovely wife in a lovely part of the world.  Who could ask for anything more?

I suppose you could ask for more photos, good point.  They’re here, as always.

Northern Ireland

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

My lovely wife has put up with me talking about wanting to go to Ireland since we first met.  I’m not sure why it kept getting pushed down the list of destinations we choose for our travel options, but it didn’t seem like we were going to get there for a very long time.

Then, as a complete surprise, she booked an entire long weekend holiday for the two of us for my birthday!  She only told me a couple of days before we were due to leave, so we had some last minute planning to do (she had booked plans for our full day already, so that was good).

It wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without a tour of Belfast’s pubs, so that was priority #1.

Including live, traditional Irish music.

I told our tour guide that the assumption of Irish pubs in Canada (and likely North America in general) is that in every pub, at all times you’ll find a group of lads drinking Guinness and playing traditional Irish folk music.  She assured me that this wasn’t the case, but I only had to wait until our second stop on the tour to find exactly that.

I did a quick video of them playing (I usually totally forget my camera can also do video) as I didn’t think the photo would really cover it.  You can find it on youTube here, they were brilliant and exactly what I wanted to see.  I could have easily stopped the tour here.

Day two was our big day in the country.  I’ve always wanted to visit the Giant’s Causeway so Danni booked us on a day trip that took us up the coast from Belfast and stopped at several interesting spots along the way.  The first stop was just a quick one at Carrickfergus Castle.  It wasn’t particularly exciting (for someone who’s visited quite a few castles over the past few years) and the stop was a short one, but I managed to get a quick photo of the two of us out in front before we moved on.

Danni and I at Carrickfergus Castle.  I dragged my tripod all the way to Northern Ireland for this shot ;)

Dunluce Castle was actually far more interesting even in its crumbled state.  We only stopped briefly on the roadside to take a quick few photos but the setting was stunning and the dreary, overcast weather suited the mood perfectly.  What more could you ask for from Ireland than the ruins of an old castle on a misty, rocky outcropping overlooking the North Sea.

The remains of Dunluce Castle

There were a couple more stops along the way before we finally made it to the Causeway.  Like a giddy child, I wanted to skip everything and run straight down to the coast to check out this amazing natural phenomenon.  Totally forgot my tripod in the coach and the guided audio tour things that we paid for, but it almost didn’t matter (I do wish I had my tripod!).

How can you not be fascinated when confronted with this??

I took many, many shots of the causeway.

We took the long path around the peak of the cliff face and were treated to some stunning views and loads of coconut smelling yellow flowers.  It was difficult not to run past it all to get down to the Causeway proper, but like a real adult I persevered.

The tip of the causeway.

We had the friendly lifeguard on duty take a quick photo of the two of us.  There were actually quite a lot of people there, but if you timed your photos right you could make it look like you were on another planet (which is what I wanted as that’s exactly what it felt like).

Danni taking a break.  There were actually quite a few people there, but with a bit of patience you could make it look like we h

Day three was our last day and we spent the morning roaming around Belfast city center picking up souvenirs and getting in a few more pints of Guinness.  We did have enough time for the City Hall tour, which was definitely worth it to get to see some of the grand halls and hear some interesting stories.  Also, it was free 😉

They certainly don’t do opulent like this anymore.

With the tour complete, there was just time enough to stop into one of the locals for our final pint of creamy, delicious Guinness before hoping on the flight back to London.

Thank you so much for the lovely weekend Danni, it was perfect!  Best. Wife. Ever.

There are (lots) more photos in the gallery here.

Thornbury Redux

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

We’ve been waiting patiently for over a month now for a weekend that closely approximates summer (or at least one that wasn’t raining) so that we could take mama out to our wedding venue for lunch and some photos.  She wasn’t able to attend our big day last year, so we wanted to show her around and get some nice portraits done so she would feel included.

The reception room we were married in seemed somewhat smaller this time.  Presumably due to the tables being set out for drinks but also I think there was an air of grandness due to the occasion the last time we visited that lent to it’s vast feel.  Regardless, we settled in for some light refreshments while waiting to be called into the dinning room for lunch.

Lunch in general was rather disappointing, which was surprising given how good our meals in the past had been.  Mama and I had the same lackluster terrine starter and Danni regrettably dared a sardine option that I couldn’t get far enough away from.  The mains were marginally better, Danni and I selected the vegetarian & duck egg salad while mama had the fish (the only other option being a liver dish in case you’re wondering why I’d opted for vegetarian).

Fortunately, this isn’t a food review site and Danni and I still love the castle regardless of our sub-par lunch.  We finished paying and headed outside for the real reason we came.  The photos!

We tried to emulate the brilliant photos taken at our wedding.  I’ve still got a ways to go in order to catch up to our wedding photographer, but I think everyone was happy with the results.  There were a few people milling around the courtyard that we had to work around, but nothing a little Photoshop cloning can’t fix.

The weather held off nicely, but the sky was overcast and boring so if you can see blue skies in any of these photos they’re compliments of the Caribbean.  I like to think I’m getting better at inserting fake skies to the point that people wouldn’t be able to tell, but then I go and tell everyone they’re edited in anyway so I’m not sure why I try so hard…

Anyway, brilliant day at one of our favourite places in the world.  Very happy that we’ve been able to share with the vast majority of our family and I think mama was pleased with the prints we sent her home with.

More of the same in the gallery!


Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

It’s been a busy couple of months for us with all of the traveling and Danni’s mother coming to visit, but Amsterdam was a work fueled trip that I couldn’t miss.  My original plan was to travel to Amsterdam last year for the 2011 Dutch PHP Convention, but due to the UK border agency holding my passport too long (for a bit of paperwork I ultimately didn’t need), I wasn’t able to attend.  The nice folks who ran the convention simply shifted my tickets to the 2012 event and since Danni had her shiny new UK passport it didn’t make sense for her not to join me.

A sliver of our view from the hotel window.
Since I was spending my days at the conference, I didn’t really get a chance to get out and take some proper photos until our last day.  Still, I managed a few snapshots in the evenings here and there but our travel book is going to be a bit thin this time I think. (whenever we go on holiday we get our photos printed in a photo book from a company called Albelli who do a good job at a decent price, and the software is dead easy to use)

I had to run back to catch this photo as the lights came on.

Amsterdam was a lot like a Venice you could actually live in.  Where Venice was cramped and overrun with people, Amsterdam had all of the charms of the canals (less the gondoliers) with what actually felt like residential areas.  I’m not saying one place was better than the other, but I certainly know where I’d choose to live given the option.

And my little cheese eater

Danni had the time to do quite a bit more sightseeing than I did and enjoyed most of the museums on offer, in addition to sampling a LOT of free cheese. She even joked about having to come up with a disguise so she could hit all of the spots she’d done already, but I don’t think it came to that.  We did end up bringing back a fair bit of cheese with us, so I think it all balanced out.

Danni and our tasting expert.

We managed to do the Heineken Experience tour one evening which was actually a lot of fun.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the tour, but it was interesting, slightly informative (especially if you’re unaware of how beer is actually made) and most importantly you get quite a few samples included in the cost of the tour.  Tours that include booze of some sort are always better than tours that don’t.  Fact.

Our last day out, visiting windmills.

On our last day we had a bit of time once the conference was finished so we headed to a nearby village/museum called Zaanse Schans.  It was a collection of old style Dutch homes along with half a dozen windmills, each designed for a different purpose.  It was a really nice day out, partly due to the great weather we were having, but also because the windmills were exactly what you want to see on your first visit to Holland.  We had lunch in the little village before jumping on the train back to Amsterdam in time to catch our evening flight back home.

Danni and the tiny remains of a once great cotton candy stick.

I’d love to go back one day and really explore the city and a bit more of the countryside.  There are a lot of other places we both want to visit, so it may be a while till we’re back again.  As always, there are more images in the gallery.


Monday, May 21st, 2012

After 9 long years of being unable to travel at will from the UK, Danni finally received her full citizenship and British passport in April.  This meant we could finally leave the country without having to apply for visas in advance, prove bank balances and generally jump through bureaucratic hoops which weren’t even a guaranteed thing.

In addition to that, my birthday was looming so we knew we had to do something fairly big.

To be completely honest, we didn’t even have to think that hard before coming up with the ideal long weekend get-away destination. Venice.  (which you may have deduced already from the title of this blog post, clever you!)

We’ve both separately been to various parts of Italy in the past, but neither of us had made it to this magical city before.  It’s difficult to describe as there really isn’t anything else like it. The narrow passageways, the ancient architecture, the canals, the tourists.  Oh man, the tourists.  For my London friends, imagine all the people on Oxford street trying to move down 2 narrow hallways. With no signs or visible land marks to facilitate even a modicum of direction sense.  Chaos.

Fortunately, Venice is deceptively small (this is my excuse for getting us lost several times even with map in hand) and we managed to stay far away from the crowds for the majority of our 4 day excursion.  The side streets are jaw-dropping; filled with little shops selling opulent carnival masks, delicate glassware and all manner of cafes and restaurants vying for customer attention.

To say Venice is photogenic would be one of my greater understatements.  I regret not having the willpower to be up at dawn to capture the serenity of an empty city lit by sunrise and a few street lamps not yet switched off.  Or being able to stay in the city itself a few more hours to catch the sunset  and warm hours of dusk.  My lovely wife is infinitely patient with me when it comes to my photography, but we both did so much walking each day that by 5:00 our legs and feet were numb with pain.  The thought of waiting around for three or four more hours was just too much to bear.

That being said, we both managed to take some lovely images which will help us remember the trip for a very long time.  I have to say that the photographer in me loved the island of Burano more than anywhere else we visited on our trip.  The colourful houses and local people just going about their daily business under the bright blue skies were almost more than I could ask for.

I do have to mention that we both ate our yearly quote of delicious pizza while here.  My favourite from the trip was a lovely pumpkin, tomato & buffalo mozzarella number pictured below.  It’s making my mouth water just thinking about it…

There are many, many more photos from our great Venetian trip in the gallery.  Now stop planning your trip and just go already!