Sunday, February 01, 2015

Cranfield University

Leaving Japan was a difficult choice to make, but I opted to return to the UK in order to study at Cranfield University, relatively close to London. My course would last from October 2014 until September 2015. Cranfield is unique in that the university only offers postgraduate courses to the students who enrol there. The university is best known for study and research in the fields of aviation and management.
University and air field
I elected to study for an MSc in Airport Planning & Management, a field that has always been part of my consciousness since aviation became an important part of my life as a child. The course met my personal interests and would hopefully provide me with more opportunities to work abroad and perhaps make it easier to visit Clara in Japan. I told myself that even if those goals proved unsuccessful, I would still have educated myself to a higher level and no doubt have secured valuable transferable skills that would be applicable across a wide range of industries.
Despite initially struggling to find suitable accommodation near Cranfield, life and studies soon settled down and were extremely enjoyable. At times the work load was heavy and required a few late nights in the library to meet multiple deadlines.

It was really satisfying to spend a whole year embedded within the world of aviation. Our introductory week covered a range of topics, including accident investigation. Cranfield has a hangar where a number of aircraft wrecks are located, each with their own story. The day we visited the hangar to learn more about aviation safety ended on a sombre note as we inspected the wreckage of a Grob Tutor associated with the deaths of two teenage girls on an RAF experience flight.
Cranfield Aerospace
As with many experiences in life, the best part of my year at Cranfield were the people I met there. It turned out I was a rather rare commodity at the university as most of my fellow students were from overseas. On my course, I was the only British person amongst an eclectic group of foreign nationals (French, Dutch, Indonesian, Turkish, Spanish, Canadian, Danish, Hong Kong, and a Zimbabwean).
Friday beers
The only real problems with studying at Cranfield were the shortage of suitable accommodation and a distinct lack of things to do on campus (other than study). However, those were minor inconveniences and I would certainly say that socially, culturally, and academically, I learnt many things.
Group work presentation day
Happy days.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Imperial War Museum Duxford

Avro Lancaster and other British classics
Duxford is only a short 1 hour drive from Cranfield, so during the year studying for my MSc, I visited the museum a couple of times. On my second visit, I saw an aviation legend land, the rare B17 Flying Fortress.
Vickers VC10 panorama
The museum mainly features displays of UK and US aviation legends, although there are a number aircraft from other countries and also non-aviation themed exhibits.
Lockheed SR71 Blackbird
Although difficult to choose a highlight, the visit to the American Air Museum (enclosed in a Norman Foster designed hangar) was particularly memorable. The SR71 Blackbird (capable of speeds in excess of Mach 3) and the US Navy F4 Phantom gained a lot of my attention.
Spoils of war - captured Argentinian Pucara
Duxford is well worth a visit. There are a plethora of different aircraft on display, and if you are lucky enough, you will see some of them flying. Highly recommended!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Year of the Sheep

OK, I know it is February, but I'm assigning this to January to provide an update on my December trip to Japan and Christmas and New Year in Scotland.

Today also just happens to be Chinese New Year (19th February) - so Happy New Year! 2015 is the Year of the Sheep.

My favourite football team, Aberdeen FC, are colloquially known as The Sheep. It just so happens that they are being really successful at the moment and are currently, near the top of the league. Hence the picture of the sheep on fire.
Dinner with Cla

My visit to Japan was great - I managed to see Clara everyday as well as a lot of my friends. The day I arrived, Clara and I had dinner in an Italian restaurant we used to frequent. Nothing had changed - she's working hard at school, still likes her manga, and plays a lot of computer games.

Later in the evenings, I mostly went to Elwood's Bar, my old haunt. In the early hours, I visited the local ramen bar with a few of my friends. On one occasion, I went into central Tokyo to meet a Scottish friend for dinner. A wonderful time seeing Clara, although it would have been nice to stay a bit longer. Perhaps I can visit sometime in the summer?
After arriving back at Heathrow, I drove up to Stoke on Christmas Eve and then finished the drive to Inverness on Christmas Day. Christmas and New Year were pretty quiet. I managed to have a few ales in town and enjoyed some home cooking.
Mount Fuji
Apologies for the slow updates. Things have been too busy over the last couple of months but I will provide more updates soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Short Trip to Tokyo

Things have been really busy over the last couple of months - I'll provide an update soon on what I have been doing in the UK.

However, I'm really excited to be flying to Japan on Friday morning (19th December). Although I'll only be there for 4 days, I will be able to meet some important people, especially Clara. She will be 14 years old on the 22nd December. Hopefully I'll be able to see her at least a couple of times over lunch and dinner. I had also better think about what presents to buy her for her birthday and Christmas.

Other than that, I'll meet up with a Scottish friend and probably spend an evening or two in my former local, Elwood's Bar.

My schedule has not really been planned in great detail. I just hope to spend as much time with Clara as possible.

The return flight from London to Japan was really cheap, although it involves a couple of changes at different airports in Europe and Japan. Now I am starting to get excited to see Clara and to eat some miso ramen.

Updates soon.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Leyton Orient Football Club

As I was living near London, I seized the chance on the 18th of October to go and watch Leyton Orient Football Club play a home game against Milton Keynes Dons.

I have always looked out for the Leyton Orient results over the years as my long since gone Grandfather grew up in that area of London and supported the club throughout his life. Due to the connection between Leyton and my grandfather, the visit was more of a homage than a simple game of football. It was special to walk down streets he was familiar with during his life.

To add further interest, some relations of the family still live in the area and were able to pass on some of their fading memories of my grandfather. He would have been immensely pleased to know that I had set foot in Brisbane Road Stadium, home of Leyton Orient.
Leyton Orient v MK Dons
After the game, relatives who I met for the first time (Ed and Michael) kindly took me to the Leyton Orient Supporters Club for some post match beers. I was made very welcome.

Unfortunately, the quality of football on show was not great. It was clear that Leyton Orient were some way below MK Dons in terms of quality, and that was proven to be the case at the end of the season when Leyton Orient were relegated whilst MK Dons gained promotion.
Thanks, Ed!
A truly great day out in London visiting a place that was fondly remembered by my grandfather.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Japan to the UK overland - closing thoughts

And with this entry, the end of my posts regarding my Trans Siberian and European adventure. After leaving Paris, I took a rather expensive Eurostar train to London and then an overnight sleeper up to Scotland. Ending the journey on a sleeper train in the Highlands of Scotland was a poetic finale.

Japan to Scotland was long, often uncomfortable, sometimes a bit scary, but entirely fascinating. I am conscious that it was possibly a once in a lifetime journey which will never be repeated. I also realise that I am extremely privilaged to have had the opportunity to complete the adventure.

So many wonderful sights - I am now able to look at the map of Asia and Europe in a different and informed light. It is difficult to pick a highlight from the journey. Baikal? Moscow? Paris? Warsaw? The ferry?

One aspect that I am more sure about as time goes on is that it was completely the right decision to leave Japan in this manner. Because of the gradual parting with the country, I actually do not really feel I have left. Sometimes I still have to remind myself that I am waking up in the UK and not in western Tokyo.

Thanks for taking the time to read of my travels. Forthcoming updates on my life in the UK will be a bit shorter and perhaps a tad more mundane.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


My few days in Paris were essentially the last hurrah before my return to the UK. Having only driven through Paris by bus on a high school trip to Venice 25 years ago, I was naturally eager to explore the French capital.
Sacre Coeur
I booked into the Hotel Audran, which appeared to be more reasonable than other hotels advertised on internet booking sites. Despite being more reasonable, it was still not cheap.......and the hotel itself was very basic with an unworkable wifi connection.
Montmartre cafe

However, the hotel's saving grace was its location, Montmartre, only a few minutes walk from the Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge. Oddly enough, my fondest memories of Paris were not the famous sights, but sitting outside a small cafe near my hotel having brunch each day. The weather was extremely pleasant and tourists from all corners of the world would amble past. It also felt a novelty to be able to read a UK newspaper for the first time during my travels.

The Sacre Coeur was better and more beautiful than I anticipated. The location overlooking Paris was memorable and I was surprised not to be bothered by the notorious scam artists that are known to prey on tourists.
Notre Dame Cathedral
After ticking off the Sacre Coeur, I used my invaluable iPhone map application to navigate on foot around Paris. Notre Dame Cathedral was splendid, but my aversion to queueing prevented me from venturing inside. Instead, I circled the Cathedral and walked along the Seine, looking at stalls selling bric a brac and at the numerous bridges.

By pure chance, I crossed the river and walked through the gates of a rather old and impressive building - it turned out to be the Louvre Museum. Again there were long queues, but I was happy enough to take in the outside views and sit by one of the fountains. The Mona Lisa will have to wait until next time. The best photo I took came from my iPhone, a rather nice panorama shot.

The central glass pyramid attracted a lot of controversy after it was completed in 1989. Personally, I think it looks fantastic and successfully marries the old with the new.
Louvre and glass pyramid
As far as I recall, the Louvre represented the end of my formal sightseeing on my first full day. Although I had refreshments along my route, it was time to return to Montmartre for dinner and a few drinks.

The next day followed pretty much the same pattern as the first. Brunch and then more walking (about 15 miles in total) to the final sights I wished to see - the Eiffel Tower, L'Arc de Triomphe, and Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Scams in Paris are the same as those in Berlin. Girls pretending to be deaf and dumb approach you with a clipboard requesting you sign a petition. Once the girl has you distracted, a fellow scam artist will attempt to rifle through your pockets. Perhaps next time I'll place a mouse trap in my pocket and allow myself to be distracted.

The L'Arc de Triomphe reminded me of my visit to Pyongyang. Although smaller, the workmanship and detail of the French version makes it clearly superior. A military ceremony was about to begin in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Next to Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Despite an incredibly long walk through Paris, my final destination was well worth it - the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, home to the remains of many leading lights.
Jim Morrison's grave

I visited the rather modest and ill kept grave of The Doors singer Jim Morrison, and the tasteful grave of Frederic Chopin. Sadly, I did not manage to find Oscar Wilde. The weather was warm and because of its scale, the cemetery did not feel crowded.

Paris, I loved every minute!

Some (short) final thoughts regarding my mammoth journey from Japan to the UK will appear over the next few days. After that, I'll have more mundane matters to report on. Thanks for reading my unprepared jumble of recollections.