Monday, January 11, 2010


I got back from Poland on Monday, pretty lucky really as the big freeze started Tuesday I don't think I would have made it back.

I had an amazing trip and met so many new people. Starting at Warsaw airport I met Kaths friend Mike (Goofy) who was kind enough to Pick me up from the airport. I was so nice to see Kath again. It took about 3 hours to drive from Warsaw to Białystok, we chatted about many things. The drive was a bit longer because we got a bit turned around on the way out of Warsaw and we had to stop for fuel. During the drive I got a chance to look out at a lot of snow!

When we arrived at Kath apartment I got to meet her family, including her Mum, Sister, Brother and Grandmother. Kath myself, her brother and sister ate a nice dinner of brie and chorizo toasts with salad. After which we headed to bed, I felt tired after travelling, it was great to go to sleep.

Second day in Poland, Kath had to go to her work to pick up some documents. After which we took a walk through a nearby park and around Białystok zoo. Probably the smallest Zoo in the world certainly the smallest I have been to, but then it was free and I did get too see bison and a Polish horse.

It was pretty cold walking around so we went into a Pizzeria for a coffee and a ricotta cake. Then it was off to do the food shopping round two of Białystok's malls. Like every other mall I have ever been in apart from the Polish writing you could be anywhere similar shops, brands. In the evening it was a big family dinner at Kath's house. I met her cousins, aunt, and uncle. We ate a lot of food, including herring, and a sort of cabbage stew with pork sausage called Bigos, soup called Flaki, baked meat olives, pickles, we drank some vodka and fruit juice. Like the people I met in Belarus the Poles don't mix the Vodka into the fruit juice, rather we drank shots neat then washed it down with a sip of juice. Everyone was very nice but it was a bit overwhelming and not for the first time I wished I could understand some Polish.

After the meal Kath her brother and cousins went out for drinks, meeting up with her other friends at a bar called Rejs. Kath's brother got quite drunk which was very amusing. Also there was Kath's other cousin Agnes, Goofy and his girlfriend Ela and Kath's friends Sylvia and Wojtek. It was a farewell for Agnes too as she was about to leave for university in Tallinn.

Next day was New Years eve, Kath and I would be spending the evening at her friends finances parental home. Before that though we had to prepare some food for the evening. We made turkey wrapped in ham stuffed with mozzarella. Kath's friend Mike was going to pick us up and take us to the party, but before that we managed to sneak out for a coffee together at a lovely coffee at a little coffee shop near her apartment. It was wonderful to have some alone time sitting drinking wonderful coffee and eating a cake.

Mike picked us up about 14.30 and after a short stop to pick up some beer and Caroline's friends and college Magda we were on our way to Monki. Mikes girlfriend Caroline greeted my at the door saying "Welcome to Poland fucking cold isn't it". We then met Caroline's Mum a very happy woman who didn't seem to mind her house being invaded at all :) Apparently the trick to drinking Vodka is to intersperse drinking with eating food like Bigus. Everyone prepared some food and while we waited for Goofy, Ela, Sylvia and Wojtek we prepared the table. We had a beer and a chat, Mike told me I had a phone which was a call a cue to start drinking vodka. We were waiting for the other Mike aka goofy to arrive, he was slightly delayed as he had to stop off and buy tampons for Kath! The Caroline talked good Mike into going out to buy tights and to pick up her dress. Goofy arrived with his dog and another guy Paul aka the Goat. He also brought his home improved Vodka mixed with black current. I drank and ate and chatted, and drank, laughing taking photos of each other. Our food went down really well with everyone the turkeys disappeared quickly while Wojtek made short work of the salad. The cuisine here was a mix of traditional Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian cuisine after midnight we had Potato Babka.

After the initial eating Wojtek played some Russian songs and the girls were dancing, while I drank some more Vodka, the Mike's determined that I would get a taste! The gin we brought with us ended up going spare;unfortunately by 11 drinking from 6 was taking its toll so I had to go have a lie down for a few minutes. Fortunately a power nap was refreshing enough to get me up in time to see in New Years Eve, stood on the porch watching fireworks and drinking sparkling wine. Kath and I cuddled and watched.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur until we headed to sleep, we were just drifting off when I very drunk Mike appeared and warned me to watch my back in case I got "a big dick and balls in my ass", I think it was his way of saying Happy new year! Fortunately I didn't suffer any such intrusion, however Mr Goat did decide to come an sleep in the living room rather close to us!

I woke up in the morning feeling surprisingly good considering the amount of vodka, Kath and I had a cup of tea and woke up. We took clipper for a walk around the town, it was pretty refreshing walking in the snow, but I could really feel like a shower. Unfortunately for some reason the water stopped flowing. So we sat stinky and hungover drinking tea chatting waiting for Goofy to wake up. Caroline's mum made some Pasztet a kind of a meat pate and we finished off some of the leftovers from the night before. I really had a nice time with Kath's friends, it was so nice to meet them and be a part of the new year celebrations.

Caroline decided she wanted to check if she was able to drive so she went to the Police station to get a breath test. Apparently they weren't very nice about it but eventually we got underway back to Białystok. Kath's mum and gran both gave me such a wonderful New years greeting it was so touching I was really happy.

It felt so nice to take a shower! We had a nap and a nice meal of beet root soup with French pastry stuffs. Afterwards Kath and I took a walk throw the blizzard into the city we had a look around her University and at the Cathedral.

Kath's mum and family left the next day, the flat felt pretty empty without them. We had a lazy day sleeping in late and tagging the photos, finally heading out to the shops to buy food for tomorrow train ride. We also bought tickets, first class it only cost 20 Zloty more which in hindsight was too much.

In the evening I took Kath out for a meal at a lovely restaurant called Lejdis. I had lemon sole which was delicious, they did something slight batter underneath which was just lovely. Kath had a salmon pie with a spicy sauce which was also very nice. After the meal we met up with Kath's friends for a quiet drink before getting an early night in order to be awake for the train in the morning leaving at 6.48am.

Kath and I took a train to Gdansk travelling on the train in Poland was an experience. The journey took 7 hours 45 minutes, the train resembled something out of the ark. First class appeared to be exactly the same as second class just with 2 less seats per cabin. There was a hole in the window which let in an icy draft, but that was nothing compared to the toilet! Someone had left the window open so it was an icy frozen place, I was glad I didn't have to sit down!

I was so glad to Arrive in Gdansk and get off the train! Kath's cousins apartment was close to the station so we walked through the big shopping mall to Anna and Maciej's apartment. Maciej had some tasty mushroom soup, and local beer :) Their daughters Aleksandra and Lidia were so cute, Aleksandra let us borrow her room, and gave me a tour of the apartment. She also brought Kath a stack of books and proclaimed she could read them all tonight! Maciej knew so much about the city it wsa interesting to listen to him. Unfortunately I was exhausted after travelling and it was so cold it was sometimes difficult to concentrate. We had to have a cup of tea to warm up before heading back.

In the evening we all went out for a tour around Gdansk. It seemed a lovely city I wish we had more time to look around and see some other parts like the dock where the solidarity movement started.

When we got back to the apartment I got to try a drink called Goldwasser, it actually had little piece of gold in it.

The next morning I had a 6am flight home, Maciej was kind enough to give me a lift to the airport. For anyone wish to travel to Gdnask the airport is tiny and disorganised, not recommended! I was sad sad to leave Kath at the security gate, we had such an awesome time together.

Back to the UK and back to work, due to the snow I ended up working from home which meant I barely saw another person until the weekend. Friday night Phil and Caroline came round, we had a few beers and played Wii. I realised that I don't really enjoy Mario Brothers Wii very much. After the initial excitement wore off I realised its just Mario 3 with better graphics. It has all the things that irritated me about platform games, really what is the point of lives and continues this isn't an arcade, I'm not feeing twenty pence pieces in.

Bruce came round Saturday night, I made a stir fry and we watched a couple of films. He had a hard week in Gloucester.

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Friday, January 02, 2009


Time for blogging has been pretty thin on the ground recently I had a pretty awesome Christmas in the Alps then a wonderful New Years with Andy and Emily in Manchester. I thought I would summarise what I have been up to in the last couple of weeks.

I went skiing to Val D'Isere in France. It was really beautiful there, the snow was near perfect, the week before we arrived nearly 2 meters of fresh power arrived. We arrived and enjoyed had 4 days of glorious sunshine, the pistes were near perfect. I skiied a lot, drank a lot and enjoyed myself for a week.

I had met up with Kasia before Christmas and we have decided to have another try as we still like each other. I went to visit her in York last Monday we had an outing to Ikea I have never seen a place so so busy queues to get in and out so bad the Police were drafted in to direct traffic. We managed to finally get in and wondered around Ikea, then Habitat. I saw a few nice things but nothing that really screamed out. I still have quiet a bit to do too before I get any furniture. It was really enjoyable spending time with her again I hope that we can do so more often.

On Wednesday I took my Mum to B&Q to take advantage of the 10% overs 60s discount and use some vouchers I had received as presents. I bought some wallpaper and decorating sundries to make a start on the lounge. Now Nick has put in the woodwork and boxes in the pipes it looks a lot more houselike. I think I will feel a lot happier when I start to see rooms taking shape.

For New year Phil, Andy, Emily and her friend Laura went to watch the fireworks in Exchange Square. We played Wii for a bit then went to Polar bar. It was a sort of tent set up near to Urbis, they did a really nice range of hot drinks. I had a whisky toddy, the others had hot chocolate with vodka or Cointreau. It was -2 at least outside, I had my ski jacket to keep me warm but amazingly some of the women were walking around without even a coat, and bear legs, crazy!

The fireworks were a little disappointing, Andy was telling me that the council refused to put up any money so they were paid for by the owners of the big wheel.

I looked at myself in the mirror today, I have put on weight, quiet a bit in fact, I have a streaming cold and I felt horrible. I have decided to try and leave off beer for a while I'll try for the whole of January, in fact I might do a Bridget Jones style counter. I also want to get a move on trying to get the house in order so I can move in.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Away In Japan

In case anyone missed it I am in Japan ive got a notebook so there be plenty to read in a week or so.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ski Photos

Monday, December 31, 2007

Ski trip

I got home from Le Deux Alps about 8 last night. It was an amazing trip, full of fun food and ski.

Forever delayed

This has been a busy week, it all started at when at 4am on the 22nd December. My alarm woke me up to leave the house. Phil and his family wanted to arrive 3 hours ahead of time. I decided 2 hours was good enough (as indicated on the Manchester Airports website at least). Unfortunately my gamble for an extra hours sleep somewhat backfired on me. This was the busiest day of the year to fly and Thomas Cook staff weren't very good at keeping the queues down. It me 1 hour 10 minutes to check in then I joined the back of the queue for the security desk. I stretched across the airport from T1 departures nearly into T3. I had never seen anything like it and was convinced I wouldn't make the flight. Fortunately the airport staff dragged me out of the queue and I got into the fast lane. Once I was through security I literally ran across the airport to the gate. I walked on-board the aircraft 10 minutes before the scheduled take off, I shouldn't have bothered running. Thanks to fog in Lyon and the delays at Manchester we sat on the tarmac for an hour before take off.
There was a two and a half hour coach trip from Lyon to Deux Alps, the final hour of which was all uphill winding our way into the mountains. The coach rose though a series of hairpin bends, the bends were numbered!


Phil's family and Jules were staying in a hotel which was situated right at the bottom of the nursery slopes. Unfortunately there wasn't room for Phil and I, we were staying in a chalet about half a mile away. Unfortunately for us most of the distance was uphill. The chalet was located at the top of 5 flights of stairs. One of the reps at the hotel kindly gave us a lift up there (we would have really struggled with our bags otherwise) called the place Hogwarts because of the strange pointy roof. Apart from its position the chalet itself was actually quiet a nice place, it was designed to hold upto six people so felt pretty spacious with just Phil and I.

Ski Lessons

As neither myself Jules or Phil's mother hadn't skied for a while, we enrolled into ski school as level 1. Level 1 is not total beginners but not far off, for people who actually know how to put on their skis. I was amazed by how quickly the skills start to come back with a bit of tuition. Despite starting on the green nursery slopes (and falling over at lot) by the end of the week I was getting pretty good, god enough to have successfully (IE I didn't fall over) tackled a couple of Red runs.

Apres Ski

After about 4pm the light started to fail, the temperature dropped as the slopes moved into shadow at this point we were usually pretty tired having skied for most of the day so it was time to head back to the hotel. Ski resorts are out of the way places, up the top of a hill the only people there are people who want to sky or people who work looking after the skiers. Deux Alps is no exception; after skiing he only other thing to do is go for a drink or two, the so called Apres Ski. There were a few good bars in the town, Polar Bar (with its alpine pine panels and fireplace) the secret smithy's and club Avalanche. Phil and I went out most nights and visited most of the bars and clubs, I recommend avoiding French clubs they are stupidly expensive on drinks and entry. We actually made it into Avalanche for free after following onto a Neilson pub crawl.
Overall a really top holiday, I cannot thanks Phil's parents enough for inviting me it was an amazing trip.


Sunday, December 23, 2007


Snowman, originally uploaded by j0hncooke.

17:44 22 December 2007 22122007031 Phils sister Tina and her Ozzy boyfriend Jonny built this snowman outside their chalet

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Final Day

I am sat in the airport in Dalaman, I arrived at 2.30 and my flight isn’t until 4.55. I had to wait until after 3 for the check in desk to open. It has been a heck of a trip, I have managed to do many activities and see many things. Emotionally its been a bit of a rollercoaster. Today things were much better and as Olya waved goodbye I felt very sad to leave.

I was a relaxed day with out anything to do. We both slept in late, feeling tired after the diving, karaoke and drinking yesterday. Missed breakfast we went out to lunch, at the Baran bar. They do pretty tasty food and have air conditioning that is just the job for lunchtime heat.

The Turkish seem to be a nation of traders, everyone wants to be your friend, at whilst there is a chance they can separate you from your money. Good never have an actual fixed price you just have to haggle your way down and often this can mean right down. They do work hard though most of the bar staff seem to work all the time; it was the same people in Baran at lunchtime as the night before.

After lunch we went swimming then I sorted out my taxi, tour guide Ben managed to get it for 40 Lira cheaper than I arrived so that was a bonus.
Olya and I had dinner together than I packed and we went for a final drink on the strip before the taxi would pick me up and 1am. It was a weird evening felt close again (I am a glutton for punishment arn't I) she even wanted to sit on the beach together, it was pretty nice, I was sad to have to leave.

I had a last minute panic as I couldn’t find my driver straight away but fortunately we hooked up and I was soon whizzing down the country roads to Dalaman airport. Arriving way before my flight was due giving me a chance to sit here and start documenting my thoughts.

I caught something on the tv behind me it was a bit of a parallel life experience. I haven't really seen the news all week so it was weird to see a piece about the UK terror alerts on TV especially hearing prime minister Gordon Brown.



Though no longer together Olya and I seem to have patched things up enough that she still wants to spend time with me, especially as Luba had already headed off home.
Regardless I wanted to try doing some diving and Olya was keen to give it a try so we booked onto a day trip with Marmaris dive centre. I opted to stick with the beginners group as she was pretty nervous about the whole experience.

They were pretty good with Olya, giving a Russian-speaking instructor despite the fact she was the only Russian on the trip. He ran her through the basics, 1 breath, 2 equalise your ears, 3 clearing your mask. The rest would be taken care of by the instructors. The dive would be to 5 meters only and the instructor would tow round Olya.

Thanks to my PADI cert I was allowed to join in but not be babysat. We got into the water and though she tried hard Olya couldn't breath through her mouth so I was impossible for her to dive.

I sat on the bottom waiting having my photo taken, then went on a short dive. When I surfaced she told me about it. I was sad she couldn't join in. It did mean on the next dive I was allowed to go out with the experienced divers so at least I go a proper dive in. It wasn't the most impressive diving though. After the Coral Sea and the barrier reef in Australia seeing a few ancient amphora just didn't impress me much.

This evening Olya and I went to Baran bar, a sort of karoke cocktail bar, I got quiet drunk on Efes larger. So drunk Olya managed to talk me into doing Karoke, I have never tried it before, always finding some reason not to. I tried to inject some humour into it and choose The Beatles — Back in the USSR. I even switched Moscow Girls to Ukhta as its Olya home town. She didn't even notice!


Jeep Safari

Today we went on the pre booked Jeep Safari tour, Olya was friendly but withdrawn, despite renewed attempts to be more decisive and manly the damage is done, the gate is open and the horse has bolted.

The jeep safari was a fun trip, piling into 4x4 Jeeps, 6 people per jeep, each jeep was armed with a load of water pistols and bottles of water, which we threw over each other at any given opportunity. It helped to keep cool in the hot air.

First stop was a track overlooking Marmaris, the view was superb. After a short drive on the motorway we tool the jeeps off-road thundering round dirt tracks whilst trying to soak each other as much as possible was quite amusing indeed!

The only problem was we were a bunch of cheap people in our jeep, we couldn’t afford to buy extra water pistols like the people in the other jeeps had done. So we tended to be on the brunt of the soakings.

We stopped the madness for lunch, and then continued on to what I would consider the highlight of the trip. Stopping off at a river and waterfall. It was very pretty all trees and water. We jumped from the rocks into the waterfall pool. The water was cold but refreshing.

After 45 minutes wondering round the waterfall the next stop was a village in the mountains where they made honey. The guided showed us the Turkish Viagra honey, and a wishing tree, you had to walk around the tree three times touch it then make a wish.

We refilled out water bottles tried some honey and after the stop tore off down the back towards home. We had one last water fight before heading back to Marmaris.

Tonight I am sat only in my room, I have hardly spent any time here before now, I guess I will do so much more during the remainder of my trip. I suppose the difficult thing of it all is that she was right in many ways. I am not the most independent person, and I live my life in a kind of bubble, certain activities taking up most of my time. I am not very manly either; I have always been quiet and a little shy. I never really noticed how indecisive I could be.


Kervan Saray, and how it all went wrong

I had to work up to this post, the memory and the pain are still very fresh, and what is worse I could have just kept my mouth shut for two more days and it wouldn't have been so bad. I had to go buy a pack of cigarettes a drink before I could start.

The day had been a fun if tiring one, after the aqua park we were tired but Olya wanted to go to the Turkish nights show at Karvan Saray. Ben the tour operator we have used all week picked us up at 7.30 and took us to the show.
The shows consisted of a traditional folk group who did Turkish dances, a belly dancer, and a male belly dancer, and fire breather. To finish the night off
We were seated with a group of Russians none of whom spoke English. I was also he only man, which meant they expected me to fetch and pour drinks, apparently it is a Russian custom.

After we returned from the show Olya was on a high, from the Vodka and the dancing. We went for a night swim in the sea and said goodbye to Luba Olya's friend who was returning home that evening.

We went back to Olya's room, and I felt she was being really frosty with me, and because of the drinks I had consumed, and the fate of being ignored while everyone spoke in Russian I basically decided completely stupidly to rock the boat. I guess subconsciously I knew there was a problem; I just underestimated the effect the question would have.

Olya not only confirmed that she was unhappy but went on to tell me, "I like you as a person, but as a man I don't like you at all." She didn't stop there though, "you are like a child", in that I am not independent enough, I should be making all the decisions and not asking questions. Finally to add insult to injury my performance in bed was "more or less". She didn’t believe I had any passion, I did not help her and I didn't hold her. Ouch! I felt my stomach knot I couldn't continue I just lay in the dark listening to the air conditioning. She was next to me in body but she might as well be back in Russia.


Turkish Market / Aqua Park

The Turkish like to haggle, never take the first price offered there is always a better bargain to be had. Olya and I had been waiting for the Market to buy presents for the folks back home. The market was a largest building with many stalls selling everything from foodstuffs to t-shirts. They catered to the English market with many of the stalls offering cheaper than ASDA prices.
Olya bought presents for her family, I got some Turkish delight of Bruce and Phil and a few little bits which would fit in my bag.

The aqua park was a little disappointing. It was quiet expensive so we expected a multitude of slides and water based entertainment. There weren’t many slides, and to of the slides there were painful to use. It was also incredibly hot and we got tired out running up the stairs to the top slides. After a few hours we headed back and booked onto an evening of Turkish dancing at Kervan Saray.


Bar Street

Bar street pretty much does what it says on the tin it’s a street full of bars and clubs, with a few snack shops thrown in for good measure. The music ranges from dance to hardcore rock, but its always cranked loud.

Bar street is packed with Russians and English people out for a good time, to meet people of just to get hammered. As usual Turk sit out the front trying to entice us in. We walked the length but couldn't find anywhere playing music we liked very much so we stopped into Crazy Daisy. It has a huge projected sign, dominating the sky at above bar street. They promise exciting nights, we were not entirely impressed and moved onto another place. This had slightly better music, but also had the interesting feature of having free popcorn and nuts. Very novel. The much was loud the air-conditioning just about cooling the room enough to dance a little. It was actually a nightmare going outside to the back bar and toilets because the night air was about 30C.

We had a few drinks, Olya met up with some girls she spoke to in the airport. Niether Olya or Luba enjoyed the music so much but we had a good time dancing and jumping around. Watching the go dancers, including one shaven headed girl and a rather camp looking guy.

On the way back to the hotel Olya stumbled across a shop with bad Russian and was given a flag, which set her and Luba off singing in Russian.


Boat Trip

Took a trip on one of the many boat sailing out of Marmaris Cruising south it stopped in several places where we could to swim and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. First stop was Paradise Island, a small rocky outcrop surrounded by a superbly beautiful and calm sea. We amused ourselves swimming and diving off the top of the boat. It was such a hot day it was nice be out of the town and to feel the sea breeze. Swimming in the cool clear water, so much cleaner than the sea near Marmaris.
I stupidly tried to climb on the rocks, which I managed but instantly regretted thanks to the millions of splinters and cuts I sustained!
Next the boat moved onto another spot for more swimming, the trip continued like this for the rest of the day moving from one amazingly beautiful place to another. I tried to take some photos but my camera really did not do the scenes justice.
One of the most beautiful places was the lunchtime stop, we moored just outside a beautiful empty and unspoilt beach. We thought it looked like paradise, the beach was sandy the water blue and clean.
After lunch we headed to another beach stop this time docking at a bay with a restaurant and more sun loungers. We wanted to sit in the shade, typical Turks forced us to buy a tea before we could even though there was plenty of space.
Whilst we were sitting a speedboat bulled up in the quay, it was towing several rubber rings. Olya and I decided to go have a go, it was great fun trying to hold on whilst the speedboat thundered road the sea. I went off a couple of times :-)
We only had one more swimming stop after that in another empty clear bay, one of the Turkish deck hands climbed right up the rocks and did a spectacular dive.


Monday, July 02, 2007


Olya wanted to try river rafting, I had done it once before in Australia and found it enjoyable. We booked onto a trip to the Dalman river. The Dalman River is about one and a half hours drive from Marmaris. This meant we had to leave at 7.30, which meant missing breakfast so by the time we arrived at the rafting centre we were very hungry. Fortunately breakfast was included in the price of the trip.

After a quick breakfast we climbed into the rafting centre buses and started another hour and a half journey. This time the bus snaked around the mountains climbing higher and higher. The road were mostly little more than dirt tracks with rather sheer looking drops on down to the valley below. The mountains were very beautiful; we sure got a good look at them as we rode over the dirty dust tracks. The sky radiant blue, the sun hot, Olya and I were both excited it was going to be a good trip. One of the river guides told us that the government is building a dam so five years from now rather than a river the valley would be a large reservoir.

By the time we reached the high point of the river I was glad to get out of the bus. The sun was beating down strongly. The heat was such that we had to throw water over the rafts to cool them down enough to sit on.

Our boat contained myself, Olya and a Dutch family, the guide and a trainee guide. I think our guide was a little crazy to be honest but it all made for a more fun trip. We started to move downriver just about knowing when we hit the first major rapid. I do emphasise the word hit too. Our raft smashed into the rock face flipped over pouring us into the water. I ended up under the flipped boat and had to dive down to get out. I drifted away as the others struggled to right the raft. I got picked out by one of the following rafts I was ok apart from a few grazes. My sandals tore to pieces though, oh well.

After a rendezvous I rejoined my raft and we continued downriver, we actually had to get out and walk round a couple of times avoiding some the worst rapids. About halfway down the river we stopped off for a short rest. There was a deep place in the river you could jump from the high rock walls about. I tried it a few times it was very refreshing to hit the cool river.

It was kind of disappointing to see the Roman bridge which marked the end of the trip. There was one bit of fun left, we got out of the raft and floated through the final rapid. Olya and I both had a great time I bought the video of the trip, it's a bit big for the web but I am hoping to cut out the crash scene :)


Turkish Bath

Olya and her friend Luba had booked to go to a Turkish bath. They invited me to join them so I though I might as well.
There is a popular phrase "its as hot as a Turkish bath in here", now I know what they mean. The bath started with a sauna. After which we were ushered into an octagonal room. It was very humid inside the room. In the centre was a slab on which you lay during the bath. First some Turk cleans you with a kind of scouring pad, apparently this removes the dead skin. It was very relaxing; the only pain was waiting for my turn inside this hot and steamy environment. After the bath was a massage, a Turkish masseuse massaged oil into my skin. I was left feeling relaxed and smelling vaguely of fruit!

The afternoon was incredibly hot touching 50C. Just about the only things to cool down was to go for a swim in the sea then relaxed on the sun loungers.

In the evening Olya, Luba and myself went on the Moonlight cruise. The cruise takes place on board a large ship called the Orca (it has two bars and a disco). The Orca leaves the jetty and cruises up an down the marina to the sound of disco songs. There was even a belly dancing show. I enjoyed the cruise sitting up on the top deck, taking in the evening relaxing with a cocktail. I found the music a bit tiresome the typical dance rubbish they play here. Olya calls in "dunce dunce dunce" music and I tend to agree. There also weren't many people on board so the dance floor was pretty empty.

Still it was a an enjoyable evening, especially sitting outside with Olya.


Arrival in Turkey

I had a rather surreal start to my trip, I saw Peter Kay, nearly knocked him over in fact coming out of WH Smith at Manchester Airport.

My flight was late boarding they said because the incoming flight was late but I am not sure I believe that. I saw the there 1.5 hours ahead when I entered the terminal. Something else was going on, or maybe I am just paranoid.

Turkish airlines weren't exactly the slickest operation I have ever been on, I don't know why but they just seemed unprepared and stretched even though the flight was only about 2/3 full.

Istanbul airport was very confusing; I had to wait in a visa queue for ages. I had to jostle for position with a load of Russians who insisted on pushing in the queue. Then as I had to transfer I hadn't got a clue where to go I had to ask twice at the transfer desk they weren't the most helpful.

However I remain excited waiting here for my connecting flight to Dalaman. I found out the airport wireless is open to dns-html lookup attack; I will defiantly have to get one of those servers up and running.

The taxi ride to Marmaris took 1.5 hours, it is not only far but the final part of the journey involves tearing down some rather twisty mountain roads. The driver was really quiet scary, tearing around blind and sharp bends at a fair pace. Fortunately we made it into Mararis and after 15 minutes of searching and asking other taxi drivers he finally found my hotel, the Ocaktan.

Whilst I was checking in I met a Russian girl called Olya in reception. she was sat smoking and chatting to the hotel attendants. We got talking and went for a walk along the seafront. She was funny interesting and beautiful. We sat out on the deserted sun lounger watching the sea.

Marmaris reminds me of any resort from like the Costa Del Sol in Spain or even Blackpool. You can eat at the Italian/Indian/Mexican/Chinese restaurant. Loud music permeates from every bar as they via for the attention of passing trade.

The beach is a tiny strip of sand covered in sun lounges laid out by the various hotels and restaurants along the sea front. The sea is closed off from the ocean by the high mountains so there is hardly any tide, it is however very salty


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Photos from Shanghai

I have finally finished uploading all of the photos from Shanghai please take a look here.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Last night in Shanghai

I sit here in my room having mostly packed my bag, just got a few more bits to squeeze in there. Today has been a strange day really, I visited two places of worship, eaten more different things, and went bowling.

The first place we went to was Saint Ignatius Cathedral, this is a Christian Church built by the Jesuits. It is a rather striking building, this totally western Church next to the hear of Shanghais computer retail sector. We arrived just in time for Sunday mass, and Lulu said she wanted to stay. So I sat through something I haven't attended for a very very long time, I never even got to be confirmed as a Catholic so it was a strange for me especially as the service was conducted in Chinese. I could make out the tunes of some of the hymns so it was weird to hear them in Chinese. I tried my best to explain how the service worked to Lulu seemed pretty interested in the process, but it has been so long it was very hazy to me. I cant say I felt any sort of rapture for going, I did feel peaceful afterwards.

As we were in the area we went for a walk round the technology park, it was very interesting, one part of it where they sol computer components reminded me of the computer shows back in the good all days, when you really could get bargains and any sort of computer part you were after. After looking about a bit we found a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch, Lulu ordered pork balls, clam and eels. I was a bit worried about the ells but they actually turned out to be ok, much better than frogs!

From the Christian world of worship we now headed firmly firmly back to Chinese tradition at the Jingan Temple. This is a traditional Buddhist temple, part of which is wonderful the other part looks like some sort of concrete nuclear shelter. We bought some incense sticks and made a prayed to the Buddha's there then wondered around. The bell room and Buddha's were very ornate and interesting, I cant say I really understand it but I can see the beauty and power in it.

Near to Jingan Temple is a little park where and a the first building Lulu worked in, the Apollo building. The park is very beautiful and ornate, full of lovely little places to sit and enjoy the day. Apparently it is a favourite for couples to take their wedding photos; in Chinese society wedding photos with the bride and groom are usually taken before the wedding in a specially staged photo shoot.

We had some time left over before Lulu had to depart and visit her cousin before he left to go home, so we went for a walk around an older district of the town, then hit a few shops. We planned to have a game of badminton or tennis but there were no courts available so we went bowling instead. I totally sucked and Lulu beat me in the first game. In the second I won but more due to her throwing it away then my good bowling.

This evening it was a flash back to the first day of the trip as we went back to the mall we visited on day one, as I have been struggling with chopsticks all week Lulu decided we should go for stake so she could see if I could use a knife and fork. Twan Twan, Lulu's boyfriend joined us for dinner. He was explaining about the martial arts traditions in China, and that I had been by no means adventurous with my choices of food, snake. boiled monkeys head, pigeon and various body parts should also be tried! Unfortunately our food wasn't very good the stake was tougher than old boots, however the company was nice and a great way to spend my last evening.

I am now sat in my room I have pretty much packed and ready for tomorrow mornings flight, I must admit I never would have thought it after the pain of the culture shock but I think I am going to really miss Shanghai, and I hardly even scratched the surface. Lulu asked me one word to describe it, at first I thought crowded, but on reflection I decided enigmatic. This place is a riddle, I have take a look at it but I am far from solving the puzzle.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Nearly over :(

I just got back from my first foray alone on a night out in Shanghai. I have been a little bit of a coward o far not really wanting to go out alone. In the end it was quiet enjoyable, however I guess I did not find the right places as there wasn't really much happening (perhaps I went out too early?).

Anyway more about going out later, I have had a strange day today. Lulu and I visited two temples, ChengHuang Temple(Town god's Temple) and Longhua Temple Fair. At the Cheng Hang we saw the bridge of nine turns and many market stalls where I bought a few gifts for the people back home, and got myself a really nice stylised "Cookie" sign. The temple structure was very pretty and well worth looking around. I threw a coin onto a tree in the centre for good luck with my career I hope it will come true ;)

At the second temple we went in to see the Buddah's, you could not take pictures but they were very ornate and different well worth seeing. There were huge crowds at both of the temples though, got jostled and pushed around the place.

For lunch went went to a Shechuan (not sure on the spelling) diner near Lulu'ls old college. The food was very spicy and quiet nice, except in an effort o spice up the meal she ordered frogs. They came served in spices on hot pebbles. I have to say I found them tough and not very tasty, though Lulu's opinion was they were not well cooked.

Lulu wasn't feeling the best today so she went home early, and why i ended up going out by myself into the city. I was quiet worried about it, Lulu has been my guide, she has made up for my lack of Chinese. So I was worried I wouldnt be able to function without her. Fortunatly using my guide and some poinitng at things I managed to get into the city, walked around the shops on the South Chongqing road, then went for a few beers in some of the bars on Yandang road. I didnt managed to meet anyone though wih was a shame people seemed mostly in groups and it wasn't really very busy.

Its kind of strange today is the first day I am getting a little bit of a handle on Shanghai and yet my trip is nearly over. Its a very different place, the customs are strange, Anglo-Saxons are a minority. Life feels like someone turned up the volume and the colour's especially at night you are bombarded with neons, horns, shouting and noise. The smells are very pungent, with the cooking, the rotting waste, the smells of the many construction sites. I cant even describe the crowding its unreal! Yet for all that Shanghai has a charm, a real spirit, I feel very alive, possibly because I feel lucky ever time I make it from one side of the road to another. I think its the most varied place I have ever been too there are whole different sides to the place, different sights and sounds and feelings to experience. I have been here a week and not even scratched the surface of Shanghai, one city in a country as big as the EU with a population equal to one quarter of the world, with a culture established when western Europe lived in caves so there is a lot to see, do taste and experience.

I got home about 23:15 tonight, just been sitting here blogging, and a storm started up, first the wind picked up, whistling though my (closed) windows, then rain now lightening. Being on the 25th floor I am getting quiet a show :)


Friday, May 04, 2007


Today the plan was to go and visit a "traditional" Chinese village called Xitang (pictures here). I got up at 6am as we had to catch the bus at 8am from the stadium about 6 stops away on the metro.

After just over an hour on the bus we arrived in a really run down town, walked a little down the road then the narrowest street I have seen in some time. So narrow we had to hide in a door way as one of the tuc tuc style bikes pasted through.

Xitang is a maze of small streets separated by rivers, with a large collection of bridges of all shapes and sizes. The bridges are both useful as Xitang sprawls over the river but also beautiful adding a real magic to the place.

Just walking around is amazing the sights and smells, the constricted space on the pavement and the crowds of tourists give the place an otherworldly, sad but proud feeling. The bridges and buildings are wonderful to look at. The places stinks, and not just the tofu, rotting garbage and the river smells and looks horribly polluted.

There are many little exhibits to view whilst walking about, a wine museum informed us the Chinese have over a millenia of wine making tradition. There is a Buddhist temple, a place called the Drunk Room home to some excellent calligraphers, and a grand house complete with courtyard, rockery and splendid Chinese architecture.

The trouble with chopsticks for a western guy is that whilst the Chinese have used the sticks since they were young, I am struggling with the sticks themselves and with the fact its normal to chew food and spit bits out, something that is no-no in the UK is normal practice here. Today i was trying to eat shrimp, I found it very difficult Lulu torn off the her in her teeth, spat it out, did the same with the tail then stripped the rest of the shell in her mouth and spat it out. I found it difficult and unusual, ended up eating mostly the salad and other bits.

There were many little stalls selling all sort of traditional Chinese goods, foods, and curiosities. I bought a rather natty Tea set with a spout shaped like a dragon. I also bought some nice Chinese paintings depicting Xitang in the four seasons. I also sampled smelly tofu, a rather foul smelling fried tofu, it actually tastes pretty nice especially with a little sauce on.

The poverty of Xitang is palpable, from the people working the stalls to the townspeople outside, it is very different from Shanghai. I was approached by a shoe cleaning women whilst we were sitting waiting for the bus, she cleaned my shoes for 5 Yuan then went off looking for more customers. I guess underemployment must pretty high here.

This evening we were both tired after the early morning, so we went back to the apartment and cooked up some of the leftover dumplings from the party. Along with an Elizabeth melon and some crisps.

It was early evening so although slightly tired Lulu took me out to Xintiandi. It is a modern shopping complex built inside a renovated Shikumen (stone houses) part of the old French concession. The place is full of trendy shops and restaurants and had about the most western faces I had seen so far on the trip. I think that maybe goes along with the western prices!

We grabbed a coffee, at one of the brand chain coffee houses. I had to go and order, first time ordering anything, it took ages but not because for me more due to the queue inside. I think Lulu thought I was messing about! We sat outside and had a rather deep and meaningful conversation about life which was rather enjoyable, however we were both tired. So Lulu went off home and I was so tired I went to the apartment and crashed out.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Oriental Pearl

Thanks to the fact it was so busy yesterday we decided to get up early and catch the Oriental Pearl as it opened and avoid the queue. We arrived at 8 and we able to just walk in and head up to the viewing platform. We had tickets to the second highest level, I decided the extra 50 Yuan for a few more meters didn't matter so much at there was a little cloud / smog in the air, plus the guide book said it really wasn't worht the extra money.

The view was really good despite the poor visibility. You could clearly see the Bund in a lot better detail than from the Jan Mao.
After a good look about we made our way back down. At the bottom of the tower the queue was already beginning to grow.

Next stop was people square, when the communist took power they took what was a racetrack and turned it into an area for the people. A sort of soviet style park with the museum in the middle. The museum has "unique architectural form of a round top with a square base, symbolizing the ancient Chinese philosophy that the square earth is under the round sky" - Shanghai Museum. It is actually pretty impressive and had some nice exhibitions of Chinese art in, I enjoyed the paintings, th caligraphy and the statues but the currency and seal
exhibits were a little dry. They also had an exhibition of American art, from the 20s, and 30s so a lot of pop art, realist paintings from the Guggenheim. These stylized art if mostly not to my tastes although the odd the piece stands out some I just thought were jokes, I deformed (poorly drawn) circle in a square canvas, is that really high art?

After the museum we headed down Nanjing market it was very very crowded though. We gave up before long in the face of massive crowds, and went for lunch. We went to a rather tasty diner I had a spicy beef dish it was lovely.

In the afternoon Lulu arranged for some of her friends to come to my apartment, and prepare a Chinese meal. I even helped with the preparations! We prepared dumplings, I think I got quiet good at making them in the end. We had a hot pot on the table into which went all manor of food, prawn balls, port, vegetables dumplings and vermicelli . The food was good but it was hard for me, they were all chattering away in Chinese I had no idea what was being said or what was happening, they seemed a nice enough bunch was just a clique not including me. I felt a bit bored after they left though. Lulu said they needed to get home as they lived far away, though I doubt it somewhat, they didn't want to go for a drink so as of 9pm I was alone. Chinese people seem very different, if i got invited to a party I would expect a few drinks and some fun not just food and home. Tempted as I was to go out I'm up very early to go on a village tour to Xitang, I saw some pictures and it looked very pretty.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How many people!

Today I woke up early, too early in fact. I think it must be down to the jet lag.

Lulu arrived and brought breakfast, her Grandmothers Yuanxiao dumplings. They were incredibly tasty sticky rice balls with a filling. We set out for the metro line on route to the Pearl TV tower. Unfortunately on arriving at the metro line we got the first taste of just how Crowded Shanghai can get. The trains were totally crowded. When I say full I mean so full you could not physically fit in another person. In fact we saw two people injured on the trains. One guy got his hand trapped in the opening door, and a girl passed out on the station. In the end the crushed were to bad so we got a taxi.

The taxi took us to the Bund on the wrong side of the river. So Lulu bought us combined tickets for the tourist tunnel, Jin Mao Building and the Oriental Pearl TV tower.

Across the river from the Bund is Pudong, this is the special economic zone which has helped to power Shanghais incredible growth over the last decade. In a total contrast to the Bund Puong is full of new buildings, mostly skyscrapers. The Oriental Pearl seems to be the centre piece to a showcase of huge imposing corporate monsters.

In order cross the river we used the Shanghai tourist tunnel, this is basically an underground car which goes under the river. To jazz it up they have added some weird special effects like you on some sort of weird acid trip.

The Oriental Pearl TV tower is the third tallest tower in the world and the tallest in Asia. It has multiple viewing platforms, you pay more the higher you want to go. We joined the queue, and waited, and waited and waited. After an hour we realised the line stretched all the way around the building and inside. We asked how long and were told at least another 30 minutes maybe an hour. This was too long we were hungry by now so we decided to go for lunch and see what the queue was like later.

We ate lunch in the shopping centre opposite the Perl. Its called Super Brand Mall, nice Chinglish name ;) Inside the mall you could almost be somewhere like the Trafford centre, apart from the odd more authentic restaurant and shop the brands and names are global.

After lunch we went to the Jin Mao building. It has an observations deck on the 88th floor, which includes a post office where you can send a postcard to the people back home. There was a little more more queuing, but nothing like at the Pearl. The view from 88th floor was great but due to the haze (I am not sure if the haze was weather or pollution) it was difficult to take a decent picture. The Jin Mao has a central atrium running all the way to the top its a vertigo inducing look down from the centre of the observation deck.

After the Jin Mao and some time spent gaming inside the shopping mall. We won a pair of chopsticks, which was quiet funny as Lulu was only laughing at me trying in vain to eat my lunch with them earlier. Then went back to the Pearl, but the queue was bigger than ever. They did however have a free outdoor show we watched. Traditional Chinese entertainers, I think they said they were from the circus world troupe, which I went to yesterday. The also had some fantastic Russian dancers from St Petersburg.

We left the to meet up with a friend of Lulu's. Taking took the tunnel back to the Bund and walked along the riverside. It's quite amazing view at night, everywhere lit up with neons the Bund buildings one side Pudong's great skyscrapers on the other side of the river. The only problem was there were so many people it was a like a river of people. Difficult to stop and take pictures you just got pulled along in this big mass. It was also very difficult toto find a taxi then its so busy, eventually we made it back Lulu's friend Twan Twan was even kind enough to shout us dinner.

I will post all the pictures when I get back. Pictures here


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Days to go zero, arrival!

Ive been ticking down for a month and yesterday am was the beginning of the epic trip. I arrived at Manchester Airport for 9 and from there hit Helsinki then Shanghai on time at 7am in the morning. I sit here typing this at 9pm Shanghai Time. I haven't slept since

The filght was somewhat long and uncomfortable. Airbus A380s suck compared to the Bowing 747s I have traveled on. The Finnair staff were helpful and Polite and the food only sucked as much as usual. Two things really sucked the lack of parental control over the two brats sat in the aisle next door, and the two old women in front talking loudly enough for people in China to hear them.

Without any sleep i arrived in Shanghai tired but willing myself to go on. Lulu met me in the arrivals lounge it was great to see her there. We then rode on the Maglev train into the city, it cost quiet a bit 50yuan for a 10 minute trip but it is petty funny seeing the speed race upto 300kph.

Had to catch the metro train from the Maglev station this was cheaper but packed. We arrived at the apartment just before 9. I was quiet impressed it needs a clean and is quiet compact but no more so than some of the ones in Manchetser. The finish on the fittings an design is a little poor now. I nice place to have a holiday but not to live in I think.

We went together to the Circus, I thought it would be a nice relaxing and simple thing to do and its right nearby to the apartment. They had lots a of trained animals, bears, tigers a lion, dogs and lots of clowns. It was very entertaining, though I felt a little sorry for the animals the tigers in particular looked drugged.

Sent the afternoon walking about with Lulu, we visited the Shanghai university where she used to study. Its a modern mega university purpose build in the 1990s. We walked round the amply sized grounds, ate a meal int he canteen and fed the huge fish that live in the river snaking through the campus.

By this time I was fading fast, my eays can hardly keep open but im desperately trying to go to bed a normal time and get into the Shangahi timezone. Next to the campus there is a large shopping area we walked round tried some miniature lobsters nd killed a bit of time before heading back to my apartment. I just wanted to write something to help clear my own head its been a real head mash all the traveling then the culture shock. It really is a different world, people were staring a little at me as I walked around with Lulu. On the metro and in the circus I hardly saw any westerners.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Viva Espania

All good things have to come to and end and this was our last day in Barcelona. It was only a short trip after all. We had been saving the best for last after though. After packing and checking out we headed off to waterfront for a final and very tasty tapas lunch sat out in the sun. It was lovely just sat there eating watching the waterfront and the people we took it leisurely and drank a local beer with the food.

Saving the best for last the next destination was Sagrda Familia. IMG_0158.JPG This place just truly blew my mind> firstly the sheer size is mind boggling then I started to appreciate just how ornate and intricate it is. I think if I didnt have an areoplain to catch I could have stared for hours as it was I managed a walk around a few photos and we had to leave for home. A walk metro then train and we were back at the airport and heading home.


Saturday in Spain

The weather took a slight turn for the worse (you can see in the washed out photos) the temperature dropped to 16c and there we some small showers at lunch.

Undeterred Phil and I headed off to Montijuic riding the metro to Placa d'Espanya. We then went on a very long walk indeed from there up the many steps of the Font Magica. IMG_0120.JPG
stopping at the top for the most expensive can of Pepsi ever 2.50 Euro! Then round the rounds to the Olympic plaza and stadium stopping to look at the massive communication tower.

Finally we headed up to the Castell de Montjuic which we walked all the long way round opps. The view from the top (when we finally found it) was spectacular, you could see the port on one side and the whole of the city on the other. Certainly worth the walk.

The cable car we intended to catch down wasn't running so we had to walk some more down to the Metro station. Feeling tired we went for a few hour Siesta then out for a Japanese meal then on for drinks at you guessed where Margarita blue ;)


Monday, December 04, 2006

More Barcelona Tales

Friday the weather was nice (by English Standard) sunny and about 19c. After getting up late with hazy head Phil and I explored the remaining part of the Ramblas and Gothic quarters. We grabbed a sandwich from a little shop neat the hotel, it seems rather than butter/spread they Catalan spread tomatoes on their bread. It is actually very pleasant especially with Iberian ham (a little like Parma ham).

Consulting the guide I read that the Picasso museum is the single biggest attraction in Barcelona so we decided to go and take a look. The museum occupies several old buildings knocked together to form an impressive space, its laid out in chronological style so you can see Picasso go through many styles from more traditional through to cubism. You get the feeling he just never stopped painting three is just so much work there and you can really see the different styles combinations and influences. The only negative is that there are none of his really famous works and the layout can be a bit confusing several times I wasn't sure which room was next. It is certainly worth looking around you see a lot of excellent artwork.

In the evening we went for probably one of the best Thai meals I have ever eaten at a little Thai place neat Estacio de Franca. After which we walked down to Port Olimpic to check out the nightlife. I don't know if it was the time 11pm or because it was off season but it was dead most of the bars empty and lots of aggressive sellers trying to push is in. We had a drink in the Irish Sailing club watched some boxing then headed back to Maghria Blue. It was heaving the barmen were working together in a production line to make enough Mohitos!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Leaving Minsk Behind

The days had flown by I woke up early a little hung over from last night, but the worst feeling was the trip being nearly over. I went down to breakfast many thoughts whirling around my head.

I met Maia early so I could grab some presents for the folks back home, I felt a little hung over from the night before and worried about leaving.

We went to the market and I bought some Matryoshka (Russian Dolls) for my parents Phil Bruce and everyone. We went for a final coffee in London (a nice little coffee bar) and walked back to the hotel I found it hard to speak there was so much I wanted to say but it all ended up unsaid. I checked out and we rode into a taxi she joined me till the edge of the city where her home is.

I hugged her goodby a tear in my eye, she got out and I watched her walk away as the taxi sped off. Another couple of hours I was flying out of Belarus back to warsaw a five hour wait for a plain to the UK. I ended up having to throw away the $6 Vodka I bought but managed to bring Ian some cheap fags (only $16).

On the plain home the first song that came on my i-pod was one of Paul's "Until Your Home" one lyric stood out to me "it aint a lonely life if you find somebody right" I couldn't help feeling maybe I had but I was leaving her behind.

I'll never forget my holiday to a country where people earn $100 a month, worry about going hungry not about what car they drive.
The cleanest country I have ever seen with its huge streets, imposing structures, military on the streets, strange laws with friendly people, but no English.


Minsk - Day Seven

Last full day in Belarus tomorrow I would be heading back home, I felt pretty sad to be soon leaving time had seemingly flown by since my arrival last Tuesday.
Maia had a lecture in the morning so I went to look around the Great Patritic war monument near to my hotel. I met her at noon and we decided to try and head to the village again as the weather was good, buying some break cheese and ham from the supermarket to have as a picnic we hoped in a taxi and 25 minutes later arrived at the village.

Only one small issue it was closed, Monday is the day when lots of things like the market and the village were closed, oh well third time unlucky. As we already had the food we got back into the taxi headed back to the city and into a different park for a picnic lunch. We even fed the ducks with the crumbs, there werent any Swans though.

Emotions were high and we chatted for hour Maia told me so much about herself and her life I felt so close to her in these moment I just wanted to reach out to her but then part of what she was telling me was the love for her boyfriend so I just sat listened and told some of my stories.

In the evening we went out to the same bar from the first night, I ate caviar for the first time, it was pretty tasty thought a little salty. Guila and Andre met us for a couple of drinks even though they were both feeling ill, very good of them. A Croation friend of Maia's also joined us for a drink.
In the taxi home I hekd her hand and wondered how I could leave this person to whom I had become so close to behind.


Dacha - Day 6

I slept pretty well must have been the vodka, though Maia did keep me awake a while constantly texting her Italian man.
Breakfast was a salami and cheese toasty, very tasty, Maia and I were up hours before Andre and Guila slept in a bit. Maia and I cleared up the Datcha and chatted a little. It was a day to move slow, enjoy the sun pack up and head out for the bus.

We managed to catch an auto taxi on the way back it was actually slightly cheaper though it dropped us off on the outskirts of town. Maia and I said goodbye to Andre and Guila and walked off in search of the city proper.

Walking for miles past though city kind of lost but having a snese of purpose we finally came to a place Maia recognised (it had a McDonalds of all things!). We then headed to the library passing the Childrens railway station on the way; a mini railway run by children. Finally we reached the library again I was itching to take some photos, last time my camera had run out of juice.

Maia was dead tired so I grabbed a taxi and went back to the hotel, going to the Datcha and meeting her friends had been a real treat. The Datcha was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to out in the country surrounded by forest and fields. This was definatly a high point of the trip.

I used this evening to finally finish war and peace! Hurrah I dont think I have ever had to work so hard to finish a book, the characters are so well done but some of the descriptions and Tolstoys historical pespectives can be so dry and difficult bits were a real challenge.


Dacha - Day 5

Today was the earliest meeting for myself and Maia, though she had a problem and was a little late we had to grab a taxi to get to the bus station on time.
The bus station was my first opportunity to meet Maia's friend Gulia's and her boyfriend Andre. We then had a very crowded bus journey out into the wild of Belarus during which I gave up my seat to an old chap and then was shouted at in Russian by some old women. Guila and Maia were laughing becuase they shouted in Russian but I knew that they wanted me to go take a seat.
The auto bus took about 45 minutes to get to our stop we then had a three kilometer walk to the Dacha itself.

On arrival Maia went into cleaning mode whilst I attempted to help Andre chop some wood,. I am afriad I wasnt a very good lumberman. Luckly Andre was excellent splitting the logs seemingly effortlessly.

Maia and her family have tended to leave all there old clothes at the Dacha. So she had me try on some of her dads old clothes including his tank ommander coat.

Lunch consisted of Maia tasty home made Ravioli and vegitables. It was really nice and afterwards we sat out chatting in the garden for a while, cut a bit more wood, then I helped Maia do dinner by pealing loads of potatoes.

Andre cooked the meat on the bbq whilst Maia made the potatoes and salad, I got to light the Camin (fire) and stop the cabin burning down as it spat out sparks!
Dinner was lovely hot pork nice potatoes and even some home grown tomatoes. After dinner Andre adn Guila entertained us by singing songs (unfortunatly all in Russian or French but they sounded good he played very well).

Whilst he played we drank first beer then vodka, apparently the way to drink vodka is to have a small glass of vodka neat and a glass of juice (or beer if your hardcore). Drink the vodka in one then sip the juice (and pour another vodka).


Minsk - Day Four

Friday already the week was flying by, after a good night sleep I was feeling better but still not back to full health (In truth now back in the UK I still cant shake this nasty virus). The plan today was to try and visit the traditional village we were origonally meant to goto yesterday. However I was Running short of cash and needed to change some travellers cheuqes. Our first mistake was to jump onto the first passing auto taxi (kind of like a private bus) which dropped us off on futher out of the city.

There was only one back here a large Belarus Bank, which turned out to be well a little bit of a problem. First thing this largest bank was busy and operated a rather confusing ticket system thought this wasnt in any way clear even to Maia. WHen we finally got our number called the cashere seemed very confused she had never seen either travellers cheques or a european style passport, It took over an hour to explain, wait and finally recieve my cash (minus 1% unlike Minsk Transit Bank which took nothing). All told finding a bank and waiting for the cash took so long we decied to leave the village trip as Maias friend Anton a DJ on radio BA wanted me to record some English jingles for him.

Radio BA is located above a club Anton gave me a guided tour of the place he seemed like a really fun guy I could see why Maia likes him so much. noticed he was running Mac OSX on a beige box pc ;) After the tour I got ushered into a little sound booth and had to read off a list of phrases for the show punctuated by Anton asking for more emotion or extra emphasis on words. I still hd a cold so I am not sure whether they eventual sounds will be good enough to use but it was fun anyway. It was a pretty strange feeling to stand in a room reading into a microphone.

Maia had booked tickets to see a film (in English fortunatly). At first I thought it was a pretty ordinatry thing to do however Russian cinemas are a bit different, firstly it was the cleanest cinema I have ever been into but some considrerable margin. Secondly there were no popcorn not drinks vending just a screen and a chair.
The film itself Tideland was about Jeliza-Rose the daughter of a drug addicted father who moves to the country after an overdose leads death of her mother. It was incredibly dark but told through her childlike observations to take some of the egde off. Maia squirmed her way through several sections of the film.

After the film we grabbed some dinner and then did some late night shopping for our weekend at the Dacha. Shopping was a real eye opener the supermarker was very different to a English one. You had to pay for meat at the meat counter they wouldnt slice anything for us. We bought vodka, beer, tomatoes, meat, bread and some other bits and pieces.

Another early night in preperation for the Dacha tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Minsk - Day Three

The origonal plan for Thursday had been to set off to see a traditional Belarusian village, kind of like an open air musium to traditional peasent life. Unfortunatly I was still feeling out of sorts and the weather didnt look too promising. So we decided to stay inside the city and explor some more.

First place we visited was a Russian market there was a lot of artwork icons and dolls. Next stop was the musium of the great patriotic war (WWW II to you and me). The musium like a lot of places in Belarus there is a different price for residents than for tourists.

The first thing to notice is that the Russians date the war from 41-45 not 39-45 as we westerners do because Hitler and Stalin signed a non agression pact which Hitler promptly broke in 1941.
Belarus had it pretty hard the Nazis did not like Communists and totally flattered Minsk and attempted to exterminate as many of its people as possible (probably about 1million people). Their hatred was directed mainly at the non airian population they wanted to save the nordic looking to help futher the master race. All in all it walking about I saw the Russians have a very different war then the one fought in the west.

After the musium went for a bite to eat then off for a look round the Botanical gardens, I was a bit heistant but actully enjoyed strolling around with Maia. We sat for a long time next to the lake there watching the Swans and chatting about things.

On the way out we went the wrong way and found ourselves in the amusement park next door. I found out that Pancakes with filings are a common (and tasty) Belarusian meal. Maia insited on feeding me more medication including rather disgusting cough syrup. Watching the Russian school children file through the park I could have been anywhere in the wetern world on the terrible russian techno pumping from one of the cafes reminded me I was in Belarus.

We made a quiet trip to the bus station to buy the tickets for the Dacha trip and I got a chance to see the Belarus staggering national library. Its simply increadible, ugly and imposing over the ladnscape it boggles the mind as to why! Dispite being a university professor and having had to make a donation towards it Maia had never been inside. Seems like a giant waste of money to me.

Thanks to the fact I was still feeling ill and wanted to get well in time for the weekend trip to Maia Dacha after grabbing a coffee I headed back to the hotel for an early night.


Minsk Photos

Minsk - Day Two

I woke up feeling terrible, not just from the drinking last night that was just the tip of the iceberg. The cold and sore throat I had felt on yesterday was now much worse, I was running a temperature my throat felt sore. I was generally feeling sorry for myself. Maia was working in the moring and though I had intended to sleep in I couldn't stay in my room. I needed to get out and see something so I walked round the old town and the river to kill time whilst Maia was lecturing; She is a lecturer of Italian at the univeristy.

Fortunatly when she arrived Maia came to my resque again she pumped me full of Russian medication (available over the counter nothing dodgy!). We spent the afternoon mooching about Minsk various parks and looking at some of the buildings there. It was really a day of exploration Minsk is phonominally different to any city I have been to before. Totally demolished after WWII the Soviets rebuilt it making the roads three times as wide, huge pavements and massive parks so big that whilst in the city allow you to feel like your in the country, yet are still stood right in the centre. I forget the names but we saw quiet a few.

One of the parks was a park dedicated to Kids in which Maia couldn't smoke but one great thing we could do was go on some rides. Now I felt pretty ill and these were Belarussian rides they didnt look particuarly well maintained but what the hell nothing ventured so we went on a couple. Maia screemed on the teacups, but that was nothing compared to one Belarussian girl who was so afraid she clung to a nearby tree rather than get on a spinning ride! Her friend and the attendant laughed loudly at her but she didnt budge until the ride was over.

After an afternoon of wondering we went to the Circus which was really good fun. I have never been to a circus before this one wasnt the standard Minsk one but a travelling Russian show from Moscow. They had clowns, dancers, trapez artists bears, and even trained dogs. It was really good fun I am glad Maia took me, I even managed to get a photo of myself with a bear. Ill scan it in when it arrives Maia txted me this morning to say she had recieved and forwarded it on. To be honest the treatment of the bears was not very good certainly the dogs got treated a lot better I felt very sorry for them though I enjoyed seeing them.

Note to the anonymous poster

Many thanks for the comment I am really pleased you enjoyed reading my blog.


Minsk - Day one

Waking up has never come easy for me, so having to wake up at 4am to catch a 6am flight was hard, very hard.

To be honest I was totally afraid. I wasn't sure what to expect, I guy from the travel company was ment to meet me at Minsk 2 airport other than that I was on my own. The journey to Warsaw passed in a sleepy trance and after an hours wait I was on my way to Belarus. It was only a hours flight which passed pretty quick though I did get a little worried that the pilot annonced we were about to land and all I could see were trees no airport or civilisaion at all. Minsk 2 aiport was the pits, it was really hard to understand where to go as there were no signs and you arrive into the departure lounge and have to march down a different set of stairs, if you got the wrong way scary looking Russian people shout at you. I know becoause I was one of the first (there were not many of us) off the plain and not knowing where to go went wrong.

Passport control was harsh it seemed to take forever I dont know what the women was doing but it seemed important she took many long hard looks at me asked somenthing in Russian seemed very upset I didn't understand and answered in English. After about 10 minutes I was let thought only to have to go through a security point to leave the airport! Then one of the best moments of the trip after all the worry over whether she would turn up my friend Maia was waiting for me in the arrivals lounge. along with Alex from the travel company.

Alex drove the 40km to Minsk dropped us off at the hotel. Maia and I then went walking about the city. She showed me the old town and Afgahanistan memorial. Its a memorial to the mothers of soldiers lost in the Afgahnistan war, its a favorite stop for newly weds to put down some flowers and to touch one of the statues, we even saw one newly married couple heading there. I was like a kid wowed by all the different sights around me. Riding along an almost empty motorway passing forest and villages totally unlike anything I have seen before.

In the evening we went out to a bar I got rather drunk on Russian beer and listened to a rather strnage cover band, there were good musicians but had a tendancy to play a really uptempo song followed by a real downer! Strange Strange Strange!


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Statue Park

Another cold day here in Budapest, we awoke to a new snowfall outside. I still saw someone swimming in the pool outside though, I thought about giving it a go then decided against (its a long walk from the pool back to the room and I didn't have a robe.

Today we visited statue park. After the fall of communism in Hungary all of the the Marxist statues were removed and taken away to a park in the middle of nowhere. It was quiet impressive walking round the imposing snow covered images of Lenin, Stalin and other communist “workers paradise images”. I guess its an ultimate irony that fat capitalists like myself now pay to visit the imagery of communism, Karl Marx would be turning in his grave.

I tried to give Philip and Bruce a grounding in the history of communism but I don't think they found it very interesting or particularly understood the reasons. They were impressed by the statues though.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Arrival in Budapest

After an early morning start in Zurich we finally managed to get to Budapest, unfortunatly even though the flight was on time we were left standing around for an hour watchin the baggage carolsel the screens said only to find that the baggage thowers had put our luggage on the wrong one.
It took 40 minutes in a taxi to get to the hotel, but it gave us a first glimpse of some of the sights of Budapest. After checking in and getting changed we took the bus into Buda arriving at Moscow Square was a little disorentating, but we were soon walking towards the old town and looking at the castle (though we did make a quick stop so I could buy a skarf to keep out the bitter cold). 
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The old town
was beautiful to walk around the building and statues were very picturesque though a lot of the meseums were closed because we were out of season.


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Fraser Island (1st Day)

Got on the bus it was nearly empty. It was sold to us as a cheap party tour to Fraser Island and all the people getting on were families and couples. One Kid look like bobby out of king of the hill. We got coffee and started to talk to Bart (a Dutch guy that sounded Irish), Paula and Josie (Two cute Swiss girls). In actual fact Phil went straight over to the women like flies round a turd. After a 45 minute boat ride we arrived caffeinated and ready to go.

First stop was Basin Lake a perfectly clear inland lake. Phil, Bart and John all went in for a dip. The sun was shining and the water was so clear, not only that but ranger Dave informed us that as the water was 5.5Ph it actually cleaned us while we swam! I think that was a first for Phil in a few days anyway.

After the swim there was a 2km walk to central station and launch. Central station was so called because in the days when logging was allowed a steam train was used to move the timber.

After lunch another short walk took us through Pile Valley. Phil was still trying his luck with Josie; demonstrating to her how to operate a digital camera. After the valley Dave took us to Lake Mackensie another inland lake but much much bigger, than basin lake. Most people got in, even Josie after Bart gave her a helping hand dumping her into the water. It would have been the perfect scene except the weather had slightly worsened clouding over and dampening our fun. After the swim phil pulled out his $2 cards and we all started to bond over a game of shithead. (Teaching most of the crowd at the time). I do think this made the trip a lot better because we played it most nights before and after dinner.

A note to travellers to Lake Mackensie check out the aptly named second beach its quiet and the entrance to the lake is shallower so the water gets heated up more.
Dave took us back to the lodge complex most of the group ened up together in lodge 8. The rooms were nice though a few more toilets and showers might have been useful. A few more games of shithead killed time before dinner (and whilst waiting for the showers). More people were now joining in and learning the game.

Dinner was outstanding, the food was both plentiful and tasty especially the pizzas. The girls tried hard not to dig in but surrounded by such good food they soon tucked in. Entertainment was in the form of a quiz. Phil got the drinks flowing buying two jugs so we were all getting merry. Needless to say we didn't do too well at the quiz but we sank plenty of shots (a few cocksucking cowboys I think and we all liked them). We were up early the next day so we went back to the lodge for more shithead before retiring to bed.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Jet Lag Sun and Diving

I spent a week doing jack around Surfer Paradise. Phil's housemates would wake me up about 6 in the morning as they went out to work. I then spent the mornings on the internet trying to get used to the jet lag. The afternoons I spent wondering around Surfer what a barren wasteland nothing but endless seas of hotels and shops, you could be anywhere same. After a week of doing nothing (except fixing Steve's PC) I was really bored. Was this Australia? Get me back to the UK please. Fortunately Phil took the wise decision to leave work one week early. We took a day trip to one of the most beautiful places in Australia, Byron Bay. You can see from the photos what sort of place it is.

After Byron and nights spent drinking with Phil, and Sam (Phil's New Zealander flat mate). We went to watch the Lewis fight, it was pretty weird the Aussies didn't want him to win, I enjoyed it even though it didn't go the distance. Walking to the pub we had passed a surf company, and having nothing better to do we decided to go surfing. You can check out the photos here. It was very fun and I would recommend the it. Pity about our knees though my tip don't get off in water too shallow. Sam was already a surfer so he took all the pictures, thanks mate!

Phil took me for my first dive on Monday. It was Phil's last day working at the dive shop. I didn't enjoy it that much because it felt very alien and clumsy in the gear. There was
also a group of Asian people that kept on bumping into me.

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Saturday, July 19, 2003

About Phils house mates

Steve he is a real Queenslander after a few days I had enough, here some examples, I fixed a pc for him and he woke me up at 6 in the morning to chat about it git! In fairness to the guy he did give Phil his money which helped put gas in the car.

Sam cool guy. Just did not need Phil around because he could not save money.

Sam (Another Sam) and Amy were also New Zealanders they are nice people although Amy did wake me up every morning at 4am and Sam again at 6am