"My Homepage - Better late than never!" SWFC_Fan's Profile
Well, after 28 months on VT my homepage is still shamefully empty, so I guess I ought to make an effort to put something on here!
Why have I left it so long? Because I haven't a clue where to start....
Ok, I was born in Sheffield (UK) on 21 November 1979 and I've remained here ever since. A bit of a strange paradox - I love to travel and want to see as much of the World as possible but, for whatever reason, whenever I've had the chance to leave Sheffield (first for University, then for work) I've always chosen to stay here.
I guess the main reasons for this are:
1. Because all my family are here, and,
2. My football club is here!
This latter reason brings me seamlessly onto my user name...
It seems from comments/emails that I've received that VT is split into those who know what SWFC stands for (and are all too happy to indulge in banter!), and those who haven't a clue what it stands for (and probably don't particularly care!).
For those who are still in the dark, these curious initials stand for Sheffield Wednesday Football Club - the 5th oldest professional football club in England!
More about me.....well, I graduated from Uni in 2001 with a degree in Economics and, not really knowing what to do with it, decided to train as a Chartered Accountant (yawn!). Following a further 3 years of exams, I've recently qualified and now face another crossroads in my life! Can I find a career that will allow me to travel as part of my work? Or am I destined to be office-bound for the rest of my days? (shudder!).
As stated above, I was born and bred in Sheffield, UK.
It's not a bad place to live, being a relatively large city (circa 600,000 - making it the 5th largest city in the UK), but being surrounded by large areas of scenic countryside. Sheffield therefore doesn't always feel like a big city, and a common description of Sheffield is "the largest village in the UK".
Sheffield is located in South Yorkshire in the North of England and has good transport links to other major cities in the UK. For example, Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham can all be reached in a little over 1 hour by road or (optimistically) rail. Liverpool and Birmingham are under 2 hours away and London is a mere 3 hours drive away.
Sheffield is commonly cited as being the safest major city in the UK and, while this is not necessarily true, I always feel safer here than in some other British cities.
There are 2 Universities in the city (The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University) providing the city with 30,000+ students and the consequent abundance of bars and restaurants in the city centre.
While Sheffield is a good place to live, I don't imagine it features too high on most travellers' "must see" lists! This is hardly surprising since there is little here that you couldn't find in any other city - we don't have an Eiffel Tower, a Taj Mahal or any Pyramids, and the nearest coast is a couple of hours away, so no beach either! The generally miserable weather is hardly a selling point either.
Sheffield does have an impressive shopping mall, Meadowhall, which was once the largest in Britain and a dry ski slope which was once the largest in Britain and probably other attractions that were once the largest/best/cheapest in Britain before they were surpassed by a more forward-thinking city. There are some decent sports facilities in the city: 2 football stadiums, an athletics stadium, the Ponds Forge swimming centre...... and the World Snooker Championships are also held in Sheffield's Crucible theatre each year.
However, Sheffield's claim to fame must surely be that it is the birthplace of football - the most popular spectator sport in the world!! The oldest football club in the world is Sheffield FC (no longer a professional team), the world's oldest football ground is located in the city and the first ever game took place between two Sheffield clubs.
And how does the city choose to recognise this? It doesn't!!! We have no Museum of Football to attract football fans from around the world. We have no celebration to commemorate the day that "The Beautiful Game" was born! I find it hard to believe that other cities would overlook something like this and not at least attempt to exploit it!
Similarly disillusioning is that fact that South Yorkshire was, for some time, the largest conurbation in Western Europe without an airport. Ok, there are several within relatively easy reach (Manchester, East Midlands, Leeds/Bradford...), but it was still disappointing. Then came Sheffield International Airport - but sadly it was built with a runway that wasn't long enough to handle planes larger than about 30-seaters, so there are currently no regular flights operating from it :-(
Thankfully, a new airport is to open early in 2005 (between Sheffield and Doncaster)!
But despite Sheffield's shortcomings, there is nowhere else in Britain that I would rather live!
Well, unsurprisingly, I originally found VT while researching some forthcoming destination or other (I can't remember which now - so long ago!). And it's fair to say that travelling has become a bit of an obsession for me in recent years (I reckon one or two of you can relate to that feeling!!).
As things stand, I'm hoping to visit every country in the world over the course of my life! While this probably isn't a realistic aim (and certainly not a wise one!), I would hope that I could at least reach the big 100.
As I write this, I've just reached 76 - so I'm over three quarters of the way there!
The list to date is (and hopefully I'll keep this up-to-date in the future!):
I was born here, so this one was pretty easy!
My first ever foreign trip was to the Greek island of Corfu, back in 1989 with my family. Probably because it was my first trip abroad, Corfu remains one of my favourite places in the world, and I've returned a few times since. Over the following dozen years most of my holidays were to Greece and, following a couple of Greek island hopping trips, I have now visited 30 Greek islands and various parts of the mainland, including Athens.
On the years when we didn't visit Greece, my family holidays were in Protaras on the south-east coast of Cyprus. During a number of visits there, I managed to see much of the southern part of the island from the lively nightlife of the south-east (Ayia Napa), to the Troodos mountain villages (eg Kakopetria, Omodhos, Troodos, Lefkara), to the interesting, divided capital of Nicosia.
During the summer of 2001, while spending a week in Samos, I took the ferry to Kusadasi for the day for my first taste of Turkey. It was an experience - I was totally unprepared for the bargaining, and inevitably ended up being fleeced! I returned to Turkey in 2002, this time to Bodrum, from Kos, and was much better prepared. But still got fleeced of course!
My first trip to Portugal was in February 2002 when I spent a week in the gloriously sunny (compared to the UK at that time of year) Albufeira. During the week, I saw a lot of the Algarve coast from Cabo de Sao Vicente in the west, to Ayamonte on the eastern border with Spain.
I returned again in June 2004, this time for the EURO 2004 football championships, staying in Portimao and seeing a few new places this time around (Silves, Ferragudo).
During my week in Albufeira in 2002, I decided to take a coach trip to Seville for the day. At that time, Seville was close to the top of my must-see list, and I wasn't disappointed! Bizarrely, I would class Seville as my favourite city in Europe despite having spent only the one day there.
In November 2002, I made my first trip to the Canary Islands, and Fuerteventura to be specific. I spent a week in the northern resort of Corralejo and had a great holiday amongst its desert-like dunes. Whilst there, I also visited the neighbouring island of Lanzarote.
July 2002 and I finally discovered the joys of budget airlines! A few pounds got me a flight to Brussels for a long weekend. Only an hour away, and with a 7.00am flight, I was able to arrive in time for breakfast in the Galerie St Hubert. After realising that Belgium doesn't fit the boring stereotype that we are led to believe, and that it does indeed have the world's finest beer and chocolates, I returned a few months later, this time taking in Antwerp in addition to Brussels.
February 2003, and I was in desperate need of some winter sunshine. Tunisia looked a good bet. It wasn't!!! A rain-soaked week in Port el-Kantaoui probably ranks as my least favourite travel experience to date. Despite the lousy weather, I did get to see Sousse, Monastir, Tunis and the impressive ampitheatre at El Jem, so it wasn't all bad.
9. The Netherlands
March 2003 and again the wonders of the budget airline allows me to pick up a bargain flight to Amsterdam! A bit of a rush, flying out on Saturday morning and back home on Sunday afternoon. I spent the morning in Amsterdam, the afternoon, evening and night in Haarlem and then back home!
However, I returned in May 2004, for 3 full days this time - visiting Utrecht, Arnhem and Nijmegen.
May Bank Holiday 2003 and my most ambitious country-hopping exercise to date! Saturday morning flight to Brussels, then a train to Luxembourg in time for lunch and an afternoon exploring the Grand Duchy. Sunday spent flitting between Luxembourg, Germany and France (see 11 and 12), then back to Brussels on Monday morning for my flight back to the UK.
A short train journey from Luxembourg Central station and I found myself in Germany's oldest town, Trier. I spent the morning exploring the town, including its impressive Roman gate (the Porta Nigra), before heading back through Luxembourg en-route to France.
A change of trains in Luxembourg and I was on my way to Metz in the north-east of France. This was always going to be a whistle stop tour of the city, but after getting hopelessly lost trying to retrace my route back to the station I saw a lot more than I originally intended!
In the summer of 2003, I decided to visit Europe's fastest growing tourist destination - the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. Of course, it wasn't "undiscovered" in the true sense of the word, it was just that us Brits had finally realised that it existed. I spent a week in the resort of Sunny Beach, visiting Nessebar, Bourgas, Varna and Sozopol and found Bulgaria to be one of the warmest, friendliest countries that I have visited.
September 2003, another budget flight and another rushed weekend away! This time it was destination Bergamo. Arriving Saturday lunchtime and leaving approximately 24 hours later, I set out to see as much as possible - and didn't do too badly. I managed to cover both the modern part of the town and the more impressive old town before dusk, and still had time for a (pretty disappointing) cappuccino!
October 2003 and, while spending a week in Malta, I took the opportunity for a daytrip to Sicily. Mount Etna was breathtaking and the stunning mountainside town of Taormina wasn't too far behind!
October 2003 and another week in the sun after the UK summer was long since over! Stayed in St Julian's and visited Sliema, Valletta and Mdina, as well as the neighbouring island of Gozo. Gozo provided the opportunity to visit a range of places begin with the letter X (Xewkija, Xlendi Bay....).
16. United Arab Emirates
December 2003 and another quest for sunshine - this time in Dubai! Great weather, great beaches, a desert, opulent malls, atmospheric souks, cheap food and drink, a feeling of safety......Dubai soon became my favourite city in the world! So much so that in March 2004 I returned for a second visit, spurning the chance to notch up another new country! Whilst in the UAE, I also visited Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al-Ain.
During my first visit to the UAE, I decided to combine a trip to Al-Ain with a quick border-hop (although there's no actual border there - so no hassles!) into the Omani town of Buraimi. A 5 minute taxi ride later and I was in Buraimi's souk. I only spent a couple of hours in Oman, and a fair proportion of that time was spent walking back along the road into the UAE.
18. Czech Republic
January 2004 and for once I wasn't looking for sunshine - but SNOW!! (We don't get much of either in the UK nowadays!). So I spent 3 days in Prague and while the temperature was significantly below zero, it didn't snow while I was there. It had clearly snowed before I arrived though. As much as I'd have liked to, I didn't have time to venture beyond Prague and see anymore of the Czech Rep.
Easter 2004 and I spent 4 days in Sweden. My first trip to Scandinavia and it's true what they say about it being expensive! And clean! And cold! Stayed at the Nordic Sea hotel in Stockholm, mainly attracted by the fact that it has an Ice Bar - sipping vodka from a block of ice while dressed like an Eskimo is certainly a not-to-be-missed experience! Ventured north for a daytrip to the pleasant town of Uppsala.
August 2004 and my first trip to Poland. A cheap Wizz Air (highly recommended!) flight from Luton to Gdansk, then 4 nights in a Chinese hotel on the beach at Sopot. Thoroughly enjoyed my time there and spent a lot of time in Gdansk, as well as side trips to Gdynia and the small fishing village of Hel.
Early December 2004 and my first trip to the Caribbean (just after the ending of the hurricane season!). I spent a week in the resort of Worthing on the island's south coast, largely lounging around on the breathtaking palm-fringed beaches and swimming in the warm, blue seas! Sometimes life is tough ;-)
22. St Lucia
A convenient daytrip from Barbados - just a 35 minute flight away! Despite its proximity to Barbados, it's a very different island. Less prosperous, much more mountainous and covered in rainforests. I took a tour from the capital, Castries, down to Soufriere in the south to see its world famous "Pitons" and drive-in volcano.
February 2005, and despite foreign office warnings and worried families/friends, my friend and I decided to head out to the Middle East for a week. We spent two days in Amman before heading south to the spectacular "Pink City" of Petra. We then moved down to sunny Aqaba on Jordan's south coast. Despite tensions in the region, we found Jordan to be very peaceful and its people unfailingly friendly!
From Aqaba, we took a 5 minute taxi ride to the Israeli border and crossed over to the stylish resort of Eilat for a day. The luxury hotels, bustling restaurants and shopping malls and stunning sandy beaches are a far cry from neighbouring Aqaba's more traditional way of life.
Easter weekend 2005. I spent 3 days in the Latvian capital, Riga - one of a host of cities dubbed "the new Prague". At the time of my visit, the city was just awakening from winter - the snow in the parks was melting, but the Daugava river remained frozen. A nice city and comparisons with Prague are accurate in many respects.
April 2005, and a week exploring Slovenia's short, but spectacular, Istrian coastline. Arriving from Trieste, I stayed in the picturesque peninsular town of Piran, while also visiting Portoroz, Koper and Izola.
I took a taxi from my hotel in Piran (Slovenia) across the border to the small seaside resort of Umag in Croatia. A nice, relaxing resort with pleasant seaside walks and plenty of restaurants overlooking the sea.
Despite being so close (relative to my other trips), I'd never been to Wales until May 2005. However, due to my football team, SWFC, playing a crucial play-off game at Cardiff's Millennium stadium, I made the 4 hour journey to the Welsh capital and (following a 4-2 victory!), returned home with a very favourable impression of the city!
October 2005 and, as part of my 6-9 month career break, I flew to Vilnius for a trip through the Baltics. After a couple of days in the very scenic capital, I took the bus north to the town of Siauliai and visited the rather strange "Hill of Crosses", before continuing on to Riga (Latvia).
Following my second visit to Riga, I continued the journey north to Tallinn. The Estonian capital is very reminiscent of Prague, but maybe more scenic and (for now at least!) less touristed. Clearly a rising star on the weekend break destination list, Tallinn is worthy of all the superlatives used to describe it.
Took a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki for a few days exploring the Finnish capital. After travelling through the Baltic states, the wallet took a bit of a hammering in Helsinki, but it was worth it. Visited the 1952 Olympic Stadium and climbed the tower for excellent views of the stadium and the city. Walked to the city's zoo and got plenty of photos of bears , lions and tigers...and an otter with a strange fascination for a teatowel!
I arrived in Singapore in late November 2005 after my longest flight to date (13 hours) and spent a week exploring Chinatown, Little India, Orchard Road, Singapore River, the skyscrapers of the CBD and the theme park island of Sentosa. I then spent a week in Malaysia (see below), before returning to Singapore for a further 4 days - this time visiting the island of Pulau Ubin (with its spiders and snakes!) and getting dressed up for a Singapore Sling at Raffles.
From Singapore, I took a 4 hour bus ride to the historical town of Melaka (Malacca), where I spent a couple of days in this interesting (but traffic-plagued!) city, with its striking Town Square of red buildings (the Stadthuys, Christ Church and the Clock Tower). I then headed north to Kuala Lumpur for 5 days, visiting the Petronas Towers, taking a lift to the observation deck of the KL Tower, soaking up the atmosphere of Chinatown and hitting the malls and restaurants of Bukit Bintang.
January 2006 - I flew to Vienna for the start of an 8-day, 3-country trip. I spent 3 days in the stunning, snow-covered Austrian capital, walking around Ringstrasse several times, seeing countless stunning buildings, taking a ride on the famous Riesenrad ferris wheel and drinking lots of coffee and eating lots of cake in the many cafes.
From Vienna, I made the 75 minute train journey to the Hungarian town of Sopron. Under a foot of snow, the squares and cobbled streets were beautiful, but unfortunately much of the town was hibernating for the winter, so I couldn't climb the famous Firewatch Tower to get a panoramic view nor visit any of the numerous museums.
After returning to Vienna, I visited the picturesque Slovak capital of Bratislava as a daytrip. Just a 1 hour train ride east of Vienna - but feels much further away! I climbed St Michael's Gate for excellent panoramic views, climbed up to the hillside castle (Hrad), walked along the Danube, wandered the narrow streets of the Old Town and finished the day off with a couple of local beers.
37. Hong Kong
Late January 2006: I spent 10 days in Hong Kong (technically a Special Administrative Region of China) in the lead up to Chinese New Year. I recommend the amazing view of the skyscraper-filled city and the harbour from the top of Victoria Peak - a truly world-class sight, especially at night! I was also surprised to find great countryside and sandy beaches on Hong Kong's various Outlying Islands, while I ended my stay by watching International football (Carlsberg Cup 2006) at Hong Kong Stadium.
From Hong Kong I made the 1 hour ferry journey to the former Portuguese colony of Macau (now a Special Administrative Region of China like HK). I enjoyed my solitary day in this small nation - a cross between China, Portugal and Monte Carlo, with a casino on every corner and a Grand Prix circuit running through its streets. A number of churches, the ruined facade of St Paul's Cathedral and picturesque "Largo Senado" square make for plenty of interesting sights!
Mid-February 2006: I spent 8 days in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Inevitably, I went up the CN Tower (and even tiptoed on the observatory's famous glass floor!) and experienced the amazing views from the Skypod. I took a tour of the Rogers Centre (formerly the Sky Dome), the Hockey Hall of Fame and the excellent Steam Whistle Brewery. I also made the 90 minute coach journey south to the Niagara Falls - a spectacular sight on a snowy winter's day!
Late February / early March 2006: I spent 2 weeks in the Americanised (and recently hurricane-damaged) beach resort of Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan peninsular. As well as tanning myself on Cancun's golden beaches, I undertook daytrips to fellow beach resort Playa del Carmen, to the beautiful laid-back Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres and to the spectacular Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum.
41. New Zealand
Late March 2006: I arrived in wonderful Auckland for 6 days at the start of a 6 week trip around the region. I climbed Mount Eden for amazing panoramic views of the city, walked to the beach (and fish and chip shop!) at Mission Bay and took a ferry to the beautiful seaside suburb of Devonport. I climbed the volcanic peak of Rangitoto Island and spent a day hiking around the beaches, hills and villages of Waiheke Island.
Early April 2006: I arrived in the beach resort of Glenelg, close to Adelaide, South Australia. I caught the historic Glenelg Tram into Adelaide city centre for a few days of sightseeing, visited the German town of Hahndorf and fed kangaroos at Cleland Wildlife Park. Next, I moved on to Melbourne (as the city was just coming back down to Earth after the Commonwealth Games), and visited the historic gold mining town of Ballarat. I headed next to Canberra for a day (ok, that's a bit of an overstatement!) of sightseeing in the Aussie capital, then on to vibrant Sydney. After seeing Sydney's obvious sights, I hit the beaches at Bondi and Manly and walked in the Blue Mountains at Katoomba and Leura, before spending a day at Taronga Zoo. I ended my stay in Oz with a few days in Brisbane - I walked along the South Bank Parklands, the city centre Streets Beach and enjoyed a morning in the world's largest urban sub-tropical gardens at Roma St. Parklands.
43. Cook Islands
Inspired by FletteMette's Cook Islands page (and her continued insistence that it was *Paradise* ;-)), I treated myself to a long weekend on the island of Rarotonga. My totally insufficient 3 days on the island were spent walking along deserted, white sand, palm-fringed beaches, swimming in perfectly clear turquoise lagoons and trekking around the island's picturesque coastal road. I also visited the "bright lights" of Avarua, the island's capital, to see its small harbour, its busy (by Raro standards!) shopping streets and its laid back cafes. Oh.......and Mette is right....the Cook Islands are as close to Paradise as you're likely to find!
Late July 2006: I made the short journey across to Bergen to meet my very first VTer. VT member FletteMette played hostess and tour guide for the week (and even baked me her lovely homemade muffins!) and did a wonderful job of showing me her beautiful home town. We covered the touristy areas of Bryggen and the harbour (much to Mette's delight! ;-p), caught the cable car to the top of Mt Ulriken for a 4 hour hike (much to my delight! ;-p), visited the Aquarium, sunbathed in the parks, wandered the picturesque back streets of Bergen, watched the local football team, Brann, beat Fredrikstad (hopefully en route to a long awaited title victory!), snacked at the Fish Market, ate local "Skillingsbolle" pastries by the lake, sampled the local Hansa beer by the sea at Verftet......and so much more!! :-)) Mette taught me essential Norwegian words (and mocked my almost flawless pronunciations! ;-p) and introduced me to Norwegian "brunost" (brown cheese). The sun shone all week long....which I'm led to believe is quite rare in Bergen! ;-)
February 2007: I spent a week in the exotic, chaotic city of Marrakech. I wandered the souks, haggled with the locals and enjoyed plenty of fresh orange juice, ginseng tea and kebabs from the food and drink carts of the world renowned Djemaa El Fna square.
April 2007 - I spent the long Easter weekend in the Swiss city of Basel, right on the borders with France and Germany. I made the most of the wonderful sunny Spring weather and spent time walking along the banks of the Rhine, as well as visiting Basel's excellent zoo.
47. Bosnia and Herzegovina
May 2007 - my friend and I arrived in Mostar on a bus from Split (Croatia) during an 8 day trip to the Balkans. We spent 2 days in this beautiful old town, watching people jump from the famous bridge and eating cevapcici in the local restaurants. From Mostar, we took the scenic train journey to Sarajevo and explored the capital's Turkish Bascarsija region before watching the local football team, FK Sarajevo, win their first Bosnian league title for 8 years.
From Sarajevo we took a 45 minute flight to stiflingly hot Belgrade for a couple of days of exploring the Serbian capital. We visited the Kalemegdan fortress and wandered the wide cafe-lined streets. We joined in with Red Star Belgrade's jubilant celebrations as they ended their football season as champions of Serbia.
August Bank Holiday 2007: I spent 3 days in the Danish capital, Copenhagen. I strolled along Nyhavn many times, visited the Little Mermaid statue, spent an afternoon in the Tivoli Gardens and paid a brief visit to the Free State of Christiania. The highlight of my trip (and the cheapest beer!) was to be found at the excellent Carlsberg brewery.
September 2007: I spent a week in bustling Bangkok! I visited numerous temples and a host of different Buddhas (the reclining Buddha, the giant standing Buddha, the world's largest solid gold Buddha, the Emerald Buddha...), as well as climbing the riverside Wat Arun temple and the Golden Mount for panoramic views. I soaked up the atmosphere of Chinatown, hired a longtail boat for a journey through the city's canals and, inevitably, visited Khao San Road for a cold beer! Whenever I got tired of Bangkok's busy, polluted roads, I jumped on the metro to Silom to enjoy a stroll through Lumphini Park or hopped on the Skytrain to Sukhumvit or Siam to chill out in an airconditioned mall.
***Due to lack of space (here's hoping the new, improved VT will rectify this! ;-)), countries 51 onwards can be found in the travelogue below...***
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