Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 was certainly different

For the first time in four years, I've managed to live in the same place all year and to be working for the same company at each end of those twelve months.  While this has given life a bit more stability this year, it hasn't been without plenty of variety.  The event that influenced half of the year was having surgery on my shoulder to stop it dislocating.  Six weeks in a sling and six months before being fit to mountain-bike again was quite the upheaval - but it was all worth it as my shoulder is much more stable & predictable now.

Not being able to ride my bike did have the advantage of forcing me to find other things to do with my time & money.  Consequently, it turned out to be a bit of a travel year with twelve significant trips:

First up was an excellent week of skiing in the Alps with good friends.
The day after the sling was banished, I finally crossed Rome off the top of my list - it had been there some time.
The Pantheon was the highlight for me, followed closely by climbing St Peter's Basilica.
A week in Turkey was mostly spent in Istanbul, where the architecture continually impressed.
Hot-air ballooning early morning in Cappadocia rates near the top of all I've done in the last three years away from NZ

Prague - with Te Puke school friend, Levi, a long way from Fairhaven Primary
The country was gripped by the Olympics late summer, great to be around for that.
I was lucky enough to take a last-minute spare ticket & made it along to watch some of the mountain-biking - quality athletes & a great course to be a spectator.
The highlight trip of the year was finally heading back to New Zealand for a whirlwind two weeks of thirtieth birthday parties (mine), a wedding (not mine), and tripping all around the country & spending time with dear family & friends (not mention meeting quite a few additions that have arrived in the intervening three years).  There was also the added bonus of the physio declaring my shoulder fit for gentle exercise - so I managed a bit of mountain-biking and a ski too.
Treble Cone, near Wanaka, is a spectacularly beautiful ski field it turns out.
These photos don't come around as often as they should - excellent to have all the family together.
Shortly after NZ, a work trip to Italy sprung out of nowhere - I managed to tack Venice on the end.
Gorgeous city for a day - but I found the lack of trees, grass and bikes a little disconcerting.
Pleased to finally make it back briefly to Edinburgh & even see the sun.
I'd waited a long time to see Sagrada Familia, after hearing Dad's stories - it didn't disappoint and was, in a word, incredible.
Watching football with eighty-odd thousand Spaniards at Camp Nou; Barcelona crossed off the top of the list.
Still managing to explore England a fair bit, mainly the south - Leeds Castle (in Kent) was one of the most enjoyable visits.
Fancy that, a summary of my year & no mountain-biking pictures, that should change next year - here's hoping.  In the last few months I have been riding a fair bit (even though my bike-commute is short, the miles add up), but it's pretty flat & wet (for now, or perhaps always) around here so the riding isn't too exciting.  Work will be changing a bit next year too; I managed to be a process engineer of sorts for a year but am now moving into a different role scheduling the site's production, amongst other things.

So that's about it for this year - thanks to all who had me to stay, travelled with me, helped while my shoulder was out of action or simply kept in touch.  I'll have to take this opportunity to wish all a merry Christmas and the best for the New Year, as I'll be incommunicado then - Egypt will be off the list by the end of next week.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Leeds Castle

Not having been to London for almost four months(!), it didn't take much motivation to make the trip up after work on Friday.  The factor in choosing that weekend was to see (childhood friend) Levi, who I haven't seen since Prague in August, before he goes back to New Zealand.  Contrary to what I thought, he is in fact coming back to Europe - so that's good news.  With the first spell of proper southern-England winter weather finally arriving, London was a little chilly but not unpleasant as we generally hung out around Hyde Park (the Christmas market was as packed as last time I visited three years ago), Oxford St, Marylebone and Kensington and caught up on all the recent news & future plans.

Fantastic to see Trish after a few months, I was well fed with some scrumptious meals, caught up on all the family news I've missed recently and was surprised to look out my window in the morning & see the back garden looking very different.  I was about to say Sunday dawned stunningly clear & bright, but then I remembered that I caught up on a fair bit of sleep after an exhausting week at work.  So, by the time I got up Sunday was still very frozen but wonderfully clear & bright.  That played right in to my plan of finally going to visit Leeds Castle - which, confusingly, is only thirty-odd minutes down the M20 in Kent and most definitely not in Leeds.

From the entry it's quite a walk up to the castle - which is all very nice when it's sunny & there are plenty of birds to see (especially the ice-skating & ice-breaking varieties), but I imagine is downright miserable if it's raining.  That must be what the fake-train is for.

Leeds Castle has been around in some shape or form since the early twelfth century, but most of what is there now is less than two-hundred years old.  Pleasingly, it's built on two islands (now joined by the castle) so it has a proper moat - which may not be so useful for defence if it was much colder, and the ice thicker.  The castle survived the Civil War well and a long connection with America developed as the owners were granted massive land rights in Virginia.  The last owner (for most of the twentieth century), an Anglo-American heiress (Standard Oil money if anyone cares) spent a lot of money on remodelling & upkeep.

All the Christmas decorations were up - this was probably the least impressive, but I didn't take any photos inside as there were massive Christmas trees everywhere (& I forgot to).

Finally, a photo of me - thanks Trish.
 As well as the castle to look through we enjoyed a hearty lunch in the restaurant that looked like an old tithe-barn (or so I'm told), a small falconry display, got lost in a maze and wondered just how cold the people were in the WWI-era biplane that was buzzing overhead as the sun quickly sunk.

A pleasing & beautiful day out; trips to London never disappoint.