Short Runs in Strange Places

The first in an occasional series, whereby I try not get myself mugged while vainly trying to keep fit on the road and simultaneously confuse my iphone satnav. File this first post under future nostalgia – a reminder of runs at home, where there were shops selling ice-cold mineral water and chocolate bars every two hundred yards.

London: my favorite run – across the river from our old office. Running East down the South Bank of the Thames is like running back in time, as you slowly peel back the successive layers of gentrification spreading out from the City. I once ran a half marathon along this route by accident, but that is another story.

St Paul's

St Paul's across the Millenium Bridge

New York: West from our apartment to the Hudson River, then down the West Side Highway to Battery Park. An hour of trying not to appear too competitive among the crowds of hyper-fit New Yorkers, rewarded by a distant but wonderful view of Lady Liberty at half time.

Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty (freedom through a long lens)

Goodbye to NYC Cocktails

Tonight we decided to start our extended goodbye to New York by revisiting a couple of our favourite cocktail bars, one uptown and one downtown, with the obligatory white knuckle taxi ride between the two.

Salon de Ning

Perched on top of the Peninsula Hotel on 55th Street, the Salon de Ning comes complete with Shanghai madam portraits hung flat on the ceiling, a mid-level view through the forest of skyscrapers down to Central Park and a semi-serious cocktail list. There are occasional traces of cigar-chomping-mid-town-macho, however, so try to go off peak (and try not to order a single malt on the rocks with a cocktail straw). If you ever find yourself living as happy expats in New York and trying to impress out of towners, this is the place; we are thoroughly looking forward to bookending our trip as out of towners in Felix’s at the top of the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong (hi Kean!). The Passion Martini is short, sweet and deceptively fierce. They also do beautiful things with cucumbers and orchids, although fortunately not at the same time.

Soho Grand

We have history at the Soho Grand. Although I like to think that I eventually got the hang of business New York-style, my first serious attempt at hard-ball negotiation in the USA got Lucy and me thrown out of our first – admittedly temporary – apartment on Bleecker Street. We took our suitcases and the remnants of our dignity and checked into the Soho Grand. We had stayed here while we were apartment hunting, and with our second visit added to a growing number of difficult life decisions that were rendered surprisingly simple by the addition of a “Grand Margarita” (think a normal margarita but three times the size and with a healthy slug of Grand Marnier).

New York, we’re going to miss you.

Itinerererary

If you put our dream destinations into a very large spreadsheet then cross reference: the ideal seasons in the various parts of the world; interesting festivals; major air routes; the (surprisingly strict) constraints of a OneWorld Explorer air ticket; the availability of group tours on three separate continents; and the price of sushi you come up with the following.
RTW flight

Our main round the world ticket covering about half of our flights. Blank planners can be found at http://oneworldrtw.innosked.com/ for those interested...

Soundtrack: well, we had to include this at some point! Live version, remixed with Better Harder Faster Stronger, amazing.
  • End of May to 23 June - road trip across the USA from NYC to LA via the deep South
  • 24 June to 1 July - sailing round the Galapagos
  • 2 July to 21 July – Peru & Bolivia (including the Inca trail and the Bolivian salt flats)
  • 22 July to 28 July – Easter Island for the stone heads
  • 28 July to 2 August – Sydney and Cairns, great barrier reef in passing
  • 2 August to 21 August – Papua new Guinea for the Mount Hagen show
  • 22 August to 6 Sep – Vanuatu, a quintessential Pacific island, complete with hopefully not too active volcanoes and a hopefully not too active culture of cannibalism
  • Fly Sydney-Hong Kong, then on to Beijing
  • 8 Sep to 14 Sep – tour of North Korea including the Arirang mass games
  • 16 Sep to 11 Oct – East down the Silk Road, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
  • 12 Oct to 22 Oct – western China (en route from Kyrgyzstan to Tibet), train to Lhasa
  • 23 Oct to 6 Nov - trekking in Tibet, then driving over the Himalaya to Kathmandu
  • Back to civilisation for a lost weekend in Hong Kong
  • 10 Nov to 21 Nov – Japan for the maple leaf season
  • 21 Nov – 23 Dec Thailand, Cambodia (Angkor Wat) and Burma (Pagan, Mandalay etc.)
  • Home for Christmas and some serious comfort food
  • 3 Jan – fly to Buenos Aires en route to Antartica
  • February - back to the UK to start the rest of our lives
  • travel flights v4

    The master schedule. I have deliberately reduced the font size and resolution to replicate the full eye-bleeding impact of the original.

We would be delighted if anyone were to be passing through any of these areas when we were there and wanted to meet up.

Goodbye to skydiving … for now

The category “heavy things I want to carry around the world” includes:

  1. My rucksack: clothes, boots, medical kit, laptop, clean linen handkerchiefs etc.
  2. My parachute
  3. Er, that’s it

Unless we come across a particularly fine drop zone that is (i) somewhere utterly spectacular, (ii) happy to lend me a 170 sq. ft. piece of ripstop nylon and (iii) accept a scanned copy of my log book, I probably won’t be jumping over the next eight months. Sniff.

I am desperately going to miss the camaraderie, the speed, the views, the sunshine, the hanging off the outside of planes, the playing with hi-tech kit, the exercise and the drop zone food (OK, maybe not the food). Fortunately, before we headed off Mirko had the sense to have the world’s best bachelor party down at the drop zone at Cross Keys.

Guys, I’m going to miss you. See you when we get back.

Where to?

So you’re sat there, absent-mindedly twirling an old-fashioned globe with your left hand  with google maps open on the laptop on your right.

Where to? It’s the travel equivalent of standing in an aisle at Walmart staring at a seemingly infinite range of fabric softeners. How do you decide? How do you even start deciding?

Some advice, necessarily drawn from extremely narrow personal experience:

  • First, write a long list of everywhere you have ever dreamed of going, no matter how ridiculously impractical. To use the vernacular, this rocks, although it isn’t great for one’s personal productivity. Here are ours:

Then:

  • Prioritize places you will never be able to go again. This can be because they are undergoing rapid change and may shortly no longer exist; because they are properly out of the way (Antarctica is apparently quite hard to fit into a two week vacation); or (for us) because they are likely impossible with children or when older
  • Try to fit in one-off festivals where you can. Tribal shows in Papua New Guinea, the mass games in North Korea etc. – hard to fit in with half term, from what I hear
  • Try to go during the right seasons – no Siberian winters; no Saharan summers, no monsoons. This complicates the itinerary horribly, and we have the spreadsheet scars to prove it. Trying to optimize a 16-segment OneWorld anticlockwise round the world air ticket into both the Northern and Southern hemisphere’s seasons is intrinsically hard (ask a mathematician, or even a travelling salesman)
  • “Take appropriate means of transport”. A number of friends have been inspired by long periods of free time to undertake epic voyages of physical endurance. To us “appropriate transport” means: if you have a particular desire to cycle from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego or row solo across the Atlantic that’s great. But recognize which parts of the journey are about the journey, and which parts are about the destinations. To me, taking the Trans-Siberian railway has always sounded eye-rollingly dull
  • Danger areas – depends on your personal tastes. We are not particularly nervous travelers, but if there is anything more than a sporting chance of getting properly kidnapped, actually shot or treading on a live land mine the place is probably worth avoiding. We hear Northern Afghanistan is lovely in spring, but we’ll be giving it a miss
  • Revisiting – for us, we only wanted to revisit places one of us had already seen if they are truly amazing. Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands and Japan crept in as repeats here

Iterate until thoroughly sick of the thought of leaving home and you end up with an incredible itinerary, which includes almost none of the places you originally dreamed of. Result!