He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

U.S. Gallery

I’ve been meaning to put these on here for ages. Two years after the event I finally got around to doing it.

You may remember that I did a road-trip across the U.S. back in 2008. Slacker that I’ve been, I never got around to putting the travelogue up (although that may follow in time). However, I did get a good selection of pictures - of which a selection are now on the site.

You’ll need flash to browse it.

If there’s one thing you can say about the U.S., is that it has diversity. It’s entirely understandable when you have a country of that size, with such a wide variety of climate, people and flora/fauna that many people don’t get a passport and go abroad. There’s plenty to see there - and I hope that I’ve managed to capture that in this gallery. Enjoy.

Go on - click here - you know you want to....

Destination Nürburgring (Part Two)

Part two of my road-trip travelogue...

Destination Nürburgring (Part One)

At the beginning of this year, I went on a 2,000 mile road-trip across Europe in my Smart Roadster. Since my trip to the U.S. back in 2008, I'd discovered that I quite like road-trip holidays and decided to do a European version. What you'll be reading here is part one from the first week, which I composed on the road at the end of each day via Blogger (Google). To cut a long story short, I've transferred all the posts onto my own site for your reading pleasure.

Be warned, this is quite a long document with a fair amount of pictures in it. If you have a slow connection then it may take a while to download. Additionally, instead of merely regurgitating what I'd already written back then, I've added a few more pictures and words - so even if you've read it before you might find something new, although you may not see some of the original pictures (yet), as I'll be publishing a gallery with all those in quite soon.

Enjoy reading.

All change, please...

I guess I should offer an explanation for my near two-month absence. Apologies aplenty will follow once I’ve got my thinly-veiled attempt of an excuse out of the way.

It all started one day near a public toilet in Paddington Station a few weeks ago. Whilst you’re probably thinking that I was ready to commence an act of George Michaelesque indecency, I was actually looking for something else - namely platform nine and three quarters*, Paddington Bear and sushi. I found two out of the three, but instead of finding owls, wizards and Robbie Coltrane, I discovered something of greater significance.

One usually visits a public toilet in order to perform their ablutions when in dire need. A public toilet is not the throne of choice, especially as it costs thirtty pence for the privilege. There’s nothing like your own, as they say - and that could not ring more true today, but needs must when the devil squeezes your bladder.

I sat on the concourse bench just outside the conveniences and waited. I should add that the bench was not my throne of choice, merely a place to pass the time whilst I waited for somebody else. And lo, a few minutes later, a pink-haired figure walked towards me with a piece of plastic in her hand, the sort of plastic that I am reliably informed is the most advanced piece of technology that one can urinate on. The pink-haired lady showed me the window. Urine dribbled down the stick. Advanced technology it may be, watertight it aint.

“It’s a positive”, she said.

And at that moment, a smile popped on my face, as I realised I was going to become a father. A provisional date of the 29th of November has been given**. Expect to be bored with more info shortly.

Sorry for being slack.

*OK, Pedants - I know Harry Potter was at Kings Cross Station, but really, I don’t give a jewel-encrusted arse.
**No, smart-arse - the wee-stick isn’t that good. That’s something called a midwife - they don’t require batteries. Well, perhaps just when they’re off duty.

Pining for the fjords...

As you’ll have seen from my previous posts, I’ve now disappeared on my european road-trip.

If you’d like to keep up with what’s going on whilst I’m away then check out this link, where a (more or less) day-by-day update will be posted.

Update (29th January 2009) - I’ll be moving the entire travelblog to this site in a couple of weeks. Once I get it into Rapidweaver (my blogging tool of choice), I’ll tart it up a bit and proof-read it so that it actually makes sense in places.


As the new year arrives, it’s time to make the final preparations before I commence my road-trip and head to Denmark - I leave the UK on Sunday.

Since I booked the ferry crossing back in October, a lot has changed - most importantly the pound is now worth nothing on the international currency market, so I’m going to have to perform the trip on a very tight shoestring - so I’ll be taking the following steps to stretch my pound whilst I’m away:

1) I will be making use of Europe’s extensive youth-hostel network in conjunction with another jolly useful website that allows me to hunt down cheap bed’n’breakfast accommodation. I shouldn’t have to pay more than £25/night for a bed and a meal, plus youth-hostels allow me to mingle and get a bit of social interaction whilst I’m travelling. YHA membership, along with the power of word-of-mouth should help in getting some discounts whilst I travel.

2) As the whole point of the journey is to explore, I can’t say I’m really that fussed about gastronomic experiences in über-expensive restaurants, so I’ll be doing a lot of self-catering - Lidl, here we come!

3) I’ve scaled down the distance that I’ll be driving over the fortnight, from 2,500+ miles to little more than 1,500. This’ll save on fuel costs. I wanted to go to Liechtenstein, but this probably isn’t a realistic option now.

I’ve got loads more ideas for money-saving up my sleeve, but I’ll leave those for you to read about when I commence my travelogue. No doubt my tightwad antics will keep you entertained.

As you’ll have seen from my previous paragraph, I shall be writing a travelogue whilst I’m away. With my trusty eee netbook and a USB broadband-dongle, I should be able to keep you suitably updated on my progress. If there’s one thing I learnt from the U.S. trip, it’s that you can’t expect to write up your adventures after the event and still expect it to be a good-read (hence, the reason why you’ve not seen a summary from that trip).

Before I leave on Sunday morning I’ll post the travelogue address for you to follow - in the meantime, have a Happy New Year.

Road Trip, Part 2

Once Christmas is out of the way (in fifty-three days time, if you didn’t know), the job market will probably be non-existent - so it seems fitting to take a couple of weeks out. With the wonder of the internet, I can pretty much make my job applications from anywhere (made easy by acquiring some very cheap mobile-broadband), so I may as well take a trip and enjoy my time off.

Having taken a road-trip back in May (a thoroughly enjoyable experience), I feel it’s time for another, albeit on a significantly tighter budget. I’ll be taking my own car and having a long plod around Europe. Again, the intended distance is likely to be about 2,000 miles.

I’m getting a plan together. As you might have gathered from my previous trip, one must always have a plan. Plans are good and fun to make - even if you toss them out of the window on arrival. So, here’s mine so far:

1) I’ll start by taking the Harwich to Esbjerg (Denmark) ferry and do a near-circular route through Denmark, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Luxembourg - probably coming back via the chunnel in France, although I’ve not booked a return journey yet - just in case I get a prompt interview.
2) I’ll head down through the fjord region of south-east Denmark. Are Danish fjords like Norwegian ones?
3) I’ll find an autobahn in Germany that’ll let me legally drive my roadster to its speed-limit (about 120mph).
4) I intend to do a circuit of the Nurburgring, although possibly not at the speed that many others do.
5) I’d like to see the snowy mountain ranges of Interlaken (Switzerland). A quick search on google-images brings up some amazing views.

I’d also like to pay a visit to some of the smaller, lesser-visited areas of Europe - in particular, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Some of the photography of Liechtenstein that I’ve seen looks amazing. Maybe I just like snow-capped mountains.

Stopping along supermarkets along the way and staying in youth-hostels, I believe I can do the entire trip on a shoestring. It’ll be a good challenge, anyway. Job-hunting never seemed so civilised...


Having returned this morning, I feel fully US'ed out. I've drunk enough coffee to fuel a small republic for a year, eaten burgers, climbed mountains, watched trashy television, sat-out tornado warnings, been burnt by the sun and had a drenching from thunderstorms. It's been a pretty immersive experience and fully worthwhile - but more importantly, I've driven about 2000 miles from Washington D.C. to Fort Worth, Texas, a drive that's been pretty insightful.

See? Told you it woulnd't be a straight line.

As I said before I left, I had preconceptions about the United States and it's people. I didn't elaborate much at the time, but if I'm honest about it, most of my preconceptions weren't good ones. I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps it's my experiences of those I've met when I've travelled in the past, perhaps it's the media, perhaps it's international opinion - I don't know‚ but a preconception is a preconception and the whole point of this visit was to challenge it. The drive allowed me to take in the scenery, talk to people, film a snippet or two and manage those preconceptions - and I'll say it now, the drive was quite enjoyable.

To have an enjoyable drive, you need the right car. This pretty much fitted the bill.


What you see above is my vehicle of choice for the fortnight, a Chrysler Crossfire. I wanted to travel the US in a convertible vehicle - many a traveller will tell you that it's the only way to do it - and they're right. The additional expense over a regular vehicle was worth it. In fact, the car became an ice-breaker for many a conversation. With a stunning degree of regularity, strangers would refer to the "cute car" I was driving - and the conversation would start. That said, the British and American versions of cute are a whole spectrum apart. Using the average American mindset, a 3.2 litre sports-car car is indeed cute - but in Britain, one would be typecast as some sort of daisy-trampling eco-hater. I guess all things are relative when fuel is only £1.75 a gallon and you're using to driving five-litre trucks. Luckily, change appears to be on the horizon and fuel economy is actually starting to be discussed. Perhaps the infamous "credit-crunch" has the odd positive effect.

Over the course of my next few articles, I'll use the challenges I was set to elaborate on the experience further. They're a pretty mixed bunch and hopefully I've caught enough media along the way to give you an idea of what I'm on about. I'm not going to give away as to whether my original opinion was the right one or not, because if I did that it would defeat the object - and I'm hoping that you'll keep reading to the end.

The first part (of five) to follow shortly.

Proceed To Departure

With any luck tomorrow, I should be on a flight to the US - so I guess it's best if I explain what'll be going on.

Firstly, I will continue to blog my progress across The States, although I won't be able to immediately publish it. On my return, you'll get a post every couple of days, which in essence will be like a little story, pictures included. I'm sure that'll keep you entertained for a while.

However, what I will do along the way is upload pictures to Flickr. Ok, I admit, my "picture a day" project went totally titsup back in about February, but it's a nice quick and easy way to give you a quick (and possibly vague) idea of what I'm up to.

Of course, there is another reason for this - a friend recently suggested that should I disappear without trace whilst on holiday, at least giving some photographic clues of where I am may give the police some assistance in trying to find my gunshot riddled body. Call it photographic breadcrumbs, if you will - just keep looking for new posts after the 5th of February.

The journey will proceed according to the route that I've previously outlined in "The Plan". The last couple days are undecided, but I will give an indication as to where I'm going once I've made up my mind.

There we go. I'm all packed. I've got plenty of pants, my passport and a fistful of dollars - who needs anything else? My next full post will be in just over two weeks.

The Plan

It's always good to have a plan. Hell, 1,500 mile road-trips don't just plan themselves - so here's mine.

I aim to go through at least three national-parks (Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains and Hot Springs) and across a good few states (District Of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas). I've also left about four or five days to spare - just in case anything interesting I'd not thought of comes along. Here's the map of my journey....

Planned Route. (But you know what happens to the best laid plans....)

My visit to Hot Springs is my way of paying a small bit of homage to the Japanese trip that wasn't.

The American Automobile Association say that this journey is about 1,475 miles, but I still haven't entirely made up my mind about what I want to do between Little Rock and Dallas, so that might increase just a bit. I did plan going to Cadillac Ranch, but unfortunately, it adds about 700 miles to my trip - and there's limits on how far I'm prepared to drive. In the meantime, here's my to do list of "challenges", varying in difficulty.

1) Visit an Indian reservation.
2) Not get shot.
3) Capture a video-clip of a tumbleweed flying by. (Does that even really happen?)
4) Wear a bad cowboy hat. It's been suggested that I change hat every time I change state.
5) Go to a country bar and select something awful from the jukebox.
6) Find a bear, preferably shitting in the woods.
7) Fire a gun.
8) Eat grits, no matter how disgusting they appear to be.
9) Photograph the most obese individual I can find.
10) Attend an evangelist's church service.
11) Go to a strip-club. (Nice juxtaposition, huh? I nearly fell off my chair when my partner suggested that one)
12) Photograph an Elvis look-alike.

As you can see, my list has changed a little bit from its predecessor, but is a more realistic set of tasks to do based upon where I'm travelling through. I did try to rent a convertible for the journey, but unfortuantely, not a single car-hire company seems to have any in stock - which was a shame, but I'll try my luck again when I reach the vehicle pick-up desk.

In the meantime, if you've got any additional ideas for challenges, feel free to post a comment.


Having consoled myself with the fact that I'm probably unable to afford Japan this year, I figured I'd try and look at some suitable alternatives - namely a similar style of holiday (i.e. bumbling around a large-ish country for a few weeks), but hopefully in a way that creates less of a dent on my wallet. I settled on a ticket to the US. Just the air-travel and travel-pass aspects of it alone work out to be about half the price of their Japanese equivalents.

The US has always been a curiosity to me. I wouldn't exactly be what you call an American-lover, but I just want to go and see what things are like. Yes, I'm US-curious. With a country of such size, I figure that you've got a whole pile of diversity there. Just a quick look on my favourite piece of world-browsing software informs me that there's about a 15 degree temperature difference alone between the north and the south - and this is before we even get to talk about architecture, people, culture or food. Yep, there's got to be something there to keep me interested.

So, I've booked myself a flight. I'll fly into Washington DC (east coast) and come home from Dallas (down south, Texas) two weeks later. In a straight line, it's about 1,300 miles, but you didn't seriously expect me to go in a straight line, did you?

Not a straight line, but you expected that...
Wiggly: The route above (purple line) is 1,328 miles. My route will be a bit longer.

When I started planning and reading up, this was my initial list of stuff I wanted to do whilst away.

1) Find an Amish community in Ohio. (Hey, Diary Of The Dead did something good).
2) Go to a national-park in Arkansas.
3) Have pancakes for breakfast.
4) Go on a Greyhound bus.
5) Do the touristy thing on Capitol Hill, Washington.
6) Go into a bar in Tennessee and hear some country-music. (I hate country music, but it's got to be done)
7) Visit a town/city on the south-east coast and go to the beach.
8) Drive down one of those very long roads that seem to disappear into the distance, just like in photos.

..and no doubt I shall think of more.

As to how I'm going to go across the country, well, I've got three options - take the train, use the Greyhound network or hire a car. To be honest, the price isn't much different between the three methods, so I've decided on the car - this will allow me some more flexibility, freedom and the ability to do some of the things on the above list. The rail network doesn't get much in the way of glowing recommendations (it seems that freight takes priority over passenger traffic in most cases and the infrastructure is poor) and I do appear to limiting myself quite a bit by buying a Greyhound pass. Nope, in this case it has to be driven.

I'm looking forward to the whole thing and will be away for the last week of April and the first week of May. In the meantime, if you've got any tips on driving in the US, or things you consider to be quintessential activities that you should do whilst away, I'd be happy to hear 'em.

Footnote: Shit - I bought a B.A. ticket from Heathrow. Was this such a good idea?

Update (3/4): Some more stuff for the list (thanks for the suggestions)

9) Visit an Indian/Native-American reservation.
10) Drive an old Ford-Mustang.
11) Visit Graceland in Memphis.


I got back from Italy in the small hours of this morning. The holiday was great stuff and was just what the doctor ordered. I did exactly what I said I'd do before I left - train, drink and lounge. I'd also go as far as to say it's the most relaxing and fun holiday I've had in about fifteen years.

It was memorable for so many reasons. Apart from the fun and alcohol, I also had the honour of being the uke for the club's first black-belt grading. The grading went well, with the tori impressing the panel and getting his belt. Congratulations - you know who you are, history-maker. Happy

Consequently, there was much celebrating to be done - we were plied with drinks at a beach party that was laid on by the ju-jitsu foundation. It was a wonderful way to end the week.

I think I've consumed more alcohol during the past week than I have in the past year.

With all that went on, the one memory that will stay is of the beach. Listening to the waves crash against the moonlit shore (below) in the small hours of the morning was something special. Combine this with friends and a great atmosphere and it would be sufficient to say I had a very enjoyable time.

Last night moonshot

This is the first of many pictures - I'll be posting a little gallery of the best bits around Wednesday/Thursday.

Thermae (2)

You may remember that I mentioned a little while back (*clicky*) about visiting the only natural hot spa in the UK, mainly out of curiosity as to whether the complex would have any similarity to Japanese Onsen culture. Well, I've been now - and it was an interesting visit, so read on....

The place is relatively easy to get to, because it's right in the centre of Bath - so head for the City Centre and you'll be fine. As a pedestrian, you'll see signs to "Thermae" everywhere, so I defy anyone not to find it.

As you enter, you get the distinct impression that money has been spent. This is not just some jumped-up swimming pool, it's architecturally much more. The stonework is something to behold. Everything is curvy and smooth and impressive, even down to the welcome sign behind reception.

The prices are on their website (*clicky*), but at the time of writing, a two-hour session cost £19. For a spa in the UK, this is cheap (although when in Japan, most Onsen entry-fees are more in the order of 200 yen / 1 pound) and a session such as this is a good way to get familiar with the place.

When you enter, you're given an armband. The armband has a chip in it, which is too damn smart for its own good. It knows when you came to the place. It knows your locker number. It knows if you ate at the restaurant. In short, everything is charged back to the armband - you then settle up for anything outstanding as you leave.

Changing is in a unisex area, which is full of little cubicles. Facilities exist for families and the disabled.

The building has five (I think) floors. Probably the best way to start, though, is at the top and work your way down. The rooftop pool is great. It gives you a view across the top of Bath and over to the countryside. Here's a shot of the pool. (It's OK to use these images - they're on the PR section of the website).

That rooftop pool is awesome at night...

I have to say it's much more fun sitting in the pool if the weather isn't sunny. When it's raining, it's great. It's probably great by moonlight. It's also probably great on a freezing icy day. It was certainly interesting during the rain, mainly because of the cold rain on your face contrasting with the 40+ degree water temperature.

Anyway, head downstairs and you enter the steam room, which looks a bit like something from Doctor Who, but it's sooooooo cool.

Like being in the tardis?

The steam room has four separate sections, each with their own distinct smell. For example - floral in one, wood in another. It's worth going to all four to experience the difference. The steam room also has individual foot spas, so you can soak/bubble your feet away. Nice. Finally, there's the central shower, which makes you feel like you're being pelted with pebbles. It works a treat at removing dead skin from every pore of you, but that's probably a thought you don't want to linger over.

There are other treatment rooms on the next floor down and by the time you've got to the ground floor, you're in a place called the Minerva Bath, which is more akin to something swimming pool-esque, but it's not - if that makes any sense at all.

All the pools seems to have this random controller built in to them, so bubbling spas pop up in places you didn't expect, along with water cannons operating from the side of the bath, which work a treat at leaving your back squeaky clean, combined with some nice lighting and high pressure pumps, which make you feel as though you're getting a massage. The surface of all the baths is covered in a paint that can only be likened to a sandstone with bits of pumice in it. It's like all the time you're in there, the nasty dead skin is being removed. You do come out squeaky clean - and you feel great.

I was in there for just two hours, but want to go back. I'll probably do a four-hour session next time. This place is a distinctly British affair and is nothing like the Japanese spas I've been in before - this is much more grand. The water quality here is great. There are drinking stations around the building and the water is exceedingly soft and pleasant to drink. The place has had so much money spent on it, that I hope it doesn't go under. It deserves to do well. Some of the layout is occasionally non-sensical, but being such a unique building which has been so tastefully renovated, it deserves to be supported.

Go. Go now. You won't regret it.


Well, I've started wading through all the photos and one I particularly like is this:

Eye of Sauron

Simple as it is, I just like the effect of the light appearing to burst out of the top of the tower. This will end up in my image gallery, no doubt.

It would seem that so far, this trip has been pretty successful in photography terms.

Capsule Hotels

When I tell people that I've been to Japan a few times, it seems to be that the first question isn't, "did you eat lots of raw fish", or "did you see a geisha", but "did you stay in one of those funny hotels"?

Well, the answer is "yes", I have - so I thought I'd put a little entry on here about it, so that if anyone who is going to Japan wants to try it, they've got a little background knowledge (which is always useful).

Capsule hotels are wonderful things - they're just hi-tech dormitories and there's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, if you're visiting Tokyo on a budget, it's worth using them, as the price per night is about 3,000 to 4,000 Yen, meaning that you can live/stay cheaper in Tokyo than you could in the rest of the country!

Firstly, you might want to see some pictures - so here goes. The first shot is an entire floor full of 'em. (The capsules are usually stacked 2 high).

It's not as claustrophobic as a it looks, honest...

Secondly, you'll want to see inside, so here you are:

More comfy than it looks....

Think of it as a bunk bed, but with privacy.

Each capsule usually contains:

a) A fan or aircon, to keep cool.
b) A TV
c) A clock
d) A radio.
e) A light.
f) Bedding.
g) A blind (that's your door).

Secondly, you'll need to know how to find one. They exist in most major cities as well as Tokyo and they're usually found near railway stations. They're usually the place to stay for drunken salarymen who don't want to go home to their wives. This means that many become a men-only environment, although a few take women. Drunken salarymen are harmless. Honest. They're good to talk to, as their curiosity takes over.

Most capsule hotels have big neon signs somewhere, which look a bit like this:


This literally says, "Capsule Hotel". Sometimes, you might just see the red bit, saying "Capsule".

Next, I'd better say this at all costs - take your shoes off as soon as you get in the door! All capsule hotels have a little locker to put your shoes in. Just bung 'em in, take a pair of the hotel slippers (sexy things, they are) and keep hold of the key.

Luckily, as most of Japan seems to run on vending machines, this makes your life easy, as you won't need to ask for anything. Just put your money in the vending machine, press a button (it will be obvious what the right button to press is) and out will come a ticket, which you give to the receptionist as proof that you've paid. Some do require a formal check-in at a reception, but these are a minority. They will give you a capsule/locker key. The key will probably be on a velcro strap (so you can keep it on your person - useful when bathing) and the strap will have a number on it.

Immediately after reception is usually the locker room. Your key will fit in a locker here. Put on your funky Japanese pyjamas, (which have a habit of making you look like an old man) and grab your towel - it's bath time!

Most baths are on the top floor. Bathing is another matter entirely, which has it's own protocol. I'm not going to go through that during this entry.

Anyway, once your bath is done, you can crash in your capsule. Most capsule hotels have more vending machines and occasionally an eatery, so you can top up on food/beer/whatever. Check out time is usually 10am. You simply do everything in reverse - i.e. go back to your locker, get dressed, hand your key back and grab your shoes from the diddy locker!

As for tips on which capsule hotels are good ones, well, there's a really good one at Asakasa (Tokyo), which also takes women. It's about 3,000 yen. If you want cheap, however, there's one in Ueno, but this is a very ropey establishment indeed and doesn't justify saving the 400 yen. (It's 2,600).

Feel free to contact me if you've got any questions....