March 2017 - The Missing Blogs

March was a much quieter month than the previous two, but the start of 2017’s scuba season. One of my annual goals was to gradually purchase all of my equipment for a Liveaboard diving trip to Egypt in September; I had before now been reluctant to buy too much to avoid getting things too quickly and then wishing I had purchased the more expensive or better equivalent the first-time around. The first thing this year was my diving computer, a very crucial piece of safety equipment this allows me to see my depth, dive time, gas mix and uses an algorithm to calculate how long and how deep I need to perform a safety stop. The watch I bought was the Sunnto Zoop Novo, only an entry-level computer (some cost more than a thousand pounds!) but perfectly adequate for the diving that I will be doing and can serve as a backup if I buy another in the future.

My Zoop Novo Diving Computer

My Zoop Novo Diving Computer

With my shiny new computer, it was time for the first dive of the year! I took a day trip with Southern Scuba to Vobster Quay in Somerset. Vobster is a disused stone quarry, now filled with freshwater and serves as an outdoor activity park for scuba divers, free divers and swimmers. It’s one of my favourite in-land diving spots, for £30 or so, you can have a good day out diving with almost no hassle getting in and out of the water, great for training and practice. Vobster has some very cool underwater attractions too, with planes, boats and even a set of 3-meter high fibreglass clowns!

Vobster Quay, Diving Centre

Vobster Quay, Diving Centre

Another one of 2017’s goals was to achieve my Prince2 Foundation and Practitioner certifications, work was very supportive of this and funded the course in London for a week. The course was run by QA and has to be one of the best training courses I had been on; the trainer knew the course back to front, was incredibly knowledgeable and was very easy to follow. Prince2 is a project management framework and while I’m no project manager having an understanding of the practices has already proven very valuable to progressing projects and working closely with project managers who follow the framework well. I would certainly recommend the course for anyone involved in projects within a technology team.

Towards the end of the month, we took a trip back to Cornwall (a somewhat popular destination this year!). Spending time with family, we visited the Annual Beer and Mussel Festival hosted at Rick Stein’s Cornish Arms pub. The festival was a lot of fun, we had some interesting live music and plenty of never-before-tasted beers! One beer I particularly liked (according to untapped) was White Cross IPA from Black Flag Brewery, who also produce Fang, which is an incredible beer..

Cornwall Beer and Mussel Festival

Cornwall Beer and Mussel Festival

Before heading home, we had some food in Mevagissey, only a short drive from home Mevagissey is picturesque working fishing port, it has some great pubs and restaurants too, but gets rather busy in the summer months. It also happens to be the place where last year I crossed Number 13 - Catch a fish off of The Bucket List (which I don’t seem to have blogged about), the catching a fish affair was all much simpler than I had anticipated. Just off of the harbour wall, there were swarms of Mackerel, who all seemed to want to jump on the hook, one chap was literally filling a bin bag full of the fish he was catching. We took the Mackerel home and cooked it on the BBQ – it was pretty good!

Mevagissey Harbour, Cornwall

Mevagissey Harbour, Cornwall

February 2017 - The Missing Blogs

February started with friends, having dinner out and settling into our new home after a busy Christmas and beginning to the year. We spent time absorbing Upnor, taking walks along the beach and past the castle, enjoying the pub and surrounding area. We watched as the boats slowly begin to re-populate the river, the process is now an unexciting and gradual affair, very different than when it used to be a big weekend with a crane and a rush at high tide!

River Medway, Upnor, Kent

River Medway, Upnor, Kent

Victoria and I took time over Valentines weekend for some travel; we visited Dubrovnik in Croatia, a fascinating old city now famous in part for its role in the Game of Thrones TV series. We spent only three days in Dubrovnik, but that was plenty enough to see and experience the city. There were a few highlights; one was the bar on the cliff edge, which is reached through the sea-facing city wall, it had a fantastic view (and no bathrooms!). Another highlight was the restaurant we ate at for our ‘big evening’, the service was incredible and they prepared an entire fish, made a soup from the same fish and served it perfectly. A great trip, I blogged about Dubrovnik earlier in the year.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

When we returned home, Victoria treated me to dinner, also for Valentines - it was a very special dinner at home, we had fresh Cornish Oysters and Mussels delivered live all the way from Cornwall in the post! We had a great evening and learnt how to shuck an oyster and cook Mussels. I was unfortunately not terribly well after the meal, which I’ve since concluded must be some sensitivity to Oysters (see post). Big shame, but not Victoria’s fault!

Cornish Oysters at Home

Cornish Oysters at Home

Later in the Month I took a trip to Cisco Live Europe, hosted this year in Berlin, Germany. This was the first Cisco Live I had attended, and I had no idea what to expect, turns out it was a huge event – but a lot of fun. The only single-vendor conference I had been to prior was Palo Alto Ignite in Vegas, which was significant but not quite as big as this. I travelled with a colleague and some guys from a potential supplier; we had a great time absorbing both new Cisco technology and wrapping around on best practices on some existing, deployed tech.

Cisco Live, Messe Berlin, Germnay

Cisco Live, Messe Berlin, Germnay

Can’t forget to mention what is possibly the best lager I have ever tasted, here accompanied with a Schnitzel too, the Beer in Berlin was all fantastic. The restaurant around the corner from the hotel was visited on more than one occasion! We didn’t manage to visit the Brew Dog in Berlin, unfortunately, but did get a chance to see the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie (very underwhelming) and a piece of the Berlin Wall. Interestingly I learnt after our visit that there is a piece of the wall just across the river from home, at the Royal Engineers Museum.

Berliner Kindl and Veal Schnitzel, Berlin, Germany

Berliner Kindl and Veal Schnitzel, Berlin, Germany

Once home I spent some time upgrading our home network and trialled some Ubiquiti Networks equipment, a little bit challenging as none of their products supports termination of VDSL, but I managed to buy an old BT modem on eBay which did the job. The EdgeRouterX and 802.11ac WiFi are still working a treat, no complaints although I do think we could use another AP downstairs as the 5Ghz signal gets a little weak. I haven’t been bowled over by the ease of configuration of their router, but the WiFi wasn’t too bad – I did need to set up the Wireless controller on a Raspberry Pi, but that seems to be working well.

Ubiquiti AP and Router

Ubiquiti AP and Router

The Big Question

Well, this is a significant post! Currently sitting in the roof top bar of our hotel in Phuket, Thailand after a fantastic weekend in Singapore with Victoria. After six years together I asked her if she would marry me and (thankfully!) she said yes! The moment was everything I could have hoped for with great weather, stunning scenery and just enough privacy. We spent the day exploring the Singapore Botanic Gardens where among other beautiful gardens we visited the National Orchid Garden, I proposed to her just in front of Burkill Hall. We were both very happy, elated and excited for the next chapter in our lives. We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel with some Champagne closing the evening by visiting the Gardens by the Bay (which was fantastic!).

proposal.jpeg

Very happy that we have been able to spend time together and have such a wonderful holiday away, looking forward staying at the Marina Bay Sands and enjoying the Infinity pool on our way back home later this week!

champagne.jpeg

Wedding details to be announced in due course!

Last of the Summer Gin, Madrid, Spain

There's lots of excitement in our family recently, my sister, Esme and her partner, Lomas are engaged and due to marry in the summer of next year. Victoria and I are incredibly happy for them, we cannot wait for what we are certain will be a very beautiful wedding and happy occasion. Living not too far from each other we are lucky in that we are all able to spend time as a group frequently, but we haven't had the chance to travel or relax in the sunshine much; in fact, I haven't been abroad with my sister for almost a decade (perhaps longer!). With that in mind, we felt now was a good time to celebrate the fantastic news and to take some time to enjoy what is left of the European summertime.

As a group, we struggled to settle on a destination but agreed Madrid would work well. Of course, I was quite pleased with that decision, I am pretty sure Madrid is my favourite city in Europe; its vibrancy, openness and relaxed attitude is something that in my book is completely unrivalled. That said, I had only ever visited Madrid before for work, so was very pleased that we were going to visit and see it in a different light.

Esme and Lomas en route to the apartment, Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

Holding hands with my aisle buddy

With the destination sorted the next challenge was scheduling - this was the difficult part... All four of us have varied work commitments, working different days and different hours, which meant finding suitable consecutive days was quite the challenge! Lomas was due to start a new job prior to us leaving and Esme was back on term-time schedule for her work. In the end, three days was all we could find, but that's all we needed for a city break!

Our flights to Spain were exceptionally early in the morning, we were on the road to the airport at 4 am! In Madrid, we were staying right next to Puerta Del Sol, a large square in the centre of the city, which meant that we were within walking distance of most places we wanted to visit. Our Airbnb apartment was superb, a twin bedroom, quiet place, just off the square, with a kitchen, huge lounge area and everything you could need for a quick break away. Our host, Marta met us exactly on time and even gave us some tips on where to go for dinner - which was very helpful indeed.

We spent much of our first day taking in the sights and sounds of the city, all pretty exhausted from the early morning travel. Of course, one of the first things we needed to do was stop at a bar for some drinks and tapas, which we did as soon as we got off the Metro! The beer was as delicious as the weather, which was a scorching 31°C, a good 10° higher than back at home. We made our way around the city, shopping and exploring as we went, eventually making our way through the old city to Cheuca. This area of the city is fantastic, full of boutique shops, small bars and cafes. We stopped here in the height of the afternoon for a few more drinks and to get some shade.

Gin & Tonic in Cheuca, Madrid, Spain

Our Second day in Madrid had an agenda, The Zoo. Set to be a cooler day and our only full day in the city we planned to wake up early and make the most of our Tuesday. Madrid Zoo was only a short Metro ride away, we were a little concerned when we arrived that it might not even be open, it was certainly the quietest zoo I have ever been to, no queuing at all, for anything! That aside, they had all kinds of different species including a full aquarium with fish, turtles, sharks. The highlight was undoubtedly the brown bear (oso café in Spanish), the bear was sitting in the sun making noises and paying attention to his (her?) visitors and almost posing for pictures!

The Bear, Madrid Zoo

We spent the afternoon in Buen Retiro Park, on the other side of the city. Somewhere we had learned that it was possible to hire a rowing boat and bob around on the lake. This, of course, was a wonderfully appealing idea and we wasted no time getting ourselves on the water. We had a great deal of fun racing, crashing and going around in circles, thankfully all the iPhones made it back to dry land!

Me and Victoria, Buen Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain

Dinner that evening was in Plaza Mayor, not far from where we had lunch the previous evening, the plaza has a great atmosphere at night, very similar to that of The Grand Place in Brussels. Our server was an interesting chap, but was certainly able to serve a very tasty gin and tonic! No complaints!

Our final morning was spent exploring the western part of Madrid, taking in the impressive Opera House, Royal Palace and Cathedral. We walked quite a lot but gradually made our way back towards Puerta Del Sol. The best part of the day for me was certainly breakfast; we found a relatively authentic cafe with a waiter who spoke no English. Despite my very inept, but gradually improving, Spanish skills we all ended up with a drink and some food - this of course was, therefore, a complete success!

Our 52-something hours in Madrid were fantastic and we all had a great time. It was excellent to be able to spend time with Esme and Lomas away from home and in a different environment. Madrid will certainly stay as my number one city in Europe, I can't wait to come back again!