Monthly Archives: February 2009

Choosing the right travel vaccinations

Trying to work out exactly which travel vaccinations are needed for a trip like mine is not the easiest thing in the world. The same goes for advice on avoiding Malaria.

Different ‘expert’ websites give differing advice for different locations. My GP herself admitted she wasn’t expert enough to give me the kind of advice I was looking for, and I don’t entirely trust the commercial travel clinics (figuring they’ll be over-cautious with advice in the interest of getting more money out of you). Opinions from travellers themselves is even more confused, with the hyper-paranoid types who get vaccinated against every disease under the sun ‘just in case’ at vast costs at one end of the spectrum and the hardcore backpacker types who claim never to get vaccinated against anything and avoid malaria pills too, all the while ranting about clueless money-grabbing doctors, at the other.

The more I read, the more confused I got – obviously I want to protect myself against anything that could happen, but at the same time, I’m also aware that you can’t protect against everything, and I don’t want to spend a fortune on something that is highly unlikely to happen. In the end, on one of my google quests I found that the London Hospital of Tropical Medicine (one of the things I love about London is that it actually has a hospital of tropical medicine) also run a travel clinic. I figured if anyone was going to give accurate and up-to-date advice, it’d be them.

So I popped down yesterday morning and am very glad I did, as the service was great, and the staff very knowledgable – I was mostly dealth with by a specialist nurse, but she also asked advice from a consultant on a couple of specific points.

So what have I ended with? I was already up-to-date with Hepatitis A & B and Typhoid from previous foreign trips, as well as Polio, Tetanus & Diphtheria, so I knew I wouldn’t need those ones. Yellow Fever was one I knew I’d have to get, as you need proof of vaccination to get into certain south american countries.

The ones I was most uncertain about were Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies, and Malaria prevention, and in each case I ended up with a different result to what I was expecting.

Most websites I read highly recommended getting vaccinated against Japanese Encephalitis, so that was one I was prepared to get, despite the high cost (3 shots at £40-£50 each). However, the consultant pointed out that the risk was less than one in a million per month, and that as it is transmitted via daytime mosquitoes, I’d be better off avoiding being bitten (which is essential anyway to avoid Dengue Fever, which can’t be vaccinated against) by using regular applications of DEET. So I went with the advice and have skipped that one.

On the other hand, I’d decided against getting the Rabies shot, and was talked round by the nurse – pointing out that the vaccine provides protection for life, by describing how sever rabies can be, and ultimately that it was most important for travelers going to remote locations where they may be far from a hospital if emergency treatment is needed. Given that bits of Indonesia that I’m hoping to visit are likely to be very remote indeed, I figured it was worth the cost.

The final surprising advice was on malaria prevention. This was one I’d been particularly concerned about, due to the fact that different drug regimes are recommended for different parts of the world, and that in most cases treatment is only recommended for a limited period, rather than the nearly twelve months I’ll be in potential risk zones. While most countries I’m visiting (all apart from Australia & New Zealand) have some level of risk, it does vary even within countries. Luckily, the consultant’s specialism was in malaria, and the advice was that I should focus on bite prevention for most of my trip, with malaria tablets only being advised for Laos & Cambodia, plus if I decided to go into the amazon while in Bolivia.

I’m really glad I got the expert advice, as I’d been hearing everything from being advised to take Malarone every day (at £3 per day that would be quite an expensive option!) through to taking nothing anyway and relying on the DEET. Instead, the advice was properly tailored to my itinerary, and is one that I feel happy with.

I also managed to finally get an expert recommendation on what concentration of DEET to go for (minimum 30%, no need to ever go above 50%); on avoiding and dealing with altitude sickness; and antibiotics for dealing with most cases of travelers’ diarrhea.

So with just over four weeks to go, I’ve ticked off three of the big four must-dos – booked my ticket, bought my backpack and now sorted the vaccinations. Now there’s just finalising the insurance still to do, and I’m ready to go.

Slightly less rubbish with languages

I think it’s fair to say that British people have a pretty poor reputation when it comes to speaking other people’s languages. It’s easy to blame the relatively poor language education in schools, but really it’s just an excuse: it’s easier to be lazy when everyone else speaks English.

Over the years I’ve made various efforts to learn other languages, to varying degrees of success. One of the most frustrating aspects of learning is the reaction I’ve often come across from natives when you’re trying to practice your skills, which turns out to be much harder than I ever imagined. There are four typical responses:

Ignore
This one’s most common with Germans. It’s clearly inefficient to speak slowly in German, when they can switch over to English and speak like a native (or in many cases, like my German lecturer at uni, better than a native, as she wasted no time in pointing out whenever we made grammatical errors in our own language). So that’s exactly what happens, normally with no acknowledgment you’ve even addressed them in German in the first place.

Mock
Only in France have I, on several occasions, been laughed at for my pathetic English attempts to get my tongue around their beautiful language. This is hardly a confidence booster, funnily enough.

Patronise
een Pilsje, alsjeblieft is hardly the most complicated sentence to learn. Or say for that matter. But try it in Holland and there’s a good chance someone will immediately say “Oh wow! You speak fantastic Dutch!” is both (a) a lie and (b) patronising. After this, they just switch to ignore mode and conduct the rest of the conversation in English.

Refuse to engage altogether
Best exemplified by the reaction to the woman behind the counter in Cordoba station, who just crossed her arms, and sat back in her chair once she realised my Spanish wasn’t up to a normal conversation. I suppose as she spoke no English either, the conversation was hardly likely to be all that fruitful, but just giving up was hardly going to get us anywhere.

I know ultimately that this is as much (if not more) my fault than theirs – if my language skills really were good enough, it would be easier to engage. Plus for busy shopkeepers or barstaff or waiters, it’s far quicker to speak English rather than waste time trying to understand someone mangle their conjugations. But whatever the reason, it makes the process a darn sight harder. Which is yet another reason why I loved Antwerp: I’d barely spoken a word of Dutch in years, but from the moment I uttered my first faltering sentence and was replied to in Dutch, without any mocking, patronising comments or even any remark, it boosted my confidence straight away. The pattern was the same for the rest of the weekend, and it was great. I know my limitations, and I was hardly able to have conversations about weighty issues, but actually getting the chance to practice meant I found my language skills coming back to me even after years with no practice.

Which in turn has boosted my confidence with my Spanish. With my course of lessons nearly done, I was getting slightly worried at the lack of progress I’ve been making, especially with my leaving date rapidly approaching. But this week I felt I had a real breakthrough. I had a double lesson (three hours) after work, which was exhausting, but well worth it. I’m starting getting the hang of all my verb conjugations now and am getting better at having an idea of which past tense to use when. Prepositions are still a bit of a nightmare, but I now feel like I can have the most basic conversations, and reckon I know enough to find my way round cities, public transports and restaurants to survive OK.

In the great scheme of things, I’m still barely a beginner, but it’s a start, and I feel like now I’ve got some of the basics right I’ll hopefully be able to make good use of a few weeks learning Spanish in Xela (Quetzaltenango) in Guatemala come May – this great post from Christine @ Almostfearless really keeps me inspired. I know there’s a lot of hard work to come, but I really want to use my time away to get my Spanish up to a point where I’ll no longer have to face being mocked, ignored, or patronised for being so rubbish.

Sod carnival: I prefer pancakes

My friends Rob & Briony are currently on their honeymoon in Brazil, where they’ll get the chance to experience carnival in Rio. You might think I’d be jealous – in fact, I’m not at all, as today is PANCAKE DAY.

Rio Carnival: no pancakes here

Rio Carnival: no pancakes here

Now I understand how people may be more easily impressed by carnival spectacles such as the samba bands in Rio, the drunken debuachery in Cologne or the drag queens and dykes on bikes at Sydney Mardi Gras.

Sydney Mardi Gras: also distinct lack of pancake

Sydney Mardi Gras: also distinct lack of pancake

By comparison, the practice of partying before lent begins by eating pancakes may seem a little bit tame. But really. You can get drunk, throw on a frock and cake yourself in makeup any day of the year. Whereas it is a true FACT that pancakes only taste this nice for one day of the year, and that is today, pancake day. Most of the year I can take them or leave them. But today, I plan to stuff myself. I’ve already managed to get off to a good start, as I happened to pass a cafe in Wandsworth this morning serving them (I wasn’t going to let the the little fact that I was on the way to the dentist stop me). I may try and find more for lunch. And then will be making them at home this evening. Sugar. Lemon. Currants. Pancakey goodness. Mmmm. And lots of it.

Who needs sequins?

Who needs sequins?

Actually, I’m not normally quite this obsessed with pancake day. But as the start of my trip gets ever closer I’ve suddenly found myself getting obsessed with various comfort foods from various periods of my youth. Saturday evening saw me eat my first Viennetta in years. Last night was tinned rice pudding. I’m already plotting various must-eats over my remaining nights, and thinking long and hard about which of my mum’s favourite meals I’ll be begging for on my last trip home. It’s silly really, I’m only going for a year, and it’s been far longer than that since I ate half of these things. Clearly my sub-conscious has started missing home before I’ve even gone.

Anyway, whatever the psychological reason behind it: I just can’t get enough of pancake day. Actually, writing about it now gets me thinking – is this just a British thing, or did we manage to export the tradition elsewhere?

The final countdown

It’s now five weeks exactly til I go, and most of it is now mapped out…

Sunday 1st March: Start packing up the flat ready to move. Feel quite chuffed with myself for being so organised.

Monday 2nd March: Aim to have everything packed and moved into storage. Get distracted reading books as I pack them. Realise at midnight I have work tomorrow and still have loads to do. End up packing til 2am and realise I don’t have enough boxes.

Tuesday 3rd March: Final Spanish lesson. Panic that I am still too rubbish to survive on my own for 6th months. Book some more lessons for final week.

Saturday 7th March: Go skiing. (I know I have a year’s travelling coming up, but (1) The snow’s the best it’s been in years, (2) there are huuuuge last minute discounts thanks to the credit crunch, (3) I’m going to just miss the southern hemisphere season next year and (4) it’s a nice way to say goodbye to friends I won’t see for a year)

Saturday 8th March: Return from skiing and have a farewell night out at Duckie, my favourite nightspot. Wonder if I’ll see anything as strange in my year away as the cabaret there. Highly unlikely, to be honest.

Sunday 15th March: Pack my backpack. Realise I’m planning to take too much stuff. Make tough decisions. Get annoyed with myself for not getting a bigger pack. Reluctantly leave out half the stuff I wanted to take. Wear pack around the house for an hour. Get annoyed with myself and not getting a smaller pack. Take some more stuff out. Put the rest of my clothes in storage, other than enough to keep me going til I leave.

Thursday 19th March: Work leaving do.

Friday 20th March: Struggle into work by lunchtime. Do very little. Finish work. Attempt not to cry at leaving speech. Fail.

Saturday 21st March: Go and stay with my sister and her family. Get woken up at 6am by nephews who either don’t understand concept of hangover, or just pretend not to.

Monday 23rd March: Go and stay with my mum and dad. Last chance for proper home cooked food. Reassure mother that Colombia is much safer than she thinks.

Wednesday 25th March: Return to London for a final few days of goodbyes (and last minute shopping for anything I’ve forgotten). Realise I have no space in bag for last minute purchases. Get annoyed with myself for wasting more money.

Thursday 26th March: Panic about getting bored. Or lonely. Or mugged. Or killed.

Saturday 28th March: Leaving party. Last chance for drunken shame in the 2 Brewers.

Sunday 29th March: Recovering from leaving party. In the pub, no doubt. Possible more tears.

Monday 30th March, 1.10pm: BA flight 243 from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Mexico City

Monday 30th March, 6:10pm: Arrive in Mexico City, ready for a year of adventure. Bring it on!

My own private world heritage site: the Plantin-Moretus museum

Now I’m not stupid enough to think that the list of World Heritage sites is flawless, or that it’s not skewed by national politics. But it is normally a pretty good guide to interesting places to see when visiting somewhere new (and I don’t think you can blame UNESCO for making potentially interesting sitesas dull as ditchwater by ruining them with compulsory snoozesome guided tours).

Book illustration by Rubens

Book illustration by Rubens

Despite that, I was a little underwhelmed by reading about Antwerp’s main one, the Plantin-Moretus museum. The prospect of visiting a small museum based in and on the subject of an old publishing house hardly generated the excitement I got from the thought of, say, climbing a Mayan temple in a jungle.

But thanks to a personal recommendation, we figured we might as well give it a go. Now I know I said that Antwerp was virtually empty of tourists; what I didn’t expect to find was there to be so few that we had one of the city’s most famous museums entirely to ourselves. And I mean *entirely*. It was like having a private visit. Just like the city as a whole, people are seriously missing out.

Central courtyard at the Plantin Moretus museum

Central courtyard at the Plantin Moretus museum

The museum is in a collection of 16th century buildings, surrounding a central courtyard, that housed a publishing house founded by Christophe Plantijn in 1576. The museum today houses all the artifacts of the old printing process, including the oldest surviving printing presses in the world and workshops where the presses were made.

The oldest printing presses in the world

The oldest printing presses in the world

As well as the print works, the building was also the home of the owners, and houses their hugely valuable library, many of which were printed on-site and on display in cabinets, including volumes illustrated by the city’s most famous son, Rubens (elsewhere in the house you can find various portraits of family members by him too), and the world’s first illustration of the potato.

Cabinet & Rubens portraits

Cabinet & Rubens portraits

The interior of the house is fascinating too, with some of the walls bound with leather decorated with gold leaf, original tapestries, and more portraits. The courtyard itself contains a quiet little garden too.

Tapestry detail

Tapestry detail

Best of all, for a geography geek like me, was the room full of old globes and maps from what was described as the golden age of Flemish cartography (1540-1590 apparently), including an early edition of a pocket-sized edition of Mercator’s maps. I could have spent hours in there, and would have loved to have had the chance to go through those old atlases in more detail.

16th Century map of Holland

16th Century map of Holland

I suppose it’s always good to places with low expectations, but in this case it really paid off. It’s one of the most unusual and fascinating museums I’ve ever been to, and if you’re a book lover, a geography geek or just have any interest in history, I’d heartily recommend it.

Antwerp rules (but don’t tell anyone)

It feels like there must be some kind of conspiracy to keep tourists away from Antwerp: the official website is truly shocking, coverage in guidebooks is poor at best (normally tagged onto the end of guides to Brussels as a suggested daytrip), and Eurostar don’t appear to make any kind of effort to point out that tickets from London to Brussels also allow free onward travel to any station in Belgium (meaning that central Antwerp is less than three hours from central London, making it quicker to reach than pretty much any city you have to fly to, not to mention much greener). The only explanation I can think of is that the experience of being conquered by the Romans and the French, sacked by Vikings and the Spanish, blockaded by the Dutch and the English, and bombed by the Germans has left them slightly wary of outsiders.

Guild houses in the Grote Markt. Rebuilt after some early Spanish visitors burnt them down.

Guild houses in the Grote Markt. Rebuilt after some early Spanish visitors burnt them down.

The result of that lack of promotion was that when we arrived in Brussels on a Eurostar that was completely sold out (thanks to half term and Valentine’s day), a grand total of four passengers made their way to the Antwerp train. I presume the rest of them were staying in Brussels (or off to Bruges), and to them I say: your loss. Antwerp is miles better, and here’s why:

The Cathedral dominates the city

The Cathedral dominates the city

1) It’s almost the perfect place for a weekend break – there’s easily enough to do to keep you busy, but small enough to see everything on foot if you want. Easier still is to hire bikes, as the city is entirely flat, has cycle lanes everywhere, and hardly any traffic anyway.

Cycling round the city allows you to explore the crumbling, atmospheric quays. On the edge of town, the new port is still the second biggest in Europe, and goes on for miles.

Cycling round the city allows you to explore the crumbling, atmospheric quays. On the edge of town, the new port is still the second biggest in Europe, and goes on for miles.

2) It has loads of great architecture, ranging from the 16th century Onze Lieve Vrouwe Cathedral, with its beautiful spire, through the guildhouses in the Grote Markt (which to my mind is just as nice as the much more famous Grand Place in Brussels, except without the crowds), to crumbling warehouses and cranes on the quays along the banks of the Scheldt, and a great selection of art nouveau buildings too, including this rather mad one with a boat poking out of the side.

The 5 continents (aka t Bootje, the little boat)

The 5 continents (aka 't Bootje, the little boat)

3) I knew before I left that Antwerp was supposedly a stylish city (it appars to be compulsory for any travel article on the city to mention the Antwerp Six), but I was surprised at quite how obvious it was – the city is completely overrun with clothes shops, ranging from expensive designer brands to new designers and smaller, quirkier places; there are loads of shops selling loads of cool stuff for the home, and just looking at people in shops and restaurants you can just tell that people really make an effort.

4) The stylishness extends beyond the shopping – it has a great selection of bars and restaurants, although we missed out on most of the trendiest ones by not booking tables in advance (there may not be many tourists but the locals certainly seem to like eating out). No great loss though, as I’m a big fan of traditional Belgian cooking, and was able to find it at De Stoemppot, which serves all the traditional classics like waterzooi (fish stew), stoofvlees (beef stew) and sausages, all served with yummy stoemp (Belgian mash). They even serve the normally disgusting staple of Flemish & Dutch fast food, the croquette, which were far nicer than the normal version. While we’re on the subject of food – forget the Belgian cliche of having chips with mayo, on a cold day in February the only way to have them is with warm stoofvlees sauce (i.e. gravy). Mmmm.

Even the snacks are trendy

Even the snacks are trendy

5) The choice of places to stay is great too, and the way to go here is apartments: we stayed in Britselei 37, in an old townhouse on the edge of the centre, which was great (apart from the fact it was about 30% more expensive than planned thanks to the pound tanking in between booking and arriving). There are loads more in a similar vain, with way more character than the average hotel.

6) Last but not least, I may be a spectacularly lapsed catholic, but I do like to see a city with a fanatical devotion to the Virgin Mary. Not content with dedicating a cathedral to her (which you really can’t miss, as it dominates almost every view), they have an obession with seemingly building a statue of her on every street corner, some of which are hugely elaborate.

Theres no escaping our blessed lady

There's no escaping our blessed lady

All of which makes it feel all the more bizarre that the place was almost empty of tourists. On the way back to London, we stopped off for an hour in Brussels, and were confronted by hoards of them, and I realised that the lack of tourists is very much part of Antwerp’s charm. So maybe the tourist board are rubbish on purpose…

Top 10 National Parks

In my attempt to list out all my favourite travel places before I leave for my RTW trip, I’ve already covered off countries, cities, world heritage sites and islands, to give me a base to compare against when I get back. Given my growing love of the great outdoors, I figured it was time to tackle my favourite national parks.

1. Tikal National Park, Guatemala

Temples & jungle in Tikal

Temples & jungle in Tikal

Not just my favourite World Heritage Site, but my favourite National Park too. Not many national parks have huge ruined Mayan cities in the middle. Even fewer have howler monkeys too. If you haven’t heard a howler monkey in the wild, you haven’t lived (you can get an idea of the sound from myvideo). Everywhere you go you hear them make their strange strangulated roaring noises. While they howlers steal the show, the place is crawling with wildlife – in the brief time I was there I also saw spider monkeys, leaf-cutter ants, coatimundis and oscellated turkeys. Sadly I didn’t get to see a jaguar though.

2. Blue Mountains National Park, NSW, Australia

This was very close to topping my list of most disappointing national parks – the day I arrived from Sydney, the fog was so thick, the view was like this:

Blue Mountains in the fog

Blue Mountains in the fog

Luckily, the next morning the fog lifted, the sun came out, and we saw that the view was stunning:
same spot, much better view

The next day: same spot, much better view

3. The Lake District National Park, England

Lake District view

Lake District view

Probably the most famous in England, and deservingly so. Seeing the hills covered in snow last December was truly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen England look.

4. Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Taking a breather to enjoy the view in Snowdonia

Taking a breather to enjoy the view in Snowdonia

One of the wettest places in the UK (which is saying something), as I discovered on my visit. The mountains are of a very different character to the Lake District, with a less jagged and more open landscape. Plus with all the signs and placenames being in Welsh as well as English, it somehow feels more exotic than travelling within England.

5. La Vanoise National Park, France

View across La Vanoise from the slopes of La Plagne

View across La Vanoise from the slopes of La Plagne

This may sound stupid, but one thing I’d never really considered over the years that I refused to give skiing a try, was that part of the appeal was the beauty of the mountains. The first morning I took the gondola to the top of La Grande Rochette, the view out over the Vanoise, France’s oldest national park, was simply breathtaking. For the rest of the week I kept having to stop (actually it was more that I kept falling over), and take it all in.

6. Yorkshire Dales National Park, England

Trains are by far my favourite way to travel. Mountains are my favourite landscape. The Settle-Carlisle railway combines the two as it cuts its way across the Yorkshire Dales, and it’s quite spectacular (which just makes me all the keener to try Switzerland’s Glacier Express. Walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks is one of the UK’s great walks (and one of my highlights of 2008); less well-known is that the park also has some of the country’s best caving.

7. Lamington National Park, Queensland, Australia

Getting friendly with the local birds in the Lamington National Park

Getting friendly with the local birds in the Lamington National Park

It may have great surf, but the Gold Coast of Australia isn’t really my kind of place. One of the things it really has going for it is the easy access to Lamington, part of theGondwana Rainforests world heritage site. It’s the largest sub-tropical rainforest in the world, and sits on a plateau that is the remains of a vast ancient volcano. It’s great for hiking, and I had fun getting close to the local birdlife while I was there.

8. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales

The only National Park in the UK that exists because of its coastline, the Pembrokeshire Coast also has one of the country’s best long distance walks, all the way round the coastline. It’s also famous for its sea birds, particularly around the island of Skomer, which is a reserve. It’s also great for activities – coasteering during my brother’s stag weekend was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had.

9. Tulum National Park, Mexico

Tulum - temple by the beach

Tulum - temple by the beach

It’s the only ruined Mayan city on the coast. That coast is the Caribbean. Ruined ancient city, on the cliffs overlooking white sand and turquoise sea. What’s not to love? If I had one gripe it’d be the crowds (all those daytrippers from Cancun).

10. Northumberland National Park, England

I’m sure if you asked most Brits to name all the national parks in the country, Northumberland would probably be right down the bottom of the list. Sitting right to the east of the Lake District, and at the lower, northern end of the Pennines that also contain the more dramatic Yorkshire Dales & Peak District, that’s probably no surprise. The plus side is that it gets far less crowded than those, and it’s just as beautiful. It also provides easy access to the stunning beaches and castles of the Northumberland coast, which in my book is by far England’s most underrated spot.

Snow brings out the best in Londoners

So it continued to snow overnight, and by this morning we’ve now had the most snow for 18 years. It’s still snowing now, and it’s due to get heavier as the day goes on. As a result, London is now pretty much closed.

All buses are suspended. Most tubes and trains too. The airports are shut. Most of the shops are shut as people can’t get in to work. Various commentators on TV are grumbling at how pathetic it is that the kind of snow most countries wouldn’t bat an eyelid at has paralysed our capital city. It’s even going to worsen the economic meltdown, apparently.

Fight!

Fight!

Based on this morning’s walk on Clapham Common, I doubt you’d find many Londoners having any sympathy with that kind of moan: the atmosphere is fantastic. There are rarely this many people on the common even on a hot summer’s day, and everyone is wandering around smiling, saying hello to strangers, getting caught up in snowball fights and generally having fun. Who said London was an unfriendly place? It certainly seems to be bringing out the best in everyone. Enjoying it most of all are the children and the dogs (who knew there were so many dogs in Clapham? Also – I would say the dogs just about seem to have the edge over the kids in the enjoyment stakes, even the tiny ones whose heads barely poke over the level of the snow). And there are snowmen EVERYWHERE.

A new friend

A new friend

The way it’s going, tomorrow could well be the same. I haven’t taken an unscheduled day off work since 2005, so I think I’ve earned a day or two at home (especially considering I’m in my notice period).

Sunday night snow

When the forecast said it was going to snow, I was a bit meh about the whole thing – snow is invariably rubbish in London, with the odd pathetic shower a couple of times a year, which then fails to settle (or even if it does, turns to brown slush within minutes). I certainly didn’t expect the heaviest snow we’ve had in years – at one point it was falling so heavily I couldn’t even see the block of flats just over a hundred metres away, and it quickly began to settle.

Pretty soon the blizzard outside was matched by a flurry of excited tweets & Facebook status updates, and I figured I should make the most of the rare conditions (I think I’ve seen snow settle in Clapham maybe twice in the fourteen years I’ve been living here) to venture for a walk out on the Common.

Clapham Common bandstand in the snow

Clapham Common bandstand in the snow

I love the way the snow brings out the big kid in people – before I even got to the common, I’d already seen my first snowball fight, out on the street, and soon after, a young couple making a snowman. The common itself
looked beautiful covered in snow, and being able to be the first to walk across the fresh blanket of powder had a similar effect on me, bringing out the urge to slide along the paths and down slopes. I even saw a couple of kids out with their dad, attempting to sledge down the slope at the side of the bandstand – I admire their efforts, but I’m not sure quite how exhilarating it when the slope in question is no more than three metres long.

The snow also brings out a second, more serious group of people – the SLR photographers. All over the common, mostly hunched in front of trees, were men with tripods and big lenses, snapping away. In most cases, they were accompanied by bored-looking girlfriends, tightly wrapped up against the cold. I don’t envy them (although I’m looking forward to seeing the benefit on Flickr later, as their photos will no doubt be a hell of a lot more impressive than mine).

Even on a normal day, when you’re stood in the middle of the Common, the noise of the traffic drops to a gentle background hum, and you can almost imagine you’re not in the city. In the middle of a blizzard, the effect is even more convincing. Stood there in the snow was about as peaceful as you’re ever going to get in London.

Clearly most people had decided to stay inside in the warm, and I felt quite sorry for the legions of pizza deliverymen I saw gingerly making their way down the hill on their scooters. They didn’t look like they were having much fun at all.

Snowman

Snowman

Back home in the warm now and there’s no end to the snow, apparently we’re due much more over night. Unfortunately, getting to work by tube means there’s no chance of skipping work due to being snowed in (and anyway, once everyone is out and about in the morning, it’ll be turning slushy pretty quickly), but nevertheless, it’s been nice to see London like this, especially as I’m about to embark on a year in the sun.