Thursday, 17 July 2014

A day with Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

My random life in London

The day I met Magneto! One thing I love about London is the random gigs and opportunities you get. My latest random adventure was getting to spend an afternoon as an extra on the set of a new Sherlock Holmes film called Mr. Holmes. It’s a feature film set to be released next year and stars Ian McKellan as the legendary Sherlock Holmes. The film is based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, and will be centered around the retired detective, aged 93 in this film, who is grappling with an old unresolved mystery, while facing the decline of his memory and deductive prowess.

I got to meet Ian McKellan himself. He was really lovely chatting with us extras, and even offered us lollies. In the film, I’ll be hugging a lady farewell (Melanie) who I open the door for and as she steps on the train. The date is 1947 and its fun dressing up in the fashion of an era. I have the smallest role in the world but fun to be involved.

Overall, it was a great experience and a nice break from the crazy world of Lindy Hop that I’m so immersed in at present.

Thanks again to Bernadette Cumento. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A weekend with Jean Veloz in London.

An incredible weekend with Jean Veloz

It’s been just a little over a week since our epic Jean Veloz weekend and we’re still on a high from it. For those of you who may not know who Jean Veloz is, she is a legend of Hollywood style Lindy and the only original Hollywood style dancer for the 1940s still alive and teaching. At the time Jean came to London she was 90 years old.

I met Jean Veloz years ago in Washington DC at a camp that used to exist called Groovie Movie. I met Jean a few times after that and then again in 2013 at Camp Hollywood and that’s when I decided that it would be fantastic if the London Lindy community had the opportunity to meet and work with Jean and to listen to her stories. It would be such an incredible experience for them to meet someone so historically important who has contributed much to the Lindy scene. We did something similar with Frankie Manning years ago and still remains one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So, several email exchanges with Rusty Frank later we were fortunate to have Jean with us for a weekend.  This was also her first time teaching in England so it was a great honour for us in many ways. I’m proud of my team who have been slowly and carefully placing posts on Facebook over the last 12 months to create a real awareness of who Jean Veloz is since we have a lot of new dancers. Nothing gave me more joy than watching all the respect the Londoners showed for her, and the way they always stood up, and how they queued up to meet her and have photos with her.  
I also loved how jean stayed to the end at all three social events and clapped and cheered the dancers in front of her. The lady oozed with positive energy.

Words simply can’t describe how exciting it was to have Jean here. Her teaching was incredible. The way she moved was incredible. It was a great honour for me to be able to dance with her. I’m really proud that London put its best foot forward and we had three great nights with Jean. I thought she’d be exhausted by the final night; I kept reassuring her that it would be fine if she only stayed for half an hour. But every single night she stayed right to the very end and just loved watching the dancers dance would get so excited watching people do their swing-outs. She’s such a lovely lady and was so gracious. It was such an inspiring weekend and one that we’ll always remember.

Elif, Sibhe, Sally Young and Laura Hicks were great behind the scenes making this weekend happen and I couldn't have done this without the team.

Some other highlights:
* Jean talking about dancing in front of and then chatting with Gene Kelly.
* Jean talking about her love of the Big Bands from her day.
* The London dancers and their absolute respect of Jean
* The joy for all to have Jean around.
* Rusty and her great teaching. I learnt loads.
* Jean and her humble and lovely nature.

Here’s a video and some great photos from the weekend:
Jean Veloz dancing at Wilton’s Music Hall with one honoured guy.
Photos: Friday at Wilton's Music Hall
Photos: Saturday at the Bishopsgate Institute
Photos: Sunday at Red Rhythm

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Sartori - a tribute.

A beautiful dancing tribute to Sartori - member of the Swing Patrol community.

You often hear of requests for a dance group to perform at weddings and birthdays, but it’s not too often that you get a request to dance at a wake. And yet we recently did and what a special tribute it was. It all started when I received a call from Kannan who explained to me that he was having a wake for his girlfriend who had passed away due to cancer. One of her great loves was dancing with Swing Patrol and so he wanted to hire two teachers to perform for the final hour of the wake, as a tribute to his girlfriend and her love of dancing. Sartori had performed at the last Performance Ball at York Hall and had many friends in the Swing Patrol community.  I was really touched by this phone call and immediately promised to support the event.

It just so happened that my whole teaching team was meeting for a teacher training and catch up session, so I told them about the request and put the idea to them. Before I knew it, what was originally going to be two people dancing turned out to be the entire teaching team dancing for Sartori’s friends and family. The team were unanimously supportive of doing this gig for Sartori. It was a very sad and solemn day and the speeches were quite powerful. Sartori’s boyfriend spoke about how his biggest regret was not having gone swing dancing with her. At the end, the teachers performed and put on quite the show for that special last hour of Sartori’s wake. as per the wish of Kannan the event finished on a real positive high even though it was naturally really emotionally charged.

Afterwards, when I was having a drink with the team, it was just great to reflect on the impact Swing Patrol had on Sartori. I’m really proud of my team for doing this gig. They gave up their time to do this for free, and most of them didn’t even know her. She was a student at Finsbury Park so the Finsbury Park teachers knew her, along with a few of the others, but the rest of the teachers didn’t. They were so generous and all pulled together to put on a performance in memory of Sartori. It really makes me proud of what lindy hop and the Swing Patrol community can do, and to be part of such a great environment where people just love what they do.

I felt this was worth writing about and wish I knew Sartori better as going on the tributes and speeches this was a very special person with a wonderful passion for life.

The better quality photos thanks to Nikki Zigras.

Thanks to Bernadette Cumento who is assisting me. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Paris in a day with the entire Swing Patrol teaching team.

I have been living in London for five years now. I wanted to celebrate the SP London 5 year milestone in a big way. I think life is all about moments so the plan was to create a memory that we would talk about for a long time. We put on a free swing ball that sold out in a few hours, we had a T shirt designed to acknowledge all those who had taught for us at some stage over the last five years and we created an album of every Swing Patrol class and social that shows who we were at the age of five.

The more adventurous vision was to take the teaching team to Paris for a day. We had been saving for this for 12 months and booked these tickets months ago. It was hard to believe that the day had arrived. Everyone had to rise at 4am to ensure we were all at St. Pancras for customs. Eurostar is the only way to travel to Paris and we basically took over a carriage. We were on the first train out of London.
One teacher missed the train but Eurostar were good enough to place him on the next train and he met us at Notre dame. It was all part of the fun and he got a massive welcome when he arrived.

With the help of my intern we presented a letter of thanks to each of our teachers and each teaching team was given a blue padlock to put on the lovers lock bridge in Paris. This was to represent their students and all the support the students have given them as a teaching team. The train trip was fun with some sleeping and others being too excited. Many of the team are fluent in French so when we arrived we were grateful to David Warwick who lead the way to Notre Dame. Some went inside and others went for breakfast. I will never pass up the chance to walk through Notre Dame. It's one of the great cathedrals and quite breath taking. Next stop was the Love Padlocks bridge. We took lots of photos, enjoyed the back drop of Notre Dame and marvelled at the sites and sounds around us.

Next we took the team on a boat trip around Paris. It's a great way to see Paris and for those who had never been to Paris it is always a cool moment when the boat comes around the corner and there is the Eiffel Tower. We disembarked at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We walked the whole strip and enjoyed all the fancy shops and history of this avenue.

We arrived at The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile and set up two portable speakers (thanks to Ben & Robyn who carried them) and set up for an impromptu dance. The sun came out, the tourists flocked around and we had a great dance. One of my favourite photos of the day was taken by Chris Morris of the team doing the Trankey Doo. It really shows the joy of dance and the footage that Vicci took shows a very cool group of dancers in action.

Time for lunch and the team simply had to meet back at a designated rendezvous. With the City Mapper app it was easy to find the local bus that took us straight to the Eiffel Tower. It never ceases to amaze as you walk towards this iconic Parisian structure. About 30 of the team decided to head up the Eiffel Tower and while some of the team opted for an ale at a local bar. The queue was almost an hour but with all of us in the queue together we had a lot of laughs and enjoyed the whole experience. It was blowing a gale up high on the Tower but we had a great time and naturally the views were spectacular.

We arrived back to the ground just in time for a crazy storm to hit Paris. We took shelter and laughed at the strange predicament of being trapped under the Eiffel Tower. Moments later we had a double rainbow, Alex Dreyer arrived to welcome us and a lovely sunset was our back drop with the lights of the Eiffel Tower coming on. It was magical.

We gave Alex a birthday dance, we had a two year anniversary blues dance for Adamo & Vicci, danced the Big Apple under the Eiffel and finally it was time to leave. We all gave Alex a cheer for coming to see us and then headed back not the Metro and  back to Gare De Nord where the Eurostar heads back to London. The trip back was one of the highlights for me. It's a big team and London is massive. Many of the team operate, dance and live for example in south London so don't see other teachers every week. Watching the team laughing, chit chatting, teasing, drinking and basically being a team was super. I honestly thought everyone might sleep on the way home.. it was a noisy party and people seemed to be just waking up! I have no idea where the adrenalin was coming from but it kicked on back in London as we all went to the St. Pancras Champagne Bar and continued to enjoy this day. One teacher (very drunk by now admittedly) said " Scott.. this has been one of the greatest days of my life and I will never forget it!"

A big thanks to the team who also made a little presentation of thanks to me on the St. Pancras train platform. Was emotional but people know what a sook I am. :)

If my team remember this day for ever.. job done. They are a very special and dedicated group of people and absolutely deserved this crazy day out.

The summary:
Forty one teachers arrive at 5.15am at St. Pancras. Coffee, check in, boarding the Eurostar.
Presentation of the T shirts.
Letters of thanks from Scott and padlocks handed out to the team. Some slept.
First stop was Notre Dame where we had an hour for breakfast and sight seeing.
Next stop the love lock bridge.
Boat trip around Paris. Embarked near the Champs-Élysées.
Walked the length of the Champs-Élysées,
Arrived at The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. Had a 30 minute dance with this great back drop.
Lunch and free time.
Bus to the Eiffel tower.
Went up the Tower.. some went for a drink
Witnessed a double rainbow and storm.
Alex Dreyfus arrived to greet the 41 Londoners.
Birthday dance for Alex
Dance under the Eifell Tower featuring the Big Apple, the Shim Sham and a two year anniversary blues dance for Vicci & Adamo.
Metro back to Gare du Nord, more coffee/booze
Back on the Eurostar.. party carriage.
Team give Scott a thank you book at St. Pancras station.
Final drink at the Champagne Bar at St. Pancras.

Three hundred plus great photos by Rupert on FB.
Photos below by a range of people but mainly Chris G and Chris M

Monday, 27 January 2014

Six crazy days where we grew up...

Six crazy days and one very defining week. 

In September/October 2013 it was becoming really apparent that the Swing Patrol socials were getting really crowded. Our venues are great but still quite cozy. We started focussing our attention on large spaces to dance. No point sharing this dance all over London and then offering no where comfortable to dance! 

After many meetings and lots of coffees with some very cool people from the Wam Bam Club, the Bishopsgate Institute and Wilton's Music Hall we managed to set in a place three joint ventures where we could secure these stunning and large places to dance. There is no way we could achieve our vision without these groups as the hire of such venues is prohibitive. At the start of last week we were nervous. We had taken a nervous and adventurous risk that the scene would grow in January. If the London dancers weren't ready to fill these spaces it all could go spectacularly wrong. Venues like the Bishopsgate Institute have no sound system so that involved some serious hiring of sound equipment and technicians. It's all these behind the scenes challenges that meant this week was quite momentous for us. If it worked it meant we may be able to play a role in really catering for the growing London swing scene and ensuring our fabulous Lindy Hoppers had room to swing out. 

Jan 19th The first Super Swing Pit at the Bishopsgate Institute. 

The Bishopsgate Institute were equally nervous. They had opened up the entire building for this event and had cautiously offered us two Sundays. The event sold out with over 300 people attending. It was incredible to see so many people dancing in a ballroom on a Sunday night that wasn't a Festival weekend. Marco from Berlin commented that many scenes wouldn't have this many dancers on a premier Festival weekend.  The venue will be offering us further Sunday nights and we can't thank the dancers enough for literally making this a regular event by way of their support. We went for Bagels afterwards in Brick Lane.  Some memories. 

Jan 23rd Wilton's Music Hall
After the sell out Christmas event we were offered two evenings. The Valentine's Day and this random Thursday evening. How would this mid week event go? Would Wilton's expect the same result as Christmas? We didn't sell out but it was a smashing evening with 180+ people swinging away in this magical place. We went for Brick Lane bagels after the event and many continued dancing at Jamboree nearby. It is just such a wonderful environment to swing out in this venue. Some memories. 

Jan 25th Red Rhythm at Wam Bam
A spectacular Ballroom in the middle of London with the possibility of us having this space on a fortnightly basis. The opening night had teething problems but nothing that can't be sorted for future events. The change over can be done a lot smoother in future but what a beautiful space to dance in. We had super feedback and the dancers loved the ballroom and the space. As Jess Coffin says:  "Had an amazing evening dancing at the Bloomsbury Ballroom. A beautiful venue with incredible lighting and ambience and most importantly lots of room to swing out!"  Again this was a crazy test and again the London dancers were so amazing and we all had room to swing out to our hearts content. Now we have had one event there we know what to do to improve this evening so it should be fantastic going forward. We went for Brick Lane bagels afterwards. (Photos to come. ) 

We did it! The week has passed and we can't thank the London dancers enough for supporting these three evenings. It has been an exhausting and exhilarating week and in our eyes a really defining week where our community stepped forward in a resounding way. Thanks everyone.. we owe you a massive thanks and quite a timely week with our fifth birthday celebrations this Saturday night. 


Friday, 2 August 2013

Herräng Sweden - my week 4.

I am the laziest blogger of all but I feel inspired to blog about my recent week in Herräng Sweden. It's the annual pilgrimage of many Lindy Hoppers to one of the most renown and special Lindy Hop events that exists. Dancers come from all over the world and celebrate the music, dance, history and each others company. It's an amazing event and for someone like me who runs swing events.. just to be a dancer and nothing else with no other role or responsibility is a small slice of dancing heaven. Swing dancing has been amazing to me and I have seen many amazing places but this Camp is so unique in so many ways. Our community is small so it's not like a Bestival were where dance alongside 60,000 Festival goers. This is a boutique dream land for Lindy Hoppers. As a guess maybe there was 400/450 people there in week 4... I could so easily be wrong but it feels like a perfect size. 

I have been many times and first attended in 1999. Back then you had to phone through your booking and when you came from Australia you spent the first half of your trip deliriously jet-lagged. Travelling with a group of friends from London was so much easier and we eased into our trip with an evening in the old town of Stockholm. Any road trip is great but when you have an inspiring group to travel with it's even more amazing. 

Nothing has really changed…yet everything has changed. It is great that the same amazing energy and feeling of Herräng still exists. The Swedes bring a lot of this culture and this is why they are universally adored. Most of the faces have changed since I first attended but it is still uniquely Herräng. It was good to see Hannah, Mattias, Abeth, Hasse, Marie and of course Lennart who were all there when I first attended. However it was also brilliant to see so many new people throwing themselves into the dance and culture. 

One of the major highlights of Herrang is the diversity of dancers you can dance with. In one evening I danced with amazing follows from Lithuania, Belgium, France, Korea, Australia, the USA to name but a few. The music is off the chart, we enjoyed live music every night in week four. African dance, tap dancing for starters added some phenomenal variety to the week. 

A true highlight is the camaraderie of your own team with my team being from London. It's irrelevant which school you learn at or teach at. It's just great to see London so well represented. We were everywhere with Hayley running the Burlesque show, Peter H running a blues night, Laura & Rupert judging a sand castle competition (!), Fi, Amanda, Annabelle, Celia, David M. and Chris Allen all working in different capacities behind the scenes. My house mates all had different schedules with some dancing till 7.00am and sleeping all day while others were in classes all day so needed to get to bed earlier. Most were off the chart with their energy levels and learnt all day and seemed to almost dance all night. We all had great admiration for the Londoners who had to cycle in from their accommodation about 5km out of Herräng. That was a fair effort with tired dancing legs. I take my hat off to you. 

The final highlight is touching base with people from all over the world. It was inspiring to see some Aussie & Kiwi pals and two two Brat Pack members from Melbourne (Brat Pack was a troupe we started many years ago.) I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with Gaston & Tina from Argentina, dance with old friends like Alba from Madrid and Anna from Houston. Kevin St. L bought me dinner at to the Lithuanian restaurant and was super to touch base with Tim who is now sharing Lindy Hop in Mexico City. These are just a few names of many… my fleeting hug from Marco from Berlin was a a definite highlight. 

The same people that were bemoaning the mosquitoes, the auditions, the lack of privacy, that rude lead, too many follows...were heralding it a few days later as the best week of their lives. This is the over whelming influence of this camp. You soon forget the woes as it you leave inspired and wanting more...always. Makes life fun and we have to have something to talk about as we all debrief at dinner! 

It's a great week and everyone should do it once. I loved being back even if it was a quicker visit than previous times and am thankful to those that make it all happen. 

Scottie ;)

Photo taken at 5.40am on way home after a night's dancing. Yes it never gets dark.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Honeymoon SE Asia Oct - Dec 2012

Travel Blog SE Asia.

Some photos of our trip

This document serves as a summary of the amazing SE Asian adventure Laura & I had for the final months of 2012. We spent 69 days travelling through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
It doesn't have the many funny moments we shared and the dozens of spectacular meals or funny run ins with touts, children and local animals but it is more of a good reminder of the places we went to and the sights we saw.  With the brilliant research skills of Laura and the unforgettable charm of SE Asia we have just finished our extended honeymoon. The foods, sights, laughs, people we have met.. all unforgettable and memories we will cherish forever.

1.The Plan
As part of our wedding plans we started dreaming of having a true extended break together and SE Asia seemed to be the obvious choice as it's so cheap to live, eat and travel for such an extended period.
Most of this time would involve a lot of travelling while the last few weeks would be chilling on beaches. Fiona Warner would manage my affairs back in London and I would check in with Fi sporadically. Apart from that we were mostly off the grid. We proudly carried two back packs that only weighed 10 pounds each. The main present from our wedding guests was a financial contribution to our honeymoon. It is the generosity of our family & friends that made this trip possible.

2.The Honeymoon
Anyone that lives in London will know that life is hectic and finding time for what is really important has to be managed. What a great way to start a marriage with an extended adventure together.
This trip has absolutely enforced this and we have spent almost every second together and both agree that we have grown exponentially as a couple. This writing feels like such a summary as every day had unique sights, sounds and experiences. This is just a skeletal reminder to assist in our reminiscing! On Flickr Laura has documented each place through photos although after two weeks of amazing beaches we stopped taking photos towards the end.

3.Intrepid Tour
Most of our trip was unstructured and we rarely planned more than two days in advance. If we liked a place we would stay longer (like Hoi An) or if the weather was terrible (like in Hue) we would keep on moving. The one structured part was a tour with 10 others and a great guide named Jack. We met some really super people on this tour who we have since been in contact with, had dinner with in other countries and shared photos with. We feel (just like our great group in Egypt) that we really had a super bunch and it was like the United Nations. Travellers from Switzerland, Iran, USA, Canada, Germany, Laura the Brit, and the usual wad of fun Aussies. Dinners in the evenings were hilarious and we were sort of amazed that we were always so much louder than the younger Contiki tour that seemed to have the same path as us through Northern Thailand and into Laos. Susan from Canada was the fun noisy drinking one whose company we really enjoyed, Bruce was the brilliant and oh so well travelled Aussie from Darwin. His Africa travel stories have given us a real thirst to travel through Africa…one day! I had Oliver to talk football with as he was a Werder Bremen fan. Matt, Nahid and all the team were brilliant. We missed them when it the tour was all finished but were equally excited to start our honeymoon, planning just one day at a time.

4.Thailand North
* Bangkok
What a city! We did it all. The Grand Temple, Wat Po, Wat a Run, the incredible floating market, the Sky Train, MBK, Siam Square, a Lady Boy cabaret, the largest market (apparently) in the world at Mo Chit and of course Khao Son Rd. The king was having a birthday so we had the good fortune to watch the regatta rehearsals on the main river. The chanting was great. The markets we saw, great temples, the foods, the smells and the scams we saw all made an amazing adventure and we simply loved Bangkok. We stayed at four places in Bangkok from a nice hotel when we first arrived (Laura thought I would appreciate it after arriving from the wilds of Papua New Guinea) to super cheap student accommodation.

* Night Train
The first full day with our Intrepid team concluded with the night train from Bangkok to Chang Mai. Our friend Hayley had raved about Channg Mai and we were keen to see it. We had grim expectations of the train but it was wide, comfortable and the Intrepid team made it a lot of fun. Even a romance on the first night on the train (while we slept) that survived the whole tour. I can't tell you what happened after the tour but the two of them (Swiss girl meets Aussie boy) were fantastic and handled all our teasing with great poise and fun. Waking up to a new city is always buzz even though the train look 5 hours longer then we were expecting.

* Chang Mai
As a group we had the day to choose a range of things and some went water rafting, others cycling. We chose to walk around the old city and enjoy the sights. The temples and all the architecture were stunning and it was a fun day out. We all had dinner near the night market and my meal came in a pineapple. Another brilliant meal. We would have liked to stay another day here but we was were on tour we had to move on.

5. Laos
Crossing into Laos was absolutely fascinating. Packed onto a small boat across the Mekong we crossed with our back packs slumped on top of us. Suddenly there was croissants, baguettes, French architecture, and French tourists galore. Yes Laos is an old French colony and it's immediately obvious. The difference from Thailand was immediate and fascinating.

* The Mekong
After being on the River Nile earlier in the year we were pinching ourselves as we started on a two day slow boat cruise up the Mekong. With the back drop of amazing mountains, elephants bathing on the side of the river and massive Buddhist temples it was a brilliant chilled out two days where we read, played games and got to know the Intrepid guys. Laura & I always read books that related to the area we were travelling in. I have never read so many books in such a short space of time. The Mekong is steeped in history with some grim history during the Vietnam war period. This was one of the most relaxing two days we had...until the end of the trip when we started to hit the beaches and islands.

* Luang Prabang

We love Luang Prabang. Just stunning in terms of French architecture, quaint shops, brilliant temples and dome of the most amazing water falls we have ever seen. Bright blue water, swimming under the falls remains a highlight. On the walk up to the waterfall was a Black Asiatic Bear rescue centre, we stood for ages just watching these magnificent creatures and laughing at their funny ways. Of course they were mostly sleeping, that was until the 60 strong group of Chinese tourists in matching pink hats came through with their megaphone.

The first night we went out for a Lao BBQ, possibly on of the best meals of the whole trip. The town itself has the BEST night market we encountered with everything handmade by the locals, it was beautiful. I now wish I had bought more gifts there but it was so early on in our trip and anything w bought we would have had to carry for two months. The town is set on two rivers and the price of the meals was insane. We would eat a meal and have a Laos beer for about £1. This of course only happens when you walk away from the ubiquitous tourist main strip. Laos is a Communist country and there is an 11.30pm curfew. Everyone must be in the place they are staying by midnight. It was quite surreal, but no one dares to mess with the government.

On the last day we got up at 5am to go give alms to the local monks. Monks live on charity in this part of the world and many locals go to donate food to literally hundreds of monks every morning. It was a real experience being there and seeing them all, from the very old to the very young all draped in orange with shaven heads. Later that day we hopped on a bus to drive to Vang Vieng stopping for lunch at an outdoor lookout over an incredible valley.

* Vang Vieng
Party town…well it was. But drunken Aussies seem to have played a major role in killing the fun here. A hammered Aussie recently died while tubing down the river so all the bars along the river have been closed down by the government. It seems they don't want Laos to attract 'that kind of tourist' and who can blame them? If you look at You Tube clips you can see the fun this town but the party is well and truly over. While Laura relaxed I went on a brilliant kayaking ride with a group from our tour. Ridiculously amazing back drop and great fun.

* Vientane
The capital of Laos. We spent our evenings at a bar over looking the Mekong and across at Thailand. A great place to visit and we enjoyed the markets and exploring a new city. We did go to a brilliant indoor food market at the local shopping centre, it sounds odd but it was truly local food. It was hard to tell what you were ordering and I think I ended up with chicken knuckles. Two days on a bus and finally we arrived in Hanoi.. one of our new favourite places in the world.

* Vietnam
Our Visas almost expired we spent so much time in Vietnam. We truly fell in love with this country and went from the very North to the South in a month.

* Hanoi
Our friend Loz will tell you that You cannot arrive in Hanoi without your jaw dropping, and she is right. How does the traffic work? Are there any rules? So many mopeds, many with families of 4+ on them. Babies squeezed in between Mum and Dad and a schoolchild hanging off the back and for some reason kids don't wear helmets. It's some sort of hypnotic thing and like fish swimming in a river it seems to work. You can tell who is in town for their first day as they mill about petrified at the side of the road. You just have no clue how you will ever cross the road. By day two you are part of the hypnotic trance and you just walk…yes into the traffic. They see you and just go round you. It is a sight to behold. The old quarter, the French quarter, the War Museum, a cafe for disadvantaged kids and queuing so long to get a glimpse of their hero.. " Uncle Ho " ( known to us as Ho Chi Minh of course. ) The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was fascinating and prompted me to read the biography of Ho Chi Minh. The book was heavy but I loved the learning of this Vietnamese hero. I couldn't tell you how many statues and images we saw of "Uncle Ho" but he is idolised…particularly in North Vietnam.

* Halong Bay
It's worth the couple of hours on a mini bus. We took a tour with a local tour group promising a unique experience away from the more crowded parts of the bay and the booze cruises. We were really hap with what we got, the boat, the back drop, kayaking to a deserted beach, the seafood on the boat, the squid fishing and the sailing around these crazy "mountains." At night wqe pulled into a little hidey hole in the Karsts and just anchored up. In the morning we went to a floating fisherman's village and a pearl farm. It was an incredible few days and we met a really lovely family based in Kuala Lumpur who we enjoyed some quiet ales with as we sailed along. I hope we see them again someday.

* Sapa and the night train
Another night train although this was was a little more hardcore. Vietnam is a loooong country and Sapa is virtually on the border with China . Sapa is famous for it's rice fields and the local Hmong tribes of Vietnam. They wear the most amazing local dress and this is a really unique part of the world. We went on a 12km trek but with all the tea breaks we hardly noticed. The locals are enterprising at best and the tourists are really hassled. As long as you embrace the banter it was a great experience. We stayed in a place with a breath taking view of the valley. It was the coldest few days of the trip, it rained a lot and a dense fog settled in over the valley every afternoon. It only made it more dramatic though. It was a great experience and I am glad we made the effort to go so far North.

* Hue
Two words; torrential rain. The temperature was great so we donned our waterproofs and went out wading. We have some funny photos of us walking through flooded streets. We even saw canoes being rowed through streets. We walked a few miles to the Grand Palace and had a brilliant evening in a crazy pack packer pub cheering on Arsenal with the crowd. (They beat Tottenham 5-2) It's genuinely amazing how popular English football is in SE Asia. The weather dampened our view of Hue and I hope one day we can go there again and see all the UNESCO sights, but instead we hopped on a bus to Hoi An.

* Hoi An
Famous for it's 400+ tailors, incredible French and Chinese architecture and amazing food. We stayed here way longer than planned. It was simply stunning (even if parts are quite touristy) and this where we went shopping! Oh yes we have particular vintage tastes so we took in patterns and we were thrilled with the result with two boxes then shipped to Sibhe in London who baby sat our packages.

* Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
With the end of the rainy season still over SOuth Vietnam we skipped the beaches of Nha Trang and jumped on a flight straight to HCMC. We stayed with our friend Catherine and had a blast with Kyra from Adelaide who was also staying with Catherine. We booked a day tour with Intrepid and went to see all the sights in one day. The War Remenants Museum was particularly confronting. I wonder what it would be like to be an American going to this place.

There's a great little Swing Dance scene in Saigon and Katherine threw swing dance house party for us one night. We also went to the weekly swing dance with the Saigon Swing Cats and what a lovely group of people. We had a blast and was great to meet them. The city itself is way more Western than Hanoi but any new city is fascinating and we loved the coffee! ;)

In preparation for Cambodia we read a variety of books about the brutal and insane Khmer Rouge regime and also read a book about the modern day corruption in Cambodia. If you ask us if we would change anything about our trip it would simply be that we wish we had stayed longer in Southern Cambodia. A true paradise but without the massive amount of tourists that you find in southern Thailand.

* Phnom Penh
Visiting the Killing Fields and S21 (torture centre in middle of Phnom Penh) was confronting and slightly depressing. It's a must do but it is a real downer. It was amazing to be in Phnom Penh and my highlight was a meal at the FCC ( Foreign Correspondent's club.) It's a great old colonial building on the main street that looks over the river. We had a super meal and spent the night analysing all that we had read and seen. Fascinating place. Art deco market?

* Kep
After a tough bus trip, blew a tyre, on badly paved roads it was great to reach the beaches of Cambodia and a good break after the Killing Fields etc. We stayed up in the woods with a view of the sea. We go tup early and hired bikes and went down to the market to see them bringing in all the craps from the sea, bucket and buckets of the them. We carried on with our bikes down the coastal road encountering monkeys stealing the locals food and lots of Cambodians on holiday. They don't sit on the beach in bikinis like Westerners, they cove up from head to toe and rent shaded huts on stilts with hammocks where they sit in circles and chatter loudly and play cards. Fascinating. Kep has many grand houses from the pre-Khmer Rouge era that fell into disrepair, they are like wired haunted shells. We met a great ex-pat couple who live in Phnom Penh and shared a seafood dinner down at the Crab market. We tried peppered crab the local delicacy. Like all places this had it's individual charm with the local ladies balancing a massive range if things from pineapples to lobsters on their heads.

* Sihanoukville
Yes you could easily lose yourself here. Ridiculously cheap and the perfect spring board for some amazing islands. The first night we stayed in a slightly off blanche tree-house hut in Serendipity BEach, this is back packer central and built for late night partying. A great energy with a stunning back drop. We sat and watched the sunset with our Angkor beers and again pinched ourselves that we were in such an amazing part of the world.

* Koh Rong
The next day we took a boat over to Koh Rong. A truly off the grid on a remote island two hours south of the coast of Cambodia and staying in a tree house bungalow.
A remote and quiet beach with white sands and blue water and we were staying up high in a tree house overlooking our own beach. The generator was only used from 5-10pm so we were glad to have our head lamps in our packs. This was a really special place and we hope all our friends can visit here once in their lifetime. We had a great Italian meal on the pier  at this little hut run my an eccentric Italian lady. We paid the waiter $10USD to take us fishing in his boat the next morning and catching fish was easy and plentiful. I smile when I think of our time in a tree house with no windows as such but a massive mosquito net.

* Otres Beach
Mushroom Point Otres Beach | Port de Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Paradise. We stayed in a mushroom. A perfect bungalow on the beach with the bar, lampshades all shaped as mushrooms. Everything we did was no more than 25 meters from a beautiful beach. We miss this place and simply read, swam and enjoyed long chats, walks and dinners together. Another paradise that I hope we go back again one day. I also hope it stays undeveloped as the comparison to what has happened to places like Phi Phi Island in Thailand are alarming. This was a true honeymoon destination.

* Siem Reap
Time to leave the beaches as one of our main reasons for choosing Cambodia was Angkor Wat and Siem Reap is the place you have to stay at to see Angkor Wat. Seam Reap was probably our worst accommodation over our whole trip. Lip stick on the coffee cup, they burnt my shirts when washing and ironing them and the list goes on. We did find our favourite restaurant of the whole trip though and we will always talk about "The Nest."  Seam Reap has an insane night life and the nighty market is alive with relentless yet loveable hawkers and ' Pub Street ' is hilarious for so many reasons. Loved it.

* Angkor Wat
I wasn't quire prepared for the magnitude of Angkor Wat. It was a destination we had talked about for so long and suddenly a tuk tuk was picking us up at 4.30am so we could be there for the sunrise. So many tuk tuks. This really attracted the crowds yet the size of it meant it didn't matter. We spent five hours walking around and went back the next day at sunset. You see the temple where Angelia Jolie filmed tomb raider and you get hassled a little by the young touts but nothing can detract from the amazing experience this was. Just the southern entrance was a highlight for us. After seeing Abu Simbel in Egypt this year we felt like we had just seen another of the great wonders of the world.

Instead of flying to Bangkok on route to the southern Islands of Thailand we choose the long and cheap option. This was the longest and hardest day of our trip but still a great experience. The border crossing from Cambodia to Thailand was ridiculous and soul destroying. It's all part of travelling and the saving grace was that our next destination was Koh Lanta which was probably the most amazing beach of all our adventures. We stayed over night at Bangkok and stayed at an amazing guesthouse called the Old Bangkok Inn. It was a nice reward for the day we had endured.

8. Thailand South
* Koh Lantah
Sian Reap - Bangkok - Krabi Island and finally we arrived at a beach guest house called " Somewhere Else" on Koh Lanta. Our lovely bungalow was 30 meters from the most stunning beach and this was a really relaxing part of our adventure. The hammocks, massages on the beach, fruit plates for breakfast and hours of reading and swimming made this quite the heavenly experience. I did hire a wind surfer for an hour and relayed quickly my wind surfing skills needed some work. Great food here and the spiciest meal of the trip. I love spicy food but this was a challenge.

* Many small islands - Koh Ngai, Koh Chuek and Koh Ma plus the hidden Emerald Cave at Koh Mook.
A big green speed boat picks you up at the beach and along with some lovely Swedes we head off to explore the small islands of Thailand. Snorkeling, exploring the emerald caves, lunch on a perfect beach. It's a  great day out although the caves are bordering on comical with the over tourism of it. I think at one stage there was 400 of us in this little beach oasis at the end of the cave. You could only laugh.

* Phi Phi Island
We are glad we saw Phi Phi Island and the half moon parties and the natural beauty were interesting. We couldn't wait to leave though as after being spoilt on so many remote islands we were suddenly at a rock concert. Loud and rude Aussie and Brit tourists haggling over 10 Baht( a few pence) , the smell of raw sewerage, strange half built developments everywhere. It's only a theory but it feels like after the tsunami it was thrown up quickly with no planning to ensure the tourists kept coming and now it suffers. Lonely Planet describes Phi Phi Island as heading for an eco-disaster. Everyone wants to go here and I know I was buzzed about finally coming here. Underwhelming in many ways.

* Phuket
Phuket is an island and province of South Thailand, in the Andaman Sea. It is a diverse island with extremes. Great natural beauty and really nice quiet secluded places to the rather insane but fun Patong with all the go go girls and never ending night life. We did a little bit of everything on Phuket Island and also loved Phuket Town which tourists don't really bother with because it's not on the beach. It has this old town section where the old Indo-China architecture is brilliant and unlike the rest of Phuket.. feels like a normal city. one of our best meals of our whole trip cost 155 Baht (£3) here… including drinks.
It was in Patong that I sadly left Laura for 48 hours as I headed to Canberra for Grandma's funeral. Our final two days were at Kamala Beach and the red sunsets and meals on the beach were a fitting ending to the islands of Thailand. We also ran into our Canadian friend Susan randomly one evening at Kamala Beach which was just lovely to see her and share travel stories. As always, Susan soon had the whole venue at our table with everyone drinking and laughing. Susan has a special personality and has been travelling a very similar path to us although now she heads to Sri Lanka.

16. Christmas Hua Hin
Hua Hin is onn the Gulf of Thailand Thai people holiday and two hours south of Bangkok. APparently it's where the King goes for holiday. Mum & dad flew in to spend Christmas with us which was a treat and we stayed at the Novotel with the most friendly staff ever. Every meal consisted of great conversation as we discussed a range of topics from family history to border control stories to stories about mum when she lived in China. We did the family thing of talking about our top five highlights of the year and all those things. Most days were spent by the pool although dad had a suit made at a tailors so joining him for the fittings was fun. Christmas day involved the usual breakfast but all wearing either reindeer or Christmas hats. We then met up in our room and dad did a short Christmas style acknowledgement speech which was nice and then we shared presents. During the day we skyped  family which was good for our souls as even though or first and probably only Asian Christmas it was a slightly odd experience spending Christmas Day by a pool. Definitely the most relaxed Christmas ever. It was really special to spend it with my parents and I am great for their commitment to family and their efforts to fly up and meet us.

In Hua Hin we did our third cooking class and was fun to have mum & dad involved. A great group of eight with our Green Curry Chicken being our feature dish.

During the honeymoon my amazing Grandmother passed away at the age of 99. I hear the news when we were on the beach in South Cambodia. I was quite teary for a morning but after that enjoyed telling so many fun and amazing stories about Grandma. He life was one to be celebrated and I flew to Australia for the funeral and Laura waited for me in Phuket. It was hard seeing my mum feeling such a sense of loss but there was a lot of joy at the funeral and the funeral was a perfect and fitting farewell for Grandma. Her four children and all the grand kids spoke so well and was really special to see everyone and spend the day together. Grandma was a true inspiration to me and all the family and will be missed greatly.

I also had a coffee with Sarah Ward at Canberra air port.

Laura has a list of books also but I added these as a reminder of what I read. As well as being an adventure and a great honeymoon, this trip has been so educational.
Some books made me laugh, a couple made me cry and the learning curve about the history and political terrain of the countries we visited were fantastic and really enhanced the experience.
I would not recommend all the below books so have put an asterisk against my favourites.

Books read.
SE Asia related:
* Ho Chi Minh: A life.   William J. Duiker
* Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a troubled land.        Joel Brinkley
Ghosts in Vietnam.   James Carter
The Proud Bastards.  E. Michael Helms
The Division of the Damned.    Richard Rhys Jones
Very Crazy G.I.   Kregg P. Jorgenson
* The Vietnam War: History in an hour.   Neil Smith
Ghosts in Vietnam James Carter
The war in Laos Kenneth Conboy
Tomorrow I'm Dead: How a 17-year old Killing Field Survivor Yom Bun
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand : Including Guides to Angkor Wat, Halong Bay, Luang Prabang and more  - Planet, Lonely
* Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors    Pran, Dith

Comfort Woman: A Filipina's story of
Business and personal development:
* Secrets of Male Entrepreneurs Exposed.  Brentong Tong
Import/Export for Dummies.   John Capela

Rwanda related:
* Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust Immaculee Ilibagiza
* Ordinary Man: The true story behind Hotel Rwanda. Paul Rusesabagina
Rwanda, Blood Everywhere and Beyond.        Emmanuel Ngiruwonsanga
My Father, Maker of the Trees  Eric Irivuzumugabe
The Strategy of Antelopes: Rwanda after the Genocide  Jean Hatzfeld
Rwanda, Blood Everywhere and Beyond  Emmanual Ngiruwonsanga

England related:
I Am The Secret Footballer The Secret Footballer
The Hooligan Nights      Clarence Rock
Narrow Margins life on the waterways Marie Browne
Harry Redknapp - The Biography   Les Roopanarine

Fifty Shades Freed.   E.L. James
Sipping on the Nile - My Exodus   Jean Naggar