Posts Tagged ‘street photography’

SOTM World Tour – Malta Part II

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

10171692_10154119375280241_8221091916035131426_nSo the last stop on the SOTM World Tour saw me pop back to Malta, quite fittingly. And as always, it was great to be back home.

I was there through an invitation to join the Blog Island project, run by the blogger group iambassador and the Malta Tourism Authority. Personally I’ve long thought Malta would be ripe for an organised blogger campaign so was delighted to learn of this one being put together.

Kate and I stayed in the excellent Palazzo Prince D’Orange in Valletta, a beautiful and enormous building restored to a very nice standard. It captures much of the charm that traditional Maltese houses have, while being a fancy place to stay at the same time. Here’s the flag outside the building.

10314520_10154119403100241_2529624660625187409_nThe top image shows part of the view that you get from the roof of the palazzo, and this meant that we got a grandstand view for the firework show put on to mark the 10th anniversary of Malta entering the European Union.

I used my MeFoto tripod for this (I have a sponsored Backpacker model – it’s light and robust – and am genuinely very happy with it) and have never photographed fireworks before. I got some decent results but was using a 2.5 second shutter speed, but think I would have done better with 2 seconds. Still, here’s a couple of examples.

10401980_10154212613930241_3317899970187105190_nAs you can see, the Maltese do fireworks very well, often winning awards for their pyrotechnics. I must confess that during some local festas, which happen every year, the health and safety standards are sometimes lacking, but the ones shown here were fired safely from barges floating in Valletta’s Grand Harbour.

10414900_10154212615700241_5146955438409375623_nThe Maltese are very keen on their cars and often soup up older models. This one had quite eye-catching patterns.

10259862_10154129477745241_6333107387073139194_nStaying in Valletta gave us plenty of opportunity to wander its charming back streets, which are hugely photogenic. This city, a World Heritage Centre, is a capital like no other.

1549315_10154129477245241_5972706450121067518_nSpeaking of Valletta’s streets, I chose one of them as the location for my very own SOTM. I have never done one, and as SOTM will probably end in the autumn, I needed to have my image ready to use because it’s going to be the last ever new one that I post.

Thereafter, all the images, roughly all seven years’ worth, will then rotate forever, turning over every day like they currently do, just in a giant circle instead of having a new photo and story each day.

So here’s a sneak peek at mine. I had always intended upon another Maltese location for my SOTM, but the night before the picture was to be taken, I changed my mind. I chose a certain place in Valletta instead – Upper Barrakka Gardens – but when Kate and I went there it was clear that wouldn’t work either.

St Ursula’s Street  is parallel to the palazzo, and I love Valletta’s streets, so it suddenly became clear that it should be my place.

10273405_633903930012093_4464690629398676696_oAnd here I am in my happy place – a cracking little cafe in Valletta called Gambrinus. It serves super coffee and pastizzi, which are a ricotta-filled baked Maltese savoury delicacy that you simply must try if ever you go (but make sure they’re oval, like the ones you see here, as any round/triangular ones are poor imitations).

10339577_10154119374440241_3919495774707907156_nAnd here’s a great view of Valletta, from across the water in Sliema’s Tigne Point.

10258341_10154119830675241_9145648304846680904_nKate and I were on our way to the Chop House, a superb steak house which I thoroughly recommend. We were guests of the owner and the food was really delicious, including Scottona beef which I’d never heard of before but was lovely. It comes from young virgin cows and is a meat eater’s treat.

The Chop House in a glass-fronted building so you keep that same view of Valletta as you eat. Go there one evening and watch the dying light change quite dramatically on those famous, aged stones.

Speaking of food, as part of Blog Island we visited the Tal-Petut restaurant in one of the Three Cities, Birgu. When we arrived it turned out, in typical Malta-is-so-tiny-you-know-everyone fashion, that I knew the owner, Donald.

This excellent chap is hugely charismatic, idiosyncratic and unforgettable. I met him once 14 years ago and he could still remember that I’m originally from Gzira in Malta.

10271513_10154119377155241_799767897720853726_nWhen I met him Donald was head of Reuters financial services on the island, but these days he’s cooking up a storm in a building whose youngest stones are about 400 years old.

We all helped out in the kitchen, just a little bit of gentle preparation as Donald has most things stewing or marinading or whatever, and when we put it all together it looked like this. Near the middle you’ll see a basket of Maltese bread which I cut, despite Donald telling me: “Mario, you’re murdering that bread.”

10365855_10154212598715241_2939016647507528595_nHere’s a shot of Sliema as seen from St Julian’s, just because such a lovely day deserves to be photographed.

10276991_10154119374640241_6997257470705082864_nDuring our stay it was the feast of St Publius, the saint for Floriana, a small area literally right outside of Valletta with a population of just 2,300.

Festi are always worth visiting, and this one was very charming, with St Publius’ statue begin carried slowly through this tiny town’s narrow streets.

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10262003_10154212625000241_1941420696708924452_nThe lighting wasn’t great for capturing street shots, and I forgot my flash – although I don’t think I wanted to be running around throwing a flash in people’s faces. Most of those in attendance were local or certainly Maltese, and I wanted to let the magic of their festa unravel without any brash intrusion.

So I pushed up the ISO to quite dizzy levels – this one was taken at 5000 – but it still worked well enough for shots to go on a blog post.

10257233_10154212625750241_7064935386085505485_nI like the light on this one. I’m not sure this lady was in a bad mood, but the light thrown up from the bulbs make her look rather stern.

10407240_10154212624630241_489990735771083525_nThere’s always a band at a festa and while the poor light made capturing them difficult, there were a couple of good shots to be had. I managed to get this guy while he was full of puff.

10338314_10154212626030241_6198469507898538752_nI spotted this little chap with presumably his dad. He was very cute and looked dapper in his mini-suit.

10383091_10154212623230241_8095151132649527162_nI was tickled by this angle which made St Publius looks like he was checking out the local bar’s latest offer…

In Malta it’s very common to have bars, shops, businesses, cars and houses named after things you’ll find in other parts of the world. You can be sure the owner of that bar has either been to Oklahoma, has possibly lived there, or just really likes the musical.

10375106_10154212627915241_6254884868321219607_nWhile at the festa Kate and I got talking to this sweet couple, whose daughter was playing in the band. They weren’t from Floriana but said they travel around to watch their daughter play, presumably in small towns that don’t have enough of a population to have their own band.

I don’t know what their names are, but the dog was called George. He had a party trick where he licked the lady’s lips full on. It was endearing and horrifying at the same time.

10262082_10154212628345241_7315609396467083452_nAt one point we hired a car, a bright yellow Peugeot with a missing T that Kate christened as “The Buttercup”. It was certainly easy to spot in car parks, at least. We took it to Gozo one day, the second smallest island in the Maltese archipelago, and had a good old tootle around.

This shot shows Malta in the distance with the tiny Comino, which I was told now has three permanent residents, in the middle.

10277238_10154212630595241_585393757806561575_nThere are some well-known salt pans on Gozo, which you can only enter if you’re harvesting salt, despite them being right next to a coast road open to the public.

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10173715_10154212633785241_3948623281138560903_nOne of Gozo’s best beaches is the lovely Ramla Bay, blessed with reddish sand. Having dug our tootsies in it, we then drove up to a lofty viewpoint to take a look around from there. The resulting vista doesn’t disappoint.

10390299_10154212632775241_6213159041685874041_n Incidentally, to whomever drew out a large penis in rocks on Ramla Bay – I salute you.

10369728_10154212633315241_3678383624214016940_nWe also had a tip off from a Gozitan, the charming TV celebrity chef and cookbook author George Borg who cooked us a tasty local meal at the palazzo one night.

He told us how there was another Azure Window-style natural site to be seen in Gozo, at Wied il-Mielah. We went to check it out and it was a quite stunning view.

It was quite difficult to photograph because of the proximity of the surrounding coastline, but by twisting and pressing myself into the adjacent rock face, I managed to capture this.

10177293_10154212634920241_1143008338798032797_nFinally, when driving through a sleepy little village in Gozo, I spotted this sign and liked it so much I stopped The Buttercup to go back and photograph it.

Must be a rather aged sign as that format of phone numbers don’t exist any more, so I wonder if the lion’s still alive. I didn’t want to find out, though.

10313737_10154144462810241_57508472525108271_nAnd that, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of the SOTM World Tour.

Thank you so much for reading my posts. I hope you enjoyed hearing of my adventures and looking at my photography as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you all.

Going around the world was a lifelong ambition for me, from the time when, as a boy growing up in Malta, I used to pin up maps on my bedroom walls and wonder what those places were really like. And almost right from the start of SOTM’s conception back in September 2006, I wanted to take it around the world at some point.

Now I’ve done both.

Much love to you all – and remember. If you have an ambition, just like I did, make it happen. It’ll be all right.  You’ll do it, and will be better for it.

What are you waiting for?

This post was brought to you by the Blog Island Malta campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority and the support of Air Malta

SOTMario maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.

SOTM World Tour – Germany

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

10277739_10154060419590241_7878184959117140364_nOnce upon a time I was stood on a platform on the London Underground, looking at a poster advertising Germany as a holiday destination.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Not really bothered about going there. Rest of Europe is far more interesting.”

Years later, having eventually visited Germany several times, I’m now a firm fan of the place and list it as one of my favourite countries. It’s a crisp-looking country, has bombastic but impressive architecture, a suitably swish transport system (although the trains are frequently a bit late) and the friendly people widely speak English.

So I was very pleased to be invited back there to speak at the Social Travel Summit in Leipzig in April. This was a conference for top travel bloggers and I was asked to speak about how bloggers can introduce a bit of the same robustness that journalists employ in their work. It was a great event and I enjoyed it very much.

While in town, I came across Cafe Cantona, which excited me greatly as ex-footballer Eric Cantona is my all-time hero of all time. It was started by a few football fans in the city as a venue to watch televised football matches and then grew into a full bar.

Well worth a visit, even if you’re not into football, and aside from this poster it looks like a cute bar with tasty food.

10258858_10154060507820241_2344094764292259520_nJust before I left Leipzig I spotted this street scene, which responded wonderfully to the receding light.

1398_10154060666065241_2399875087192641495_nAfter Leipzig I went on a short trip to the remarkable Völklingen Hütte Ironworks in Saarbrücken, right next to the French border. It was a post-conference trip and I went with Matt, an American chap better known as the Expert Vagabond and Simon, who’s an Italian blogger who writes at Wild About Travel.

10172778_10154067818045241_5491935785216144979_n This former industrial behemoth closed in the mid-1980s after nearly a century of melting down iron ore and is now a gently rusting monument to hard, searingly hot but essential work. It’s also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

10257113_10154080453110241_7009583069189400754_n

10245281_10154080458285241_3187196577066848813_nAll its many pipes and tubes make it look like a giant, gutted monster with its entrails spilled out.

10013756_10154080452395241_7707971156805254342_n

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10295701_10154080471765241_7007538660572448863_nHere I am with the excellent Simon and Matt. We called ourselves #TeamIron.

10155333_10154067192740241_7477261486545691994_nAfter that I moved on to Hamburg, which was a cracking city to hang out in for a while. One part of the town centre was quite reminiscent of Venice.

1911890_10154084038345241_7369723408690065822_nSpeaking of Venice, Hamburg has more bridges than London, Amsterdam and Venice combined, and more canals than Amsterdam and Venice. They are quite lovely to look at, also.

10264274_10154084201410241_7439549552095854468_n

10177937_10154084005795241_2906061209921530629_nIt’s not all beautiful brick in Hamburg, though. This is an eye-catching glass and steel contraption.

10153827_10154084038530241_445904242664083692_nThis is a model of Hamburg, to be seen in the city’s main square next to the town hall. Is it me, or does it look like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars?

1979712_10154084048825241_6039500707344710101_nThen it was on to Berlin for my third trip to the German capital, and the occasion when I really began to fall in love with the place. I’d always liked it, but am now firmly under its spell. Here’s a shot of the Reichstag, the German parliament building. If those walls could talk…

10313430_10154096795165241_3595285417464828359_nAnd here’s the Brandenburg Gate.

10150678_10154096792465241_3421786651580850536_nFinally  we came across this chap taking part in some sort of product promotion. Not sure what it was all about, but it might be the only time I’m able to photograph a man inside a giant egg timer.

10310112_10154096793455241_4530964957756648354_n While in Berlin I grabbed a couple of SOTMs. Here’s Sofia with something she was told by nuns. Click on both images to see their page on SOTM.

14062014And here’s Victoria with the story of a random encounter at a street parade.

16062014After my Germany escapades, I headed for the final destination on the SOTM World Tour – back to Malta. More on that next time.

SOTM World Tour – East Coast USA

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

The planning for the SOTM World Tour had always been done with chasing the sun in mind.

Kate and I had therefore enjoyed months of sun in many countries, including a record heat wave in Japan of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But ever since we entered the US, over on the west coast, we’d been seeing reports of this year’s lingering winter storms hitting the very places we were eventually going to reach.

And so we braced ourselves for an Arctic blast when we headed to Washington D.C. We weren’t disappointed.

We were staying with my excellent chums, the gorgeous Chelsey and dashing John, who are soon to tie the knot themselves. I was delighted to learn that they had a dog, a rather large hound called Tallulah.

You can see John and me shivering in this photo along with The Goat, as I affectionately named Tallulah. This is on account of how she likes to eat most things, including laptops.

Incidentally we got to DC via a very comfortable Amtrak train ride. I rather liked the shot I grabbed of our chop-choo with my iPhone as it pulled into the station.

And when we were in DC, I was reminded of how awesome its subway train stations are. Unless you’re Zoe Barnes (for those who’ve seen House of Cards).

Seeing as the weather was so freezing, we decided to hit up some of the remarkable museums that DC has to offer. In the National Museum of American History you can see Miss Piggy herself. Kermit is also on the premises but he wasn’t on display during our visit, sadly.

Also on show were Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. Confusing everyone with the nature of their friendship since 1969.

A personal favourite of mine – the Cookie Monster. He too dated from 1969 and looked a bit worse for wear. All those cookies play havoc with your fur, clearly.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like the Swedish chef? I met two charming Swedish sisters in Koh Chang earlier on this trip, and asked if they knew the Swedish chef personally. They didn’t find it as funny as I thought they would.

Now then, this simply blew me away. This is the original Wright Brothers flying machine, which made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight in 1903.

The canopy was replaced in 1985, but otherwise this is the actual aircraft that changed the world, forever. It was an overwhelming sight.

This is another jaw-dropping exhibit at the museum – a section of the diner counter from Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina where black diners sat at a whites-only section.

This, and many other protests like it, led to the store dropping its policy of segregation. Amazing and terrifying to think America had this policy within living memory, when almost all of the rest of the world had long since dropped apartheid-style policies in their governments. As for their societies, that’s another matter.

But reminders like the Greensboro counter makes Obama’s election as president even more welcome.

Speaking of Barack, we popped round to the White House to find, to my delight, that it was living up to its name on account of all the wintry weather. Last time I was here, in 2009, it was sunny and hot, so this was a great contrast for my photographs.

1965019_10154005278715241_324059401_nHere’s a photo from my previous visit to DC. Don’t ask.

During that last trip I was lucky enough to meet Chelsey (seen on the far right) and take her SOTM. She invited Kate and me to stay with her and her fiancé John (on the far left).

We had a fruitful SOTM meet up in Acre 121, the bar that John runs, and met smashing types like Glinda and Maynard who run the Travelationship website.

1982046_10153977085495241_1369452790_nHere’s a couple of SOTMs that I took at this splendid gathering. As always, click on the SOTM images to see their pages on the main website.

28052014-2

12052014And this is Kate’s childhood friend Alexa, who now does political stuff in the capital.

12042014I also enjoyed a couple of slices at Dangerously Delicious Pies while in town. The guy who served us looked like the bloke off LMFAO, amusingly.

We also popped into Ben’s Chili Bowl, one of DC’s most famous culinary spots.

I enjoyed one of the establishment’s half smokes, a hotdog with a blend of pork and beef. Named after Bill Cosby, who’s quite partial to them, apparently.

There’s a sign up in the joint that says only he and President Obama can eat there for free. I realised at one point that when Obama won his first election, he came here for a meet and greet, and I was sat right where he stood to shake hands with the staff. Also, I was photobombed by some bird who looks familiar.

So after bidding DC a fond farewell, we headed for an overnight stop off in Baltimore, where my excellent friend Elissa, a long-time supporter of SOTM, offered to put us up and gather a few friends for me to photograph.

Turns out her apartment overlooks Greenmount Cemetery, which has a number of notable eternal residents. None more notorious, though, than John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Abraham Lincoln.

1185283_10153972686245241_456779371_nThis is the Booth family plot. Wilkes’s grave appears to be the headstone closest to the camera. It’s the only one that’s unmarked.

Elissa explained that people leave a one cent coin, known as a penny, on Wilkes’s grave because it has Lincoln’s head on it. So that’s exactly what Kate and I did.

Thanks once again, thanks to Elissa’s efforts, a few people were rounded up for a SOTM meetup that night. I got several smashing shots from smashing people. Here’s a couple of them.

01052014Also during the meet up bar, Club Charles, I bumped into movie director John Waters, who I interviewed in 2010 for the BBC.

I asked if he remembered me from the interview, and he said: “Gosh, I’ve done a million of those.” But he chatted briefly and was still as nice as when I met him the first time.

Early the next morning we took a bus to Philadelphia, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go because I’m a huge fan of Rocky, which is set in this city.

We were staying with Kate’s friends this time, Kelly and Dave, who were superb hosts and much fun. Kelly patiently drove us around to see a few sites from the Rocky movies.

First stop, the area where Rocky jumped benches in front of Independence Hall. The hall itself is hugely interesting inside, for it’s where a few disgruntled types decided to sever the Colonies from Britain over a few misunderstandings. Or something like that…

Not-so-fun fact: it was freezing cold and I was quite stiff, but after posing briefly for this photo, the back of my left leg ached all day. When I get back to London life, I’m hitting the yoga again. Hard.

These are the famous steps that Rocky runs up several times in the series of films. They officially belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I’m glad that they’re widely known as the Rocky Steps.

In fact, several people I met in Philly told me, in all sincerity, how the Italian Stallion is regarded as a god, as almost a real person in the city. He’s much loved and clips from the movies are played at major sporting events for Philadelphia’s teams.

This makes me very happy.

The view from the top of the Rocky Steps.

Kate, Kelly and I ran up the steps. Had to be done. It really did.

Also, this is something that I’ve really always wanted to do – pose with the statue of Rocky, which featured in Rocky III. A real highlight of my life, let me tell you.

This is Pat’s King of Steaks, famous for its cheesesteaks, and also where Rocky stood in the first movie. He was given $500 by his loan shark boss to help with training expenses.

1976987_10154005258470241_1891352800_nA plaque marks the spot where Rocky stood in that scene, demonstrating again how important a figure he is to the people of this city.

And if they’re good enough for Rocky…

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Dave and I were stunned to learn that neither Kelly nor Kate had ever seen Rocky. So that night Dave put the movie on, and it seemed to go down well with the ladies. One day, only five more to go.

Finally, Kelly took us to Elfreth’s Alley. This sounds like a euphemism from an episode of Blackadder, but actually it’s the oldest residential street in America. To my glee, I noted the old school Union Flag hanging up there.

It’s probably for educational purposes, but I secretly hoped someone British had bought the property and hung the flag to irk the locals.

10153682_10154005261420241_1314690556_nIt was a great spot for Kelly’s own SOTM.

02062014That’s it for this time – after Philly, Kate and I travelled to New York and Boston for a low-key period on the trip, staying with Kate’s family. I’ll pick up our travels again when back in Europe, starting with a travel conference in Germany.

SOTM World Tour – Deep South

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

10001357_10153958967535241_686955898_nThe Southern belle-style accents of the Deep South have always been my favourite manner of speaking in all of North America (much to the bemusement of the other Americans I meet).

It’s what Europeans would consider to be the classic US tone, along with the more aggressive, nasally New Yoik way of hailing a taxi cab. My Muvver has a story about American GIs giving her cocoa powder during WWII and whenever she recounts what they said, it’s in a Southern accent.

So getting to yomp across the Deep South on a road trip was terribly exciting for me. On the plus side I ate the oysters and key lime pie of my LIFE, saw some beautiful beaches and discovered magical, incomparable Savannah.

On the minus side I realised I don’t like iced tea and didn’t hear anyone say: “Well, I do declare!” But it worked out well overall.

Kate and I visited Pensacola beach, and were utterly bewitched by it. The beach houses were like movie stars, waiting to emerge on the hallowed carpet – only one that was pure white, not red.

And I mean white – this sand was the brightest I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world.

This shot has an Instagram filter on it, as do the others, but while they remain pretty accurate, this one darkens the sand.

Still, I like the photo and it got retweeted by the @VisitPensacola twitter account. Which was nice.

Spotted this truck in traffic. I liked the slogan at the bottom (if you pardon the pun).

While in our Ocean Springs hotel, just one of those available through the excellent Country Inns and Suites chain, we were advised by the manager to visit the Half Shell Oyster House, a joint in Biloxi. This turned out to be a brilliant bit of advice, as they were the oysters of my LIFE.

This is the platter that Adventurous Kate and I fought ove… I mean, shared lovingly.

One of the most beautiful parts of this trip was one we visited at the very start, at the Oak Alley plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. The main house, built in 1837 through slave labour, famously appears through the tunnel of oaks that you can see in this post’s top image and which were planted in the early 18th Century.

It is unclear who planted the oaks, and they were rooted in the earth long before a house was there to complete the picture, but they do so magnificently now. Here’s another look at them.

However, the beauty of the Deep South is always tainted by the horrors of slavery and it was reassuring to see that this plantation does face its horrible past head on and with dignity for those who suffered here.

This charming spot was built and its fields tended by slaves, humans who were dehumanised by – at best – uncaring owners and quite likely violent ones. A museum area reminds everyone of this and shows the names of those who worked here. Names are important, it points out, because they show that each of these individuals was a human being after all.

To further demonstrate the point, some of the chains and shackles used to restrict the slaves are on show. These were used to restrict a child when they were being transported to or from a plantation.

There were lots of people inside the plantation house, so it was difficult to get clean shots of the main living areas, but I went to the back of the group and grabbed this one.

This was a roped-off area and is half of a bedroom. The furniture is of the relevant era, but not original to the house.

This item was inside the house, and caught my eye. It’s a courting candle, and when a young man wanted to spend time with a young lady from the household, her father would twirl the candle to a certain height.

When it burned down to the top level the courting period was over, so the higher Big Daddy wound the candle, the longer he wanted the two spending time together. And if he wasn’t particularly keen on the young man in question, the candle wouldn’t get wound up much at all.

Elsewhere on the trip we stopped off for a couple of hours on Jekyll Island, once the playground of the uber-rich of America. JP Morgan, Rockefeller, Pulitzer and their like were members of this exclusive club, the main house of which can be seen here.

It was at this spot that the first transcontinental phone call took place in North America, in 1915, organised by AT&T. Ironically my AT&T sim card didn’t have a signal on the island, but picked one up just as we drove off it.

Elsewhere on this little island are some lovely stretches of sand, and while leaving footprints in one of them Kate and I spotted a dolphin gambolling among the waves. This is actually the second time we’ve seen wild dolphins, having spotted some in the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

This one in Florida was much closer, and with my long lens I got a bit of a look at him. Or her, I was too polite to ask.

1976956_10153958981670241_869412230_nElsewhere in Florida we found Seaside, a gorgeous if manufactured little town which looks idyllic, because it fairly is. There’s not a leaf out of place and its eerily perfect looks are perhaps the reasons why it was used for the Jim Carey film, The Truman Show.

Incidentally this blog post claims that TV executives are developing the film for a TV series. Wonder if they’ll return to Seaside for the filming, should it get off the ground?

Here’s a shot of the beach at Seaside.

And this is the key lime pie of my LIFE, available in one of the town’s many eateries. So many reasons to visit Seaside, and Kate and I later decided that one day we’d like to come back for a holiday, with a hired car, to stay and enjoy the beach and explore the areas nearby.

It was at this Very Important Moment in our lives that Kate and I decided we were Florida People.

Now then, let me tell you about Savannah, Georgia. It’s an incredible place.

There are many squares in a particular area, all within walking distance. These are a most splendid way of spending many an afternoon, because they’re covered in beauty, dripping with Spanish Moss, drizzled in sunlight and awash with history.

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The history of Savannah is remarkable. Sadly a lot of it involves them fighting the British, marked by many monuments dedicated to heroes from the American War of Independence, who were eventually shot by the British (sorry about that, chaps).

There’s so many remarkable events to recount in this city, not least about witches and murders and ghost hauntings, but let me just give you this snippet.

This is Savannah’s Unitarian church, and was once where a certain John Pierpont Jr was organist and musical director in the 19th Century. Among his accomplishments was a composition (possibly before he came to this church) of a little tune you might have heard of, at least during certain times of the year. It’s called Jingle Bells.

This building is one of those in the film Forrest Gump from which a feather is seen to fall. That film was partly shot here.

Speaking of Forrest Gump, here I am sat at the site of his famous bench, upon which he spoke those famous words about boxes of chocolates.

A tour guide told us that there really did used to be a bench here, where there’s now just earth and a low wall, but then people used to turn up with trucks and power tools and try to nick it. So eventually the city authorities removed it, and it’s now at the Savannah History Museum.

This is the site, to the right of this sign.

While I was taking pictures of the square, these characters pedalled round the corner. If they were British or Australian, they would have been drinking booze while they went round.

Elsewhere in Savannah we found Vinny Van Go Go’s, a pizzeria we’d been recommended. Kate and I duly chose a pizza, with half and half toppings to please us both. We asked for a large size.

Waitress: “The pizzas here are pretty big. You sure you want a large one?”

Me, confidently: “Oh we’re hungry, we’ll be OK with a large.”

This is what happened next (Adventurous Kate supplied for scale).

We did manage to eat all but a couple of slices, so we didn’t do too badly.

Finally on our trip, we had a sunny afternoon round Charlestown. It wasn’t quite as captivating as Savannah, but still quite charming.

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1458536_10153959007950241_157542505_nThe best thing I saw, however, was this furry fellow taking a drink, which resulted in a crowd of onlookers squeaking their adoration of the moment. He carried on lapping, regardless.

So those are the highlights of my time in the Deep South, a marvellous place that I look forward to returning to.

Next time, a roundup of my journey up the east coast of America, which included a reunion with old friends, meeting new ones and realising a life-long dream to visit Rocky Balboa’s stomping ground in Philadelphia.

SOTM – New Orleans

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

New Orleans is like Manchester United. Wherever you go in the world, someone’s heard of it and people are talking about it.

Difference is, everyone seems to love New Orleans, but you can’t have everything.

So it was with much excitement that Kate and I arrived in the Big Easy, just ahead of Mardi Gras.

I’d forgotten this rumbustious, anything-goes city had been given this nickname, but at one point a big SUV stopped to let us walk across the street.

As we scuttled on our way, the SUV drove past and through the open side window a sizeable, smiling African American chap yelled out: “This is the Big Easy. Y’all take your time.”

New Orleans’s French Quarter is undoubtedly the best part of the city. It’s iconic and instantly recognisable from so much screen time.

Other parts, it must be said, are poorer, rougher, like they haven’t recovered from Hurricane Katrina and maybe weren’t in mid-season form even before the winds and floods came.

These areas, neighbourhoods like Crescent City and Treme, have wild chickens and feral cats roaming around. The pretty but down-at-heel houses have a lot of their residents sat out front who are hugely friendly. Almost makes you forget that this is one of the most murderous cities in the United States.

“Y’all come from LONDON?!” an incredulous elderly chap yelled out as we got out a taxi. And as we walked through the streets, people lounging about on their porches wished us a happy carnival.

1488021_10153944585785241_667523191_nThe architecture all over New Orleans is remarkable, one way or another, and no more so than in the French Quarter.

And if you ever want to buy a place in this part of town, always check to see if it’s occupied by someone else first. Especially if they might be dead.

Speaking of the supernatural, that was the theme for plenty of people during the annual Mardi Gras festivities.

This city’s heartbeat is its population, both the locals and those it adopts with a warm embrace and cocktails that’ll make you forget your mother’s name.

The costumes on display were pretty cool. At the top of the page you’ll see me with a couple of guys in full on Breaking Bad meth lab gear. And I came across giant green soldiers, just like the ones I had when I was a boy, which I really enjoyed seeing. If only I’d met these chaps when I was eight…

I told this young lady I liked her sling, and she told me she liked my accent in return. At that point her boyfriend, seen here in the top left, interjected  and hurried her along.

Just in case you didn’t realise these are a New Orleans voodoo couple, they carry a sign.

Now here’s a collector’s item – the Naked Cowboy, usually seen in New York’s Time Square, but clearly on his holidays along with his wife, seen below.

I spotted her having her picture taken with a number of guys who were fondling her bottom while their friend photographed the moment. She seemed to be quite enjoying it and stuck her bottom out even further. Clearly a good sport.

This city was built not only on a swamp (it’s the only American city below sea level) but also on music. And when it comes to Mardi Gras, there’s music in most places, even the middle of the street.

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This bass player was big on orgasmic facial expressions. He could play, too.

And this guy could be the human version of Animal from the Muppets.

1795494_10153944655225241_902536361_nBut it’s not just the musicians who claim the streets. This is Cubs the Poet who sits on Royal Street, across from the Court of Two Sisters, and bashes out bespoke poems on a 1912 typewriter.

He did one for Kate and me called Two Nikons after he spotted the cameras around our necks.

Food is as much a fingerprint of New Orleans as its architecture, music and copious vampire stories. That would warrant an entire, meaty blog post of its own, so I’ll just choose one – beignets.

I’d never heard of them before but soon Adventurous Kate was sternly forbidding me from having two sessions a day at Cafe Du Monde, a staple of this magnificent part of the city since 1862 and which sells the best beignets and coffee in town.

They taste like a little bit of heaven, being a sort of fried dough, and the coffee served with is lovely, a mild, smooth blend, very pleasing to my pipes.

Beignets are also served covered in a liberal explosion of icing sugar, which amusingly gets everywhere – across the floor, all over the tables, over the staff and you too, no matter what precautions you take. Be aware that you may emerge from the premises looking like a drug lord who’s sneezed into a bag of his latest shipment.

Now then. Let’s talk beads. At this time of year, they’re the lifeblood of the city. Money, sex, food and drink take a back seat. When it’s Mardi Gras, it’s all about the beads.

This is how it works. People stand on balconies and throw beads to the crowds below.

The aforementioned crowds then go nuts when the beads are thrown down to them, as this lady is doing above. This moment you see below actually captures a feather boa being chucked down, just for a change.

Once safely in their clutches, the party people then proudly display all the beads they’ve collected. They get pretty heavy, let me tell you, but these lads didn’t seem to mind.

1185125_10153944649505241_1082909453_nBut there just aren’t enough necks to hang all those thousands of beads around. So they also get draped around the front of houses…

…or end up on the floor.

Go home, Mardi Gras bear. You’re drunk.

There’s so much mess, child labour has to be employed to keep on top with the cleaning effort.

282985_10153944647435241_1680710128_nWhile in town I managed to rattle off a few SOTMs. This one was a highlight – the excellent Israel told me a fascinating story about an elderly, long-standing customer at his bank who gave him this advice one time. Israel told the story brilliantly too, and you can hear it via his audio clip – click on his photo to go to his page on the SOTM site.

And I also attended a burlesque night in New Orleans, something every man should do at least once in life. I got the lovely Tallulah to share a story about her beloved grandmother.

16042014Finally, here’s a bit of trivia from a city teeming with remarkable facts. This is the house that Richard Simmons grew up in.

If you’re not American and don’t know who he is, go ahead and click that link. He’s like a camper Leo Sayer, only a fitness instructor for those who aren’t good at exercise. Simmons, incidentally, went to the same New Orleans school as Lenny Kravitz and Lee Harvey Oswald. Not all at the same time.

Next time, I take off on a Deep South road trip. Oysters and grits ahoy!

SOTM World Tour – Hong Kong and Macau

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Whenever I’ve heard of a particular faraway place, teeming with lives spent on top of one another and fused with Eastern traditions yet chock full of familiar features, I’ve wanted to go there.

Hong Kong is that place for me.

I’ve heard many good things about this city of high rises with its hugely crowded population, a fusion of British values and the best of Chinese enterprise. Technically Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, but it seems apt to call it a city, also.

I recall watching the United Kingdom hand over this territory live on TV in 1997, another moment when the crumbs from the British Empire, once mighty but long past its sell-by-date, were brushed from its table.

Then-governor Chris Patten clearly held back tears as he sailed out of Victoria Harbour, seen today in the picture above. He’s now Lord Patten and chairman of the BBC Trust, so will be one of my top bosses when I return to the BBC.

The architecture of Hong Kong is remarkable. Although I was fascinated by it, and loved wondering its streets which are a photographer’s playground, I couldn’t help but think of chicken coops, so packed in were some of the flats and living spaces.

1780629_10153863561005241_688454580_nWherever you walk in Hong Kong, it’s vital that you often look up. Please don’t trip over anything, though, as I’m not insured to be giving you that advice.

1656204_10153863561685241_213855116_nI bought a puffer body warmer on this street for about £15. Makes me look like a trainee rapper, but it’s pretty toasty.

aapicPeople would joke to me about how small their rooms where, and at a comedy night a couple of the acts used gags about the tiny stage being the same size as their flats.

I saw lots of washing outside of windows, so clearly there’s no room for a dryer in these apartments.

While the signs in Hong Kong serve a functional purpose for Chinese speakers, for everyone else they’re a beautiful enigma, a code that we’ll never crack but won’t stop being hypnotised by.

The transport in HK includes these trams, some of which are new and others restored from decades ago. They’re a lot of fun to hop on and off.

If you’ve read my posts on Japan you’ll know that I had a thing for the yellow taxis in Toyko. Here they have similar cars that are all red, and I think I liked them even more.

Although they’re beasts of burden they had an elegance about them, like a cleaner who goes home, puts on a sparkly dress and dances her heart out at a late-night salsa club.

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Here’s the view from inside a taxi, which I grabbed as we drove from the airport to our lodging. The driver was a little, beaming lady of a certain age.

1508998_10153814937330241_2115206492_nNow then, this is my clever and beautiful friend, Laura. I had met her only once before, photographing her for SOTM back in 2009.

She runs a tour company in HK which also specialises in food tours, one of which we went on. It was very chucklesome time and we ate superb local grub while learning about the history of the city’s cuisine, so it was a few hours very well spent in her charming company.

Laura runs Hello Hong Kong Tours and I strongly suggest you contact her for something fun to do if you’re ever in her town.

To begin our tour we went to a dim sum place, a real old school joint with trolleys being wheeled around from which you chose your dish of choice.

We were the only foreigners in there at the time, and it was a terrific way to start the day.

Here’s one of the trolley ladies in action.

While in there I was desperate to photograph this chap, who calmly walked around with a giant silver pot, replenishing people’s teapots. Happily, he came to our table, spotted me clicking away, and paused for one of my favourite ever photographs.

Afterwards he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “Now you have to pay me, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.” We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously you have to pay me.”

But he was joking. I shook his hand and he had a grip like an affronted lobster.

Then Laura took us to a place where apparently the service is grumpy but the noodles are tasty. Didn’t experience the former, but the bowl we were served contained amazing brisket and noodles.

1743730_10153863547465241_190397671_nThis eaterie was once commended by Anthony Bourdain, no less. I won’t name any of the places Laura took us so you’ll have to contact her to uncover them yourselves.

1688302_10153863547925241_1220730327_nWhile we walked through a part of the city where much food is sold in bulk quantities, Laura pointed out such delicacies as dried seahorse…

…dried gecko, which you re-inflate with water to eat…

…and that old classic, starfish. You name it, the Chinese will eat it, or at least it seemed that way in this fascinating district.

We also ate in another place where the chefs tried to hide behind big chunks of swinging meat. That’s not a euphemism.

1947787_10153863554360241_541859882_nI liked this shot because I took it blind, firing off from chest height, over to my left as soon as I saw that chap stretch his arms out. I often use 800 ISO even in bright daylight while on the streets, as it means I can use a fast shutter speed.

Finally Laura took us for scrumptious egg tarts. Apparently these were a favourite of Chris Patten’s, so if I bump into him in the lifts at New Broadcasting House I’ll ask him about them.

Near to our lodging was an area nicknamed Goldfish Street, for reasons obvious to anyone walking down it. I spotted this little chap just waiting for a new home.

And although these fellas were labelled as sharks, they’re actually catfish.

One day I came across this small red book in an antique shop. It’s an English edition of quotations by Chairman Mao. It’s quite readable and plenty of what he wrote makes sense. However, as ever, there’s a big gap between theory and implementation.

And speaking of memorable literature – I spotted this sign with its stern warning.

1654122_10153863541590241_1753963287_nAnd while in Victoria Harbour I saw the statue of Bruce Lee standing guard – iPhone photo at night, so not the best quality – and later we visited the Heritage Museum where an exhibition on this remarkable man is being held until 2018. It’s well worth a visit.

aaaaapicAfter a quite successful SOTM World Tour meet up one particular Saturday, some of us went to a comedy club. It was good and compered by a big, tall man, an American called Peter, who teaches English outside of Hong Kong but does comedy in his spare time.

He was funny, held the show of 10 comedians together well and was in control of the evening the whole time.

When the show ended some of the comedians and some of the crowd, including us, went to a nearby bar. I got talking to Peter there – he approached me as he saw me dancing in my chair to Y.M.C.A before the show started, and told me he was going to single me out in his warm-up, but didn’t get around to it.

I told him about Someone Once Told Me, and he said he’d take part, but wanted to think about it. I approached him a while later, having photographed two other comedians and a Russian woman who’d also been in the audience, and asked Peter if he was ready.

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s not a happy one, though.”

So he wrote down: “You Need To Get Home… Mom’s Not Doing Well.”

I took his photo outside the bar and then it came to him explaining the story behind his phrase, which I captured on my phone, as usual. He said how these were words he never wanted to hear, especially from his sister, “when you’re half a world away”.

He carried on, his voice breaking, and I then saw tears run down his face, catching on his nose. He just about managed to finish talking and wiped them away.

I ended the recording and then gave a hug to this bear of a man, who I didn’t know, and who only a short time before had been making me and a room full of people laugh. I hugged him as he wept for his dead mother.

It’s one of the most unbelievable experiences I’ve ever had, and one of, if not the most, powerful SOTM moment for me.

Afterwards he dried his tears, we made happier small talk and we said goodbye. But I’ll never forget Peter or his story.

Here’s a shot of me taking Peter’s photograph.

1622706_10153840644670241_184937307_nHere’s some of the other SOTMs I got while in Hong Kong. Click on any image to see them on the SOTM website.

This is the smashing Bernice Chan, a journalist from the South China Morning Post who wrote an article on me and the SOTM World Tour.

And here’s our brilliant Hong Kong host – Richard Lai, who’s senior editor for Engadget.

I met him a few years ago at his leaving do in London, a result of us having a mutual friend. He handed me his card, told me to look him up if ever I came to HK during the SOTM World Tour – which was firmly at the would-love-to-do-this-some-day stage – and that was it. Whole meeting was about eight minutes.

Years later I wrote to him, told him we were coming at long last and he kindly invited us to stay at his family home. I could just about remember what he looked like.

What lay in store for us was nothing short of sensational. Richard’s whole family, and his parents in particular, welcomed us warmly, fed us well and his dad also took us out for food a few times. Kate and I were stunned at how kind and hospitable the whole Lai family were. Richard himself couldn’t do enough for us and took us round to some great spots, and to some superb places to eat.

Here we all are at a dinner in their lovely home.

1655948_10100128315623485_1649446407_nAnd here’s Richard’s SOTM. A gregarious and fun chap, he nevertheless chose a thoughtful and moving story about his uncle.

And here’s a quick selfie that we took as we were heading out the door to the airport – a lovely memento of an incredible time in an unforgettable city.

I’ll just give a brief mention to our day trip to nearby Macau, another Special Administrative Region accessed by a comfortable ferry ride and which was a charming spot to see.

It contains a really unusual blend of the glass/steel buildings expected from modern-day China, and the beautiful architecture that betrays Macau’s brush with Portuguese rule, which began in the 16th Century and didn’t fully loosen its grip until the end of 1999.

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1959363_10153870601770241_1569522372_nDid I mention the casinos? You simply can’t miss them and are largely what Macau is known for. When awaiting the ferry in Hong Kong, a stern voice recording was warning the passengers about how “gambling can mean you losing EVERYthing”.

Don’t be so hasty as to describe Macau as a Chinese Vegas, for it’s known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient”. A far classier title (even though I love Vegas).

Macau actually overtook Vegas in gaming revenues in 2007, so it’s a major player on the world gambling stage.

1964829_10153870635475241_488400291_n So after our unforgettable time in Asia it was back to the good old US of A and San Francisco to begin with, where I was determined to make it on to Alcatraz, and just as determined to make it off again the same day. More of that next time.

SOTM World Tour – Cambodia

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

DSC_0003I didn’t know what to expect from Cambodia. I was keen to go because Kate raved about the place, and also I wanted to delve into the history of the Khmer Rouge, a group whose name I knew but whose scale of crimes I was unsure of.

What I found was a complicated country, enriched by many of its people, hindered by others. It’s a fascinating place which has understandably weaved its spell over many non-Cambodians. However, while it’s easy to like, it’s a tough place to love, depending on your experiences.

Let’s start with how I found the country to be a photographer’s dream. Its landscape is eye-catching, even its simplest architecture is carved out with an aesthetic eye, and many Cambodians are keen to pose for the camera, making street photography a real joy.

I spent a happy afternoon in the capital, Phnom Penh, walking around taking photos of the streets and its inhabitants. This gent was keeping a fire going on the street, presumably for culinary purposes.

DSC_0056I found this chap astride his hog, which I was quite taken with.

DSC_0012And speaking of motorbikes – well, we are in South East Asia. The motorbike here is king, and there are literally endless examples of them in Cambodia.

DSC_0040-2 This family were astride one bike – and there’s frequently an awful lot more people, and goods, to be seen expertly balanced on bikes around here.

Texting on a bike with a small boy on the front, while neither of you wear a helmet? No problem.

DSC_0079-2None of these bikes were going very fast, but you still wish people would protect their noggins while on them.

You see babies and small children perched on many bikes, and those kids clearly grow up to have expert balancing skills.

This chap didn’t seem to have a bike, so I assume he pulled people around with this contraption. Tiring work, clearly.

DSC_1038I popped into the capital’s Olympic Stadium one evening (no idea why it’s called that as the Olympics were never in Phnom Penh) just to look around, and stumbled across an international friendly, Cambodia – in blue – against Guam.

Guam were much better than Cambodia, sadly, and won 2-0, the second goal coming from an own goal. I did capture this shot, a split second before Cambodia’s goalie came charging out and got clattered – by his own defender, the chap in blue.

There were no tickets or anything at the ground, you literally just walked in. The crowd was sparse, too.

I later learned that the stadium was the site of executions by the Khmer Rouge. This is an example of how much terrible history is never far away from Cambodia’s landscape.

While the game went on, there was some rather loud UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ music polluting the airwaves behind me. All around the top perimeter were people of varied ages, but mostly older folk, waving their arms and legs around aerobics-style to the beatz.

It was painful to listen to but the whole thing was a great idea, because as much as I hate exercising myself, it’s the right thing to do of course. Not that this philosophy ever made my Bikram yoga classes any easier.

DSC_1032 This guy dreams of being a choreographer on Cambodian X-Idol Factor, I reckon.

DSC_1022Excitingly, one day Kate and I stumbled across a network of temples not far from our Phnom Penh lodgings, called Wat Ounalom. It is here that you can literally crawl into a tiny, hot room, crammed with many Buddhas and dominated by a dark-coloured one.

It was overseen by this gentleman, who gave us a blessing and sprayed water over us. 

He kept saying “eyebrow, eyebrow”, the only English word he seemed to know, and immediately afterwards we found out that an eyebrow hair from Buddha is kept in that tiny chamber. So the story goes, anyway, but I was delighted to have been so close to such a relic, albeit one that does require a dash of faith in accurate historical records.

At one point I managed to get up high in Phnom Penh, atop the rather nice Green Palace Hotel. It has a rooftop bar that affords excellent views of this captivating city.

DSC_0845And while looking down on the sun setting over Phnom Penh. I met the Rather Amazing Amy Hanson, who runs the Small Steps Project, and also her friend Benedicta Bywater who runs Safe Haven Cambodia Children’s Trust.

Both do superb work in helping the poor in this country, so do check their respective charities out. Amy runs an annual, brilliant, celebrity shoe auction which contains the former Scooby Doos (shoes) of very famous types.

And both took part in SOTM, happily. Here’s the tour de force that is Amy.

And this is the unforgettable Benedicta.

But while I did enjoy my time in Cambodia, it’s clear that the country’s many problems include an increasing level of crime. 

I’ve never newly-arrived in a country and heard of, or experienced, so much crime in such a short space of time.

In no way were we looking for it, or asking about it, but as we went about the place we randomly met travellers who had their cameras snatched out their hands on Phnom Penh’s streets, or witnessed backpacks being ripped off of people’s backs in broad daylight by motorbike riders, and other such stories.

My Swedish friend stayed at the same hotel as we did in Phnom Penh and was violently mugged while in a tuk tuk – he fought back in a street battle involving him, five thieves and his driver who came to his aid. He retrieved his friend’s bag but he then went to Siem Reap and had his phone stolen there by a gang of street children. Again, he managed to retrieve it.

We came across these stories easily, and more. Worst of all Kate got extorted $200 to get her own iPhone back after she lost it on the way to Kampot and the man who found it made his costly demand, after failing to sell it for a better price.

Interestingly, while some Westerners we encountered seem willing to claim that there is nothing, or very little, in the way of criminal acts in Cambodia, the chief prosecutor of Phnom Penh says that there has been a yearly increase in crime in the country.

He does blame that on an increase in political protests, a claim which seems false to me and has certainly been disputed by Cambodian human rights groups.

Also, the British Foreign Office gives advice for travelling to the country and states how as of 2013 there has been increase in the number of crimes reported by Britons in that country, particularly in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, where a fellow traveller told me he personally knew five women who’d recently had their drinks spiked.

And just the other day, a Finnish woman I met travelling in Thailand went to Sihanoukville and was attacked by two men on motorbikes. The next day she says the police took her bike and refused to return it unless she paid a fine (she cried for an hour and they eventually gave it back for $10).

When she then returned the bike to the hire place the owner said it was damaged and that she had to pay a fine (she cried for another hour and they eventually returned her passport). She’s now left the country and says she isn’t coming back.

My position is that Cambodia is a hugely interesting country, with a wonderful landscape and terrible roads.

It’s also got an awful, compelling history which needs to be healed yet still told,  and while it’s got an engaging population there’s an increasing element that is fed up of being so poor and is starting to steal what it wants. If they continue to do this, people will stay away, not invest in the economy and Cambodians will be worse off, through the fault of the more unscrupulous members of its society.

Here’s a noble expression told to one Cambodian woman by her father, and I rather wish that more of her countrymen and women would take heed of it too. Click on the image to learn the translation.

If you’re interested in Cambodia then you should certainly go – but be more vigilant there than anywhere else. It is absolutely not a place to drop your guard such as by leaving your camera or bag within easy snatch-and-grab reach of expert motorbikers, the victims of which I met in Phnom Penh.

And if you do go I recommend popping down to Kampot, a slightly ramshackle town well worth the trip.

DSC_0374 The place is famous for its pepper, and also known for its amusing roundabouts. Here’s the one which pays homage to a giant durian fruit (which Kate hates and says smells of feet.)

There is one theory as to why many of these roundabouts have large statues on them – it’s so that any uneducated people can get about without having to read road signs. So it’s straight on till the durian roundabout, then left until you hit the salt workers’s roundabout etc etc.

DSC_0203Kampot is sweetly run down in parts but also very interesting to look at, and some of its buildings are actually in decent shape.

DSC_0495We stayed in the excellent Magic Sponge, a smashing guest house that was affordable for us ($12 a night for a large en suite room which actually had two double beds.)

The owner is a flawlessly friendly Alaskan called William. No idea how an Alaskan ended up at the bottom of Cambodia, but he runs a great setup down there. If you go, tell him Kate and I said hello.

One day we went to Kep, which has superb crab. On the way we stopped at a Muslim fishing village, which is pretty small and quiet and not visually interesting in the slightest. Tours of the area often include it on the itinerary but it really isn’t worth a visit unless you’re actually a fisherman.

Still, while there I spotted one boy and his cat.

DSC_0441 Here’s just one example of the beautiful architecture that you’ll find out in the countryside, ageing beauty queens who must content themselves with passing flirtations from those biking by.

DSC_0481 And it was while we were in Kampot that our tuk tuk got stuck in terrible mud on the way to the Les Manguiers resort, located just a little way out of the town.

I had to push the machine out of the thick, grasping, infectious mud. I managed to do so and felt manly afterwards, I don’t mind telling you.

mud While we were at that place, a storm lashed down with the rage of a bear awoken early from hibernation to find that a fox has stolen his supply of honey and is now wearing his slippers.

When we managed to get back to Kampot itself we found many of the town’s streets had flooded. This is a regular event and the locals took it all in their stride, as you can see.

DSC_0334 In Kampot I also spotted this guy. He was looking over his shoulder while still driving at speed a lot longer than he should have been…

And there’s plenty to photograph on Kampot’s network of wide streets, which are sometimes smooth, often not and frequently do not have pavements. When they do, they’re sometimes in such bad repair that everyone walks on the street anyway.

That’s it for this bumper blog edition. Next time, I learn about the Khmer Rouge and their appalling reign in Cambodia in the 1970s.

SOTM World Tour – Melbourne

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Even in a city as proud as Sydney, I was struck by how many people said: “Oh, you’ll love Melbourne.”

Adventurous Kate and I are very keen on our café culture. We like nothing more than finding a cool spot with nice coffee, “glamour beat” music playing (easy listening versions of classic songs etc) and good wifi.

This is the cue for us both to spend hours on our computers, facing each other but not talking to one another much, apart from Kate telling me something she’s read about a celebrity on People Magazine’s website, and me trying to explain just why Robin van Persie’s left foot has similar abilities to Harry Potter’s wand.

It works for us, anyway.

So it was with much excitement that we hit up Melbourne, and we weren’t disappointed.

It is filled with social establishments that look ramshackle from the outside and yet are chic on the inside.

This place, for example, is a perfectly respectable cafe in the daytime. At night, when it’s closed, it looks like the kind of place that hobos might break into for shelter.

We were staying in Melbers, as I liked to call it, with my old buddy Dave, who was about to marry his charming lady, the smashing Meg (and I’m happy to say they’ve recently Sealed The Deal).

So, having reacquainted myself with long-lost friends, and introduced them to my fiancée, they kindly not only gave us a comfortable room to stay in, but also a great tip by suggesting we visit Melbourne’s Laneways, which start next to Flinders Street Station.

This, incidentally, is a proud building in its own right.

Across the street and snaking away between all the chunkily historic buildings in the heart of Melbourne, the laneways are simply a series of streets as narrow as their name suggests.

But while they’re slim, they’re still a treasure trove of shops, arcades and cafés.

There was so much to see, we could have spent all day in just the laneways alone.

Although we didn’t go in it, I liked the look of this little eaterie.

And the arcades are pretty fancy too – lots of cute shops and high class goods sitting side by side.

Oh, and did somebody say cake?

cakeThis area often has the spaces between its shops and individual lanes filled by graffiti so loud you can feel it etching itself onto your eyeballs.

Speaking of which, Hosier Lane is famous for begin a spot where graffiti artists regularly go to town on its walls, and even its floor sometimes. It’s quite a sight.

You can’t stand still for too long in Hosier Lane, or else you might end up covered in spray paint.

I was pleased to see this red scooter there – perfect photo opportunity.

While Kate and I were walking through this area, I spotted a gang of young graffiti artists. I approached them and two agreed to take part in SOTM. They were top lads. Sean, on the left, is half-Maltese!

Here’s the photo I took of Drex, who is the chap on the right.

I spotted this photo when I was walking around that day too. I wonder what’s in his purse…

And this is one of those moments where I feel the tiniest bit like my favourite photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson. Check out the signage in the alleyway where this fellow is giving his tootsies a break.

Although I prefer to have people in my photographs, buildings can give me pleasure too. This is a typical example of much of the urban architecture in Melbourne, and it’s utterly charming, as you can see.

And I loved how the light looked in this street full of shapes. For some reason, as soon as I saw all that before me, I knew it’d look best in black and white. So that’s how I took the shot.

While in Melbers I was very pleased to be interviewed by Libbi Gorr who presents a Sunday morning radio show on  774 ABC Melbourne.

We had a great on-air chat about SOTM and words that have impacted upon people. I even got to speak to some callers about the things they’d heard which proved memorable to them.

Here’s Libbi’s own SOTM.

I also later met the lovely Hilary Harper, another presenter at the same radio station. She told this story which reminded me of painful days when trying to fit in at a new school. Happily she sounds like she eventually had some luck on that score.

Shortly after my chat with Libby, Kate and I had another meetup, at Ponyfish Island bar which is built on one of the supports of a bridge over Melbourne’s Yarra river. It’s worth a look not least for its quirkiness. It’s located around the area seen in the very top image.

Here’s one of the shots I got from there, which came from the lips of a druid, no less.

Finally, on our last day in the city we went to St Kilda, which is very popular and somewhere we were often recommended to visit. Here’s the beach.

Whilst there I got this shot of a woman sat alone in a cute little café – where else?

And check out the entrance to Luna Park amusement park which is in St Kilda. Really impressive and slightly nightmarish at the same time.

That’s it for this edition of my ramblings. After slurping up the last of our coffee, Kate and I then packed up for South East Asia, so I’ll talk about our adventures in Cambodia next time.