Top 5 of 2018 - A Crobs Abroad Year in Review

Glasgow, Scotland, UK • December 2018 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes


If 2017 was a banner year for my writing, bucket list, and travelling, then 2018 will go down as being a springboard for my career and relationships. In the past twelve months, I’ve gone on crazy European trips with new friends, bolstered my CV and professional experience, gone on an epic Himalayan expedition with my dad, and laughed non-stop when around my oldest pals. More meaningful than any of that, however, was meeting the girl of my dreams. As we spend the Christmas period together, I’m more head-over-heels in love with her than ever, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for us down the road. From visiting Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studios in London, to exploring Scotland, to having the absolute pleasure of spending a week on the Greek island where she was born and raised, it’s been a dream ride. Even as a writer, if I wanted to put into words just how much she means to me, I don’t think I could.


Elsewhere, I’m still as rugby-obsessed as ever, and, thanks to Jay, you can add the Marvel Cinematic Universe to my couch-potato viewing. Far from being a lazy year, however, I’ve taken my fitness and nutrition to the next level. My CrossFit journey is still in its nascent stages, but I’ve been welcomed into the community with open arms. On the learning front, social psychology is a topic which I’ve dived heavily into in 2018, as well as making an increased effort to read some of the ‘classics’. Three books I couldn’t put down were Bounce by Mathew Syed, This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff, and The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis.

In a nutshell, 2018 has been a year of pleasant, unexpected change. And is that not what life’s all about? The excitement of the unknown. How boring would it be if we knew exactly how the next ten, twenty, or thirty years will pan out? All I can control is what happens in the present, and at the moment it’s going pretty damn good. But this blog post isn’t about that, it’s a reflection on the past. So here they are, my top five moments of 2018:  

  • Relaxing with my beautiful girlfriend in her hometown in Greece

  • Trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal

  • Winning the Anglo-Celtic Cup golf tour in Portugal

  • Catching up with friends in Denmark

  • Visiting the Taj Mahal in India

Taj Mahal (Bucket List #57)

Agra, India • November 2018 • Length of Read: 6 Minutes


I perused the breakfast buffet with a disgruntled look on my face, the smell of spices splitting my nostrils as I lifted the silver hot plate covers one by one to be faced with a spectrum of colourful curries; a welcome sight had I been spending a Saturday night out with the lads and there were beers involved, but less desirable at 8am on a muggy Sunday morning in a polluted country with questionable plumbing and hygiene standards. People visit Agra for one thing and one thing only, and it’s most definitely not for ‘brunch’.

Cobbling together an assortment of vegetarian and savoury snacks, I took first pick of the twenty empty tables in the restaurant, put down my plate, and left to get some fruit juice and a coffee. When I returned about seventeen seconds later, there was a pot-bellied Indian man slumped in a chair at the very place setting I’d reserved. This wasn’t on.

“Eh, can I help you?” I scowled as I approached him, noticing that my own breakfast had been brushed to the other end of the table.

“Hello,” he smiled, bobbing his head. “Oh, where you sitting here?”

I slowly and deliberately looked around, the restaurant deserted apart from the twice-as-many-as-necessary number of waiters each doing the job of half a man to compensate for the over-employment. “Yes,” I answered in somewhat disbelief. “If I’m interrupting something, however,” I continued, sarcasm dripping from every syllable, “I can move elsewhere?”

“Thanks very much,” he said with no hint of irony before handing me my plate.

“Cheeky bastard,” I muttered under my breath as Dad appeared from the room upstairs.


We were on a father and son tour of India’s Golden Triangle; a three-city round trip taking in the sights and tourist attractions from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur. And despite the hostilities at breakfast, as soon as we got in our driver’s lemon-scented Toyota and met our guide for the day, I began to feel rather zestful. We were on our way to visit the Taj Mahal, a palatial mausoleum and one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the ‘Crown of the Palace’ was built to house the tomb of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Dominating the hazy skyline from the south bank of the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal complex covers an area of 42 acres and took in excess of 20,000 employees approximately 21 years to complete. In addition to the ivory-white backdrop of Princess Diana’s iconic bench photograph, there are gardens, a guesthouse, secondary tombs, and four ginormous minaret towers. Present day cost adjusted for inflation: circa $1billion.

Passing through the ticket inspection gate of my third ‘wonder’ was like entering a portal to another dimension. I’d already trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru and taken in the same vista of Rio de Janeiro as Christ the Redeemer, but both of them had rightfully felt like cultural extensions of the countries in which they were constructed. The bubble of tranquillity and serenity that housed the Taj Mahal, on the other hand, felt somewhat eerie in comparison to the chaos and poverty that laid outside of its high, guarding walls. The sounds of car horns and beggars were muted, instead replaced by the chitter chatter of excited tourists, all trigger-happy with their camera phones and DSLR lenses in the hope of getting that perfect social media snap.  Even our guide was in on the action, more concerned about getting us an album of holiday pictures as opposed to providing informative historic dialogue. #India #Culture.

The couple of hours we spent wandering around the grounds in the early-morning heat, however, were extremely pleasant, and I was in awe of the intricate details encased in the brickwork of the domed mausoleum; everything impeccably symmetrical and thought-out to the nth degree.  Visiting the Taj certainly hasn’t inspired me to give any additional thought just yet to the funeral care of my loved ones, but has instilled in me a greater desire to leave something of value behind on this Earth, or elsewhere in the Universe, that will benefit others when I’ve moved on to the afterlife.


As soon as we exited the complex, the bubble well and truly burst. Dodging dehydrated and slouch-humped camels, motorbikes with entire families perched on the back like amateur trapeze artists, and health-and-safety rulebook breaking construction works, we made it to our lunch stop. The tour briefing had stated that lunch could be eaten at our ‘own preferred place of choice’, but nepotism wasn’t going to go into hiding that easily. As Dad and I sat down and tucked into our curries, our guide left with the restaurant owner, the pair chatting away like old school buddies.

“Are you finished, Sir?” the waiter asked Dad when he returned to replenish our drinks. “May I clear your plate?”

With a mouth full of food, knife and fork in each hand, and a substantial amount of curry and rice still left on his plate, Dad looked up at the waiter like he was from another planet and almost spat out his lunch. “Eh, no.”

Neither of us could get our head around the immense contrast to Western culture that is India was proving to be; none more blatantly stark than when it came to manners or tipping. From personal experience, it felt that a staggeringly large percentage of locals we met during our trip were just trying to get money out of us. Bellboy rips your bag out your hands and carries it 5 metres – wants a tip. Hotelier holds the door for you upon arrival – wants a tip. Toilet attendant hides paper and then tears it off strip by strip for your use –wants a tip. Guide takes you to his friend’s souvenir shop and demos marble-shaping techniques – wants a tip. It really did start to drain my patience very quickly.

“What’s there to see in Delhi?” I asked our driver when he dropped up back off at the hotel that night, having spent the afternoon dodging the crowds at the spectacular Agra Fort and the underwhelming Baby Taj; as impressive as a Lego construction when compared to its big brother.

“Traffic,” he replied bluntly.

I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. That was the most honest answer anyone had given us all day.

Exploring Athens

Athens, Greece • August 2018 • Length of Read: 9 Minutes


I took a sip of wine and a warm smile broke out across my face. The muffled sounds of Athens on a Saturday night rose up from the street below, hot young millennials decked in their finest wears making their way across the plaza to the trendiest bars and clubs where overzealous bartenders awaited to pour hastily-made cocktails and slip in a couple of pick-up lines in the hope of stealing a phone number. From our rooftop restaurant, we had an unrestricted view of the Acropolis; the ancient citadel sat in all its glory atop the rocky outcrop and lighting up the metropolis that it has proudly lorded over for centuries. It was a stunning setting, but I really only had eyes for the girl sitting opposite me. We’d been together for four sweet months and she’d invited me to Greece so that we could explore her homeland together. As she blew me a kiss from across the table I melted a little inside; the luckiest man in the world.


Eva’s friend had kindly given us the keys to her apartment whilst she was out of town, and after a back-breaking night’s sleep on the fold-out sofa, the place so small that it didn’t even have a bedroom, we casually woke up the next morning, hopped in our rental car, and set the sat-nav for the city centre. Air-conditioning at full-blast and the sun hanging high in the hazy blue sky, a day of history and culture lay head.

Now, I’m a nervous driver as it is; the pressure of having to park outside my school gates under the watchful gaze of my peers just hours after the L-plates had been ripped off my car only the first in long line of moments that I’ve found myself sweating behind the wheel. Put me on the opposite side of the road, however, with a pounding headache, unfamiliar Highway Code, and the navigation of Stevie Wonder, and I’ll begin to panic. As the weather approached mid-thirties, I started to get very hot and bothered indeed.

“You want to take a right here, then go left,” said Eva as we approached a roundabout, having turned off Google’s perfectly adequate automated driving assistant and taken it upon herself to dictate the directions. As I flicked the indicator and pulled out into the junction, however, narrowly avoiding a rampant local and getting an earful of aggressive honking for my troubles, Eva began to question my ability to understand basic instructions.

“I said to go over there,” she pointed, no help at all for someone with their sight set firmly on the chaos of capital city traffic. “Right, then left.”

“You mean straight ahead?” I corrected her, somewhat bemused, but more irritated. “Even, ‘take the second exit’ would have been suitable.”

“Whatever,” she dismissively scowled before returning to her duties. “It’s re-routed us so you’ll need to turn left in 200m.”

As the narrow streets passed by I tried to calculate based on sight and sense when 200m might be, not bothering to question why Eva couldn’t have just told me that it was the fourth on the left. Having to project distances in my head really wasn’t helping the migraine going on inside my skull but considering that she didn’t even have a license I was willing to concede to ignorance. All things considered, Eva had the patience of a saint, and as I pulled into the parking garage at our destination she even hopped out to get me some painkillers and water from a nearby pharmacy. We’re such a great match.


Of all the buildings in the Acropolis of Athens, the most famous and iconic is The Parthenon, a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron of the city that bears her name. With Eva taking on the role of personal tour guide, we made our way hand-in-hand around the heritage site as she mustered up stories and facts from Greek history that she’d been taught in school. Off the back of my visit, I read Stephen Fry’s quite-brilliant book Mythos, an accessible re-telling of the Greek myths for a wider audience. If you wish to learn a bit more about Greek history, it’s an ideal starting point.

Steering our way through the selfie stick-waving crowds, dozens of photos stored in our own camera phones, we came down the winding hill from the citadel and got lost in the bustling cobbled streets before re-appearing at Eva’s favourite restaurant. I let my moro mou order away, proud to be the privileged guest of a local among throngs of confused faces. The feast that duly turned up was fit for a king and queen and we tucked into the tzatziki, kebabs, salad and grilled cheese with the appetite of famine-struck villagers; the captivating conversation put on pause as the chewing began.

Stomach’s bulging, we headed in the opposite direction of the Acropolis Museum for approximately half-an-hour before the chief navigator of this disoriented operation discovered that we were actually walking in the completely wrong direction. Had Eva been the captain of a historic fleet setting sail to discover a new world there would have been a mutiny on-board before the lead vessel had even disappeared from view of the port.

Once eventually in the air-conditioned paradise of the museum, an impromptu subway journey required to get us back on track, we took a journey through the ages, three floors of meticulously restored artefacts, paintings and sculptures bringing to life the ancient civilisation that gifted the world so much in terms of language, science, philosophy, and religion.

“Hey, look at that,” said Eva, pointing upwards to the Perspex walkway of the second floor that ran above. I had no clue what she was indicating towards, but it couldn’t have been the view that immediately caught my attention.

“Are you looking up that woman’s skirt?” she gasped, noticeably and hypocritically holding her gaze for a moment too long.

“You told me to,” I argued in a rock-solid defence as strong as the columns holding up the classical order.

“At the statue, yes,” she laughed. “Maybe I should get you out of here before you cause any more trouble.”

“The statues are all naked anyway,” I persisted as we stopped to throw pennies in the wishing well at the museum entrance. “At least that person had clothes on.”

“Very good, very good. Come on, I want us to be on time for dinner with my parents. Feeling nervous yet?”


Eva grew up in Nea Artaki, a small port town on the island of Evia, the country’s second-largest after the better-known Crete. Connected to the mainland by a bridge, we made the journey in just over an hour, my palms getting sweatier each mile we drew closer to our destination. I love this girl and really wanted to make a good impression with her mother and father. Thankfully, we weren’t actually going to be staying with them, just popping round for dinner. Instead, we’d been given access to Eva’s countryside summer home twenty minutes further north. A shower, a pressed shirt, and a dash of cologne later, I was as ready as I ever would be to face the music. As the doorbell went, I took a big gulp.

“Hello Crobs,” beamed her dad as I crossed the threshold and handed him the bottle of mass-produced Johnnie Walker whisky I’d picked up in the airport. Not quite the Hebridean malt he would have preferred, but at the bargain price of €18, I couldn’t complain. I wanted to see how our initial meeting went before introducing him to the good stuff. A kiss on each cheek was the traditional welcome, and that’s all I had for Eva’s mum after Eva had realised too late that the flower shop I was going to pick up a bouquet from had shut down months prior.

“Thank you very much for inviting me,” I smiled before pausing to take in the manic around me. Far from meeting just her parents, Eva’s sister, uncle, grandmother, sister’s boyfriend, and sister’s boyfriend’s brother had all made themselves present for the occasion. You wouldn’t be seeing so many of my family members together outside of Christmas Day. My arrival was seemingly quite the event.

“It’s our pleasure,” answered Eva’s dad, who was slightly more apt in the English language. “Would you like a beer? Greek beer is much better than Scottish beer.”

“I won’t argue with that,” I laughed, perhaps a bit too loudly for the situation. “Yes, please.”

Handing me a Heineken, a symbol of everything Dutch, I was more than a little confused as I took a seat at the dinner table. ‘It must be the language barrier,’ I pondered to myself as my eyes and nose took in the succulent buffet spread out before us. Eva had encouraged me that all I needed to do was nod and say ‘yes’ whenever food was offered my way and everything would be ola kala, OK.


And it was. Eva’s extended family were welcoming in such a homely and generous way that I immediately felt ingrained as a new member of the clan. Every ounce of dread and apprehension quickly left my body as I tucked into the mountain of food in front of me. Eva switched from tour guide to translator, and we laughed and joked away for the rest of the evening. A delicious homemade dessert was accompanied by a trip down memory lane as we peered through albums of old family photos, and, in return, I told silly anecdotes about growing up in Scotland. They could see how much I meant to their youngest daughter… and how much she meant to me.

“Thanks so much for inviting me here,” I whispered to Eva as we lay in bed that night.

“Thanks so much for agreeing to come,” she whispered back, a warm smile breaking out across her face.

A Danish Heist

Copenhagen, Denmark • May 2018 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes


Going to Copenhagen and not visiting Tivoli Gardens is a bit like visiting Paris for the first time and not seeing the Eiffel Tower; a complete travel faux pas that you don’t want to make. Opened in 1843, Tivoli is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world and the fifth most-visited in Europe. Situated right in the heart of the Danish capital, directly opposite the train station, the park has attractions for all the family, and as the summer sun shone high in the sky Ieva, Iza, Jason and myself spent the day riding roller coasters, licking ice cream cones, and lazing about on the lawn of the pristine gardens as peacocks wandered around nibbling on leftover lunch scraps. It felt like we were kids again; full of excitement, carefree, naïve and innocent (until proven guilty).

Leaving the park after a lovely, chilled-out day, the girls retired back to the apartment whilst a ravenous Jason and I went in search of some dinner. Stumbling into a Hard Rock Café, more out of logistical convenience than anything else, we ordered a couple of beers from Anna, our Icelandic waitress, and opted for her suggestion of the Jack Daniel’s infused beer burger. A far cry from the traditional Danish smørrebrød cuisine, but sometimes you just need to fill the hole in your stomach.

I noticed something fishy about the two guys at the table parallel to ours as Jason and I clinked pint glasses and reminisced about the good old days, their loud and argumentative dialect the first indicator that they were rather drunk, the empty shot glasses and half-finished plates of food on their table the second. Conversing in Danish, I couldn’t make head nor tail of what they were discussing, but from their frequent glances towards the window behind us, I took a guess that they were itching for a cigarette.

My suspicion was soon confirmed as they got up and burst out onto the narrow balcony through a catch-window which just looked in no way like it should be opened; neither by staff, nor patrons. Anna came rushing over, her Scandinavian blood beginning to boil, and ushered them back to their seats with a stern warning. It was clear that they had been a handful ever since arriving in the restaurant. In retaliation to this, as soon as our waitress had departed to attend to another table they legged it down the stairs and out of the restaurant.

“Have they just done a dine-and-dash?” I gasped towards Jason, who laughed in agreement. One of my favourite ‘doing a runner’ stories is told by my best mate’s father, and occurred whilst he was on a gentlemen’s golfing holiday in Spain.

The twelve ‘Divots’, as their tour group was self-titled, had received the cheque for a rather lavish and boozy meal only to find themselves in the uncomfortable predicament of being unable to afford it. Before any suspicion amongst the staff arose, a Chinese whisper was quickly sent around the table indicating that, on the count of three, they would all get up and do a runner. When the call was made, however, eleven of them hustled out of the restaurant whilst the remaining member of the group, perhaps misinformed of the plan or perhaps out of sheer stupidity, ran straight into the male restroom, trapping himself. Only after spending the rest of the evening washing dishes in the kitchen did the maitre’d eventually allow him to leave.

“Unfortunately, for those two guys, however, they’ve left something rather important behind,” said Jason, lowering his tone and snapping me back to the present. “What’s in the bag?”


A Hard Rock Café-branded gift shop bag sat propped against a leg of the abandoned table, clearly having been forgotten in their haste to leave. Kicking it across to our table, I opened it to find three Copenhagen-designed souvenir white t-shirts and a credit card receipt for 650DKK; an amount far greater than what their meal would have cost.

“Let’s take them away,” said Jason without hesitation. “It serves them right and they will make great gifts for the girls.”

“Who do you think you are?” I chuckled. “Robin Hood?”

“A modern-day version,” chuckled Jason. “There’s a receipt, so who’s to say that those guys didn’t gift them to us?”

We deliberated the morality of the situation for a while as a few of the tables around us caught wind of what we were planning. “A heist in which the good guys win,” I reasoned. “It is great when the good guys win.”

Polishing off our food and beer in an effort to remain inconspicuous, we then asked Anna for the bill and she recommended we go to a bar called No Stress for some post-dinner cocktails. Thanking her, we arose to leave and as Jason picked up the contraband she gave us a sly grin. “Have a good night, boys,” she chuckled, giving our table a wipe. Having previously abstained from clearing the two drunk guys’ table, an attempt to confirm her false belief that they had genuinely gone out for a smoke and would at some point return, Anna was happy to play the Maid Marion in our little Sherwood Forest routine.

We headed up the street in the direction of No Stress and, lo and behold, stumbled upon the very two dine-and-dash dudes. They were standing outside a bar and in the middle of a heated, but spirited debate about ice hockey, the Swedish national replica tops of their opposition indicating that they had travelled over to Denmark for the Ice Hockey World Cup that was currently taking place. Keeping our heads low, Jason tucked the Hard Rock Café bag under his arm and we marched on past.

No Stress was a cool, underground, Norwegian hangout, and as we perched atop a pair of bar stools and ordered some fruity cocktails from the islands I looked around and took stock of the environment. A group of guys were huddled around a box TV and playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64; squads of young people from diverse nationalities sat around high tables, chatting in their common language; and the DJ in the middle of the room set the atmosphere with chilled-out beats. It had been a wonderful three-day city-break to Copenhagen with Jason; catching up with old friends, recharging the batteries, and planning future escapades. And to top it off, we’d pulled off a heist and got away Scot free.

Pour me something tall and strong, make it a hurricane before I go insane. It’s only half past twelve but I don’t care, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Freetown Christiania

Copenhagen, Denmark • May 2018 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes

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Feeling a bit ropey, Jason and I left the girls in bed and took the metro downtown. Taking a pew at a trendy open-aired café, we ordered a Caesar salad to share and proceeded to lazily sip on cortado coffees whilst taking in the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan city centre. It was a sunny Thursday morning in Copenhagen, and as the summer temperature began to rise the Danish capital came to life; it’s beautiful, tanned, well-groomed and effortlessly cool residents going about their day-to-day business in a manner that had me pining for a return to such lifestyle.

In addition to the chino and shirt wearing masses, groups of dapperly dressed youngsters also began to weave their way through the square, tuxedo-clad guys looking Scandinavian sharp and the girls on their arms glowing in traditional billowing dresses. Bringing us the bill, our waiter informed us that it was Norwegian Constitution Day, ‘Syttende Mai’, and that a number of prestigious parties were being held around the city in celebration.

The hilarity of our escape from the Jailhouse the previous evening was still fresh in our minds as we stretched out our legs and wandered down to Nyhavn Harbour; dozens of brightly-painted boats lining the canal paths and upmarket seafood restaurants spilling out onto the cobbled streets. En-route, we passed numerous gangs of ice hockey fans in Nordic game-day tops, the Ice Hockey World Cup in full swing and busloads of supporters making their way across the Öresund Bridge to support their national teams locking-horns in the historic and fierce on-ice rivalries.

Reaching the end of the pier, Jason and I got some Aperol Spritz from a pop-up bar and chilled on a couple of deck chairs overlooking the widening waterway, chatting about life, the Universe and everything in between as we watched dozens of kids diving in and out of the murky river.

Ever since Jason and I had met on a bus in New Zealand eighteen months previously, a bond of trust and honesty had been created that I hope will last in perpetuity. You know that feeling when you just ‘get’ someone? And they ‘get’ you? He has since become my go-to guru for advice, concerns, ideas, knowledge, and everything in between, and I his muse in return. At the dock we sat for hours, bouncing about ideas, regaling stories from a wilder youth, and trading tales of success and failure. It was bliss.


A late-afternoon stroll took us to the universally-unique district of Christiania. Right in the heart of Copenhagen sits a former military barracks that lets off a heavy whiff of marijuana. Taken over by hippie-squatters in 1971 as an anti-governmental social experiment, Christiania became a self-governing collective operating under its own rules and principles. Following a dark era involving hard drugs and murder, this anarchistic micro-nation has now cleaned-up, and its 850 residents are currently deliberating an offer from the Danish government to outright purchase the 34 hectares of land they live on.

One of Christiania’s most famous sons is Lukas Forchhammer, lead singer of the pop band Lukas Graham, who, in an interview with Rolling Stone, spoke about growing up in this community led him to learn “how to mix a Molotov cocktail before I knew how to mix a Long Island iced tea.” He has also reminisced about the police presence was so pervasive that a fear manifested itself within the children of the rough neighbourhood and it wasn’t uncommon for this anger to be vented at the authorities. He concluded, however, by describing Christiania as a ‘utopian place to grow up if you’ve got parents living together and working regular jobs. There’s just this sense of community. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody helps everybody. You know the names of your friends’ parents.”

Leaving behind the Freetown, the setting sun shining with an even brighter intensity than it had all afternoon, Jason and I picked up the blaring noise of techno music from a distant set of speakers and, following it, stumbled upon a family-friendly canal-side party; DJ, a bar, and tattooed dudes flipping burgers whilst everyone chatted away in a jovial manner. A couple of cold ones and a few dying rays helped crown off what had been a fantastically-relaxing sightseeing way to shake off our hangovers from the night before.