Thursday, 27 December 2012

Days 236 to 240: Christmas in Paris

Merry Christmas. Last year's Christmas was brought to you courtesy of Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas Towers, and this year's has been brought to you courtesy of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, and the Sacre Coeur.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Burness Corner: Akshardham

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my erstwhile travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: Akshardham.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Preview: Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame. Our Lady. What a lovely name for a building. Referring to the Virgin Mary, it's one used widely across France in the names of churches and cathedrals. Some of my Wonders have the name: Our Lady of Amiens and Our Lady of Chartres are two celebrated cathedrals I intend to visit. But the most celebrated example of Our Lady is unquestionably the one most people think of when they hear the name: the Notre-Dame de Paris.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Varwell Corner: The Millau Viaduct

In July, with a group of us, Simon fully visited two Wonders with me, Carcassonne and the Millau Viaduct. His views on Carcassonne were seen previously [link]; in today's Varwell Corner, we see his views on the Millau Viaduct, both from his blog and in a short interview.

 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Preview: The Sacre Coeur

Standing on the slope of Montmartre, a hill in the north of Paris, one foggy October morning in 1872, it all suddenly became clear for Joseph Guibert. Guibert was the new archbishop of Paris, a position not for the faint-hearted with his three predecessors all suffering violent deaths, and he was on Montmartre while searching for an appropriate site to build a church for the popular cult of the Sacred Heart. By building this church, so it was believed, God would lift France from the doldrums and return it to glory. The fog lifted; Guibert was afforded a great vision of the city below. France would become great again: this would be the site for the new church, he decided, the church we now know as the basilica of the Sacre Coeur. 


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Preview: The Eiffel Tower

"Are we then going to allow [the soul and beauty of Paris] to be profaned? Is the city of Paris to permit itself to be deformed by monstrosities, by the mercantile dreams of a maker of machinery; to be disfigured forever and to be dishonoured? For the Eiffel Tower, which even the United States would not countenance, is surely going to dishonour Paris."


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Burness Corner: The Golden Temple

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my erstwhile travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Golden Temple


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Varwell Corner: Carcassonne

In a change from the usual guest appearance from the ever-delightful Burness, we have a new guest appearance, this time from another former travel companion, Varwell  - or just "Simon" to those who prefer using first names. Simon travelled with me during the second half of 2001, through Eastern Europe and some of the Middle East, and without me has travelled round the globe for a variety of causes and motives. Most notable among these, his love-hate relationship with the mullet hairstyle has seen him travel the globe in search of places called "Mullet", which has seen one book published and another on the way. These days he is becoming increasingly preoccupied with trains and Esperanto, as lovingly chronicled in his mammoth blog.

In July, with a group of us, Simon fully visited two Wonders with me, Carcassonne and the Millau Viaduct. In today's Varwell Corner, we see his views on Carcassonne, both from his blog and in a short interview.


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Burness Corner: The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my erstwhile travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Burness Corner: Ayutthaya Historic Park

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion for Asia, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: Ayutthaya Historic Park.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Personal Wonders: Old Slains Castle

My quest to select the Seven Wonders of the World involves visiting forty countries, 102 different sites, and will take God knows how many years of my life. Of the many rules and regulations I set myself, one is to try and be impartial; when I visit a Wonder I try to keep a fresh eye, remain unbiased, and not let the personal whims of temporal mood and experience affect my judgement. It's impossible, of course, to be entirely neutral - but I try.

But what if I didn't? What if I chuck all these rules out the window and forget about the "World" aspect of the Seven Wonders, and just focus on my own, personal, Wonders? Places or sites that might not mean that much to other people, but have great significance for me. Places that, in my world, are the best. In the end, for all that the world's greatest monuments may have a lasting legacy for mankind itself, they do not have a direct impact on the lives of the vast majority. Everyone has their own personal Wonders, buildings or landmarks that have shaped their lives, that they look upon with fondness. In the first of an occasional series, here's one of my mine.

1. Old Slains Castle, near Collieston, near Aberdeen.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Size Isn't Everything: The Wonder Of Offshore

They are huge; monsters that rise from the sea, anyone who has witnessed one close up can testify to their dominance for miles around. They are heavy-duty feats of engineering; effectively one colossal metal machine, these things are capable of incredible precision and brute raw power. And they are everywhere; dotted around the globe, sometimes in swarms, sometimes in isolation, sometimes fixed in position, sometimes on the move. Ubiquitous but out of sight, these behemoths pretty much keep the modern world running - without them, well, you'd better hope it's windy and you've got a giant windmill on your house if you want to watch Jeremy Kyle and put a cuppa tea on before taking a drive to the shops to buy some milk and a bunch of other rubbish.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Burness Corner: Banaue Rice Terraces

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my erstwhile travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Banaue Rice Terraces.



Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Burness Corner: Angkor Wat

The latest in a series of musing, ponderings, and travel recollections from my erstwhile travel companion, Burness, as he reflects upon the World Wonders of our travels. This time: Angkor Wat.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Burness Corner: The Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha

After a considerable delay, Burness Corner returns, featuring the views and thoughts on the World Wonders we saw together, from my esteemed travelling companion, Burness. This time: the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha in Monywa, Burma.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Model Wonders: Part 4

Many people say to me, "Nev, I love hearing about the world's greatest man-made structures, especially when I can see photos of you standing next to them. However, I love it even more when you buy cheap, tacky models of them and put them on your website."

To which I say, "Well, here's some more."

(For the first three in the series, click here, here, and here.)

Carcassonne


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

New Additions To The List: Part 3

As said before, my list is not a fixed one. New suggestions arise, or new light is shone on previous landmarks I'd chosen not to add, or I quite simply hear about something for the first time; likewise, Wonders on my list, sometimes seem less appealing upon further scrutiny. Thus, I tinker a little, and add, reject, and remove places from my list, as done twice already: here and here.

Here are the current amendments.


1. Albi Cathedral, Albi, France. ACCEPTED.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Bagan Question

23 Wonders down, and almost a year since I first began my Wonder hunting, and I have to admit that something is bothering me. That something is "The Bagan Question".

Especially observant readers may recall that during my review of Bagan I disqualified it and instead focussed on one of its major temples, Ananda Temple, as my Wonder. The crux of my argument was this:
Bagan forces me to think hard about my definition of what a Wonder is. Because everything I have described so far is a sprawling area the size of Manhattan with around 3000 brick ruins. Can that be described as a single Wonder? I would never consider Manhattan Island to be a single Wonder; instead I have selected both the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty as candidates, with Manhattan being the impressive surrounding context. But perhaps comparing a modern city to a set of ancient ruins is disingenuous. Nonetheless, I find it hard to reconcile Bagan with being a single sight - and I feel a Wonder should be a single sight. A Wonder doesn't need to be a single building, but it needs to be a relatively compact entity of associated buildings. Bagan might have been built by one kingdom, but it was built over hundreds of years by many different kings, and is a series of buildings rather than a specially designed set of buildings.
Basically, Bagan was too big, too sprawling, too diverse to be considered a single entity, a single Wonder. There being no official authority on what qualifies and what doesn't, I've had to make it up as I've gone along as to what can be considered a Wonder and what can't. Stripped back to its very basics, we can go to the dictionary for their definition (of wonder as a noun):

Monday, 30 July 2012

Days 233 to 234: Francefest 2012 – Nimes and Montpelliers


We didn’t visit Nimes by design; rather, the absolute unavailability of accommodation in Avignon – due to its major arts festival - forced our hand. Nimes being less than an hour away, and by all accounts not an unpleasant place, we thought it would make a convenient base to explore Avignon. In the end, it became an even more convenient base simply to explore Nimes.

My favourite fact about Nimes is one Justin told me – it’s where denim comes from: “De Nimes”. Denim is probably the world’s foremost fabric, having become pretty much part of every echelon of life. I read a report once from someone who had sat in coffeeshops around the world and counted the people walking by, totting up the percentage that were wearing jeans. Tough job. It came to over 50% everywhere in the world he went. I like denim because you can wear jeans for many days and it seems to cope with spillages; also it deals with fading so well it’s designed to look faded. The ultimate lazy garment that somehow has become fashionable: that’s my sort of trouser.

Friday, 27 July 2012

24. Wonder: The Millau Viaduct

(For the Millau Viaduct preview, please click here.)


Days 230 to 232: Francefest 2012 – Albi, Millau, and Avignon


There was a Rip Van Winkle-esque feeling to our days in Morlaas, chomping on duck hearts and supping fine wine, but we escaped the sunny haze of indolence only two days older, not twenty years. From Morlaas to Millau, it was due to be our longest day of driving, around five hours uninterrupted or a few more if we took some leisurely breaks.Leisurely breaks being one of the over-riding themes of the trip, we naturally took this option, and the majority of our leisure time was spent at the town of Albi.

Albi had come recommended to us by Claire’s father, both because it was directly en route and because the cathedral was supposed to be nice. We first stopped for lunch at an out-of-town shopping centre, and crazily almost continued with the drive: there was a long way to go and we wanted to crack on. The decision to pop into the  town we were already in was a very lackadaisical one – eight people had no strong opinion, and I reckoned, hell, why not? So, hell, why not, we popped in.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

23. Wonder: Carcassonne

(For the Carcassonne preview, please click here.)

 

Days 226 to 230: Francefest 2012 – Carcassonne and Morlaas

After Toulouse, our first stop was Carcassonne. Because of Bastille Day – which is a big deal in Carcassonne – accommodation had been hard to come by, even months ago when it had been booked. Fortunately, camping had always been on the agenda, and a campsite was found about ten minutes drive away. The day was what is known in official circles as a “roastbox”, hitting figures we in northern Scotland are wholly unfamiliar with, and we timed our arrival just as the campsite owners were out on their daily 3-hour lunch. We found whatever meagre shade we could.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Days 224 & 225: Francefest 2012 – Days 1 & 2: Toulouse

Our meeting point for the holiday was the city of Toulouse.

Toulouse set the trend for towns and cities we visited during the holiday – I knew very little about it beforehand, but it turned out to have a charming historic town centre that we ate lots of food and drank lots of wine in. Danielle and I were the first of our group of nine to arrive, closely followed by Kitchen Mark and French Claire, who were already in France and had been at Claire’s family home. We sat outside a local Moroccan restaurant, ate some cous cous and drank some wine, and said “This place is full of mentalists, isn’t it?”

Days 224 to 235: Francefest 2012 – Introduction

For the last twelve days or so, I was in France, the south of France to be precise. Or to be more precise, I was in these places: Toulouse, Carcassonne, Morlaas, Pau, Albi, Millau, Avignon, Nimes, and Montpellier.

Google Maps may be of assistance.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The South of France

Tomorrow, I am going to the south of France for ten days, with a collection of people (friends, for want of a better word). We will be visiting three Wonders:

- Carcassonne
- The Millau Viaduct
- The Palace of the Popes at Avignon

As well as the above, we will be visiting towns and cities such as Toulouse, Montpelliers, Pau, and Nimes, and will we watching some of the Tour de France go by. I'm pretty sure some Unofficial Wonders will crop up, not least the Pont du Gard. We will be staying in cheap hotels, camping, and with a real live French family. Food will be eaten, and I'm guessing quite a lot of it.

But mostly, we will be drinking wine. And because of that, I doubt I'll write much, if anything, before I get back.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Preview: The Millau Viaduct

Gustave Eiffel is a name you might be familiar with. Perhaps not with the person, but with his most famous creation, a certain tower in Paris. He also had a large hand in the construction of the Statue of Liberty, but primarily was a builder of bridges, and was behind countless in France, Europe, and as far afield as Peru and the Philippines. Eiffel ran a construction company, and this company far outlived his death in 1923, and in the natural evolution of companies it grew and also merged with others, becoming a group called Eiffage in 1992. This group has continued Eiffel's legacy of iconic constructions, and was behind the French side of the Channel Tunnel as well as the Louvre Pyramid, not to mention a huge number of other projects, roads, and railways. But they haven't forgotten how to build a bridge, and in 2004 they completed what may be one of the very best of them - the Millau Viaduct.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Preview: Carcassonne

History was never easy for the people who had to live it. These days we might worry about shopping bills, or being accosted by charity people in the street, or the roll of fat amassing around our stomachs, but back then the worries might include a foreign army turning up one day and destroying everything and killing everyone you know and love. Even somewhere nice like the south of France, where bridges of baguettes span rivers of wine, could never be assured that the next day wouldn't bring a holocaust. Understandably, people wanted to allay these fears. And so they built for defence. Nowhere is this more evident than the ancient walled city of Carcassonne.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mozambique

So, I'm in Mozambique. Not for Wonder hunting - it has no globally recognised man-made structures to my knowledge - but for work. My travels in Asia ended up costing a little more than anticipated, and so with about 80% of my Wonders still to visit, I need to earn a little money. Hence, I am back in the World of Oil.

It should be for the next few weeks, and I expect to be pretty busy. By early-ish July I'll be back home, all set to go on holiday to France, and visit my next three Wonders - Avignon Papal Palace, the Millau Viaduct, and Carcassonne.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Preview: Avignon Papal Palace

At the start of the 14th Century, Avignon, nestled in the south of France, had a population of less than 5000 people. That's about the same size as my home town, Dingwall, nestled in the Highlands of Scotland. Life in modern-day Dingwall, though with its occasional flashes of excitement (our football team got promoted to the Scottish Premier League last year, and Prince Charles once visited), is generally pretty sedentary, based around a quiet High Street and a less-quiet giant Tesco sitting not far off it. Visitors might be impressed with the attractive setting at the end of the Cromarty Firth, beneath the 3432-foot Ben Wyvis, but in no way will they leave feeling they have visited one of the world's great talking points. Avignon, though scenically different, would have inspired the same feeling. But whereas Dingwall, unless great things are in the pipeline (I've been suggesting it as a Grand Prix circuit for years), looks likely to continue in its unassuming manner, different things were in store for Avignon at the start of the 14th Century. Because within a few decades it had become bigger than Rome, was fabulously wealthy and a major centre of Christendom, and had a series of popes living in its huge new fortified palace - the Palace of the Popes.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Passports Found

Over the years, I've been a little careless with my passports. In fact, in a three year spell, I managed to lose a total of four passports. One was sheer folly on my part - I'd put it in an envelope and sent it to my work, and it was been stolen en route. Another was sheer bad luck - it was lost in a fire in Angola. But another two were more mysterious. One day I simply couldn't find them. I was sure they had been in my flat - but they weren't where they should have been. I was puzzled. What had happened to them? I didn't know, and just had to cancel them and get two more, and let it remain a mystery.

Until today. Not long ago I got a phonecall from Grampian Police - they had found two passports of mine. It took a few moments to register until the policeman asked if I'd used to work in Korea - one passport had two years worth of teaching visas. Where on earth had they been, I asked. In the downstairs lobby of my old flat, I was told.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Model Wonders: Part 3

My last post and a post a few months ago dealt with miniature models of World Wonders I acquired along the way while travelling. These were all official Wonders on my list. But in the last few months, I began to get a little carried away, and began buying models of unofficial Wonders. These unnecessary acquisitions meant that by the time I came home, about half my bags' weight was in small replica buildings. Hot travelling tip: this isn't a practical way of backpacking.

Here is the unofficial Wonder models I bought, plus a few extra.

Sigiriya


Friday, 11 May 2012

Model Wonders: Part 2

Some months ago, I wrote and posted photos of the model collection I had been accumulating along the way of my travels. I have decided, wherever possible, to buy a memento of each Wonder I visit, ideally in the form of a miniature replica. This is not at all a practical way to travel, as it meant by the time I was leaving China, I was laden with a whole extra bag exclusively for the acquired models, but now that I am home it means I have a delightful - and not at all tacky! - collection of model Wonders.

During the second half of my travels, I got a little carried away, and not only bought models of official Wonders, but bought models of unofficial ones too. I'll focus on the unofficial ones in a future post; for now, let's concentrate on the models of all my Wonders during India and China in the first four months of this year.

The Golden Temple


Monday, 30 April 2012

Austerity Measures

In line with the rest of Europe, I am being forced to take austerity measures.

Let us not pretend otherwise, the years that have preceded this one have been comfortable ones, and sometimes careless. I worked for five years in the oil industry, bravely combating the elements dressed in a red one-piece, tackled monstrous machinery, and extracting what small moments of joy I could manage from the macho existence of the offshore cell, all as recorded lovingly in my nev360 blog. For this, I was paid pretty well, and if not quite able to buy country manors and coke it up with S Club 7, I was quite able to maintain an expensive whisky habit, get carried away on Ebay with antique maps, and of course save up enough for eight months of sensibly-rather than-extremely budgeted travel in Asia.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Unofficial Wonders

Although I did plenty of research into the various candidate Wonders around before I set off on travelling, I was very aware that I would inevitably stumble across the occasional building and landmark that I'd either not heard of or had chosen not to add that, upon visiting, I would realise, were definitely worthy of being on the list. My big fear was that I'd visit something that was suddenly a serious contender for an actual World Wonder, which would force me to go home, research it, and then revisit it fully. Fortunately, this never occurred, but I did encounter loads of places that were pretty damn good, and many of them better than a good portion of my official list.

I call these places "Unofficial Wonders", and here are the most significant ones I encountered.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia.


Friday, 20 April 2012

Back Home

So, I've been home a week.

It was to a bright, fresh Glasgow morning I woke to last Friday, as light streamed through the small window of my Megabus sleeper. I'd arrived at Heathrow the previous evening and had several options available to me - plane, train, or bus. Usually an overnight bus would not even be considered after a 13 hour flight but some research a week earlier had revealed that Megabus had started a sleeper service. This piqued my interest, for it was substantially cheaper than either the plane or train options, at about £35, and timed conveniently between midnight and 7am.

I'm very happy to say that it proved a very comfortable option. The beds are arranged in layers of three, and have curtains, lights, a power point, and little windows to watch the outside world go by. Free tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks are available. The bus is one of these long bendy buses, and has plenty of space, and so each bed - there are about twenty-four - has a seat too, in case you fancy a sit down. There is a toilet, of course. This was my first ever experience of a sleeper bus, and I would definitely use it again, as it ticked the main box you'd want in an overnight service - sleep - but at a decent price. In fact, my only gripe would be the full volume techno and strobe lighting in every bed cabin and the hundreds of rats Megabus insist on letting run loose throughout the night... no, just joking.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Days 217 to 222: Korean Fling

My last days of my first leg of these Wonder travels were spent in South Korea - a final fling before going home.

Those that know me likely know that I lived in South Korea for a little over two years, from late 2003 to early 2006. I was based in the city of Daegu, a 2.5 million strong sea of modern tower blocks and neon nestled within some mountain-ringed plains. As with many - most? - foreigners there, I was an English teacher, mostly teaching young children the alphabet and "I'm fine, thank-you". I had a terrific time, and fell in love with the madness and bustle of modern Korean culture. My last visit was three years ago, a fleeting glimpse on my way back from a holiday in Australia: I was eager to visit again.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Day 216: Change Of Plan

There's been a slight change of plan.

Burness flies home tomorrow, on doctor's advice. I too will be cutting my travels short, and will visit Korea for a week before returning home late next week. I'm just shaving a couple of weeks from the travels, although this includes four Wonders in Japan and one in Taiwan. They can wait: obviously, Burness's health is a little more important.

Part one of a what will now be a four-part journey is coming to an end.  It's been fun.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Day 214: Pingdingshan and the Spring Temple Buddha

The Spring Temple Buddha is the 22nd on my list of Wonders, a number reflecting simply the original order I'd expected to visit each Wonder rather than the actual order visited (and nothing at all related to any ranking). It is also one of the more enigmatic. Perhaps it is a feature of gigantic statues, but the three tallest in the world garner very little in the way of written material. The Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha in Burma has barely no information - in English, at any rate - on it whatsoever online; in fact, I'd go as far to say that my review is perhaps the best source currently available. The Ushiku Daibutsu has a little more, but largely in the form of personal accounts of visiting it. These are the second and third tallest statues on earth respectively. The tallest is in the middle of nowhere, miles from an unknown city called Pingdingshan, in central China: the Spring Temple Buddha.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Days 212 and 213: Yangtze River Cruise Days 3 and 4

It's fair to say that the first day of our four days of river cruise wasn't really a day at all - we wandered around Chongqing and the boat only left port at 10pm. And the second day, although not unpleasant, wasn't quite the luxury surroundings or the world-class scenery we'd been expecting, and was characterised more by being herded into a Chinese tour group, moving rooms as the walls weren't thick enough to block the passion of the couple next door (in fairness, it would have taken a Great Wall to do so), and scenery that although pleasant veered more towards the industrial than the world-class. Fortunately, on the third day, it came good. And that's because we entered the Three Gorges.

Two of them anyway, I'm not sure what happened to the third. At 10am, as per schedule - the cruise, to its credit, was astonishingly precise as to its schedule - an announcement was made telling everyone to go to the top deck. Burness and I were already there, as we'd noticed the scenery had picked up. Qu Tang Gorge was on its way, and as our English-speaking guide, Tony, informed us, it was most known from being the image on the 10 RMB note.


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Days 210 and 211: Yangtze River Cruise Days 1 and 2

The Three Gorges Dam, number 21 on my Wonder list, dams and takes its energy from the Yangtze River. Effectively completed in 2008, it raised the upstream water level by up to an astonishing 180 metres, creating a 600 kilometre long river reservoir and submerging 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1300 villages: in total 1.3 million people had to be resettled prior to its completion. It is down this section of river I find myself, on a supposed "luxury" boat cruise, floating to my destination of the Dam.

Burness and I arrived in the city of Chongqing yesterday, and immediately found ourselves in a rage. We had booked the cruise through our hostel in Chengdu, and had opted for the luxury one as there was to be an English-speaking tour guide, free food, and all our transport dealt with. Also heavily implied was that we'd be given a tour of Chongqing. But upon arriving there at a travel agency without anyone who spoke English I was handed a phone with a mystery man on the line telling me to be back at the travel agents for 7pm boat boarding. It was 11am - why on earth had we got up at 6am just to have to wait around for a day? We would far, far rather have had a lie-in and arrived in Chongqing at a more sensible hour. Like petulant brats, we huffed, and left the travel agents in indignation... and had quite a pleasant day in the end.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Day 209: Leshan Steak Culture

I'm just back from an overnight stay in the small city of Leshan, best known for this:


It was very nice. However, a bonus highlight of the trip, courtesy of Houcaller Steak, was this:


In 18th century, steaks drenched in Vienna art earned elegance.
In 19th century, streaks listened to the Mozart's "Forest" owned romance.
In 20th century, steaks inherited the Beethoven's "Ode of Joy" pursued happiness.
A steak with artistic soul and beautiful life would be much more precious.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Day 207: Escape From Beijing (For A Week)

I'd expected this entry to be a downbeat one. For five weeks, Burness and I have been held prisoner in Beijing by his eye condition. Every week the news was "one more week", and every week our stalled travels looked more and more broken down. But yet, we kept hope. Burness's improvement from his return from North Korea has been huge, but for obvious reasons until the doctor gave him the go ahead to travel again, we couldn't go anywhere. Health is more important that visiting World Wonders (so some would argue, at any rate) so the doctor's orders were paramount. Our hopes remained... until now. Five weeks delayed, we realised we'd reached a point where any further delays would make these travels pointless. There's only one month left until we're due to return home, so why spend that month in Beijing doing nothing? We agreed before yesterday's visit to the doctor that with any further delays, that would be it. Burness would fly home and I... what would I do? I didn't know.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

20. Wonder: The Terracotta Army

(For the Terracotta Army preview, please click here.)


Days 196 to 198: Xian

It has been over three weeks now in Beijing, watching Burness being slowly nursed back to health. A degree of cabin fever has set in, it would be true to say, but our years working offshore have prepared us fully for dealing with this. Plus, for me, I've been able to have numerous expeditions to the Great Wall to occupy me.

Although the "ok" from the doctor to recommence travelling is still pending, with the general improvement we decided to have a weekend break in the nearby city of Xian. I say nearby, it's a 12-hour train journey away, but this is pretty close by Chinese standards. The trains in China are modern, speedy, and punctual, and so we arrived in Xian at 8am on Saturday exactly as planned (if this has been India, the cost would have been about a tenth, but we'd have arrived about 8pm).

Friday, 16 March 2012

Day 195: Weekend With The Warriors

As faithful readers will no doubt have ascertained, lately not a great deal has been happening. Due to Burness being incapacitated with a particularly nasty eye infection, we've been stuck in Beijing since we returned from North Korea, three weeks ago. I've managed to do a fair bit of sightseeing around Beijing and have had various day-trips to parts of the Great Wall, but Burness has generally been no further than the nearby hospital, for injections, check-ups, eye-drops, and electro-shock treatment (maybe).

However, progress is being made. Although he's not quite had the all-clear to leave Beijing and continue with the travels, we're hoping that will come by next week. If it does, then we might be able to squeeze in our remaining Chinese Wonders, barring the Thousand Buddha Caves which will have to wait for future travels.

For this to be possible, a weekend trip is thus planned, to grab the Terracotta Warriors at Xian, an overnight train journey away. With great excitement, our train there has been booked - our escape from Beijing (for a weekend) will commence later today.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

19. Wonder: The Great Wall of China

(For the Great Wall of China preview, please click here. Click here for accounts of Badaling and Hushan, here for accounts of Mutianyu and Huanghua, and here for Juyongguan and Jiankou.)


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Days 190 and 192: Some Walls: Juyongguan and Jiankou (to Mutianyu)

Another day, another wall. In this case, the days were Sunday and Tuesday, and the walls, the Juyongguan and Jiankou sections of the Great Wall of China.


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Days 180 and 185: Some Walls: Mutianyu and Huanghua

Mutya Buena (born 21 May 1985) is an English recording artist who rose to fame as a member of girl group the Sugababes. With the Sugababes, Buena had four UK number one singles, an additional six top-ten hits and three multi-platinum albums. After leaving the group in December 2005, she released her debut solo album, Real Girl, in June 2007. In October 2010, Buena released a compilation album dedicated to British singers, titled Sound Of Camden: Mutya Buena.

Mutya Buena should not be confused with the Mutianyu section (built 1569) of the Great Wall of China, which is, of course, an entirely different thing.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Danielle Corner: The Taj Mahal

During January, my girlfriend Danielle joined me for a couple of weeks in India. As part of this, she got to see four candidate Wonders: the Lotus Temple, Akshardham, the Taj Mahal, and Agra Fort. Under only a little duress, she wrote a little about each, and answered a few questions. In this last of four "Danielle Corners", she writes about the Taj Mahal.

Note: As a lawyer, Danielle is occasionally partial to a bit of "legalese". Also, she erroneously calls me "Niall" for some reason...

The Taj Mahal


For those who don't know me, Concise is certainly not an adjective that has ever been used to describe me or anything that I do or write, however there's always a first.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Danielle Corner: Agra Fort

During January, my girlfriend Danielle joined me for a couple of weeks in India. As part of this, she got to see four candidate Wonders: the Lotus Temple, Akshardham, the Taj Mahal, and Agra Fort. Under only a little duress, she wrote a little about each, and answered a few questions. In this third of four "Danielle Corners", she writes about Agra Fort.

Note: As a lawyer, Danielle is occasionally partial to a bit of "legalese". Also, she erroneously calls me "Niall" for some reason...


Agra Fort


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Danielle Corner: Akshardham

During January, my girlfriend Danielle joined me for a couple of weeks in India. As part of this, she got to see four candidate Wonders: the Lotus Temple, Akshardham, the Taj Mahal, and Agra Fort. Under only a little duress, she wrote a little about each, and answered a few questions. In this second of four "Danielle Corners", she writes about Akshardham in Delhi.

Note: As a lawyer, Danielle is occasionally partial to a bit of "legalese". Also, she erroneously calls me "Niall" for some reason...

Akshardham
(photo pending)

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Danielle Corner: The Lotus Temple

During January, my girlfriend Danielle joined me for a couple of weeks in India. As part of this, she got to see four candidate Wonders: the Lotus Temple, Akshardham, the Taj Mahal, and Agra Fort. Under only a little duress, she wrote a little about each, and answered a few questions. In this first of four "Danielle Corners", she writes about the Lotus Temple in Delhi.

Note: As a lawyer, Danielle is occasionally partial to a bit of "legalese". Also, she erroneously calls me "Niall" for some reason...

Before she gets into the full scrutiny that makes up Wonder-analysis, she has a few general words to say on Delhi itself.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Days 171 to 178: The Temple Of Heaven and The Summer Palace (and Pilkington)

Due to Burness's illness and current period of convalescence, we are bound to Beijing for the foreseeable future while he receives treatment and returns to the happy fellow we all know and love. In travels with deadlines, such as these, delays can be costly, but fortunately China is the one place that there was always a bit of slack and time to play with. And fortunately, there are many worse places to be trapped than Beijing.

Beijing has a wealth of history and attractions. As well as two of my Wonders, - the Forbidden City and many famous sections of the Great Wall (within an hour or two from Beijing) - it has lots of what might be termed "Unofficial Wonders". This is the name I give to the notable landmarks I visit along the way, that aren't part of my Wonder list, but nonetheless impress either with their sheer presence, or simply their iconic status within the city or nation. Some were considered for my list but didn't make it, and some I'd not even heard of before visiting, but they all stand out from the common construction in some way.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Days 164 to 170: The Good And Bad Of North Korea

It is cold in North Korea. Or at least is was from the 14th to the 20th of February, when I paid a short visit to the Land of the Kims. As many of you will know, in the mid-2000s I spent a couple of years living in South Korea, and ever since then I'd harboured a desire to visit the northern half of the peninsula. However, North Korea is not exactly known for its warm embrace of the outside world, and does not admit the casual tourist. Unless I wanted to get involved in politics or business, the only way for someone like me to visit was by tour group. Hence why before setting off on the Asian leg of these travels back in September, I bit the not-inexpensive bullet and signed up for one. It happened to be for the recently-deceased Kim Jong-Il's 70th birthday...

The tour agency I signed up with were Koryo Group, not the only agency that offer North Korea tours, but by far the most acknowledged, having been in operation for two decades and having pioneered travel there. From start to finish, Koryo were nothing short of excellent, combining the perfect marriage of friendliness and professionalism that every business in every field should strive towards. In a military autocracy such as North Korea, there is every reason to feel a little uptight, but Hannah and Nick were hilariously irreverent and honest about what was really going on, although never at all disrespectful to the nation. Our visit to North Korea was very tightly controlled - Koryo made it seem less claustrophobic.

Days 162 and 171: Some Walls - Badaling and Tiger Mountain



The Great Wall of China, as many before me have observed, is somewhat long. It is regarded as the world's largest man-made structure - if you could call it a single structure. A figure of 6000 miles is often bandied around, but that's not the result of a scientific survey with a trundle wheel, it's an estimate based on historical records and looking at maps. That's because the Great Wall of China is not one single long wall from the sea in the east to the desert in the west, it's a fractured mass of walls spanning that distance, as though a cartographer had tried to draw a straight line but was seized with a mad sneezing fit. The significant stuff is all found in the north of China, where it was once required to fend off the advances of the ghastly barbarians, but it's a confusing mess of branch-offs, dead-ends, ruined sections and reconstructed sections that nobody can easily define. What is the Great Wall? Even UNESCO aren't sure - when they put it on the Heritage List in 1987 they couldn't reach a definitive scientific conclusion to the overall length or ages of the various walls that seem to make it up. As little as three years ago, government studies revealed an extra five hundred miles previously not counted. Five hundred miles is almost twice the length of mainland Scotland, or almost seven Hadrian's Walls - just overlooked!

Day 172: Burness Scares Children

At just after 8am today, Burness and I arrived back from a week in North Korea.

Taken from one perspective, it was a very interesting and enjoyable trip.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Days 160 to 163: Arrival Into Beijing

And so, enter China.


China to North Korea

I arrived in China a few days ago, and have visited two more Wonders - the Forbidden City and a part of the Great Wall (many to follow) - and a write-up on these days and Wonders is pending. However, it will have to wait a week. Tomorrow I'm going to North Korea for a week and will be almost entirely out of contact. I say almost - the hotel, surprisingly, has BBC World, so if you urgently need to get a message to me, do it by means of major news story. See you in a week (probably).

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Days 157 to 159: Sigiriya and Three Days In Sri Lanka

A few months back, Burness and I were planning the best route from southern India to Beijing. The land between India and China border is closed, and any land border in the vicinity (Pakistan or Nepal) worked out as more trouble than it was worth. By air, therefore, was the obvious solution. I spent many hours poring over flight website favourites www.kayak.co.uk and www.skyscanner.net and came up with a surprising, but very pleasing answer. For a little over £200, we could go from Mumbai to Beijing, with a stopover in Sri Lanka. We opted for a couple of days there. All of a sudden, we'd gained ourselves some bonus time in Sri Lanka at no extra cost.


Friday, 3 February 2012

Days 136 to 152: Goa and Kerala

Goa and Kerala. To do the seventeen days there any amount of justice would need many more words than I can manage now; I was barely on the computer during my time there, and together with four different Wonders to write-up, have found myself with somewhat of a backlog. Instead, I will summarise these couple of weeks as best possible.