Amsterdam: Life Cyle

OUTSIDE Amsterdam Centraal Station is a sprawling multi-story parking facility. For bikes. Row after row stretch into the distance, more than you could easily count. There is very little variation in style; most bicycles are beaten-up, old-fashioned, sturdy and black, with little personality but lots of rust. Continue reading “Amsterdam: Life Cyle”

Northern Ireland: Coast Road

FROM Torr Head, on the coast of Northern Ireland, I can see the lighthouse on Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre, only 17km away. The North Atlantic and Irish Sea meet here, surging around Rathlin Island to create a maelstrom of tides and rough seas that has left a legacy of wrecks. Ancient stories tell of a fleet of 50 currachs, the hide-covered canoes still used in Galway, being swallowed up by a whirlpool while trading across the channel. Continue reading “Northern Ireland: Coast Road”

Dublin: Irish Pubs

“WHEN you have everything, what do you want? What else will make you happy?” I’m in the Palace Bar in Dublin’s Fleet Street discussing the meaning of life, via football and young Russian oligarchs with enough money to buy English football teams. My philosophical companion, supping a lunchtime pint of Carling lager, possibly not his first nor even his third of the day, is a complete stranger and his thick Dublin accent means I understand only every other word. The Palace is a long, narrow but high-ceilinged room that opens into a larger, bright, glass-roofed space, filled with regulars who all give me a glance as I step in before going back to their pints. The only noise is a quiet hum of conversation and the clink of glasses. Continue reading “Dublin: Irish Pubs”

Iceland – Cold Blast

“IT’S A beautiful country. It will be even more beautiful when it is finished!” My Icelandic friend Jens laughs as we dodge the hot spray from Strokkur geyser. It is a more regular performer than nearby Geysir, which gave us our English name for these spouts of hot water, issuing from deep within the earth where the process of volcanic creation continues. Continue reading “Iceland – Cold Blast”

Vancouver: East West

“WE believe we live in the best place on earth. We know it, we love it, we feel it and we want it. We are surrounded by the ‘haves’ and we want it all.” Even a tipsy woman in the trendy Opus Bar, where I am enjoying an evening cocktail, sings the praises of her city. Kate was pushed over from a giggling bachelorette party with some risqué questions, before I turned the tables by asking her to define a Vancouverite. Continue reading “Vancouver: East West”

London: The City

“IT’S AN odd thing how most tourists who go to London never actually visit it,” says City worker Patrick Johns. “Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the West End, Changing the Guard… these are all in the City of Westminster. Even Londoners consider the City of London a place apart.” Continue reading “London: The City”

Guatemala: Friendly Faces

GUATEMALA CITY has the quiet air of a village grown over-large. The narrow streets, paved in concrete with high, red-painted curbs, struggle to cope with the mass of traffic. The sidewalks are narrow and shops spill out onto them, with black-clad armed guards a presence in many. Sun-faded paint covers walls that are broken up with iron-barred windows and bursts of political graffiti. Continue reading “Guatemala: Friendly Faces”

The Hague: Peace Central

THE TRAIN to Den Haag Centraal pulls in past one of the largest greenhouses I have ever seen, a kilometre or more of blooms under glass. The land is flat and criss-crossed with neat drainage ditches and canals. I can’t escape the thought it is only borrowed temporarily from the North Sea. Nothing has come easily to the Dutch. It is a land where every field is made by hand, and you depend on a well-ordered infrastructure – and your fellow citizens – to survive. Continue reading “The Hague: Peace Central”

Galapagos: Enchanted Islands

AT THE top of Bartolomé Island, my legs aching from the long climb up its steep wooden stairway, I look out over the Galapagos Islands. The black volcanic landscape at my feet looks otherworldly, relieved by a flash of greenery between the two beaches that curve away far below. The horizon is filled with islands and a single cloud, dark with the elusive promise of rain, that hangs over a tranquil ocean living up to its “Pacific” name. Continue reading “Galapagos: Enchanted Islands”

China: Great Wall

THEY say every journey starts with one step. Sometimes it starts in farce, too. Knowing it is essential to set off early from Beijing to visit the Great Wall before the tourist masses arrived, I arrange with my Chinese friend Qian for an 8am start. She holds out for 10.30am. We haggle and eventually compromise on 9am. Qian turns up at my hotel at 9.30am and then drives to a Starbucks for breakfast. Continue reading “China: Great Wall”