This bed, though…


I travel for business a lot. That means dealing with the rough and the smooth when it comes to hotels and hotel beds in particular.

Right now, I’m working in Cheltenham and staying in a really rather lovely hotel. And I have to say, it has one of the loveliest hotel beds I’ve ever crawled into. I didn’t touch it when I first arrived yesterday afternoon, as I had to hop straight onto a phone call and then sat at the desk at my laptop for several hours.

But when I finally got into bed….wow. I’ve had a run of pretty awful sleep lately and wasn’t looking forward to another night away from home. But last night, despite all the awful news on TV, I slept like a baby.

Right through until my alarm went off this morning.

I prefer a firm bed, but this one enveloped me like I was back in the womb. I drifted off in minutes and really found it difficult to come out from under the covers.

I have to admit, I immediately made myself a coffee and got straight back into bed so I could enjoy just a few minutes more.

Some intensive Sitges beach therapy


After another night of interrupted sleep, I had a pretty tasty breakfast and headed straight to the beach. Well, not straight. I had about four large cups of coffee to reactivate my brain and packed my bag for the journey home first.

It was disappointingly cloudy this morning. Especially when I spent yesterday’s sunny and hot day indoors working in Barcelona. But we persisted, staying on our loungers and after about na hour, the sun had burnt through the clouds and it was just gorgeous.


I even managed a swim in the sea. On October 1st!! I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Yes, it was a bit brisker than when I was last in Sitges, but it was still bearable and very relaxing.

We stayed on the beach until about 3:30pm, so I got a good four hours of beach therapy. At least, that’s what it felt like. Just wearing my swimming shorts (as we weren’t on that beach this time), sand between my toes and sunshine on my skin, all set to a musical backdrop of waves crashing on the shore. I felt every ounce of tension evaporate from my body.


These photos don’t do it justice. Probably because when the sun made an appearance I was too busy lying sprawled like a seal, trying to absorb as much sunshine and warmth as possible. Taking sunny pictures wasn’t one of my priorities.

I’m not typically a beach holiday kind of person. I don’t like days in a row spent doing nothing but lying by the sea. But a few hours every so often is just perfect.

It’s a shame that by the time I’m in Spain for business again, it will be November and I doubt it’ll be nice enough to get onto the beach like this. That was probably my last beach visit and my last sea swim for 2016.

I’m just glad it was so lovely. Definitely a day to remember.

Sleepless in Sitges…


I’m back in Barcelona for business today, but spent yesterday afternoon and evening in Sitges, just a little down the coast. What started with a lovely walk by the seafront, followed by some delicious tapas at L’Avinyet, ended with me kept awake half the night due to noisy neighbours in the hotel.

It was one thing after another, including some idiot who had managed to lock himself out on his own balcony, as well as other guests arriving back to the rooms (loudly) at 1am, 2am and 3am. I’ve not stayed at this hotel and don’t think I’ll be back. While the staff are friendly and it has some nice facilities, the walls seem to be paper-thin and it’s just too noisy to get any sleep.

And I like my sleep…

My alarm this morning went off at 6am, but to be honest. I’d been awake since 5:30am. Which, in UK body clock time, was really 4:30am. Ugh. No opportunity to grab a coffee before I got the train from Sitges to Barcelona Sants, so I made sure I swung by the Starbucks closest to my client’s offices before coming in. Cue one very large Americano – the first of many today, I fear.

(I didn’t even care that the Starbucks barista called me ‘Richie’… )

There’s a reason they use sleep deprivation as torture… Still, I get to spend today with some really amazing people, before heading back down to Sitges for another evening. And hopefully, some more sleep…

Testing the iPhone 7 Plus camera

I’ve had the new iPhone 7 Plus for a little over a week, but I’ve still managed to put it through its paces, indoors and out, and I thought I’d share a few of those photos here. Overall, I’m really impressed with the quality of pics.

The camera app seems faster and more responsive than in my iPhone 6s Plus (of course, it could be my imagination!) and the focus is sharper. But have a look below and let me know what you think. Photos were taken in a variety of locations and conditions – there’s no central theme at all!

I’ve included a few shots from last week’s overnight trip to Dublin and some from outside a local bar here in Canary Wharf.

I haven’t shot any video with it yet, but might do during this week’s trip to Barcelona and Sitges. At this rate, it’s beginning to feel like a high quality camera with a mobile phone attached.

I’m Seoul excited!

And I just can’t hide it…

Sorry for the terrible pun, but it couldn’t be avoided. As of this morning, our trip to Japan has been updated and we’re including a visit to Seoul, South Korea as well! We’ve never been, despite discussing it quite a few times in the past.

So why the late change to the plans? Two main reasons:

  1. I was determined to retain my British Airway gold status for another year and @FrankDJS (henceforth know as King of Aviation Geeks) calculated that this was indeed possible. But only if we cancelled and rebooked our flights with some changes. And added a couple of extra flights. More than a couple, actually…

This sounds like a lot of extra work for something ephemeral, but I can hand-on-heart say that the last year of BA Executive Club Gold status has been a real help on my many, many business trips. Several free upgrades, extra baggage allowance and the comfort of a business lounge to get work done (or simply slump, head-in-hands at the end of a very long day).

  1. We’d be re-thinking how we’d spend our time in Japan and considered changing our plans to visit Nagano and Kanazawa.

Cancelling the BA flights was at minimal expense and we’ve rebooked with FinnAir. Not as crazy as it sounds! We fly from Heathrow to Helsinki and after a brief stopover, go from there to Seoul. Why via Helsinki? Well take a look at the earth – going to Asia via the north makes for a quicker journey.

After a few days in Seoul, we fly to Tokyo and immediately on to Osaka. At that point, we’ll start using our First Class JR rail passes and make our way back to Tokyo.

We’re planning a series of day-trips out of Tokyo to take advantage of the passes, as well as doing some of our favourite things within Tokyo. This will include a trip up to Nagano to see the snow monkeys, which is definitely do-able with travel via Shinkansen. We’ll once again be in town for the annual Halloween parade (amazeballs!). That aside, everything’s up for discussion.

It’s all a bit mad, really. We still fly out on October 20th, so this is a relatively last-minute change to the plan. Also, we usually plan our trips in some detail – reading up on where to go and what to see. The decision to add Seoul to the itinerary went something like this:

“How about Seoul?”

“We’ve never been there, have we?”

“Look, it’s only two hours flight from Tokyo.”

“Done! Let’s book it.”

I don’t think we’ve ever made a travel decision that quickly before. There is so much to do and see in Seoul, 48 hours will only let us scratch the surface. But I’m sure I can eat my fill and take a few thousand photos of the city and its people in that brief time.

So now all we need to do is find a hotel in Seoul and a hotel in Osaka. Our hotel in Tokyo remains unchanged (especially as it was prepaid!). Oh and @FrankDJS has to learn Korean, which I’m sure is totally doable in three weeks. It’s only fair as I’ve been studying Japanese.


Hey brain: why you no work?


It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve had three (that I’m aware of) epileptic seizures this week. Maybe more on the horizon. My overwhelming reaction is one of disappointment. Quickly followed by boredom.

I had a couple of nighttime seizures earlier in the week, which left me feeling like I had the mother of all hangovers each following morning. The kind where you can’t bend over to tie your show-laces without searing head-pain and the feeling that your brain is about to pour itself out of your skull via your nostrils. The kind that leaves me fumbling for words and feeling quite spaced out for hours afterwards.

I then had a night of only four hours sleep Thursday night, due to a crappy hotel in Dublin and its proximity to some particularly shady nightclubs. (Top tip: never stay in Harrington Hall on Harcourt Street, unless you like to listen to screams, fights and club music all night).

So, this morning’s absence seizure wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’ve had a busy week and have missed a lot of sleep. The perfect formula for unwanted brain-spasms.

Still, unexpected is one thing. Unwelcome is something else. I slept for about 10 hours last night, but still woke up feeling hollowed out inside. Managed to get as far as Starbucks and back today before I had a passing absence seizure in the hallway of our apartment and took myself off to bed for an hour.

And that was after cancelling my training run this morning. Only a few weeks until the Royal Parks Half-marathon, so I should really be out there, pounding the pavements.

But not today.

(And no, the irony isn’t lost on me – I’m training to run a race to raise money for Epilepsy Action, while my own epilepsy prevents me from training…)

I’m feeling better, but still not myself. I’d actually like to sleep now, but I’m afraid that if I do, I won’t sleep tonight and we’ll be back to square one.

We’re due to go to the cinema this evening and I’m really going to have to see how I feel after dinner before committing. Unless my brain tidies itself up by then, I’m not sure how it’ll cope with a couple of hours of ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

In summary, epilepsy sucks donkey balls. But then we knew that already, right? So I’m really only writing this to make myself feel better about the whole thing, put it into context and move on. I think my epilepsy tends to make me more introspective. Hopefully not self-pitying though. This is where getting the terminology right is key: I live with epilepsy, I don’t suffer from epilepsy.

So, as ever, tomorrow is another day. I’ll chalk this one up to experience, rest up and recharge my batteries. But if epilepsy was my flat-mate, I’d be leaving them a post-it note on the fridge right now.


Unboxing the iPhone 7 Plus

Excitement levels to the max! I actually got my iPhone 7 Plus yesterday, but it was delivered while I was working up in Birmingham and I was just too exhausted to even look at it when I got in.

Ten hours of sleep later, I backed up my iPhone 6s Plus to my iMac, then set up the new iPhone 7 Plus using that back-up. All in all, it took about 30mins from the moment I opened the new phone’s pristine packaging.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, some hastily-taken and bleary-eyed photos of the new objective of desire on my desk

I’ve made a few phone calls, listened to a couple of podcasts and done a bit of tweeting with the new phone. It’s good. No, it’s great. It’s super-fast and responsive and while it’ll take a bit of getting used to, the new ‘taptic’ home button is a nice idea.

I’ve had to use the lightning-to-wired headphone dongle that came with it (super light, but I’m worried it’ll break easily?) as I don’t have a lightweight pair of bluetooth headphones. And based on how much cash I’ve thrown Apple’s way this month, it’ll be a while before I buy any! It’s not a deal-breaker, but the fact that my phone is matte black and the adaptor is shiny white really makes it stand out. And, dare I say, look quite cheap and nasty.

The above pics were taken with the iPhone 6s Plus, so I’m looking forward to giving the iPhone 7’s camera a go this weekend to see just how much better it is. Expect a fuller review of the new phone in the coming weeks, once I’ve used it more and taken it on a few trips.

But so far, so good.

Memories of Japan: Dotonbori, Osaka

We last visited Osaka in the Autumn of 2014 and one of my standout memories of the trip is the nightlife around Dotonbori. This compact neighbourhood is just buzzing and characterised by its brightly lit and fairly eccentric restaurant frontages. Many indicate was the restaurant is famous for, but some are harder to decipher if you’re not local!

Many of them move, albeit slowly, and some even make noises. Walking down the street is an assault on the senses when you add in the aroma of food coming at your from all directions. It’s a little overpowering at first, but we soon got used to it.

We spent time there in the evenings, after long days exploring the city and its region, so we possibly didn’t take advantage of all it had to offer. If memory serves, we had a few early nights while there. Especially after my afternoon at SpaWorld, where I was soaked and boiled into a state of pure relaxation. Onsen heaven.

But it left me in a state of consciousness that wasn’t great for wandering brightly lit and busy streets. It was all I could do to stay awake and pop conveyor-belt sushi in my mouth.

I’d definitely go back to Osaka some day, even though it’s not on the agenda for our next trip to Japan in October. There are too many other places to see! I’ll just have to get my fix for neon and nightlife while we’re in Tokyo.

Coming soon: The Siege at Jadotville

This looks excellent! A new film about the Irish UN force who served in the (then) Congo during the 1960s. It’s a true story about how a tiny Irish force took on a massive attack from mercenaries and local rebels.

From the Irish Times review:

“Few will sit through Richie Smyth’s stirring action film without thinking of Zulu. The 1961 siege at Jadotville in The Congo, during which an Irish battalion resisted repeated attacks from Katangese secessionists, bears comparison with that heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift. The contexts are, however, very different. Adapted from a book by Declan Power, Kevin Brodpin’s script works hard at explaining how a UN force ended up entangled in one of the era’s messier post-colonial disputes.”

I’ll definitely add it to my Netflix queue, but agree that this is the kind of thing that needs to be seen on the big screen. Hopefully somewhere near me will be showing it.

For those interested in the history that lead to Irish soldiers fighting in the heart of Africa in the 1960s, here’s the Wikipedia entry. Veterans of the siege were only this month formally recognised by the Irish Government.