More Internet tools for travel information

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In my last post I touched on the semantic web and how the Internet will come to understand your query and find your information directly. Well it turned out to be interesting timing as the following week Wolfram|Alpha has launched. For those not up to date with such things (which I expect is most people reading this blog) Wolfram is a new search engine that claims to make the world’s knowledge computable. If you give it a search term, rather than giving a list of websites about your keyword like Google does, it will trawl its knowledge base and provide the answer directly. For example if I put in a maths equation Google will direct me to a maths website, while Wolfram will just give me the answer. Great for students, but how does this help the rest of us? And is it of any use to anyone planning a holiday?

Well the short answer is yes and no. It does some things very well, and others you’re better off using Google. As an example let’s say I’m planning a holiday to Barcelona in Spain next Saturday. So if I try to book a flight, Wolfram doesn’t really know what to do with my query.

Wolfram doesn't find flights all that well

Wolfram doesn't find flights all that well

Whereas Google is a lot more useful in this respect.

Google is great for flight information

Google is great for flight information

The difference is much the same when looking for airport parking and airport hotels. However what I think these kind of searches show is that Wolfram isn’t a search engine at all. At least not like Google in any way.

If I try “Barcelona” the results are a lot more useful.

Useful info?

Useful info?

What’s interesting is that the data that Wolfram brings back is absolutely up to date. It shows current weather, today’s weather. This I think could be fantastic holiday information. It could be really handy for anyone holidaying in the UK, at least you’d have an idea when it’s going to rain. You can even look up the weather in advance. I did a search for the weather in Barcelona next Saturday. Wolfram|Alpha shines in this respect giving me a detailed forecast and meteorological history. A search in Google brings up several websites with good information, but the beauty of Wolfram is that it’s right there on the SERP (search engine result page).

Comparing the two engines in this way is perhaps unfair. They’re entirely different animals and at the moment, not really in direct competition. Wolfram is fantastic for technical information. When travelling you can find information about the country you’re visiting – population, GDP, area, currency etc but it won’t give any opinions or pictures. If you need a quick currency conversion then Wolfram is the place to go. For a well-rounded opinion on a place and pictures then the websites Google brings you are a better bet. I’m continuing to play around with Wolfram, and if anyone thinks of a killer way to use it for travelling then feel free to let me know.

A hotel on the Moon?

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What if you could book a hotel stay on the Moon? And no, I don’t mean The Moon Hotel in Brussels. I mean that great big rock orbiting the Earth. NASA is already planning return trips to the Moon, with the eventual possibility of a manned mission to Mars. A moonbase would be the first logical step to take in sending humans to the Red Planet. It would mean vital testing could be done on the hardships of extra-terrestrial habitation and would allow any problems to be overcome relatively easily given the close proximity to Earth.

In the future given that manned missions to Mars are a success I’m left asking what would happen to a Moon base and would it ever open up for civilians? Given the extreme cost of space travel it makes sense to try and recoup some money by allowing people to stay in a ‘Moon hotel’. Don’t forget that the commercialisation of space travel is well underway with Virgin Galactic leading the way. In my mind at least, it’s entirely plausible that one day ‘space tourists’ will be able to stay for a few days on the lunar surface. The question remains though, what would it be like and how different would it be to any other hotel on Earth? I thought I’d have a look at some airport hotels and see how a ‘moonport’ hotel would differ.

An airport hotel is typically there for travellers to ensure that they’ve had a good night’s sleep before they travel and that they don’t get stuck in traffic and miss their flight. They do a great job of this and I’m sure most people much prefer flying on a full breakfast and full quota of sleep. Of course, on the Moon traffic isn’t really a concern and neither is missing your flight. Well, that is your flight is unlikely to take off without you. I know I’d rather miss a flight at Heathrow than one off the Moon. Anyway. The purpose of a Moon hotel stay would be to experience the flight, marvel at the view and spend some time in microgravity (the Moon’s gravity is around one sixth that of Earth).

The view would be quite different, I think a Moon hotel has the advantage over an airport hotel in this regard. From an airport hotel you can see a small amount out of the window, maybe a bit of the runway if you’re lucky.

Airport hotel room view

Airport hotel room view

However from the Moon you can see the entire planet.

Earthrise

Earthrise

Where an airport hotel trounces any future Moon bases is facilities. Moon bases will have extremely difficult engineering obstacles to overcome in order to really work. Power, light, temperature, gravity, pressure, it’s all different on the Moon. A Lunar day lasts for about 15 Earth days and so bases will ideally be built around the poles where there is continual sunlight. Due to the lack of atmosphere the outside temperature on the Moon varies from way above the boiling point of water down to -153˚C. Far too extreme to enjoy a drink outside for sure. Minimal gravity on the Moon would have an adverse effect on bone and muscle strength as well as causing problems for the immune system. Hopefully problems you can avoid with an Earthly airport hotel.

So on the Moon you can’t go outside unless you’re in a spacesuit, the food won’t be as good and if you stay too long you may end up with health problems. In contrast at an airport hotel the food is often great, you can go outside in whatever clothing you want, it doesn’t cost millions of dollars to get there. Along with that you get a nice large space to walk around in, you can go swimming and you can take the kids.

However, even having said that I know where I’d like to stay one day…

Seven wonders of the world

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There are many things in the world that we never really sit back to reflect how unique they are. Take the Airbus A380 for instance, the aircraft can can can carry up to 600 passengers, a figure likely to increase to 900 people if sat as economy travellers. The A380 represents an amazing feat of aircraft design, engineering, and construction and it will hold the distinction of being the largest passenger aircraft ever to have filled our sky.

The Australian national carrier is one of three airlines – the others are Singapore Airlines and Emirates – currently flying the super jumbo. The planes have come with demands such as building larger airports and runways at major airports around the world. The plane is indeed special, travel luxuries for premium-class fliers include double bed seats and it is rumored that some airlines are thought to have ordered for showers and gymnasium.

The airports that will handle A380 flights are taking special steps to accommodate the behemoth. Because of its size — 262 feet wide, 79 feet tall, 1.25 million pounds fully loaded — most taxiways can’t support it. The A380 can fit into only a handful of existing gates in the nation.

The Russians have built what can be called the worlds largest aircraft, though, with the Antonov AN-225 heavy lift transport, which has a larger wingspan than the Airbus A380. Both of these modern day wonders have still not eclipsed the Hughes H-4 Hercules. The Hercules is sometimes referred to as the largest flying boat ever built simply because it was built from wood. However, it was never used much except for its maiden prototype flight.

 

Here is a comparison image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A size comparison between four of the largest aircraft, the An-225 (green), the Hughes H-4 Hercules (gold), the Boeing 747-8 (blue), and the Airbus A380-800 (pink).

A size comparison between four of the largest aircraft, the An-225 (green), the Hughes H-4 Hercules (gold), the Boeing 747-8 (blue), and the Airbus A380-800 (pink).

From a young age I’d always assumed that the Seven Wonders of the World were universally agreed upon. Seven natural wonders and seven man-made wonders. However it would seem that this isn’t the case, ask what the wonders are and you’ll get a different response many times. People have tried to officially declare what they are before, notably the group New7Wonders who claimed to have polled over 100 million people in order to find what the general consensus was. Their poll was flawed in that it allowed multiple voting, so the results will be skewed. However over such a large amount of votes their result can give a decent impression of what are universally seen as wonders.

 

Anyhow, the point of this article isn’t to nitpick over what are wonders and which aren’t. The point is to highlight some of the natural wonders of the world and maybe trigger some ideas for holidays. If you’re going to spend a lot on a foreign holiday I guess it figures to go see something wonderful. I’ll use a list that CNN made a while back as the basis, but hopefully mentioning these places will inspire you to go out and see the World.

The Victoria Falls are on the border between African countries Zambia and Zimbabwe. They’re the largest waterfalls in the world, despite not being the highest. Victoria Falls is 1.7km long and so is the largest sheet of falling water on the planet.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

The site is rare in that you can approach extremely close to it on foot. Both Zimbabwe and Zambia have declared the area as a national park and there are towns on either side of the border that you can use as a base for a visit. The site is home to a huge amount of African wildlife and is a truly fanastic place to visit for anyone that wants to visit the continent.

Perhaps a less well-known natural wonder is the Parícutin volcano in Mexico. Rising 424 metres from the landscape it’s the most recent volcano to form in the South American country and is part of a long history of volcanism in the area. There are around 1,400 volcanoes in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic belt and North America with Parícutin being the most memorable.

Paricutin

Parícutin

The volcano first erupted in 1943 and was witnessed by the owner of the farmland, Dionisio Pulido and his family. The lava flows from the eruptions engulfed two local villages, causing the residents to have to move. Interestingly, no-one died from the ash or lava but three people are reported to have died from lightning strikes caused by the volcanism. It’s an interesting site and certainly shows how active the Earth’s crust really is. It’s a unique chance to see a recent landscape being formed as often geological process are far too slow for anyone to witness during a lifetime.

I’ve mentioned them before in blogs on this site, and here is yet another gratuitous picture.

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis is the result of particles from the Sun colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere. Visible at the poles on clear nights they’re one of nature’s most spectacular sights. I won’t go on about them anymore, but check out my posts on Greenland and Norway for more information.

Perhaps one for the more intrepid traveller, Mount Everest is up next. It’s the highest mountain in the world and lies nestled in the Himalayas on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Explorers and climbers have flocked to the giant mountain since Edmund Hilary’s first successful ascent on 29th of May 1953.

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

However if you’re thinking of tackling the epic climb then bear in mind that it’s a long and dangerous journey to the top. 210 people have lost their lives on Everest, including 8 who died in a storm in 1996. Mount Everest is notorious for its Death Zone, the areas of the climb that are over 8,000 feet above sea level. After this point climbers will start to suffer from a lack of air to breathe as well as extreme cold harsh weather. Most climbers use bottled oxygen to help reach the top, although this has lead to a worry of excessive littering on the mountain.

The harbour of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is considered a natural wonder, and is much easier to visit and enjoy than Mount Everest, thankfully. Rio is a city that is full of Brazilian culture and is home to carnivals, the famous tourist beaches and the world’s largest football stadium.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

The city is home to the largest and second largest urban forests in the world, as well as one of the new wonders of the world, the giant statue, Christ the Redeemer. Rio de Janeiro is striking for its setting and natural beauty and somewhere I’d definitely like to visit in the future.

Distinguishable from space and the largest single structure of organisms in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most breathtaking natural sites on the planet. Constructed of billions of tiny creatures known as coral polyps the reef stretches for 2,600km along the coast of Queensland, Australia.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

The reef is home to a huge variety of wildlife and has to managed carefully to ensure its survival. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park helps to reduce the impact made by humans as well as protect it from natural threats. This is another of nature’s wonders that is relatively easy to visit. Snorkling and diving in the area is extremely popular with tourists.

Last up is the Grand Canyon in the USA. It’s a huge structure that has been formed as the Colorado River snakes its way across Arizona. It’s not the deepest canyon in the world, but it is absolutely colossal. Stretching for 446km it gets up to 29km wide and 1.8km deep.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

The Canyon is a site of outstanding natural beauty and has been revered as a holy site for Native Americans for centuries. It’s possible to view the canyon from the air or to sail down the river. Tourists are also able to view from the rim of the canyon. Anyone looking to visit the USA should definitely consider heading into Arizona to view the Grand Canyon, and if you live in the States then what are you waiting for!

Five unsung holiday destinations

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After a few blogs about everyday travel and various Internet games I’ve been wasting time with the last couple of weeks I thought I’d make a return to form with today’s post.

I’m planning a round-the-world trip with some old university friends for next year and our philosophy for our trip is the somewhat tried and tested ‘off the beaten track’ approach. My genuine preference for holidays is to find the real country and to explore parts of the world where you won’t find the hordes of tourists. Nothing is worse to me than the haunts commonly frequented by British tourists. Sure they may be hot and sunny but I’m not interested in spending a holiday with people who just seem to want to get drunk and be loud the whole time. I could do that in Ashford.

So with this in mind I’ve been looking around and trying to do some research into some beautiful places to visit that aren’t typically travelled to. I’m looking for places of outstanding natural beauty or some really interesting culture mostly, and somewhere where you can lose yourself in the local ways. I’ve read lots and lots of travel blogs and diaries the last few days and these five places are where I’d like to visit and where I recommend going if you’re after the same kind of things that I am.

Full of stunning scenery and some of the most unique environments on Earth, Greenland is a really amazing place. It is a country dominated by the huge arctic ice sheet and is home to glaciers, icebergs and the breathtaking northern lights. Just take a look at these pictures of the landscapes you can expect in Greenland.

Lakes and fjords in Greenland

Lakes and fjords in Greenland

Icebergs in Greenland

Icebergs in Greenland

Parts of Greenland, especially the northern parts, experience the famous midnight Sun. In these parts of the country the Sun does not set at night and you can see it remain above the horizon for a little over four months. Perhaps one of the most awe inspiring sights in Greenland is the Aurora Borealis. Occurring all year round the lights are caused by particles from the Sun colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere. A truly unique sight it is just one of the many reasons for visiting Greenland. For a real arctic adventure and something a little different than that boring beach holiday I would definitely recommend Greenland.

Next up is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Along with Krakow in Poland it was the first city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1978. It is the second highest capital city in the world and is surrounded by active volcanoes. The sights looking over the city are quite unique as you can see just how high it is as well as seeing the snowy topped volcanoes in the background.

Quito from a distance

Quito from a distance

A busy Quito street

A busy Quito street

The city has a beautifully preserved old town with many historic buildings intact. You can really gain a great insight into a busting South American capital by spending some time in Quito. Also situated not far from the city is the Mitad del Mundo or ‘Middle of the World’ museum. Here you can see a 30 foot high monument and stand on the equator itself. A really interesting place, I would certainly look to consider it if you’re planning on heading into South America.

For another place steeped in historical significance and natural beauty then Hanoi in Vietnam is another outstanding choice. Humans have been living in what is now Vietnam for around 500,000 years and Hanoi has been populated for around 10,000 years. It is one of the most significant settlements in Asia with a rich culture and history.

Pagoda in Hanoi

Pagoda in Hanoi

Hanoi overlooking the lakes

Hanoi overlooking the lakes

While the country will be remembered for the war with the USA and several bloody episodes in its recent history the country has now found its feet and is aiming for membership of the WTO. The city of Hanoi has more cultural sites than anywhere else in Vietnam, with over 600 pagodas and temples. For places dripping with culture you could try; The Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, Flag Tower of Hanoi and Bay Mau Lake. The lakes around Hanoi are some of the most beautiful places on Earth, with the West Lake being very popular as the largest lake in Hanoi.

Increasingly friendly for tourists the city of Hanoi is a spectacular place to visit on any trip through Asia.

Staying in Asia the next place that I recommend you give some thought to visiting is Bhutan. Largely isolated from the rest of the world until the 1960s the country has a rich culture and heritage that has gone mostly unspoiled. Despite the promise for tourists Bhutan has a tight control on the number of visitors to the country. The control is to ‘safeguard this rich natural environment and culture’. As one of the most remote areas in the world, it has certainly sparked my interest.

Keshav Pradhan in Bhutan

Keshav Pradhan in Bhutan

Some of the breathtaking scenery in Bhutan

Some of the breathtaking scenery in Bhutan

The country is nestled in between China, Tibet and India and maintains a rich Buddhist heritage. The citizens dress in a traditional dress that consists of robes and shawls to the knees and then ankle length socks and immaculately polished shoes. If you wish to visit one of the last places where the influence of the West hasn’t yet made itself known then Bhutan is the place to go.

The last place on my list is Beijing in China. While not as remote or unusual as my previous choices I think that China is often overlooked as a holiday destination. The city of Beijing is being revitalised as the youth of China are looking to embrace modern ideals and lifestyles. The city is an interesting mix of old and new and creates an interesting cultural backdrop for any holiday.

Beijing is in a strange position where it is simultaneously beautiful and heavily polluted. There are numerous world famous sights to see such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Both of these landmarks will give a rich insight into the history of China and give you a chance to soak up some of the culture.

A Beijing welcome

A Beijing welcome

Beijing station

Beijing station

Beijing experiences an interesting climate with extremely cold winters and very hot summers. If you’re looking for something a little more bearable then it is certainly recommended that you visit in the Autumn. Pollution during the Summer can become almost unbearable and temperatures during Winter can plummet.

Beijing is hosting the Olympic Games in 2008 and so will be much more used to tourists afterwards. I would certainly recommend visiting the capital city of one of the most interesting countries on Earth. If the sprawling metropolis isn’t for you then you can use it is a launchpad into the rest of the country.

Well that’s my list of places I think you should visit that you’d never considered. Certainly as I travel more I intend to visit them all and gain more experience of other cultures and climates. If you think I’ve missed something off here, I’d love to hear from you or if anyone has been to these places and can give more insight it’d be great to hear some opinions.

Sweden in 2500 words and three days

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I’d always found Scandinavia to be an interesting place. Compared to Great Britain it always seemed to be a place of outstanding natural beauty both in the people and the landscapes, and an area of arctic winters and European summers. All I really needed was a good excuse to head over there to visit, so when I found out that one of my favourite bands, In Flames, were doing a special one-off gig in Stockholm it was all the reasoning I needed to book my plane tickets. Along with two of my friends, we booked a hostel room for a couple of days giving us time to go to the gig and to see some of Sweden as well. Just a couple of months after booking and it was half past four in the morning and we were off to Heathrow.

I must admit I’m not the most eager to get up in the mornings, being very much a night-time person I struggled to get up at half past three when it was still dark and cold in order to drive us to the airport. Part of me wished I’d booked an airport hotel so we could have had an extra couple of hours in bed. Still, at least from Kent it doesn’t take long to get to Heathrow. Ninety minutes along the A21 and the M25 isn’t so bad, and at least there isn’t much traffic so early in the morning.

Six o’ clock and we’re waiting in the airport car park for the transfer bus to the new Terminal 5. We didn’t wait long and we were soon on our way and dropped right outside the departures entrance. I’d not been to Terminal 5 before and was quite curious as to how the new building would be. It was huge. The new home of BA is actually quite impressive. A large open building that looks like it is built almost entirely of glass it really is an engineering marvel. Our check-in was very easy too. We’d checked in online and already printed boarding passes so all that was left was to pick up some Swedish Kronor (SEK) and pass through customs and security. The whole process took about half an hour, which left us a little time to pick up some breakfast before our flight.

I enjoy flying, I like seeing the ground from so high up and I find some of the sights you can get of the clouds to be quite breathtaking. I feel entirely safe, I’m more at risk driving round London than flying over the North Sea. In fact to me, it almost feels like it isn’t real and you’re looking down at a map or a computer simulation. One of my companions does not feel the same way. This was his first ever flight and he was terrified. It seems an interesting condition to me, someone that is completely happy on a rollercoaster and doesn’t think twice about driving anywhere is suddenly petrified once on-board a plane. I guess his saving grace was that the flight didn’t last too long and after two and a half hours we touched down at Stockholm Arlanda airport.

Flying from Heathrow, the world’s busiest airport for international travellers, to Arlanda is quite a shock. It makes you realise just what a metropolis Heathrow is and really how busy London is these days. Passport control in Sweden was just a guy in a small booth who had a look at your documents before letting you through the small barrier. Once through I was hit by the fact that there were about three people in the entire airport. The whole country seemed to be like this. During the trip I was amazed at how quiet and laid back Sweden really is. I knew that the population was considerably smaller than the UK but I didn’t expect the capital city to be so quiet. It is a pleasant change from London where you struggle to walk along the street sometimes, particularly around tube stations.

Within 15 minutes we were on a bus heading for Stockholm. I’d just like to point out now that Sweden was hot, really hot. The weather was something you’d expect in a Mediterranean country, clear skies and sun for the whole trip – not bad, if unexpected. We’d left the grey drizzle behind and flown further north than any point in the UK to be greeted by amazing weather, so far so good.

We managed to get off at the wrong bus stop and had a ten minute wander round the city until we managed to find our hotel. Stockholm is a stunning city really. The roads and pavements are extremely wide and every single road has cycle lanes. Every crossing is a zebra crossing and cars will wait for you to cross. Pedestrians and cyclists really have priority. It is worth it too, with the emphasis on walking and cycling and the lack of congestion, Stockholm is the cleanest city I have ever been to. The air is remarkably fresh and it really is a pleasant experience walking around. The city was actually more ‘European’ than I expected, feeling quite similar to some of the other mainland cities I’ve visited, only cleaner. The Swedes seem to take great pride in their city and their country, I didn’t see any rubbish anywhere, no queues of traffic, no rats, none of that. For all it’s charms it makes you really see just how busy and dirty London is. I’d taken it for granted before and just assumed this was what capital cities were like, having been to Paris and found that very similar. Hopefully I’ll visit cities that can compare to Stockholm in the future, but I doubt I’ll find anything as clean and fresh.

Once we checked into our hotel it was pretty much time to leave for Gröna Lund to go and see In Flames. After a couple of stops on the underground train we were at our stop ready to catch a ferry boat across to the theme park where the band were playing. The train system is somewhere where I will give London credit in comparison to Stockholm. You had to buy your ticket from a small shop in the station and then have someone check it every time you got on or off a train, no ticket machines here. It seemed to cost about ten times as much as an Underground ticket as well. The London tube is far more efficient and quick to use, even if it is about a million times busier.

If you’ve ever been to Stockholm or seen photos of it then you’ll know it is on the coast and broken up by water. The band were playing at the Gröna Lund theme park which is on a peninsula in the city. We caught a ferry across before paying our 140SEK entry into Gröna Lund. If you ever go to Stockholm this is something you’ll learn; you must pay for everything, and usually quite a lot of money. It is an expensive city, more so than anywhere I’d been before. Anyway, once we were in we queued up for some food before heading over to watch the band. Gröna Lund itself is like a very compact version of Chessington World of Adventures, minus the zoo. There weren’t any particularly big thrill rides or anything that looked really amazing, but it seem like a solid small theme park and everyone seemed to be having fun.

As you would expect, the area where In Flames were due to play was packed. We were a little late so had to be content with a spot a little further back than I’d have liked. Still, we could see and hear the band so it wasn’t too bad. They started and finished early, due to noise restriction requirements for local residents so it was still light while they were playing, which was a shame as they had some really impressive lighting, fire and fireworks as part of their stage show. It would have looked really amazing in the dark. The band ripped through their new material from A Sense of Purpose as well as favourites from older albums with aplomb. They played a really great show and they were clearly enjoying playing in Sweden again after playing in the USA for the past few months (the band is Swedish). For a heavy band Anders Frinden did a remarkable job singing the songs live and looked almost effortless even at the end of the set. It was an excellent performance and they played every song flawlessly, only downside for me was they didn’t play Cloud Connected, one of my favourite songs. The band enjoyed a good rapport with the crowd, although I couldn’t understand a word, and had friends and family watching from a gallery just above the main viewing area. It was a fantastic show and I’ll be sure to catch them later in the year when their European tour heads through London.

Once the band were done we caught a bus back to our hotel and collapsed into bed. A great first impression of Sweden and a very long day, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to finally get to sleep.

Our second day started considerably later. I managed to rise out of bed at around midday and showered before we headed out to get some breakfast. While waiting for the others to get ready I flicked through some of the TV channels in our room. All the drama programs in Sweden are in English, as are their films. Seems they get a huge chunk of their TV from the USA, it is all just subtitled into Swedish, rather than dubbed. It is little surprise that every single person I met spoke perfect English. In fact many (most?) Swedes speak better English than many residents in the UK. It certainly makes you feel a little stupid when you don’t speak a word of Swedish and can only muddle by on some very basic French while abroad. While it is definitely convenient having the main international language as your native tongue I think it would be nice to be able to speak another language fluently. It just seems a little pointless when everything at home is in English, and then wherever you travel in Europe they can speak English as well as you can. Still, we picked up the odd Swedish phrase and they seemed pleased we were trying. Well, the others were trying at least, I couldn’t seem to get my head round the pronunciation.

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing in Stockholm. We spent our time ambling round the city and saw most of the sights, including the High Court, the Royal Palace, and the City Hall where they hand out the Nobel Prize. The city is quite compact and everything is within easy walking distance so we chose to walk it rather than get a tour bus. We picked a good day to see the city as there seemed to be plenty going on. It was the local school’s last day and there were lorries loaded up with drunken students parading round the city centre celebrating. Certainly an interesting sight and something I’d never seen in England.

I’ve already commented on how clean Stockholm is so I won’t go into that again, but it really was reinforced after spending the whole day walking round the city. Late afternoon we spent some time in Old Stockholm, an area that is more medieval in feel and less modern and urbanised than the rest of the city. The old parts felt a lot like Canterbury, with large areas pedestrianised and many small independent shops.

In the evening we grabbed some food and headed out with some friends who live locally. The night life in Stockholm seems vibrant and positive. No sign of fights or trouble that plague certain areas of the UK, everyone in Sweden is far too laid back for that. The weather remained warm enough for t-shirts, even into the early hours. Another interesting thing about Stockholm is that it didn’t get fully dark. It started to get dark at around 10pm and then got light again at 1am. I know that certain areas of Scandinavia experience times of perpetual light and perpetual darkness, but I didn’t realise an area this far south would have it too. While I wouldn’t call it perpetual light, it certainly didn’t get dark like I’m used to in Britain. On our walk back to our hotel it was getting fully light again, definitely a strange feeling.

The following day was spent getting back to the UK. We had to be out of our hotel room by midday so we were up a little earlier and went out for lunch in the sunshine before getting a taxi back to the airport. There were no buses running as it was the day of the Stockholm marathon so a large section of the city was closed off. On our way back we spoke about how this was one of the few times we’d been away where we were genuinely sad to be going back, and how we’d like to spend more time there. I admit it did seem a shame to be coming back so soon, just after you start to get a feel for the language. Still, I guess there is always another time. I’d like to see Sweden in the winter, and perhaps visit some of the northern regions to get to see a different side of the country.

Our flight home went smoothly and actually arrived at Heathrow slightly ahead of schedule. The pilot managed to give us a great flyby of London on our approach to the airport, I even managed to spot the road I used to drive to work every day. Once we were off the plane the contrast between Sweden and the UK was immediately apparent. There was a huge throng of people waiting to get through the five passport desks to cross the border. After a fifteen minute wait we were through and back onto the transfer bus to the Terminal 5 Long Stay car park. After the drive home I said goodbye to the others and collapsed into bed again, waking up twelve hours later.

It was a fantastic trip and I’d recommend visiting Stockholm to everyone. It is a beautiful city and the people are extremely welcoming. I’m already planning my next trip away but in the mean time hopefully we can keep interesting travel stories and thoughts coming from this blog.

Jon