Off topic


I recently had some travel to the British Virgin Islands – or BVI as many people call them.  I generally go to the BVI 1-2x per year for work and usually do not stay the week-end.  This time, due to some scheduling issues, I spent a week there which included a week-end.  On the Saturday, I made my way to the island of Virgin Gorda which is a short boat ride away.  Julie & I have been twice before quite a few years ago.  We loved it and I was eager to go back.   The BVI are very mountainous, so a nice change of pace from Cayman.

One of the first views I got to enjoy ; Savannah Bay.   Makes for great pictures. As you can see, Virgin Gorda is not very developed. I am told there are +-5,000 residents.

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Now for the wiew from one of the highest peaks. Wow

The island to the far left is Richard Branson’s Necker Island.  The small one in the very middle, behind the larger one, is Eustasia.  Unconfirmed reports say that Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google is the owner.  Whoever it is, they sure have a lovely spot.

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Next up is The Baths – one of Julie’s favorite spots ever. The Baths is a section of Virgin Gorda that is littered with massive granite boulders.  Some of these boulders are the size of apartment buildings – massive.  Some theories say they were left here during the ice age.  Whatever it was, it sure made for a spectacular place.

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This is probably the most photographed place – an inner cavern with nice shallow water. Any Google search for The Baths will have you looking almost immediately at a very similar picture as the one below.

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One of the the more secluded beaches ; Devil’s Bay. To get here, you need to do a 15 minute “hike” through the boulder formation – great fun and well worth it.

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Here I am (probably …) reflecting on the beauty of this place and how lucky I am to travel to all of these amazing places.

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Of course the snorkeling.  The timing was right for Silersides – essentially minnows.  Millions of them!  The pictures do not do justice to the sights I saw – sometimes there were so many, that the only thing I could see were small fish all around me ; a wall of fish.  Amazing.

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Ok so that’s it – as you can see I had a great time in Virgin Gorda, or “VG” as the locals call it.   🙂

I recently had to go to the UK for a few days on business.  I always enjoy going to London ; a lovely city with much to see and do.  Of course, I don’t usually have much time for sightseeing.

However, as regular readers of my blog will know, I try to see some sights, even if on a restricted schedule.

So last Saturday I did just that.  I went a bit off the beaten path to a place I have wanted to go for a few years now.  Its related to WWII and to Cryptography – and was incredibly interesting.  In fact, I had planned on a 2-3h visit and after over 5h I am sure did not see all there was to see.

So, where did I go?  To Bletchley Park which is a 45 minute train ride north of London.  What’s that you ask! It’s where the British, in WWII, cracked the German Enigma machine codes.  If you saw the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” or are a history buff you know all about this.  If you have not seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

Here is “The Mansion” seen in many pictures of Bletchley Park and where some movie scenes were shot.

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In the museum, they have quite a few Enigma machines.  If you thought your odd of winning the lottery are slim, consider this.  The possible combinations generated by this machine are of 158 Trillion – or 158 Million Millon! So defeating it was not a simple task, especially with 1940’s technology.

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The man who was instrumental to this endeavor was Alan Turing, a mathematician.  Here is a statue of him made entirely of 500,000 small pieces of slate.  Amazing!

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Turing’s genius was the design of the “Bombe”.  No, its not a “bomb”. The bombe was nickname for the device seen below that was used to ultimately defeat and crack the German Enigma codes.  The machine works (i’m over simplifying this …) with a series of rotors which are able to “find” the Enigma settings (which was the key to decrypting the German messages) much faster than any human can. The Bombe is recognized as being the first modern computer.  The Bombe seen below is a working recreation which took 13 years to make, since all of the ones built during the war were destroyed by the Government at the conclusion of WWII.

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In one of the “huts”, essentially very rudimentary office buildings, was Alan Turing’s office.

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My friend David and I in Turing’s office.  David is a former work colleague in Cayman. I met up with him at the train station in London and spent a lovely day visiting the exhibits with him.  It was great to spend a bit of time in Turing’s office – rich in history.  It’s widely accepted by historians that Turing’s accomplishments (and others on his team) shortened the war by approximately 2-years and saved over 14M lives.

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As a final picture.  If you have seen the movie, this is the bar which can be seen in a few scenes, notably in the “eureka” moment – the best part of the movie.

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If you want to know more, below are some some links for additional reading and a link to the museum should you wish to visit the next time you are in London.  I highly recommend visiting Bletchley Park – plan to spend the day; there is much to see and learn.

Alan Turing

The Bombe

Bletchley Park Museum

I recently had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam for business.  Amsterdam is a city I had never visited and was quite pleased to be able to go to.  Now that I have been, I can say its a great place to visit; very “Old Europe”.

Here is what would be a view you would expect from Amsterdam and can see plenty of.  Canals and bridges.  Lots of this to be seen.  I was glad I did not have nor need a car.  I am usually quite good with navigation, but during the few taxi trips I took, I found the streets to be very confusing.  Also, streets are very narrow.

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My first sightseeing stop was the Anne Frank House. As someone who is very interested in history and WWII, this was No. 1 on my list of places to see.  I very much enjoyed my visit.  I found that the museum does a good job putting us in the context of what happened and how Anne Frank and her family were hiding.   The actual house is the one which is center- left, with the black bottom level. The two to the right are part of the museum.  Note the queue to enter the museum. I waited 45 minutes ; apparently that was a fairly short wait since lines can be very long some days.

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This is the bookshelf that hid the entrance to the “Annex” where Anne Frank and her family were hiding.  Photography was restricted in most parts, so no other pictures.

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One evening, I was invited for a river cruise/dinner.  Below is the boat we took.  Note the very low profile of the boat.  The bridges have very little clearance, so the boats need to be very low.  On a few occasions, I wondered if we would not hit the bridge.

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From the see-through roof of the boat – this is how close we were to buildings and the side. Very tight fit. The cruise also included a meal and lasted about 2h – very nice.

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Another nice visit, was to the founding place of Heineken – the world famous beer.  One nice thing about Amsterdam, is that many of the top things to see/visit are either walking distance or a short taxi ride away.

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Here are some old & decommissioned, yet still spectacular brewing vats.  The overall visit of Heineken takes about 1h and is very worth while, even if you are not a fan of beer.  Each ticket includes 2-beers at the end.  Since I was alone and it was early morning, I decided that drinking alone was kind of strange.  To remediate, I started chatting with a lovely couple from Manchester, UK.   Problem solved 🙂

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The infamous “Coffee Shops” of Amsterdam.  For those of you who don’t, know, the licensed Coffee shops are where one can legally get some cannabis.   There are lots around and when walking by, the strong odor is a give-away of whats going on in there.

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There is a definite culture around the cannabis, since you can find all kinds of products made of cannabis. Here is a great example.  For those of you wondering … its no!  I don’t smoke cigarette, so whats the point? 🙂

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One thing I found interesting about Amsterdam is how many electric cars are present, especially the lovely (and very expensive) Tesla model S as below.  Last time I checked these were over 100,000$US each.  However, plenty of taxi’s and regular folks drive these.  I was told that the Dutch government offers large tax incentives for the use of electric cars, which likely explains their popularity, not to mention no need to buy gas.

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So there you have it, Amsterdam in a few pictures. I very much enjoyed my time there.  I found it to be a very clean and safe city to visit, even when walking around after dark.

Some new Cayman posts coming soon 🙂

I recently had the opportunity to go to Ireland.  Readers of this blog may recall I went about 3-4 years ago and made a post about it.  It was mostly about Dublin and a short drive to the nearby countryside.

Fast forward to 2015 ; I needed to return for some work.  This time Julie came along and we made a vacation out of it.  The plan was to do a loop of Ireland (and Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK) starting in Dublin and roughly following the coast in a counter clockwise direction.  It required a good deal of planning, but I think the result was an awesome road trip.  This post is quite “picture heavy”; we had a great time and I hope to give you an overall idea of the things we saw and did.

First things first, the car. Its a Skoda Octovia diesel.  Since Skoka belongs to Volkswagen, this is essentially a VW Jetta.  I am used to driving a car with the wheel on the right, but since it was a manual transmission, the stick (gears) are changed with the left hand, which is a bit different, but was a lot of fun of course.

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Ok and we are off! We immediately headed north to Northern Ireland to the city of Belfast. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast from 1909 to 1912?  Here is the Titanic museum and visitor center. Quite a spectacular sight which is clearly built to resemble the ships bow.  At the exact spot where I am standing to take the picture is where the ship was built, as in the second (historical of course) picture below.

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Even if you are not a huge fan of all things Titanic, I highly recommend a stop at this museum.  A vast amount of information is presented, from the construction to the sinking, beyond and everything in between.

Next stop was at the “Dark Hedges”.  If you are a fan of the TV show “Game of Thrones” you may recognize this place. Its a simple country road with these spooky trees.  The picture does not do it justice ; it was very spectacular.  Julie and I probably spent an hour walking the entire length and taking many pictures.  It is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland.  We got there fairly early in the morning so there were few people.

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Next we are now completely on the northern edge of the island.  The coast is beautiful.  Lovely beaches and cliffs.  No swimming here though … water looked really cold.

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Along the way there were also many nice castles to see … too many to visit them all.  Some of them we just stopped for a few moments to take a look.  This one is a lovely sample of an ocean side castle. Dunluce Castle.

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This next stop was the most anticipated one of the whole trip.  It is called the “Giants Causeway”. Although these stones look man made, they are a some sort of volcanic phenomenon.  Its absolutely spectacular.  All of the stones are essentially basalt columns.  There are an estimated 40,000 of them and they are all interlocking.  I have to admit, walking around on them had something magical.  I compared it to the magic of Stingray City in Cayman while I was there.

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Here are Julie and I taking a break at one of the highest points at the Giants Causeway.

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One of the next highly anticipated sites was “Cliffs of Moher” which is along the western coast.  These cliffs are +-400ft high over the Atlantic and were an amazing sight of natural beauty.  There are 1000’s of birds flying around which nest along the cliffs.  It was also a great view down to the ocean.

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In Limerick, we visited King John’s Castle.  The entire visitor center was recently renovated and the displays were very interesting.  We really liked this visit.  The Castle is right in the middle of town and is quite sprawling, so getting it in one picture was not possible. We found Limerick to be a lovely city even though we were only there in passing.

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Along the south west coast, we ventured out onto the “Biera Peninsula”. It was a few hours drive and the last 1/3 of the peninsula was gorgeous but barren landscape ; rugged shoreline, rough ocean and small vegetation.  Great place to take pictures.   Very narrow roads though which made for some interesting driving.  (see comment about the car near the end …)

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In Waterford, we stopped by to do a factory tour at Waterford Crystals.  We were glad we did.  The tour, which lasted +-45 minutes, was fascinating. We essentially saw the entire process from blowing the glass, cutting, quality control, the engraving, etc.  I now understand why their products are so expensive. Each piece is done by hand and a lot of time is spent making sure they are perfect.  Below we have a “Master Blower” creating a vase of some sort. If you like factory tours, make sure this place is on your list of things to see in the southern part of Ireland.

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Next stop in New Ross was a visit I was not sure about. It was the “Famine ship” experience.  The ship below, the Dunbrody (this is a replica of the original), which was built in Quebec City, was used to bring Irish people to North America during the potato famine.  We all know that the Irish have a huge diaspora around the world.  Well, that is mainly because of the potato blight starting in 1845 where a large percentage of the population was dying of hunger due to much of the potato harvest going bad.  Many Irish left the country in search of a better life (and food).  A very informative visit.  I was glad we stopped here.

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Julie particularly liked our visit to “Powercourt Gardens” due to the gardens.  It was a lovely stroll along various paths and with a fabulous rose garden.

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Our final visit prior to leaving Ireland was to Malahide Castle and Gardens which is just outside of Dublin.   This was another really nice visit ; the Castle has both a very “old” history dating back to 1185 and then to 2009 where it had been with the “Talbot” family for over 791 years with exception to a few years where the family has been kicked out … Anyway, really nice visit and great for history buffs.

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So here is the approximate map of our trip.  Starting and ending in Dublin and going first North and then along the coast all the way back to Dublin.  We did +-2000km in 10 days.  Lots of driving around, but we love road trips.

If you like Castles, history, rugged coastlines, lovely countryside, Ireland is a great place to go.

Just one recommendation for anyone who wants to do a similar trip: Rent a small car.  Our Skoda pictures above is the biggest I could recommend.  In many places, the roads are extremely narrow, so anything bigger will not be any fun.

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Stay tuned for a Cayman post soon … just did some really nice snorkeling at a new spot.

As I have often done in the past, I had to go to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands for a few days.  This time I stayed an extra day and went sailing with some friends.  What a great day it was.   The itinerary was to head out towards another of the BVI’s ; Jost Van Dyke.

Here is our Catamaran for the day ; the view is while I was snorkeling in the clear waters off Jost Van Dyke.

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Awesome waters colors, just like in Cayman

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This is where we did the snorkeling.  Nice & calm spot.

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Next we made our way to “Sandy Pit” which for me was the highlight of the whole day.  Sandy pit is a tiny deserted island a few hundred yards off Jost Van Dyke.  As you will see it is absolutely picture perfect.

Here is is from the boat; quite a popular place as you can see.  What you see in the picture below is essentially 90% of the island ; the picture cuts off a small part on the right.

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On the island … WOW!

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So that was my sailing day in the BVI.  The other really neat thing about my trip was the flight to/from San Juan. Since American Airlines stopped service to many of the small islands from San Juan, I took a flight on “Cape Air”.

Cape Air provides air service to Tortola via San Juan on 10-seater Cessna’s.  A friend of mine had told me about a particularity of this air service and I made sure to use that information for my benefit : There is only one pilot, so if you ask and are quick enough, you can sit in front with the pilot, in the co-pilot seat 🙂

Here I am in the co-pilot seat just before takeoff.

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Enjoying the view from the front seat

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Sitting right next to the most important man on the plane … if anything happens to him, I have to fly.  Probably not a good idea!

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Finally, here is a short video of takeoff from San Juan. Its such a different view from what i am used to sitting in a “normal” plane looking out the side and often over a wing.

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