Author Archive

Whenever I’m lucky enough to be heading off on a new trip, I make sure I have at least one camera (sometimes I have 3…or 4 if you include the one on my phone). I take plenty of photos and I upload the better ones to my Flickr account – http://www.flickr.com/bbmexplorer

Over the years I’ve uploaded well over 1,000 images and I spend time labelling, tagging and adding them to the map so people get the most from them.

Need a photo of St Basils Cathedral in Moscow? I’ve got just what you need.

After a trip, it takes time to sort out pictures, edit and upload them and once I’ve done that, I make all my images on Flickr available for use under a Creative Commons license. This means they can be used free of charge with the single condition that a link to my website is included.

All sorts of people look for images on the internet. Some people want them for blog posts and companies often use them for their websites. The majority of users respect the Creative Commons license and add a credit link but I’m amazed how many companies think it is perfectly acceptable to use the image without any acknowledgement to the photographer (ie – ME).

Flickr stats allow me to see where my photos are being used and from time to time, I have a look at see where they turn up. Quite a few are on Wikipedia which surprised me.

I love people to use my images PROVIDED THEY ARE PROPERLY ATTRIBUTED. Thats why I set them up with a Creative Commons licence. Although I like to think my photos are reasonably good, they don’t have too much of a commercial value. If I thought they did, they wouldn’t be on Flickr.

So please feel free to use my images and credit them properly but remember…..

…I’m watching you !!!

 

Comments (4)

I’m going to take you back in time to the late 70s when I was growing up in Africa. This is long before the days of digital cameras, camera phones etc. Films for cameras took 24 or 36 exposures either in black and white or colour.These are what my dad took and he processed the film himself to produce either photos or slides.

One of my Dad's old Kodak slides

My dad had travelled a reasonable amount after World War II and had taken photos from various places in Africa. Occasionally, he would set up the old slide projector and as a family we would sit down and look back at the photos he’d taken. Some were from places he’d travelled to before I was born. These were faraway places that sounded fascinating. Timbuktu was a place my dad mentioned a lot. We also looked back at our holiday photos. In the days before computers and the internet, looking back at pictures wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays.

Its probably more than 30 years since we last had a slide show and my dad’s slides have been stuck in the bottom of a cupboard for years. At Christmas, my mum asked if we should throw them out but I thought why not scan the old slides and look back at the photos we used to enjoy so much when I was a child. We tried to estimate the number of slides in Dad’s collection and our best guess was over 2,000 – thats a lot of scanning. It would have cost several hundred pounds to pay a company to scan the slides. However, I was in an electronics shop and found a little USB slide scanner for 20 pounds so I bought it and started scanning at home.

My USB Slide Scanner

Having owned an SLR for a few years, I’m used to looking at crystal clear, hi-res images and but cameras from a few decades ago were obviously not up to today’s quality. Add to that, the fact the some of the film has degraded slightly, the images weren’t always clear and needed a bit of cleaning up using Photoshop.

The National Museum in Salisbury (now Harare) circa 1975

Its been a slow job but I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to see some of the old family pictures again. I’ve also found it fascinating to look back at old photos in general but when there is a family connection, its even more interesting. I’ll upload some of the better images to my Flickr account for anyone who may be interested – http://www.flickr.com/bbmexplorer

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Feb
13

Travel Adventures On Your Doorstep

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Whenever we think of travel, it usually conjours images of airports, exotic destinations, unfamiliar languages and the like. One thing we all tend to overlook are the travel adventures on our own doorsteps. I’m more than happy to admit I’m guilty of this and I’m sure a lot of you are too.

I live in the county of Suffolk in England and these are just some of the places people from far and wide come to see;

 

Sutton Hoo

Sutton Hoo Visitors Centre (Photo: Sharon Hall Shipp)

 

In 1939, a 7th century burial mound was discovered not far from the town of Woodbridge. A ship had been taken from the nearby River Deben and a burial mound, believed to be for an Anglo-Saxon king was constructed here. Many of the treasures that were discovered are currently on display at the British Museum in London. The visitors centre at Sutton Hoo is run by the National Trust and all the up to date visitors information can be found there.

Constable Country (Dedham)

Will Lott's Cottage, Dedham

This is on the Suffolk / Essex border but I’m claiming it anyway. The artist John Constable painted a number of wonderful works of art, the most well known being “The Hay Wain” (1821). Will Lott’s cottage which is featured in the painting can still be visited and its lost none of its charm over the years and the area has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

 

Southwold

Southwold Beach Huts

Southwold is a little town on the North Suffolk coast and is a wonderful place to visit. It has everything that one would look for in a quintessential English seaside town. The sandy beach is lined with colourful beach huts or you can take a stroll on the award winning pier. From the cliffs overlooking the North Sea are a number of cliff top canon and a working lighthouse. The town is popular with day trippers and those wanting to stay a bit longer.

 

Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle (Photo: topcastles.com)

The magnificent castle in the market town of Framlingham has over 800 years of history waiting to be explored. From its origins when it was built in post Norman England, Framlingham Castle has served various roles including a Poorhouse as well as forming part of the defences against any possible German invasion during World War II. The castle is looked after by English Heritage.

 

Newmarket

Newmarket Races (Photo: Jonathan_W)

350 years ago, the “Sport of Kings” was born in this Suffolk town. Today, Newmarket is still the home of British Horse Racing. It is home to a large number of training stables and the racecourse has two courses; The Rowley Mile Course and the July Course. Between them, they host meetings in Spring, Summer and Autumn. Entrance to meetings can be very reasonable leaving you a bit more money as you try to pick a winner or two. In addition to the races, music concerts are also held here and often feature leading artists.

 

Bury St Edmunds

Abbey Gardens (Photo: Running in Suffolk)

This historic market town is packed with history. At it’s heart are the cathedral and wonderful Abbey Gardens. There are a number of museums in the town including Moyse Hall Museum which dates back to 1180, Greene King Brewery Museum and the Suffolk Regiment Museum. If you are looking a great place to eat or stay, the Angel Hotel in the heart of the town offers superb food in a wonderful ambience. Whilst you are in town, you can also visit Britain’s smallest pub, the Nutshell. The bar measures just 15′ x 7′ and was first opened in 1867.

 

Clare

St Peter and Paul Church, Clare (Photo: Cuthbertian)

Hidden away in the Suffolk countryside is the old wool town of Clare. Some buildings date back to the time of William the Conquerer (it appears in the Doomsday Book as ‘Clara’) and there are many unique and charming structures including the 13th century Priory and more than 125 listed buildings. The timeless beauty of the village is all part of its appeal to visitors who can come here on a day trip or stay a bit longer in one of the local B&Bs.

 

Orford Ness

Orford Ness

The shingle spit of Orford Ness was for many years a top secret area under the control of the Ministry of Defence. One of the many projects believed to be run from Orford Ness was Cobra Mist, a beyond the horizon radar system. Today it is owned by the National Trust and is popular with bird watchers. Some of the old military buildings remain as is the lighthouse which some believe was the source of the strange lights witnessed in Rendlesham Forest in 1980. The well documented UFO incident is sometimes referred to as the British Roswell. If you do plan to visit Orford Ness, make sure you wrap up warm as the wind can be biting.

These are just some of the places within an hour of where I live. You don’t have to look too hard close to home to find interesting places to visit. If you fancy a day trip close to home, do a bit of research, you’ll be surprised what is going on right on your doorstep.

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Jan
29

Travelling As An England Football Fan

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Later this year, Poland and Ukrane will host the 2012 European Football Championships. It is argueably the second biggest football tournament after the World Cup. My first England game was back in 1987 at the old Wembley Stadium. I stood behind the goal in a crowd of 100,000 as England drew 1-1 with Brazil. Gary Lineker gave England the lead before Mirandinha equalised. That goal prompted Newcastle United to sign him and he became the first Brazilian to play in England.

 

My first England away game in Durban, South Africa

 

Over the following years, I went to various games but never to away matches. That changed after the World Cup in 2002 when I booked a week in KwaZulu Natal as England travelled to South Africa to play a friendly international in Durban. At the time, I didn’t really know anyway else travelling to watch the game so I just went by myself. I booked a few days diving up in Sodwana Bay in the north of the province before heading back to Durban for a couple of nights to watch the match. The lads I met were fantastic and I had a great time. I managed to get a lift to and from the old ABSA stadium on a coach and inside the stadium, a group of us were giving some beer by some South African fans. It was a great trip and I even saw Emile Heskey AND Gareth Southgate score.

From then, I decided I was going to go whereever possible and the following year, I went to my first tournament in Portugal. By now, I was meeting friends I’d made either to travel with or catching up once we arrived.

 

An England game during Euro 2004 in Lisbon

 

I travelled with a friend and we stayed in the beautiful city of Porto, travelling to Coimbra and Lisbon (three times) for the 4 England games. It was a superb time to be there with loads of happy people, sunshine, football and plenty of great memories. Since then, I’ve met some great people, many of whom are now very good friends. I’ve travelled to a long list of countries and places, many of which I would never have considered going to.

Naturally with so many trips, there are plenty of stories too. One of the few trips I missed was the away match in Baku, Azerbaijan. I really wanted to go but circumstances conspired against me. Everyone I speak to who went had a great time. Naturally, when husbands and boyfriends go away for a few days, they usually spend their last bit of local currency at the departure airport on some perfume for the wife or girlfriend. However, that was a bit too obvious for one England fan. Instead of a bottle of scent, he decided to take back an Azeri steam iron complete without English instructions.

My favourite away trip was the 2 match tour to the United States in 2005 which saw England play USA at Soldier Field in Chicago followed a few days later against Columbia at the Giants stadium in New York. It was my first visit to Chicago and I loved it.

 

England visit Soldier Field in Chicago

 

The game was played on the Saturday so we took the opportunity for a bit of sightseeing on the Sunday ahead of our early morning flight to Newark. A friend and I took a Gangster tour to see the old haunts of Capone and Dillinger. The tour was excellent and dropped us off outside a bar at about 3pm. Conscious of our early start, we just went in for a quick drink. We got back to the hotel around 1am ready for our 5am pickup. Somehow, we got up and made it down to the car who whisked us off to the airport. After a while, the driver announced we were getting close to O’Hare. Unfortunately, we were flying from Midway which resulted in a sharp U-turn and some liberal interpretations of the speed limits. We just made our flight and I’d never been more grateful to get into a hotel room early when we finally got to Jersey City.

The next day was an early start at the local pub for a full English breakfast and an early-ish departure to the Giants Stadium for my first tailgating experience. The pub very kindly provided us with a keg of beer which was easily consumed before the game.

A few years ago, England supporters had a terrible (and well deserved) reputation but today, it is very different. Despite travelling in huge numbers, there are hardly any arrests. This is mainly due to the tight controls on getting tickets for away matches. Unless you are a member of the official supporters club, you don’t have a chance. Even then, matches do get over-subscribed but a loyalty scheme ensures the regulars get tickets while also allowing new comers access to some tickets.

Depending on the destination, the biggest challenge is booking travel and accommodation. There is one fan I know who refuses to fly. Luckily, he is retired and goes to many of the games by train. The furthest away trip he took was to Almaty for the World Cup 2010 qualifying in Kazakhstan along the old Silk route. It took something like 5 days to get there and another 5 to get back. I haven’t travelled to an away game entirely by train yet but it was be a wonderfully relaxing option compared to tackling airports.

A couple of years ago, I drove to Paris for a game. I left a couple of days ahead of the match to take in the Battlefields around Ypres and the Somme. They were well worth visiting and I’m sure I’ll go back again someday. My SatNav was invalueable in finding all the little villages and memorials. In 2006 ahead of England’s first game in the World Cup, I was told the story of one fan who really should have bought a SatNav or at least learned how to read a map. This lad from Hull had bought a cheap camper van…and I do mean cheap. The headlights didn’t even work but this was in the middle of summer so it shouldn’t have been a problem. Our intrepid fan made his way to Frankfurt in his little van, parked up and found a bar. He casually said to the barman

“Its pretty quiet in town considering England are playing here tomorrow”

The barman was puzzled as this little town on the German / Polish border wasn’t a World Cup venue. It soon became clear, our friend from Hull had gone to the wrong Frankfurt. Now he had to get right across Germany in his old campervan, without any headlights. Thankfully, he made it and he had learned his lesson. The most important thing was that England also beat Paraguay 1-0.

 

Most England fans went to the correct Frankfurt in 2006

 

 

However, the majority of fans do fly and many prefer to travel independently rather than use the more expensive day trips. Airlines don’t tend to add extra capacity so the seats that are available are generally sold quickly. The prices appear to go up quickly and some accuse the airlines of hiking prices. I don’t believe this is the case, its simply a matter of the cheaper seats being sold a lot more quickly than normal.

Groups of fans who travel together will plan their travel ahead of the seats being released. Sometimes, delaying by even a few minutes can result in fares in some cases doubling or more. Its not all expensive though. I know some fans who travelled to Geneva to watch England play Argentina in a friendly a few years ago who paid just £32. They caught a flight on the morning of the game with the return late in the evening. There was no need for a hotel on this trip.

 

Kiev - Host city for Euro 2012

 

This summer, England and Ireland will take part in the Euro 2012 Finals. Ireland will play their matches in Poland while England fans will have to travel further to Ukraine with games in Donetsk and Kiev. Travelling to Donetsk is especially tricky due to the distance from Kiev and relative lack of accommodation in the city. This summer, I’ll travel to the games for the first time on day trips. Its not a tournament I’m particularly excited about and in 2013, England will return to Ukraine to play a 2014 World Cup qualifier. I’ve already been to Kiev once with England so in 2013, I’ll aim to see the sights I missed last time round.

Dec
31

My 10 Top Travel Photos of 2011

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2011 has again been a good year for me to discover wonderful new places in the world. Rather than bore you with a very brief and inadequate description, I thought I’d rely on the old saying of “a picture paints a thousand words” or rather in this case a photo. Here are my favourite photos I took during the last year.

Kronborg Castle

My first trip of the year was to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. I’ve been there many times and decided to head up the coast to Helsingor and the famous Kronborg Castle. It is said to be the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play “Hamlet”.

Kronborg Castle – One of Northern Europe’s finest Renaissance castles

 

Sveti Stefan

I spent a couple of days on the Montenegro coast at Sveti Stefan overlooking this iconic iselt.

Sveti Stefan – Famous visitors here include Elizabeth Taylor and Sophie Loren.

 

Mandarin Fish

My first diving trip to Manado was extremely rewarding. On a night dive I managed to capture a couple of pictures of the elusive Mandarin Fish on a night dive.

The elusive Mandarin Fish on Bunaken Island, Manado, Indonesia

 

Queens Colours 1/24th Regiment

The Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 was the greatest defeat a British force ever suffered at the hands of a native army. On that fateful January day, the Queens Colours of 1/24th Regiment were lost in the Buffalo River. Two weeks later, against all odds they were recovered. Queen Victoria added a wreath of immortals around the crown as reminder of what happened to those colours at Isandlwana. Today, they are hanging in the Havard side chapel in Brecon Cathedral, Wales.

Queens COlours of 1/24th Regiment that were lost and later found after the Battle of Isandlwana in January 1879.

 

Burning Bush / Fire Extinguisher

High in the Sinai Mountains in St Catherine’s Monastery. It is a hugely significant religious site and  this picture is of the Burning Bush. I found it slightly amusing that there is a fire extinguisher next to it…just in case.

In 2011, the Burning Bush is less of a safety risk that back in the days when it was described in the book of Exodus thanks to a fire extinguisher.

 

Soldier on guard, Hall of Valour

The Battle of Stalingrad was an horrendous fight to the death for hundreds of thousands of Russian and German soldiers. Today at the Hall of Valour at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, there is a permanent guard.

A soldier stands guard in the Hall of Valour, Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd

 

Petra through the Siq

The Siq at Petra is a long passage all visitors have to travel through to reach the famous Red City. As you approach the end, you get your first glimpse of the Treasury in Petra.

Nearing the end of the Siq and catching a first sight of the Treasury at Petra.

 

Kotor – cruise ship

The old walled town of Kotor in Montenegro is a popular cruise destination.

A cruise ship docked at Kotor, Montenegro

 

Pufferfish

This photo isn’t so much a favourite, I just want to highlight a problem (excuse the blurriness). When threatened, Pufferfish expand their bodies. Its a rare sight and is incredibly stressful for them. On this night dive in Aqaba, the guide annoyed this Pufferfish enough for it to puff out it’s body. I was really annoyed that someone meant to educate and protect the marine environment could do this. It was at a 5* PADI centre in a marine park.

This poor Pufferfish was annoyed by our dive guide and felt it had to expand it’s body to defend itself.

 

Ma’In Hotsprings

If you want to visit a fantastic spa resort in a stunning setting, the Ma’In Hotsprings 260m below sea level in Jordan will not disappoint.

The main waterfall at the fabulous Ma’In Hotsprings in Jordan.

 

I regularly update my Flickr account with my latest photos which you can find here:

http://www.flickr.com/bbmexplorer

Please feel free to add me as a contact.

Thats all from me for 2011, now I’m looking forward to 2012 which will take me to more new places and the Euro 2012 Championships in Ukraine.

Western Australia is often forgotten about as a destination for visitors to Australia. It is right across the country from the ever popular Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast but the territories captial Perth is a wonderful place to visit. The metropolitan area has a population of around 1.7m and dates back to 1829 when it was founded by Captain James Cook.

Today, it is considered one of the most remote cities in the world as the closest city with a population of more than 500,000 is Adelaide which is over 2,000km away. This has not prevent Perth from becoming a vibrant, modern city. The city sits on the Swann River which winds its way down to the port of Freemantle and the coast. Virtually all the visitors to Perth arrive at the airport just outside the city. There are excellent connections with the rest of Australia as well as direct flights to cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

 

Hong Kong - A stop over city en route to Perth

 

I’ve been to Perth twice and on both occasions I stayed at a motel and had a hire car for the entire trip. This afforded the freedom to explore this fascinating part of Australia. Perth itself has some wonderful attractions. The Perth Mint is one of the most popular and they had a number of exhibitions, a gift shop and I also saw a demonstration of gold pouring.

My favourite place was just north of the centre at Hillarys. AQWA or to give it it’s full name, the Aquarium of Western Australia is a place I could visit every day. Regular readers know I love scuba diving and it was at AQWA where I was able to take part in an unusual experience. Certified divers can take part in a dive in the shark tank. Its actually more of a crawl than a dive but you get to spend time close up to a variety of sharks, rays and turtles. Its an amazing experience to be so close to these magnificent creatures and if you look carefully on the bottom of the tank, you can find sharks teeth. Sharks shed their teeth regularly so they always have sharp ones. During their lifetime, they will usually have around 32,000 teeth. Apart from the shark tank, there are a wide range of exhibitions of marine life found along the 12,000km coastline.

Perth is blessed with a superb climate and there are plenty of beaches both in the city and in nearby seaside towns. Rockingham is probably my favourite of these little towns. I’ve been there a number of times but I never managed to meet the most famous residents; the dolphins.

 

Sunset in one of Perth's many parks

 

In the late afternoon in Perth, it was always nice to take a stroll in one of the many parks. The lakes attract a wide variety of bird life and along with the grand old trees and colourful flowers, these parks are beautifully serene places to visit. The excellent weather means that there are usually people out in the parks jogging and you can also find exercise equipment such as cross trainers in some of the parks.

Australia is well known for it’s diverse wildlife with the kangeroo probably being the most famous. Perth Zoo is an ideal place to see animals such as Dingos, Emus, Koalas, Quokka, Cockatoos and more. There are also animals from other continents as well as various walks and presentations throughout the day. I always like to visit good zoos where the animals are well looked after and Perth Zoo is an excellent example.

 

A Tasmanian Devil at Perth Zoo

 

In total, I spent around 5-6 weeks in Perth and I hardly scratched the surface. It is definitely a place I would happily go back to time and again. Aside from the endless list of things to see in and do in Perth, it is also the ideal base to explore the rest of Western Australia including the spectacular Ningaloo Reef. Sadly, I didn’t make it that far north as neither of my trips coincided with the annual Whale Shark migration. I’ll have to add it to my bucket list for my next trip to WA.

Dec
18

Learning to Identify Marine Life

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When I was learning to scuba dive many years ago, I remember getting back on the boat after one of the training dives and my instructor was all excited.

“Did you see the Guitar Shark?”

“The what??”

I had never heard of a Guitar Shark. Since then, I’ve logged more than 200 dives and haven’t seen another one so I guess they are pretty rare. Today, I take a camera with me on every single dive and I love nothing more than spending the entire dive trying to take that perfect picture of a little marine creature I haven’t seen before. The display of colours on the coral reefs are spectacular but unless I know the names of what I’ve seen, the experience isn’t complete. Imagine going on safari and telling people you saw a massive grey thing with big ears and a long nose or a big cat with black dots. It wouldn’t seem right, would it?

Massive Grey Things With Big Ears

Back on land, I download the images to my lapt0p and start editing the best pictures. I normally just delete about 60-80% for any number of reasons such as being blurred, bad colours or missing the shot. The best ones are filed away and then I start tracking down the names of the fish in various books. That itself is no mean feat. On my last trip to Bunaken Island, the instructor was also a marine biologist so we spent hours trawling through books to identify more than 250 images but we got there in the end.

I like to think some of my pictures aren’t too bad and I do receive a few compliments. Identifying exactly what I have taken a picture of is sometimes as much of a challenge as getting the shot in the first place. Underwater a reef may seem vast but certain types of fish can usually be found in the same place. If you want to see an Anemonefish (aka Clownfish), you need to find an Anemone. Moray eels are often found hidden in holes in the reef with just their head sticking out. Larger fish such as Tuna will be ‘out in the blue.

Spinecheek Anemonefish

Generally, I take as many pictures as possible. If I know a particular reef, I may well trying to find a specific type of fish. On my next trip to Sharm el Sheikh, I hope to find a Long Nose Hawkfish on one of the large Gorgonian Fans in the Straits of Tiran. They are beautiful little fish but very hard to photograph.

I upload my better pictures to Flickr. I normally create different sets for each trip but I’ve also finally got round to grouping my underwater photos into sets. Hopefully, that will help both myself and others in trying to identifying marine life. I’ve got plenty more pictures to add and with more trips to come. I may even get to see a Guitar Shark.

If you want to browse my underwater photos on Flickr, you’ll find them here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmexplorer/collections/72157628128068434/

 

Living in the UK and not being into the cold water diving thing, I normally end up diving in Egypt. When the opportunity came to visit a new diving destination, I couldn’t resist. That and getting the opportunity to fly on the Airbus A380.

Bunaken Island is a few miles off the coast of Manado in the north east corner of North Sulawesi in Indonesia. I’ve done relatively little diving in the Far East and Bunaken Island has a reputation as a great place to dive so it was an easy decision. There is a direct flight from Singapore to Manado which takes around 3.5 hours but it doesn’t operate every day. However, there are other options via Jakarta. Luckily, the connections from London with Sinagapore Air are pretty good and I ended up with just a single stop in Singapore.

I had a good look at the various dive resorts in both Bunaken Island and Lembeh and I eventually decided to stay at Froggies. Apart from the superb rates, free wifi and laundry swung the decision for me. After connecting through the superb Singapore Airport, I was picked up at Manado airport and taken to the harbour for the 40 minute boat transfer to Bunaken Island.

 

Bunaken Island, Indonesia

 

Froggies is an intemate little resort. My bungalow overlooked the sea and at night you could hear the sound of the waves gently breaking. There isn’t really much in the way of infrastructure on the island but Froggies provided everything I needed. All meals were included in the rate. The dive boats left from right in front of the resort, usually departing at 9am and returning by 11.30am in the morning. The afternoon dives would depart around 1.30pm and by 4pm. This gave plenty of time to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Underwater, the diversity of marine life was superb. My first dive was at a site called Negeri and I don’t ever remember seeing so many different varieties of nudibranchs on a single dive. Everywhere I pointed my camera, I could see something new and exciting to take a picture of. Anyone with an interest in underwater photography can’t help but to be impressed.

 

Anna's Chromodoris

 

Bunaken Island isn’t really a destination for the family but if you want to chill out and relax in a serene setting or spend the days scuba diving, it is well worth the effort of getting here. Non-divers were also welcome on the boats and a number of the dive sites were also ideal for snorkelling using your best full face snorkel mask. There were never more than 6 guests on a boat while I was here and every dive I made, it was always just me and my dive guide, Fendy. The relatively small number of divers mean that in most places, the coral is in pretty good condition. In turn, this attracts more fish, nudibranchs, lobsters, turtles and many other species.

 

Ornate Ghost Pipefish

 

Fendy was excellent and pointed out no end of marine life that I would almost certainly have missed if it wasn’t for his expertise. On two seperate dives, Fendy showed me an Ornate Ghost Pipefish which is a beautiful little creature. They are incredibly hard to find and I was even more pleased that the photos I took came out reasonably well.

 

Blacktip Reef Shark

 

We also found a small Blacktip Reef Shark under a piece of coral. Unfortunately, sharks are becoming harder and harder to find. That evening I was chatting with an instructor and looking back, we both estimated that we’d only ever seen sharks on about 5% of our dives.

 

Mandarin Fish

 

The night diving was equally enjoyable. I completed two night dives and we set out just before it got dark in search of the elusive Mandarin fish. It is a wonderfully coloured little fish that is also very shy. However, Fendy knew exactly where to look to find them and we soon saw them. It was difficult to use our torches as the bright beam would scare the Mandarin and as the light was fading, it was almost impossible to distinguish the colours. On our second night dive, I managed to get a couple of photos and we could see what all the fuss was about. Sometimes, the little fish can be as impressive as the larger sharks, rays and turtles.

By the end of my trip, I had managed 11 dives and taken well over 500 pictures of the amazing reefs and their inhabitants. If you are looking for a diving holiday in the Far East, Bunaken Island should definitely be on your list of places to consider.

Travel Information:

I booked my flights via Expedia from London to Manado on Singapore Airlines and Silk Air (http://holidaydestinations.at/bbmexplorer).

The accommodation and diving was booked direct with Froggies (http://www.divefroggies.com)

Photography Information:

My full portfolio of photos from Bunaken Island can be found on my Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmexplorer/sets/72157627971197222/

I would also like to thank Maria Munn from Ocean Visions for helping me with my camera settings. It meant that more of my underwater pictures turned out how I wanted them to and I didn’t have to spend hours editing and tweaking them, trying to correct the colours and lighting on my computer. Maria runs underwater photography courses for compact cameras and has also just published an excellent guide book.

All my underwater images were taken using an Olympus C5060W with a fish-eye lens and Inon D2000 strobe. The shutter speed was set to 1/500 with the apenture f8.0.

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Oct
15

Montenegro’s Stunning Coastline

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 As a teenager, I can remember holiday brochures advertising Yugoslavia as a beach destination. I always wondered what it was like. As a nation, Yugoslavia is long gone and today is divided into a number of different countries. One of the newest and smallest is also one of the most picturesque – Montenegro.

This tiny country is home to just over 600,000 people and the coastline of less than 180 miles. From north to south, there are 4 main towns; Kotor, Budva, Bar and Ulcinj connected by the winding coast road. Along the way, there are plenty of spectacular views as the route twists and turns high above the beautiful ocean. In addition to the 4 towns, there are a number of smaller settlements each with a charm of there own.

The most picturesque is Sveti Stefan with its iconic island. In the past, this historic little place has been visited by a host of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Claudia Schiffer. This was my base for my visit although I didn’t see any celebrities. I stayed at the 4* Hotel Romanov in a room with a sea view. Breakfast was individually prepared rather than being a free for all buffet style with really added to the experience. At less then €70 a night, it was exceptional value.

 

The beach in the heart of Ulcinj

 

Working up from the south, the first main town is Ulcinj. The area is renowned for its long sandy beaches making it a popular tourist destination in the summer. The ‘Large Beach’ is 12km long and is the longest in Montenegro. At night, there are a number of cafes, bars and discos and for those looking for a bit of culture, the old town and medieval castle are very well preserved.

Heading north, the next town is Bar which is a little large that nearby Ulcinj. It is a place with a long history and the Old Olive of Mirovica, the world’s oldest Olive Tree grows here. With beaches, nightlife and historic buildings such as King Nicola’s Palace, Bar is another popular tourist destination. To the east of Bar is the Old Town which although has seen better days, it offers a fascinating insight into the history of the area. To the north of the town is on the only aqueduct in Montenegro. It has been restored to it’s former glory after being destroyed in an earthquake in 1979.

 

Part of the Old Town, Bar

 

The next 35km of the coastline are mainly small settlements and tourist destinations for those looking for a quieter time on the coast. It is on this section of the road where those heading for the capital, Podgorica will turn off and head inland through the new Tunel Sozina and past Lake Skador. However, my journey was along the coast and one of the many small towns in Petrovac. Set in a little bay, it is another place popular with tourists in the summer who flock to the beaches and cafes along the promenade during the day.

After leaving Petrovac and heading past my base at Sveti Stefan, we came to the ancient town of Budva. It can trace its roots back around 2,500 years and may well be the oldest settlement on the Adriatic coast. It is the tourism capital of Montenegro with over 300,000 visitors per year outnumbering the local population of 17,000. There is plenty for visitors to do here with beaches, bars, cafes, shops and the wonderful old town which was also badly damaged in the earthquake in 1979. It was a number of years before it was fully restored.

 

A cruise shipped docked at Kotor

 

Our last stop along the coast is the wonderful Bay of Kotor. There are a number of little towns around this impressive natural bay and it is the town of Kotor. It is a destination for cruise ships that dock in the spectacular settings of the surrounding mountains and the walls of the old town. Inside the walls of the old town are a maze of narrow streets with cafes where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.

I drove this in a day but to really do these wonderful towns justice, two or three days would allow you to explore without rushing around. Although the towns are relatively close together, the roads aren’t great so driving speeds are fairly low.

The airport in Podgorica is on the road to the coast and it will take around an hour to drive down to Sveti Stefan either through the tunnel or across the mountains.

 

Travel Details:

Flights from London Heathrow to Podgorica with Austrian Airlines via Vienna (http://tinyurl.com/austrianairlines-uk).

Hotel Romanov (4*) in Sveti Stefan booked with Expedia (http://holidaydestinations.at/bbmexplorer)

Car Hire booked with Delta Car in Montenegro (http://www.rentacar-delta.com)

Sep
18

A Day Exploring the Bulgarian Capital

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In the Soviet era, Bulgaria was always one of the more productive countries within the Communist Bloc. Today, it is a member of the EU and the Black Sea holiday resorts are popular with foreign tourists offering excellent value. In the winter, Bulgaria is also a popular ski destination but we turn our attentions to the other side of the country and the nations capital city, Sofia.

Sofia is surprisingly missed as a tourism destination compared to the beach and ski resorts. Today, it is home to around 1.4 million people and can trace it’s origins back more than 2,000 years. The city has a diverse history and this is evident with the variety of buildings you will see in the centre. Cobbled streets, 5* hotels, Orthordox churches, Communist monuments and the Banya Bashi Mosque, a remnant from the time when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Although a relatively large number of people call Sofia their home, many of the places of interest are in the heart of the city and you can easily walk between them. Once you arrive at Sofia airport, life is pretty easy. The taxis are on a meter and it cost about £6 to get to the Sheraton Hotel. There are a few excellent Western chain hotels in the centre of town so shop around to get a deal. The room at the Sheraton was around €100 a night.

Sitting Outdoors, Sofia

 

I suspect that Sofia is at its best in the summer months. The temperature will regularly hit 30 Celcius (88 Farenheit) so there are plenty of oppotunities to sit outside at one of the many cafes or in the parks and watch the world go by. Winter is a different matter when it regularly freezes and the snow comes along. Getting around Sofia when the weather isn’t so good won’t be a problem. Taxis are cheap and the modern metro is being expanded with the construction of a second line.

Street Sign, Sofia

 

Although Bulgarian is written in Cyrillic, all the street signs are also written in Latin characters too so there are no problems understanding which street you are on. Tourist maps are available at the hotels making Sofia a great place to explore on foot. There are some wonderful buildings to admire such as the Alexander Nevski Cathedral and the smaller St Nikolai Orthordox Church. The St George Rotunda which is behind the Sheraton hotel, is a UNESCO heritage site dating back to the 10th century. Not far from the Nevski Cathedral is a small open air market where I managed to find a couple of old Soviet Union medals. I always find it interesting to browse these type of stalls as you never know what you will find.

Alexander Nevski Cathedral

 

The number of street cafes and parks mean that you can wander around at your own pace. The value for money in Sofia is excellent. Eating is cheap and there are plenty of places to choose from. Another great thing I found about the various cafes, bars and places to eat was that many of them included free WiFi so I could use all my smart phones features without worrying about getting a ridiculous bill on my return due data roaming charges.

Although I found Sofia interesting, there wasn’t really much to it. The value for money is superb but it is a 3 hour flight from the UK. Its worth going once, perhaps in the Autumn to get a bit of sunshine but its not a city I would go back to time and again.

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