Happy Holidays!

Well I’m counting down to our Eurothrash 2014 – a week in Austria on the Sprint GT with Ali and a couple of mates – and I’m definitely in the holiday mood.

This year around Easter I went to Fuerteventura yet again, this time taking my kids and their partners and Ali, which meant the villa was packed and I had to hire two cars for us all thanks to all our gear (and the fact we were six!).  Ali and I are heading back there again at the end of the summer, so much more shooty fun is envisaged!

And I’ve also just booked the first of our holidays for 2015: Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand next spring to start us off in a bunch of 5-star hotels. The second week at Ko Samui in particular should be spectacular with a villa to ourselves with its own private pool, outdoor sofas and rain shower and a beach:

Garden Pool Villa
Garden Pool Villa
Beach View
Beach View

It’d be rude not to take my camera gear and do some shooting whilst we’re here!

Berlin Marathon Weekend

I was supposed to have been running the 40th Berlin Marathon: having been with GT for the London, Paris and Venice Marathons, I’d decided if she was running Berlin and I’d be there anyway, maybe I should run it. How hard could it be? {cough}

So after a few false starts with pulled calf muscles, I started training a little more seriously back in the summer, running a couple of 5ks a week and upping it slightly to a 10k with no apparent problem … apart from a shooting pain in my right knee the moment I started off. Ah…

I’d tried to overcome this in the wrong way: taking Ibuprofen orally and directly to the knee, but I knew that was the wrong thing to do long-term so I got referred privately to a renowned expert on knee surgery/conditions who confirmed patellofemoral dysfunction and early arthropathy (which explained the confirmed crepitus I’d noticed in the knee as well). After several weeks physiotherapy and taking up cycling – 20 miles a week currently on Saturdays when I’m home – it’s improving but I can’t start training properly until the New Year.

Despite being sidelined, I took a long weekend with GT, booking a €400-a-night room at the excellent Hotel Adlon Kempinski right next to the Brandenburg Gate. Or, as I found out the week we were going, two rooms. Oops! Luckily, they were kind enough to cancel the room without charge after a couple of phone calls. Phew!

We flew out to Berlin and settled right in to the truly luxurious hotel, with a quick wander about around the Brandenburger Tor and an hour’s ride around Berlin in a horse-drawn carriage which was quite romantic (and extensively photographed), then back to an epic Thai meal in one of the many restaurants at the hotel: fabulous food but horrendously expensive!

Saturday and after the most opulent five course breakfast with champagne, it was off by underground to a disused airport to get running chips and numbers – very badly organised compared to Paris and particularly London – before wandering around to find a lovely restaurant where we ate oysters, mains and cheese with lots of wine before heading back for an early-ish night.

Up at 5.45am on the Sunday as the hotel had laid on a special breakfast just for the marathon guests, then back up for final prep before joining a group of other runners in the lobby and the short walk to the start. GT had previously got so close to breaking the four hour barrier she was hitting that everyone was saying this could be the one due to PBs on all her recent runs, but she was getting fed up with the pressure from friends and was just going to go for the run rather than the time. Saying she didn’t really like marathons, this would be her 11th and last, she said.

After GT started off I walked off to find the underground as I was heading off to the Spreepark to taken some urbex shots of the deserted theme park during the four hours I’d have to myself. Despite the 6km walk to and around the park, I couldn’t find any easy way in that didn’t have too many onlookers nearby. Ah well. I was joined by a little old biddy who followed me around chatting away in German. I speak very little German… Then back onto the train to get back for the finish. The official marathon app was only suggesting she’d started but on the train I logged into the full website and found that GT was on for a sub-four time so it was a rush to get back to the finish line in time. I managed – just – as she’d not just beaten 4:00:00 – she’d smashed it! 3:49:06!

So it turns out this means a GFA: “good for age” which means an automatic entry into the London Marathon in 2015. Oh and as I still intend to run Berlin next year, GT said it would be rude not to run that. Oh and she’s planning a girl’s weekend in New York with her mates so they can all run the New York Marathon. And on Tuesday after we’d got back and the post-marathon blues kicked in, she’s booked Edinburgh (as have I just for a practice…).

Back to the hotel for a bath and then off to get wine, walking past other finishers who all looked at GT relaxed, cleaned up and wearing her finishers’ medal just as they’d only just finished the event! A bit of a crap Italian meal before bed.

Monday saw us walking around down to the Topography of Terror, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie before getting a taxi back to the airport and home.

Abstract Heads
Abstract Heads
Rose-Tinted Spectating
Rose-Tinted Spectating
Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate with our Hotel Adlon
Spreepark
Spreepark
Haunted House at Spreepark
Haunted House at Spreepark
Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
3:49:06
3:49:06
2013 Berlin Marathon Medal
2013 Berlin Marathon Medal
Topography of Terror
Topography of Terror
Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
Brandenburger Tor
Brandenburger Tor

The Trouble With Paris…

…is that the wine is hideously expensive!

So Friday found GT and I in a cab heading to St. Pancras and the Eurostar to Paris. Arriving early Friday afternoon at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, Paris Eiffel thanks to our pre-booked taxi, we dumped our bags in our large room and headed off on the Metro from Trocadero to the Expo where GT was picking up her race number and pack as yes, she was due to run the Paris Marathon on the Sunday. Oh and we picked up a new running outfit at the same time…

Back to the hotel where we got some advice about one of best Italian restaurants in Paris, so off we went. Luckily, despite not having a reservation – the hotel had warned us we’d probably need one – we managed to charm our way to getting a table and enjoyed a lovely meal with one of those horrendously expensive bottles of wine … good, though!

It was important that the Friday night would bring lots of sleep with the Saturday night’s sleep likely to be fitful so we headed back to the hotel at just after 10pm … to find the door to our room and its main window open! While I poked my head inside to see if there was still an unexpected visitor in there, GT hightailed it down to reception to report it and get the police. By the time I got downstairs, the police had been called and I’d summoned the Hotel Manager back from his evening out (at the Cirque du Soleil, as it transpired). I went back up to the room to do a thorough sweep to see what had been taken and was relieved to find that my iPad and iPhones, UK wallet and passport were all still safe and sound, as was GT’s running gadgets – phew!

It was very late by the time the Manager had got back and checked what was what, so they moved us to a suite as there was no way I’d stay in the same room with someone possibly knowing what they could go back there to collect. The designer bath had a broken plug that I’d be trying to get fixed the next morning as a bath is high on the priorities list after a marathon…

Saturday morning and off we went to do mainly death-related touristy things: Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s graves up at Père-Lachaise Cemetery in the morning followed by the incredible Catacombs in the afternoon. The latter holds the remains of roughly six million people. Yes. 6,000,000. Neatly stacked and arranged. It’s a bizarre thing to visit, running for 2km under Paris. We ate on our way back before celebrating my 51st birthday at the hotel.

Sunday saw us up bright and early to head to the start of the marathon up at the Champs-Elysèes. I’d chosen the hotel to be close to both the start and finish lines with the view of the Eiffel Tower an added bonus. It was cold, so GT was pleased to be able to wear much of her new, warmer, kit. The start corrals were sheer chaos as there was no apparent way to get in: many runners were climbing over the security fencing to get in and there were 50,000 running. So different to the efficiency of the London Marathon. After seeing GT off, I walked back to the hotel, stopping at what had become our favourite café at the Trocadero, overlooking the Eiffel Tower for coffee and croissants and juice. Lovely!

I downloaded the official app and headed back to the hotel to track GT on her run. No sign of any plug for the bath: the one they brought didn’t fit so it was back to the drawing board, sadly.

Then off to meet GT at Exit A in the finish area. Or Exit B as they’d managed to cock that up too and had swapped the exit signs and flags over so they were wrong. The pandemonium that ensued with tired and confused runners all trying to get out of the wrong exits was something to see. I stayed looking for GT until she texted me from the hotel: she’d left from the incorrectly-signed exit and found her way back. I stuffed the plughole with a flannel and ran the bath. After she’d recovered sufficiently, we walked down to the Trocadero for Kir Royales, beer and food! Then back to the hotel to celebrate her time – a few seconds over that milestone 4:00:00 she wants to beat – meeting her friend who’d managed a 3:58:10. She was off for a massage; we settled on another lovely meal over the Place at another great Italian restaurant followed by more birthday celebrations for me…

Monday and we checked out: the first night’s (upgraded) accommodation was given free by the hotel, but another guest had signed for a 52€ breakfast and a 389€ dinner on our room! That was quickly resolved, so we left our bags and headed up to Montmartre for more touristy stuff including a little roadtrain ride down to Pigalle and back up to Montmartre.

Then off to the Eurostar Business Lounge for complimentary wines and our train back to London.

The hotel’s Manager rang me today: they’ve checked the door key logs and it appears on first checking that it was one of the maids who’d left the door and window open for some reason. They’re interviewing her and getting the hallway CCTV footage to check.

So then: Berlin Marathon … and I’m running that one!

Reflective

Work’s been quite hectic of late, as has my social life (which is no bad thing, of course).

Friday and I was off up to Soho and the Jazz After Dark to catch up with a mate, the excellent James Gillespie, who was over in the UK from Fuerteventura to play a few gigs on a whirlwind visit. Really good to catch up with him and his partner Jess plus a few other people I’d met at the Rock Island Bar as well as a few of James’ family members. Lots of drinks as always – ciders, spirits and shots! It was a great night out and even being grabbed in the bits by a friendly transvestite on my way home didn’t faze me!

Saturday and I was up bright and early to go and look at a house in the next block from mine in the same Crescent: a fair sized house for me with an even nicer garage which has the potential to double as a photographic studio due to its size and the high ceiling height for backdrops, lighting rigs, etc. We’ll see.

The it was off to see GT for lunch and an afternoon watching three hours of “Django Unchained” – spaghetti westerns reinvented for the 21st Century. Then it was off for another excellent curry at Cinnamon Spice.

A nice lay-in on Sunday before heading to Covent Garden for more retail therapy at Dr Martens with GT before I made my way home to pack and change to get to Paris by Eurostar and my hideously expensive but comfortable hotel.

A long day Monday in meetings and giving presentations to the MD of one of our larger Clients, made more difficult by a streaming cold {sigh}. Drinks in the Eurostar Business Lounge obviously help you care less.

Finally back home; my cabbie is also riding down to the Pyrenees this summer, apparently…

Working from home today so that I didn’t spread the sniffles; I took the opportunity to cancel a couple of remaining credit cards having cleared all the balances over the past few months. There’s something cathartic about doing this and cutting up the old ones. They were a safety blanket for me at times over the past years but with the potential to bite back, so it was good to cut them up and cut off more past times. More ties with the past severed for good.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Well it took long enough – nine months, in fact – for the lawyers to sort out our agreed settlement and the paperwork, but I’m now finally divorced, as of 17 October 2012 (a little over 22 years after being married). Young, free and single again! Well, maybe not that young…

And the best thing is that my ex-wife and I remain good friends.

So to celebrate, GT and I went off to Venice for the weekend.

OK, it wasnt the only reason we headed off: GT was taking part in the Venice Marathon, which is why I’d booked the Hotel Bucintoro as it was the nearest luxury hotel to the finish line!

And we weren’t disappointed with our suite there, including our own private rooftop balcony overlooking the lagoon:

Panoramic View from our Rooftop Balcony

We celebrated with a bottle of champagne chilled and ready for our arrival:

Cheers!

We had a quick explore and found a superb restaurant near the hotel: La Nuova Perla. So good, we went back there on the Sunday night too!

On Saturday, we headed off to sign on at the Expo on the mainland at San Giuliano Park. It had started raining the night before and we realised that morning that the water levels were rising and beginning to flood Venice, so after signing on, we bought wellies to keep us dry as we went off to do the touristy bit, including enjoying hideously expensive club sandwiches and drinks in a lovely café in the Piazza San Marco and then dinner in a quaint restaurant down the alleys that weave through Venice.

Sunday morning dawned very cold, wet and very windy: not good conditions for anything, let alone 26.2 miles running (including a 3 mile bridge to really test the mind and body). Our water taxi arrived at 6.15am to take us to one of the collection points where the runners boarded buses to take them to the start point on the mainland. I then walked back to the Piazza Le Roma to get on one of the boats that was running – the high tides were closing many stops – and head back to the hotel for breakfast and to watch the marathon.

Despite the conditions, GT was only 45 seconds slower than her London Marathon time! I grabbed her at the finish line and walked her back to our suite and a hot, deep bath. We then ordered up some lunch before heading out later that evening for more pasta and wine.

Monday was a beautiful day, crisp and bright, so we made the most of it with a gondola ride before lunch and another water taxi back to the airport and home.

Bloody Tourists!

Paris Marathon next!

Paris In The Spring

…or the summer, as it turns out.

Well my travelling continues. This time to Paris by Eurostar for what turns out was some well-received training for a French Client about the contract on a project they’re bidding on. So late afternoon on Monday, I wandered off in the rain to Euston and a couple of hours later I arrived in sunny and warm Paris, heading to my hotel for the evening, the Hilton Paris La Défense which looked a bit like something from Austin Powers!

Eat your heart out, Austin Powers!
Plenty of room

An early breakfast and a wander past La Défense itself to grab a coffee in a café with a colleague before spending the day with the Clients, who were all really attentive and friendly which helps.

 

 

And then on to the Gare Du Nord to catch my train back. As I had plenty of time and it was warm, I decided it must be beer o’clock…

Gare Du Nord
Beer O’Clock
Meant To Be!

Back home around 10.30pm; long day!

Oh and I get to do it all again next month 🙂

Who Am I? Where Am I?

Well life’s a tad hectic just now. Let’s have a quick recap on the last week or so, shall we?

Wednesday 27th.

After work, I headed to the Southbank to meet up with GT for House of Burlesque’s show at the Priceless London Wonderground. We had front row tickets as usual, and, also as usual, I got dragged up on stage for one of the acts. Enough said…

Once I’d escorted GT to Waterloo, I headed back to the car – passing people being overheard saying “Wasn’t that Richard?” from the show – and drove off to Slough. Tricky when the M4 is closed. So a late arrival at the Holiday Inn then.

Thursday 28th

Up bright and early for a day spent training a group of project managers at a Client’s office. Good fun, but hard work. Then a rush to Heathrow for my flight to Vienna, getting in quite late by the time I’d grabbed a cab to the Hotel de France.

Friday 29th

After breakfast, it was off to the University to listen to a talk on Chinese Law from a Beijing-based lawyer, who then sat patiently whilst I delivered a talk on the use of visualisations to explain claims, prefaced by my saying that this was the history module as I incorporated Charles Minard’s “Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813” into it…

It was low 30s and the lecture room had no air conditioning so a tad uncomfortable. Then back to the hotel to work until midnight on something for a Client.

Saturday 30th

After breakfast it was back to the University for a whole morning lecturing.

I’d checked out of my hotel, but couldn’t fly home, so after lunch I headed on to check into my favourite hotel in Vienna, the Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof: a really luxurious hotel whose staff can’t do enough to help you. GT then flew out from Gatwick to meet me for an afternoon’s exploration and meal, as well as guided tour of Vienna in a horse-drawn open cart.

Hofburg Palace
Orson Carte

Sunday 1st

After a leisurely breakfast, it was time for more shopping, sightseeing and a bit of culture: the Albertina where they had some expressionist work plus a great photographic exhibition of work by Joel Sternfeld which really put me in the mood for the Route 66 trip later this month. After lunch, we headed off to the airport and tea in the lounge there before boarding our evening flights to Gatwick and Heathrow.  Due to a change of plan as I was flying out on the Thursday, I then headed straight up to Manchester and the Holiday Inn MediaCityUK.  Just in time to catch the last half hour of the Euro2012 final with a club sandwich and cider! Slightly embarrassing, though, as they’d checked me into a room that was already occupied by a couple … who were fortunately not there when I walked on in!

Monday 2nd

I drove to my home-from-home in Manchester, the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly where they take very good care of me. A long day at our Manchester office followed but a nice meal was the pay-off later.

Tuesday 3rd

A very long day at the office, finishing at 7.30pm before heading back down to London, popping into the office at midnight to drop off my laptop and some papers.

Wednesday 4th

A day off, so I headed over to GT’s to pick her up en route to Everyman Racing in Leicestershire for a few soggy laps at the wheel of a Ferrari and an Ariel Atom before driving back home.

 

Thursday 5th

A day in the office, and confirmation that I’ll be going to Paris in July and August to train some more clients on their contractual obligations and how to best cover themselves. Finished quite late and changed at the office, because I was meeting GT at the O2 Brixton Academy for the Lacuna Coil/Marilyn Manson gig which was superb! Good to see future-wife Cristina Scabbia rocking it. 🙂

Phew!

Bank Holiday Weekend

Well that was a busy one!

After a somewhat heavy session on Friday night at Abacus with colleagues – damn you Happy Hour! – Saturday found me packing for the weekend and heading over to GT for Saturday, including seeing “The Avengers”/”Avengers Assemble” (which I can recommend as a good, fun film) and a nice meal out afterwards.

Sunday morning and GT was running a half-marathon so I left at a reasonable time and headed off to Manchester with a stay at the comfortable Radisson Edwardian and an evening out at the Comedy Store‘s “King Gong” stand-up show with some very good (and some really awful) stand-up comics.

Monday was a day shopping at various stores in Manchester including a 20+ minute wait at Starbuck’s in the Arndale Centre for a coffee. I was somewhat disturbed though by this that I saw whilst walking through Top Shop:

I'm sorry? "Formal"? Jogger?

Then another night at the Radisson Edwardian that ended with me watching Homeland’s disappointing end (well, for the first series anyway): why do the US networks insist on keeping these series running on and on rather than actually developing a story with a start, a middle and an end? I won’t now bother with the second series.

Tuesday saw me mainly sitting in traffic jams on my way to Birmingham for a meeting and then back down to London. Somehow, despite excellent driving conditions, people had variously managed a series of crashes on the M6 and one on the A406 North Circular that closed it leading to really long tailbacks. How do people manage to crash in such excellent conditions?

London 2012 Olympic Games

Yet more reasons for abandoning London during the Olympic Games have come out this week: reports of a lack of hotel rooms and extortionate pricing for those which are available have been discussed on various news channels.

It’s all about supply and demand, of course.

In this case, demand is high because of both the ‘main’ Olympic Games as well as the Paralympic Games afterwards. As noted on the BBC’s “Democracy Live” website:

 ”Speaking during questions on 9 February 2012, Ms Jowell told MPs of a mother who had been forced to pay £1,000 a night for a specially adapted hotel room in order to take her disabled daughter to the Paralympic Games.

“The same room would cost £375 during the Easter holidays, a 167% increase, Ms Jowell claimed.

“She told MPs that her team’s research found that hotel prices in London during the course of the games were, on average, 315% higher than normal.”

Of course demand will be high from tourists and visitors wanting to watch the Games, but it’s also the supply side that’s being affected. Why? Well it’s down to that great gravy train of excess and privilege known as “the Olympic family”. This is estimated to mean 78,400 people. Yes, 78,400!  Of these, well over 60% aren’t actually athletes or officials:

“National Olympic Committees (NOC) 19,900
Includes:
– Athletes
– Team officials

International Federations (IF) 4,150
Includes:
– Technical officials
– International Federations staff and guests

Media 21,300
Includes:
– Press, photographers, journalists
– Rights holding broadcasters
– Olympic Broadcast Organisation

International Olympic Committee (IOC) 1,650
Includes:
– IOC members
– World AntiDoping Agency
– Court of Arbitration of Sport
– IOC Medical Commission
– IOC staff
– Observers and guests

Marketing partners (sponsors) 31,400
Includes:
– The Olympic Partners and guests
– Marketing Partner Coach Programme (ticketed)

Grand total 78,400″

Wow!

This is the bunch that will be bringing traffic chaos to London with the Olympic Route Network of Olympic Family-only traffic lanes carved out of the already-congested existing road network.  It’s explained nicely here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16277688

And where are all these Olympic Family members staying? Well maybe in the rooms they’ve block-booked at specially reduced rates:

“Under a deal struck in 2005, Locog booked around 600,000 room nights in London during the course of the games, for Olympic officials, media and others.

“In January, around 120,000 of these rooms were put back on sale to the public after Locog said it no longer needed them.”

Ah! That would explain it! I’m so pleased I won’t be here in London during the Olympics…