Quick Trip to Brugge!

I'm a big fan of on the whim travel, but unfortunately it's inherently difficult; this weekend was different! It was my job to conjure up an activity. After about an hour staring a Google Maps I decided that somewhere in Europe was definitely a good idea. Luckily, the ferries were extra cheap and we already had some funny money in our pockets!

This is me and Victoria on the poop deck waiting to leave Dover. There were quite a lot (literally thousands) of French students also on the poop desk.

Now, I may have told a bit of a fib when Victoria asked me if I had ever driven abroad. Never have I driven abroad apart from that one time in Spain when I shouldn't really have been driving at all, let alone in Spain. Needless to say, after a hilarious first 5 mins of being on the wrong side of the road it all kind of made sense. The drive to Brugge was about an hour from Calais and it's basically on the one road, which is nice and easy. Small factoid: That road (the E40) is the longest route in Europe and goes all the way to Kazakhstan.

Luckily, we managed to find the exit before arriving in Kazakhstan. There was a bit of a fumble when trying to find the car park, but I stuck to my manly instincts and proved that the way I wanted to go, was indeed correct! The car park even had the little LED lights to say if the space is free. Above is us standing in the Markt Square, which is basically the center of Brugge. It's a beautiful square which resembles Brussels very much.

This is the famous Belfry tower in Markt, it was originally build in 1240 - which makes it super old. I'm trying to hold the camera in a weird way to get the whole thing in, I didn't manage.

After Markt we found a wonderful beer shop which was selling all the beers of Belgium! I decided that it would be a great idea to by them now, encase the shop closed for the day. This was not my wisest decision as I had to carry them around for the whole day, Still, hopefully they will taste even better when it comes to drinking time.

A while later we were wandering around when about a hundred horse(s?) and carts passed us in the street. It was very exciting, although we were rather confused, none of the carts had anything on them, they had a police escort and a car dedicated to picking up poop. I guess it must be a tourist thing.

Found a windmill, which apparently still works. http://youtu.be/PmDVHs-juPo

After a long day of wandering around we found a place by the canal and had some dinner. The service was terrible, the food was actually okay - trip adviser reviews were not good. Still, it was nice and relaxing! Victoria had lamb cutlets and I had Mussels and Chips (which is a thing).

It was a very long day but we can't wait to go back. :)

Istanbul, Turkey

This was a rather epic trip. It started off fairly normal, I headed over to Heathrow T5 to catch a flight to Istanbul. The flight took off as usual all seemed fine, I set my tablet up to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and got ready for a spot of breakfast. It got a bit different near the English Channel when the pilot decided to rock the aircraft's wings.

A few moments later we had performed a 180 degree turn and were heading directly back to Heathrow. Heading west when your destination is due east is isn't really a good sign, especially when you're 20 minutes into the flight. Most passengers didn't really notice until the pilot told them over the intercom. We were assured all was fine and that there was a minor technical problem and we needed to land to get it checked out.

The landing into Heathrow was astounding, we were straight down on the ground within meters of runway. The plane was met with a landing party of police, fire engines and emergency crews - to our complete totally unknown to anybody on-board and despite my best efforts to check twitter while on approach.

That was the interesting bit. We then sat on a remote stand for four hours while British Airways messed around and pretended that we would actually get back on our way. After we offloaded I was rebooked on to a Turkish Airways flight the same day at 22:30 (12 hours after original take off).

https://twitter.com/airlivenet/status/484642904338890752

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Above - One of the fire engines that met us on the North runway at Heathow.IMG_0056

Above - LAN Ports on the back of the seats! This plane loads of buttons, even in economy.

The Turkish flight wasn't too bad, I managed to nab a row of three seats at the back, find an unopened pack of flight socks and ear plugs and do some mild napping. The landing at Istanbul was pretty cool, the plane (Airbus A333) had a camera so you could see the approaching runway. However the experience at the baggage carousel wasn't quite as good, seems they don't treat my pelican case as a suitcase and it's brought up on the back of a truck. Longest hour ever, thought I'd lost my peli case for good!

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The following morning wasn't too bad, managed for get a few hours of sleep in the hotel before brushing up and meeting my colleague downstairs. Missed breakfast by some distance though!

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Above is the view from the old office near Taksim Square, it was really quite stunning.

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There was of course some downtime, the guys in Turkey are incredibly hospitable. Here I am standing in Taksim Square, below is Gezi Park where the 2013 protests began with an occupy movement. The protests were still fresh in the memory of many locals, According to Wikipedia some 8,500 people were injured.

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the park itself was surprisingly small, but is significant in it's location. There aren't a great deal of other parks around this particular area.

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Of course, the 'selfie' - This particular picture was taken near Ortaköy, you can see the Bosphorus Bridge (or First Bridge) in the background, behind the Ortaköy mosque. The Bosphorus is a fascinating waterway because of it's location between the Black Sea and the Sea or Marmara. It is the narrowest straight used for international navigation. There is simply loads of shipping traffic. The Queen Mary was docked in Istanbul for one day while we were there.

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Above - one of the historic trams that run along the street from Taksim to Tunel (below). I got the impression the trams were more of a tourist attraction than a practical form of transportation - although I could be wrong.

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Above - This is Tunel. It is the oldest underground railway after the Metropolitan in London. It's a fairly short track that has two cars with a passing place in the middle. The lights inside the tunnel made the journey very interesting, the original brickwork is still visible.

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This has become a small tradition (which is probably the whole point of Hard Rock). It wasn't amazing but a Hard Rock Cafe none the less! It was a bit of a nightmare to get to, the taxi driver was literally following my iPhone's google maps. Turns out in the end that it was right next to where I took the picture of the tram - doh!

IMG_0124The flight back to London was painless - although the same aircraft that had landed back at Heathrow. I look forward to visiting Istanbul again, it was much safer than I had anticipated, people were friendly and surprisingly it wasn't too expensive.

Dry Suit Diver

I've got a lot of overtime coming up over the next few weeks and months, so I thought I would get some more diving booked in to have something to look forward to. Turns out I couldn't do the weekend I was hoping for, but could do this weekend instead. Well, why not. Down to the lake for a second weekend. As you'll know I did my Open Water in a wet suit, which was rather chilly. Almost all UK divers use a dry suit to stay warm, it's simply too cold in the water - I was keen to give this a go as i did get cold. I was quite optimistic about just how much warmer a dry suit would be, turns out, quite a lot, it was actually rather comfortable!

I did three dives for my Dry Suit. I performed a confined water dive, where I practiced my skills, which were all fairly similar to that in a wet suit with the exception of the fit pivot and hover using the wet suit as buoyancy (instead of the BCD). It's a strange thing to experience, and can most easily be explained as essentially wearing a big bag containing some air. This makes things interesting when you move in a certain direction, if you end up with your feet above your head then that will continue to be the 'floaty' part! Unlike a BCD where the bladders are basically in the same place. It's odd, but I eventually got used to it.

I then did two open water dives, where i was able to go a bit deeper and practice neutral buoyancy. It was really good to get back out again, I really enjoyed being at the bottom and not being so cold!

One strange experience when first using a dry suit is being at the bottom with basically no air in the suit, ascending and all of a sudden having lots of air (which promptly took me by surprise!). I didn't really think about it on my first dive, but felt a bit silly afterwards!

Really enjoyed training for this and now really, really want to got to Silfra in Iceland to do some cold water diving. Seriously, Google Silfra - the water is amazingly clear.

Update, got my card!

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Open Water Diver

I'm a certified diver! This weekend I  went along to Southern Scuba's Buckland Lake in Cliffe and completed all of my Open Water dives. It was a fairly nice day but the water was rather cold! buckland_lake_1

Over my four dives I completed all of my skills, many of which I had already practiced in the pool. These included removing and replacing my SCUBA unit at the surface, removing and replacing my weight belt at the surface, performing a Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA) and carrying out a 5m safety stop.

buckland_lake_2My cumulative  dive time so far is 74 minutes and the deepest point of my dive was 9 meters.

UPDATE: My validation card came!

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