Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I have moved...

It's official. My new blog is up and running. Thanks to Greg and his technological know how and genius the transition has been fairly seamless, although it did involve a rather large amount of cussing and swearing when trying to get the data off 'blogger'. It's like growing up really. Now I can start enjoying some of that independence a teenage blogger needs. Some of the formatting and categories are still being worked on with my new site, but feel free to take a look around at:

This is where you'll find me from now on...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Some exciting news...

Well puberty has hit for me in terms of my blogging lifespan and I have decided soon it will be time to spread my wings and fly. Thus I have been busy with building a new blog (using Word Press) - This means I have much more control over the design of my blog and where I want to go with it in the future. I must therefore apologise as I have not been spending much time on putting up new posts because I have been busy in the background preparing the new blog. I look forward to unveiling it to you very soon, but you will need to wait just a little longer as I have had some formatting problems in bringing over the old content. Just like an anxious mother Blogger has not been so willing to let me go. I am very excited and look forward to posting the new address very soon - remember to keep checking back! It won't be long!

Cheers & Beers


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...

It's been some day today. I woke up feeling particularly shite after drowning my sorrows last night in a bottle of red wine. I didn't sleep much as I had another 'meeting' with my manager yesterday which needless to say has not done much for my self esteem nor my motivation for working. Not only did I awake feeling rancid, I awoke to a morning which had winds blowing a gale and the rain coming down in buckets. I then had to face 14 new trainees at work and tell them what a great place it is to embark on a new career. All the while this was going on outside...
The weather was so wild we had to send people home from work early. The national rail system was shut down and buses and trams were suspended. The streets looked like an umbrella grave yard and people were left to arrive home with a very wind swept look.
Anyway January 18th 2007 has been a great day! I just can't wait for another one like it...

Read More or Watch a Video of the devastation faced as the storms took their hold on Europe.
(Photo from the BBC Website - In Pictures: Storms lash Europe.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Do widzenia!

This morning Zoe left to go back to Oz.
Despite having felt really unwell the last couple of days we've had a lot of good laughs over some glasses of red wine I was after the antioxidants). In fact the only thing happy about her departure is probably my liver.
Since arriving on December 22nd, the time seems to have just flown by. This is most likely in part due to the fact that we were travelling for 2 weeks of that, but it feels like she has always just been here. I guess that's the feeling of familiarity you get when family is close by after not having been around them for so long.
Tonight however, we've just got in from some Friday night work drinks and the house feels so empty. It's also strange to think we saw her this morning and in a few hours she'll be stopping over in Hong Kong and then on to Oz. She was really upset when leaving this morning and well what can you say or do. Saying goodbye always sucks. I decided that airports are either great places to be or horrible places to be. They are great if you are going somewhere or returning home after a long journey, but horrible if you are leaving loved ones behind or saying goodbye to people you care about. There is nothing in between.
Anyway we'll miss ya Zoe - thanks for coming over to spend Christmas with us. I know that all three of your family members here had a great Xmas day with you and have loved spending time with you. Come back and visit again soon!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It finally got me...

Despite having fought off the colds that all those surrounding me on my trip through Eastern Europe had, it has finally got me.
I'm really not a good patient, so I thought it would be good to get on here and whinge to the world about how absolutely crap I am feeling at the moment. Only good point is that it happened now and not on holiday like it did to everyone else.
I am a little worried though. I feel so rubbish that I couldn't even make it to Dutch class tonight and we were supposed to be having a test - *grumble* *grumble* *sob* *moan*
Chicken soup please and lot's of attention!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The battle continues...

Sometimes I'm still shocked that in 2007 people can debate that there are certain members of the community who do not deserve the same rights as the general populous.
Unfortunately a lot of this seems to be fuelled by religious bigotry, which is rather steep considering the essence of religion is acceptance of all.
Politically it appeared the time had come (and not soon enough) to allow gays and lesbians equal access to the provisions of goods and services. Alas however some Christian rights groups have jumped on the band wagon with some support in the house of peers to have the bill amended in their favour. It does get to the point where such debate is ridiculous. How any group can claim that any other group should not have equal rights is beyond me. What should follow however is a healthy respect of each others beliefs where people are considerate of the one and other do not disregard what is important to them. Christians should allow a bill which says that gays and lesbians have the right to stay wherever they like without fear of retribution and discrimination and at the same time gays and lesbians should not choose to stay in the bed and breakfast of someone who has strong religious values. Simple healthy respect - everybody having equal rights and at the same time valuing difference in opinion and belief.
I will get off my soap box now, but before I do, the following quote from the BBC news website which has been covering this story has made me laugh over and over again...

"Critics say the regulations would mean hotels could not refuse to provide rooms for gay couples, and religious groups would be obliged to rent out halls for gay wedding receptions.

Some also argue a Christian, Jewish or Muslim printer could be legally forced to print a flyer for a gay night club, or a teacher would have to break the law to promote heterosexual marriage over homosexual civil partnership."

(BBC News Website -

And there was me thinking printers were of a secular nature and that the last thing they would choose to do is discriminate. After all when you think about it, a printers job is to print colours, images and words on paper. Surely if a printer were a feeling object or being, it would get a lot of job satisfaction out of printing a 'gay flyer' - after all they are usually abundant in colour and dosed with exaggerated images. A printers dream!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Things can only get better!

Arriving in Bratislava, I was full of hope and enthusiasm. Surely things could only get better. Let's face it - it couldn't get much worse. My first vision of Bratislava did not really fill me with much confidence. Apart from being gray and bleak because the weather was not the best, the view of the city from the station was far from a photographers playground. I could have at that point turned around got back on a train and just disappeared. However the best was yet to come. We took a bus in to town and then found a place to stay - our home for the next few days would be the Downtown Hostel Backpackers. I was a little concerned about staying here as we had until now had a room to just the three of us (except for Ari & Gato who we never saw) and I knew Zoe wasn't fond of sharing a room with a lot of people.
As we were getting settled in to the hostel we met this great girl from Zurich named Eve. Over the next few days she was to prove herself a great travel companion. Anyway we went for dinner that night and all got to know each other a little better. Nothing brings people together like good food and cheap beer. Something which we consumed a lot more of over the next few days.
All seemed to be going well. Bratislava was proving to be very scenic and the people so very friendly. It was looking like a diamond in the rough. Was the curse of this trip finally lifted?
We spent time walking around the old town. We visited the palace, some museums and we even found a couple of piles of unmelted snow. Everything was looking up until Greg said "My throat is really sore." In true style for this holiday the situation went from bad to worse. Greg's tonsils were now completely blocking his throat. Drinking was painful and well eating was pretty much out of the question. It wasn't long before a fever took hold and it was time for Greg to make a visit to the hospital. It's ironic really. Until this point we had not had any problems finding people who could speak English to help us out. I know that sounds like an arrogant attitude, especially since I am travelling in another country. Normally I do my best to learn the basics of the language when I travel, but sometimes you just need more. Of course the night Greg needed to go to hospital was a night I could have done with knowing more - it was also the night I had the least amount of luck in finding someone who could speak English. Fortunately our newly acquired friend Eve could speak Russian, which was a saving grace. What more could we have asked for. Here we were facing a bit of a medical 'situation' and we had our own personal translator. Thanks to Eve it made Greg's time in Bratislava hospital a lot more easy for everyone. It also made sure that Greg didn't put the thermometer he was given somewhere it shouldn't have gone.
Eve proved to be a great travel asset. She has extensively travelled on her own and is rather independent when it comes to getting about in foreign countries. She is brazen in her approach to seeking help from complete strangers and having travelled extensively through Eastern Europe was able to make our time in Slovakia much more enjoyable. In fact we recommended that she start her own website called "Ask Eves" - for all your travel and translation queries.
With Greg on pain killers and strong antibiotics, we attempted to enjoy the rest of the time we had left in Bratislava. It was one city I had no expectation about, but was pleasantly surprised with. The thing I will take away with me most, apart from the images of a picturesque, cosy little city yet to be over run with tourists is the overwhelming sense of feeling safe. Walking about Bratislava regardless of the time of day or night, I never once felt threatened. Anyway it was time to say farewell to our new found friend, swap emails and organise a catch up for some time in the near future whether that be Rotterdam or Zurich and then take the train to Budapest in Hungary.

Read about the journey so far:
New Years Nightmare - Prague, Czech republic
"Arbeit Macht Frei." - Auschwitz, Poland
Warsaw to Krakow - Warsaw & Krakow, Poland
Perogie Galore! - Warsaw, Poland

Want to see more? Check out: Photo's - Bratislava.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Nightmare

Before setting off on this jaunt through Eastern Europe, if you asked me which place I was looking most forward to visiting, I would have told you Prague without a doubt. Now I couldn't be happier to be away from there.
Ever since living in London many years ago, I wanted to visit the Czech Republic and see Prague. I had heard such good things about it and seen some amazing photos. I was a must see place on my list of European cities to visit. Right from the outset however things were not matching up to that romantic image I had in my head.
We set out from the main train station in Prague with an innocent enthusiasm. We were still feeling a little down after the visit to Auschwitz and thought our New Years in Prague would surely be a remedy to that. We easily found the our city centre shared apartment/hostel (A Downtown Hostel) which we had booked many weeks ago for the festivities. Unfortunately however when we arrived at reception we were informed that our reservation, along with others who had booked had been bumped in place of a large group booking. We were quickly told however that another place had been organised for us. Grateful for this I asked to be shown where on the map it was situated, only to be told it wasn't even on the map. It was in fact about 30mins out of the city. Angrily I informed the guy in a polite fashion how "pissed off" I indeed was. Not happy with the situation I politely told the guy to shove it in order to go off and find something more suitable. The search began in earnest at about 1pm. After having been to every hotel, hostel and accommodation booking service in the city centre which included being told to "F*!K OFF", we realised 6 hours had past and our search was still fruitless. Zoe still feeling sick had been sat at the Irish Pub all afternoon minding the bags. The last thing she wanted when feeling heavily weighed down with a nasty cold.
At the end of my tether, I went back to the reception and told them to fix this problem. At this point I was told that the previous offer was now fully booked out. Facing the very real fact that we may be sleeping at the train station that night I sat quietly in despair looking at accommodation websites on the internet all of which rang out that all too familiar sound of "No Availability". Another hour and a half later we finally got news that a place had been found. It was only two stations from the city and centre and with little other choice we had to take it. We were informed a car would pick us up and drive us there. In the car whilst driving to the hostel we were told it was actually 3-4 stops on the train. I was pissed off, but not shocked and well we didn't really have any other option.
Walking in to the reception was like walking in to a prison. Basically we had been placed in nothing more than a hostel for homeless people - Hostel Argentinska15 (note - the photos in this link make the place look so much more than it is!). In fact residents were being moved out of our room so that we could take it over. Fortunately we were joined by two Japanese guys who had faced the same fate as us. I affectionately named the Ari and Gato. We didn't see much of them - they couldn't stay away from the place long enough. Our room was barely more than a pit. Although we did have beds, they were stained with, well... Who knows what. The draws were full of porn playing cards and the permanent residents of the building were reminiscent of the characters from 'Twin Peaks'. We feared that we had walked in to a scene straight from the movie 'Hostel'. To make things worse, in the basement of the building next door there was a night club which was decorated with weird metallic statues and had a clientele which looked like they were straight out of the 'The Lost Boys'. The 'shit splatters' on the wall and the need to shower standing in a rubbish bag only added to the experience.
Morning came and we had survived the night. We decided to try and lighten the mood a little, look fruitlessly for some other accommodation and see a few of the sights - after all, it was the last day of 2006. While the 'old town' might have looked a little on the grand side, trying make your way through a million visitors to the town meant there wasn't going to be much moving about or good photography opportunities. With an ever failing traveller in toe we headed to the Irish Pub for some food and drinks to welcome in the New Year. As midnight approached we went out in to the square hoping to see some fancy fireworks only to risk our life by drunken hooligans throwing their own fireworks in every direction. Poor Zoe, still not well and really could have benefited from a few days in bed, in a warm room, not travelling through Eastern Europe from one hostel to another in the freezing cold. Shortly after we saw the new year in, we decided to return to the hostel. Timing which we couldn't have chosen better if we had tried. Upon return there was a dead body being 'bagged up' on the road in front of the hostel. The poor person had obviously been hit and killed by a car while crossing the road. A great start to the new year for some family. We stood there watching. Why? I'm still not sure.
When we finally pulled ourselves away from this grim scene we moved swiftly to our room where we made the decision to leave promptly in the morning. This was a far cry from my idea of waking up hung over in a city centre apartment of a picturesque Prague after a great night partying to spend the day walking around looking taking in the sights.

Read about the journey so far:
"Arbeit Macht Frei." - Auschwitz, Poland
Warsaw to Krakow - Warsaw & Krakow, Poland
Perogie Galore! - Warsaw, Poland

Friday, December 29, 2006

"Arbeit Macht Frei."

"Work sets you free."
We arrived in Krakow last night and we got snow.
It's quite fitting, as today we went to Auschwitz and I think any movie I have ever seen about life in "the camp" has always been covered in snow.
I must admit I wasn't quite prepared for the effect today's visit was going to have on me. It actually made me feel physically sick. Of course reading history books and watching films on TV can have some emotional effect on you, but nothing like being exposed to the real thing. Obviously I didn't live through the 'real experience', but just being there and seeing the sheer scale on which such atrocities were carried out is very overwhelming. Couple this with endless haunting photographic displays, walls covered in 'mugshots' and floral tributes scattered about to visitor's dead family members and you have a recipe for being smacked in the face with a reality that is much easier to deal with when it's in a two dimensional form while quickly being flicked past in the pages of a high school history book.
What will forever be etched in my memory however are the displays which held belongings of the people who were taken taken to Auschwitz. It is impossible to describe, but walking in to a 20 meter long hall with 5 meter deep floor to ceiling glass cases either side of you filled with the shoes of those who lived and died there can really take your breath away. In another room, tooth brushes and hair brushes and razors. In another room - children's shoes and clothes. In another room suitcases and so it goes on. All belongings of people who were to face life in one of the worst death camps ever in existence.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Warsaw to Krakow

I am surviving the cold - amazingly!
After a couple of days looking around Warsaw, we have decide to move on to Krakow a little earlier than expected. There are two reasons for this. Firstly we want to visit Auschwitz before we go to Prague and secondly Warsaw is nice, but I guess it would be a whole lot better if you knew a 'local'.
Although I had thought Poland would appear more repressed and poor than it does, I must admit Warsaw is rather bleak looking. The city is very gray (the buildings that is) and coupled with the weather we are currently experiencing, I can see why the people in this city don't seem to smile a whole lot. That said I have found the people here to be very friendly and helpful. The hospitality in the hostel has been great. It really does feel like a home away from home. There are few hostels where the staff actually take the time to talk with you and when you do arrive back late after dinner; offer to make you a warm drink while you relax on the sofa. It didn't stop there however; despite that gruff Eastern European conversational approach the people we have met so far are generally warm and helpful despite the language barriers.
Over the last couple of days we have had a walk through the Old Town and the Old Warsaw Ghetto (pictured). This area obviously has turbulent past, which is now hidden by the large cobble stoned square which is surrounded by (surprisingly) colourful bars, cafes and restaurants. It's the part of town you would probably expect to be potentially the most depressive looking, however it's colourful exterior hides the torment of it's past.
The hostel we're staying in currently has another hostel in Krakow. They've organised a room for us and all that is left is to buy our tickets and take the train. Warsaw has been an interesting place to visit, although it hasn't left me wanting to race back here for another visit.

Perogie Galore!

We finally arrived in Warsaw last night. To put it quite simply it is freezing!
The Swiss Air flight was good, but we didn't have much time for our transfer in Zurich so we were rushed through another security check-in. Unfortunately Zoe and I set off the alarm - I'm still not sure how, but unlike other airports where you get a bit of a pat down we were ushered off in to a little metal frame with a curtain around it. I must admit at this time I was fearing what the next few minutes may have in store for me. I really wasn't looking forward to some "rubber glove" treatment, which fortunately did not eventuate. Although I must admit the security guy did a very THOROUGH investigation. Just what do they think you can keep in there?
After settling in to our hostel (Jump Inn Hostel) which I have to say is one of the best ones I have stayed in, we decided to take a look about. Obviously it was late so we weren't going to be able to see much, but after the near miss at the airport, I could sure do with a beer. We made our way to the Old Town. It looked nice all lit up, but it was too cold so we made our way to find a bar - surprise, surprise we came across an Irish Pub (funny how there is one of them in every tourist district). We went in thinking that it would help us acclimatise to our new environment, but all it did was see us spending 100zl for 5 drinks, a bottle of water and a packet of crisps - that was more than I'd be charged in Western Europe. Disgusted with the prices we decided to leave and went in search of some traditional late night cuisine and of course we found it hiding under some golden arches. I know - poor effort, but it was late!
I awoke this morning, jumped up, looked out the window and was hoping to see snow, but alas it was not to be. This time last year they were knee deep in snow. After breakfast we left in search of the Royal Palace. We did find it after an hour or so of walking. We spent some time in the gardens, looked about inside and then decided it was time to eat. There is one thing for sure - this weather gives you an almighty appetite. We tried out some real local cuisine this time - best choice goes to me for my order of "Bigos" or Traditional Hunters Stew (it tastes a lot better than it looks!). Anyway with a full belly we headed off back in to the cold and returned to the Old Town to look around the Warsaw Ghetto. It was pretty amazing to read about what had gone on here and then try and imagine how it could be possible when today it is a place a lot of tourists visit and has quite a vibe about it - a lot of shops, cafes and restaurants. Although the remaining wall around the area does give some idea of what may have gone on. It got cold and dark pretty quick, so we all decided it was beer time. Despite only being day 2 a little cabin fever had begun to set in, so it was thought best to clear the air and get on with an enjoyable holiday for all. Of course walking all the way back to the hostel in the cold made for a healthy appetite and we went to Chopskie Jadlo for dinner. It is a Traditional Polish Peasant Food Chain with tasty, large portions of food at a very reasonable price. Again I made a great choice, the spicy goulash on potato pancakes - I'm starting to think I could get used to this food!
After more food than required and a few large beers we decided it was time to head back to the hostel before chilling out and going to bed. Speaking of which, it is rather late so I must away. If I don't freeze during the night, I'll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

In just over 12 hours...

The time has finally arrived. In just over 12hrs we'll be on our way to Poland. So the itinerary is currently Holland to Poland (Warsaw & Krakow), then to Czech Republic (Prague) for New Years followed by Slovakia (Bratislava) and then finishing up in Hungary (Budapest) before returning back to The Netherlands on 7th January. I'll try and keep my blog up to date as much as possible with all the travel stories - just in case you're interested...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

This is why I love these guys so much...

Christmas is definitely a time when I miss the people from back home, or those who have made a big impact on me during my travels.
Just take a look at this photo I got sent by some of my colleagues from Scotland - how can I not love and miss them?!
Thanks guys! Wishing you a huge Merry Christmas and all the best for 2007! See ya soon(ish).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The people I love most...

There's so many people I have come across in my life who mean the world to me. People who I would do anything for, because I know they would do the same for me. People who I do not speak with, email or text every day, but people who know. People who are certain. People who are secure in the relationship I have with them and me secure in what I know belongs to us.
It's difficult though. Being so far away from some of these people. Especially when you know they are hurting. When you know that a simple hug can feel so safe and protecting. When laughter over a beer can wash the worries of the world away. When a shoulder to absorb their tears offers support for a heavy head. But it's not always possible to be by their side. It's not always possible to offer that security in a physical form. Am I failing these people who I love? Am I letting them down by not being there? Am I doing the best for them that I can? Do they know I love them? Do they know I need them? Do they know they are the laughter inside me? Do they know they are the colours that I see? Do they know they are the difference that excites me? Do they know they are my motivation to explore? Do they know they are my world? I just want to do what is right for those I love. You know that - don't you?
(There are so many more who have not made it to this picture, but who equally deserve a place in it.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I love a sunburnt country...

A country scorched, burnt and dry.
It's hard to imagine that some 10,000 miles away that there is a developed country which has been gripped by drought for the past 7 years.
The past 6 years of my life have been spent living in the North West of Europe and the UK. Here rain is a common occurrence. Regularly daily activities are put on hold or plans changed while people wait out one downpour to the next. People arrive at work drenched, gardens are soaking wet and green. Rivers burst their banks, people's possessions are washed away and landslides flow down the mountains and hills because the ground is too wet.
In Australia however the story is very different. Currently 550,000 hectares have been burnt black in some of the worst bushfires the country has ever seen. Thousands of people are volunteering and risking their lives to save their lives and property of others. This summer is shaping up to be unforgivably hot and next year severe water restrictions will be imposed as many of the water reservoirs sit at less than 20% capacity. All of this in Victoria in Australia's South West - not even one of the driest parts of the company.