Still Looking For a Great 2020 Holiday?

•February 5, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Permit me to suggest one of two options; Athens followed by a customised cruise to the Greek islands with a wonderful twist, or a Land Tour to one of my personal favourites; the Dalmatian Coast.

Two great itineraries in their different ways, two things in common; a real Mediterranean flavour and I’d be your guide on either (or both).

It’s All Greek to me; Athens And The Islands” October 2020 – guaranteed departure (Max 20 guests).

This itinerary has been put together by myself and my friend and colleague (through whose site you can book). We will take in some of the absolute iconic highlights of the Mediterranean, before doing what almost no one does; disembark for a wonderful finale with 3 nights on Santorini. ONLY 2 SPACES LEFT (due to a cancellation).

The Dalmatian Coast – Where The Balkans Meet The Mediterranean” – September 2020.

Once more I will be your guide for this adventure, but this time freelance for a fabulous agency called Discover Europe. This is the replica of a journey I took myself with an ex girlfriend years ago and we were both blown away by the beauty and off the beaten path feel of parts of the coast. Dubrovnik, Zadar (you have to hear the wave organ once in your life) and Split are fascinating to visit.

Any further questions, you can certainly email me, or if you prefer contact Lucy (for Greece) or Discover Europe (for The Dalmatian Coast). Hope to hear from you and see you out there on the Med later this year…

Bhutan – The Last Shangri-La?

•February 1, 2020 • 2 Comments

“Bring the carven image in.
Bear it to Athena,
Fit gift for the child of Zeus”

– the people of Troy on discovering the wooden horse

Those toilets will never do‘. A red mark is jotted down next to the name of whichever site on our itinerary we happen to be visiting. A note to self not to return and an almost veiled threat to our hosts that unless something is done about the plumbing, this is one attraction that will not be receiving our tourist dollar. Back in the minivan and onto the next assessment.

Bhutan, wonderful Bhutan, the last great Himalayan Kingdom, a place so shrouded in mystery, secrecy and magic even, that most of us, if we have ever given it any thought at all, have it filed away in our mind as ‘somewhere in the mountains, Tibet kind of way‘. A friend of mine comments on a photo on my instagram, ‘Wow you are in the last Shangri-La, what’s it like? I have to visit‘.

The last Shangri-La?‘ His comment strikes me and recalls the fabulous interwar novel by James Hilton, Lost Horizon, in which four Westerners end up in the mythical valley of Shangri-La. The name translates from Tibetan to mean roughly Shang Mountain Pass. Today Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, though particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia, a permanently happy land, isolated from the world.

Continue reading ‘Bhutan – The Last Shangri-La?’

What The Desert Revealed

•December 12, 2019 • 6 Comments

That is at the bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions’, the whole so called ‘spirit world’, death, all those things that are so close akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out by life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. – Rainer Maria Rilke

“I am so sorry, ‘Akash?’ Did you just say Akash?”

The Bangladeshi camp attendant, shocked, lowered his arm, from its position of pointing to the sky and stared at me. He looked like a child, caught red-handed in the act of something naughty. Confused, he then tried to catch the eye of his companion, seeking support.

However none was to be had from this direction. The would be back-up simply looked down at his feet on the sand. So he turned back to me nervously, as if expecting to be told off, like someone for whom this happened regularly.

Continue reading ‘What The Desert Revealed’

Greece, France and Spain – Last Few Spaces for 2020

•August 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘Wakey, Wakey’…

Sadly this is (still) just a blog and not me on the microphone announcing the arrival to yet another of Europe’s hidden gems. However, next year, it could be. Together with Lucy Loves Travel, I am happy to announce that two trips for 2020 are now confirmed as running.

In even better news there a just a few spaces left on both. I shall be the guide on both trips, so you are stuck with me again…

It’s All Greece To Me: Athens and The Islands. 10 – 19 October, 2020. Click here for the itinerary. This part cruise, part land tour, to Greece’s capital and her islands gives you an opportunity to compare her vibrant city life with the laid back island life. Add to that an amuse bouche of places such as Mykonos, Patmos and Rhodes accompanied by a longer stay on the idyllic island of Santorini…

Just four spaces left.

The ‘B’s Knees: Bordeaux, Basque Country and Barcelona. 10 – 22 September 2020. Click here for the itinerary. From the fabulous cite du vin in Bordeaux, where you can learn about the long history of the region’s wine making, to the Rioja region of Spain with a visit to the Guggenheim, this trip is about indulging in the very best that Northern Spain and Southern France have to offer. What better than to finish off in fabulous Barcelona.

Some space left.

Both trips will be maxed at 20 guests, as we are determined to show you special places as well as stay in smaller hotels and eat in local restaurants, places big tour buses simply cannot reach.

If you are keen to experience either of these two unique tours (no other agency is offering this) please get in touch with Lucy via email at lucy@lucylovestravel.com

I really look forward to seeing you in Athens or Bordeaux and to beginning our adventure together.

Safe travels

Waiting for Akash…

•June 24, 2019 • 16 Comments

Open space, sky. That’s the meaning of your name my son.

To me it still feels like that’s exactly from where your journey began. It was more than a year ago you set off, announcing your departure in a dream planted in the mind of your mother. Now, a little over 38 weeks old, your journey from ether through womb is nearly complete. It’s soon time for you to join me.

As such you now know your mum better than anyone – afteral you, and not I, have heard what her heart sounds like from the inside. A week ago, I heard your heartbeat again. Regular and strong. Any day now we will all be together. Then it will be my turn to begin to get to know you as your mum already does.

I know you just a little already. I know you move a lot. When asked, your mum will laugh and say, when do you ever not move. I know you asked to be called Akash, seemingly one of the few things we agreed upon. I have seen your profile on scans, your hands and forehead. But as a father, at this stage, that is about as much as I can know.

Last week was ‘Father’s Day’. It doesn’t really count for me yet. But it will do. And though celebreated or acknowledged only once a year, every day for me will soon be father’s day. I am nervous. I am excited and I am scared. But I know none of these feelings are unique to me. All imminent dads must feel that.

Not long ago, whilst working in Portugal I had somewhat of an epiphany. I suddenly felt an overwhelming and total understanding for all fathers who have to travel. Whilst growing up, I recall my parents only going away once or twice and how much I hated when they did. I judged parents of school friends harshly for ‘always’ being away. Whilst I was abroad, reluctantly away from all I love, working close to twenty hour days for nearly a month, it became clear to me I had been wrong all those years ago.

Why was I here? Why was I working? Whichever way I phrased the question, the answer was always the same; for you, for our family. Always. Every time. Every minute and hour I worked. And now, as you will one day discover, for various reasons it looks like I will have to continue not being around as much as I wanted. And this worries me; will you still love me, will you understand, will we even speak the same language… I fear for the bond that I dreamt of establishing with you. Will you forgive me?

In a small village somewhere outside Barcelona, next to my bed lies a business card for a 24 hour taxi service. My phone is with me constantly. Every occasion it makes a noise, makes my heart jump; Could this be it? My pulse races, then settles; false alarm. I am ready. My overnight bag, as instructed, is ready. I can’t wait. Occasionally I get an update; a few more contractions… Your mother tells me she is very tired. This is a good sign she also tells me; it means you are nearly ready. True, this is not how I expected these final days to be. Somewhere between the dream of your mother and mine, something was lost in translation…

Akash, you will soon be born into a world of love. My experience of which has been mostly all too fleeting. But what I can promise you awaits out here is unconditional love. You have a wonderful big brother in Jai from whom you can learn so much, a dog who you will together no doubt drive to despair and a mother… A mother with whom I have been fortunate enough to share nearly a year of my life. I have watched (sometimes too close to the sidelines sadly) how she has looked after and loved your brother and I know how lucky you are… Treasure her.

Then Akash, as much as you want and I can be, you will always have, me… your Dad.

Here You Go – Bordeaux to Barcelona, September 2020

•May 19, 2019 • 13 Comments
Picture yourself on a hill in the mountains…

Dear Friends…

This is the proverbial ‘it’. The first of our very own tours has been transferred from dream to very much bookable experience. We are so happy and I admit, a little proud too. Indeed we’d like to think you need search no further for your September 2020 holiday.

Based on your feedback, for the first of our tours, we decided to stay close to home; an incredible 13 day true holiday experience heading off from marvellous Bordeaux, through enigmatic Basque country and across the magnificent Pyrenees to our home; Catalonia and Barcelona.

Real memorable highlights for you will be:

  • Private boat trip at Cap Ferret
  • The simply brilliant Cité du Vin – wine museum/experience Bordeaux
  • Visit to The Guggenheim
  • 4x4s in the stunningly beautiful Aiguestortes National Park, Catalonia
  • Stunning scenery
  • A visit to my favourite church in the world – which hides a real secret
  • Learn about the fascinating WW2 Freedom Trails across the Pyrenees
  • Beautiful Parador hotels
  • Guided visit to the simply must see – Sagrada Familia
  • You all know how much I like food and wine
  • A real highlight? Hmm, not sure – but you of course get me as your guide

In order to get this up and running for next year, we have teamed up with someone I have known close to half my life; Lucy – fellow guide and dear friend. Lucy runs her own agency; Lucy Loves Travel and this trip is a joint effort. All reservations will be made through her, all guiding will be done by me.

For further details, including how to book please visit Lucy Loves Travel by clicking here. Feel free to email me with any questions of course…

Thank you so much for all your interest, faith and trust – I cannot wait to see many of you again in 2020. Let’s bring holidays back… Happy Travels.

2020 Tours – Preview and Take Your Pick…

•December 9, 2018 • 11 Comments

THANK YOU…

Mireia and I have been truly overwhelmed by the response to the ‘creating our own agency’ announcement. Many people have either commented or emailed. We just had no idea what the response might be. It is truly an honour that so many of you are prepared to trust us with your holiday time and money in the future.

We are so excited…

So, based on what you have requested we have put together this initial selection of 7 tours we would be aiming to run. The first two are in direct response to your emails. The following five are tours that I/we have always dreamt of one day creating.

ALL are of course itineraries in areas we know well, feel we can do better (or certainly different) than the ‘competition’ and love working in. It has always been our belief that there just has to be a market for people who are interested in tours with more of thread, a theme, a purpose. And it is our hope that what we find interesting, so might you.

Note: – all tours would also be small group (max 20 and often fewer). Anything more and we cannot show you, stay at or eat in the places we’d like to.

PLEASE – have as read through the short teasers below and if anything strikes your fancy, shoot us an email (thomas@2ndcupoftea.com). We are hoping to be able to run our first few of these in 2020 – we want to take our time and do this properly.

Israel and The Palestine – The Holy Land

masada-sunrise

This year has seen me return to The Holy Land several times as a guide for another agency. One thing has become overwhelmingly clear; 95% of agencies ‘do’ Israel in exactly the same way. Same hotels, same routes, even same breakfast times. This results in enormously crowded sites. Wow. There is such a scope to see more, time things differently, go beyond the obvious and above all understand Israel, of the past and present. And YES – it is safe, absolutely so. Plus Masada should be on every bucket list.

Athens And The Aegean

001-xwra-kai-gialos

One of the questions I have been asked most during my career is; ‘where do you go on holiday?’ Well then, to answer that, we are putting together this rather unique tour. I have always loved Athens. The ‘new’ Acropolis Museum has just added to that love. Delphi too – wonderful, but it’s when you catch a ferry out of Piraeus that Greece in its magnificent complexity, sites, sounds, tastes comes to life. The Aegean Sea; one island more fascinating than the next. Come ‘Island Hopping’ with us on a Tour Guide’s Holiday.

Barcelona and Catalunya 

Llac-Sant-Maurici

Three years ago I first came across a little Romanesque church high in the Pyrenees. As I exited after discovering the secret contained within it’s stone walls, I emailed as many friends as I could and said; ‘if you only ever visit one more church in your life, make it this one’. With Mireia a native Catalan, we’d love to show you the treasures of our chosen home, treasures that include, but also extend beyond Barcelona. National parks, secret WW2 paths, fabulous cuisine, wonderful Paradors and hikes. See why we live HERE.

Cathars and Templars – Southern France

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the last few years I have become good friends with perhaps the World’s leading scholar of Cathar history. You’re forgiven for not knowing much (or anything?) about this early Christian sect, wiped out by a Crusade in the 13th Century. But their legacy, how it was interwoven with the Templars and all played out in the stunning setting of Languedoc-Roussillon I can assure you makes for a fabulous ‘excuse’ for a holiday. Travelling with a leading scholar is something everyone should try at least once.

Peoples of The Alps – Ancient and Modern

ritrovamento-otzi-mummia-similaun

Have you ever seen Ötzi The Ice Man? If not, then please add him and the wonderful museum that surrounds him to your list. The Alps have always inspired me. Having lived and worked there for years, the way of life, the food, the customs and traditions and how they transcend borders is fascinating. This tour will include the must-see Mountain Museums of Reinhold Messner, The Dolomites, WWI trenches and bunkers, cheese, castles, wine, and walks all with thread of mountain cultures ancient and modern.

European Folk Tales – A Literary Tour

beauty

A personal favourite of mine this one. Over the years rather surprisingly some of the kindest feedback and nicest comments have been guests saying they have enjoyed my reading on the bus. Wherever I go I try to find snippets of local legend, folk tales, myths and stories to read for just a few minutes each day. Why not start in Odense, the birthplace of HC Andersen and trace the trails of the Brothers Grimm and the history of the European Fairytale? Every day to feature a new folktale. Our imagination is the limit.

GR54 – Europe’s Toughest Hike?

IMG_20180707_173653_178

I have had many requests for ‘more hikes’. I have even guided for walking agencies. This is always tricky; it’s very difficult to pitch the level correctly and guests almost always underestimate or overestimate their ability. Hence this – the GR54 – 180kms, 12.000m up and down over 12 days in a French National Park. The challenge; considerable. The accommodation; rustic. The food; nutritious. The scenery; out of this world. The luggage; transported for you. The satisfaction at the end; priceless. This is a REAL hike…

(Oh and any suggestions for what to call our Agency – gratefully received – best one gets a discount on the first tour)

Please email us if you are interested in joining one of these trips 😉

 

Trading Cows For Magic Beans… 2019

•November 20, 2018 • 59 Comments

Firstly, thank you; to the many of you who have asked.

And, there have indeed been many questions.

This, in addition to being an expression of real gratitude for the interest you have shown in my ‘disappearance’, is therefore also intended to be an answer to many (most?) of those questions. Let’s see…

modo_beanstalk_clive_biley_parkerbiley-730x338

YES, I still very much guide. NOPE, not on your nelly for Road Scholar (a long sad story, but what a sorry agency it is evolving into). Yes, still freelance and for various agencies. NO, no longer exclusively in Europe (have broadened horizons to South America and Israel).

YES, I do still remember everyone who has been kind enough to email and to whom I am have not yet had a chance to reply. It has been wonderful to hear from you and I am trying…

Continue reading ‘Trading Cows For Magic Beans… 2019’

The Psychology of Failure…

•September 29, 2017 • 17 Comments

Or ‘A Lack of Pilgrims Progress’

Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes

– Oscar Wilde

I didn’t make it. Not really close even. My long walk to Rome ended up as a short(ish) walk to Champagne. There, close to tears – of pain to an extent, but mainly disappointment, it all ended in a pharmacy in Châlons-en-Champagne.

Can you help?‘ said I, as I limped through its doors. ‘I’ll get the patron‘, the young apprentice behind the counter replied, sensing I might be more than a couple-of-paracetamol-tablets sort of a client.

IMG_0851

Stuff for two months…

‘Rest!’, ordered the summoned expertise, taking one look at the swelling. ‘Hmm… let’s just imagine‘, said I, ‘that is the one thing I cannot do. Let’s just for the sake of argument say I need to walk a further 1500 kilometres over the next eight weeks’.

Continue reading ‘The Psychology of Failure…’

Kenavo Lionel, hiraezh am eus dit…

•August 17, 2017 • 19 Comments

My good good friend, true Breton and one of the best and certainly most human of guides I have ever met, Lionel died last week.

I will miss him terribly.

Many of you who kindly subscribe to this site will have met Lionel and probably owe your understanding of the word ‘kenavo‘ (goodbye) and so much more of all things Breton, to him.

567661_m.jpg

I met Lionel four years ago in his native Quimper in Brittany where he lived and worked. As usual I was clueless, a first time visitor to this, now my favourite, corner of France. I clearly needed help.

Continue reading ‘Kenavo Lionel, hiraezh am eus dit…’