Adam Bird


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Wednesday, 28 July 2010



Thirteen years Stephanie and I have been together before finally getting married! Why that long? I really don’t know, but like our relationship and the famous idiom which links us with our final honeymoon destination the comparison couldn’t be any closer. Just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, the foundations upon which our marriage shall stand upon haven’t been either.

There has been a recurring theme within this series of eight blog posts and it may have come across as slightly repetitive, but history, culture, architecture and cuisine are the four staples of any tourist experience. Rome is the birthplace for each and every one of them.

From the ancient Romans, during the times of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, or even before that with the Roman Republic and Roman Kingdom, the historical significance of the Eternal City cannot be put into context by someone of such limited knowledge as myself, but it’s fair to say, that looking around, whether it be at our legal or economic system, or the building opposite, Roman influences are everywhere we look.

As a tourist, the choice of monuments, landmarks and places of interest are endless, starting with probably the most famous of them all, the Roman Coliseum. Where the ghosts of epic gladiatorial battles whisper in the breeze amid the imaginary noises of a blood thirsty crowd there to witness human sacrifice in the name of entertainment.

From Palantine Hill to the Spanish Steps, via the Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, the Piazza del Campidoglio and the Capitoline Museums, The Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, Trevi Fountain, Borghese Park all the way to into Vatican City, home of Christiandom, the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and the magnificent St Peter’s Basillica, St Peters Square, the Baths of Diocletian, all of which lie upon the banks of the great River Tiber, a geographical feature upon which all great cities are built.

But Rome has that something a little bit different - a country inside it's own city limit's! If Rome is the place which becomes our honeymoon destination I will have to remember to take with me Angels and Demons for a quick read on our flight out. It was the Dan Brown novel (his best I might add) that properly introduced me to the process and rituals of the Vatican and it's place as head of the Christian church. Not being particularly religious ourselves, a visit won't have the same emotional impact upon us as it does to the millions of visitors who pay homage to the pope and take part in mass each year, but it's importance isn't lost on us and we'll ensure that we respect those around us for whom it is.

As honeymooners, it may well be slightly daunting fighting our way through the crowds and tourists to get the best views for all that there is to see. But Rome, is without doubt one of the most romantic places in the world. Walking hand in hand along the river Tiber sampling the cafe culture and watching the world go by enjoying nothing but each other as company. One of the many Rome tourist websites goes as far as suggesting “for lovers who want to escape the crowds taking a walk up one of the many quiet alleys is always recommended”, but I’m sure the websites meaning and my reading are two entirely different things!

If a week in Rome sounds a bit much or we cram as much in as we possibly can to make the most of being on Italian soil, we could hitch a ride by train from the Roma Termini. We could travel south along the coast into Naples and view the ruins of Pompeii, or north, again along the coast into Pisa to have a snapshot with the leaning tower. If those two places don’t quite tickle our fancy, we could head inland to Florence and admire the ancient Lucca - home of Elisa Bonaparte.

If anything, the one thing that really excites me about a trip to Rome, isn’t any of the above, ashamedly, or even the chance to visit the Olympic Stadium, where in 1977 Liverpool beat Borussia Moenchengladbach to win their first European Cup. It’s the food!

In nearly all of my blogs within this little mini-series, I have made at least one reference about looking forward to sampling the local cuisine, but there is no getting away from it. Stephanie and I enjoy food, and Italian food is a particular favourite, even if our repertoire of classic pasta dishes, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Lasagna, Carbonara or Pesto do come prominently from the jar! We are both desperate to sample authentic, fresh, home made Italian food – learn some recipes and ingredients, adding dishes to our weekly home menu.

The very essence of travel! You experience something, you learn from it, you bring it home and you share it. A cycle that not everyone gets to experience, for whatever reason. But that's the gift Stephanie and I have been given. It's not whether we have a week in Antigua, Dubai, Dubrovnik, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Marrakesh, New York or Rome. It's the fact that we have a week together, it could be anywhere in the world for all we care, it's that opportunity to learn something new, whether it be about each other, about an ancient culture, the mistakes of the past or about possibilities for the future that is important.

Monday, 19 July 2010

New York

Lower Manhattan

On 11th September 2001, I sat on an aeroplane with seven other friends, tired and exhausted after a week’s hedonism in the Greek party resort of Malia. Little were we aware of, at the time, of more significant events happening elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, we had been given, at least in hindsight a couple of clues, pilot warning of turbulence ahead, seat belt signs showing, but nothing was felt. Added to this, the hour circling around the skies at Gatwick whilst all air traffic was grounded and parking spaces for planes became more limited.

Once landed, those of us with mobiles switched them on. I wasn’t one at the time, choosing instead to leave mine at home (how times change). But those that did were faced with a barrage of voicemail and text messages to ensure that they had landed safely. Word began to filter around that something was happening in New York, a terrorist attack of some kind, but the full horror of that day’s events where still to be fully understood.

As it was, I arrived back home, quick to catch up with Stephanie for a conjugal lock-in but instead spent the entire evening in front of the television and witnessing an event which even now is almost impossible to comprehend.

How ironic is it then that I find myself marrying on that very date nine years later, and with a one in eight possibility of spending a week in the very city that will always share with us our anniversary?

New York City, a place that I have read so much about in novels, watched on the small and silver screens, listened about in lyrics of songs and have iconic imagery infused within the mind. But where to begin as a tourist in exploring a city that has so much to offer?

The Statue of Liberty, the Empire States Building, Times Square, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Central Park, Wall Street, Broadway, China Town, Little Italy, the UN, the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Centre, Bronx Zoo, the New York Yankee’s, Grand Central Station, Coney Island and these are only the ones I can remember!

Being a romantic at heart, the first place I would almost certainly visit is the Empire States building and recreate the scene from Sleepless in Seattle, with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, or as the taxi driver said to Jonah, “There it is. What are you gonna do when you get up there? Spit off the top?”.

That’s the challenge we will have with New York, we have already got so many memories of it from the movies that we could easily spend the whole week recreating scenes instead of making new ones. Although personally, I don’t think Stephanie would quite appreciate me running into a library acting out a scene from Ghostbusters or doing a John McClane and driving a hijacked yellow taxi through central park!

With so much to see and so much to do, it’ll be any wonder that people manage to stop and eat. Stephanie and I being, not “healthy” eaters, but eaters of healthy appetites, are likely to balance out the excess of walking the avenues and streets of Manhattan with the culinary extravagance of a New York dining experience. We should probably kill two birds with one stone and take the foods of New York Tour which attempts to encapsulate the history, architecture and the ethnic variation of food on offer in and around the city.

As much as there is to see and to do, place’s that we have heard of time and time again, more often than not it’s the surprises that are the most satisfying. Like Budapest and the hidden bar on top of a shopping centre that was only accessible via a dingy, decrepit looking stairwell that you wouldn’t have dared entering unless shown the way. Our challenge, along with all of our honeymoon destinations is to browse the web for websites like UrbanDaddy, evaluating and listing things of interest and that sound unique, like the “My Little Secret” an Italian speakeasy, hoping after the big reveal we are fully prepared and able to make the most of the week’s stay, wherever it may be.

Yellow taxis, fire hydrants, cherry blue lights, steam rising from the pavements. Bagels, overland trains, fire escapes, brownstone row houses, hot dog vendors, pretzels, bagels, Carrie Bradshaw and the gang from Friends. So many contemporary visions that need to witnessed in the first person rather than through the TV screen.

Like ground-zero, the area in which those twin towers stood nine years ago. Visions that are still fresh today as the day that unimaginable pictures were beamed directly into our living rooms. Stephanie and I will visit, not for macabre reasons, but to pay our respects and try and see for ourselves the scale of what happened that day. We'll witness the rebuilding programme as the new "One World Trade Centre" starts to take shape and the memorial for those that lost there lives is formed.

From that vantage point it will be a lesson for both of us, particularly on our honeymoon and the infancy of marriage to see how people overcome adversity, to rebuild, reinvent and remember. Lessons that sometimes we need a practical example, however strong that message is.

But before I get carried away and build a replica proton pack to take with me to the New York library, there is the small matter of one final destination. Back into Europe, another city, from another time, with a historical significance to match no other - and meatballs, far, far better than momma makes!

Saturday, 17 July 2010


A Morrocan Souk

Stood on the Rock of Gibraltar as a thirteen year old boy, looking out across the Mediterranean sea as it meets the Atlantic and gazing at the mass of land only thirty miles away trying to comprehend the shear size of the African continent ahead - five thousand miles from north to south and home to a billion people, numbers that are still mind boggling seventeen years later. I was hoping that we would be able to take a boat trip across so that I can say I have been to Africa, but we didn't quite make it. Now as a thirty year old man, the African continent lays in my path once again.

Marrakesh, a city at the heart of Morocco, the country you can see when stood upon "the Rock", is the sixth destination on a list of eight possibilities put forward by my parents, with the grand reveal awaiting Stephanie and I on our wedding day.

Marrakesh, the "Red City" is not the capital city, a fact which I have only just found out, (to my surprise) but a city of vast importance both culturally and historically to the Moroccan people. Since it was founded way back in 1070, like all of the places I have researched so far, has historical roots of strategic importance for early tradesman, and over the years it's background story is as colourful as the architecture in which it gets it's name.

The real vocal point of the city, is it's old town, the Medina, riddled with alleys and maze like streets which contain souks, selling everything from spices, carpets, leather and jewellery. Think of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark where Marion is kidnapped and Indie races around the alley's looking for her. That's what I imagine the Medina to look like, which, considering it was filmed on location in Tunisia isn't going to be too far off.

At the centre, the real heartbeat of the old town is the market square, Djemaa el Fna. The largest of it's kind in Africa. By day the square is awash with artists, snake charmers, acrobats, healers and all sorts of other bohemian characters, which are replaced by night by food sellers, selling freshly cooked Moroccan fare. An experience which, if I'm honest, slightly scares me.

If Changing Rooms was responsible for many hideous conversions of the "Moroccan" theme, terracotta walls with terrible imitation upholstery, then the food has been imitated incessantly world over. We've all probably tried a Lamb Tagine, or cous-cous with sultanas. Aromatic spices and sweet flavours combined to give us a so called authentic cuisine experience, but there is only one way to taste the authentic, and that's to go where the food is supposed to be based upon.

On reading reviews of the street food sold by vendors at night within the Djemaa el Fna, many come with a cautionary warning. The name means literally "Assembly of the Dead", and instead of people who have been executed on display, sheep's heads are visible everywhere, as the contents of which are sold as casserole, or tagines to local people as a delicacy! One experience Stephanie and I may just pass on!

Again, with a city of historical importance, religion plays a key role and Marrakesh is home to mosques, and synagogues that vary from the ornate to the more traditional, but for me the sights that really inspire me about going to Marrakesh are a little further afield. To the southeast lies the great Atlas Mountain range, which spans the entire top part of continental Africa and at the foot of which, to the south, lies the great Sahara desert. Trekking isn't really a honeymoon activity and I am not suggesting for one minute that will be what we do, but an up close view is almost an essential experience.

Aside from that visit to the Atlas Mountains, it is possible to travel by train, to Casablanca which takes around three hours. It's not that I have a fondness for Humphrey Bogart, or a burning desire to see Casablanca, but to take a rail trip northwards across Morocco across the bright red, semi desert and across the coastal plain is surely one of those things that comes top of any Marrakesh "to do" list.

Each place that I have researched so far has been so full of contrast to the one before it, but amazingly the historical, religious and strategic similarities don't seem to have made a bit of difference, in fact each similarity has enhanced each place, given it further character and set it further apart from the other. Where I'm headed to next, to the penultimate destination is very different! I don't need to research this one very much we've all seen so much of it. Frank Sinatra even named it twice.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


View from the Bosporus

In 2005 the world sat and paid witness to one of the greatest football matches ever played. On the outskirts of the Turkish capital, Istanbul, the Atatürk Olympic Stadium hosted AC Milan vs Liverpool in what was to be a game of epic proportions. Racing into a half-time 3-0 lead, AC Milan had the trophy with the big ears well and truly in their grasp, only for a galvanised Liverpool side inspired by Steven Gerrard to turn the tie upon it's head in a crazy 23 minute second half spell. The game finished all square and Liverpool went on to defy the Rossoneri onslaught in extra time and won the trophy via a penalty shootout thanks to the exploits of Jerzy Dudek, the Polish custodian who recreated the famed "spaghetti legs" made famous by Bruce Grobbelaar twenty one years earlier.

That famous night five years ago will always live in my memory and anyone mentions the word "Istanbul" that's where my mind immediately races back to. With a potential week's stay in the Turkish capital on the horizon, those memories will almost certainly be replaced by even greater ones.

Istanbul, a city which has reams and reams of history, making it one of the most fascinating cities in the world, mainly due to it's geographical position as the worlds only inter-continental city, one half European and the other belonging to Asia. Split in the middle by the Bosphorus, a strait that joins in the north with the Black Sea leading to the Sea of Marmara in the south.

In it's long and varied history Istanbul has previously been known by the names of Byzantium and Constantinople evoking thoughts of the long lost civilizations of the ancients Greeks, Romans and Ottomans, names which are synonymous throughout European history.

With such history and a melting pot of religious cultures from the east and west, Istanbul has an architectural dynasty of places to visit, with various places of worship; vast ornate mosques, Christian churches and Jewish synagogues littering the city in all directions. Vast palaces from each of the ruling era's are just as common. In fact, Stephanie and I would be able to visit two palaces a day for the whole week and not see them all, and there would, without doubt, be at least one palace fit for my newly crowned queen!

Being the fifth largest city proper in the world, with an area of 1,831km2, it'll be a tall order managing to view all of the sites and sounds that Istanbul has to offer. There are a long list of must see and must do's, including a day at one of the many Turkish spa's. Some of the treatments can sound quite severe, the hot cold treatment sounding the worst of all, but they have lasted the test of time, so people must get some benefit. It'll be nice having a day's pampering and relaxation after the frantic build up to the wedding and a rest from chosen Stephanie the right palace!

Without a doubt, no trip to Istanbul would be quite the same without visiting both halves. On the western side lies Europe, and across the Bosphorus strait lies Asia, spanned by two bridges, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet  and Bosphorus, carrying a steady stream of local commuters who either live in one continent and work in another. Alternatively, crossing a great expanse of water can be done the more in the more traditional way, by boat, taking advantage of the nautical views of the city and it's contrasting skyline.

After a long day's exploration and discovery, there is more than enough to keep us occupied in the evenings, from traditional Turkish entertainment to techno and rave nightclubs, which is continually growing and evolving and gaining international recognition.

If I'm totally honest, one of the things that I want to do more than any other is to watch a local football match. Istanbul is host to four of the countries biggest teams, Besiktas, Fenerbahçe, Istanbul BB and Galatasaray - three of which have played European Cup football in the past few years. In fact, Galatasary are possibly more famous for the infamy of their fanatical supporters and there "welcome to hell" insignia than there achievements on the pitch. With the Ali Sami Yen Stadium closing it's doors in September it could well be the last chance to visit "hell" and experience one of the most amazing football experiences in the world, that is if I can convince my new wife to come with me!

Well, until I can come up with a decent explanation for that one, it's a Turkish "hoşçakalın" from me as I leave Europe, (or is it Asia?) and head for another new destination. My sixth stop in a round the world tour that has already taken me to Antigua, Dubai, Dubrovnik, Hong Kong and Istanbul. So much to see, so much to chose from and so difficult to set out an ideal itinerary. Finding out where we are going on our wedding day has added an extra touch of excitement to our day, but it's such a difficult process researching, finding out all these incredible places to visit, learning about them, highlighting things to do and ultimately putting them in a pile as something to do for another day, but boy am I loving it!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Hong Kong

Hong Kong at Night

You're given a list, it could be any list, a list of crisp flavours for example, one always stands out. You love all the other flavours, but it stand out because it’s different, or a little more exciting than the others. When Mum sent me a list of places that Stephanie and I could potentially be visiting on our honeymoon, Hong Kong was the stand out choice.

I must state right from the off. Just because Hong Kong stands out the most, doesn’t mean that there will be any disappointment when we finally find out. Mum and Dad have carefully constructed a list that removes any possibility of that from happening.

But Hong Kong exudes a sense of the exotic, not exotic in a paradise beach kind of way, but a sensual melting pot that defies the very fabric of a living, breathing European being. The humidity of a tropical climate, the hustle and bustle of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, coupled with dramatic scenery on the backdrop of one of the worlds most iconic skylines. All this, with the floating, aromatic smells of far-eastern cuisine and harbour traffic that makes London seem fairly pedestrian by comparison.

Hong Kong was one of the first places that I remember hearing about as a kid, purely because we had family living and working out there. My grandmother went to visit my cousin Nicky and I remember the stresses she faced about flying so far on her own at such a late age. As a kid, the very name of the place was enough to evoke a chuckle, what kind of name was that?

In fact, it comes from it’s meaning, “Fragrant Harbour” and is situated on the south coast of China, whom it now belongs to as, along with nearby Macau, one of two special “administration regions”. Sovereignty was only handed back over to the Chinese after much ceremony and fanfare on the 1st of July 1997. Before that it had been under British rule under the terms of a 99 year lease.

Historical facts aside, for Hong Kong is rich with it and has continually evolved under different governance and economical circumstances. Even now, in a world of economic downturn, Hong Kong, as a key economic hub continues to thrive. For two honeymooners, whose furthest trips east have barely reached the end of Europe there is lot to fit in and plenty to do.

Having spent my last few weeks crawling Google for barrel loads of information I decided to change tact this time around. With my cousin Nicky now repatriated I decided who better to find information on Hong Kong than a former Hong Konger?

He suggested that a week would be more than adequate to fit in all the sites and sounds with plenty to see and do. The Big Buddha came highly recommended along with “The Peak” and catching the Star Ferry across the harbour. All of which sounded right up our street.

The Big Buddha Nicky referred to is actually the Tian Tan Buddha, a statue that supposedly symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, although a quick internet search reveals a more striking image. The statue itself stands at 34m tall, which when placed on top of a mountain gives it a somewhat larger feel! Only downside is, that you either have to catch a cable car to get there or walk up a million steps. Ok if you fit, which we’re not, leaves me hoping that Stephanie doesn’t suffer from vertigo!

The main central business district of Hong Kong Island sits in the lowlands at the bottom of a mountain range which gives it such photographic presence and makes it so iconic. The mountains are easily accessible by tram, a funicular railway which used to serve the rich residents of “the peak”. If the city from street level and out across the harbour is spectacular, then the view from above is something else. Most of Hong Kong’s best photography is taken from the top of the peak and it is another something that Stephanie and I would be fools to miss out on.

Finally, Nicky’s last suggestion, the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, looks like another sure fire hit. Sailing on a vessel from a fleet of replica ships based upon those found from the 1920’s around the harbour providing an alternative commute from one part of Hong Kong to another, or just a relaxing sail admiring the high rise skyscrapers from afar.

Two other sites which I know of that Nicky hadn’t mentioned, Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disney are both places that would make up a full weeks itinerary, providing we were obviously Hong Kong bound. Ocean Park is probably one of those most randomly located theme parks in the world, situated once again within the many surrounding hills of Hong Kong Island. With rides sitting precariously on the edge of cliff faces offering unenviable views it would seem like good training for the upcoming rollercoaster of married life ahead.

Disneyland of course needs no introduction, the Hong Kong franchise being the newest collection to the Disney portfolio, built on land reclaimed from the sea, similarly to the work carried out in Dubai. It would be a rather romantic bookend to the whole engagement chapter of our lives as it was indeed at Disneyland Paris that I fatefully bent down on one knee and popped the dreaded question. Stephanie need not worry this time around as I won’t be planning on making that mistake again in a hurry!

With so much to see and do, I’m sure that we will have more than enough to allay Nicky’s fears of getting bored. If all else fails I could quite easily walk the streets sampling all of, or as much of the Hong Kong street food as I possibly can! It’s what travelling and holidays are all about. Whenever you come back, after the weather, people always ask about the food,

I have recently developed a strong culinary bond with Wagamama’s and so the chance to experience authentic, fresh oriental cuisine is something I’d be really looking forward to! The famed >dai pai dong’s appear all over the list of “must see’s” and some come very highly recommended. I’m sure we’d fit in more than a few!

And so, another tantalizing glimpse of what maybe, half way through a list of could be places! The ironic thing though, as I head back west across the geographical interweb landing at our next destination, a place itself that’s only half of something else.

Sunday, 4 July 2010



In researching information about all of the possible destinations Stephanie and I maybe visiting on our honeymoon in September I've been on an unexpected interweb journey into the Caribbean and the Middle East. Before we found out which of the eight places we maybe going to, we thought Europe would be our researching ground and so now, finally, I find myself in somewhat familiar territory.

Dubrovnik, a Croatian city which lies at the southern most tip of the country, the part which is split by a short coastline belonging to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to the east. All "new" countries, which after the fall of Yugoslavia gained Independence and faced a dramatic task of rebuilding after years of civil war and the rule of socialism.

Since the introduction of low-cost airlines, many new tourist routes have opened and people have been able to experience previously unseen parts of the continent in which they reside. Indeed, it's not just the stag weekend market that has diversified, the independent traveller now has greater choice and are flying in droves to enjoy different scenery and culture.

Last year several of my former colleagues went on holiday to Croatia and all came back with glowing reviews. Although not all of them visited Dubrovnik, which is listed as Croatia's number one place to visit, those that did spoke very highly of it. As an Internet researcher, the first Google term you look for is "Dubrovnik" and you are presented, as always with a selection of matched images, which upon closer inspection show immediately everything any potential honeymooner is looking for. Beautiful weather, glorious coastline and a sense of history and culture thrown in. All of the pictures seem to focus upon the "old town" and the castle stands out as the "iconic" building which it appears Dubrovnik is famed for.

Further investigation tells you that the castle is called "Fort Lovrijenac", commonly referred to by travellers as the "Gibraltar of Dubrovnik", which was built to withstand the attempted invasion by the Venetian army, sailing I presumed across the Adriatic from Italy. In more recent times, it has played service to art and creation, being a theatre in which Shakespeare plays are performed. Hamlet, Lady Macbeth and King Lear being just a small selection. All valid reasons it seems as to why UNESCO name Dubrovnik as a World Heritage site.

Dubrovnik itself isn't a large city by any means, the focal tourist area is indeed the old town with it's marble streets line with baroque buildings fielding red bricked roofs, perfectly seen below when at the highest point of the aforementioned castle. But Dalmatia, the region in which Dubrovnik sits, reads like a typical Mediterranean resort, with long sandy beaches, which are washed each day by the clear seas of the Adriatic.

From the port of Dubrovnik you have easy access to any of the 1,000 islands that litter the Croatian coast. In fact upon reading that Croatia had over 1,000 islands I looked to see how many there actually were, from which I found over six different figures. According to the Croatian Times website, apparently nobody does actually know for sure! One thing I can say with any certainty, is that Stephanie and I won't be visiting them all!

If Stephanie and I get too overloaded with culture, or too relaxed sipping Margarita's on the beach and fancy something a little bit different, we could escape Croatia altogether and hop over the border into Montenegro for a little tour of the scenic medieval Bay of Kodor, something which the Croatian tourist board recommends, even though it was the Montenegrins that attacked Dubrovnik in 1991, even saying, "it happened a long time ago, let bygones be bygones". Which will be interesting to see if the local Croat's are as forgiving!

Once again. I've sat, read, looked at and been amazed by the potential of a week away in a different destination! Even knowing that we won't be going to seven of the eight places, I think I have enough information and had my appetite whetted enough for the next fifteen years! Mum and Dad have annoyingly been dropping hints which offer nothing in the form of helpful clues, just adding further spin into the web of intrigue! Anyway, that's it from Europe, at least for one more stop. This time East. Far East!
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