Shikotan – the Kuril New Zealand.

If you’ve ever been to New Zealand, and then one day you were to wake up on Shikotan island (er, without knowing how you got there, or why were you asleep for so long, etc., etc.), you’d probably think you’ve been teleported to NZ. They’re just so similar!

Non-volcanic gently rolling grassy landscapes, nano-bamboo, picturesque and seemingly carefully positioned trees. All neatly trimmed, colored, and – you’d think – Photoshopped, and sparkling under the inevitable Kuril rain. If sheep and sun were added – it’d be the carbon copy of NZ – somewhere around the center of the North Island.

Kuril Islands - Shikotan

Read on: Only the hobbits’ cubbyholes are missing…

Atsonupuri: The Aston Martin of volcanos

The Kurils are all volcanic. On the 56 islands that make up the archipelago there are a total of 68 volcanos, 36 of which are still smoking.

There are small volcanoes up to two kilometers high, right down to mere volcanic ‘pimples’. Throughout our expedition we clambered up and across seven of them, in doing so totting up around six km on the y-axis and about a hundred on the x. The smoldering seven we conquered were as follows: EbekoKrenitsinaUshishirZavaritskovoAtsonupuriTyatya, and Mendeleyeva.

Fortunately almost all the climbs are light and non-mountaineering-esque; sometimes they’re long and tedious, but nevertheless never too tough. It’s a matter of just taking it easy and slowly, getting the lungs working at full capacity, getting a bit of a sweat on too, and before you know it in two or three or four hours you’re at the top. And then it all becomes worth it – the beauty, the bewilderment, and the pure bliss. 360-degree awesomeness – outwards, and also inwards – into the caldera or crater. Then it’s clickity-clack on the Leica, then back down to the bottom again. That was the routine most of the time. Apart from Atsonupuri on the island of Iturup

Atsonupuri volcano

Atsonupuri volcano

Read on: I knew it would be hard, but not torture!…

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The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Many of you will know that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. But no one – NO ONE! – including Douglas Adams, the one who came up with the Ultimate Question and its answer, knows why it’s 42, and not 17, 41 or 43. I didn’t know earlier either. Now I do. And you won’t believe it…

Now, I didn’t go looking for the answer to this eternal question. It was the other way round – the answer found me: In a hot river on the island of Iturup!

So, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is this: ’42’. That’s the temperature of the water in this magical river.

The ultimate question

Read on: what a place!…

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Island No. 16: Simushir.

Here we are with more adventures on the Kuril Islands

Our expedition went like this: new day – new island. In all there were 18 days, and 12 islands (if we include Sakhalin). Each day it was a new route, new outstanding views, new fantastic experiences.

The day would normally start with our motorboats landing on a new, unknown shore. Sometimes that was easy, other times it was Saving-Private-Ryan-opening-scenes; almost. The sea got choppy, the weather got rainy and windy, and the adrenalin got pumping – as did the cortisol. On those days just making it to shore resembled no less than a hugely heroic deed, so we ended such days with similarly hugely heroic festivities once camp had been struck.

But on the clear days – the landings plus the ensuing day spent onshore were easy and unforced. The day on Simushir was one such day.

Simushir, Kuril Islands

Read on: running away from a typhoon…

Island No. 14: Ushishir.

Just a month ago I was unaware of one of the most amazing, enchanting and photogenic places on the planet. Now I know. The place I’m talking about is Ushishir.

“Ushishir?” you ask. What’s that? A distant relative of Yorkshir? A cousin of Middle-earth’s Shir?

No, silly. It’s an old volcano with a caldera that’s collapsed down to sea level. A volcano bay.

The best place here for visual meditation is up on the top of the edge of the caldera. The bay itself inside the island is pure eye candy. Then there are waves coming in off both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk on the outer sides. It’s a place where you can just sit and stare at the surroundings for hours, and the higher you get up the sides the better – it’s sure worth the climb.

Kuril islands, UshishirNo Photoshop enhancements needed. Well, just a bit maybe

Read on: An extraordinary place. Unique. Totally recommended…

Mumbairport.

Continuing the airport theme

Holy moly! This is one ultra-modern, cavernous travel hub. It resembles more a museum than an airport. All polished and shiny too. However, not all that glitters is gold. It’s also a very slow moving, uncomfortable airport. Although I’m sure they’re trying their darndest, they’ve still a long way to go in terms of service. “They rebuilt the airport, but didn’t think about the passengers who’ll be using it!” A.Sh. commented verily.

Back to the plusses (alas, briefly) – it’s got a real nice and spacious business lounge, and the food they serve there is out of this world; much better than the usual sandwiches and cakes. And lots of proper drinks too :). But can they provide Wi-Fi that’s fast and easy like in most other international airports around the world? NO!

The Wi-Fi here is slooooow, and insists on a text message to your cell phone “for confirmation and security”. Er, no thank you, I don’t need that kinda Wi-Fi. So we decided to dine properly instead. Oh, what a delight… If they served up such choice cuisine in every business lounge, I’d not bother with the Internet at all – ever, anywhere! I’d also not fit into my jeans.

Mumbai airportThere will always be jaywalkers no matter where you are. No matter if there’s a zebra crossing two meters away!

Read on: beware the Indian customs rules…

Chek Lap Kok: No quick walk.

Flying round the globe as I do, I get to see all sorts of different destinations, a lot of different airports too. Which got me thinking – I should make up a list of the world’s best airports. Incidentally, that also got me thinking about perhaps making up another list – of the world’s worst airports!

And yes, what is now the ‘old’ terminal of Sheremetevo (‘F’) will be top of that list for certain! But today’s theme is great airports. And it just so happens that I recently flew from what I think is my favorite on the planet: Hong Kong International Airport, aka Chek Lap Kok.

Hong Kong airport

Read on: So what’s so great about it? …

Having a ball in Nepal.

How many timezones does the world have?

On being asked that question many will come up with the perfectly logical answer of 24. After all, that’s the number of hours in a day. But they’d be wrong! Yep, in all there are quite a few more than 24… There are actually 39 time zones! In a handful of countries the local time differs from the respective ‘geographical time zone’ (of which there are 24) – by half an hour (like in India, Iran and a few others) or even by 45 minutes – like, for example, in Nepal. Here the time difference from London is +4 hours and 45 minutes! These offsets are the reason for there being 39, not 24 time zones.

Last week, I was here in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal!

Nepal, Katmandu

Read on: the country of the Buddha, the Himalayas and Everest…

You can’t go wrong with Hong Kong.

It had been what seems like eons since I’d checked into a hotel which I simply had to tell you about separately due to its specialness. I get to stay in some real nice hotels on my travels, it has to be said, but only once a blue moon do I come across one that’s just… exceptionally and extraordinarily exquisite :).

So I must show you a few pics of where we were last week. We were in Hong Kong, having our APAC Partner Conference – in the HK InterContinental on the shore of Kowloon. And, oh, by the hammer of Thor, what views it offered of the skyscrapers across the bay. I won’t come up with OTT adjectives, I’ll just let you have a look for yourselves…

One thing I will say is that these views never fail to impress no matter if it’s day or night, or clear and sunny, or during a typhoon! It’ll be here we’re staying at next time, that’s for sure…

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Hong Kong by night

Read on: More skyscrapers, close shot…