Cyprus: Part Two – The Wedding

Photo by my good friend Richard Long, as I was too busy being best man to take any photos.

After a busy build up, this was the day we had come to Cyprus for – Partho and Marilena’s wedding! I had been told that my services would not be needed until 13:00, so we had a relaxing morning, swimming with Owen. The outdoor pool was too cold for him, but the hotel had a heated indoor pool, which was perfect for Owen. It was also empty, so he could splash and squeal in delight as much as he wanted! I was going to take him in the sea, but had been told it would be better to wait until we got to Protaras for that, as the sea in Limassol is “cold” – this was from a Cypriot, who obviously hasn’t surfed in the English Channel in February!

I had been told to report to Partho’s hotel at 13:00 for the ritual shaving, a Cypriot tradition where the best man shaves the groom. Although these days it is mainly symbolic and for the photographers. Partho must have wimped out, as I merely had to help him get dressed, button up his shirt, tie his tie etc, again, all for the photographers.

After the photos we had an hour or so to kill, so we thought we would get Owen lunch, which turned into a rushed affair, with both Jen and I getting stressed that we’d be late for the ceremony. Partho actually thought I was doing it on purpose as Marilena was so late to our wedding she missed the ceremony! After the quickest outfit change for all three of us, we made it to the hotel lobby a mere six minutes late. Only to be told that the bride was behind schedule – panic over. Owen looked so smart in his blue trousers, white shirt and blue bowtie, especially as he was matching Partho and I.

At the church I didn’t realise what was going on – I’m not too au fait with British weddings, let alone Greek Orthodox ones, and all the logistics of who needed to be where etc were in Greek. Rather than the groom waiting at the alter, the bride and groom meet outside and walk down the aisle together. I eventually got the right place, next to Partho at the alter, then realised that I hadn’t been given the rings! Fortunately the best man isn’t responsible for the rings at a Cypriot wedding and the priest had them.

The ceremony was a bit of a blur, the priest did explain some bits in English to Partho, so I had a vague idea of what was going on. My best man duties were swapping the rings between Partho and Marilena’s fingers twice. I had been told I needed to do it three times, so was a bit confused there. As I was when I didn’t need to swap their “crowns” (beaded head pieces, which are tied together) – I had been told that I would need to swap them three times, and that if they were dropped the wedding had to be postponed! I also had to hold a napkin under Partho’s chin in case he dribbled when eating the holy bread and drinking the holy wine. Partho joked that I was best qualified for this as I’d had plenty of practice with Owen. One thing that surprised me about the ceremony was that the photographers and videographers where free to work during the service, even posing Partho and Marilena when the priest was talking to them. They had lights and camera dollies set up behind the alter and at points it felt more like I was in a film about a wedding, than at an actual wedding.

The wedding reception was back at our hotel, with canapés on the lawn. This was a good opportunity to try some typical Cypriot food, which was all very tasty. Even Owen ate plenty of it! As best man I was sat on the top table for dinner, but hadn’t been expecting Jen and Owen to be up there with me. Having a tired little boy on the top table was a risky strategy, but Owen seemed to take it in his stride, making friends with Partho’s sister.

I found my speech more difficult than when I was best man at my little brother’s wedding in 2015, despite Partho giving me so much material to work with over the years. The language barrier and the fact speeches aren’t usually part of a Cypriot wedding didn’t help, but Partho had decided I wasn’t getting away with not doing one. I did get a few laughs at the key moments and didn’t upset Partho, or Marilena, with my stories, so I’ll class that as a success!

After the speeches a short wedding highlights video was shown, with both Partho and Marilena getting ready, and some shots from the ceremony and reception. As a photographer I was impressed at how quickly they turned the video around. I’m also looking forward to the full wedding video and photographs, as there was much more focus on capturing the day than at a typical British wedding. I don’t envy Partho and Marilena having to choose the images they want for their album!

Cyprus Trip: Part One – Before the Wedding

We’re in Cyprus for a few days, to celebrate Partho and Marilena getting married. This post will cover the first part of the trip, which we spent in Limassol before the wedding. Then I’ll other posts about the wedding and the second part of our trip, which we are spending relaxing in Protaras.

Travelling with Owen is far more stressful than just Jen and I. We tried to get everything organised in advance, but then Monarch, the airline we’d booked with ceased trading and we had an extra stressful few days rebooking. We ended up paying double the price and having to fly from Stansted, rather than Birmingham, which made it a really long day travelling.

Owen slept all the way to the airport, but seemed to enjoy taking in all the sights of the airport – the bus from the car park, the security check, the train to the gate etc. He was mostly well behaved on the plane, but four hours is a long time for a little boy to be sat on his Dad’s lap in such an exciting environment. He made friends with a little Norwegian boy sat in front of us, and the girl sat next to me, who just happened to work in a nursery, so was used to inquisitive little boys. I felt sorry for her a bit – she was probably looking forward to a holiday away from small children!

Getting through Larnaca airport was fairly easy, apart from when Owen decided to wee everywhere when we were changing his nappy. I guess it was inevitable after he drank a bottle of water on the plane. Our “Golf or similar” turned out to be a Nissan Pulsar, which was fine, for the 45 minute drive to Limassol. For some reason Apple Maps gave us a route, but didn’t give us turn by turn directions. Then when we switched to Google Maps it insisted on spelling out the road names Greek letter by Greek letter.

Just as we got to the hotel, Partho phoned to suggest a nightcap, so it was a case of checking in, transferring the now fast asleep Owen into his cot, then straight to the bar for me to catch up with Partho and Rich, who was already at the hotel. Jen stayed with Owen, but I did bring some beers back, and it was nice to sit outside on the balcony, listening to the sea lapping against the shore.

We decided to keep Owen on UK time (Cyprus is two hours ahead), so it was 9:00 before we got to the breakfast buffet. It was lovely sitting outside on the terrace for breakfast, but it was already getting warm! After breakfast we explored the pool and beach areas and walked up to the shops to get some supplies for Owen. All the heat and excitement must have tired him out, as he was asleep by the time we got back to the hotel. Jen took the opportunity to go for a swim in the adult only pool, whilst I stayed in the air conditioned room with Owen – working on my best mans speech.

When Owen woke up we drove to the Colours Cafe at the Four Seasons hotel, where Jen and I had shared a huge ice cream sundae on our previous trip to Cyprus in 2011. The cafe had been redone recently and it looked very swanky, however the highlight was the long counter with ice cream, cakes and pastries on display! We had lunch whilst waiting for Partho and Marilena to join us for ice cream. I was surprised to see chicken curry pie on the menu, so I had to order it to share with Owen. I thought it was amazing, but Owen didn’t even want to try it – his loss was my gain. When we eventually got ice cream and cakes, Owen’s appetite had reappeared, and he did a good job helping us to polish off our chocolate sundae. Disappointingly the sundae was only half the size of the one we’d had on our previous visit. I also found out more about what my best man duties would entail, complete with a warning that if I messed up my duties during the ceremony, the wedding would have to be postponed until the next day.

After all the excitement of lunch and ice cream, Owen was ready for a nap by the time we got to the hotel so I used this opportunity to go for a swim in the sea and mess about with my GoPro. The hotel had a pontoon to avoid the rocky foreshore, so I jumped in off the end of that. The water was clear enough to see the bottom and shoals of fish swimming by. I also went for a dip in the pool, which was actually colder than the sea. Having worked up an appetite we went out in search of dinner, ending up at a German bierkeller – it wasn’t hard to find, due to the massive inflatable beer on the roof. We were able to get a table outside and all had a great meal, included Owen, who learned about dipping his food into a pot of sauce. The local stray cats must have clocked Owen, as they were waiting by his highchair, waiting for him to throw his food around. However Owen was eating really well and the cucumber slices were the only offerings for the cats. After dinner Richard and I retired to the outdoor bar for a few beers, the plan had been to give Partho a bit of a send off on his last night of freedom, but he was late getting to us as Marilena had given him some jobs to do…

Saved by the Backup

In my last post I explained about my back up routine for WordPress, I wasn’t planning on testing it out so soon, but it has just saved my bacon! The plan was to spend an hour or so tweaking the blog to make it faster, by using the WP Super Cache plug in and Amazon Cloud Front, however something went badly wrong! The alarm bells should have started to ring when I noticed that most tutorials about using Amazon Cloud Front with WordPress referred to W3 Total Cache, however I preferred the look of WP Super Cache and fancied a challenge…

I was loosely following this guide, but somehow managed to take my website offline, probably by sending requests into a DNS blackhole. The problem was this meant I couldn’t get back onto my website to turn the caching off again. At this point I would also like to add that I couldn’t test this phase on my development server, as Cloud Front needed to pull data from the blog, which meant deploying on the live site.

I could still SSH into the server, so used the WP Super Cache uninstall instructions for “if all else fails and your site is broken”. However that didn’t help. At this point I was getting a little bit more panicked, but was very glad of my new backup strategy and that I’d had the foresight to make a backup just before I’d started fiddling with the blog. I feared the worst, that I would have to reinstall WordPress again from scratch and reload my data, reading this troubleshooting guide confirmed my fears.

Reinstalling WordPress isn’t the end of the world, I have done it a number of times, but for some reason I have been having a lot of permission issues on my web server, maybe I had taken security a bit too far. This meant that I couldn’t get my FTP client to upload my backup data. I ended up revisiting the AWS WordPress installation guide and also this blog post to find the correct settings and set them via SSL. At least I’ve had a lot of command line practice this evening!

Even with the permissions fixed, I couldn’t use the restore tool on Updraftplus (possibly due to restrictions I have added on AWS?), but was able to upload the data via FTP and got the blog up and running again. I still haven’t got the caching/CDN set up, but I think I’l take the easy route now and hopefully not need to test my backups again.

WordPress Backups Using UpdraftPlus and Amazon S3

I had a bit of a disaster the other day – I went to link to a blog post from a few months ago and it wasn’t there! I remember writing it, and knew it had posted, because I remembered some of the comments from when it appeared on my Facebook profile. I then remembered that there had been some funny goings on with the WordPress Mac app, I’d had a duplicate post and deleted it manually. However now it seems like the duplicate had also been deleted.

Of course it was at this point I realised that my latest backup was a couple of months before the post and I couldn’t recover it from anywhere. I was particularly annoyed at myself because I have a thorough backup routine for my Macs and especially my photography work, yet virtually nothing for my blog. However, it was the kick up the backside I needed to sort out a decent backup routine for my blog!

Given that I was the weak link when it came to backing up my log I wanted something automatic, that would run regularly and email me when it had completed. As with most things WordPress, there seemed to be loads of plugins available, most of them paid services. In my research I’d read good things about UpdraftPlus, so was pleased to find their free option, which is more than powerful enough for a small blog like mine.

To see if it UpdraftPlus lived up to the hype, I downloaded it onto my WordPress development environment (Chassis running on my iMac) and had a play. Looking at the list of remote storage services Amazon S3 was the obvious choice, as I already use Amazon Web Services to host my blog. Knowing the basics of cyber security, I only wanted UpdraftPlus to have minimal access to AWS, I had got myself lost in a maze of IAM, S3 buckets, users, groups and permissions. I was on the right track but this post on the UpdraftPlus blog, told me exactly what I needed to do. The IAM Policy Simulator on AWS was also a huge help in making sure my policies were both written and applied correctly. I went for the maximum security option, which also gave me a chance to delve into the workings of S3, setting up rules to archive then delete the data after periods of time.

Once deployed and tested on my development environment, it only took a matter of minutes to get working on my live blog, giving me regular, automated backups. Now the only task left to do is do rewrite the post that got lost…

Long Weekend in Yorkshire

Jen’s fitness goal for 2017 was to run the York 10km race, and as our main family holidays were earlier (Croyde) and later in the year (Cyprus), we decided to take a few days off work and turn it into a summer mini break.

Our first stop was with our friends, Helen and Phil, in York. Phil and I, along with his son William, had been planning a bike ride whilst the girls ran their race on Sunday morning. However, that plan was vetoed, so we sent Owen and the girls into town and went for a bike ride on the Saturday afternoon instead. Phil had chosen a great route, with some off road sections and a stop at an ice cream boat! After the bike ride Phil fired up the pizza oven for a pizza party! Our other friends, Hayley and Will and their children, also joined us. The kids all had a good time together, especially once the bouncy castle was set up. Owen was the youngest there, but got stuck in playing with the bigger kids, even if he couldn’t keep up with them. We all had a lovely evening eating pizza and playing with the kids.

I woke up on Sunday with a dodgy belly – thinking that I’d disproved my theory that “there is no such thing as too much pizza”, and discovered the “pizza hangover”. However, in reality I think I’d caught the stomach bug that Owen had earlier in the week. Unfortunately he seems to have spread it to everyone he came into contact with at the weekend. Phil and I took the kids to the Knavesmire to watch the start of the race, then walked further down the course to cheer the girls on, managing to spot them in the crowd of over six thousand runners. After the race we went to Hayley and Will’s for a BBQ. I cycled over with William – I think we were both still excited about our new bikes, so didn’t need any excuses to ride them. It was less than half a mile up the road, but as William is only just starting to ride on the road I felt a great responsibility. I can’t wait until I am able to ride with Owen. Owen must have sensed this, as at the BBQ he was sat on a little trike and looked so pleased with himself. He sat on it for at least half an hour – he never sits still, so this was unheard of. After getting off the trike he crawled over to my bike and looked at it as if that was his next target now that he’d “mastered” the trike. After the BBQ we drove to our next stop an Airbnb in a secret valley in the North York Moors. It really was in a secret valley – located about a mile from the nearest road, but the hosts were lovely and the cottage was perfect for the three of us.

I woke up feeling much better and snuck off for an early morning bike ride. The Airbnb was on some trails mentioned in my Good Mountain Biking Guide book – this was genuinely a complete coincidence! As I didn’t want to eat too much into our day, I did a shortened loop, which started with a brutal climb up through some sheep fields. Looking back towards the Airbnb I could see how it got its “Secret Valley” name – you couldn’t see it at all! The next section of trail was really boggy and just as difficult as the climb. Fortunately the return leg was much more fun, except for the part where I came round a corner and hit another boggy section. The bike stopped dead, but I carried on into the bog. By the time I got back down to the secret valley I was covered in mud, but had a big smile on my face.

After a quick shower we went to Helmsley to meet another of our friends, Els, who had got the bus out to meet us. After a brief tour of Helmsley and some elevenses we all set off to the seaside! When we got to Scarborough we quickly checked off a lot of the traditional seaside activities – fish and chips, 2p machines and slightly disappointing funfair, before heading onto the beach. Owen loves playing in sand, so he was in his element, digging, crawling and throwing sand around etc. I’m sure he could have stayed there all afternoon, but we had to meet Jen’s cousin Virginia, who we have stayed with on previous trips to Scarborough.

We had a nice catch up before driving back to the Airbnb. Before dinner, we had a visitor to the cottage – Vinnie, the owner’s puppy, who befriended Owen. They crawled around the cottage after each other and seemed to be having a great time together. All the reviews had mentioned how good the food was, so we were very excited about dinner. We had lamb tagine with roast potatoes, and homemade bread to mop up the sauce. All of the ingredients came from the farm, from the lamb, to the pickled wild garlic seeds and the wildflower garnish. It was one of the best meals we’d ever had! Jen has said that she is going to try and recreate it sometime – which I am looking forward to. For dessert we had mille feuille and the custard was infused with flowers from the local hedgerows. It wasn’t something I would have chosen from a menu, but I really enjoyed it.

Our last day in Yorkshire started with a pre-breakfast walk up the farm track, with Owen on my back, to see a calf that we’d noticed on our way out to Helmsley the day before. When we got to the field it mooed at us, then walked over to see us. It certainly liked the attention. We had breakfast at the Airbnb, which was just as good as dinner the previous evening. I was actually quite sad to be leaving the secret valley, I could have spent another day there.

The original plan had been to call in at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the way home, but given that the weather forecast was for heavy rain we decided to go to York Designer Outlet for some shopping. It was Jen who wanted to go shopping, but me that ended up buying loads of things – new work shoes and Jen’s Christmas present, which she had already been dropping lots of hints about. The real winner was Owen, as you can hire little cars to wheel kids about in – he absolutely loved it! After pizza for lunch we drove back to the shire, the heavy rain didn’t let up until we got to Nuneaton for a quick stop off with Jen’s Mum and Dad. All the way down the motorway I had been trying to work out if I could get the car back home just as it clicked over to 75,000 miles, but the odometer just clicked over to 74,999 as I pulled onto the drive.

Monsal Trail Time Lapse

On Sunday Jen, Owen and I travelled up to the Peak District to cycle the Monsal Trail with our friends Ali and Jaymi. It was meant to be a bigger crew, but some people dropped out with flimsy excuses. They really missed out though, it was a fun afternoon. The cycling was a polar opposite to Llandegla last weekend, even riding at my slowest (with Owen on the back of my bike) I was the one stopping and waiting for the others to catch up. There was plenty of time to chat whilst riding along and Owen seemed to like having people to interact with. He also enjoyed the tunnels, he was clapping as we cycled through them. The time lapse doesn’t do the views justice, the scenery on both sides of the trail was stunning – with cliffs, rivers, hills and old buildings to pull your eyes away from the trail. Naturally, the ride ended with a cafe stop at Hassop Station, for burgers and bakewell pudding.

Llandegla

Last weekend I took a trip up to Llandegla, for what was probably my toughest day on a mountain bike. Llandegla is the nearest Welsh trail centre to Coventry, and had been top of my list of places to ride for a while. It also meant I could tick off one of my 2017 goals.

I left a grey and rainy Coventry, hoping that the forecast for sun in North Wales would be correct. Fortunately it was, with the rain clearing before I got to the end of the M54. I met my friend Andrew and his friend James at the visitor centre. We set off up the five kilometre climb, which is the start to all the trails at Llandegla. It is a fairly gentle climb, but felt relentless. My legs, and lungs, are used to much shorter climbs, so I struggled, eventually catching up with the guys at the top.

The ride down the hill was almost as punishing, mountain bike trails are graded like ski pistes: green, blue, red and black, increasing in difficulty. We took the red trail, but included one of the black loops off the main trail – my first time riding a black trail. After the long climb I was expecting it to be downhill all the way back to the trailhead, but the trail was peppered with steep climbs. The downhill sections didn’t offer much chance to recover, they were rough and bumpy, with raised wooden sections and plenty of jumps. I was struggling due to being at my limits of fitness and bike handling skills. The guys had to wait for me to catch up quite a few times, but I eventually made it to the end in one piece, still buzzing from the ride down. As it was such a lovely afternoon we chilled out on the terrace outside the amazing cafe and I really felt like I’d earned my bacon sandwich and slice of cake.

Suitably refuelled and aware that I needed to work on my fitness, I decided to do a solo loop of the blue trail. I took my time on the climb, with a few stops to catch my breath and take photos. I made it to the top without having to push the bike, despite it actually taking longer than the same climb in the morning. Dropping in to the blue trail I was back in my comfort zone, the trail was much smoother and only had a few gentle climbs as it twisted back down the hill. It was also much quieter, I only saw a handful of other riders. After struggling on the red/black loop in the morning, the blue felt like the perfect place to concentrate on my technique and have some fun.

Both loops were enjoyable in their own ways. The red/black trails challenged both my skill and fitness, but the whole point of a sport like mountain biking is to push yourself. The blue trail was easier and flattered my riding. I was glad I went back to the top again. At two hours door to door, Llandegla won’t be replacing Cannock Chase as my usual trail centre – it is a full day out, rather than just a morning. However, I am looking forward to a return visit, hopefully my fitness will have improved by then too!

Owen in the GMBN Bike Vault

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I’ve been a fan of GMBN since it started and have had many attempts to get my bike included in their Bike Vault feature. Finally it happened, and with a “Super nice rating to boot. I had to use my secret weapon – Owen, I had a feeling his cuteness would work. It was especially apt as the theme of the show was “mountain bikers of the future”. I’ve embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to Owen at 19m35s.

The photo was taken at Kingsbury Waterpark, whilst Jen was doing Parkrun there – something we are trying to do more together – like our ride around Draycote Water last weekend. We have also got a few more family rides planned over the next few weeks.

Cycling Around Draycote Water With Owen

We had a fun family trip to Draycote Water at the weekend. Jen is training for a 10km running race, so we thought that the 5 mile tarmac path would be ideal for her to run round whilst Owen and I rode round on my bike. I figured that Owen and I would be able to do two laps in the same time as Jen could run one – so we had a bit of a race!

Team Bike were caught napping, literally – Owen had fallen asleep in the car on the drive over. Jen was able to get a good head start, whilst I got the bike and child seat ready and waited for Owen to wake up. When we got going I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to catch up with Jen, but we made good progress along the first dam thanks to a decent tail wind. However, when we hit the north shore the pace dropped, I’d forgotten how hilly the route was, the fact that I’d done a hilly 35km ride the previous day and was carrying an extra 15kg made the hills feel harder. I was still expecting to see Jen around each corner, but we eventually caught her up around the halfway point, and had a quick stop to have a drink and fuss over Owen.

Leaving Jen, we continued our lap now into a headwind on the west dam I pointed out the wildlife to Owen, we saw geese, swans, rabbits and even a heron! On completing the first lap, we stopped for some photos, and to look at a swan and her cygnets by the dam. The second lap felt quicker, but taking a break had been a mistake, Jen was waiting for us at the end. As Owen had been such a good boy sat on the back of my bike, we took him to the playground, where he particularly enjoyed “driving” the jeep on springs.

2017 Goals Update

At the start of the year I posted my goals for 2017, as we are halfway through the year I thought I’d follow up on them and post my progress.

Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there

My weight has been under 90kg for most of 2017 so far, I actually reset my goal to 87kg. However we went on holiday to Croyde and too much holiday food was enjoyed, so I crept back over 90kg, but I am back under now and still aiming for under 87kg.

Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2

I’ve failed on this one so far, I did a track session at Silverstone, but since then I haven’t done much with it. It really needs a suspension refresh, so I am a bit reluctant to go on track before that is done. I will see what happens over the next few months though.

Ride my bike at a new trail centre

Most of my riding has been local so far in 2017, with only a couple of trail centre visits. I went to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase in March, I also took my new bike there last weekend. I have got plans to ride at Llandegla trail centre in Wales in a few weeks time, so not too worried about missing this goal. What I have rediscovered this year is cross country riding on unknown trails, I had a really good ride from my Mum and Dad’s house, exploring the Cotswolds and tried out a fairly local route, which in future I may build into a longer ride from home. Riding on natural terrain on bridleways has opened up a whole new area of mountain biking for me, one which I should be delving into more over the coming months.

Ride the full Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase in one ride

Not yet! Although I’m pretty sure I could have done it last weekend, except I was running late. My excuse is that Owen slept in and didn’t wake me up. I’m sure I’ll get back to Cannock later in the year and complete the loop.

Get out on my bike with my camera

I have been taking my pocket camera – a Canon S90, with me on my bike recently. I am interested to see how photos from the old camera compare to my iPhone 7, which I will probably go into on a future blog post. I still have plenty of time left to get out with my DSLR though, ideally early one morning for some landscape photography.

Make yoga a part of my weekly routine

I’m going to claim a partial success on this one! I went for a yoga class with Jean a couple of weeks ago, and have been doing some yoga most days since. I just need to keep it going! I have also found an interesting yoga series on Pinkbike, one of the biggest mountain bike websites, so I intend to work through some of those exercises.

Overall I think I’m pretty much on track, with the exception of actually getting my MR2 out on track! The main thing is that I am doing well on the fitness ones, which are usually the new year goals that go out of the window first.