Biggsy Travels

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Experiencing the wonderful Winter Olympics

I’ve been to the Summer Olympics before but enjoyed the Winter Olympics at Sochi 2014 even more, and this is why. First of all it was in Russia, a place I’d never been to before. That’s the great thing about sport. Big events such as the Olympics give you that incentive to visit places you’ve never been to previously. Second it meant I could also explore Moscow en-route. Thirdly it all seemed so much more accessible. Accessible in the sense that we were talking to presenters and competitions at most of the locations. It was hard to tell who was having the most fun, them or us!

At the mountain cluster of the Sochi Winter Olympics with skiier Chemmy Alcott (left)

At the “mountain cluster” of the Sochi Winter Olympics with Chemmy Alcott (left)

Mixing with the competitors and TV crews

My most vivid memory is that of watching the BBC presenters at the slope style event just a few days before we flew out. 48 hours later we’re right there on-screen walking amongst them. Here’s Team GB’s Billy Morgan talking with the BBC’s Graham Bell … and there’s me to the side of them, sporting my Union Jack beanie! In the photo above on the same day we casually chatted to skiing hopeful Chemmy Alcott, with her posing for photos as if she was an excited spectator herself!

TeamGB's Billy Morgan & BBC's Graham Bell commentating on the Slopestyle. Me in the background

TeamGB’s Billy Morgan & BBC’s Graham Bell commentating on the Slopestyle. Me in the background

 

Interviewed & appearing on the mountain cluster scroreboard

Interviewed & appearing on the mountain cluster scroreboard

Where we stayed and what we saw?

Adler was the actual town where the Winter Olympics village “coastal cluster” was situated. It was from this base that we could easily take the train/bus up to the “mountain cluster” of Krasnaya Polyana high above. Incidentally Sochi is actually the name of the Black Sea resort so it’s the ‘Sochi’ name that they used for the event. Sandwiched in-between our stay in Adler was 1-2 nights either side in Moscow as that was the main route from the UK. As it happened we had to go to Moscow anyway to get our accreditation and event tickets we’d ordered online. We “probably” bought a few too many of them as some days it felt like we were up and down the mountain like a yo-yo!

  1. 13th Feb – Slopestyle & Ice Hockey (Russia vs Sweden)
  2. 14th Feb – Super Combined Skiing & Skeleton (with Lizzy Yarnold)
  3. 15th Feb – Curling & ice hockey (Russia v USA) & men’s ski jumping
  4. 16th Feb – Snowboard Cross

Meeting all the other spectators and “Games Makers”

What sticks with me the most were the people we met working out there along with our fellow spectators. We posed for photos with security guards who were as curious of us as we were of them, made new UK-based friends, and got involved with the Russians and Americans at the Russia vs USA ice hockey game. THE grudge match of the Olympics!

Meeting some security guards at the Winter Olympics mountain cluster

Meeting some security guards at the “mountain cluster”

 

Fellow Brits with some "Games Makers" at the Winter Olympics' skeleton track

Fellow Brits with some “Games Makers” at the skeleton track

 

Mixing at the match of games - Russia vs USA in the Winter Olympics men's ice hockey

Mixing at the match of games – Russia vs USA in the men’s ice hockey

There were obviously a fairly large number of Brits in Sochi for the Games but not necessarily all in the same place. Whenever you saw a Union Jack you inevitably couldn’t help but wander over to say “hello”.  Now if these Games had been in the French Alps I’m sure there would have been 1000s more Brits abroad and conversely less interaction with any of them. The extra complexity of getting visas and having to go to Moscow for the tickets made it just that bit more difficult to attend.

It was totally worth it though now looking back as we were able to openly mingle with the BBC journalists and presenters. We appeared up on the big screens and we featured in news feeds and Instagram posts. We didn’t quite get the chance of bumping into Claire Balding, but we knew where the BBC studio was. It’s just that timings meant we were always on the march somewhere else. However with such low numbers of Brits out there, if you really want to in Korea I’m sure you’ll get to see this event’s lead presenters as Claire Balding’s decided to stay in the warm BBC Manchester studio this time around.  As the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games approach, once again there’s that big effort required to get the tickets, get the accomodation and actually get out there in the first place.

 

Being photographed for the bbcsport Instagram feed

Being photographed for the bbcsport Instagram feed

 

After speaking with BBC journalist Anne Thompson we appeared on the BBC Sport news feed

After speaking with BBC journalist Anne Thompson we appeared on the BBC Sport news feed

So any tips for attending the Winter Olympics?

  1. Flags! – Take a Union Jack Flag. In fact take a handful of them!
  2. Portable battery charger – to keep your iPhone fully charged up on the slopes. Get the RAVPower 22000mAh Power Bank!
  3. Adaptors – make sure you have the right ones for all your gadgets
  4. TV cameras – get involved and try to get interviewed
  5. Hand warmers – you might be in the hills standing around for quite a while
  6. Walking boots? – helped with the grip and keeping my feet warm
  7. Warm stuff generally!! PyeongChang is going to be COLD!
  8. Chat with the competitors – they were ever so approchable in Sochi
  9. ENJOY it – it really is an amazing spectacle!!

Anybody going to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics this month? 🙂

Mallorca – discovering its hidden gems

I’ve been to three of the four major Balearics islands now, Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca and love them all equally. The ‘white isle’ of Ibiza for its club and music scene, Menorca for its peaceful coves and UNESCO declared Biosphere Reserve, and Mallorca for its historic towns PLUS its beautiful beaches and nightclubs. The best of both worlds you might say. Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic islands but is still only the 7th largest in the Mediterranean after Greece’s Euboea! No – I hadn’t heard of it either.

Mallorca - Magaluf bay

Mallorca – Magaluf bay. Source

Whenever I’ve been to Mallorca I’ve had Magaluf as my base. Magaluf has been Mallorca’s most popular resorts for years, known back in the 80s and 90s for its bustling resorts and infamous party scene. I’ve been part of that ‘scene’ too, and no doubt referred to the island back then as ‘Majorca’. For those concerned whether it’s suitable nowadays for couples and families, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”.  The resort has cleaned up its act since 2015 so is now an even nicer destination … but still with the localised nightspots for those who want them.

Being ever on the lookout for unique experiences I explored some friends’ recommendations in an attempt to tempt you away from the Magaluf sun loungers, swimming pools and sangria – well at last for some of your summer sunshine holiday.

1. The Caves of Drach.

These caves near the town of Porto Cristo were first mentioned as far back as 1338 and I remember visiting them back in the 1980s. I imagine they haven’t changed too much since, apart from the stalactites probably being ever so slightly longer! The caves certainly are a sight to behold. You navigate  around the 1.2km long caves with  a guide with the tour lasting about one hour. The trip even includes a quartet playing a classical music concert plus and a boat ride one of the largest subterranean lakes in the world, Lake Martel – cuevasdeldrach.com.

Mallorca Cuevas del Drach

Mallorca – Cuevas del Drach. Source

2. Catedral de Mallorca.

Second on the list of Tripadvisor’s 198 things to do in Palma de Mallorca is visting the Catedral de Mallorca. Palma can be rightly proud of it’s magnificent Gothic cathedral with its imposing sandstone walls and flying buttresses. The rose window is one of the largest in the world at 12m across and is apparently studded with 1,236 pieces of stained glass. Something you just have to take their word for! Travel and lifestyle blogger http://www.nicoladunkinson.com/ visited recently and got up this close and personal with this lovely photo.

Mallorca - Catedral de Mallorca

Mallorca – Catedral de Mallorca. Source

3.  Es Pontàs

Now that Malta’s Azure Window is sadly no more, it might encourage you to visit Mallorca’s version while you still can. Es Pontas is a big natural arch in the water right by Cala Figuera. It’s popular with climbers so if you’re lucky you might get to see someone sweating away as you lie back taking in the view. Or you might see that as unlucky if you’re wanting the perfect shot like this one without someone dangling off it!

Mallorca Es Pontàs

Mallorca Es Pontàs. Source

4. Sa Calobra

Sa Calobra is one of the most beautiful drives in the whole of Mallorca. It’s  popular with budding riders for cycling down … and then back up it! A beach being the reward on the “easy” cycle/drive down to the sea. It’s not as challenging as something you might find in the Alps (like Alpe d’Huez) but it’s still 10km long. The average gradient is 7% and there are 26 hairpin bends (now that is 5 more than what you get on Alpe d’Huez). Mallorca has become popular with cyclists in recent years due to its good roads and plentiful sunshine.

Mallorca Sa Colobra

Mallorca Sa Colobra. Source

5. Magaluf’s beaches, sunsets and nightlife

And that just leaves a nice hotel, some sandy beaches, good food and the nightlife. Magaluf is the most popular resort on the island. It’s the one that most people think of when Mallorca is mentioned. It certainly is the perfect base for your adventures and just a great place to be in itself. You may find you don’t actually end up leaving the resort at all! Or you might at least be tempted enough to make that small journey out to Palma in the east. Whatever you do, make sure you explore the local eateries too and enjoy the superb sunsets like THIS! Thanks again to Nicola for the great sunset photo!

Mallorca - a typical sunset

Mallorca – a typical sunset. Source

Finally, staying somewhere? Check out what’s currently on offer like some of these ‘Magaluf deals from HolidayGems‘. You’ll find flights to Majorca from most UK airports, including all of the London airports, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds Bradford, Doncaster Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff among others. It takes just 2 hours to fly to Majorca from the UK, plenty of time to have a re-read of this article. 🙂

Also for more ideas check out Heart my Backpack’s comprehensive list of top Mallorca tips too!

Has anybody been recently and have any other great hidden gems?

Lumiere London – visit this illuminating festival

Lumiere London is back! The UK’s largest light festival transforms London’s streets and architecture into dazzling, thought-provoking nocturnal art exhibitions. We last saw it back in 2016 when a whopping 1.3 million people attended. This year’s spectacle is from 18th – 21st January between 17:30 – 22:30 with over 50 illuminated installations to discover. Lift your spirits in these dark days of winter and see how many of them you can discover on an evening’s amble.

Lumiere London Westminster Abbey -The Light of The Spirit

Lumiere London Westminster Abbey -The Light of The Spirit

Lumiere London takes place in the key locations of King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, Mayfair, London’s West End and Westminister, with Covent Garden, Fitzrovia, Victoria, South Bank and Waterloo added as new destinations this year … and what more it’s all free! So whether you’re in London anyway, or on the commute home you should be able to spot a few of them! Find yourself looking “up” and around, rather than “down” into your iPhones as you navigate the city’s streets above ground.

We started our journey in Westminster having already downloaded the Visit London app to save the installations we wanted to see first on the easy-to-use map. Check out the official website too. Paper copies can be purchased as well. We started here as top of my must visit list was Westminster Abbey with its majestic old facade’s intricacies individually illuminated in this technicolour wonderment! This installation is called ‘The Light of the Spirit (chapter 2)’  and is by French vital artist Patrice Warrener. There’s no right or wrong way to view the event so start where you like and see as much or as little as you have time for.

So our illuminated journey took us from Westminster > Mayfair > Soho on Thursday night and Waterloo > South Bank > King’s Cross  on Friday evening. We missed Covent Garden and Fitzrovia, but hey, you can’t see everything. Some  installations are bigger than others, some are interactive, some are static, some are moving, some you go “wow”, others you go “meh” … but the one thing I noticed most was that lots of people had smile on their faces and more importantly it got people talking to each other – the tell-tale clues that they were taking part in Lumiere London being their SLRs and tripods crooked under their arm.

One tip is to factor in some foodage as part of your evening. In SoHo and along the South Bank you can easily find an eatery but there’s a dedicated outside food market up at King’s Cross and most importantly a big warm tent to shelter in.

So our favourite installations in no particular order were:

1.  The Rose – Westminster

The aforementioned Westminster Abbey above by Patrice Warrener! Wow! But also The Rose by Mick Stephenson and Electric Pedals that uses thousands of recycled plastic bottles. A hot topic right now, and once again interactive as it requires people pedalling to power it.

Lumiere London Westminster Cathedral -The Rose

Lumiere London Westminster Cathedral -The Rose

2.  The Wave – South Bank

with its constantly changing patterns of sound and light along the South Bank, by Vertigo. As you can walk through it you really feel part of the exhibit, before you then work out how best to capture it. I stood to the side and captured “ghost man” in the foreground.

Lumiere London Southbank - The Wave

Lumiere London Southbank – The Wave

3.  Lampounette – King’s Cross

Paying homage to the iconic office lamp, by TILT. They fitted in so nicely it would be great if they could become permanent exhibits. A contemplative place to sit before you catch the train home.

Lumiere London Kings Cross - Lampounette

Lumiere London Kings Cross – Lampounette

4.  Spectral – London’s West End

Colourful cords stretched taut between the trees, by Katarzyna Malejka and Joachim Slugocki. The park was pretty dark so heightened the effect, compared to other Lumiere London exhibits that were competing with the surrounding street lighting/lit-up shop fronts.

Lumiere London West End - Spectral

Lumiere London West End – Spectral

5.  Lightbench – Mayfair

Transforming the concept of public seating, by Bernd Spiecker. This was the one where we saw most people talking to each other, sharing some jokes and taking each others’s photos. Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen the other 361 days of the year too?

Lumiere London Brown Hart Gardens - Lightbench

Lumiere London Brown Hart Gardens – Lightbench

6.  Neon Bikes – Mayfair

Now as I like all things “bike” there was something beautifully simple by seeing a bike represented in gleaming neon, by Robyn Wright. There are three to see – red, white and blue.

Lumiere London Brown Hart Gardens - neon bike

Lumiere London Brown Hart Gardens – neon bike

7.  Illumaphonium – Mayfair

Close by was a wonderful multi-sensory, music-making glockenspiel which was @OnTheRoadToYou’s favourite so I’m adding that just for him. The higher the horizontal bar you struck, the deeper the tone. One of the few exhibits that had an aural element too.

Lumiere London Mayfair -Illumaphonium

Lumiere London Mayfair -Illumaphonium

8.  Waterlicht – King’s Cross

This one was by equally “wow” and lead to many people thinking “Well how do they do that!?” The whole of Granary Square is covered with a blue ceiling  of wavy, misty light. Whereas many installation look good from one angle, with this one you can wander around and get a different few every split second as the pockets of mist (I think it’s actually dry ice) captured the light bealing through it. By Daan Roosegaarde.

Lumiere London King's Cross - Waterlicht

Lumiere London King’s Cross – Waterlicht

Overall thoughts are “Take a bow #LumiereLDN“. Having such a visual treat at the end of a cold January is just what the doctor ordered. It puts smiles on people’s faces and gets people talking to each other. There was a nice mix of favourites from two years’ ago but also much new stuff too. For every one person’s “Meh” to an installation, another person wil be going “wow!” so take a look, embrace it, and see if you can capture some amazing photos while meandering around parts of London you never get to see normally.

When is Lumiere London again?

4 evenings, 5.30pm-10.30pm, January 18-21 2018. Check out the official website.

 

Where is Lumiere London 2018?

All over the city, in King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, Mayfair, the West End, Westminster, with Covent Garden, Fitzrovia, Victoria, South Bank and Waterloo added as new destinations.

 

Is there an entry fee? 

No. Lumiere London 2018 is a completely free event.

Share with your friends so they get the chance to see it before it ends too! 🙂

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