Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Gods must be crazy...

After arriving in the Serengeti and being faced with leopards running up trees to avoid the lionesses camping under them, it was with some trepidation that I set up a tent where the guides pointed to the middle of the Savannah with flattened grass so that the big cats couldn't stalk you from the bushes.

It was even more disconcerting when we were told to set up tents ‘elephant stamping’ distance apart, please remove all food from your tent as lions and hyenas would be attracted to it, and if you needed to use the bathroom during the night – do NOT go far from your tent – or just unzip the flap and ‘hang it out’ – personally I’d prefer to be mauled than having a hungry carnivore make a meal out of my prized asset…and yes… it’s substantial enough for a meal thank you!

And to top it all off, when inquiring about how one could be safe from these many creatures whose primary goal was food, my guard produced a bow and arrow. Apparently to own a rifle is too much hassle, cost and paper work, so a sharpened stick is the preferred method. Good logic when applied to a suburban-American Middle School. Bad logic for dissuading a 200 kilo gallivanting big cat.

After setting up the tent and taking the time to survey my surroundings, it’s was amazing being in the middle of this vast, stretching plain with nothing but silence all around....until the most mightiest of thunder storms ripped across the Savannah.

And when it rains, good God how it rains. However, after a couple of weeks of dry, hot winds, the rain was welcome. And after travelling through towns, across bumpy roads and walking along dustier ones, the rain was welcome – as was the electrical storm lightening up the sky. In fact, with nothing to interrupt your vision for, literally, as far as the eye could see, flashes in the sky hundred of miles away could be seen giving the sky a blinking quality like a fluorescent light when it’s first being turned on.

And after several hundred kms so far, I finally had a hot shower. Why bother relying on modern plumbing when some ingenious man simply rigs up a wood fire under a steel drum which collects rain water and bang – you have hot water! So after a night safari in which I saw nothing but a chameleon – quite ironic – it was off to bed in my elephant stamp ready tent, thoroughly warmed and peed out.

No hyena was getting dinner tonight.

Rising early - literally - I was off for a hot air balloon to see the sun rise over the Serengeti. There’s something quite ironic about being told about all the predators you will see roaming the savannah and their dawn hunting habits whilst standing in waist high grass in the middle of the night, but it’s all taken in one’s stride. By the time we got in to the balloon and took off, I was relived. Especially as the lionesses 300 metres away from where we were standing came in to view. I was more concentrating on staying warm and when I could eat breakfast to bother. Ironically they probably were too.

Once airborne the savannah stretched on for miles and miles, with nothing but sky and brown grass as far as your eyes could see.

Floating over ever expanding landscape the sites were, well, a site to see. Baboons challenging each other for territory – sprinting across small creeks and attacking each other before retreating to their islands; lions strolling across dirt tracks, Hippos lazing in the morning sun and the sky and ground stretching out for thousands of miles. In what felt like 10 seconds we were descending back to earth. Here I was expecting some campfire cooked toast with preserves; however, when we arrived it was the full silver service, English breakfast, champagne and a stunning view – in the middle of the Serengeti…albeit I did see some rangers guarding the tables a few hundred metres away with high powered rifles.
I must say that smelling the bacon and sausages wafting across from the bush kitchen only 15 minutes after we saw a pride of lions wandering along the road was a little disconcerting.

Polishing of the English breakfast quite rapidly, I was off down a bumpy road to the visitors' centre to meet the bus to take me to Arusha via a genuine Masai mara village. Stopping off on the outskirts of the tundra, my skepticism was slightly aroused when I noticed that one of the Massai was wearing quite an expensive watch, which he quickly covered with a few bands. Not letting that deter me, I was quite happy to induldge in the jumping, attempt to rustle up some cattle, sit in a mud hit and genuinly be a tourist...
I'm better

I also learned that football is famialir to everyone........

and so is a sh1t haircut!

But it was time to head to Arusha, one of Tanzania’s largest cities and, as Qatar airlines had told me, where my bag would meet me. Finally I'd have some clothes, camping gear and the essentials I needed to be able to actually have a proper trip.

Calling Qatar Airline to double check I got the A-OK: 'Yep, it's definitely in Arusha. We have picked it up off the conveyor belt and have it at the offices'. Grand.

Arriving in Arusha and spending three hours looking for said bag, it was clearly not in Arusha.

Speaking to the Qatar airlines representatives, what was more clear was that they now did not actually know what had happened to it. Honestly, this mob can’t even figure out how to deliver a bag and FIFA is expecting them to deliver a World Cup??

Luckily my sleeping bag wouldn't fit in my backpack at check in back in Melbourne so I had something to keep me warm as we camped on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater, with temperatures dropping in to the low single digits. After putting on all the clothes I had - which was not many - it was also lucky that I had a bottle of whiskey to sip away on whilst I warmed up by a campfire. with the cold weather and having to walk through about a dozen zebras to get to the water source, I declined a shower.

During the night I woke to what felt like a door being slammed in a small room. Something had made me wake up, but I wasn't sure what. Staying quiet in my tent I felt an almost soft vibration from the ground and a thud. Slowly unzipping the tent it was with some amazement that a few metres away was a massive elephant strolling up the hill metres from me. For such a large animal it easily navigated its way through the camping ground between tent – which had been laid out ‘elephant stamp proof’. Anyway, looking back on it I wished I had taken that shower, as our good old friend made his way to the water tank which was collecting the rain and drained it for his thirst.

Next morning it was up early to head down in to the crater in some four wheel drives. The Ngorongoro Crater is the world's largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. Driving through the crater you can see for miles, basically until the sides start stretching up again. And with that huge area and all types of animals going on their merry way. The first thing we saw as we headed down were a pack of hyenas ripping apart a zebra carcass while several vultures looked on. Little by little the vultures were plucking up the courage to get close enough to take a peck, but being snapped at for their efforts.

But we wanted to see a kill. So after driving around for several hours seeing lions, elephants, water buffalo and hippos we pulled up at the side of the track where a there were three herds. One of zebra, one of buffalo and a third of wilderbeast. It was a smorgasbord. We waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, the herds starting getting a little restless. A zebra had wandered off and was munching away on the grass happily, but something was amiss - two large wilderbeast were looking at something the knee high srubbery between them. Attaching my zoom I quickly saw what they had noticed, but the zebra was unaware: a lioness with her eyes on the zebra. After an agonising lengthy wait she pounced, and everything happened quickly.
Luckily for the zebra she timed her run a little too early, and kicking up dust it missed her claws by inches. All at once all the herds started running before, like a flock of birds, swinging back in a big arch to turn and face the lioness. Looking at some several hundred animals staring at her – some with horns – she backed down and wandered off. Better luck next time.

On the way back to the camp site Qatar Airlines called me.

‘Mr Nash, this is (the Bag Fairy) in Kigali. I’m pleased to tell you that we have located your bag and I have given it to the person who you sent to claim it here.’


‘The man you sent to claim it. I have given him your bag’?

‘WTF – I never sent anyone to claim it. And how could they without my claim tag?’

‘You do not have your bag? But I gave it to the man you sent.’

‘I didn’t send anyone! Where is my bag?’

With that he hung up. And try as I did, they refused to take my phone calls. On two occasions I got through and was promptly hung up on when he heard it was me.

But in the morning it was off to Zanzibar to swim in the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean and lay on the beach getting a tan.

Lucny, because I still didn’t have any f*** clothes!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hakuna matata

Rising early, packing up the tent I pitched in the hostel garden and washing under a freezing tap, it was time to leave Rwanda under a sun rise. Today it was off to the Serengeti and it was going to be a long journey. Aside from the gorillas and a few seedy looking engineers at the bar in downtown Kigali, I had seen much wildlife, so here was shopping that one of Africa’s largest tundras would provide.

But first, it was time to make sure that the lions, hyenas and any single lady foolish enough to stroll in to my path wouldn't smell me from a mile away – I need to buy some luggage. Recruiting the services of Amy, a jovial Aussie girl I’d met – it was time to find a place to buy some clobber. We had found out there was a western style shopping centre in the hills, that also contained a big coffee shop. We were both keen. She for the shopping, me for the motorbike taxis you jump on to as they weave in and out of traffic at breakneck speed.

After a frenetic shopping trip which covered malaria pills, toiletries, underwear and some fetching shorts, I looked towards Tanzania and the endless dirt road ahead of me.

Several hours in to my journey we pulled over for a pit stop. It was here I discovered an amazing food. Whenever I go travelling I tend to bring back a native dish. Sometime it’s standard – Vietnamese pho for example – and other times it’s not so. This dish is one of the latter. It’s name: Chips My Eye.

Cooked on the side of the road with nothing but a burner, a pan and a shit load of oil. It’s a Tanzanian specialty. Slices of potato are placed at the bottom of a skillet, then whisked eggs are poured over it and the whole thing is cooked together until it's a solid omelet. The you cover it with chili sauce. So unhealthy. So unhygienic. So yum. I’d go over the unhygienic part, but when they’re cooking this with a dead goat smothered in flies hanging next to it, this is the best you’re going to get!

Chips My Eye stops were the only thing that broke long, dusty journeys. For hours there’s nothing but stretches of road, punctuated by random villages with people gawking as you slowly lumber through. With the sun beating down and the dust kicking up, I was soon not the only sticky, smelly, dirty one. But after travelling for most of the day, the dirt and dust starting turning to grassland….and dust.

Thanks for the warning...

I was off to find the source of the Nile (well one of them) but it was going to be a good three days slog to get there. Along the way were friendly villages, grand open skies and some long drives. Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area, and it is the largest tropical lake in the world as well as the world's second largest freshwater lake by surface area.

Suffice to say when I got there it was huge. Hopping on a ferry to cross one of the small side parts I was camping on the banks...with a warning about crocodiles. Pitching the tent I headed for what looked like a bar for a well earned beer and, happily, sat down to watch Arsenal be demolished. It was the start of the season.

After a few beers and making some dinner, I really shouldn't have bothered. Kicking off on the side of the lake was probably the biggest wedding I had ever seen. From the DJ who, after announcing people's named, scratched the vinyl repeatedly, to a wandering dog that kept jumping on to the tables whenever people got up to dance - it was a cracking evening. Noticing a few of us watching the celebration kicking off a family member, I think, came over and invited us to join. What I thought was just come in and dance turned out to be meeting the bridal party, eating their food, drinking their drink and being hurled around from one guest to the next. About 2am I decided it was time for bed and so left them to it.

The next morning it was back in the saddle But with grassland starts to appear what you come here for – the animals. Only one or two at first, but eventually more and more. At first you’re so excited to see gazelles, zebras and elephants roaming around in their natural habitat, taking dozens of photos of one elephant 500 metres away. If someone had told me that 2 weeks later – when facing a super herd of over 100 elephants I would scoff ‘what, more?’ I wouldn't have believed them, because right now two of them in the distance was awe inspiring.

We had entered the Serengeti.

The Serengeti is a region of savannah about 30,000 square kilometers, and one of the greatest areas for wildlife. It has more than 1.6 million herbivores and thousands of predators. This area is most famous for the migration that takes place every year. Every year around October nearly 1.5 million herbivores travel towards the southern plains, crossing the Mara River, from the northern hills for the rains. And then back to the north through the west, once again crossing the Mara river, after the rains in around April. This phenomenon is sometimes also called the Circular Migration and attracts some of Africa’s largest predators.

And me.
And I set up a tent in the middle of it.
With only this guy to protect me.
And his bow and arrow.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Out of Africa....

"Excuse me, sir? Sir? Are you getting off in Qatar? Do you have a connection or staying in Qatar? Sir?"

What the hell had just happened. My head was sore, my mouth was dry and I hadn't eaten since Tuesday lunch. It was now Wednesday evening. I'd slept for the entire 15 hours from Melbourne to Qatar and all I can remember was the page over Melbourne airport saying: 'Mr Nash, could you please make your way to gate 22 as your flight is fully boarded and awaiting departure'. Maybe this was my subconscious trying to block out the memory of the poisonous stares coming from the passengers as I lumbered up the aisle, clearly inebriated, or the smells and sounds that must have been emanating from me as I lay catatonic for over half a day, 37,000 feet above the Indian Ocean.

Let's go back 30 hours. On Sunday morning I woke up to this:
My flight was in 12 hours. It set the tone for the day.

Let's go back 12 hours more.
Oh dear - maybe a full week.

I was in Melbourne for a week to see my new niece, visiting family and friends, and these two Muppets to your right. I'd timed my departure from the homeland to take in to account a final Saturday night with friends before a Sunday session: this is where things went pear shaped.

From memory a sizeable Saturday at the football turned into a rolling evening which involved my head being shaved to make me look like a carrot, a random warehouse party in suburbia, a bust up with a taxi driver in the remote warehouse area of South Melbourne and some how made it back to Gov's apartment for Sunday morning....when our friend Kate walked in in a full length ball dress, continuing from the night before - rude not to.

The problem with catching up with people you haven't seen for ages is that the old stories get better the more you celebrate them - so we did - and the stories got great!!

And then I found myself at the airport and I was on my way to another adventure...

But at that point, all I could fathom to tell the kind hostess trying to wake me was a mumbled sentence - 'Africa, I'm going to Africa.' Indeed, I was on my way to the cradle of civilisation clueless, rudderless and soon to find out, bagless.


Before too long - I finally ate something - we were descending in to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. I wasn't sure what to expect; a country torn apart by civil war and mass genocide only 19 years ago - would there be tensions, safe/not safe, war ravaged, what were the people like, what did they eat, could I get by with English? 

I had so many questions I wanted answers to....the first being where the fuck was my bag?

Reporting to the shack that was baggage services, I was promptly given a number and told to call with a reference number, but not for 24 hours.

With baggage services and Qatar Airlines both unaware of where my bag was, all I could do was go to my hostel and wait. Flagging (picking a driver who didn't mob me as soon as I walked out the terminal) it was a 10 minute drive in to the centre of Kigali. Now, I grew up in Pakistan and have traveled fairly extensively, so the calamity and due on motorbikes is something I've seen before. The girl. I was sharing the cab with was not as comfortable. Arriving in the walled compound I needed a shower. It was like ice. I recall saying to myself 'can't wait for a hot one'. Little did I realise it would be nearly a month before I got that wish.

Calling the number the next day my bag hadn't shown up. I was bound for Uganda, luggage-less, so I decided to go back to the airport to speak to the airline directly. Speaking with the representative there, who I shall name 'luggage pixie' such were the fantasies of returned bags he put in my head, I was informed the bag would be there no more than 3 days. So with a semi-relieved temperament I made my way to the Uganda border. I was spending two nights there to go trekking with the mountain jeans, trainers and a t-shirt I'd been wearing for nearly three days.


While Rwanda is referred to as the land of 1,000 hills, Uganda is when you leave those valleys and head into the hills. It's quite an stunning place; green, hilly and vast. Getting in late I bumped in to a girl called Cherie. While that in itself is not really that exciting, the fact that we had already met in London and my flatmate is one of her good friends was a lot more small worldy. 

We were off to find mountain gorillas the next day, and it didn't take long.

While it only took two hours to actually locate a family once we trusted our lives to the drivers getting us up in to mountains on prrecarious dirt tracks called 'roads', walking in 30 degree heat and 90% humidity through a jungle in jeans and trainers makes it a little longer. The first we knew of any gorillas was a slight movement in the tree....this guy.
Pushing through the undergrowth and bushes, slowly a baby emerged, followed by a second one and then movement from another bush announced the arrival of another female.
It wasn't long before a grunt, a shake and a massive silver back wondered out to see what the commotion was. From a far these big fellas look a decent size....limbering along about 2 metres in from of you they are even bigger!!! And they're not afraid to come close to let you know they are there - think bogan at a music festival without the smell. The gorilla that is.

...and remembering I've already explained about the hair!

We had about an hour watching these amazing animals before it was time to head back to the jeeps and the bumpy ride back in to town. A few beers, rehashing my absolutely filthy clothes in freezing cold water and wearing them again and we were headed back to Rwanda to pick up my bag.

Rwanda again

The next morning crossing the border it first struck me how friendly people are, but yet how often those from western countries are distrustful. While waiting in the immigration line, numerous people wanted to have a chat; just practice English really.

Saying that, about 10 minutes in to my conversation with 'Johnny' who wanted me to come to his village for dinner, he asked me quiet politely if he could touch my hair and if it was normal to have hair such as this where I'm from. When describing that I had been shorn whilst drinking he responded, in quite a condemned manner: 'ohh, I do not think that you ever drink again'.

I decided to take my leave and hope on the bus back to Rwanda. It was a stop and go trip back in Kigali. My bag still hadn't shown up despite promises to the contrary. However, all was in hand. The airline and Bag Fairy both promised me that they would reroute it to Nairobi in Kenya, before busing it down to Arusha in Tanzania and I could pick it up there. And not a moment too soon.

One of my travel buddies who I met in Uganda, Pete, had been kind enough to lend me some shorts. After several days in jeans it was appreciated! Three days later when Pete realised I didn't have any underwear it was a little less welcomed. But all was forgiven over a glass of banana beer....the single most disgusting liquid of all time. Well, it was kind of a solid, really.
But that aside - ahead of me was Tanzania. Safaris across the Serengeti, the mythical Masai Maria, the massive ngorongoro crater, scuba diving and frolicking in Zanzibar and after a couple of weeks... A KFC!!

Monday, December 02, 2013

I've got the runs....

While I was travelling I got an email telling me that my registration for the Marathon de Sables 2015 had been brought forward and I could run the 2014 race instead. It was at that point I remembered I had entered. Much like the fatty on New Years Eve promising themselves a strict year of exercise for the coming year while smashing fired chicken after a night on the tiles - it was something I thought I would try during my weaker moments.

Now the run itself is a grueling multi-stage foot race through the Sahara desert. With the temperature over 50 degrees centigrade you have to run the equivalent of five and a half marathons in five or six days, a total distance of some 251 km – 156 miles. The rules require you to be self-sufficient, to carry with you on your back everything except water that you need. You are given a place in a tent to sleep at night, but any other equipment and food must be carried. It's a little bit of a toddle in the sand, really.

So why the hell would one sign up to this - I guess it's because after doing this one I can say that I'm pretty much done with the lot. But why don't you just stop in general? Well, I don't really know, but I think it comes down to the fact that I don't really like to run. Yep - really dislike it. Strange, I know. My logic is if I don't have something to train for I simply won't do it. However, while that worked for my first one, the most recent endeavor I decided to see how far I could push it without actually training - 85th out of 1,900.

This is probably less so about my ability than that of those around me.

Now, when writing this I really had no idea about what to put down. I usually try to make these blogs entertaining, educational and fulfilling. Failing regularly, I'm just going to use this as a way to answer certain questions that I regularly get asked when I mention that I use my spare time to run a distance that is more sensible covered by vehicle. Or in the UK by train - as any spare time not used to drink is clearly wasted.

What do you think about?

Nothing and everything. As bizarre as it sounds I can barely remember much of a race. Your thoughts range from how your body is feeling, to your next holiday, to trying to figure out distance and speed. I often think about recipes and cooking; tends to relax me for some reason. But it really is what is happening at that present time that occupies your thoughts. For example, for my first Ultra I had recently started seeing someone, so I thought about her a lot. The second one I was single and looking to leave my job, so thought about travel and what to do next a fair bit.

Don't you get bored?
Yes. Just a matter of turning off and trying to blank things out. Not only does it help during the run but you can apply it to many every day situations: the tube, significant others, this blog, etc. However, sometimes you get distracted. My second race there was also a person in front of me the whole time, which is where I realized the power of having a pacer (particularly when they having a cracking caboose - ladies of course).

Basically, right from the start the same girl was always about 100 metres in front of me. No matter how much I pushed, not stopping at rest areas, ignored water stops - she was always in front. It came to a head when I stopped at the halfway mark to fill up my water and she was three people in front of me in the line!!

Finally, coming down in to Brighton there was a few hundred metres left and I had a little left in the tank, so I sprinted. Passing her with about 50 metres left to go I got a surge of satisfaction and relief. Once I crossed the line I turned around and - beaming - and gloated that I'd finally passed her and won our little 'duel'. It took her confused face to make me realise that she had never seen me the entire race due to me being behind so had no idea what I was talking about.

I was happy though. But that's not uncommon... I get giggly - laugh at anything really - when I'm exhausted. The last run I did I hurt my foot about five hours in. By seven hours I was really feeling it so started hitting up the nurofen mixed with energy drinks which I named in my head 'Bart's Happy Meal'. For some reason this little title had me laughing to myself for at least an hour.
Happy Bart

Although going through 21 pain killers and seven Powerades in five hours to not feel my foot made me feel like this...

No Happy Bart

...and pissed blood for three days. Leading me to the final often asked question...

Where do you go to the bathroom?
Seriously - that's the one most people ask. And for some reason you don't. You barely eat a thing and sweat profusely so it just doesn't seem to be an issue. Unless of course I've told you the Newcastle hotel story, but let's just leave it there for now.

Friday, June 07, 2013

When in Rome

In my seven years in Europe I've been to every country except five – Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Macedonia and Kosovo (the last two kind of being countries but not really). Well, make it six if you count Switzerland – although I did land there to catch a bus to go snowboarding in France.

But either way, the point is that I get around. So in all these travels, it’s astounding and shameful that I’ve never been to Rome. I’d like to say that I’ve been saving the best for last, but it’s more that I always knew I’d get there some day; all roads lead, etc, etc. 

Truth be told that my view of Rome has always been one that I've wanted to go to with someone special that I could enjoy it with. A place that you can go to lap up the culture, food, wine and general ambiance – not so much a travel destination but a holiday…so I went with 30 guys…and then went to see the Chemical Brothers.
Spanish step beverages?

We were off to Rome to play a game of Aussie Rules against an Italian team before I was shooting down to the Amalfi Coast for a bit of R and R; but first there were the sites and bars of one of the oldest cities in the world – and it didn't disappoint.

Armed with just a trusty pocket map and a few broken words of Italian, we ventured in to the night to fully hydrate and prepare ourselves for the next day’s game. After losing one man to a mugging, another to wayward taxi and a third to, well, we still have no idea where Charlie went, I vaguely recall a large square, what I think was an Irish pub and waking up with McDonalds in the room – not the food, wine and ambiance I was searching for.

Well maybe the wine.  

Day two was better spent exploring the city, where after two or three hours you get overawed with the amount of statues, plaques, monuments and general ‘look – old shit – take a photo’. There’s simply too much to see and do that you come up for air with what I would call the archaeological equivalent of the bends. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had to play a game of football the afternoon, I would still be wandering aimlessly around the Vatican laden down with plastic bobbing head Popes, Michelangelo’s David aprons and 17 memory cards full.

Now I’m going to skip past the football game as well as Chemical Brothers, because a) somethings you couldn’t be bothered knowing, b) somethings you need not know and c) somethings I don’t want to know.

With the weekend down Duffy was coming in to town for a few days in Rome before we headed down to the Amalfi Coast to soak up some sunshine and relaxation after a London winter that continues to go on like this blog. Sure, there’s a sunny spell here and there, but in general you simply suffer through it.

The rest of the time spent in Rome was a meandering tourist trail. However, given she had already visited a few years before and I’d been there for two days, it was a wander from site to site with visits to cafes, restaurants and bars. One may say that we ‘grazed our way around Rome’ – which is a very fitting way to do it. Which reminds me, if you are planning a trip to Rome: make sure you tell restaurant owners you know TripAdvisor - they damn well worship the thing. I even got hit up at a gellato store for a recommendation.

There are some cities in the world that offer themselves up for exploration. That you can just walk and walk and walk and never get sick of it. Prague is one, Berlin has it too. But I think Rome comes in to it's own. By the end of  the day I had blisters, Hobbit like feet and felt like I'd ingested 4 pounds of smog and dust, but I wanted to keep going. However there was more food and drink to be consumed and the night to explore - when in Rome!!

After a lengthy day and evening, we were basically being told to leave cafes and 'no - too much Limonchello for you' a good day was done. Besides, Duffy needed to teach the entire square around the corner from the Trevi Fountain 'Mr Blue Skies' at 1am, so no time to dawdle!

A couple of days of this and it was down to the Amalfi Coast on the Napoli fast train; and I did not know how excited one could get when a train approaches 250km per hour. Quite excited I found. Even more so when it does 300 on the way back. In joke.

Now the Amalfi Coast is a playground of the rich and famous. This is fine when it’s the off-season and things are less hectic, but the stigma is still there. For example, sitting at a hotel balcony bar perusing the extensive wine list, it’s with much embarrassment that you’re unsure if the large prices are bottle or glass and need to ask; but you push on. Or you end up buying 4 litres bottles of Chianti, limonchello and all accompanying processed meats and cheeses so you can eat them on your own balcony…

I'm unsure if seagulls needed to be tipped

I must also add, if you are heading to the Amalfi Coast, make sure you do some research in to your hotel. For example, I picked the hotel which had been listed as the one with the best gardens and pool. If I had read further I would have seen that the pool was shut until June!

So without a pool, you do get strange looks when lounging on the hotel patio in a bikini and swimming trunks, his and her obviously. Stranger still when there’s a sign above said balcony that clearly says ‘please wear appropriate clothes in public spaces’. I took it to mean no Speedoes.

Either way, if on does venture to the Amalfi coast, I’d suggest that Sorrento is by far the most interesting of the villages, with many of the others quite far out and not much happening. Plus, Sorrento is the base for going to two of the highlights for me: Pompeii and Capri.

I've personally wanted to go to Pompeii since I was 13 sitting in the back of Mr Neil’s Latin class giggling at the pictures of Roman women’s boobs in the text book, which was based around Pompeii. The streets, ruins, amphitheaters and even drains are so well preserved to can stand there and get an amazing sense of exactly how life would have looked in day to day Pompeii. 

The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern and was mostly destroyed and buried under 20 ft of ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The site was lost for about 1500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later. 
The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture and now provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the era. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person was in when they died.

And here you were thinking it was just a whiny song by Bastille.

Despite having a real passion for history and culture, as I said earlier…food and wine take over. So Capri for me was a great pick. Catching a ferry across to the island of Capri and navigating an uphill walk that one really should not indulge in on holiday, we arrives at the top of the Mediterranean paradise – to end up smack in the back of a pack of American tourists. Sensing my frustration (basically if I’m in a crowd or surrounded by slow people I get snappy) 

Duffy navigated us down some back streets until we hit the main shopping drag. Sensing this was a strange coincidence, it wasn't long until we stumbled upon the ‘celebrity hotel’ which Ryan Gosling surely has a room in, did I know I was duped. However, a short walk and we chanced – were pulled in to - the quintessential Italian restraint and served some of the most amazing food and wine, under a blazing sun. In all honesty, I can say that that lunch was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had. Not just the food, but the combination of everything made it, and Capri, the highlight of the trip. That and the carvings of women’s boobs in Pompeii which I giggled at.

And then there were these guys:

We found them on Trip Advisor of course....

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring has sprung

Another period of extended absence – sorry – I get quite distracted you know.

Anyway, as I’m easing my way back in to this, I’ll just continue on from the other week. Spring is apparently here (according to the BBC):

Outlook for Friday to Sunday
Sunshine for most of the week then becoming breezy on Saturday with some patchy rain on Sunday
…and London is nearly a buzz with sunshine, cheeriness and a birds tweeting.

It’s the subtle things in the Capital you notice that let you know it’s Spring. Fire and a booth become alfresco; beer is replaced by cider; and red wine by white/rose (you drink a lot here, obviously). Last night we were able to sit outside for at least two drinks before having to retreat in doors.
We’re coming in to my seventh UK summer now and the automatic question becomes: “how do you deal with the weather?” However this question is primarily asked by English – not the Aussies. And the answer is Seasons.

Now I’m from Melbourne where the Seasons are hot and dry, hot and wet, chilly and wet, and cold and wet. In fact, I’ll go so far as saying the UK’s weather is better than ours. Not in summer of course, but as a general rule, it trumps us.

Well, it’s how you look at it.

Spring is here and the excitement in the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Every night brims with possibilities and excitement, the beer garden and the pavement – people everywhere – all coming out of their winter slumber. There's smiling, there's conversation, there's such gaiety that a Gilbert and Sullivan musical wouldn't be a miss.
Kings Cross Tuesday night - going off!!
I personally like watching the ‘is it cold or is it warm’ debate that people so subtly have on the tube as one person drops the window and 10 seconds later someone puts it up. It’s the Northern Line Mexican Stand Off.

This leads in to Summer, where the appreciation for the tiniest glimmer of sunshine is so high that anything about 18 degrees with slight cloud is viewed as a sign from the Gods, and rambunctious tanners fall outside in an effort to get the slightest dose of vitamin D – it’s like a festival.

Autumn comes around and the lead in to Christmas begins – will it snow, won’t it snow – and the leaves start falling.

The Winter hits and it’s in to the pub. Every night is around the fire, wine in hand. In fact, I go out more in winter than I do summer I reckon! And then cycle repeats.

So that's how we deal with the UK weather here - pretty easy isn't it?

...but I've heard all this bullshit before, so I just went to Italy for a week.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Erect nipples....(not what you think)

Nearly 7 years ago I landed in the UK. In that time I’ve lived, lounged, loved, longed, lamented and laughed at all the things this fine country has thrown my way, and had a lovely time doing it.
But what the fuck is this 6 month winter?

I'm on the right.

What has roused me from literary slumber to come up for air and pen my first opinionated diatribe in a year? Read on.

It’s been just over a year since I last updated my blog. I remember it well. It was my birthday – middle of March – and that morning I was strolling across Clapham Common in the sunshine with nothing more than a hangover and contented smile. What's the main point here - see that word ‘sunshine’. This year we couldn't even wander the streets as we needed to avoid the wind and chill!

I for one feel jilted. We all sit here being told about global warming, hottest summers on record, etc, but how on earth is this passing us by? Even when I got here I was treated to an amazing summer: Summer Loving
Honestly, it’s like being given a complimentarily gift before subscribing. So I for one have decided to complain.

Dear Britain,

Seven years ago I decided to subscribe to your country and way of life. Your introductory offer of four proper seasons, split in to three month increments over the course of a year was both appealing and advantageous to my lifestyle. Summer was jovial and free, Autumn was comfortable, Winter was all skiing, fires and red wine, and Spring was excitable.

However, over time I have since been disappointed to find your service lacking.

In recent years I feel that rather than delivering on your initial product, you have come to rely on me being an existing customer and had faith that my complacency would keep me loyal. Whilst this has been the case, my time with you and your countrymen has taught me a valuable lesson – the ability to politely complain.

While I appreciate that you have offered me numerous ‘sweetners’, such as location, fried chicken and being to be drunk at 11am and not be looked down upon, your inability to rectify issues with your core product is disappointing.

Unfortunately, given the loyalty points you award me in the form of £ are pretty much worthless when exchanged with numerous others around the world and my fondness of your staff, I’m limited in my options. However, I do want this to serve as a warning, as many of my friends have cancelled their subscriptions and returned to their previous providers, citing the reasons above.

Yours Sincerely,
Bart Nash