Therefore I will probably not be posting til I get in Hong Kong in early April
I hope you are all good x
(or there abouts)
Therefore I will probably not be posting til I get in Hong Kong in early April
I hope you are all good x
16.03.2011 - 19.03.2011 12 °C
So we made it to Beijing. We have also found a rather wonderful veggie restaurant just down the road from our hostel. I am so happy. Its got like 70 choices and features the Chinese equivalent of Quorn. Also they do dessert and smoothies.
Laura and I departed Athens the day before the general strike took place. In the past these strikes have grounded all flights out of Athens airport. The trip from Athens to Beijing went via Moscow. Moscow is not a happy place. Unlike Beijing it does not cater for vegetarians. But so what if my only choice of food there was “cheese” pizza (this is actually how it was described on the menu). So what if Chess nearly didn't make it onto the aeroplane from Russia to China? She did make it and it was the same flight as Laura and I were on. . So what if her bag wasn't quite as lucky? We got it the next day. (Note for you all: if you do not want to cause your friends undo amounts of stress do not book a flight on a Russian aeroplane through LateMinute.com. Said plane will not exist. You will have to leg it through 2 terminals of Moscow airport to make it to the last flight to China that day. Your bag will not get put on the plane because 40 minutes is not enough time to achieve this. You have been warned).
We are however, all here, all in one piece and now we all gave luggage. We also had tea today. You may think you know how to make tea. You are wrong. Tea involves many, many different steps and use of jugs, strainers, bowls and kettles, wooden saucers, cups and prongs. It is not a simple process. We know this now. It was good tea though. We also went around the shops and the market. We found the equivalent of Starbucks or Costa Coffee. It is called the Happy Lemon. Its a wonderful place. It has the best coffee since Italy.
We join our tour group on Monday and will be going to the Wall and the temples with them. Tomorrow we may pop down to the other shopping centre in Beijing and perhaps the Bird's Nest stadium. Who knows?
Oh and the hostel we are staying in has the cutest dog ever. He is called QQ and is totally rabies free. I have learnt to say “Hello” and what is either “ok” or “thank you” in Mandarin. I am going to have to clarify that with the tour guide.
I have posted up some more pictures from Pompei, Napels and Athens for you all. More from China will follow.
Oh and Facebook does not exist in China (there are no servers we think as it never loads). Does anyone know if Jessica has had Ethan yet?
Bye for now x
03.03.2011 - 15.03.2011 15 °C
Sorry about the delay in my posting of stuff. In my defence I have uploaded lots of pictures for you all?
Anyway. Venice Carnival was fun. We were there on a bit of a dead night but we still got to see lots of people in the full dress up. Masks, cloaks and full 18th Century Vientiane Carnival costumes. Venice itself, while in possession of its own charm, in a water-damaged kind of way, was not that impressive. Not in comparison to some of the places we have been. Even the famed Rialto Bridge was not as impressive as one might expect. Especially with the graffiti. Regardless, it was one of the places I have always wanted to visit. After Venice (we were only there for 1 night as it is a very expensive place) we headed south to Florence.
In Florence there are lots and lots of Americans. I think they may have out numbered the Italians in some places. Unlike Venice, Florence was impressive. The view from Michaelangelo plazza was indescribable. We also found this really, and I hate to use the word, quaint, cafe with excellent coffee. Who knew that I do in fact like coffee? All it took to work this out is a cup of good coffee. Laura says I will never find such coffee again. I hope she is lying. During our stay in Florence the hostel we were in had a sangria night. Aforementioned Americans could not hold their liqueur. Laura and I retired at 1.30, 2(?) to our beds. We had to leave early the next morning and so were sensible drinkers. I fear (judging from the state of the hostel at 7am) not many others followed our rather mature example.
Next came Rome. We had 3 days. We were going to take it easy. We failed. On the first day we were there we arrived in late afternoon (our hostel was on the outskirts; roughly 30 mins on the metro) found a supermarket, cooked, ate and chatted to the people in our dorm. The next day we sent over 9 hours walking around Rome. This massive wander-fest took us through the major landmarks (the Colosseum, the forum, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps and so on and so forth). It also took us into the middle of the Rome Carnival (what is it with us and Italian Carnivals?!). It culminated in our arrival in a park, overlooking Rome as the sun set. It was stunning. The pictures, even with my camera do not do it justice. On our final day in Rome we paid 15 euros to get into the Vatican Museum so we could see the Sistine Chapel. It is tiny and very, very, very busy. Not just with people. Every wall and bit of ceiling is covered in colour. Laura thought it was very gaudy. I'm inclined to agree with her. What really got to me though, is that the famous aspect of the chapel's ceiling, you know the bit where God is reaching out for Adam and their fingers are nearly touching? That bit is on a bit of the ceiling that is roughly a 20cm square! I was expecting something different which may explain my disappointment. But still 15 euros?! We tried looking at other exhibits but there were no plagues or explanations anywhere to say what it was we were looking at. Not even in Italian. It also occurred to me today that by paying this fee, I have helped to fund the Catholic Church. While I mean no offence to any Catholics I know (or don't know), this revelation rather bummed me out as I really, really disagree with some of the dogma doled out by the Popes.
After Rome, we travelled to Naples. Naples is busy. Naples in loud. Naples is fully of Italian drivers. Italian drivers are insane. Their insanity is matched only by Italian pedestrians and surpassed only by Italian moped users. All of which love to use their horns. Without discrimination, rhyme or reason. Rush hour was a sight to behold. Pompei was cool though.
From Naples we started out 35.5 hour trek to Greece. We got a train. Then another one. Then a bus. Then a ferry. Then another bus. But hey! we got from Italy to Greece for 7 euros per person. I was really not looking forward to the ferry. I dislike boats with a passion as I usually get a bit sea-sick. This time I refused to let nature win. I resorted to pharmaceuticals. These made me a bit spaced out for like an hour after I took them, however, there was no sea sickness. I call that a win. The ferry did not leave Bari (the port) until 8pm. Around 7 (we had to board at 5, don't ask me why, we just did) I got bored and went out on deck for some air. I am so glad I did. Sun set over Rome might have been stunning but sun set over Bari and the Mediterranean sea is something else. Looking straight up, I could see a prefect crescent moon in a dark sky. Looking out towards the western horizon the sky stared to lighten. First into a light blue then into what I can only describe as a horizontal rainbow stretching out above the lights of the town. Then I got the see sunrise over the shores of Greece. I have forgiven boats. Laura however, now has an animosity towards them as she did not sleep for more than 1.5 hours on the 18 hour overnight ferry. Bless. I however, slept like a baby. Did I mention my travel sickness pills make me drowsy? Another win.
So now I am in a garden in Athens contemplating the fact that tomorrow I am, for only the 2nd time in my life, leaving the European Union.
China here we come. Well Moscow first for the 4 hour layover. Then China. I must charge my Ipod.
See you all soon x
p.s. its like 15 degrees here and little old greek ladies in their massive winter coats and scarves actually look me up and down once (i'm in a t-shirt and cut off 3/4 trousers) twice, three times and then proclaim/question "English?".
p.p.s Oregano crisps are simply yum.
We have managed to stumble into Venice during Carnival. Go us and our pure dumb luck.
Sorry about the delay
I am in Vienna at the moment. We just arrived at 4pm this afternoon (3pm UK time) so I haven't got too much to say about it right now but I am sure I will form an opinion tomorrow. I do however, not like this hostel. It is crowded and, while not unclean or unsafe or in a bad neighbourhood or anything, just has an air of 'scummy' about it. Oh well. It is only 1 night.
Warsaw was interesting and I got talking to a local Polish student studying at the university down the road from the hostel. However, our enthusiasm was damped somewhat but the horrible cold (-25!). We did however, brave it and get out and about. We even made it to a local restaurant once the cold night really settled in and tried some local food and drink - Polish dumplings and a hot fruity local drink. The dumplings were described on the menu as "light". They really weren't. They were however, very good.
It got much warmer as we left Warsaw and headed to Krakow. We did prefer the old capital of Poland to the new (apparently one of their kings just decided Warsaw would make a better capital one day). Krakow has some very interesting buildings, wonderful parks which looked very 'winter wonderland' in the snow, and something called the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, which has a beacon lit and is guarded at all times in tribute to all the Polish soldiers who have given their lives fighting for their country. Krakow had a more old-worldy feel to it then Warsaw and was much more of an inviting and vibrant city compared to the capital. Plus, they had a statue of a dragon and it actually breaths real fire over your head. Of course we also ended up in a hostel dorm with a girl from Doncaster and really what are the odds? She and Laura were very northern together.
Krakow is also near Auschwitz-Birkenau and we went off to see the camps for ourselves. It was a very intense experience and the sheer scale and industry of it just never really computed before. Even being seen it cannot really be believed. The guide who showed us around was extremely knowledgeable and, let me tell you, the films and the books do not really ever reveal the true level of horror of that place and the appalling conditions the people endured. There is a monument there that reads "For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews, from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945".
It was a very sobering day to say the least.
After we had decided to move on we discovered that Krakow to Prague in the Czech Republic was a nice 8+ hour train journey. It was alright though as we planned to catch up on some sleep. How wrong we were. Standing at the platform at Katowice waiting for our train (the route was Krakow-Katowice-Prague) I decided to ask a local to double check we were at the right platform. I asked the only American tourist in the crowd. He was however, going to Prague himself and so asked if he could sit with us on the train, as he was travelling by himself. Usually he spent long train trips in silence as no-one spoke English. We agreed. It would have been rude not to and he was a nice enough man: a bit boring we thought, but nice enough. His name was Ken and he was from Michigan. He was on a 4 month break from his job as a civil engineer because of a lack of work (recession is fun worldwide). Upon boring the train we quickly (and you need to be quick on Polish trains, believe me) located a carriage with a single gentleman in and summarily invaded. We never, found out that man's name but he was perhaps the single coolest man I have ever met. At 50 years old and having spent his working life (we'll get to that in a bit) in the mid 70-s in Eastern Europe (i.e. communist country) he had his own Stasi police file. Apparently they felt he was a threat to the regime. This is because he was, among other things, a founding member of the Netherlands chapter of Greenpeace. The guy has actually been on the original Rainbow Warrior (he just wandered on to see what was happening!). He currently works as a energy consultant in the Eastern European area but also works with members of governments in the Scottish and English Parliaments in a bid to tackle the issues around nuclear waste and nuclear power stations. He was funny and interesting and knew many facts and amusing stories from across the EU (not least of all was the story which found him placing soil samples from the so called 'safe zone' surrounding the edge of the Chernobyl disaster into the office of the government agency that was trying to get people to repopulate and settle in the area. They did not appreciate the gift as said soil samples were highly radioactive and hazardous to the health of human beings....
This guy also spoke Czech (one of his 8 languages) so when the train broke down a few stops from Prague he helped us get to where we needed to be. In comparison he made Ken, our American platform friend, even duller. Until Ken told us about his travels that is.
That man was insane. Who bribes their way in to the war torn cities in Africa?! Apparently boring Americans call Ken do. They also promptly get arrested and only get out due to a daring 1 story jump and a quick dash to the American Embassy by a UK citizen who had decided to join in the road tripping fun. If that wasn't bad enough, Ken decided to take a quick detour into the Congo, that was after he had gotten out of the original African prison he had been in. By all accounts rebels don't have prisons but they do have guns and it is apparently more difficult getting out of the Congo than it is getting in! I should point out this was about 15 years ago too. So yes, Ken was American, but no, he was not boring. 8 hours later we got to Prague. We didn't sleep on the train but who needs sleep?
Prague is an amazing city. There just aren't words. The local food is brilliant (the Czech man on the train was also a veggie and pointed out some dishes I should try) and I even liked the beer! The girls in our dorm were funny and easy to chat to (a Brazilian Pilates teacher living in Portugal, an Indonesian girl living in Holland with her friend from Spain) and the whole city is lively and astonishingly beautiful. The Charles Bridge was breath-taking and the Cathedral astonishing. The castle is enormousness and we saw the noon changing of the guards at the castle - complete with brass band playing from the 1st floor windows. Prague is famous for its glass work and the stuff they had to sell in the local shops was exquisite. I will most defiantly be coming back!
Tomorrow we are going to explore Vienna and then board a sleeper train to Venice. I am actually quite looking forward to the trip as I really like sleeper trains.
Bye for now x