Number 22 - Shoot a Gun

Muzzle flash from an MP5

Muzzle flash from an MP5

I'm not going to go into how it was I found myself in Vegas, all I will say is that it was completely on the level, as were all activities during my trip. This bucket list item was one of the original and actually one which I'd wanted to do long before the list came into existence. I thought it would be one of the more difficult ones, because it's not like you can really do this without going somewhere where it's considered normal. 

As a young boy and back in the days when UK laws were less mad I bought a .177 air rifle from a store on-line. It was my most favourite thing, we had plenty of grounds surrounding our home and I was entertained for countless weeks wandering with my pet dog and shooting at paper targets. My aim wasn't bad either! Sadly I was jumping over a fence and managed to fall and break my precious rifle, despite duct tape and glue it was never quite the same. Ever since then I have wanted to shoot a real firearm and see if I'm actually any good. 

Vegas has everything, literally everything an adult could or could not want. The one thing I wanted to do above all was to get my hands on an M16 and shoot a zombie target. Day 1 of being here that's exactly what me and my colleague did. We visited The Gun Store Las Vegas who were a short Uber trip off of the strip, as this was the first time we'd be doing this we went with the basic package. $80 bought us 10 rounds with a semi-automatic handgun, 25 rounds with a MP5 and 25 rounds with an M16. All in all it wasn't exactly cheap, and although I hid it I was a little nervous - I mean there were people wandering around with guns on their belts!

The handgun was first, I opted to go with the Baretta M9 on the advice of a US Navy Dolphin trainer from California who happened to be in a bar with us in New York a few days earlier (which is a story for another day). The gun had a surprising amount of kickback, but I managed to keep all rounds on target which I didn't think was too bad. After that the MP5 was up, this was a different thing completely, it was seriously fun, but any more than 3 rounds and it just pulled away no matter how hard I tried to control it, most rounds were on target! The final was the M16, which is a controlled firearm in certain US states - this was much easier to control and I certainly managed to put some lead through my zombie! The staff at this range in LV take absolute care of you and do not allow you or anyone else to be in any danger, I felt very safe while with them. 

I'll end by saying I'm absolutely not a gun advocate and I take great comfort in the laws that exist in the UK today. The balance is good, fair and there exists many places in the UK where shooting as an activity exists as a sport - not with a fully M16, but that's hardly a sport... 

The Land of Vikings - Iceland

Testing out my new bose QC25 headphones

Testing out my new bose QC25 headphones

It's become somewhat of a tradition to take a holiday in December. So far it's always somewhere noticeably warmer and where beer is considerably cheaper. This year we thought we would shake things up a little and do the polar opposite - go somewhere colder, where the beer is much more expensive. 

Iceland is an eminently fascinating place, full of history, strange quirks and oddities. Admittedly, it hasn't been on my list of places to visit for a particularly long time, although has certainly grown in interest as I've travelled more. It is by no means the cheapest place to fly or stay, a 5 night trip was rather pricey compared to other northern European countries, such a those in Scandinavia. 

Our trip started in Heathrow Terminal 5, @tigziefc's first visit to the home of British Airways, and the first real opportunity to put my new frequent flyer card to good use. The flight out was around 3 hours long, which was largely uneventful, except for the fantastic view of Iceland on our approach to KeflavĂ­k Airport. The Airport was built during WW2 by the Americans, evident in that it's 50km away from the largest city and is completely over-engineered. Prior to this the British also built and airport on the island, the first in fact, in 1940, this airport now handles only domestic flights and was at the time relatively close to Reykjavik. It is now essentially within Reykjavik proper - causing some dispute about it's longevity due to noise - however it's very close! 

Geothermal steam in Iceland

Geothermal steam in Iceland

Transportation onwards from the Airport is by road only, we chose to rent a car for our trip on advice from various sources. Car hire, like most things we came to discover is very expensive, but absolutely worth it. This was also my first time ever hiring a car, which proved a little daunting to begin with.. We drove to our Airbnb rental in the city, the drive was our first real taste of Iceland, the landscape is like nothing I've ever seen before, comparable only to that of the moon. 

We had booked a rather special Airbnb, which had resident cats for company. They took some getting used to for people who aren't particularly familiar with cats but were really good fun and provided great entertainment. The apartment was located right in the centre of Reykjavik, which isn't actually very big and in hindsight, we had a car so we could have stayed somewhere a little further outside of the city. It was however certainly well suited for accessing everything. 

We tied up the day of travel with a visit to the Frederiksen Ale House, which was a total tourist joint but we were too tired to care. I enjoyed my second Icelandic beer in a boot glass, which is absolutely not a local tradition. 

Reykjavik Harbour

Reykjavik Harbour

Day 1

One thing we very quickly realised is that the daylight causes big problems when you need to wake up. There is only about four or five hours of sunlight in December which means there are very long dark mornings andvery long dark evenings. Since we were self catering we needed to go and find a supermarket to buy food and drink for the week. Early on in the planning for this trip we agreed that we'd do our best to offset the cost of travel against eating/drinking out much less than we would on a typical trip. We went on a drive to nowhere and found a 'Bonus' which is similar to Aldi/Lidl in Europe, what made Bonus funny is my new ethic to not eat pork products since it's logo is that of a giant porky pig. 

The landscape on our drive out of town continued to be as stunning as the journey from the airport, huge snow covered hills with very little man-made changes. We also walked down to the harbour in Reykjavik which was perfectly calm against a setting sun. I will always remember this as it's the first time I've ever seen frozen seawater which I still find very odd.  

Day 2 

Diver Crossing

Diver Crossing

The day of the dive! This was probably the highlight of the trip for me, everyone in the diving world has heard of Silfra, it's an absolute mecca for divers and on everyone's bucket list. The location is unique in that it's a rift or crack between two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates - to be precise. The rift is underwater, fed by a natural spring of consistent temperature which means it has a very slight current. I managed to arrange a dive with a local guy via email, never much of a fan to go with a big tour group. Heddin was  great guide, picked me up from Reykjavik and gave the dive plan in the car on the way to the national park.

The dive was actually pretty thrilling, the temperature outside was around -12 Celsius before wind chill and is certainly one of the coldest I've ever been. The temperature was not conducive to wanting to go and get in the water, it was literally the opposite of what I wanted to do. Nether the less, I threw a dry suit on with an under layer and we went to get in. By this stage my hands and feet were seriously frozen, I couldn't do anything and it was borderline seriously painful - although once in the water everything began to warm up! The water temperature on the surface was around 2 Celsius, which was much better but still pretty mad. 

The Silfra Rift

The Silfra Rift

After dropping down into the rift everything changes, the cold isn't even an issue. The water, the colours and the rocks are just some of the most stunning things I've ever seen. It's blue, green and simply beautiful; the water is completely crystal clear giving perfect visibility for 100 meters or more. The dive isn't deep, I didn't go below 10 meters at any point, there was simply no need. 

After a 40 minute swim the hard part was getting out! One you walk out of the lake everything you wear freezes instantly, shoes, mask, hood, gloves, suit - it's ridiculous! I couldn't wait to get dry and to try and revive my fingers and toes. Heddin didn't experience any of this suffering, simply got in the truck and dealt with it! The person who was diving with me however was feeling it more than I, we had some coffee on the way back to try and fix frozen extremities! 

In the afternoon we walked around town and went to a great little 'Micro Bar' which specialised in craft beer and had plenty of Icelandic speciality beers too. We ended up spending a fair amount of time in this place over our stay and met some pretty interesting people from far and wide. 

Day 3 

My fingers are still numb. This is not good at all.... I decide to do the most manly thing possible and completely ignore the problem. 

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

We visited the famous Iceland Blue Lagoon, which is supposedly a completely natural hot spring. It was a reasonable drive, around the same distance as that to the airport. The lagoon was actually pretty cool, it is essentially a big 'pond' with a sandy floor and smooth rock sides. It was a total tourist trap but it's kind of an Icelandic icon, so you can't really no go. The price wasn't terrible, but wasn't cheap - do expect to be bored within the hour. We had a great time and took some cool pictures while being incredibly careful with our mobile phones!

Lunch was pretty fun, we had Taco Bell at the only restaurant in the country, it wasn't great, but what did we expect? We closed out the day with a happy hour crawl to some of the bars we hadn't yet been to, the highlight was a local 12% stout which absolutely blew my head off. It was a good beer though, throughout the trip I had several beers from the same brewery, my particular favourite being number 3. 

The Micro Bar

The Micro Bar

Day 4 

Fingers still numb. Now getting a little worried, it was as if I had just made a snowball, except the sensation did not subside. Not painful, just annoying. 

The weather was getting a little worse outside, temperature still pretty cold for Iceland standards with plenty of snow on the streets and a little ice on the road. Despite this we wanted to see if it was possible to drive out to the Gullfoss Falls, it's a considerable drive and the roads didn't seem too bad, all the locals said we'd be fineWe actually made it most of the way, it wasn't at any point dangerous but we agreed that it wasn't worth the risk of the weather turning and not being able to get back. Bit of a shame but the landscape was plenty enough for us to take in! 

We pulled over at the Silfra dive site which was on the way to take a few pictures. It was much warmer than the other day, but the divers all still looked very cold! Glad we stopped here for a while as the landscape around the rift was just as interesting above water. Our final evening was spent in the Micro bar (where we had been about four times now), we drank all the beers we hadn't yet tried and called it a day. 

Day 5

The trip back home was fine, despite the lack of lounge at the airport. On our return home I called 111 for my fingers and at around 1 am the next day spoke with any army doctor on the phone who concluded that I had mild frostbite in my fingers - whoops! She said they would be fine in a week or so, which was good news.

Iceland was a fantastic place to visit. I'm really glad we went while it was cold, it made the experience much more interesting for a short break. Most recommend visiting April/May or September/October in order to get the best weather and for it to still be relatively quiet - this would definitely be advice we take on board if we visit again. All the things we did were great, but it is expensive, take a big wallet with you!

The Atlantic Coast Line

Clearly not as excited as me to be here...

Clearly not as excited as me to be here...

How best to spend a windy and rainy day in Cornwall? Well, a trip to Newquay on the train of course! This is the penultimate journey of all the Cornish branch lines and one I'd been looking forward to for a while. It's the longest of all the branch lines in Cornwall and during summer special direct services are scheduled using HST sets to/from London. It was the first time I'd ever been to Newquay, famous for the best surfing in Cornwall. 

The branch line runs from Par station and is single track almost all of the way to Newquay. One of the highlights on the 50-minute journey is travelling underneath the Treffry Viaduct, constructed in 1844 to carry both water  and railway tracks. The viaduct allowed transport over the Luxulyan Valley and was an important piece of infrastructure to the Cornish mining industry. It is now disused but can be walked over for some impressive view. 

The Treffry Viaduct, as seen from the train.

The Treffry Viaduct, as seen from the train.

Newquay's vast beach, with surfers in the background

Newquay's vast beach, with surfers in the background

The line continues north past a multitude of small request stops before arriving into Newquay's single platform station. The station in Newquay is very central to the town with a fantastically Victorian feel, there are several grand hotels of old, now refurbished with a new lease of life. Originally railway lines also ran right into to the small harbour to the west of Newquay, the route of which is clearly visible from the curvature of paths and roads which have since been re-purposed. In the middle of the harbour there is a peculiar stone pontoon, currently being used for lobster pot storage. After some research is appears that originally there was a wooden pier built for the railway to allow for multiple ships to load/unload cargo.

Newquay Station

Newquay Station

The small harbour is also the location for the RNLI lifeboat station, where there is currently home to an Atlantic 85 and small D-class launch. The Atlantic 85 is launched with a tractor and trailer down through the harbour. The station has moved and was even closed for a period since it was opened originally in 1860, although is certainly now a key location on the north coast. The RNLI lifeguards are present and also play a key role to the public in the summer months. I may have to work on creating a Wikipedia page for this station as there doesn't appear to be once yet in existence.

Newquay RNLI station

Newquay RNLI station

After exploring the beach and the harbour my brother and I made our way back to the train station, not before stopping at a few pubs and arcades along the way. We had a quik game of pool in the Great Western hotel, of which Owen won rather impressively. We ran across the road to meet the waiting single carriage train, next next of which was in 2 hours' time so didn't want to really miss!

My Updated Rail Travel Map

End of the line at Holyhead, onwards to the ferry!

End of the line at Holyhead, onwards to the ferry!

I'm sure regular followers of my blog are aware of my Rail Map (well, it's National Rail's map really), it shows all of the railway lines in the UK which I have travelled on at some point. Both a record for where I have been in the UK and a challenge to travel the entire network! 

The last update I made to the map was in 2013, which is a shockingly long time ago. I have just invested some time adding journeys made since then. Won't list them all off but some of the highlights are:

  • London to Sheringham (a beautiful seaside town) via Norwich 
  • London to Bristol Temple Meads, past the impressive architecture of Bath Spa
  • St Erth to St Ives, one of the most famous and stunning branch lines in the country
  • Plymouth to Gunnislake, another great scenic branch line 
  • London to Weymouth

I'll do my best to keep up with the updates, the process is much more well rehearsed now. Myself and @geekyjames are also planning a tour of Scotland by rail in the next few weeks, so there will be so blog posts following that journey no doubt! 

Check out the map here: http://www.andrews.io/rail-map/