Standing alone in the deep blue, dark of the night, rain heavier than I’ve known falling, an ice cold wind cutting through my waterproofs, I felt settled, purposed, and humble. I, was in Iceland.

Following our trip to Gdansk, Michael and I felt the urge to hit the road once more. Iceland is a country we’ve both talked about visiting. Poke your nose into Instagram and you’ll struggle to find a picture of Iceland that isn’t utterly beautiful. Not wanting to simply do a city break, we assumed Iceland would be far out of our budget. How wrong we were.

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This is the story of how we drove 1,180 miles, stayed in 5 beautiful places, took 1,200 photos, spent £500 each, and created memories that will last a lifetime.

Our Arrival

Setting off with an unwelcome tiredness, we were on our way. Flying out from Luton on an Airbus A319 didn’t set the tone of an epic adventure. It felt a little…domestic. Three hours later, land appeared on the horizon. Keflavik Airport is a large, flat, former U.S. Airbase situated in what could have been a post apocalyptic tundra. We found ourselves here because it was far cheaper than flying directly to Reykjavik. (Whilst Michael had to fly down to London on the way out, and I had to fly down from Edinburgh on the return, the flights were only £110.00 each.)

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The first thing you will see in Keflavik airport is a shop for the Blue Lagoon. If you’re so inclined, you can buy genuine Blue Lagoon mud. (It is worth mentioning at this point that, we didn’t go to the Blue lLagoon. Too touristy, not exciting enough.) We stormed through the airport and jumped on the first bus to Reykjavik.

With a little time to wait for our accommodation to become available, we headed straight to Reykjavik Roasters. A cosy little coffee shop we’d been drawn to after seeing it in a video during our research for the trip. Warm and welcoming, the cosy coffee shop was busy, but we managed to share a table by the window with a student. The coffee was delicious, the pastries were fresh, and it was the perfect place to burn a bit of time.

Reykjavik Roasters

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Time passed, and we were ready to check into Einholt Apartments for the first night. These apartments, in the heart of Reykjavik, are simple, but have everything you could need for a short stay. The rooms even had a little kitchen, which we had no use for in our short stay. At €75.00, it was great value, particularly for Reykjavik.

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Our first night in Iceland was our only night in Reykjavik, and it wasn’t particularly memorable. A couple of beers, a burger, and a slice of pizza on the way home. It could have been any small town in Europe.We went early to bed, in anticipation of the morning.

The next morning, waiting for our car rental to become available, we ate the best about-to-start-an-epic adventure breakfast ever. A delicious fry up, pancakes and bottomless coffee. Using the free wifi, we finalised our stop-by-stop plan, and got ready to hit the road.

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Michael was far more prepared than I was. I trusted his diligence and opinion. If he was going to enjoy it, I was going to enjoy it.


The Car

Car hire was far more than a necessity. It was one of the attractions. Both keen drivers, we took great care in finding a car that we’d be happy with. We wanted something we thought would be enjoyable to drive but that could also handle whatever Iceland threw at it. As with all our decisions, price was an unavoidable factor. We found a great price in a rather strange place.

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A local Icelandic blogger, who clearly receives a lot of traffic from people looking to travel to Iceland including us, has a handy widget on her website which takes you straight to Budget Car Hire. Except, you get a massive 15% discount. When you’re hiring a car for 5 days, that really adds up. It was nice to know that we were giving a local a kickback too.

The 2014 Suzuki Grand Vitara was to be our trusty ride. At £268.81 for 5 days of hire, with the maximum Collision Damage Waiver, which unsurprisingly includes cover for volcanoes, that’s a magnificent deal. This low price made the trip possible. Thanks to services such as AirBnB, finding cheap accommodation is no longer an issue. Flying out of London, the fares are always in your favour, but car hire, that could have been one step too far.

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It was perfect. with 1,100 miles ahead of us, tarmac, mud, thick ice, deep snow, water, you name it, At 200 miles a day, we didn’t have time to lose. Daylight lasted a blink at 6 hours, so the pressure to make the distance during day light hours was real.

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Helped by the studded tyres, which all cars in Iceland seem to rock, the car stuck to the road and didn’t miss a beat.


Þingvellir & Geyser

Þingvellir National Park is the furthest most Icelandic tourists get. Wide open landscapes, with Tolkien-esq mountains in the background, the park sets the tone for what Iceland has to offer.

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Probably the most famous destination in Iceland is Geyser. Geyser, and a number of other geothermic wonders, are made famous by the clockwork like eruptions of boiling hot water. Launching water 40+ feet in the air, these natural phenomena are something you’d expect to find in Disney Land, but they are very much real. Travelling in the low season, there were few other visitors. Getting as close as we dared, we crouched patiently, iPhones and cameras in hand.

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For a moment you wonder if the eruption is actually going to happen. On the surface there is clearly life in the water, but not the powerful explosion that you’ve expecting.

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But suddenly, expanding out of the ground, the tight viscus layer of water builds until it splits. Streaming, boiling water propels into the sky, pushing you back with fear of burning yourself. With the water comes a great tearing sound, followed by a cloud of steam which retreats towards the sunset. We watched enchanted, over and over, capturing what we could on camera.

We had an hour or so to drive to our AirBnB for the night, so only managed to fit in one more sight on the way. The sun was low as we pulled up to Gulfoss Waterfall. Windy and freezing cold, the scene was finished off by the most incredible array of colours in the sunset.

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The flow over the waterfall was vast. It threw so much water into the air, that as it settled on the banks nearby, the grass was freezing in places, creating almost an icing around the waterfall. We stood here until the dark was almost upon us, then retreated to the car.

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Our AirBnB that evening was a little apartment in a residential area, a couple of hours outside of Reykjavik. Situated on the south coast, it placed us perfectly to explore the coast the following day, a must for anyone wanting to experience the volcanicity of Iceland. We grabbed a couple of beers, and threw on our goto show, Peep Show.

The South Coast

We set off eagerly that morning, knowing the wonders that Iceland had to offer. Picking up breakfast on the road, we discovered one of Iceland’s food passions: hot dogs. I had read about this before hand and was sceptical, but they really are everywhere.

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Perhaps the most well photographed part of Iceland, and the most recognisable, is the south coast. Near enough to Reykjavik that you can visit on a day trip, it has a number of spots of extraordinary beauty, and alien like environments.

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The south coast is downhill from so much of Iceland’s volcanic history. Route 1, the road that circles Iceland, cuts through the lava fields, creating a perfect smooth platform to view with amazement. The landscape is mostly void of colour, replaced with empty blackness, disappearing into the horizon, often with light lingering mist. Where there is colour, it comes vividly, like the moss covered volcanic rock. The rock was cracked from the pressure of an evolving environment, it is rough like gigantic sand paper, but tipped with bright green life, almost as though it has been turned upside down and dipped in paint.

Seljalandsfoss is such a popular waterfall because of how close you can get.

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A narrow path winds up from the car park only a few hundred yards away, before leading you back down and behind the waterfall.

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Worn away by the endless fall of water blown hard against the rock by the winds from the south, this wide open hole in the rock frames the horizon in the most beautiful way.

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Constantly wet from the spray, we took time to reflect on where we were. A small rock extends over the pool of water at the bottom of the fall. As the wind gusts, volumes of water crash down.

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Kitted head to toe in waterproofs I just had to take the opportunity.

Chosen by Apple for the their Retina iMac wallpaper, Skógafoss is a tall, powerful waterfall just up the road from Seljalandsfoss. The long dark banks of the stream that runs from the bottom waterfall invite you in for closer inspection.

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With a viewing platform stuck on the mountain side, there are even more breathtaking views to be had. As before, we felt compelled to be close to the action; to feel the power. Whilst there were a quite a few people taking in the view from afar, we were the only people who ventured right to the base of the waterfall. The pure power of the waterfall, as small as it was, was simply awesome.

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Captured in slow motion, we were repeatedly battered back by the sheer volume and speed of the sideways water, laughing at how little we could do against the sheer strength of the elements.

Amongst the nature in Iceland, are some remarkable signs of human kind. One of the most mysterious of these is the wreckage of the crashed DC plane, on the black beach in Sólheimasandur. In 1974, during a flight across the Atlantic, the pilot of this aircraft was switching full tanks, only to discover he had no fuel. Their only option was a crash landing, and this beach was their only hope. 3.5KM from the nearest road, and about 1KM from the sea, where this plane came to rest must have seemed like a hopeless nightmare. With nothing but black sand in every direction, I can only imagine the fear and despair which the crew must have felt. Fortunately all on-board survived this misadventure, but their aircraft was not so lucky. Stripped of it’s valuables, only the husk of the plane remains.

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Finding the plane is challenging. Not sign posted, presumably because of how inaccessible it is, we followed the coordinates (63.459523,-19.364618) we found online during our research for the trip. The points leads you to a unremarkable gate in a fence at the side of the Route 1. Driving through the gates, you follow the fence line and turn onto the black sand beach. Now you just drive. You can’t see the plane, but it is out there. Slowly and carefully we edged across the sand, avoiding boulders either side of our tyres. A few hundred metres on we passed a small van come camper abandoned in the sand. 500 metres further on, the two inhabitants had decided to walk. Their van, without four wheel drive and flat road tyres, was getting them nowhere. We continued on over the seemingly endless sand, but as the sand began to fall away in front of us, the plane revealed itself.

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Not a single person in sight, the plane was sitting peacefully with the wind blowing through it. As you get closer, the real damage of the crash landing shows. From a distance the plane looked so robust, close up, the delicate skin on the outside was torn and pierced, clearly from the ferocity of its landing.

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Climbing inside, one gathers an appreciation for what flying must have been like in its day. Cramped, small, and rudimentary, this plane clearly could fly, but it was a million miles away from aviation as we know it today.

Our last stop before out AirBnB for the night was a glacier. Situated a kilometre or so from the car park, this great flow of ice glowed as the sun set over Iceland. By this time in the day we were tired. A lot of driving, and lots of walking around, we were about ready to head home for the night. We stayed however in the presence of the ice for sometime.

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That glow was mesmerising. Sucking in all the remaining light, and bouncing it back again, it was as though it had a back-light, reminding us it was there. A large pool of melt water sits at the base of the glacier, with what I can only describe as miniature icebergs floating on it. We stood with our shoes in the water, throwing stones onto the ice, in the hope hoping of hearing a brilliant twang from the ice. Eventually the light became too low, and we headed back to the car.

That night we stayed in a cosy little apartment in a harbour town in the south east of the country. The route to it along the coast, lit only by the untempered moon, was breathtaking. And what was even more breathtaking was what we couldn’t see. A low hanging mist was clearly visible, the winding road, and clear hillsides to our side meant we must have been near the coast, but we couldn’t see it.

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Stopping the car at the side of the road, we tentatively sent up the camera, shooting into what appeared to be nothing. How wrong we were.

The North East

Our longest drive of our time in Iceland was from our apartment in the south east, all the way up to the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri. Through the night the weather had somewhat worsened. Combined with the altitude, this part of the drive was very snowy, and very icy. Fortunately the car was prepared. Our studded tyres kept us stuck to the road like glue. It was only when stepping out onto the road for photo opportunities that we realised just how bad the roads really were. We were driving, at speed, on sheet ice. But you honestly wouldn’t have thought it was that bad. When it did get a little slippery, locking the differential did the trick. We felt invincible.

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Sitting in our warm car, with music blaring, it was very easy to feel far removed from your environment. At times we were probably hours from the nearest person. Outside, we probably wouldn’t have lasted the night, but our little bubble was so very sheltered. What is the point in being there, miles from anyone, if you can’t feel the isolation or helplessness that could be upon you.

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Most of this drive was empty. Pure white horizons, with dark earth peeking through. We would travel huge distances and see no one. With so much driving, we only had time to see a couple of things before reaching our final destination.

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Dettifoss was on our list of unmissables, but like many roads in Iceland, the road to it was impassible.
However, we did make it to Hverfjall. We nearly didn’t. Almost beaching the car on the deep snow, the journey to it was a little hairy.

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During the summer, this volcanic marvel is a tourist magnet, with a constant stream of people ascending and descending, but that day we only saw two people, and they were leaving. We had it to ourselves. We marched up fairly quickly.

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On our private viewing platform, we just sat and took in the view. Completely silent, and not a single person in sight as far as the eye could see. At the highest point the wind did become overwhelming. I ventured alone to the highest part to capture a few stills, but could only stay for so long, as the wind was so intense that to catch a chest full of air was challenging.

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The drive that day, as long as it was, meant the light went before we were ready for it to go. We didn’t let this deter us from our final sight for the day, Godafoss. First however, we came across a little area of geothermic flurry. From the road, all we could see was the steam, but what was most obvious was the smell.

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Pulling off the road, we took a few minutes to walk around and take in the rather peculiar sight of steam rising out of the ground.

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The constant activity had clearly impacted the ground around. Thick mud, bright in pigment, it was unlike anywhere else we had set foot on.

Back on the road we arrived at Godafoss. Pulling into the car park, the sunlight was completely gone. By this time the weather had worsened, a lot. The rain was pounding down on us, and it was freezing. So, so freezing. Sharp is the word that comes to mind. Immediately we got out of the car, we could hear the waterfall, the moonlight lead us to it. Walking slowly over the slippery rocks, we approached as near as we dare go. The cold was so overwhelming Michael went back to the car for gloves, leaving me standing only feet from the edge of the waterfall. It was quite a walk, and I lost sight of him behind the car which was barely visible. It was so cold that it was causing Michael significant difficulty just getting his gloves on. Standing alone in the deep blue dark of the night, rain heavier than I’ve known falling. through my waterproofs, an ice cold wind which cuts through, I felt settled, purposed, and humble. I, was in Iceland.

On Michael’s return we strategised the photo we wanted to take of the waterfall, speaking loudly over the roar of the great flow of water near us, and the shattering rain above us. My camera not being weather sealed meant taking a shot in the downpour was going to be treacherous. I was to operate the camera, Michael was going to create a rain shield, just above the camera using a piece of cardboard which covered the steering wheel at the start of our rental. The camera was deep inside my jacket, so we had to stand close and work quickly. Without gloves was the only way I could quickly work with the camera. The sharp cold was so harsh on my hands that I quickly lost the feeling in the them. It was so worth it. Shooting in shutter priority, it only took us two 10 second exposures to capture what we were after. Reviewing the photos there and then, we were again astonished with how Iceland’s beauty reveals itself on camera.

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We got back in the car and drove to Akureyri. The city is rather unremarkable. It could be any European city. We ate in a American style restaurant, and enjoyed a drink in a local bar. It was quiet, and pleasant enough. On the road out of the city the next morning, we came across a street of offices. The big 4 consultancies for that matter. Each next to the other, identical offices. I thought I was meant to be as far away from London as possible.


The North Coast Road

There wasn’t really anything on our itinerary for our second last day. Tired from the masses of driving over the last few days, we wanted to take it slow, and get to our final lodgings at a nice pace.

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The drive to Hvammstangi could have only taken a few hours if we’d taken the most direct route, but after consulting with the hotel receptionist, we decided to take in some more of the coast. Following the coast north out of Akureyri, we discovered some exceptional views.

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Mountains vast and snow topped, meeting with the wide open ocean. The contrast was truly staggering, and every corner produced new photo opportunities.

Along our way, we stopped at a fishing village, Siglufjörður. This town was brimming with activity. Grabbing a cup of coffee in a local cafe, we watched local people coming and going, all very merry.

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Signs of the towns history were easy to find. Boats in and out of service, and also a memorial to locals lost at sea on rescue missions for stricken friends and family.

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There was one stretch of road, which cannot have been longer than a couple of miles, where we had to keep stopping because the view just got better and better. When we finally pulled off the road in a stopping area, we were overwhelmed with the view. It was impossible to take in.

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So vast, so unbelievable. You keep taking photos, and they just don’t capture the place. All you can do is stare in awe.

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In amongst these natural wonders, also existed some incredible feats of engineering. The ambition of the Icelandic people to connect their country by a single ring road meant that significant obstacles would have to be overcome. The most significant of these? The mountains. Unlike tunnels I’ve ever experienced, the passages cut through massive mountains, travelling 10KM deep through the mountain connecting the unconnected.

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These tunnels are so vast that they almost invoke that feeling when you think your loading bar has stuck. Are we moving? Are things changing? Will it ever end? I imagine taking a car with an exhaust that’s a little noisier, might have been a lot of fun.

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We retreated from the coast and headed inland for our final night.

Hvammstangi Cottage & A Very Late Night

As the sun set, we pulled into the fishing village of Hvammstangi. Our home for the night was a cosy cottage, perched on the hill over looking the village. After dropping off our bags, we ventured out into the village to pick up some supplies for dinner. In Reykjavik, we did buy lots of tinned food and bottled water in case we ran into some trouble, but that was pretty basic stuff. Inspite of its size, the town had a fairly good supermarket. Beer however wasn’t available in the shop. In fact, you can only buy alcohol in state owned shops. The nearest? A tiny room, in the back of the hardware store, next door to the supermarket. At last, we picked up a six pack and headed back up to the cottage.

One of our distant hopes for our trip was that we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. I have friends who have travelled to Iceland with the sole purpose of seeing the Northern Lights, and haven’t seen them. So, we didn’t get our hopes up. Sunset is early in Iceland, so we spent the early part of our evening making dinner on the tiny electric stove in the cottage. Around 11, we finally ventured outside. The bright lights inside made it difficult to see what was happening in the sky.

Nothing to report.

We took some long exposures of the night sky, the cottage, and the car. These epic, surreal photos made possible by the lack of light pollution, look incredible.

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In preparation for the possibility of seeing the lights, I began experimenting with exposure settings on my camera. Enough to get the stars to shine through, but not too much to blow out the horizon.

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That’s when we noticed the green. Reviewing one of the longer exposures, this light tint of green was light brushed across the sky. At first I thought this was just some issue with the screen on the camera. The anti-reflective coating refracting some light, I looked closer and it really was there. Looking back at the sky we couldn’t see anything. Clearly too faint to be seen with the naked eye, the lights were clearly coming. We ducked back inside and waiting for a couple of hours.

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We finally ventured out at about 2am and there they were. Greeness in the sky. Unexplainable, unbelievable. Soft, faint, and gaining in strength. First we saw this broad green band towards the north, followed by the pillars in green and purple forming to the west. There is little that you can say at these times.

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Ideal conditions for the lights are a clear sky and low temperatures. Boy was it cold. We were well prepared for this trip, but even with every layer I had, it was cold out. The grass was frozen solid, the road slippery, but that didn’t seem to matter. We stood in the cold for over an hour, standing and staring towards the sky, taking photographs, and sipping whisky.

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What an extraordinary last night.

Morning came, and we had to hit the road early to make it back to Reykjavik to drop off the car and make it to the airport. We set off as the sun was rising, filling the sky with the most incredible colours.

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As we snaked down to sea level, Iceland was still throwing surprises in our direction. My favourite panorama of the trip was taken just by the car park next to the Icelandic equivalent of TGI Fridays. We parked up and I ran half a mile to the waters edge, past the last lamppost to capture the frozen yet flowing waters, meeting the colossal mountains.

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Spending so much time in a warm car, you don’t realise how cold it is outside. Running back the car, at this moment I really realised how cold we were.

We started our drive that morning in a fishing village in what felt like the most isolated place in the world, but as we neared Reykjavik, normality returned. Fewer 4×4’s, familiar shops reappeared. We were ready to fly home.

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I will go back to Iceland, no question. Michael and I are already planning our next trip. So many more adventures to be had.

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New York, United States of America

New York has always held a special place in my heart, and Maddy even more so. She lived just outside the city for a couple of years in her teens, and was dying to get back. This was also my first time in America as an adult. My parents took my brothers and I across the country, but all whilst I was young.

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We were lucky to spend our 10 days staying with our friend Wanja, living with her in Hartsdale, NY. Hartsdale was our base to explore the state and the city, and was such a relaxing place to enjoy New York from. Having lived in London for just over a year now, staying out of the city was a blessing.

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As soon as we knew we were going to New York, seeing a Yankee’s Game was our first priority. Having been in New York for less than 24 hours, a baseball game was the cultural baptism of fire we needed. The theatre of game and the stadium was entertaining, if not somewhat overwhelming. The actual baseball part was quite small. The guys yelling ‘BUD BUD-LIGHT’ whilst carrying 10 DOLLAR bottles of beer on their head, or the endless ‘Papa Johns Pizza Crowd Cam’ seemed to be the main event. We enjoyed it never the less…and we got the baseball caps to prove it.

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From our base, we popped into the city a few times, and hit all the major hotspots, including the Rockefeller Centre. Turns out this is the best place to see the city and the Empire State building. (I think most people go up the Empire State building, but you don’t actually get to see it and the beautiful skyline)

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My fondest memory of the city was running through Central Park with Maddy. At the time, I was half way through a 8-week 5KM Challenge, so we took the opportunity to keep my new fitness routine up, whilst seeing the park in a unique way. And what a way it was to see the park. Had we walked, we would never have seen the whole park, or probably found the hidden water fall at the end. The most awkward thing about the run was trying to find somewhere to shower afterwards. It sounds like a silly problem, but we ended up having to pretend that we’d just moved to the city, and that we wanted to try a gym.

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Food. The trip really did feel like a non-stop eatathon. As a self confessed pizza lover, the New Yorkers certainly didn’t dissapoint. Plus, the other food was pretty great too. I think the portion control was a bit…ridiculous, but again it was fun.

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge was a real treat. The sun was beating down, but it was a refreshing change from the island. The scenery was beautiful, and we saw a few characters along the way. On Wanja’s recommendation, we hit Junior’s for the hands-down, best Cheesecake in the world. We didn’t realise the slices we going to be so massive. So massive, that we didn’t need lunch.

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At times, the city did feel exceptionally ‘tourist-ee’. Spoiled in fact. The MoMA was full of people either taking selfies of themselves in front of the art, or viewing it through the their camera, Time Square was like the tartan shop epidemic of Edinburgh, but way worse, and the World Trade Centre was people sitting on the names of fallen, taking selfies. I suppose this was to be expected, but luckily seeing the city was actually quite a small part of our trip.

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Outside of the city we took sometime to hit some of the local hotspots. I was surprised by how leafy and beautiful New York is, even just outside the city. One afternoon we visited a local brewery. A part of the trip which I particularly enjoyed. From the outside it didn’t look like much, but this small brewery created and served some fine drinks, and they did so with an inspiring passion. The brewers offered an insightful tour, and you exchanged poker chips at the bar for tasters of their beers.

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One thing couldn’t we miss, was visiting Maddy’s old home, which wasn’t too far from where Wanja lived. I have heard much about Maddy’s time in New York over the years, so seeing where she spent some impactful years was special for me too.

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As much as I hate shopping, I guess it was just one of those things we had to do. With an exchange rate of 1.6, I couldn’t help but get involved either. We both did well. Maddy did very well.

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I left New York with mixed feelings. It had been wonderful spending time with Wanja and I had quite possibly my most relax holiday yet. I did however leave feeling disappointed. My experiences of America when I was a child were very happy and exciting. I always thought of the country and happy, prosperous, and better than home. It wasn’t long before memory was scratched away. There was a distinct sense of superficial and corporate culture which I didn’t enjoy. The outward patriotism, yet stark social division I found quite unsettling and almost upsetting. I suppose that isn’t too different from home. I know if we had dug deeper, we would have fund more of what we were looking for, but we didn’t on this trip. I’m sure we’ll be back again, but I don’t know when.

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Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

7-8th of June 2014 

I did it again. Late one Wednesday night, I found myself booking a trip to Luxembourg flying out of London City Airport that Saturday morning.

My dear friend and former band mate, Claire, has recently started working part-time in London, part-time in Edinburgh doing PR for the rich and famous. The London-Celeb jet setting lifestyle evidently didn’t take long to rub off on Claire. Before I knew it, she was pretty much typing in my credit card details for me, as we booked the 8:05 to Luxembourg City, on LuxAir. OK, maybe I wasn’t quite as resistant. It had been a few months since my last trip, and I couldn’t wait for the next.

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We searched for flights through a number of sites, but ended up finding the same prices on the American Express website, so we just booked through them. We were pleasantly surprised the costs, especially considering how close to departure that we booked. We flew with LuxAir and stayed at a Novotel in a twin double room. The breakdown was: Flights: £266.00 + Hotel: £77.02 = £343.02 (£171.51 each). Minus the €500 rebate for our delayed departure, we actually ended up £26.49 each. (Yes, we were paid to go on holiday!)

Luxembourg is a seriously green country. As we descended into Luxembourg City Airport, the thick forest and surrounding the city became increasingly dramatic. Before we had even touched the ground, there were trees above the wing tips.

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After a brief ride from the airport, through yet more dense forest, we arrived in the European District of Luxembourg City. Our hotel, an endless number of banks, and a vast array of EU institutions call this area of Luxembourg City home. This area feels distinctly ‘new’ and is distinctly different from the beautiful old city which many would recognise as Luxembourg City. The roads are wide, the buildings are tall, clean and glass, and there were very few people around. After cluelessly staring at the blank looking buildings, we eventually found our hotel, checked in, dropped our bags off, and we were immediately back on the road.

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For our entire trip we had only one hard commitment. A kick-ass Segway tour. For as long as I have known about Segways, I’ve wanted to ride one, for no other reasons than to have tried it. I’m a helpless fool when it comes to innovative technology, and whilst the Segway might just be a glorified mobility scooter, it’s gravity defying movement enchanted this poor sucker.

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The centre of Luxembourg City isn’t very big, so it wasn’t very long until we stumbled upon our tour guide for the afternoon. After some brief introductions, and a one-to-one training session, we set off. The feeling of motion on the Segways is initally unsettling. To move forward you simply lean forward, changing your centre of gravity. All the Segway wants to do is stay up right, so as you lean, it begins to move forward to keep up with your leaning. The Segways move quickly, and before you know it, you’re slaloming lamp posts, and photo hungry tourists.

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We set off into into the roads of the city, following our tour guide through the narrow cycle lanes. Equipped with an earpiece we received a brief history of Luxembourg, from our tour guide whilst he kept everyone in check. As Claire and I were staying only for one night, this had to be the best way to see the city. We covered a surprising distance, including up and down a lot of hills which I really would not have fancied in the incredible heat we experienced, all whilst comfortable and cool thanks to the breeziness of the Segways.

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Aside from the wonderful views, the tour was pretty uneventful. A local Luxembourg man however, who had decided to join the tour when seeing the Segways parked up in the street, clipped a curb as we turned onto a single lane bridge in the valley surrounding the city. By this point in the tour we were all confident on the Segways so were traveling with some speed. Clearly the guy hadn’t seen the curb, and flew off, ankle first, onto the ground. I was ahead of him at this point, and heard the loud crash behind of the Segway flipping. Before we know it, the poor guy was on a stretcher and our tour was one shorter. The lead tour guide managed to drag the second Segway along behind his for the remainder of the journey, albeit a little slower. We finished up after a quick elevator ride through the rocks, over looking the beautiful city. This was a lovely place to survey the city  For £25 each, the tour was terrific value for money. If you see a Segway tour, and you’re tight for time, give it a go.

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The rest of our first day was spent slowly wandering around the narrow streets as the late sunset arrived. The old city isn’t a difficult place to burn some time. We found some street cafes to grab a drink, and hopped between  quaint government buildings and beautiful churches.

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I had heard from a colleague before visiting that Luxembourg City wasn’t great for food. I wouldn’t say that the food on offer was bad, but nothing seemed to jump out at us. We ended up at a safe Italian restaurant down a backstreet off the main square. £30 for a nice enough meal for two with a couple of drinks. Luxembourg again surprises on the affordability front.

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Gathered in the main city square that evening, the residents of Luxembourg City enjoyed music, dancing and conversation. The square was packed with people of all ages having a great evening. The square was lined with stalls from all the local breweries, were I indulged on a selection of the local lagers. I am rather fond of the european ‘beer cup tradition’ that Luxembourg City seemed to implement so well. Essentially, you pay a €0.50 up front fee with your first drink, and get this nice plastic cup. Each time you buy another drink, you exchange your cup for a nice new one. At the end of the evening, you get your €0.50 back. Nice.

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As we lay on the grass, the sky darkening, and the music slowly ending, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of Luxembourg City flooded through me. All stresses of London life left me at that moment. I was content. I remember Claire finding my contentness unnerving. I suspect I looked bored or uninterested in what was happening, but that couldn’t have been further from the reality. In the rush between trying to actually leave London, and the slight drama of our Segway tour, I hadn’t stopped to take in the city, breath, relax, and sink into my thoughts. That evening, Luxembourg had a very disarming effect on me. It felt safe, friendly and relaxed.

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Shortly afterwards, the square cleared and we took a short walk to a nearby bar. We ended up in some fairly standard bar. Nothing to write home about, other being rather busy. Oddly though, it was with within touching distance of the Royal Palace…which was rather odd. We saw very few places that looked inviting, so only stayed in town for a couple of drinks. It was busy, but we’d had enough, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.

The next morning we thought we’d walk into town instead of taking the bus. Walking through the European District, Claire and I were both stunned with how lifeless the area was. Aside from the many European flags softly fluttering in the wind, the whole area was dead.

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We walked up to the doors of the European Investment Bank; no one. We climbed through the anti-protest barriers at the ‘Ministère du Développement Durable et des Infrastructures’; no people, no security. But the steps were covered in graffiti proclaiming ‘No Borders. No Nations’ among other things. For all we know, this may have been quite typical for a Sunday morning in Luxembourg.

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We sat for sometime on these steps on the building, enjoying the shade from the incredible sun that was beating down on Luxembourg that day. The unsettling quietness of the area was somehow inviting, and it felt as though we shouldn’t have been there. Everything was unguarded. I could touch the glass and see the X-ray machines inside, but no one cared.

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The European District is also home to the ‘Philharmonie Luxembourg’ – a beautiful concert hall. Again, deserted, Claire and I snaked between the pillars that surrounded the building, like i’m sure I would have done as a child.

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We walked over the long bridge into the historic city centre enjoying the breath taking views. Again we looked for a place to have breakfast/lunch but ended up in McDonalds. It wasn’t the worse meal ever. It was handy, and cheap.

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For such a small city, Luxembourg has an astonishing history. One piece of Luxembourg history which I found particularly intriguing was The Casemates. The Casemates are a series of tunnels, reaching a combined length of 22KM in total. These defences were begun by the Spanish in 1644, and continued to serve the people of Luxembourg up until World War II. Today, visitors receives tours from students through a limited section of the tunnels.

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The natural air conditioning which the tunnels seemed to create was a blessing in the height of the afternoon. A set of stairs, near the edge of the old city, serves as the tourists entrance into vast world below. The low ceilings, and steep slippery stairs kept both of us on our toes. The tour was excellent, despite the somewhat broken English of the young man leadings us around.

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It was easy to imagine the men packed into these smoke filled caverns, firing muskets and canons through minuscule windows towards the advancing enemy, whichever country it was at that time. At one stage or another, The Casemates were held by just about every country in Europe, often not by the same force that held the city above.

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For Claire, there was one particularly nice coincidence about our time in Luxembourg. As long as I’ve known Claire, she has loved Harley Davidson Motorbikes. She still talks about getting the old gang back together, and crossing America coast-to-coast, on the back of a Harley. The weekend we were staying in Luxembourg, the ‘Harley Owners Group’ were meeting, and boy where there a lot of bikes. You could hear these beautiful American made motors a mile off, with their machine gun like exhaust pipes firing relentlessly as the bikers revved their engines excitedly. We took sometime to admire the bikes, each of which had been carefully customised to the tastes of each rider. The ‘H.O.G’ were a cheery lot. There was a genuine sense of community amounts the men and women, who were far from the biker brutes Holywood prescribes. I even snapped one Belgian biker filming an American Gospel Band in the city square.

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As our Sunday afternoon drew to a close, Claire and I walked the streets which I was starting to become most familiar with. We were both working the next morning, so in the interest of a drama free return leg, we caught a bus, a little earlier than we may have needed to, and made it to the airport with plenty of time. The return journey was pleasant. As we drifted out of Luxembourg I reflected on how much it felt as though we had fit into such a short period of time.

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This is one of the great things about living in London. You’re living in the centre of the world. London looks at every corner of the world, and everywhere looks back. If you want to go ‘somewhere’, London is where you start. If you want to follow a certain career path, or passion, London has it. If you want to meet a certain kind of person, eat a certain kind of food, listen to a certain kind of music, London has it. London is it.

There are many things about London that irritate me, but it’s the centre of the world, and I can’t help but love it.

Gdańsk, Poland

 7-10th of March 2014

Caring not for reason or consequence, but rather doing for the sake of doing. Impulsiveness is a characteristic I adore in others, and strive to exercise myself. Gdańsk was my first impulsive adventure of 2014.

Flight to Gdansk

Having recently found my first bona fide job out of University, a trip seemed like the perfect way of catching up with Michael, former flat mate and good friend who I hadn’t seen for some time. Well, it turns out that Gdańsk is pretty much the only place where Ryanair flies to on the same day, time, and for under £100, from both Edinburgh and London. So in a number of ways, Gdańsk chose us.

DSC00504DSC00459DSC00477 DSC00487With the greatest respect to Gdańsk, a small port city on the northern coast of Poland, it doesn’t feature on many lists for ‘places to see in March 2014′. Unless of course you’re interested in the International Indoor Athletics Championships, which happened to be underway in Gdańsks’ partner city of Sopot. The airport is tacked on the outside of the city, and as you descend into the airport the view is somewhat unspectacular. There just isn’t much to see. Completely flat as for as the eye can see, and nothing notably city like either.

Gdańsk Airport

My total lack of preparation became painful apparent shortly after my arrival. After the standard smirk of the security guards at my long-haired self living inside my passport, I realised I was the first to arrive. I would have to survive alone in said arrivals halls. As any self respecting British tourist does, my first port of call was to buy some lager. Not only did the airport arrivals terminal only sell apple juice or miniature bottles of Moët Chandon, I didn’t actually have any money.

The arrivals hall wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Five or six rental car stands squeezed into one side of the room, and an information desk on the other, separated by the ‘cafe’ and double sliding front door. After what seemed like literally minutes of standing awkwardly amongst Polish taxi drivers, Michael finally arrived. I knew he would be more prepared than I was. Hence, why I was not.

We found the only cash machine in Gdańsk airport and our first challenge was whether we wanted ‘Fast Cash’ or ‘Get Money’. I still don’t know which one we choose, but we got what appeared to be loads of money. It was. It turns out everything in Poland is cheap. Live like kings, take Uber’s to the chippie, cheap.

The well spoken young lady behind the ‘Official Information’ desk, kindly pointed us towards the ‘Official’ Taxi company for Gdańsk Airport. We headed out of the airport into the familiarly crisp air, crunching over freshly scattered salt, to a queue of identical, some what dated Mercedes E-Class taxis. The chap behind the wheel was one of the few people we met who didn’t speak very good English, not that we minded. After I helplessly held out our AirBnB booking, the bemused driver had a pretty good idea of where the apartment was. The journey couldn’t have been any more than 15 minutes, and cost less than a tenner. We were too amused by the funny looking money, that we didn’t tip the driver. Something we discovered later, was very rude of us.

Gdansk Taxi

Our driver didn’t know exactly where the apartment was, but thanks to some Street View research to scout out the friendliness of the neighbourhood, we felt oddly familiar with the streets of Gdańsk. Before booking the trip, Michael and I FaceTime’d a number of times, and discussed where we wanted to stay in Gdańsk whilst reviewing GoogleMaps. I found myself looking at GoogleMaps, Streetview, and AirBNB so much that I had built up this picture of Gdańsk in my head which was very different to what we actually experienced. My mental image wasn’t better or worse, just different. I had imagined a city snaking with canals, much like Amsterdam, but with steep hills surrounding, flung with historic homes. Gdańsk was quite different.


During the second World War, Gdańsk experienced fierce fighting between the Germans and the Russians, leaving the majority of the city damaged or destroyed. After the war, the people of Gdańsk decided to keep to their heritage and rebuild their beautiful city as it had been for hundreds of years before. This created a rather odd feeling for me in Gdańsk. Most of the buildings are clearly not new, however, they don’t feel old as one might expect from buildings of that style.

DSC00132I don’t know enough about architecture to comment fluently, but the architecture certainly creates a charming feeling in Gdańsk, whilst feeling a little Madam Tussauds. Back to our trip…

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We picked up the keys to our AirBnB rental called ‘Gdansk will surprise you – try it!’ from a local restaurant and headed in. We were far from disappointed, especially considering the rate was £43 per night. A party of six revellers could fit comfortably with plenty of room to move. With four single beds,  two double sofa beds, a nice big shower and a kitchen with table, this place was perfect. Wedged high up in the corner of the living/bedroom was a massive LG TV. Whilst we never turned it on, it was a nice feature to have. Gdańsk seemed to have a real affinity with LG TV’s. Almost every bar and restaurant seemed to have at least one, if not two, nuzzled together, flat against the wall, playing the match of the day.

Our first pint in Gdansk

Quickly dumping our bags, we hit the road and started wondering. For all we cared, having dropped off our bags, our mission was complete. Nothing more was planned. We wanted to see where the evening took us. We walked the streets for a short while, familiarising ourselves with our surroundings before settling on a microbrewery come restaurant roughly 50 feet from home. Without even a word, the waitress immediately reached for the English menus. Some might blame my bright red rain coat, and high rising rucksack. Others, the camera tied to my wrist. Either way, we had found our first pint in Poland, and safely knew that our holiday had begun.


Scattered soft lights guide you down the historic streets of Gdańsk. Slowly trailing from pub to pub, we worked hard to stay clear of any obvious tourist destinations.

PintsMichael and I

We keenly tasted a range of Polish lagers, in the company of such welcoming and friendly locals, finally settling on one we were fond of. Whilst I still can’t pronounce it’s name, I do remember that it was 7 ‘insert-polish-currency’ a pint. That’s about £1.40. Yes. £1.40.


After a quick drink the newer part of the city, we decided to head back into the historic area where our apartment was located. As we approached the large arches in the old town, we noticed a beer sign, next to a door and what appeared to be some stairs leading underground. The sign was off the beaten track, and wasn’t obvious. For that very reason, we had to visit. After having to buy a number of rounds of beer at once, because we hadn’t broken the massive notes we collected from the airport cash machine, we made friends with a group of Polish students who had just bought a 10 pint pitcher. They were quick to invite us to share it with them and we were happy to get stuck in.


After finishing the gargantuan beer the students had bought, they proceeded to lead us around the lesser known haunts in Gdańsk. These were the kind of places you probably wouldn’t have have dared enter without a local by your side, and that you would never find again on your own. Great conversation was followed by greats drinks. We shared a surprising number of interest, with Michael even having an in depth conversation on Mongo DB, a server technology. As the night drew to a close in the underground candle lit bar we were in, we exchanged Facebook details. We finished our honey beers, and headed home.

Honey Beer

As we wondered home, via the obligatory late night food pitstop, the sharply cold night really took grip. Fortunately our little flat was warm, almost too warm. Never the less, it was such a pleasant place to return to the end of such a nice evening that nothing seemed to matter.

The Apartment

The following two days were spent wandering the streets between bars and restaurants. March is the low season, so there wasn’t a lot to do during the day. Down the Main Street through the historic centre, we stumbled across a gentleman inviting us to dine in his restaurant. By the time we saw him it was bitterly cold, and he was clearly used to standing in the street and pulling in the punters. The man owned three restaurants, but we dined at his Italian twice. By the second time we heard is pitch, we were familiar with it, but were happy to hear it again and give him our custom. The restaurant was staffed by his daughters, who he would occasionally pop in to check on whilst escaping from the bitter cold. It was a sweet place to have dinner, and was so very reflective of the kind and welcoming people we met.

Crane Sign


Gdańsk is an effortless city to photograph. Before our trip, I picked up a Sony RX100 Mk. 2 for capturing my travels. In the past i’ve found photography to be such an enjoyable past time. The temptation was to buy an DSLR, but I opted for the best compact camera I could afford. I hope my photos reflect the city and our trip as I wanted to capture it. Honestly and lively.

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Wherever I went, the camera went, and there was constantly something that fascinated me to snap. It performed beautifully in the streets, as well as in the poorly lit vaulted bars. I’m sure I bugged Michael at times, but some of the shots of him are some of my favourites. Catching him off guard, being the  cool cat that he is, or the fun times we had over a beer or a coffee. Gdańsk is a beautiful place, and I have some beautiful photos which I will cherish for a long time.



It was a short and sweet holiday. A few days spent with a good friend in a beautiful city. I have that  traveling bug, and I can’t wait to discover my next city.



2013 In Review

It’s January 2014 and the last 12 months have been crazy.

In short, I started the year as a lowly undergrad in a wee Scottish city. Now, I work on the 22nd floor designing the financial services of the future for one of largest international financial institutions.

So here is what the last 12 months have been.

January 2013

  • Dissertation due first week back of term, which is a long way from being complete.
  • The conceptual phase of my Honours Project is now well and truly over, and now I know what I need to design and build, but I haven’t started yet.

February 2013

  • Phew, dissertation behind me and now I’m full speed ahead working on my Honours Project.
  • Design is well underway.
  • I’m a few weeks into learning Ruby on Rails – this ain’t gonna be easy.
  • Mk. 1 prototype due at the end of the month. I’ve got a design, and a very basic technical concept, but the two are very far apart.

March 2013

  • Mk. 1 Prototype went down well.
  • Mk. 2 Prototype due at the end of the month.
  • Design and Development now coming together so my Mk. 1 design, now is realised technically and it’s working!

April 2013

  • I’ve been coding like crazy. Regularly pulling 4AM’s, and getting straight back into the studio the next morning for a 10AM start.
  • Long term tiredness is starting to get to me.
  • Perfect timing for three nights in Amsterdam with Madeleine. (Thank you Secret Escapes for your 5-Star hotel and complimentary bottle of beer at the bar!)
  • Back in Dundee – AGH! So much to do!
  • Film 1-minute video for my Honours Project – (I love film making, but I just wanted to keep coding at this point)
  • Degree Show planning now also in full swing.
  • Preparing for my VIVA!!!!!!

May 2013

  • VIVA Preperation is all I can think about. Writing and practising presentation on as many as people as I can get to listen. (Thanks Michael!)
  • VIVA week! Agh!!
  • VIVA over. Somehow I forget to take in my key prop…wow. Still managed to get a laugh out of the panel though. They were great, very interested in what I had to say, and it really felt like the work paid off.
  • Silicon Milkroundabout weekend after the VIVA’s. No time to celebrate, onto the train to London to find a job.
  • Met a LOAD of great people in London.
  • Straight back to Dundee to face external examiner, Rory Hamilton. Also went very well, and was a great chat. (Dundee-London-Dundee in one weekend is a lot of traveling)
  • D-Day. Degree Marks are in.
  • Emails and calls start coming in from Silicon Milkroundabout – looks like I’m going straight back to London for some interviews!
  • DEGREE SHOW! Friday night was awesome – the only day I was there.
  • Head back to London. Four interviews in three days.
  • Two great full time offers from great London start ups. I turn them down to take an internship at Citymapper – awesome choice!

June 2013

  • Move to London and start my internship with Citymapper.
  • Back to Dundee AGAIN for my Graduation. What a party, with the best people.
  • Back to London for good (or so I thought)

July 2013

  • New Designers – three days of unimaginable heat in a massive greenhouse.
  • I met Lee, Pete, & David from Barclays – my journey into the world of banking begins.
  • Met even more potential employers at New Designers.
  • Back to my internship at Citymapper.
  • Interviews begin again for after my internship.

August 2013

  • A solid month of work in the INSANE London heat. Too hot to work on a number of occasions.
  • Accept an offer from Barclays to become a Service & Interaction Designer in the Design Office.
  • Made short video with Citymapper for a competition with the MTA (Citymapper won, netting over $20,000 in prize money)

September 2013

  • Starting at Barclays!
  • crazy month of working on all sorts of awesome work which I can’t yet talk about on here. But trust me, it’s cool.
  • 1CP (One Churchill Place, Barclays Canary Wharf HQ) is air conditioned. Never have I ever been so grateful for air conditioning.

October 2013

  • Back to Edinburgh for Fiona & Tom’s Wedding – the first of what I’m sure will be many friends weddings to come. What a special day.
  • I joined the Gym and starting rowing in the morning before work most days.
  • New got a new washing machine after the last one tried to explode.

November 2013

  • Madeleine bought an iPad Air after waiting for three years to buy one, and I can’t even leave the shop without getting jealous and having to buy one also. Oops.

December 2013

  • Back to Dundee! My boss Lee and I are invited back by to Dundee as Gurus for the 4th years to help them along the way with their projects. So strange to be on the other side of the table, but it was great to be back, and I hope with the lat year so fresh in my mind, I was able to give some useful insight.
  • Our flight returning from Dundee to London City Airport broke down on the runway seconds before lift off, thus incurring one very long journey back to London the next morning, via a stay at Edinburgh Airport, and a very early flight. Boss was not impressed.
  • Back to Edinburgh for Christmas and New Year.
  • Band reunion/night out/dinner/cocktails. What a night.
  • NEW YEAR! Kitchen Celidh my best friends. Best end to the year.


Wow…I hadn’t realised so much had happened. How on earth am I going to top that this year?!?!


Starting the Year off Beautifully

This year I was lucky enough to begin 2014 with my closest friends in the most beautiful part of the world – The Scottish Highlands.

Having only recently returned from what feels like a life time in New Zealand, Tobi & Lynsay shared with Madeleine and I four fantastic days of relaxation, catching up, and celebration.

Shortly after ringing in the Hogmany at a house party, where we had the best spontaneous kitchen-celidh I have ever experienced, we loaded up the car and drove North to the Ardverikie Estate – home of the Monarch of the Glen (a TV show before my time, but my mum loved it!).

The estate is private and closed to the public, with 50,000 acres to explore when renting one of the holiday homes, like the cottage we rented. The drive up the A9 and into the estate was fantastic. Tobi and I both love driving, so this alone was a great start to the holiday for us.

The Estate

Rowan Brae is a beautiful six-room cottage in the heart of the estate, with all the home comforts we could have ever needed.

Rowan Brae


The Cairngorms have long been one of my favourite places in the world. The astonishing natural beauty, peace, and closeness to Edinburgh has made it a place I always find tough to leave. This break wasn’t about hitting any Munros, or bagging any tourist hot spots. It was just about getting away, catching up, and relaxing. And boy did we!

We spent our days driving around the Cairngorms, or wandering through gentle paths. There were some incredible views along the way, particularly Loch Laggan which the estate runs along.

Loch LagganAvimore is a place we all love, so visiting was a must too. We took the day to walk round Loch Morlich where we experienced some truly awesome weather. I do miss the Scottish elements in London. It’s just not the same.

Loch Morlich

Lynsay & Maddy at Loch MorlichI really couldn’t have asked for much more in a holiday. We were only away for three nights, but this long overdue holiday was absolutely perfect.

I can’t wait until our next adventure, Monopoly on the table, and Whiskey by the fire.

The QuopleF




Caller – Sharing What’s Happening Right Now

‘Caller. Share what’s happening right now, using just your voice’


Callre was inspired by research into Citizen Journalism, and how I could create a platform for sharing information in realtime that was simple, honest, accessible and cheap.

When a thought is worth sharing immediately, technology should gracefully do that, and nothing more. Caller is not an app, it’s a service. To share, you just dial the number, and Caller records what every your phone can hear. That’s it.

Trust can be fickle online. Through the internet we often loose our instinctual ability to tell trust from deception. Caller is about your voice, and every minute, fallible, human detail within it.

Whilst the growing prevalence of smartphones creates endless opportunities for innovation in mobile technology, the entry price point for a high-end device, where the best apps live, is still far too high. I designed and built Caller to be a great experience from a £10 phone right the way up to ultra-high resolution personal computers.

Right now, I pick up the bill. You only pay for the calls and texts you make to Caller. Caller has local numbers in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, so the cost is most likely covered by your service provider. A service like Caller would one day have to fund itself, through a means that wouldn’t degrade the service, and would still allow the accessible nature which Caller was created to serve.

So how are calls shared?

Users call up, record a message, and text in their location. Their message is pushed in realtime to every screen that is watching, and to all users who have setup location alerts, also performed over text message. Location alerts are simple to setup, and easy to delete, all via text message.

Caller is a Ruby on Rails Web App I built, running on a Heroku, using Twilio for telephony, Pusher for realtime push, and Google for Maps and Geo Services. This was definitely the most difficult coding challenge I’ve taken on to date, but also the most rewarding.

Feel free to try out Caller and leave a message.