Category Archives: Travel

The Hottest place on earth!

The first time we left our Brisbane base was when we went for a week at the Gold Coast/Surfers Paradise. We were invited to stay at a luxury 10th floor apartment right on the beach with a balcony view over the ocean. In the most relaxing way we had quite a tight schedule for the whole week.  Most days we still managed a walk along the beach, the destination typically being some nice café to have breakfast or brunch. 

One day was set aside for a trip on a friend’s yacht. We were picked up from the pier  in a dinghy and taken the short trip out to the yacht. We had remembered the Dramamine which proved to be completely unnecessary: Unfortunately for us, the yacht had been anchored tactically for prime viewing position of the New Year’s firework and thus our hosts were not inclined to take the boat out on the ocean risking loosing their place. So we enjoyed the luxury of the yacht safely anchored in shallow water. We did see (in)famous celebrities sail by and more excitingly wild dolphins very close to the boat, and since the fridge was well stocked and the company pleasant we had nothing to complain about.

Another day we went to Natural Bridge, Springbrook National Park. The rain forest is always impressive with it’s animal life and overwhelming nature. On the way to the Glow Worm cave we saw amazing bird and plant life, as the cave and the surroundings are home to many rare species of animals. The cave itself is not particularly big, but very noisy because of the en-suite waterfall. 

On the way back to the beach we passed through the New South Wales town of  Murwillumbah, a quaint but – we were told – typical town for the area. We also went to Tweed Peak and Point Danger, again amazed at the scenery you find every where you turn. 

We couldn’t come back home not having had a barbecue at the beach, so  one was arranged for  New Years day at 08:00. How that ever seemed to be a good idea, I’ll never know! Well, everyone showed up pretty much on time, and our hosts put on a spread unmatched anywhere in town. It was a good start to the new year.

Brisbane Roar, who’s game we would be attending when returning to Brisbane, were playing Melbourne away, so some of us went to the local Hooters which can be counted on to be well stocked with TV-screens, spicy chicken wings and beer – just a perfect venue for watching the games you can’t attend live.

We also managed to fit a wine-tour into the schedule. We flew to Newcastle for a two-night stay in Hunter Valley. The unit we were staying at was one out of 8 attached units, the setup was perfect with a combination lock, two days worth of DIY breakfast in the fridge and all the coffee you would want. Unit was very nicely laid out with a wooden veranda equipped with BBQ and with a view over a small creek attracting wildlife, particularly morning and night. Second morning we came out to the view of 10 hot air balloons making their way across the valley.  Before settling in, a quick trip to the local shops were in order. Only the essentials, obviously, wine, beer and cheese, mainly… We ventured out on our own to various wine and nature sites, but the main event while we were in Hunter Valley was an organised bus-tour of wineries, a chocolate factory and a distillery.

The wine tour was, erm, different… We were last pickup, so the bus was nearly full – the largest party consisted of 14 English 21-25 year old girls, two of which had brought their boyfriends. It seemed they had been attending a friends wedding, and thought this would be a convenient way to get loaded up front for that days partying. They were loud and thirsty. We started out at Lucy’s Run – named after a dog. It was quite a small winery, only selling at the door, but presentation and wine wise, it was actually the best of the day. One of the guys from the big group of English youth were seated so he got served first when new samples were poured in our glasses. He managed to empty his every time well before the person sitting next to him was served. Hilarious! From there, we went to “The Cellar” for lunch and then onto Allendale.  That has got to be the weirdest tasting I’ve tried. The group was let into a store room with barrels and casks. We were told to “stay put” as we couldn’t be trusted not to steal stuff. The girl presenting the wine did so by arriving with the bottle, mumble a few words about the grape and name of the wine, pour the glasses and then depart again leaving us to wonder in amazement until she repeated the performance after 15 minutes. One of the bottles was not from the winery or the area – actually not even from the same state. No explanation was offered as to why we were tasting that, and she ran off before anyone could ask. By popular demand (mainly from the girls, I suspect) we stopped at a chocolate factory, and then on to a distillery tasting 18 different spirits, mainly flavored vodka. One of the girls from the earlier mentioned group managed an agreement with the presenter, that she was served two tasting samples every time – obviously in order to ensure she got round to all elements of the deep and rich flavors.  The whole bus tour took place about 25km from where they that day measured the hottest temperature on earth. 47C, apparently, though where we were it never seemed warmer than 45C! Weird company and temperature apart, it was fun to visit the different places, though wine educational-wise I wouldn’t say we went home particularly smarter than we went out.


Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

As Rainman does, we find that our favourite airline is Qantas, and we flew with them from Tokyo to Brisbane. We had applied for our eVisas from home (they are free) and again got through the airport without any problems. Outside customs there are counters where you can buy sim-cards, and since we were going to be in Australia for a while and wanted to access social media on the move, we bought two 10GB data cards with unlimited national calls and SMS for around AU$ 25,- each.

After a short car drive, we arrived at our base in Ormiston, part of Redland City and close to Cleveland, a small suburb outside Brisbane. With a swimming pool, sundeck and day temperatures in the mid to late 30C, we were all set for a long period away from the cold, grey and wet Denmark. We unpacked essentials, rested and then ventured into Brisbane to meet up with the remaining family for a drink at the Riverbar, before a nice meal at the seafood restaurant Jellyfish in the best possible company.

We were still waking up relatively early every morning- typically between 4 and 5am. It gave us the opportunity to work a little online or to watch some of the Premier League football games live! It was initially a strange feeling watching football at 5 in the morning – over a cup of coffee rather than a beer, but I quickly got used to it.
It was also good to get a swim in early. At 7am, the neighbour’s dog was let out, and he objected loudly to the fact I seemed to be drowning whenever I swam lanes, so that was best done before then.  The day after we arrived, we went to one of the many fitness centres located in and around Cleveland. As we knew we were going to be spending some time at the Gold Coast too, it was important to find a centre with branches both places, and we had chosen GoodLife, as they also seemed to have a substantial number of Les Mills classes on offer, not least BodyCombat. I always enjoy taking BodyCombat classes at new places when I am travelling. Obviously, the whole concept is for the class to be familiar (similar) no matter where in the world you take it, but there are always local variations in style and presentations that can inspire to improve my own instructing. A couple of differences I noticed: In Australia for IP reasons, they can’t use the original tracks but have to use covers. That makes the music OK for the purpose, but not as good as the originals. Class exercise always draw more women than men, that’s true for Denmark too, but even more so in the classes I took in Australia. I managed to do six BodyCombat classes in the 3 weeks, and half of the time, I was the only man out of 30+ participants. Other differences were very BodyCombat technical, so I will spare you. The GoodLife fitness centre chain are open 24/7 – they have staffed hours, and when unmanned, members let them self in with a key-card. That seemed to work pretty well. The walk from Orbiton to Cleveland took us through some woods in which, there were known to be koalas. This time, however, our third trip to Australia, we never saw a single koala. Granted, we saw many other animals and we did not exactly go looking for them, but still… Cleveland Marina is a clear indication this is not exactly the redneck outback. Many big and beautiful yachts moored at the piers, and nice cars were parked, waiting for their owners returning back from their trips at sea. Coffee shops serve full breakfasts, all kind of coffees and a wonderful range of smoothies and milkshakes, and on a couple of occasions we made the walk to have breakfast out.

We went on a day-trip to Stradie (Stradbroke Island). A 1-hour boat journey across the bay, and we were ready to explore the island that with its shops and cafés had a kind of Maui/San Francisco feel about it – relaxed. We took the North Gorge Walk from which you at all times had an incredible view over the ocean or the gorge. On the two-kilometre walk, out and back, we saw sharks, rays, dolphins and turtles. We also saw a number of birds sitting in trees and a few eagles in the air probably waiting to make them lunch. Speaking of which, there are great places to eat and drink around Point Lookout! We had however brought our own lunch, which we enjoyed at the picnic tables by Brown Lake. Brown Lake, towards the west of the island, is big enough to have a beach, and we started what we have since made a regular ritual of writing Hans’ name in the sand as we are settling down.

Not all islands accept their island fate. Take King Island visible from Wellington Point. that daily fight to retain contact with solid land. Another day, while the tide was out, we walked on dry sand all the way out to the island. It’s worth paying attention to the tide table. Do not be a science denier; it might still work for the 45th US President, but trust me, the tide will come in, when it is well and ready to do so, and a trip wading back to land in shark-infested water with potholes to the right and left of you, is more excitement than I would volunteer for. Therefore, we stayed only a short while and made it back to Wellington Point and an ice-cream well before the tide came back in.

We would be celebrating the Christmas Holidays, Australia style, but on Christmas Eve, when Scandinavians have their main celebration, our hosts had put up a full Danish Christmas Dinner, complete with all the “right” food, including rice pudding. The fact that I got the whole almond and the prize, was probably due to the fact I personally ate at least half of the whole bowl – even if it took me till boxing day to complete the task. The evening was just one of hundreds of efforts everyone was making to ensure we had the best possible stay. We are so grateful for having friends and family like that!

The stay in Brisbane incorporated a stag night! 16 guys, starting out with lunch, going on a pub-crawl only “pausing” to take in a Brisbane Roar football game before finishing off the pub crawl in style… what could go wrong?  Well not a lot, really. Having said that, though, I have, at a ripe old age of 56, been to quite a few bars, clubs and pubs in my life, and I’ve managed to avoid ejection. During the ½ pub-crawl before the football game, we managed to be asked – ever so politely, mind you – to leave. Twice! I think it was mainly for being loud – there were some of the guys with football referee whistles, the blowing of which for some inexplicable reason seemed to annoy other patrons of the bars. The football game, frankly, was awful. Not only not played very well by either side, but Brisbane Roars were behind 0-2 at half time. The best thing about the game was the Roar’s Danish player Thomas Kristensen who after the game brought a signed jersey for the stag and posed for pictures with some of the inebriated company. What a trooper!

Outdoor sports is a big thing in Australia, the weather and the country lend itself well to activities such as football, rugby, golf, swimming and sailing. Being a Commonwealth country there’s also cricket – a peculiar Marmite sport; typically either hated or loved. A tournament called Big Bash has gained momentum. Based on 20-overs games with a lot of extra activities and entertainment thrown in, it has succeeded in appealing to the younger generation who, I otherwise suspect, would never have been caught present at a cricket game. We went to the Brisbane Heat v. Sydney Thunder game. Due to rain it was reduced to 17 overs, Sydney were batting first and managed a 4-149 against which Brisbane seemed to be struggling until the very last over, where, through a couple of great hits, they won the day and the game, 4-153. The game was OK for result excitement, though I don’t think I am going to make it a habit attending cricket games. One section in the stands was a pool, making it possible to watch the game while floating in a swimming pool. Can’t see it catching on at my local football ground.

While in Brisbane we had 2 embedded holidays. We spent around a week at the Gold Coast/Surfers Paradise and later a couple of days in Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Those trips will be covered in the next installment of my travel log.

We had brought ½ of Hans’ ashes with us to be scattered over the ocean. The plan from back home was to do this on January 1st 2018 – exactly a year after we lost him. New Year ended up being very emotional, a marker in time where it was natural to evaluate what we had been through in 2017. It goes without saying, that the year 2017 was the worst year of our lives. That is, our lives turned from ordinary happy lives before 2017 to disaster from New Year. Having said that, it was the life crushing devastating event of Hans’ death, which made it so. The year itself, oddly as it might sound, was remarkable in its own right. We experienced such an outpouring of love and support, not just from old and close friends, but also from every corner of our network. Many of our friendships have been cemented and we have formed new strong friendships. There is a lot of good in a lot of people out there. When on New Year’s Day it came to the crunch, we couldn’t muster the strength to do it. In the end we left it to the morning of the last full day, we were in Australia. We were up before sunrise and went to the Ocean outside Wellington Point. As we stood with the urn, taking in the spectacular sunrise, a sea eagle made a casual swoop past us, getting a lot closer than I have ever experienced them. We scattered the ashes, and stood for a while as another milestone was passed and then made our way back for the point. Astonishingly, the sea eagle from before came back and made another close fly-by.

The whole Australia trip with Hans’ ashes would always be very emotional, and it was. We had feared coming up to the 1st of January and the scattering of the ashes. As expected, it had been hard and emotionally draining, but we also felt somehow relieved. We were now past first occurrence of every special day: Birthdays, Christmas, New Year, Wedding Day, death day… It had not been easy, but we were through it. As we packed our suitcases and headed towards the airport for the stop in Vietnam, it felt it would from now on be somehow easier working on establishing a new life, a new future.

Back in Japan

At the end of 2017, we were going  on a special holiday.
The main destination was Australia, where for some time it had been planned we would go together with Hans before he later in 2018 would do his 1 year gap stay there. We were now bringing 1/2 of his ashes with us to be scattered over the ocean outside Queensland and we had planned it so we would be away Christmas and New Year, and thus the painful 1-year anniversaries.
On the way to and from Australia we would take in old (known) and new, never experienced, places, and we started of going to Tokyo where we had lived for three years back in the mid-90’s.

We flew from Copenhagen arriving Friday 15/12/17 at Tokyo/Narita with SAS after an uneventful pleasant 11 hour flight. Immigration and customs were  straightforward; there is no need for a visa for short stay, all you have to do is to fill out a landing card. 

After customs we went to the Narita Express/NEX counter to buy train tickets for the trip to Tokyo or rather to Shinjuku, where our hotel was located. As always the train departed on time and after an hour and 20 minutes journey we were at the extremely busy Shinjuku station. Hyatt Regency, where we were staying, had a Hotel Shuttle Bus service every 20 minutes, but Shinjuku station is really really big, and we didn’t spend much time looking for the bus before just walking the 25 minutes it took to get to the hotel. One  reliable hotel assistant was on duty about 20 hours a day, 7 days a week – I assume s/he was being re-charged the other 4 hours. S/he would answer questions about hotel facilities and Tokyo tourist sites. The more human members of staff were all service-minded with a single intent of making your stay as pleasant as possible. The hotel was decorated for Christmas as the Japanese like to embrace foreign causes for celebration. Christmas is very big here and Halloween is also being picked up.
The plan for our 5 day stay was to try as many of our favorite Japanese cuisines as possible and to meet up with old friends and former colleagues,

On Saturday morning, we went to our old neighborhood to check on “our” old house, the local temple and our old favorite restaurants. 21 years is a long time, and our local yakitori, alas, was no more. Nor was the local pizza restaurant which over the three years we were in Tokyo delivered quite a number of pizzas to the family! Naka-me-guro high street looked itself. We went into a couple of the old shops, a few of which were even run by the same people as they were 21 years ago. Nakameguro train station, on the other hand had been completely modernised and refurbished compared to the slightly run-down and tatty station we knew from the past.
From Nakameguro we went to Akihabara – the electric city. In the old days you could buy electronics and camera equipment significantly cheaper here than in Europe and in the alley-shops you could find home-made gadgets and novel electronic devices not easily found anywhere else. This time I found prices for camera lenses were comparable to those at home, and the selection and pioneering spirit over the alley shops were somewhat reduced. 

Other shops did remain the same, though, bakeries, for example,  still sold bread in bags with 3 to 10 slices per bag.


In the evening, we decided to have sushi at the hotels own restaurant, Omborato, starting in the bar with a Japanese gin and tonic. The meal was excellent, but we did pay for the convenience of not having to travel. It’s possible to get as good and much cheaper sushi out in town.

Sunday 17/12 marked our 34th wedding anniversary. We went to the Meiji Shrine in the morning and had a very interesting lunch at a tiny restaurant serving various noodle and rice based pots with local ecological beer. The monks at the shrine historically did a lot of brewing and produced sake for high and low. The sake was delivered in 25 liter containers, a sample of which is still in my possession, having received it as a farewell present from my team in Tokyo back in 1996. It’s encapsulated in concrete, weighs around 200 kg, will keep a long time but when opened needs to be drunk. Since drinking ½ liter of sake is quite a lot, I will open it when I have gathered at least 50 sake loving people! At the temples and shrines you can write a wish (prayer) to a deity and then attach it to a tree or a stand.  We also came across the “Husband and Wife” trees – very appropriate for the day, we thought.

In the evening we went to our all-time favorite restaurant in Tokyo, Inakaya, found in Roppongi. There are two sections, a larger with two chefs and a smaller operated by a single chef. The chefs sit behind the food on offer with the guests seated in a rectangle around them. Food is cooked in front of you and delivered to your seat by the chef on a long paddle. I can strongly recommend the red snapper, but vegetables and mushrooms are also fresh and prepared to perfection. The temperature in Tokyo, while we were there, never crept above 5C, so we felt completely legitimized ordering hot sake (atsukan)  with our beer. After the meal looking along Roppongi main street you can’t fail to notice Tokyo Tower – their very own copy of the Eiffel Tower.

We went shopping on the Monday, mainly looking for new chopsticks and lacquer bowls. Japanese department stores are huge with an enormously varied selection of goods. All of them now conveniently have “western style” toilets, typically kept very clean and in order. Not all Japanese know how to use a western style toilet, which is why you can come accross some funny signs and instructions. For lunch we went to a standard lunch restaurant where office workers from all the surrounding buildings come for their udons. Sangokuichi is a chain of such restaurants and the food was exactly as good and cheap as I remember it to be. These kind of lunch restaurants typically have plastic copies of the meal outside so you can see what you will be getting.
At night we were meeting up with our friends and former colleagues at a typical traditional restaurants for after work socializing. One of our old friends had organised and had been able to find a restaurant that could cater for one special request I had: I would like to re-try bashimi, which is raw horse. For the whole group we had ordered a set menu, but I had my side-order of bashimi which was delicious. It was so wonderful catching up with everyone after so many years.

Before going to the airport on the Tuesday, we met up with one colleague not able to make it the night before. We had Okonomiyaki for lunch, which was even better than we had remembered. Okonomiyaki is kinda a cross between an omelet and a pizza, with the core ingredients being cabbage, flour, eggs and fish. The name means “as you want it” and it is cooked on plates at your table.

The restaurant we visited, Osakaya, is near Hotel Gracery, which has a big Godzilla on its outside wall and through loudspeakers a roaring sayonara bid us arewell as we made it back to the airport on our way to Australia.

Piemonte wine tour 2015

With a couple of long lasting friends we decided to have an extended weekend break in Piemonte. We departed after work on a Thursday, had booked tastings and restaurants in advance and arrived back in Copenhagen late Sunday night.

Landscape 02

Flight to Milano Malpensa with Easyjet
Disregarding the fact the gate is as far away from Security as possible, Easyjet is a fine cheap alternative to the more established airlines, particularly for a short journey to Milano. Service onboard is fine and Malpensa had our luggage on the belt very quickly.

Accommodation Casale Mattei in Corneliano d’Alba
Motorways in Italy are great with good signage, but after that, it becomes a little more complicated.  In general, even with GPS, we seem to have great difficulty finding the right places – if there are casale_esternosigns, they are often placed very discretely.  This applies to wineries, restaurants and accommodations. Well, obviously we managed in the end and when we finally found Casale Mattei it was well worth the search. A really nice place with 4 rooms. The hostess was very helpful and everything appears homely.  Even though her English is limited, we managed to gesticulate our needs. Arriving late on the first evening we were guided to the only open pizzeria. Very local and a good start to the weekend.

Wineproducer Cornarea in Vezza d’Alba
After a wonderful breakfast buffet in the converted barn we drove off to the first Winery, and were invited to take a 5 minute drive to go the actual fields. FWD is not mandatory but definitely recommended. The top 4 rows of grapes are for late harvesting after which the grapes are laid a couple of months until they are nearly raisins, ending up as the Tarasco.
Back in the cellar it was one of the two sons (of the original owner) who with his wife conducted the tasting. We had paid a little extra to have some local produce to eat, which consisted of the classic sausage and some cheeses from goat and cow. It was all very good, albeit not exactly full “value for money”
Roero Arneis – Very intense nose. Full, but not sustained fine dry fruit taste. Lack of sustainability could be because the wine – surprisingly – was served too cold.
André  – A fantastic dark golden colour. Interesting deep nose. Wonderful round sustained fruity taste with an undertone of oak. It struck me as a white aspiring to be a red, all though not everyone in the party agreed with this sentiment.
Roero Nebbiolo – Fine ruby hue. Pleasant nose and taste. Licorice besides fruit clearly present on the nose, but not persistent in taste. It was obvious that Cornarea focused more on the whites than the reds.
Tarasco – Sauterne-like dessert wine. Brilliant golden hue with a very rich nose. Persistent and sustained rich and round taste; not unpleasantly sweet.
We bought some Roero and Tarasco. I now regret not getting some bottles of André as well; it was quirky.

Wineproducer Pietro in Vezza d’Alba
Tasting-03A very nice and well maintained vineyard with lots of flowers and pots in and around the courtyard.  It was the last day of harvesting, and they had a couple of hours earlier had a small party for the workers. Our hostess informed us, that on average a bottle of wine per person had been drunk. That was impossible to see, everything was cleared and immaculately clean. We were again offered to visit the fields, but we were tight for time if we were to make the third visit of the day, so we declined and after a brief tour we went straight to the tasting.
Vineyard-01The tasting was conducted outside on the terrace in sunshine and 24 degrees. We had booked tasting of 3 whites but were also offered a tasting of their red. Unfortunately, again because of time, we had to decline.
Roero Arneis – Fine golden hue. Flowery and somewhat weak nose. Nice, crisp and slightly flowery taste and hint of fruit lasting but not dominating.
Langhe Favorita – First time any of us tried the Favorita grape. Wonderful fruity nose with round, full and sustained taste.
Farnei – ½ Arneis/½Favorita –Surprisingly pleasant taste, which in many ways maintained the qualities of the Favorita without being quite so intruding.

Vinproducer GIGI Bianco in Barberesco
The first two visits were arranged through “Piemonte on Wine“, but the visit at GIGI Bianco was organized directly with Susanna Bianco.
Let me go straight to the spoiler: Together with the later visit at restaurant Vagabondi, GIGI Bianco was clearly the highlight of the tour. Really… what a place… what a personality… what wines…
They produce 18.000 bottles per year – and employ 3 full time and 7 part time. That, by any measurement, is a very small production indeed. They are top certified and have their barrels and equipment UNDER the Barberesco Tower in the middle of Barberesco Town, which is also where the tasting takes place.
Barbaresco TowerWines:
We went through their whole wine-list bottoms up. On the other hand, each serving was the least quantity of wine we had received – just barely enough to get a nose and a taste. On this years tour we had a chauffeur, so the bucket was not overused. Particularly three of the wines stood out:
Langhe Nebbiolo – Very pleasant with a fine full nose and well balanced persistent taste.
Barbera d’Alba – Fine nose with lots of fruit, which together with the oak also was reflected in a round and full taste. Acidity was noticeable in the aftertaste. One of the best wines we experienced on the tour, and also the one we ended up buying the most of.
Barrel-02Barberesco Ovello – We started of with the 2011 which is very high scoring , lots of tannin but easily drinkable now. We continued with the 2009 and the party was a little split. I am under the opinion that the 2009 with muscles and spicy roundness is better than the 2011, and that it had nearly the same potential for further development. Another member of the party felt the 2009 is good, but not as good as the 2011, and that the potential is limited. So of course we ended up buying a couple of bottles of each with the plan of doing a blind tasting in 2016 and another in 2017. Time will show who is right.

Restaurant Osteria del Vignaiolo in La Morra
l-osteria-del-vignaioloWhile waiting for the table we took a glass of wine on their terrace. The selection of wine bottles was huge but choices for wine per glass were relatively limited. Being seated, two of us got the tasting menu and the other two a’la carte. I do remember we had a fine Campass Barbera d’Alba, but I have to be honest and declare, that after 3 big tastings plus the rest I do not remember so many more details from the dinner and funnily enough I didn’t take notes.

Saturday market in Alba
Alba_MarketAlba has a fantastic Saturday market with a lot of different crafts and quality products on display and for sale at all the main streets and squares.


Risto-pub Attaccati al Fusto in Alba
We strayed a little from the main street La Vittorio Emanuele and managed to come across a very cosy little café with a fabulous beer-list. With a great selection of wines, good food and beer and the opportunity to sit outside enjoying the sun and the 22°C this was the perfect lunch after a morning of shopping.

Restaurant Locanda Dei Vagabondi in Corneliano d’Alba
In 2014 we stayed at Canale d’Alba. In a book bought in Albas Touristcenter we found what seemed to be a nice restaurant about 10-15km from where we stayed. It ended up being a fantastic find. A rustic, funny place, well hidden away behind a closed gate. A cosy packed restaurant where we were the only non-Italians, where there were neither a food nor wine menu and where the service was personal, friendly and considerate. This time we stayed in Corneliano, and through our hostess we managed to secure a table at the local restaurant even though it was full. From her instructions we walked the 500m to the restaurant and upon reaching the final street, it became obvious we were back at the same place from last year! the-bossThis time we sat in the main dining hall and could admire the owners photos and trophies from his time as a player for FC Torino. When we attempted to ask to this past he smiled but then got serious and wanted to know if we supported Juventus! We could truthfully deny this, and all was well but I’m afraid to think what would have happened had we said yes. (OK, to be honest, the young waiter who served us and was the only one speaking a little English told us he supported Juventus and that he and the owner enjoyed friendly banter). There are no menus. The kitchen prepares and serves a full Italian dinner with all the courses and the whole restaurant is served at the same time directly from the pots and pans. As to wine, you say which specific grape you want to drink and you get served the wine the restaurant has for that grape at the time. We revisited the Favorita grape but also tried the Barberesco Nebbiolo and the Barbera d’Alba. If you are in the Alba area looking for a dinner place I can strongly recommend the Vagabondi for a thoroughly authentic Italian meal.

Wineproducer Prunotto Bussia in Cuneo d’Alba
Tasting-01We were apparently some of the first visitors ever to Prunottos new facilities. Everything obviously appeared new and very cleanly laid out. The tasting room was very light with a great view over the hills of Barolo’. It was the first time we tried a local tasting of Barolo. The standard price for a tasting is €5 pp. Some times it becomes free, particularly when you buy wine. A few places it’s free from the outset and we have once experienced it costing €10. Here the price was €15, without anything additional or exceptional on top. Now, €5 or €10 extra does not break a budget, but if you pay 3x what you pay other places, you expect something more.
Bottle-03It was definitely good wines we were introduced to, and our host was knowing, friendly and entertaining and probably in command of the best English of any we experienced. The wines were as expected good and fine wines – without being astonishing or unique. We were at this stage getting close to running out of space for more wine, but had decided that if we came across something exceptional we could take an additional 6 bottles. We didn’t buy any.

Medieval market and flee market in Asti
Fair-01 Asti, on the way to the airport, was an exciting experience. They had a vintage car exhibition on the main square and a medieval market in the central and “old” part of the city, including the pedestrian street. You could experience classic crafts and there were stalls serving very authentic Italian dishes. Pizza was made in stone ovens build on the street and heated with natural fire. We ended up in a fabulous wine-bar that had just enough unstable Wi-Fi to allow us witness FCK lose 1-0 to Brøndby. While waiting to be seated we had a bottle of Cornerea (from our first visit) and for the food we tried an impressive local  Asti wheat based beer. They also have a flee market on Sundays – enormous with hundreds of stalls. If you are into that kind of things, you could spend a whole day browsing.

Shopping in Milano
Maria Nescati Church_loWe arrived in Milano early Sunday night but there was plenty of life and all shops were open. Easily compareable to New York and Paris as far as life and atmosphere go, but eating, drinking and shopping is very expensive. Still think we will be back for a longer stay next time – 3 hours were not quite enough.

Flight home from Milano Linate with SAS
At arrival to Linate the 22:00 SAS departure was on the screen with baggage counter information, but our flight at 22:40 was nowhere to be seen. That made us a bit nervous, and we double checked the departure date on the tickets before going to the counter. At the counter, the friendly staff shrugged their shoulders and checked in our luggage, primarily consisting of wine in styrofoam boxes. All air-side shops, cafes etc. close at 21:30, so if you want a snack or a last glass of wine when you are leaving on a late flight, you can’t hang around in the departure area after passing through Security.

Learning to Fly in 23 days (Epilogue)

So Saturday afternoon I took Jackie and the family to Tampa and drove the car back to Winter Haven. I did the CAA examination and when the examiner had left there was a moment, albeit a brief one, where I was alone outside the school waiting for Gerry to finish off some paper work. The feeling is very hard to describe. The 3 weeks seems so much longer. It might be that time flies when you’re having fun but I guess my mind had to come to terms with everything I had learned and done over the past 23 days and spacing it out, it just seemed to reach much further back than 3 weeks. The sense of achievement is enormous. The feeling of positive power. Even as it was getting dark I could walk in, take out the box for a plane (The box contains the official documents, the keys, checklists etc) and fly it. This was, however, purely an academic idea. In the midst of the elation I felt tired beyond belief. The last 2 days had been more stressful than I could ever remember having felt before and suddenly the work of the past 3 weeks came back demanding rest too. Gerry and I had decided to go to one of the better local Japanese restaurants where you could get very nice Teppanyaki. We had a good time there. On a side note, though I don’t think I have a lot of prejudices I certainly had one exposed to myself: Just as we had sat down a party of four came in. The biggest guy, who sat down next to me, had a big silver ring in his nose, huge black beard, a leather vest and countless tattoos on his arms. I didn’t think it boded well for the evening but he was a really cool and very nice guy. Apparently, he was the local tattooist in the only such “shop” in Winter Haven. He had traveled all over the world and had very interesting insight into Europe, Australia and the US. Not a typical American by any measurement. It’s nice every now and then getting wake-up calls on your preconceptions.
I had an early night and went back to rest on my laurels. I had to be on the airfield for 10:00 Sunday morning as my plane was available 2 hours from 10:00-12:00. At 10:15 the student and her instructor returned the plane but since she had to plan a cross-country she said I could have it for 3 hours, no problem. Looking at my map I thought I would utilize the extra time and wing it to Charlotte which is a bit further south than both Seebring and Venice. It wouldn’t be too hard to do that as Charlotte (Or Punta Gorda) has a VOR. This meant, as soon as I was within approximately 30-50 miles I could fly in on a radial; i.e. instruments navigation. The weather was fine, cloud cover a little low at about 3,500-4,000 feet. Forecast was Thunderstorms and lowering cloud base but not until much later in the afternoon. Off I went. In the air, course straight for Charlotte. Approximately 45 miles outside Charlotte I picked up the VOR signal and laid the course to fly directly in on the 205 radial. I had originally planned to fly at 3,500 ft but the cloud cover was now coming down to around 3,000 so that wasn’t possible. A couple of times I caught just a wisp of cloud and had to descend to stay clear. 20 miles outside Charlotte I tuned into their frequency and after 1-2 minutes heard: “To all airmen, this is a reminder that Charlotte is still closed”. Tsk tsk. Who was a bad boy not looking to see if there were any NOTAMs before taking to the air? Ah well. I turned the plane around and flew north and thought I would bid good riddance to Arcadia that had caused me so much trouble on my first cross-country. I found the radial from Charlotte that would take me straight to Arcadia and after 15 minutes, sure enough; there it was right below me. I thought about landing but there’s really nothing to do or see so I just ventured to my next stop, Lake Wales. Hmmm. Clouds were coming down and I was now having a hard time flying at 2,000ft having to fly more often at 1,500. Still just fine within my conservative MSA (Minimum Safe Altitude) but not exactly planned and I was happy Lake Wales was about 10 minutes away from Winter Haven. I could get to Winter Haven without getting into Bartow airspace. Normally, I would just stay above 2,600ft (which is as high as Bartow airspace go) but my cloud ceiling was now no higher than 2,000 and it had gone from FEW/SCATTERED to BROKEN. No problem, there was Winter Haven and I landed. Took the airplane back to base, had my logbook signed off for all the hours and went back to my apartment to do the final packing. A couple of hours later I was on the way to the airport and a couple of hours after that (at 17:30) Gerry, my instructor, took the picture above of runway 04-22 (The time is European Central time).

Winterhaven Thunder

Had I gone to Charlotte for a full stop landing, had lunch and then headed back I would probably not have been able to land at Winter Haven in time to catch my flight home to the UK.

At Orlando airport, I was searched at the gate and spent 20 minutes explaining why I was carrying a pilot’s head-set in my carry-on (Because it had active noise cancellation which works very nicely on a jumbo jet, thank you), why I had so many batteries in my bag and why I had a pilot’s nite-lite as well. I can see their problem, of course, and patiently explained the reasons and they were happy with the answers and with the contents (or lack of it) of my shoes which also had to go off and be subjected to detailed examination.

Back in the UK Monday and I thought I’d move while everything was still fresh and I went to Fairoaks to have my checkride. A check-ride for a flying club is required (by insurance) in order for them to rent you their airplanes. It can be anything from a couple of quick circuits to something near a fully-fledged exam. In my case it was a little in between. We did a couple of take offs and landings and she then took quite some time to explain the rather complicated joining instructions at Fairoaks. Fairoaks is very close to Heathrow controlled airspace and is inside the actual zone so it’s extremely important to have the right altitude at the right place at the right time. My radio work with Farnborough radar was enough to get me a reprimand from the controller so that’s an area I need to work on. I have obviously got too used to the ease of things in the US. The Fairoaks instructor did, however, compliment me on my circuits, particularly my approaches and my landings and duly signed me of for hiring the club’s aircrafts. My glide in (with power shut off) from the turn into base was the best I’ve ever done. I have come a long way…

Day 1Day 20Day 21Day 22 Day 23Epilogue

Learning to Fly – Day Twentythree (The moment of truth)

I was up at 06:00, showered and in the car on my way to the airfield at 06:30. I had agreed to meet Gerry at 07:00 so we could do a couple of patterns to warm up. Now I had other plans. I wanted to go through my navigation plan, weight and balances and all the paper work I (as a pilot) need to be aware of. So we went through maintenance records on the aircraft, checked my weights and balances, landing and take-off distances required compared to the airfields we would be visiting. At 7:50 I drove off 2 miles around the airfield to where the FAA examiner Chuck has his own sea-plane base. I walked in, and on a veranda 2 guys were talking about one of the Sun’n’Fun accidents. Chuck introduced himself and offered me a cup of coffee. I sat down with the coffee and we started chatting. The chat and small talk very gradually turned more and more specific until I realised I was in the middle of the Oral examination. It was going very well. I answered every question correctly. After 30 minutes he turned up the heat. “2 things will fail you while you fly. Not might, but will. Your vacuum pump and your alternator belt. If you notice your alternator belt going, how long do you have on your battery?” I didn’t have a clue. I’ve never seen the question and hadn’t thought about the problem. It was obviously a good and valid question but I gave in. “I have no idea” “OK, you don’t have to know it. Guess.” “Between ½ hour and an hour?”. Spot on. Very lucky. He then asked me: “How many instruments run on the vacuum pump?” Before I continue, a little background: There is a group of instruments called Gyros. They are the Attitude Indicator, the Heading Indicator and the Turn Indicator. 2 of those run on the vacuum pump but the Turn Indicator runs on electricity. This is sort of a fail safe system as in a sticky situation, you can use the turn indicator instead of an Attitude Indicator. So the typical wrong answer to his question would be 3, answering a question about the number of gyros instead. The expected correct answer is 2. I had been through this one with Gerry, and felt brave enough: “3”. Chuck had been very praising and impressed with my answers so far and had more than once commented “Studying makes things so easy”. Now he looked at me and raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Really? Name them!”. “The Heading Indicator. The Attitude Indicator. And the Vacuum Gauge!”. “Smart-arse” he said with a smile. The gamble had worked. The vacuum gauge simply measures the effect of the vacuum pump. It’s not a flight instrument but it’s an instrument none the less. He then started to ask difficult questions. “What is your minimum visibility for a cross country? I know you know the legal minimum. I’m interested in your magic number”. He asked the same about cloud cover, cross winds etc. These questions were about judgement and evaluation of your own abilities. It’s obviously no good answering these ultra conservatively because he won’t buy it. You had to come up with reasonable values reflecting your own low level of experience. Again, it seemed I came up with answers he liked. He then did something that really phased me. He took me into the office and went through all the paperwork. At the end of it he printed off my temporary pilot’s license certificate and stuffed it into his folder. “Now don’t go screw it up and cause me a lot of trouble. Let’s get this little flight over with”. We went to the plane, pre-flighted and taxied to the runway. I stopped well short of the line and did my power up. We were away. “Let’s stay in the pattern for a while. Give me a normal landing”. I did, again counting my blessing having practiced cross winds so much. “OK, short field. Stop after landing”. I did. “OK, now give me a soft field take-off.” I had done 1 of those, 2 days ago and as I started rolling I remembered I had to pull back on the yoke, and as I accelerated the plane would take off “too early”. You had to keep it low (The so-called ground effect) until it had accelerated to normal take-off speed at which point you would start the climb. What I couldn’t remember was if I was supposed to use flaps or not. I’m thinking and doing all this rolling down the runway and when I finally deduce that off course I need flaps (since they give you more lift) I’m already near rotation speed and I have no idea what initiating flaps would do at this point considering I already had my nose high. What if I went tail into ground or something? So I thought “F*** it, I know I can take off safely without” and that’s what I did. At 600ft it came. He asked: “Did your instructor teach you to do soft field take-off with or without flaps?” “Well, I was actually asking myself the very same question, but now you mention it I think he taught me to use flaps and I just forgot”.   “Well, if I at this moment was in a really bad mood, you would be finished with your check ride now. However, you have put me into a really good mood so far so let’s get out of the pattern and do some work”. The owner of the flight school later confirmed the sentiments behind that statement. He said that you can technically get through on a shoddy Oral Examination but the examiner would then jump on any mistake you do. If, however, you demonstrate that you are well prepared you get away with more. Close call again. The FAA test is more extensive and more difficult than the CAA. I navigated to my first check-point. I was about 2 miles to the west of it, so he asked me to continue. The next checkpoint was really easy and I could already see it. I was heading straight for it when he had had enough. I had to put on the instrument hood. I then had to do some instrument turns. He then threw a curved ball: “I want you to do all your stalls under the hood. Do you have a problem with that?” “No, not at all”. And so it went. Landing stall, turning stall, power stall, all of them under the hood. I kept my course (except for the turning stall) and the maximum altitude loss was 100ft. I was under the hood and he said: Take me to Lakeland. This would be my diversion. I generally hate diversions because you have to estimate the new heading and either use a stupid slide rule calculator for wind correction or estimate that too. With an estimated heading and ground speed you then have to estimate the distance and come up with an arrival time at the diversion airfield not too far from the actual time you make. However, by asking me to make my diversion under the hood, he obviously wanted to see if I could use the VOR and DME. I switched the VOR to Lakeland and turned the knob until I was centred. 325. I changed my heading to 325 and tuned the DME. 18.4. “We are 18.4 miles from Lakeland and will get there on this heading in approximately 12 minutes”. “Take off the hood and show me a steep turn”. Remembering the “lesson” yesterday I did a near perfect steep turn. Then he wanted S-turns over that road. There was very little wind, which makes that exercise easy. “Look at those caravans there. Use them for a turn around a point”. As I was turning around the caravans he started to chat. “Tell me the difference between CAA and FAA examination. Which is the harder” And so on. I chatted back but was well aware that he was trying to distract me. We were at 1,200ft going into the turn around a point and we stayed at 1,200ft all the time never moving closer or further away from the caravans. “Do you know where Winter Haven is from here?” Did I ever! As I joined 45 degrees downwind for runway 11 he also ran through the list. He said: “You did very well. Stop being so nervous man, you’re sweating like a pig! Your air work was excellent and I really don’t have any serious complaints except for the lack of flaps on your soft field take off.” I landed, he handed me the license and I was a certified FAA pilot with the right to take on board passengers! Unfortunately it was a little too late for that holiday as the family was flying out. Jackie and the family arrived 1 hour later and I drove them to Tampa airport. From Tampa it was back to Winter Haven where Paul waited for the final leg of the CAA. We got into the plane and flew North towards Leesburg. I had written out everything in my flight plan. I had the runway layout drawn up, the direction I would be coming from in highlighter, the frequencies at Leesburg and at airports along the way, Miami Centre for emergencies and so on. Paul is a big guy (250 pounds) so I had done detailed weight and measure and I had calculated our fuel consumption. En-route he looked through all the stuff. He had obviously been talking to someone because he told me: “You have put me in a really good mood with this preparation. I’ll allow you two mistakes”. When we had Leesburg in sight in the far distance I asked him if he wanted me to do a full stop, a Touch’n’Go or an overfly. Whatever you want, he said. “I’ll overfly, then.” “OK, then I want you to divert to Zephyrhills”. This was the dreaded diversion again and this time, no VORs. I guesstimated the new heading, noted the time, got my protractor out and measured the right heading, made the changes, estimated the distance and came up with my bid: “We’re there in 9 minutes”. 8 minutes later we had Zephyrhills in sight out in front on our right. It would take another 2-3 minutes to reach it. “How far are you from Zephyrhills?” he asked. I’m not very good at estimating distances on the ground from the air. “5 miles”. “OK” he said “I’m not going to argue.” But I’m going to count this as one of your allowed mistakes and let’s get back to Winter Haven. What?! There’s no way I could have been so much off that it should count as a mistake. Paul could probably see my indignant look. “Tell me everything you can read off the map about Zephyrhills”. I ran through all the stuff. And then the 2 things he must be getting on to, hit me. I had not changed to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) which you really should do before getting within 10 miles of an airfield. But worse than that. A parachute symbol indicated that Zephyrhills is a parachuting airfield and you should always be tuned into their CTAF if you are anywhere in the area so you can hear if there are parachutes in the air. Man! There’s just always something, eh? Back at Winter Haven after another good landing he commented to Gerry that he (Gerry) had done a good job and that I had passed. 2 check rides, 2 licenses (and a night rating) in 24 hours. I was tired but the feeling of achievement was just amazing.

Things were heating up at the school with lots of new student coming in. Normally, you get access to a plane for the day after you pass but I could only get a plane for 2 hours between 10:00-12:00 on Sunday as I was due to leave for the airport at 16:00. I would have loved to have had 32990 from 08:00-16:00 so I could go to Key West or somewhere else exciting. That night, I swore at my bad luck not realising how lucky I would count myself just 24 hours later. But that’s for the epilogue, which will follow tomorrow.

Day 1Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23Epilogue

Learning to Fly – Day Twentytwo (UK/CAA check-ride)

The day had come. It was really amazing to stop and think about. 3 weeks ago (It seemed like an eternity) I arrived not being able to fly. Since then I’ve done some amazing stuff, and now not just can I fly but I can land, I can navigate, I can do the radio calls etc etc In some ways the achievement is the same as when you graduate from a very hard school-course, but your typical age when you do that, I think, makes you arrogant to the underlying achievements and you don’t appreciate it so much. I recognized how much theory, practice and skills had got into me over a very short period of time. I was very nervous and a bit shook up from the previous night’s incident on the runway. I went up with Gerry at lunch time for 1 hour preparations. Mainly doing a couple of circuits and getting my visual references for the turn-ins in place. Personally, I think it’s a bit cheating since it obviously assumes you know the airfield, and you should really be able to make nice patterns at any airfield with reference to the runway you are landing on. Gerry wasn’t having it. “The examiners are looking for sharp rectangular patterns and that’s what you will give them!” I hadn’t had breakfast and it was 13:30 when we walked back from the plane. I wasn’t hungry so I had an apple and a diet coke for lunch and I then read a little more for tomorrow’s FAA Oral Exam and tried to relax/meditate in the sun outside the flight centre. Errr… What sun? For the first time in 3 weeks the weather was closing in. Paul, the examiner, called and asked if I wanted to go ahead with the test since he would not be able to be there before 18:00. At that point it looked like scattered thunderstorms and a call to the MET briefer confirmed that the line was moving NW and we should be clear for my 100+ miles navigation route by then. Paul arrived at 18:15 and I had already pre-checked the aircraft and we walked straight out there. This was it! I got in first, strapped myself in, plugged in my headset and strapped the clip-board to my leg for the airfield information and flight logging I would have to do. Made the taxi call and proceeded to runway 11. When you take off on runway 11 the taxiway leads to 1/3 down the runway. So you have to make a call that you back-track on the runway so no-one tries to land. I was approaching the hold short point on the narrow taxiway at which I would do my power-up checks. I steered out to the left to make as much as a turn to the right as I could so I would be facing more or less into the wind as I was supposed to. It was a narrow taxiway and in doing this my left wing crossed over the hold short point. “You do that tomorrow, and Chuck will fail you immediately” it came from Paul. Chuck was to be my FAA examiner tomorrow morning. Red-faced and with my confidence in shatters I proceeded to do the power up checks, back taxied runway 11 and took off. “I suggest we start with a few patterns and we can check out the weather from 1,000ft” he said. That’s what we did. We did a normal and a soft field landing. On the third pattern he pointed to the south (Where we would be going according to the plan). “You are the Pilot in Command. What’s your decision?” I looked at it. Had I been with Gerry we would have flown it, it didn’t look too bad and I had an experienced instructor next to me. Obviously, Paul was even more experienced but he was only counting as a passenger and I asked myself would I go if this was my first flight after getting the license? The answer was simple: I wouldn’t! I told him: “No go”. “Good decision” he said. He then suggested we went off to the North and did all the skills work so all we had to do next day was the Navigation. That’s what we did. He asked me to do steep turns. We were heading due North and pointing at 3 small lakes. I did the turn and as I rolled out, we felt our own slipstream. I was smugly congratulating myself. “As you did that turn, what did you look at?” Paul asked. I knew the “right” answer but I was also too smart to try and kid an examiner. “A little bit of everything: The horizon, the spinner, my altitude, my vertical speed, the bank angle and the speed. He looked surprised at the honesty. I hadn’t lost any altitude while doing the turn (Which is one of the main things you want to demonstrate). He took my map, covered ALL the instruments and asked me to do another steep turn. The smug feeling dissipated rapidly. I turned steeply to the left at a bank angle of (estimated) at least 45° keeping the spinner (The middle of the propeller) on the horizon (Or rather where the horizon would be, could I see it through the clouds and mist). Rolling out at the visual reference point we again felt our own slip stream and he removed the map from the instruments. We had lost less than 50ft and you are allowed to lose 150ft. “As you would have seen, it’s actually easier to do without the instruments” Paul said. “OK, back to Winter Haven. Do you know where it is; it’s not part of the test?” I informed him that I thought Winter Haven was “that way” and he agreed and we were on our way. I couldn’t believe it had been that easy. I had done my stalls, turns, slow flights etc and that was it. Not quite. Suddenly, I lost my engine. Paul had pulled the throttle back. “Engine failure”. I went through the check-list I had practiced all hours of the day in all situations for the past 2 weeks. I just couldn’t find a spot I was comfortable committing to land. That’s really disastrous. You can pass your check-ride having chosen a bad site and you can pass it missing whatever site you choose. However, if you are indecisive and just land where the plane takes you… you will (justifiably) fail. “OK, I’ll land at that field there”. I followed through my checklist and got to the carburettor heating which I duly switched on. I simulated attempted restart and made a mayday call (without transmitting) and (pretended to) put my transponder on 7700. All the while I was rapidly approaching my site. It stunk. It had looked good from 2,500ft but now it seemed much shorter with trees at both ends. Really stupid choice. I was too high anyways. At 400ft I informed him that we needed to go around and he concurred. “You would never have made it before hitting the trees” he dryly commented. I thought I had a chance but I had to yield to his superior experience and I obviously wouldn’t argue the point anyways. As we approached Winter Haven he looked at the sky to the south. “You know, when you said no go I thought to myself it didn’t look too bad and we could have made it. I gotta say, you made a better call than me!” The sky was pitch black with a wide squall line of thunderstorms. It was a nice “pick-me-up” to get though. He asked for a short field landing. “I don’t want you to dive in, there is no obstacle, but there’s a taxiway 1/3 down the runway” (The one we came in on) “and it would be really nice if you could get us off on that”. “I won’t fail you if you don’t, but it would be nice…”. Right. I kept myself relatively high on final, got over the bushes before the runway and the second I was clear of the bushes I cut the power. I glided in at ca. 3 knots below my normal final speed, compensated for the cross wind and took her down just after the numbers and bang on the middle line. I didn’t even have to break particularly hard as we rolled down towards the taxiway and I swung nicely into the taxiway. “That was a very good landing” he said. I had thought the same thing but it was nice hearing him say it. As I was shutting down he gave me the verdict: “You are safe and stable and I don’t have a problem passing you as long as we manage the navigation tomorrow. 3 things: 1) Don’t cross hold short lines. If you do that at a towered airport you can lose your license. 2) What do you think is the number one cause of engine failure?” I suggested “Fuel Starvation”. “In the UK, where you will be flying, the number one cause of engine failure is carburettor icing. You took so long getting to the carburettor heating when you had the engine failure that the heat which would have removed the icing would have gone! Don’t follow the American lists blindly but think about it. Re-arrange the order if it makes sense. The first thing you do in the UK when you get an engine failure is switch on carburettor heat. In the US, the number one cause of engine failure is, indeed, fuel starvation. It just goes to illustrate the level of airmanship here. 3rd point: When you do the “full and free” control movement you don’t look out and check to see if the ailerons and stabilator is moving. So all you know is the yoke moves. You don’t know if it’s connected to anything. Only the first one is a big thing so you did well”. When we came back to the school Jackie and Simon were waiting. We had planned to go out and eat together with Gerry to celebrate. Now it was a bit strange. I had all but passed the CAA exam but it still wasn’t official. I also had an FAA exam next morning that, if I repeated today’s performance, I would fail within 10 minutes. I felt very nervous and both Gerry and Jackie commented how stressed and stressy I was. I was back at the Villa and in my bed at 23:00 for a 06:00 start. Tomorrow would be make or break on 2 check rides. Would I achieve what I had come for? I swung between feeling confident (Well, I thought I was safe and I knew how to do all the stuff) and very unconfident (One small mistake and I have failed).

Day 1Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Twentyone (Near miss)

Today’s day-time training was going to be all about landing and taking off at non-ideal sites. So called “Performance take-off and landing”. E.g. taking off and landing on grass turf, soft ground, short runways or runways with 50ft obstacles at one end. We raced through the various scenarios without too much difficulty. It really wasn’t that complicated.

At night, we went straight back on the patterns and landings. I felt more focused and more positive and all though the wind was marginal for what students are allowed (solo) with a 9 knot cross wind factor I managed to land safely every time. Gerry had offered that we went to Bartow where the lighted runway would be much more favourable to the wind but the stubborn me decided that since I had to learn to land in strong cross winds anyways this seemed as good a time as ever. After 30 minutes Gerry looked at me and told me(!) “You are doing the solo circuits now”. Fine. I felt much better with myself. I had to do 10 solo take off and landings at night to fulfil the criteria. So off I went. “Beginning 1” I counted in my head as I took off. I made the pattern and was on final. Geez, some cross wind. I had my right wing down and left rudder fully deflected both slipping and crabbing at the same time. Really nice landing and since students aren’t allowed touch and go it was a full stop, back on the taxi way and “Beginning 2”. When I got to 4, another school plane (A Cessna) joined the pattern. It was doing dual (with instructor) touch and goes and could thus get through the whole pattern a lot faster than me, as they did not have to stop and taxi back. At some point, while I was on base I heard them call “Downwind, for full stop”. Oh joy! I would have the pattern to myself again. I landed, counted “6 done”, taxied back and held short as they had just landed (while I was taxiing back). I looked down out my side window along the runway… nothing. “Winter Haven Traffic, Warrior 32401 lining up runway 04 for immediate departure, Winter Haven Traffic” I called. No reaction from anyone. I lined up and looked carefully down the runway. Nothing. Power forward and I was racing down the runway accelerating to my 70-odd MPH take-off speed…. AND THERE THEY WERE! I have no idea why I originally couldn’t see neither them nor their lights when I looked down the runway but I missed them completely. What does it always say in the accident reports? It’s never one thing but a combination of things that go wrong. Apparently Gerry had been screaming into his hand-held radio: “401, HOLD YOUR POSITION”. Obviously his transmission didn’t work, as I didn’t hear anything. As I was zooming towards the Cessna it left the runway onto a taxiway and I was airborne well before I reached them anyway. The radio call came quite clearly (but calmly): “You should hold your take-off run until runway is vacated”. It wasn’t Gerry, but obviously one of the other instructors. S***! I could be in so much trouble. I did the last 4 landings a bit shaken but still OK. As I pulled in I was almost expecting a police car waiting for me. Instead Gerry was there congratulating me on some quite good difficult cross wind landings. As we walked back to the school he asked me about the incident. I told him what had happened from my perspective and he asked me if I had heard him on the radio. “Yeah Gerry, I heard you ask me to hold, but I thought it was none of your business…. Of course I didn’t hear you.” He seemed relatively happy with that. I was quite happy for passing another milestone but I was shaken and took the near-miss down to useful experience that cold save my life in later flying. Next day, one of the instructors quietly came up to me and told me he was the one. He apologised for being so slow getting off the runway but re-iterated I shouldn’t have started my roll. I informed him that I would never have started rolling had I seen him but the truth was… I didn’t see him until quite late. Everyone seemed pretty happy about this. I seemed to be the one person most upset about it. My CAA check flight is tomorrow with a CAA examiner and ex-BA jumbo pilot, Paul. This incidence didn’t do my confidence any good at all. Geez, it’s scary. What have I gotten myself into? Walking back to my apartment I also noticed my left knee was hurting from pressing the rudder pedal so much and so hard in order to compensate for the cross wind. It was really sore the next morning too. But I still did it! Not just did I manage 10 landings at night but in the worst conditions I had encountered yet. I was getting very close now.

Summary after 21 days:
Flown: 3:30
Total flying time: 56 hours and 3 minutes.
Solo: 12 hours 18 minutes.
Day 1Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Twenty (Descent into darkness)

I was asked to plan a night cross country. From Winter Haven we would go north to Leesburg, from there to Zephyrhills and then back to Winter Haven. I had to do touch and go landings at all airports. Planning the trip I realised the first leg would take us within 2 miles from the Villa the family was staying at. However, we couldn’t really drop by; it would sort of ruin the plan, not to mention the plane. Night flying cross country requires a lot of preparation. The checkpoints you chose along the way have to be different. You can’t use small lakes (They are just as black as fields) or even big roads if they are unlit. However, it’s easier to use radio-towers or villages and so it goes. I also studied the radio navigation needed if we got lost and the runways at all the airports so I knew how to approach each airport in order to join at the correct 45° to downwind. The first leg was uneventful. I missed the 1st and 3rd way point but that was really to be expected. The last bit before arriving at Leesburg is a rather big lake. This means you fly over absolute nothingness – just a black void – and you have to descend for a long final on to the RW in use which begins where the lake ends. Man, you have to trust your instruments. There’s no way you can see if you are 100, 200 or 500 feet above the surface of a lake. I landed, reasonably well if I have to say it myself (in cross winds), took off again and we were on the way to Zephyrhills. Gerry could comfortably sit back and relax having the privilege of the control and view of the GPS while I was sweating trying to make it on visual clues. Gerry pointed stuff out along the way: There’s traffic (other aircrafts) there, there are 3 towers together – can you see them on the map – there’s a mining area lit by night. Suddenly he said: “Are you OK in the rain?” “What rain?” “*That* rain” he said and shone the torch light on the windscreen… the rain was pouring down on the airplane. It looked no different to me with all the lights off and I hadn’t noticed. We got to Zephyrhills; another touch and go, and it was back to Winter Haven. We could see Lakeland on our right as we approached Winter Haven and I had the same paranoia feeling of being surrounded by maniacs in aircrafts with no radio (maybe no lights) just waiting to hit me. We landed safely at Winter Haven and all though it was getting late, Gerry wanted me to start doing patterns. So after more than 1 hour of cross country we did over ½ hour of night landings. The first 2 had been pretty poor. Gerry then did 1 and went off to do another. I felt angry at myself. “I have control” I said (Which is not really something a student says). Gerry looked surprised but was pleased to give me control. I did a relatively good pattern and a pretty good landing/touch-go and we were off again. Another good pattern and good approach and Gerry said: “Make it full stop”. I knew why… Full stop and I turned to Gerry and told him “You want me to do solo landings now, right? But I’m not doing it”. He said “Yes, and why not?” The only answer I could give was: “I’m not comfortable”. I wasn’t. 15 knots wind coming in at 40° from the left didn’t help. So there it was. Gerry later over a beer (on the day I left to go back to the UK, actually) told me that this was the most frustrating time for him during the whole instruction. He knew I could do it, he had seen me do it; he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t. To his credit, I had no inkling of his frustration at the time. My feeling was: I’m 40; I’m sure of myself; assertive. If I don’t feel safe and comfortable doing something… I’m not doing it. But was I ever? If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get my FAA license and I obviously wouldn’t get my CAA night rating either. The FAA rating would be a bummer but the way I felt at the time I wasn’t concerned about the night rating. I would never fly voluntarily at night anyways!

Summary after 20 days:
Flown: 2:24
Total flying time: 52 hours and 33 minutes.
Solo: 10 hours 42 minutes.
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