For science!

Yesterday we visited the town of La Laguna, home of two museums, but also a lot of other impressive things to look at (architecture, graffiti, churches etc.). For me this was the highlight of the week so far, and it allowed me to see how the area I’ve been staying in developed over the centuries, and how history touched it and shaped it to be what it is today.

The first museum was a museum of history, which reminded me a little of the Museum of London in that it laid out the history of Tenerife chronologically so as to take visitors through the same journey the island has undertaken over the centuries. Thankfully there was commentary in English (I don’t normally bother with these, but my Spanish is bad enough that it was worth it). I saw a lot of impressive paintings and old books, and also took around 100 photographs which I’ll do something with when I get home.

After lunch we took a short tram ride to the science museum, which was basically a large concrete bunker full of all the usual sorts of things you see in a science museum. It wasn’t particularly innovative, but it was fun, and we ended up staying there a couple of hours and interacting with pretty much everything. Again, I photographed everything, and between the two museums and the town itself I probably have close to 300 pictures.

It’s our last day here today, and we leave very early tomorrow, so I suspect we will be having a lazy day today. It’s been a good holiday though, and this is a place I will definitely come back to at some point in the future.

Travelling further afield

I woke up yesterday feeling less than well, but soon made the decision that it was not going to stop me from interacting fully in the activities of the day. After breakfast we caught a tram, and then a bus, which took us through some fairly impressive scenery including cloud-shrouded mountains and the bluest of seas. The journey did not take too long (nothing does here – it’s just over an hour from one end of the island to the other), and we soon found ourselves in Puerto de la Cruz, which is in the north of Tenerife and is significantly more tourist focused than Santa Cruz. The differences could not have been more obvious – from the English translations on menus and street signs, to the amount of merchandise for sale in the shops and stalls that are everywhere. The day largely consisted of walking around and taking photographs (mainly of lizards– there were many lizards), and also getting coffee and snacks in a couple of places (where again the slightly inflated prices suggested a focus towards temporary visitors).

Last night’s film was Moana. I may have interacted with my iPad a fair bit during that one.

Festivals and illness

At some point I’m sure I’ll manage a week away from work without coming down with some sort of illness – this is not that week though. Yesterday started with a visit to see the festivities associated with the local holiday to celebrate the Canary Islands. There were stalls, singing and dancing, and far more people than I’m usually comfortable with. It was OK, but by the end I was starting to feel like I was coming down with some sort of head cold (although I did manage to wander around and take some photographs). This feeling continued throughout the day, and the evening ended up involving little more than watching a film (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – which I actually found quite entertaining) and then going to bed fairly early. I then woke up in the middle of the night with a really sore throat, and this morning I’ve got most of the symptoms of a heavy cold, although my energy levels suggest I’ll be fine to do something today so I’m not going to let it stop me.

I’ve been here a few days now, and I’m really enjoying the weather, the pace of life, and the fact that it’s possible to spend a whole day moving between different cafes and bars, drinking reasonably priced coffee and wine in a visually impressive environment. I don’t think I could live like this, but I certainly plan on coming back here in the future to see all the things I’m not going to get round to on this trip (not least the volcano, which I really would like to stand at the top of at some point). It looks like we’re going to have family here for the foreseeable future, so I don’t mind too much if illness or the relatively short duration of the trip leads me to not doing everything that there is to do. There will be time, and I do not plan on knocking myself out on this trip as I’ve got another week of (business) travel straight afterwards.

Settling in

The second day in any new place is generally when I start to settle in. Yesterday was no exception, and included a trip to two supermarkets and several shops, an evening in a lovely outside bar, and then the first film of the holiday (Dr Strange, which I actually enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would). Everything here seems reasonably priced, with even quite decent wine significantly cheaper than the U.K.

I also did a little research into some of the interesting sights from yesterday, and found that the odd juxtaposition of iconography I noted in yesterday’s blog was actually due to the monument being created long after any of the historical periods it referenced. There are a lot of older things here (including churches and a ruined castle), but there certainly don’t seem to be any historical or mythological treasure maps that I can find at present.

It’s a holiday here today (Día de Canarias), so shops will be shut and the streets will be full of celebrations. I suspect we may go and join them at some point later, before planning further excursions for the rest of the week.

First impressions of Tenerife

Getting up at 3am was a bit of a culture shock. I usually get up at 6, so early mornings are a thing I’m used to, but even so I found it quite hard. We got to the airport just after 4, and grabbed breakfast at the airport. The food was slow to arrive, and slightly cold by the time it did, but was still very welcome. Coffee was also achieved, following which there was a painfully slow crawl from the gate to the plane, which ended up taking off about 20 minutes late due to what was described as “carnage” at the airport, but which just looked like mild disorganisation.

I’ve never flown with Monarch before, and I was pleasantly surprised. the seats were comfortable, there was a handy slot for my iPad in the back of the seat in front, and I largely managed to escape into four hours of familiar music (Belle & Sebastian and Cardiacs), as well as taking a few photographs through the window as we were landing. The landing was quite bumpy, but it wasn’t long before we were out of the plane, had collected our baggage, and were standing in the Tenerife sunshine waiting to get a bus to Santa Cruz.

We drove along a coastal road for around 50 minutes, with the sea to our right and a series of impressive looking scenery to our left. One day I will come back to this island for a waking and climbing holiday, but this is not that trip. As we headed north the scenery changed from arid and water starved earth to something lush and greener, and soon we were pulling into Santa Cruz, which I later learned was the capital of Tenerife.

Staying with family always makes for a different sort of holiday, with the differences in this case being reliable internet, a large black cat, and having people around who can show us the sights from the perspective of a local. That quite useful for me, as I usually treat holidays as an opportunity to try and live in a new place for a week, and to make a judgement as to whether it is a place I would want to live for a longer period of time at some point in the future. The jury is still out on Tenerife, but it’s good to know I’m getting better quality data than I manage in a lot of places.

Our first wander around Santa Cruz involved looking at a couple of interesting old buildings, and some statues and sculptures that seemed to combine standard Catholic iconography with something more nautical (as I would expect for an island). There is more history on display here that I had expected, and plenty of things I want to read up on either while I am here or once I get back home. There are also plenty of small cafes and bars to grab a relatively inexpensive coffee or glass of wine, and we grabbed one of each before calling it a night relatively early (getting up at 3am will do that).

I was awake before dawn, and have in fact learned that dawn happens much later than in the U.K. at this time of year. if this is the pattern the week is going to follow then I should have chance to sit and write for an hour or so before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, which should be plenty of time to keep my blog up to date rather than posting a big long essay at the end of the holiday as I’ve done on previous trips abroad.

My travel setup

My travel kit (for non-work travel) now consists of:

If I’m working I’ll also have my Surface Pro 4 with me, but apart from that I rarely travel with a laptop these days.

Adventures in Egypt

16th May

I remember the first time I was in Egypt. I was thirteen years old, and was taken to see the pyramids at Giza. Then (as now) it was really hot there, and I’d probably not taken too much notice about staying hydrated. So when I was handed a bottle of Coca-Cola (one of the glass bottles) I downed it in one. Now, I’ve never been much a fan of fizzy drinks and I’ve always found them quite hard to drink. They don’t go down easily and they leave a really odd feeling in my stomach that makes me not want to eat for a while. This time was no exception, and as soon as the last drop hit my stomach I threw the whole lot back up in front of dozens of people on the Giza Plateau.

That was my first trip to Egypt, and I’ve not been back since. Tomorrow, that is all going to change. I’m going on a one week holiday to Sharm el-Sheik, and I don’t plan on drinking fizzy drinks, seeing pyramids or being sick.

I have no other real expectations for this trip. The plan is to have a nice relaxing holiday somewhere hot, and that fact that it happens to be Egypt is secondary. But I can’t forget that this is the country where my Grandparents met and married, and the country which I read so many books about during my ancient history phase.

I think it will be easy to forget though. I expect this trip to be high on relaxation and low on history and mythology, but at the same time I am looking forward to returning to a country that has changed so much politically and economically since the last time I was there.

17th May

The journey starts today, after a very strange day rattling around the house with no dog and no cats. I’m not sure what feels worse – sending the animals to their temporary home for a week or powering down my computer and network. I miss them both, but in very different ways.

I am also glad that Birmingham International Airport now has decent free wifi. Although I’m less glad that all the news stories seem to be about Egyptian unrest and people hacking the controls of aeroplanes.

18th May

The journey to Egypt was fairly uneventful. Sharm airport was basic, but perfectly functional, and there wasn’t too much evidence of the heightened security that is a feature of most of Egypt right now. It took a while for our bags to arrive, but once they did we were herded into a small bus, and within half an hour or so we were checking in to our hotel.

The hotel is lovely. It’s probably the nicest all-inclusive hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and very much feels like Egypt (specifically the Asian part of Egypt). The room is spacious and air conditioned, and there is plenty of storage space (including a safe and a fridge). I’ve taken a lot of photographs of the hotel and the room, both high-quality colour pictures, and a series of black and white art shots taken on my old iPhone (which I use as a watch, camera and music player when I’m travelling). I suspect a selection of these pictures will make it to somewhere on the internet at some point in the next couple of weeks.

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I’m also really impressed that we were able to get dinner and drinks despite turning up at the exact minute the restaurant was meant to close. I have no idea what I actually ate (some sort of fish, some sort of bird and white rice I think), but it was delicious, and after 5 hours on a plane with nothing more than snack food it was very welcome.

One thing that did strike me about this room is that it’s not really geared for people travelling with multiple electrical devices (so people like us). We’re not just here for sand and sun – we’re here to take photographs, write, study, and do all the things we usually do but in a different physical location. The room didn’t have any spare plug sockets at all, but after realising that we can turn plug sockets on and off with the light switch, we managed to throw together a charging station that could deal with 4 USB powered devices and a laptop. Of course, we then switched the whole thing off again with the lights, but we won’t be making that mistake again.

After a few hours of sleep, the resort looked very different in the light, and is easily the largest such complex we have ever visited (with our hotel being one of three in the general vicinity). Exploring it is going to take a couple of days, and will result in many photographs. This is the day I took lot of black and white photographs as well, and it took me back to the days I would shoot everything in black and white because it looked more artistic. I’m now not sure it does look more artistic, but it is quite interesting to have a second set of pictures that capture the trip from a slightly different (and more blurry) angle.

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We also got to experience more of the hotel food. I wasn’t as convinced by breakfast as the dinner last night, but I did really enjoy the coffee and cakes I had afterwards. It’s very hot here, and bottled water has also featured quite highly in my diet so far. I suspect this will be the case throughout the trip, although it amuses me that they serve the red wine at a much lower temperature than the bottled water. The wine isn’t actually bad, and is served in modest enough portions that a glass or two with lunch might just be an option.

When planning this trip I wasn’t sure if I had ever encountered a place this hot before. Now we’re here it doesn’t feel much hotter than Italy in the summer, but we have not encountered the heat at the middle of the day yet. Thankfully there is always an air conditioned room to retreat to, and I think that I will be spending the middle hours of the day reading, writing, and staying in the shade. I suspect that makes me a bad tourist, but I don’t really get too much satisfaction from lying in the sun and turning my skin an unattractive shade of red. Maybe I’ll feel differently by the end of the week, but for now I plan on using the good parts of this resort to the full and barely paying lip service to the rest.

One thing we did do today was to make reservations at three local restaurants that we get to eat at once each as part of our booking. So at some point this week there will be seafood, Lebanese and Japanese. We have spaced these out throughout the trip so that we get a night of hotel food and then a night of something nicer. This may be our only concession to things organised by the hotel or the tour guide, as generally we like to be left to our own devices.

19th May

Last night we spent a couple of hours in an outdoor bar, enjoying the slight drop in temperature after the sun had set. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun, but it’s also pushing 40 degrees here and I’m really not used to that sort of heat for sustained periods of time. We also took many more photographs, including quite a few artistic ones. I suspect we may visit this bar again, as it was very pleasant.

Today has largely involved lounging around, reading, and drinking endless bottles of mineral water (and the occasional cup of coffee, although far less than in the UK). The area around the pool isn’t too crowded, and people seem to be fairly sensible about the sun, although they might also be avoiding the locals trying to sell various services that we’ve been warned not to accept. Everyone is pleasant enough, but it’s very obvious that they are here to sell things that we just don’t want to buy. None of this is a surprise though, as Egypt is notorious for this sort of thing.

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I downloaded a lot of books before I left. I’m getting through them at about 2 a day, but even at that rate I won’t run out. I may very well make a decent dent in my list of things to read though. I may also start to make a dent in the cocktail menu, although some of them sound quite odd. I will try and remember to take a picture of the menu before I head home.

We are not doing any day trips this year (they are all quite expensive, and none of them appeal), but I don’t feel I’m missing anything, and I’m very glad of the chance to stay in and around this beautiful resort for a week and catch up on reading, writing, and everything I do that isn’t part of my day job and doesn’t require the internet.

Which reminds me, last night we did check out the free wifi room at the resort. The connection was really slow, but I was online long enough to catch up on the news and read my personal email. I have no burning desire to spend lots of time on the internet, but it is good to know that the facility exists in case of emergencies. I think that’s one of the big things about those of us who spend every waking minute online – when we’re disconnected from the internet we feel disconnected from everything, as if the world is going to crash and burn without us to monitor and record every event that occurs.

One further thing that strikes me about this resort is the total lack of cats. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere before where I’ve not seen at least one cat, and I really do think our cats would love it here, as there is plenty of sun, a wide array of interesting looking birds (who are very tame, and therefore very trusting) and an endless supply of other food that doesn’t need killing before consumption. I wonder if it’s the climate that drives them away, or if the resort owners have just scared them off. I know other parts of Egypt have cats, and I’m mildly curious as to why I’ve not seen any so far.

We’re going to a seafood restaurant tonight. That’s something else the cats would love.

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20th May

And as if by magic we saw a cat last night.

I also have a wonderful new cat figurine (only my 4th in over 20 years, but I do love them). Cats in Egypt are meant to bring luck, but the one we saw just bought us the first bit of bad customer service of the whole trip, and a distinct lack of understanding of what did and didn’t count as nuts (for the record, almonds are nuts, always). Thankfully it was also followed by some very good customer service, a large plate of fruit and a booking in a posh French restaurant for a complementary meal.

Last night’s movie was Gone Girl. I really enjoyed it, although I suspect it bled into a rather restless night.

21st May

Yesterday we spent a large part of the day on the beach. As a result I’m a little more brown (and red) than I was, but we do have many wonderful photographs of fish, snakes, crabs and assorted other sea life. When the tide is low it’s possible to wander in the shallow water and see a wide variety of wildlife, and when the tide is high there are even more things to see with the aid of a snorkel.

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We also discovered that the large “rock” we can see from the beach was actually a grounded ship. You can’t see it with the naked eye, but with the zoom on the camera it’s possible to see it quite well. I have a few good pictures of it, plus a few of other ships and helicopters (some of which may have been military) that passed us as we sat there.

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In the evening we went out for drinks and dinner. By the time we ate I wasn’t too hungry, but what I did eat was lovely (as was the wine, which was far better than the local bars), and they let us take a big plate of fruit back to our room.

Today saw another trip to the beach for more photography, followed by coffee, lunch and a brief siesta. Dinner tonight will involve a short trip to a Lebanese restaurant which is part of the next hotel across from ours, and tonight’s movie will be either Black Swan or The Brothers Grimm.

Tomorrow is Friday, and therefore a day of rest in Egypt. I suspect there will be no resting here though, as the guests at the hotel are a mix of German, Russian, Ukrainian and British people – most of whom probably don’t observe the Muslim day of rest.

22nd May

Last night we had our first truly great meal of the holiday. I’ve not tried Lebanese food before, but found it to be delicious, and to contain a lot of meat and a lot of salads and dips that remind me of both Greek and Turkish food. The service was great too, and we ended up leaving them a tip (in US dollars, like all our tips have been). What struck me about this place is that the staff obviously had a great deal of pride in their establishment and the food they served there. That came across in both the quality of the food and the service, and it’s certainly something that the fish restaurant from earlier in the week could have learned.

Today we saw our first camel of the trip, as well as a lot more fish. The camel was on the beach, having a snooze, and it was very odd seeing a creature I associate wih dry desert conditions so close to the sea. I suspect seeing a camel ticks a box somewhere, although we still don’t intend on seeing any pyramids.

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We also received two bits of mail – an invitation to cocktails tonight (which turned out to be a photo opportunity for the holiday company) and details of our departure, which is the day after tomorrow. In some ways I’m looking forward to being home again, but at the same time I’m going to miss this place and could very much get used to both the weather and the very relaxed lifestyle.

One more full day to go, after which comes my least favourite part of any trip – packing, checking out and the return flight. I generally see the journey to a place as part of the adventure, but the return journey always feels like going over old ground, and it can never end soon enough for me.

23rd May

I spent most of yesterday feeling a bit rough, and last night I didn’t really want to do much more than lie in bed and drink water. This is something that happens to a lot of people in Egypt, and I’m glad it’s come near the end of the trip when I’ve already seen and done most things I wanted to. I suspect today is going to be a quiet day on the beach (or by the pool), but I am hopefully I’ll have regained some of my appetite in time for dinner tonight (which should be Japanese, a cuisine I’ve always loved).

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One thing that strikes me today is that the shift to digital film has made it much easier to document holidays. 20 years ago I would have to buy reels of film, and could not see my pictures until a week or so after I got home. Now I have a camera, laptop and memory stick with copies of the same 734 photographs, and can look through them this morning to check if there is anything we have not recorded. I dread to think what it would cost to take and develop 734 photos now, but I suspect it is more than the price of my camera.

24th May

Time to go home. I will miss being here, but I am looking forward to seeing my dog and my cats.

 

Travelling light

I’ve travelled a fair bit over the last few years. Monthly trips to London, a few courses and conferences each year, and holidays to New York, Rhodes, Canada and Bulgaria. I love travelling (both the journey and the destination), but I also don’t like having to navigate trains and airports with large suitcases full of everything I might possibly need. What I’ve tried to do recently is to travel as light as I can, whilst still having access to everything I might need on the trip. This is partly about planning what I’m wearing in advance, but also about risk assessment. For example, I used to always take a spare pair of shoes with me when I travelled overnight. I don’t like having wet feet, and it seemed worth it at the time. After a few trips where wet feet didn’t feature I ditched the shoes, and accepted that I may one day need to buy a pair of shoes whilst travelling. So far I’ve not had to, but I can always use a new pair of shoes, and it makes my bag significantly lighter by not having to carry a spare all the time.

I also try and reduce the load by wearing the heaviest clothes I need (generally jeans and whatever jacket/coat suits the weather), which means my bag or case should only have lighter items in it. My holiday packing is mostly shorts and t-shirts, and my business packing is lightweight shirts and trousers, none of which are particularly heavy or bulky.

I think I’m doing quite well on the clothes front, but I still carry a larger than average collection of technology, especially when I’m travelling for work. All of my devices are as light as they can be (Macbook Air, iPad mini and iPhone), but I could probably do with carrying one less device on some trips. I could also probably do with carrying around less cables and adaptors, and I should probably accept that I won’t need to connect my laptop to a projector or a wired network when I’m on a foreign holiday.

Why I’m bad at being on holiday

I am on holiday this week. This is largely because I still had 100% of my annual leave left (it resets in September), but also because I’m going to be in Egypt for a week starting on Sunday, and I wanted to make sure I was rested and relaxed enough to enjoy the trip rather than needing to spend half the week recovering from a fairly long stretch without a proper holiday. It strikes me that I’m quite bad at being on holiday though, because I don’t really know what to do with myself without some sort of structure and routine to keep me focused on the here and now, so I decided this time that I would actually write down what I planned to achieve, and tick things off when I’d done them. So in other words, exactly how I approach the day job and anything else that requires me to exert effort towards achieving predefined goals.

The first thing on my list was to prepare for my week away. I listed clothes I wanted to take, worked out if I needed to buy anything, and then assembled everything in my suitcase ready for sanity checking before I pack properly on Saturday. I’ve also been trying to reduce the amount of cables, adaptors and chargers I take with me, as well as removing anything from my everyday carry that looks dubious or won’t play nicely with airport security.

The second list of tasks revolved around technology. I’ve just bought a new hard drive for my NAS, which needed fitting. I wasn’t sure how long it would take, but actually due to the wonder of Synology it only took a few minutes, after which the NAS was back on line while the two drives started talking to each other and ensuring they were in sync. Again, I’m very impressed with this product, and would highly recommend it. I’ve also updated my 5 year plan for technology buying, and purchased a few other bits and pieces that I was holding off on buying until I was going to be at home for a decent stretch of time. I may write more about this later.

The final list of tasks was not a list of tasks as such, but an attempt to find a way of doing things to reduce the anxiety that comes from having a lot more time, and therefore a lot more choice about how I spend that time. This was dealt with by maintaining my usual routine of sleep, planning my meals and clothes in advance, and pretty much doing everything I normally do except work. I find that routine relaxes me, and that anything that can be automated should be, so that I don’t end up with decision fatigue. I also made sure I kept up my exercise regime, although I’m not quite hitting my usual targets because I’ve spent more time at home and less time walking between places. That said 6km a day is still fairly respectable.

That’s me done for now, although I’m hoping to schedule a few posts while I’m away, and also plan on keeping a travel journal (both text and photographs) so I have a proper record of this trip.

Why it’s better to travel

Astrologically I’m a Cancer. This means I’m meant to like staying at home (as well as water, kitchens, and moving sideways). I do like staying at home sometimes (especially when I need to recharge), but I also find travel very rewarding, and tend to get itchy feet if I stay in Birmingham for more than a couple of weeks. I think part of this comes from the fact that I’ve lived all over the country, and therefore have friends all over the country who I want to visit, but I think a lot of it also comes from the fact that when I’m dissatisfied with an area of my life I generally travel somewhere new, sample the greener grass on the other side, and then head home when I find myself missing things I already have. This in no way makes the travel meaningless or futile – it just contributes to a necessary process of reminding myself that all places have their benefits, and that it would actually take a really good offer for me to leave behind the life I have built up and move on to somewhere new.

It’s not just the destination that is important to me though, it’s also the journey. I find long train and plane journeys to be a good opportunity to catch up on reading, listening to music, and sometimes just thinking. Thinking can be tricky when in economy class or a so-called “quiet coach”, but I do value a journey where I can just lose myself in thought, and sometimes it’s possible to do most of my recharging before I’ve even reached my destination.

This is particularly true when travelling to places I go to regularly. My usual route to London is incredibly relaxing, and I don’t really notice my surroundings because they are at least as familiar to me as most parts of Birmingham. I think I probably just enter a sort of automated state that is similar to my walk to work, and it is during these times that I find relaxing easiest. Of course, if my routine is shattered by delays or replacement bus services then that feeling of relaxation dissipates very quickly, but I am getting better at seeing these things as a learning opportunity rather than a guaranteed mood slump, and I think I am winning in that regard.

I’m also growing increasingly fond of foreign travel, and after a long period of staying in the UK I’ve visited Italy, The U.S.A, Greece, Canada and Bulgaria in the last few years. All of these were very different to each other, and also very different to what I’m used to here. But all of them were sufficiently inspiring that if I had to relocate for a while then they would all be viable destinations. But there again, there are very few places I’ve been to that I can see myself living, and I think I subconsciously try to imagine myself living in every place I visit, every street I walk through, and every house that catches my eye.

It’s great to travel, but it’s even better to come home. That’s probably the lesson of the last couple of years.