Penguins are very curious creatures, particularly if you just sit still. They came right up to me, probably because they thought my camera was interesting!
Antarctica is fascinating, so it was great to have a bunch of scientists on our ship to teach us all about it and answer our questions. We learned that it is the highest, driest, windiest, emptiest, and coldest place on earth. An ice sheet covers all but 2% of Antarctica's 14 million square kms. (By comparison, each of Europe, Australia and the USA are between 9 and 10 million square kms!)
It is amazing to think what we have done to the whale population, in the not so distant past. Around 200,000 whales were caught and slaughtered in South Georgia alone - over the course of 50 years. We visited just one whaling station, Grytviken, which had up to 25 whales per day brought in for processing. Initially those came from the bay, upon which the whaling station was situated, but of course after a while the whales learned not to go there and so the whalers had to go further afield.
When visiting Tofino on Vancouver Island, we wandered down to the seafront to watch the seaplanes taking off. We thought we’d pop in and see if there was any way to organise a seaplane tour for later in the week.
Apparently it's a tradition to strip down to bathing costumes and go swimming in the Arctic waters! We held hands and ran in together, our legs gave way due to the cold, and we plunged beneath the Arctic water!
Our first trip inside the Arctic Circle was to the Ice Hotel in Sweden. The whole concept is just amazing: part of the hotel is rebuilt every year from ice. We slept in the "cold rooms" for just one night - but that was a great experience. Tucked up together in a double sleeping bag, on an ice bed, in a hotel room made entirely out of ice!
Mont Ventoux is know as the "Géant de Provence", and with good reason: it stands over 1,900m high, and towers over the surrounding contryside. It's well known in cycling circles, as a regular "Mountain Stage" on the Tour de France. I decided to take on the challenge of cycling up it, which is a vertical ascent of over a mile.
One evening, I was getting changed in my cabin on the Plancius, our cruise ship to Antarctica, when a female member of the Expedition staff - Katia - appeared at the window and started staring at me through the window. I was a bit taken aback, not least because at this stage I'm naked! So I jumped out of sight ... just as she raised her camera to take my picture!
Apparently, there are no less than six different "ways of saying things" in Vietnamese, so a phonetic language system (like the roman alphabet) doesn't naturally work. However, with some modification it has been made to fit (and it's better than the Chinesse system!). It does mean that if you say something the wrong way then it means something different. For instance, "Sin Ciao" is "Hello" if said with a falling Ciao, but "I'd like some soup" if rising! I think we ordered a lot of soup during our visit!
The London marathon is the biggest annual fund raising event on the planet - so it was great to be a part of it in April 2013.