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Monday, 30 April 2012

Post Op Tour Leave (POTL)

Hello! Me again! 

Sorry I have been so quiet over the last month or so, it's been manic here!

I left Afghan around the 19th March, did the usual stop off in Cyprus, which was actually quite enjoyable, despite just wanting to get home, then landed around the 21st in the UK.

As most of you would have seen my end of tour slideshow by now, all I can say is, what a relief! That was such hard work to get off the ground, I am just glad it all worked out. I checked the other night and have over 8,000 hits on YouTube now, and the feedback I have got from my official Twitter (@CombatPhot) has been amazing!

So what have I been up to? Well................three days after landing back in the UK, I was in London giving a talk at the Imperial War Museum on Photography and 21st Century Conflicts. The talk was very well attended, with an audience of over 50, and went down a storm. Making the most of being in London, Mrs Blake, some friends and I made a weekend of it. We checked into an amazing apartment for the night, visited the Ice Bar and went to see Shrek the musical, which was brilliant!

So this is what i've missed out on for six months eh?

After the initial rush to get ready for London was over, it was back to reality, living at home with my family all over again. Six months is a long time to be separated, and everyone has to get used to being around each other again. Sounds weird I know, they are your loved ones and you have all missed each other dearly, but in a roundabout way, got used to being apart. Using china plates, metal cutlery and being able to wear clothes other than MTP were novel changes for me!

So after a week or so back at home, readjusting, and doing menial tasks that I haven't missed, like food shopping, I was off on another adventure. This time I was Italy bound. Taking advantage of the school half term, we took the boys away for a weeks holiday. 

My lovely wife had booked us an apartment about 40 minutes from Venice, giving us plenty of scope to admire the sites in the location we stayed but also travel into Venice for the day.

Sadly the weather was not on our side, despite the promises of sun, but we made the most of it anyway.

After a few days enjoying the sites of Lido Di Jesolo, we planned a trip to Venice. The trip would be by bus, then boat to finally arrive at St Mark's Square.

River Taxi on route to Venice

The weather was amazing the day we went, to which we were all thankful. We were all really excited about seeing such a famous and picturesque city, and the chance to get some photos of this spectacular place was on the cards for me too. 

St Mark's Square

As we turned the corner and got our first view of St Mark's Square, my face just lit up. What an amazing place with tonnes of character. My camera was now poised and at the ready. I did, however, soon realise that I wasn't on a photo holiday and had to entertain my family too, as this is the sort of place you could spend a week and not get bored of photographing it. The intricacies of the buildings, the sculpting, the modes of transport and the general way of life in Venice, is amazing to capture in a photo.

Spectacular Craftsmanship

With a 24hr travel card for Venice, we were certainly in no rush to get home that night, so wanted to fully embrace as much as possible.

Not one straight line in the city

Venice is very picturesque in my eyes, although many say its old, decaying and smelly. Well, what do you expect from a city built on water, believed to have been discovered back in 421 AD? The place is still brimming with culture, colour, life and soul of a true Italian city. I just loved it, soaking up the atmosphere was great.

Traditional Venetian Mask

Having been in Afghan for 6 months with my camera, constantly on the go, I wasn't keen to do anything for a while, but glad I took one of my cameras to Venice, this would have been a shame to miss.

Riverside Housing

Local Artist

Inside the Basilica - St Mark's Square

Water Taxi

Now, as you know, Venice is built on the water. People here don't own cars. The streets are far too narrow, plus they would have to constantly cross the water. So river taxis and Gondola's are the only way people move from one side of the city to another. This is also the way businesses work and move freight.

The city is like a maze. You could easily spend two or three weeks here and still not see it all. The small streets weave in and out of the waterways, then suddenly stop. This is where you need a gondola to move across the water and continue your adventure. Very cleverly done, but confusing and frustrating at times for tourists! haha

Anyway remember where we parked the car?

One man and his Gondola

A gardening company move up and down Grand Canal

Once we had seen the majority of Venice City that we wanted to, and having fed the pigeons in the Square, we shot off on yet another boat trip to the Island of Murano, famous for its glass. As we sailed to Murano, we passed the main Venice Cemetery, which is also on it's own island, and is a rather impressive size too. Quite surreal, but spectacular nevertheless. 

So, hoping to catch one of the famous glass blowers doing his thing, we shot around the island quickly before all the shops closed. Luckily for us, we caught one, just about to do his final show for the day. The glass sculptures that these guys produce are phenomenal, and come with a very hefty price tag to say the least. 

Glass horse

With my son Joseph amazed at the man making a glass horse, we had to have a quick look around the shop. Needless to say I was a touch concerned. I was carrying a bag and camera, my wife had a bag and then we had the kids to watch, as we carefully manoeuvred up and down the narrow isles looking at pieces of glass with five figure price tags. After 10 minutes and realising we could afford nothing more than a small glass, sweet shaped souvenir, we left heading back into Venice.

We now had one more thing to do before we headed back to our apartment; a Gondola ride. This was no easy task. The Gondola's are a world known attraction for the city, hence the prices reflect this. Having asked nearly every Gondolier as we passed how much it was for a ride, we, being true tight brits, wanted it cheaper. Sadly, the tactic of bartering in Venice doesn't work. They set a price, and know if you don't pay it, 100's of people after you will. So at 7pm we bit the bullet and paid for the most expensive taxi ride known to man. Having said that, it was a real experience, one that we won't forget.

Laundry Day

Some of the scenery we saw as we travelled up and down the small waterways, was just spectacular. Wondering how many items of clothing fell off the washing line and into the water was one funny topic of conversation as we sailed by. All these sorts of funny things make good pictures, and as you can probably guess, I have loads from just the day in Venice, too many to show you. The ride took about half an hour, and we got to see lots of stunning buildings as we sailed up the Grand Canal. This was matched with old, derelict ones. But they all looked good, if that makes sense.

Marny Miles with our Gondolier

One thing I forgot to mention at the start of this post. My wife had applied to the Marny Miles Facebook page to take him on holiday with us, and we were successful on getting him on the dates of our holiday.

Marny Miles is a bear, created by a Military family, who raise money for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA). The idea is to get Marny to travel as much as possible, with as many families as possible, collecting memorabilia on the way. This, along with Marny will eventually be auctioned off for the charity. 

My son Joseph, 9, was really excited and took him everywhere with us, and we even persuaded our Gondolier to have his picture taken with him too. The least he could do for emptying my wallet! haha. 

We hope that Marny is successful in raising as much money for the charity as possible.

To read more just search 'Marny Miles' on Facebook.

Well, that was Venice over. Time to pack and head home. What a cracking break with the family.

I now have lots more leave to take, and intend to spend most of it relaxing, but also busying myself on occasion with various projects I am doing, which I will share more about in the not so distant future I hope.


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