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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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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.

Aug
07

Why Tourists Should Pay More

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Many countries across the world operate a tiered price system for entry to museums, historical buildings and other points of interest. The systems invariably means that tourists and foreign visitors will pay a higher entry price that local people. I’ve had numerous conversations with disgruntled tourists at having to pay a premium to enter a museum and feel ripped off.

My view is that for things like places of interest and museums, there is no reason for poorer countries in particular not to charge a higher fee to tourists and foreign visitors. As tourists we have travelled to see something unique (such as Petra in Jordan). Essentially, it is something Jordan can sell. Petra itself is far too large to be taken to exhibit overseas but other ‘national treasures’ are often sent to exhibit in other countries. Egyptian artefacts have been on display in London and the Bolshoi Theatre from Moscow regularly put on shows in other countries often at premium prices.

Other countries have different commodities which they sell at a premium abroad compared to the prices at home. Oil is a primary example of this. If a country such as Zimbabwe is blessed with a natural wonder such as Victoria Falls, why shouldn’t they be allowed to maximise venue from it in the same way countries maximise their revenue from oil? Similarly, local people who do not enjoy the spending power of Western tourists should not be prevented from seeing part of their country (be it natural wonder or historical building) so a multi-tier pricing system is the obvious answer.

Recently, I was in an Eastern European city and I was offered the choice of a prebooked taxi for 50USD but instead I took the bus for the equivalent of $0.30. Different people will place different values on things. What one person sees a a price worth paying, others will see as a rip-off. As a tourist / traveller, I accept multi-tier pricing but I still don’t want to feel ripped off. This is the balance that countries need to find.

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Mar
20

Super Moon, was it really that super?

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Saturday 19th March 2011 we were told was the day when the earth would see a Super Moon. This natural event is when a full moon occurs that is within 90% of its orbit to the earth. The orbit path of the moon is an oval shape which accounts for the variance. There are a number of Super Moons each year but the one on 19th March was almost perfect and the last time the moon was so close to the earth was in 1993.

In the days running up to the 19th March, the expectation grew of a superb natural show and luckily where I live in the East of England, the skies were clear. However, I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I had expected a large imposing full moon which may even have been tinted slightly orange but in the end, it just looked like another full moon to me.

Thats not to say full moons aren’t spectacular but in my opinion, the show didn’t live up to the hype. Thats not to say some spectacular photos didn’t appear but I believe these photos could have been produced at most full moons using the same equipment. For example, I found this photo taken in Greece:

Photo: Associated Press
Source: http://www.tbd.com/blogs/weather/2011/03/extreme-supermoon-on-march-19-makes-astrologers-wet-their-pants-9251.html

 

I also took a couple of photos from my back garden and below I’ve compared the image from the 19th March 2011 with one I took using the same camera and lens in June 2009 in Egypt. Compare them and see if you think there is any noticeable difference between the two images?

Full Moon, Egypt, June 2009

 

Super Moon, UK, 19th March 2011

How was the Super Moon for you?  Were you impressed or was it a bit of an anti-climax?

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Nov
08

Five Superb Cruise Vacations

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Previously thought of as the choice simply for the affluent and famous, luxury cruise vacations have become less costly and consequently common with a broader market. Cruise vacations are so prevalent these days that among the most difficult things is determining where to go. You will discover choices on rivers and seas which means there really is something for anyone and these are 5 of the very best alternatives to bear in mind.

Passenger ships crossing the Atlantic coming from East to West used to contend for the unofficial accolade of the Blue Ribband. One time, the Southampton to New York route on the incredible QE2 could easily be put together with a return flight on Concorde. Sadly, the breathtaking airplane no longer flys so travellers are able to remain aboard longer with visits in Rhode Islands, Boston and Ponta Delgada.

The Norwegian Fjords are a impressive sight, best observed from on board a cruise ship. There are several visits up and down the Norwegian coast and depending on time of year, it is possible to enjoy the midnight sun or the renowned Aurora Borealis otherwise known as the Northern Lights.

In the past, buccaneer ships were frequent visitors to the Caribbean as well as the British and Spanish navys. Today, the region is a well known cruise destination letting passengers to experience five or 6 different countries in only two weeks. Barbados, Antigua, Aruba and St Lucia remain renowned destinations.

Cruising the Nile is a long standing favourite of people to Egypt. The enormous river is Egypt’s life blood and on a Nile cruise, holiday makers have the option to explore a few of the most renowned cultural places in the world in Luxor and on the way to Aswan.

As well as brief one or 2 week cruises, you could potentially also cruise the oceans for a few months non-stop. It is not uncommon for World Wide cruises to last three months or more travelling to literally dozens of countries on various continents. An abundance of places await together with unforgettable trips through the Suez or Panama canals.

These are simply a number of the quite a few cruise opportunities readily available and there really is something for everybody.

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