1999-09 (SEPTEMBER, 1999)

Lille, France

We began this month with a day trip to Lille.

Andrea, Louise, Richard and myself caught the Eurostar very early on Saturday morning. It was delayed for an hour and a half at Waterloo, but we got there in the end.

It was the annual market weekend in Lille. Thousands of people had set up stalls all through the city and were selling every kind of tat and treasure imaginable. Every restaurant, café and bar was serving Moulles et Frites to the tens of thousands of hungry visitors. We had a fab time just wandering around.

We finished the day with an obligatory shopping mission for wine, cheese and olive oil in CarreFour. The Eurostar was an hour late getting back to Waterloo, but we had had a great day.

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

Diving in the Red Sea for a week!

We left at a respectable hour on Friday morning and arrived in Sharm El Sheikh early evening. Our hotel was fabulous - all the Egyptian architecture, even cheap hotels, goes that little bit further on the creative front, which was interesting - and the people were very friendly.

Andrea was doing her PADI Open Water diving course for the first four days, but I had booked five days of diving. Groups of around 16 people were parcelled off to boats for the week. I was on the best boat in the fleet - just reconditioned and easily the best chef on the water. The conditions for the week were superb - 35°C air temperature, 28°C water temperature and between 15 and 25 metres visibility underwater.

On day one we dived at Ras Cati (a wee 'nursery area - so we could sort ourselves out gear-wise) and Ras Um Sid. The latter was a point drift dive with a very deep drop off. We saw great coral walls covered in gigantic gorgonian sea fan corals.

On day two we dived at Ras Bob (very cool crenelated coral plate to explore) and the Middle Garden. I got chased by a Scorpion Fish, had a close encounter with an enormous Trumpet Fish, and played happily amongst the little coral arches.

On day three we dived at Jackson Reef and Thompson Reef (both beside Tiran Island). The highlights of the former included a close encounter with a turtle at 50 feet, 2 huge Moray Eels, and several more Scorpion Fish. The latter spot was not great - very strong current.

On day four we dived at Ras Ghazlani and on Yolanda Reef and Shark Reef. On the former we found a spotted ray, an enormous Crown of Thorns Starfish, and 2 Moray Eels. On the latter we found 3 Moray Eels and a Crocodile Fish. We also swam around the wreck of a boat carrying bathroom supplies (lots of toilets scattered over the ocean floor. One guy had his bum bitten whilst trying to get an 'amusing' photo of himself sitting on one of the toilets - he had forgotten to check the loo for resident fish! We finished the dive with a wonderful cave swim-through.

On day five we both took a rest day and sat around the hotel pool all day - how terribly English!

On day six we finally got to dive together at The Tower and Far Garden and saw (amongst other things) several large Puffer Fish, lots of coral towers and Andy had her ears 'cleaned' by a very persistent Cleaner Fish - poor thing (the fish, not Andy).

On our last day we were not permitted to dive (must be at least 24 hours between your last dive and flying), so we did a trip into the Sinai desert to walk through the Coloured Canyons - sounds good so far, right? The reality was we were driven by a mad Egyptian called Akhmed in an ancient Landcruiser that had no suspension and no air conditioning - not the best for a trip into the desert. Akhmed's driving philosophy (sorry about the pun) appeared to be something along the lines of "if there is a bit of flat terrain to drive on, he'll find a way around it - preferably whilst racing other even crazier Egyptians", which was nice. The final two nails in the coffin were a pair of Germans who managed to winge the entire day. Having said all that, though, we did get to the canyons with only minor spinal damage, and the walk through them was fabulous. Once we had completed this trek, however, we were then dragged around several gypsy camps and had crapo souvenirs shoved in our faces for the rest of the day, which wasn't so nice. It was a bit of a laugh, though.

We flew home late that night and got in at 2am on Saturday morning. At 10am on Saturday morning we got a phone call from a friend, who has just bought a house in Brighton, reminding us that his birthday gathering was that night and "what train would we be on?" So we dragged our tired bodies down to Brighton for the weekend and had a groovy time. Bit tired on Monday, though.