The Irish Rover: Belfast and Giants Causeway

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Thursday 17th March
Growing up just outside of London in the early 1990s it was impossible to escape “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland. I remember the bomb at Canary Wharf, I remember Euston being closed on a day in to Lomdon and I remember all those awful scenes on the news. Therefore, Belfast, the birthplace of Titanic a subject that has captured my imagination since the early 1990s (before the movie) was psychologically a no go zone even after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. I knew how important it was I put those childhood memories to bed and ultimately I decided what better time to visit than St Patrick’s day when (mostly) the whole city comes together.

My journey to Stansted was utterly uneventful and went so smoothly I actually arrived early. There was quite a bit of fog and whilst no delays were announced we were on the tarmac for 30 minutes which was mildly frustrating because I was hungry and looking forward to my Ulster fry up at Maggie Mays Café. We only arrived in Belfast slightly late and because I’d done passport control at London I pretty much stepped directly from the plane to the city centre bus.

When I arrived at Maggie May Cafe there was a small queue and as traditional Irish folk music pumped out it seemed like a number of locals had decided to start St Patrick’s Day with a cooked breakfast. The wait was worth it. I’ve eaten a lot of ‘traditional’ fry ups from each corner of the UK and this was definitely up there with the best. 2 eggs, 2 bacon, 2 sausage, beans, hash browns standard, soda bread, potato bread and finally…chips. Genius. I was treating the breakfast as lunch and planned to do a lot of walking which is how I (wrongly) justified my gluttony.

After breakfast/lunch I made my way back in to the city centre and planned to see the start of the St Patrick’s Day Parade. I’d passed the city hall 2 hours previously and saw the floats being prepared and the streets had been empty. By now they were unsurprisingly really crowded and although I saw a marching band containing some bagpiper’s practising behind the city hall I realised I’d have no chance of seeing the actual floats going down the streets.

Due to the crowds I couldn’t cross the road which I needed to do if I was to reach the Titanic museum in time for my tour. I was forced to walk in the wrong direction and slowly became a bit alarmed as the seconds and the then minutes ticked away. Worse I’d passed a taxi rank when I thought I’d been in plenty of time. I escaped down a side street away from the parade and eventually managed to flag a taxi down. We started to drive down one street when a policeman knocked on the window saying the road ahead was closed. The taxi driver wasn’t impressed but luckily the diversion didn’t add on much time and I just about arrived in time for my pre-paid for a guided tour of the old slipways.

The tour started off outside the old offices and I was slightly disappointed to learn that not only are the public no longer allowed in the historic rooms but they are being turned in to hotels. The whole Titanic Quarter site cost about £5 billion and I accept that hotels will be a way for the developers to make money back whilst ensuring the offices are restored. The guide also explained the symbolism of the museum building e.g that it is built to look like the bow of a ship and is as tall as the decks would have been. Perhaps I’m overly used to tall buildings but I’d always imagined it would be taller.

Next we walked on to the site of the old slip yard. Only the start was original and whilst historically it would have sloped in to the sea it had been levelled off. A line marked where Titanic and Olympic had been positioned under the Giant Arrol Gantry which had long been removed. Rather than rebuilding the gantry it was represented by metal poles. Back inside the museum we looked down from above, and the guide explained the benches are spaced out to represent the Morse code signals that were sent.

After the tour had finished I entered the Discovery museum which was separated in to a number of sections. The first part focussed on the history of the dockyards and had a ride which sought to demonstrate how Titanic was built. There were also recreations of a first class room and a 3rd class cabin. The part representing the sinking with voice overs from those involved in the tragedy was obviously moving and finally there was a under water film in a big auditorium. In hindsight I’d paid to much time at start but overall I was fairly impressed with the building though it was a bit light on artifacts, certainly compared to the travelling museum at the o2 a few years ago.

The Nomadic was one of the Tender ships that carried passengers boarding at Cherbourg from the docks to Olympic and Titanic. We can only imagine how big a tourist attraction Olympic would have been now in her own right if she’d been preserved but in 1935 scrap metal was in demand and the preservation movement barely existed. Nomadic was a lot smaller and survived to 2005 as a restaurant on the Seine in Paris. To cut up something of historical significance is now almost unthinkable and thankfully the Northern Ireland Government brought her so she could be put on display in the Titanic Quarter which was then still just a concept to rejuvenate Belfast. Every now and then I’d check on progress and by 2014 I realised Nomadic had finally opened as a museum.

I had held off visiting Nomadic until it had been fully restored and I wasn’t disappointed. Located in the Hamilton dry dock the boat looked splendid in the late afternoon sun and as I stepped on board I could still smell the fresh paint, much as it would have tickled the senses when it was first used for Olympic. Like with her big sisters no detail in the first class section had been left forgotten. The interior oak panel’s and furniture featured designs similar to those used on Olympic and Titanic and it was the first tender boat to use electric lighting with small ceramic light bulbs. I looked up through one of the portals and imagined how someone must have felt leaving Cherbourg approaching the giant liners.

Next I stepped up on to the deck, and explored the Stern and Bow though refrained from having a “I’m King of the World moment”. The staff were particularly friendly and I could sense their pride and enthusiasm at having the boat back ‘home’ and fully restored. The Hamilton Dry Dock also included something I initially thought was a part of rusting boat. It was actually the iron caisson which was used to stop sea water entering the dock so the nearby pump house could control whether to empty or fill the dock.

After I left Nomadic, I decided to take time to walk around the area which had once been the old slipways. It was a very sombre experience. The Titanic slipway had the ships main features marked out for example the funnels and lifeboats whilst the Olympic slipway had a memorial garden. For each category of class on board, including crew there was a section of grass representing those who passed away and concrete representing those who survived. From the Bow end I had a minutes silence as I looked across the Lagan. As I was leaving the site I chanced upon a sign called Titanic Dock and Pump House so walked up Queens Road with the old Harland and Wolff office’s on my left. By the time I arrived the Pump House museum was closed and the site was locked up so I booked a taxi to the Guest House.

The driver was very friendly and as we approached the city I saw the lines of people to get in to the pubs and bars. I arrived at the guest house and the owner was also very friendly. My twin room was surprisingly nice and as a bonus I was told it included breakfast. I hadn’t paid any more than I did for an Australian hostel and it was nice to know I’d be in a comfortable bed and have no annoying room mates. After freshening up and getting changed I called a taxi to take me back in to town.

I decided to start at the Duke of York which had been recommend to me. I thought some London pubs looked old however just walking down the cobbled Street I knew I was in for a treat and I wasn’t disappointed due to the mirrored whiskey bar and historic advertisements. The only drink to start with was a Guinness however it seemed to be full of locals and I was slightly more introvert than I had hoped. I was standing near a group and just as I was considering moving on we got chatting so I ordered the Guinness lager “Ice Harp”, a Jameson whiskey and some packs of Taytos due to the minimum spend.

I made my excuses and after failing to call a taxi due to the number being constantly engaged I found the website for Belfast’s transport system. I had a look and it contained a “journey planner” to rival Transport for London. I should add I would normally use Google Maps to get me around but it doesn’t currently provide information for Belfast and neither does City Mapper. I walked towards the City Hall which was lit up in Green and after successfully navigating my way to the bus stop was home for 1/4 the price of a taxi.

Friday 18th March
I woke at a fairly modest 7.45 and after getting ready made my to breakfast. A coffee, orange juice and a fry up later and I was ready to roll. I caught the bus in to town and waited at the bus stop. I quickly identified 6 other people waiting and all seemed in relatively good spirits despite what had probably been a late one the night before.

We thought maybe it was just us but once the large Paddywagon coach arrived we realised it had come all the way from Dublin. They’d been on the road since before I’d woken up and unsurprisingly most looked very hung over especially the person adjacent to me who needed two seats. He had to relinquish one when another couple joined and I volunteered to move so they could sit next to each other. Coincidentally this meant I was moved to the seat at the front which gave a great view but before we departed the driver joked saying I was the new tour guide so I jokingly played along and introduced myself.

The weather the day before had been wonderful and whilst it had been expected to continue there was a mist which was determined not to shift. Our first photo stop was at the “Dark Hedges” which were planted in the 18th century and over the years the branches have grown over the road an entangled which give them a mystical appearance. Our guide explained that they have since become famous due to Game of Thrones however I hadn’t seen enough of the show to recognise them. Perhaps the crowds from other coaches on their way to the causeway meant the scene lost some of its magic which meant pleasant as they were, they just looked like a row of trees.

Despite the low fog I enjoyed my undisturbed panoramic view as we drove along the Giants Causeway coastal route. Our first main stop of the day was the Carrick-a-Rede Swing Bridge. Fortunately the mist wasn’t so bad so the views were good and although it was overcast it didn’t rain. The walk to the bridge took longer than I expected and there was a large queue.

Once I was on I started filming my journey across and looked down. I saw the waves crashing on the shore below and even though I have no issue with heights normally even I was made to feel slightly nervous as the slight breeze caused the bridge to creek and sway. There wasn’t anything to see at the other end so I made my way back across the bridge and up along the cliff back to the coach. As I was on the front seat there was no point in me getting on until everyone had boarded which was mildly annoying because the guy who had taken up two seats that morning (and the group he was with) were 15 minutes late back.

The highlight of the day was of course the Giants Causeway. It is a relatively unique Natural Phenomenon with the only other example in the world in Scotland and both were part of a great volcanic plateau and was caused by a lava cooling rapidly. Our driver told us the legend that it was originally a bridge connecting Ireland to Scotland and that the Causeway is the remains of a feud between the Irish giant Fionn and his Scottish rival Angus

As mum is a geologist I decided I’d start my listening to the Geology commentry but perhaps in hindsight I should have listened to that on the way back. I saw the Camel and the Shoe, which looked particularly random and walked along what I thought was the Giants Causeway. The site is most famous for the Basalt columns however aside from the Giants Gate, the best example was the Organ which I could see in the distance but didn’t have time to walk to.

On our way back to Belfast we passed through Bushmills, famous for the Irish Whiskey and had a photo stop at the ruins of Dunluce Castle. After arriving back in Belfast I made my way to The Crown Liquor Saloon one of the famous bars in the city. Work hadn’t quite finished so I was able to find a seat at the bar and enjoyed a pleasant Guinness in the former Gin Palace. After leaving “the Crown” I made a reservation at “Made in Belfast” which had been recommended to me before continuing on to the Morning Star. By now there was the usual Friday after work energy and I enjoyed another Guinness whilst watching some horse racing highlights.

By the time I returned to Made in Belfast there is a possibility I was mildly drunk so declined another Guinness but I was certainly hungry. After searching the menu I decided on fish and chips which I’ve said before would be my food choice if I was a food critic. I was not disappointed in my decision and along with the mushy peas it also included a boat of curry sauce. I returned home via Tesco where I brought 3 multi packs of Taytos for work without thinking how I’d actually get them in my hand luggage. I considered going back out but had failed to meet anyone on the tour who was staying in Belfast and content with the day I’d had opted for an early night.

Saturday 19th March
I managed to get all the Taytos in my hand luggage but I still had another backpack for the day and as EasyJet only allow one piece I knew at some point (once I was at the airport) I’d have to address the issue properly. First I went to breakfast and then waited for my Black Cab Taxi Tour to the political murals and Peace Line.

As we drove along through the city centre my driver Tom showed me a black and white picture of a large building which had been bombed out and pointed to a building just to our right. He continued to tell me that because when he was growing up he’d never left Belfast he thought the constant threat of bombs was normal daily life. Staring out of the window and at the book my brain couldn’t comprehend the scenes and I was lost for words.

Our first stop was to the loyalist murals in the Shankill. The first was made up of small pictures and simply said “Nothing about us, without us, is for us” referring to the Good Friday Agreement. The next we saw was a depiction of William of Orange who has become a symbolic figure for the loyalists and my driver Tom told me the tensions the infamous Orange Parades can still cause. The final mural in the area was dedicated to Stephen McKeag who was responsible for many Republican deaths but considered by the Unionists to be a hero and regardless of the rights and wrongs a sign referring to him as daddy made it more personal.

We continued to the huge wall dividing the communities known as the Peace line and drove through one of the gates/barriers which are kept locked at night so no cars or people can get through. The attitude of locals it seems is the wall and gates remain whilst people want them and ultimately both are still required to help people feel safe. Again as a tourist I couldn’t comprehend it because I was sure people of both sides must mix in the city centre. I sincerely hope that future generations will be able to overcome the physical and and theological barriers.

Our final stop was the Republican area around Bombay Street. On our approach I noticed a number of Tri colour flags and stickers in windows expressing support for Palestine which the driver explained was the locals supporting any group that is repressed. Tom told me that despite the height of the wall, bottles are still thrown over by Loyalists and I could see each house had a metal mesh backing on to the wall to protect the garden. He then showed me the Memorial Garden which gave the name of Republican victims (listed as Martyrs” and Civilian Casualties. Those in the latter category far outweighed the others and he pointed out a few names of individual stories he’d told me about including the Chemist Philomena Hannah. We continued along the main road where there was an International Wall where murals supported issues outside of Northern Ireland and saw the first stages of a new mural dedicated to 1916 Easter Rising.

I was feeling quite sombre when Tom dropped off at the town centre. It would have been thought provoking enough in a group but a one on one tour had been particularly intense. Once I’d collected my thoughts I made my way to the Titanic Pump House and Dry Dock which had been closed by the time I realised it existed on my first day. On the way I looked at the display boats trying to imagine how the Queens Road looked just over 100 years ago. I also saw the Navy ship HMS Caroline which was mostly covered under a tarpaulin in preparation for a multi million pound restoration however despite being of such historical importance I’d initially mistaken it for an asbestos filled ship awaiting the scrap yard.

From the outside the pump house looked like a typically grand Victorian building. Inside the machinery was all in place and there were various displays and videos showing how the massive pumps could drain the dry docks in 100 minutes. The Dry Dock itself was huge, I walked from one end to the other – over 800ft before reaching the Caisson. The original from over 100 years ago is still in place but has been retired and a modern one now protects it from the sea. I climbed down the steps and stood next to the keel blocks which alone came up to just below my head. I thought it was really good, and I arguably enjoyed it more than the Titanic Quarter Museum but it seems to have been forgotten by most of the crowds.

Returning to the City I walked past the gently leaning Albert Memorial Clock and on to St Anne’s Cathedral. Continuing on to the City Hall I saw a Loyalist protest which included BNP flags which I just found very odd. I was starting to feel hungry and so decided after some internal deliberation to walk to St George’s Market where eventually I opted to have a beef burger with spinach, cranberry and brie which the person serving agreed was a good choice. It was a good atmosphere and someone was playing some live music and I found a seat so that I could watch them perform whilst I ate.

After leaving the market I caught a bus to the Botanical Garden so that I could have a quick look around Ulster Museum. I had a look at the display on “The Troubles” which handled the period delicately and neutrally. I then continued to a section on the sinking of the La Girona during the 1588 Spanish Armada which contained treasure that was recovered from the wreck.

I returned to my Guest House and after grabbing my bag I said goodbye to the owner. Once back in the centre I had one stop before making my way to the bus station. I returned to the City Hall to see the Titanic Memorial Gardens and then made the short walk to the bus station. I arrived at the airport and squeezing the contents of two rucksacks in to one, I was forced to wear my trousers over my jeans as they had an elasticated waist a T-shirt, jumper and shirt which meant I resembled the Michelin man.

I’d had an amazing time in Belfast, I’d been made to feel welcome and whilst i’d done a lot, I would have liked to have climbed Divis Hill and to have visited Crumlin Road Gaol. Despite its rather horrific recent history Belfast seems to be on the right path and I felt safe which gives me hope that future generations will be able to live peacefully regardless of religious beliefs.

Here I Go Again: Granada

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Saturday 20th February
Watford seems to be the link with my travels so far this year. They are currently owned by the Italian Pozzo family who own similarly sized clubs in Italy (Udinese) and Spain (Granada CF), taking them to the top league in their respective countries and keeping them there. Udinese thrived becoming a regular Champions League team (though are struggling this year) whilst Granada always seemed to be bottom, somehow often inexplicably surviving on the last day (last season by 1 goal).

I’m not entirely sure when I first heard of the Alhambra but it was over 10 years and likely to have been just after my aunt moved to Spain or when I’d studied the Islamic conquest of Spain at university. It could even have been Age of Empires (as per Istanbul, Turkey). It’s obviously an iconic destination in its own right but really it was only with Granada CF looking particularly vulnerable again this season that I decided it was now or never if I wanted to see them in La Liga.

I left the house at 3am and the journey to Gatwick was uneventful but I had to get a dreaded night bus to Victoria and there was a fairly long connection before the Gatwick express which meant the journey took around 3 hours. I fell asleep on the train and my alarm failed to wake me so it was a good job Gatwick was the last stop. Security was hassle free and once on the plane I swapped with the person who had been allocated the window seat and fell asleep for another 2 hours.

As far as I am aware there are no direct flights to Granada so I’d had to book a flight to Malaga. From there I planned to get a bus to Granada which took another 2 hours and again I slept most of the journey. Arriving in Granada I then I to get another 2 buses before finally over 10 hours after leaving the house I finally arrived at the Oasis Hostel, recommended to me by my flatmate Steph’s friend Hannah.

After checking in I wanted to make sure that I was familiar with how to reach the Alhambra because I needed to collect the tickets at 8.30 the following morning and didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I started following signs and soon came to the river and took photos of a church, Iglesia de San Pedro y San Pablo, Casa de Las Chirimías and paseo de los tristes. I had followed signs and it had been a pleasant walk with the Alhambra in the distance on my right however had taken 20 minutes (the time it was meant to have taken). Eventually I powered up Google maps and realised I had taken the scenic route.

Crossing the river I began powering up the hill but by the time I reached the top the visitor centre was closed but at least I’d experienced a pleasant river walk along the Carrera del Darro. I returned back down the path and once at the bottom crossed the bridge and followed the path to the Mirador de San Nicholas. Another steep climb ensued but the views of the Alhambra and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada were worth it. Unfortunately I hadn’t timed it to coincide with sunset but it was already getting quite busy.

I returned back to the hostel where I quickly changed, said “Hola” to a couple from Seville staying in my room before joining a free walking tour that the hostel had organised. There were 8 of us in total, 4 Americans, a couple from Austria and a girl from Taiwan. The guide was from Argentina but was living in Granada as that’s where his family was from before they had fled Spain prior to the Second World War.

He was very knowledgeable and provided lots of facts and pointed out various observations that I wouldn’t otherwise have noticed or considered. The architecture of the old city is particularly interesting because Granada had been the Islamic capital of Andalusia for 800 years. After it was reconquered by the Christians most buildings were handed over to those that fought so adapted and Mosques were converted in to churches one of which we visited.

Overall the walk was three hours and we saw a lot and had to take in a lot of information. I’d only been in Granada a quarter of a day but I quickly understood why it was UNESCO heritage listed in the centre because nearly every turning was followed by a structure of interest. We passed an old cistern, which was heritage listed because the importance of ablutions for the Muslim culture made water a key element in daily life. For the second time in a day I climbed to the top of Mirador de San Nicholas and I also got my first glimpse of the Cathedral which wasn’t that memorable but our guide and others had told us as much.

Back at the hostel we all decided to visit Poe one of the Tapas bars the guide had recommended. A few more Americans staying in the hostel joined us and they started ordering in Spanish. I was starting to regret not knowing how to do the same when I realised the barman was actually from London. It seemed exceptional value, for every beer ordered the Tapas was free so for under €7 I’d drunk and eaten as much as I needed for the night.

When I got back to the hostel another couple were already in bed though none of us said anything. Shortly after the Seville couple returned and perhaps thinking everyone was asleep became somewhat loved up. One of the others snored loudly, the other coughed most of the night and finally to really make it the room from hell someone stumbled in around 3am and made retching sounds though as far as I am aware weren’t actually sick.

Sunday 21st February
I woke before my alarm from what had been perhaps my worst hostel nights sleep that I can remember. Rather than snoozing I jumped out of bed showered and left as quickly as possible. The shorter length walk to the Alhambra was equally as steep as the day before and by the time I reached the top I had started shedding layers even though it was 8am and quite cold. I ordered some breakfast from the cafe and at 8.30 collected my tickets as soon as the office opened. I had expected my allocated entrance to the famous Nasrid Palaces to be later that morning but instead they were for 9am so I was relieved I hadn’t wasted any time earlier in the morning.

I entered the Alhambra and after 20 minutes reached the queue for the Palaces. In hindsight I probably could have walked slower and taken the experience in but I knew I had the rest of the day to explore the other areas and I don’t like feeling in a rush. Once my ticket had been successfully scanned I finally relaxed though I was made to wear my rucksack on my front which felt odd and uncomfortable especially with my camera hanging to my left and the audio guide to my right.

The Nasrid Palaces are the centre piece of the Alhambra and I was glad that I had an audio guide to help me fully appreciate what I was looking at. I wondered through the elaborately decorated rooms even obediently sitting on the floor in one as the audio guide instructed me to in order to fully appreciate the patterns. Some of the most spectacular rooms included the Hall of the Twin Sisters (due to the marble columns).The outside patios and fountains were equally stunning in the early morning sun and perhaps the most famous of these “The Patio of Lions” didn’t disappoint.

After leaving the Nasrid Palaces I decided to have a stroll at my own pace around the Alhambra’s gardens known as the General Life. My expectations had been unfairly low for the General Life and I found it more interesting and enjoyable than I’d anticipated. Whilst the architecture was quite simple compared to Nasrid Palaces it was interesting to know the area predated the rest of the Alhambra although changes to the layout has meant it is not known how it once looked. The vegetable garden was the oldest part however I particularly liked the Water Stairway and whilst it wasn’t a hot day in summer I could imagine why it was important for the Sultan to be able to transfer water from different levels.

The Palace of Charles V initially looked quite grand due to the inner court yard however I quickly realised it was just a facade. Building began in 1527 and it was meant to be the palace for or the Emperor and his family following the reconquest of the city by the Christians. A lack of finance meant the Palace was never completed or lived in so unlike the Nasrid Palace there were no decorated rooms to explore. There was a museum in the basement however the signs weren’t in English and it wasn’t covered by the audio guide. I walked through in case something caught my eye but it didn’t and I was more interested in exploring the rest of the Alhambra.

The Church of Santa Maria the Alhambra was closed so I passed through the “Wine Arch” and made my way to the Alcazaba, the Fortress of the Alhambra. First I walked through the Arms Square which contained the foundations of houses used by civil population. Next I made my way on to the edge of the Arms Tower which was the main entrance to the Alhambra. From there I climbed the Watch Tower the highest point of the Alhambra and had some particularly good views of the city but couldn’t see the football stadium.

After leaving the Alcazaba I walked through the Square of the Cisterns visited the church and tried to find the bath house/Hammam of the old Mosque but it wasn’t well sign posted. What I found (which may have been it) was underwhelming however I was starting to feel a bit tired so decided not to search further despite feeling a little frustrated. I’d had a lovely morning and felt I’d fully experienced the Alhambra but I knew it was time to leave to experience some other Granada sights before the football match.

It had been a fascinating morning but I was drained when I left the Alhambra. I returned back down the hill from that morning and entered the town through the Gate of Elvira. I ate at another place recommended by the guide which the Americans had also eaten at the day before. Eventually I realised I could sit down and be served so I ordered a beer and a kebab/salad combination which I believed I had earned from all my walking. All in all it came to €8 which seemed ridiculously cheap.

After leaving the restaurant I knew I had a few hours before I needed to collect my tickets for the football so I decided to visit the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). I could have done with an audio guide because everything was in Spanish so whilst I saw a lot, aside from the coffins of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II I’m not sure what was of particular significance.

Next I went to the Cathedral where I was given an audio guide but whether I had pre match tension, had overdosed on culture at the Alhambra or just found the descriptions and details boring I’m not sure but I just couldn’t take it in. It was pretty on the inside especially the Altar but unlike Valencia which had the “Holy Grail” there was nothing of note which I thought was interesting. I walked to each section and listened to a summary of the descriptions before leaving and feeling slightly guilty at my apathy to the experience.

This may sound badly planned on my part but I hadn’t actually established how to reach the ground in advance of arriving in Granada. Knowing it was quite small, and there was only one team I had assumed it would be easy to find. It actually turned out it was a long way out of the city centre and eventually I found a random football site which gave bus details because Google maps normally so reliable for transport abroad had only proposed a 45 minute walk.

As it was I ended up walking the entire route and after successfully collecting the tickets and buying a shirt I began to soak up the pre match atmosphere. First I saw the Granada ‘Heroes’ wall which featured two players now at Watford so I took a picture of me posing with Ighalo. Then the team coach arrived and I caught my first glimpse of three Watford players on loan at Granada who should arrive next summer. Personally though if I was a player I’d stay at Granada which is undeniably more picturesque and warmer than Watford. Entering the ground and finding my seat I saw that they had left out free programmes.

I could write an entire essay on the match. It was a weird experience not understanding what people were singing or shouting though I got the gist of the latter. Granada started off well but the defence looked determined to throw all the good work away and basically looked overly relaxed even though those around me were probably on the verge of having heart attacks. It didn’t help the Granada strikers missed some relatively easy chances. Bad defending and a toothless attack is a toxic mix and a recipe for disaster.

At half time it was 0.0 and Gary Neville randomly, recently appointed Valencia manager was looking tense and I think Granada fans were taking delight in that. All of a sudden though a calamitous piece of defending (I’ve seen similar at Watford) saw Valencia’s number 10 smash the ball in from close range. Granada fought back and missed another two easy chances and had a goal ruled out before in the 90th minute more calamitous defending saw Valencia score again. Granada did then score but there were no celebrations because the final whistle went straight away. They look dead and buried to me and I think I’ll only be returning to that ground if they play Watford in pre season.

During the match I’d decided to book tickets to a Flamenco show in the infamous Sacromonte District. This is the area of the city where gypsy’s had traditionally lived and they had built houses in to the surrounding caves. At the final whistle my legs felt ready for the one hour walk from one side of the city to the other which partly included the river path I’d taken the day before in the day. I hadn’t planned to stop for pictures but it was a good opportunity to take some night shots of the Alhambra lit up in all its splendour on top of the hill.

After a short steep climb I finally reached the venue and even though I’d only booked for a drink I managed to upgrade to get dinner included. It was quite pricey by Granada standards but I was hungry. The show was good and really felt the perfect way to cap off my final evening. The dancers, (especially the male who was visibly sweating at the end) had shown so much energy. The guitar player in contrast looked ridiculously laid back and made the quick playing rhythm look easy.

At the interval I’d got chatting to two Australians in the row in front. Having just spent two hours unable to express myself at the football it was a relief to speak to people that understood me. They were on a tour along with everyone else in the room which spoilt the illusion that I’d stumbled across a genuine venue. Still it was a good evening and we shared travel tips, particularly recommendations in Granada.

I had walked 40,000 steps by the time I arrived back at the hostel just before midnight. As I slowly opened the door I could hear the bathroom extractor fan but the bedroom was deserted and the beds were not made. I turned the light on and as there was no luggage I became overjoyed when I realised for the first time I had a whole hostel dorm to myself.

Monday 22nd February
At 8.30 I woke from a particularly good night’s sleep feeling refreshed. I hadn’t decided what to do on my 3rd day and whilst the hostel ran a day trip to the Sierra Nevada it didn’t return to Granada until the time my flight left Malaga. I looked on Trip Adviser and Lonely Planet briefly considering a visit to the Monasterio de la Cartuja and the Basilica San Juan de Díos. But remembering my feelings at the Cathedral I wasn’t convinced I would be overly enthralled.

In the end I decided to book a Arabic bath and massage because my legs were aching from the day before and I got a discount from the hostel. The girl at the hostel booked me in and after checking out I made my way at a fairly quick pace to the venue.

I had been expecting a Hammam experience similar to those I’d had in Morocco and Turkey. Instead once changed I entered a large room with 7 different swimming pools, six of which were hot and one which was cold. I wasn’t sure how long to spend in each and if I’m honest I got a bit bored getting in and out. In the end I decided to sit on the side and drink some sweet mint tea and waited for the massage.

I had opted for a leg massage because my muscles were in need of some serious TLC after the strain I’d put them through the day before. I probably needed a sports massage but instead this was a relaxing massage which did very little except to cause me to very briefly fall asleep. After the massage I briefly switched between the hot and cold swimming pools before I decided I’d had enough and it was time for lunch.

I still had plenty of time before I felt I needed to get a bus to the Granada bus station. I briefly considered walking to the Monasterio de la Cartuja however remembering my feelings after the visit to the Cathedral and Royal Chapel I decided not to. I realised that despite it being high on the TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet websites I probably wouldn’t appreciate it. I had come to Granada to see the Alhambra, to watch football and eat Tapas. I had done all 3 and was satisfied I was ready to leave.

I ate lunch at a bar/restaurant near the hostel, deciding against another walk along the river to a bar recommended to me by the two Australians from the flamenco night. The deal was ridiculously good but for one reason or another the bar staff took a distinct dislike to me and pretty much refused to serve me after the food had arrived. It took an age to get the bill but I was still feeling relatively stress free when I returned to the hostel and collected my bag.

I made my way to the bus station and along with many other people with suitcases boarded a bus which arrived almost instantaneously. It was crowded but I got off at the right stop so I could get the bus to the bus station and on to Malaga. What happened next I had a chance to reflect on for over 3 hours.

I knew I needed to go to the “estación de autobuses” (Main bus stop) and to get two bus numbers went there. One of the two buses came in so I jumped on and as it was busy thought nothing of it. Gradually people got off and a seat became free. I relaxed. It didn’t even occur to me to check the map. After quite a while, we passed the football stadium and I became anxious because I knew that was south of the city and I needed to be north. I looked at the map and it suggested I was only 20 minutes away if we suddenly took a turning on to the motorway. I clung to the thinnest of straws.

Unsurprisingly we didn’t take the turning. Instead the bus stopped and the driver turned off the engine and I got off. If all went to plan I could still get the 3pm bus from Granada which would give me 30 minutes to get through security and I was checked in I was still relatively calm. I got back on the bus and over 45 minutes later arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to get a ticket. Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking straight and made another error of judgement.

I knew I had to get a ticket to the airport and searching Malaga it only came up with the bus station. There were only 3 tickets left (it hadn’t even occurred to me the bus would be full) so I booked it, hoping I could resolve the issue. Rather than finding a help desk I tried the departure gate and I spent 20 minutes waiting for someone who could help to magically turn up. They didn’t and of course I was unable to explain my predicament to the driver and my fellow passengers probably thought I was trying to cheat the system.

For over two hours I was in a state of panic. I researched other ways to get home concluding the next direct flight was 3 days away, I researched getting a bus from Malaga bus station to Malaga Airport and tried phoning the bus company. The latter hung up when I assume they didn’t understand my Spanish. Half way in to the journey we pulled over in the middle of nowhere so the driver could check the wheels/have a smoke, neither of which were reassuring. I arrived at Malaga bus station and rather than arguing my point ran off to the taxi rank I’d seen on our approach. As it was I beat the bus I’d been on and as security was quick I made it to the gate as priority passengers boarded.

Ironically I was one of the first to board the plane. This was because we were ferried on to a bus to take us the length of a bus up the runway to the plane and I had been the last person to board the bus and so was first off when the doors opened. During that time I completed a survey and the prize was a Caribbean Cruise. At the time I wondered if this had been a test and I would be rewarded but on my flight I realised I’d actually had good fortune, or at least it could have been a lot worse.

Aside from a screaming baby on the flight there were no further dramas. I landed in Luton and made my way to Ealing where I ironically arrived at South Ealing station minutes before Steph who had been in Stockholm and landed at Heathrow. We exchanged stories on the walk home. For me Granada had been everything I had hoped and more. I thoroughly recommend it. The Alhambra is stunning, the food is great and I desperately hope the football team stay up because I would love a chance to see another La Liga match there.

Yellow: Swansea and the Gower

20160118_195940Sunday 17th January
I had not initially planned to write a blog about my weekend to Swansea with dad, Jenny and some old family friends. It wasn’t the best time of year to visit the Gower Peninsular but then ultimately the usual reason for a holiday as the main purpose for going was to see a football match between Watford vs Swansea. Watford occasionally have a cameo appearance in these blogs and whilst just under 10 years ago I used to keep a football blog (hereif anyone is interest) they faded out in February 2010. I started them to document my feelings on our journey in the 2006/2007 Premiership campaign and then continued as hope gradually turned to despair for the next few seasons. Watford are now back in the Premiership but during that time travel has muscled in to become an equal passion which defines me as a person as much as being a Watford fan has in the past (and admittedly still does).

One of the advantages about being a football fan is that you have the opportunity to go away matches and therefore over the years i’ve visited quite a bit of the UK and been to towns and cities I may not have done if I’d never been a Watford fan. I’d have never been on the Grand National Rollercoaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach or to Plymouth for a weekend of drinking cider and eating pasties. Ultimately an away match can be a lot of fun if everything goes well but even if your team loses it still feels more memorable than a home match but I digress this is not my old football blog.

The night before i’d been to a house warming party so as dad had said we were leaving Berkhamsted at 10.00am I had a very early start to ensure I got to the house in time. Opening the door I saw the remains of a slight snow shower but nothing to get me concerned my journey would be disrupted. Fortunately it didn’t however as I left the suburbs of London, countryside began to replace houses and the scene became more picturesque as the snow got deeper. I arrived in Berkhamsted with time to spare so went on a mini walk from the Castle to my dads via the canal taking some pictures mainly to send to Victoria and others I knew would appreciate the scene more than most of the locals who were treating it in the typical ‘what a nuisance;

After arriving at the house Rob, Sue and Tony soon arrived and after loading our bags in to the car we set off for South Wales. The journey consisted of talk about the upcoming match, the season so far, memories of our trip to India which was sadly pre blog and dad, Tony & Rob discussing one of their upcoming cycle trips through Europe. If there was some way I could convince myself to get on a bike again I can see numerous advantages, I’d get to see more countries, experience the real culture and get fit. Unfortunately I haven’t since a bike ride in Devon went wrong when I was about 12. They say “you should just get back on the bike” but I didn’t.

Our first stop was Bristol somewhere i’ve been two times before without actually seeing any of the tourist sites or indeed any of the city. The snow of Hertfordshire had been replaced by rain and puddles which meant it wasn’t the greatest introduction to the harbour which must be particularly pretty on a warm summers day. We walked along the harbourside up to the SS Great Britain however disappointingly due to the regeneration of the port it wasn’t possible to see it without paying to go round the museum which we didn’t have time to do. Instead we walked where we had come and found a cafe where we had a coffee to warm us up and I had a bacon sandwich because I hadn’t come prepared with lunch like the others.

We got back in the car and I probably fell asleep at some point though not before we crossed in to Wales. We arrived in Swansea and after laughing at the Satnavs attempts at pronouncing Welsh place names we eventually found the Travel Lodge we were staying at. We had an hour or so to freshen up and after discussing some potential walks along the Gower made our way to a Wetherspoons in one of the local suburbs. After enjoying a Sunday Roast and a few ales which were brewed locally we made our way back to our service station located hotel (think Alan Partridge Travel Tavern).

Monday 18th January
After waking up and getting ready we drove to the Wetherspoons for a breakfast. The weather wasn’t particularly inviting but eventually we left and made our way to Worms Head on the coast. By the time we arrived it had at least stopped raining but when we checked the tide times we realised that there would be no opportunity to cross the causeway so instead we did a looped walk which took us along the coast and through farm land. It was certainly picturesque but it was really cold and quite windy so I was glad that I was wearing my big coat.

We arrived back at the car and drove to the ‘Mumbles’ which I had heard of, or at least I thought I had because the walk from the car to the pier was nothing like what I had expected. I had expected a mile packed of pubs/bars and perhaps they are more noticeable at other times of the year but during a cold January the area seemed deserted. Despite it not being what I had expected and the Pier being closed due to I assume the high winds it was a very quaint and nice area though the the old life boat station needed some tlc.

We returned back to the hotel passing the Liberty Stadium on the way so that we could look for some places to park the car. Once back at the hotel we had some time for nap and to get ready for the football but first stopped off at the Wetherspoons again for a pre match beer and some food. It was the beginning of celebrations for Burns night and after trying to work out what to eat, torn between being healthy or not I ended up placing an order for perhaps the most unhealthy burger ever.

Rob and Tony dropped Sue, Jenny, dad and I off at the bottom of a street not far from the ground and we agreed to meet again inside. Swansea fans would have been feeling low on confidence pre kick off and the closure of the steel works would have done little to life spirits. Perhaps knowing this the club had announced the new manager would be in the crowd just before kick off (which always causes the players to step up their game) and had the ball brought to the pitch by some marines abseiling from the top of the stand I was in.

This was my first away match since Everton a game where we had shown energy and hunger. Even during the recent defeats against Man City and Tottenham we had given it a go and been unlucky to lose so I was surprised and slightly horrified that Swansea a team which should have been low on confidence were made to look world beaters. Normally away matches can be fun due to the crowd ‘having a party’ but on the whole we seemed to have as little energy as the players and this was summed up by the lady next to me trying to engage in conversation. The guy in front was in meltdown throughout the first half and ended up turning on the fans for not showing enough passion. Much as I tried to remain optimistic that we would just ‘ride out the storm’ it was little surprise when Swansea took the lead and not long after the Watford players trudged off for half time.

I was able to move up to sit with the others for the second half and we came out with more intent however the only real chances of note fell to Juardao, one of which I thought had gone in. On another night we could, if not should have got a draw but it seemed to be one of those nights all football fans experience which was bitterly disappointing. I went to bed feeling quite disillusioned at how Watford had done and on the back of losing 3 other matches I started to have the fears of relegation which had seemed a distant memory just two weeks before.

Tuesday 19th January
Watford losing can interrupt my sleep, and I kept turning the match over in my head and the next morning I felt particularly groggy. As per the previous day we went to Wetherspoons for breakfast and perhaps spent longer than expected before driving to a village/suburb of Swansea called Bishopton where we planned to walk to the headland. We parked near a small Norman church (St Teilo’s Church) which dates back to a church built around 460-490 AD making it one of the earliest Welsh Christian settlements.

The walk itself was less successful because the route was not well sign posted and the map/directions we were using were older than me. We also kept chatting to locals which reminded me of my time in Aberystwyth where no one was in a hurry, however we kind of were because I needed to be on the train home by mid afternoon. After walking for about 30 minutes we didn’t appear to be any nearer to the headland so Rob, Dad and I returned to the car and met the others on a main road so that we could drive nearer to the coast.

We walked down a single track road and it wasn’t long before we were out of civilisation despite still not being far from Bishopton. Eventually we hit the coast and the sun was shining so the views from Brandy Cove of (I believe) Mumbles Head and Caswell Bay were good. I’ve explored a lot of Wales, especially Mid and North West Wales and the Gower in the South did not disappoint. We were lucky that despite travelling to the Gower in (potentially) the UKs worst month weatherwise not only did we still get to do some lovely walks but we had the views people would have been happy with in the summer.

We returned to the car and drove back to Swansea. I didn’t actually see much of the actual city (besides the football stadium and the train train station) so as I left I felt I had unfinished business and I would definitely return to the Gower. Hopefully Watford and Swansea both stay up and the match next season is the August bank holiday

Affirmation: Antalya

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Sunday 13th December

We arrived in Antalya and then proceeded to travel out of it for another hour before we arrived at the hotel. There was quite a big gap between when we arrived and dinner so I tried with little success to nap. The dinner was really disappointing and the hot food (whilst cooked) was luke-warm at best and at least one of the desserts was slightly frozen. Whilst it didn’t particularly bother me, there were loads of cats running around the room and they waited outside the sliding doors for their opportunity to run inside.

Marcus went up to the room and Alex and I sought to find something to do but by 8pm we accepted there was literally nothing for us to do. I had a shower and got in to bed which was in the same room as Marcus but divided by a sliding door so my section resembled a peasants quarters. Marcus then decided to build a barricade because we realised that the balcony wouldn’t lock.

Monday 14th December
After I woke up from a bad nights sleep I knew not to get my hopes up for breakfast after the dinner from the night before. My low expectations were still not met and I couldn’t even have jam or nutella on toast and got charged for orange juice even though I along with others thought it was free. The setting of the hotel was nice and before leaving I got a photo of the sea and the mountains.

We arrived in the main square and from the clock tower walked through the Bazaar to the harbour. Marcus showed a bit to much interest in one of the shops and told the owner he would come back later. We both made the same comment at the same time “we can’t go back that way”. Although it wasn’t quite 9am the sun was starting to shine through and when we reached the harbour the water sparkled.

The views were lovely and we could see the snow capped mountains in the background. There were a lot of boat tours and it seemed most used a pirate theme, or rather specifically Pirates of the Caribbean, even using moulded character faces as the boats figurehead. After leaving the harbour we stumbled across a very pretty square in what was probably a very wealthy area before continuing to the tower.

Unfortunately on the way Marcus got talking to another shop keeper who seemed, as Volkan had predicted learnt every street name in London. Volkan had also warned they would talk to us for a long time and for a while it looked like we would never leave though mercifully we were able to make our excuses and to leave. This time we really would not be returning down that street. We finally reached the tower which was slightly underwhelming up close, looking more spectacular from a distance.

With time to spare we went to Yenigüm a traditional Turkish delight shop. I didn’t used to like the texture of the Turkish delight sold in the UK but this was amazing and out of this world with so many different varieties. Such was my love for the pomegranate flavour and chocolate with coconut I left with a small box and the treats for work sorted.

We boarded the bus and continued to the jewellery shop where the salesman showed us some rare diamonds worth more than the house in Southall I’d looked at. Many were also more than the deposit I have saved for. He tried his best to convince us diamonds were a better investment than money but all I left with was some Turkish coffee for Steph and Jess.

After lunch we went to a leather shop where some very pretty girls and a no doubt handsome man put on a fashion show. I’ve been to a lot of these stops on various tours and I’ve always resisted buying anything however I finally broke. I tried on a leather jacket, which I took an instant liking to and with the help of Volkan managed to get more than 75% off. I’ve always wanted a nice leather jacket and this one will be a nice memory of the holiday.

We arrived at the hotel which at the entrance looked quite spectacular. After dropping off the bags Alex and I tried to explore the Japanese swimming pool and Spa area however it was such a maze I got lost on the way and opened a door to a room which resembled a building site. The pool was closed and the steam room cold and whilst the Sauna was working we both decided to return to our rooms.

Marcus and I counted down the minutes to dinner and were amongst the first people there. It was arguably the best buffet I’ve had, or certainly the biggest in terms of choice and we both shamelessly stuffed ourselves. After dinner we went to the Sultan Lounge for some live music but eventually realised it had been cancelled due to being out of season.

Alex had joined us so we went in search for the “real Ferrari F1 car” (in the words of Marcus) and walked a very long way for something which ended up being a large lifesize plastic toy. It was a very creepy feeling room resembling a closed theme park which was made worse when a creepy man we hadn’t seen jumped out and said “would you like to play?” Despite still being early we cut our losses and went to bed.

Tuesday 15th December
I woke up early and spent quite a bit of time mindlessly looking at articles on the internet and really struggled to get out of bed when my alarm eventually went off. By the time I went down for breakfast I was running marginally late which was a shame because the breakfast, like the dinner had an amazing choice.

Our main activity for the day was to visit the ruins at Aspendos and after passing through the city gate we stopped to photograph the remains of the cities aqueduct system something I hadn’t seen before. Next we arrived at the site Aspendos is perhaps now most famous for. I had already been impressed with a lot of the ruins we’d seen on the trip but stepping in to the perfectly preserved theatre built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in 161AD (and restored in the 1930s) was a real treat.

We had a group photo and then when we had free time I climbed to the very top level and looked down on the 15,000 capacity auditorium. I explored every corner and Kevin kindly told me about the stone which had the Roman text confirming when it was built. Ironically as I took the photos of the theatre I was deleting old pictures of the theatre at Pompeii from earlier in the year and I was really able to compare the two. True it’s not as grand as the Coliseum in Rome but it is more complete and seeing a show there must be incredibly atmospheric.

Leaving the theatre I had about 45 minutes to explore the rest of the area and turned my feet on to ultimate speed. I made the 20 minute up hill walk to the Basilica in under 10 minutes, passing the remains of the stadium in the process. The Basilica area was deserted and after taking in the atmosphere decided to walk for a further 10 reaching the start of the aqueduct system. On the way down I accidentally took a short cut and so powered to the top of the ‘theatre hill’ so that I could look down on the theatre which was particularly spine tingling. I jogged back down and made it to the coach with just enough time to buy the group souvenir photo.

I thought I may have been a bit tired of ruined but Aspendos had been so good it had left me on a bit of a high and the inner wannabe photographer/archeologist/history buff had been truly satisfied as we continued to lunch. After my late breakfast I wasn’t hungry so as soon as it appeared everyone was done I left to walk across the reconstructed Roman bridge. The bridge was an unusual shape and gave pretty views of the surrounding mountains.

We made our way back to the hotel where we had nearly half a days free time. Alex, Deborah and I went to explore the beach whilst Marcus relaxed in the room. The beach didn’t look that appealing though I imagine it must be popular in the summer so instead Alex and I made another attempt at having a swim or using the steam room. The water in the heated indoor pool was not the 28 degrees as claimed and as with the day before the steam room was not producing steam. The Hamman room bad activity so we went in but after about 5 minutes we were told to turn off the hot taps and that it was closed.

I returned to the room to have a shower to warm up and shortly after Marcus said he was at the outdoor pool outside our room. I stepped on to the balcony, waved but couldn’t see him. He then realised he wasn’t outside our room. He made his way back and together we then walked around the hotel grounds for well over an hour because it was such a big site though we didn’t even touch the actual golf course. On our epic journey we were attacked by sprinklers and made it to the beach just in time to catch the end of the beautiful sunset.

We briefly listened to some of the live music in the hotel reception before going back to the room to freshen up before our final dinner. As with the night before there was a huge selection including some particularly pretty and tasty desserts. After eating Alex, Marcus and I saw a very cute cross eyed cat we’d seen the day before and then found an outdoor ping pong table. There were no lights so the person not playing held up a mobile phone and more shots were missed than hit.

We returned to the Sultan Lounge for 9.30pm to see the Acrobatic display but as with the night before it all seemed closed and the bar staff seemed a bit dodgy so we went to reception. We’d seen 3 outdoor pool tables and asked if they could turn on the lights and after first denying they had any the staff then said they were broken. By now we were quite bored. The hotel which from the outside looked so grand was an empty shell and it felt a bit like when the Wizard of Oz is unveiled. We went on another walk through the hotel and after eventually finding ourselves in the creepy closed arcade room from the night before decided to go back to our rooms.

Wednesday 16th December
This time it was my turn to get out of bed with little trouble and after having a shower packed my bag for the last time of the year. I left Marcus in bed as I went down to breakfast and whilst I initially felt hungry and knew there would be no lunch lost my appetite on entering the room. The food looked and smelt fine but I knew I had over indulged though I couldn’t resist a helping of the pancakes. I returned to the room and on the way passed Marcus in the corridor. He told me he’d been hiding in the room waiting to jump out on me though I’d been longer than he expected so he’d given up.

We boarded the bus and just as we were about to leave for the airport a member of the group realised she’d lost her phone and case which included all her bank cards. There were varying reactions from the rest of the group because none of us knew what was going on except Vulkan and as I was at the back it was Chinese whispers at best. When I realised the cards and phone (which had all her selfie stick pictures) I felt quite sympathetic. It could have happened to any of us and it must be up there with disasters that can happen on the way to the airport. At the same time we were probably all feeling anxious about getting to airport and were experiencing the classic end of holiday feeling. Sad it was over but glad to no longer be confined to a coach and suitcase.

As it was Vulkan was notified the items were found at the hotel just as we reached the airport but we had unfortunately had to sacrifice a photo stop of more ruins and a fine example of an old Roman stadium. I was also feeling anxious because I had to declare my coat at customs before boarding and had somehow found myself right at the back of the check in line for our flight despite most of our coach being a coach load of people in front of me. As it was I did still have time to sort everything and I slept most of the flight.

Some of the people on the tour were quite elderly and aspects of the trip had been quite strenuous for them but they showed resilience to keep going and I don’t think anyone missed any of the main sites. Whilst Marcus and I naturally stuck to Alex as she was in our age group (even though Marcus insisted I was still ‘grandad’) and her mum Deborah we had spoken to and enjoyed the company of everyone on the coach. We had all been in Turkey for the same reason and I think we all made the most of our time there because we were all young at heart, making the most of life. Despite all the troubles in the area which had caused me minor concern, Turkey had been a fantastic experience and appeared a friendly, economically stable country.

I remember when, before I started travelling I briefly worked with someone who went to a different country each month. They were about the age I am now so at the start of the year I’d set out to do something similar and to explore Europe. I didn’t manage it though came very close but I will never take for granted what I did experience this year especially reaching the Ancient cities of Rome, Athens and Istanbul (Constantinople). I doubt I’ll ever have a year of travel quite like 2015 but I’m already looking forward to whatever new adventures may come my way in 2016 and like many of those on the coach I hope I am still exploring the world in my later years once I have fulfilled any parenting responsibilities (when the time comes).

Lost for Words: Istanbul to Antalya

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Friday 11th December
Marcus had set his alarm early but had still not got out of bed when we got the wake up call and he asked for me to shower first which I did. For some reason neither of us had had a good sleep, for me my left side felt stiff from lying on it and I felt more tired than I had the day before despite 8 hours sleep. The shower revived me a little and eventually once we had double checked we had everything we went downstairs to breakfast.

I had made the joke the day before they needed a baked beans or equivalent to go with the sausages and scrambled egg and it seemed someone was listening. Unfortunately it was made from mushrooms and whilst I put my dislike of them to one side I found my self picking them out so only the sauce remained. I felt quite content when I boarded the bus and Marcus decided to take one of the empty rows at the back so he could sleep.

It had been an early start and after leaving at 7.30am we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. Volkan spoke for a short while before letting us rest for a couple of hours. After around two hours we reached a service station however there wasn’t anything to see besides some dogs one of which took an interest in my leg.

We boarded the bus and the long drive continued before we reached the start of the Gallipoli Peninsula and drove past Saros Bay. This is an area of Turkey that interested me and I had hoped we may stop at one of the beaches or memorials. As it was we didn’t quite go far enough because most of the action was south west of Gelibolu which is where caught the ferry to Lapseki.

Before we caught the ferry we stopped for a lunch buffet which again had a great choice of food including sucuk sausages, chips, and a nice slightly spicy red lentil soup. As with breakfast I left feeling I’d over indulged and after only two days in I was concerned at how much I might weigh when I get home especially as little energy was being used napping on the coach.

The ferry to Lapseki across the Dardanelles to the Asian side of Turkey was full so we had to wait 30 minutes however Volkan let us explore Gelibolu rather than just sitting on the coach. There was a memorial to Ataturk and the remains of what appeared a fort. We boarded the ferry and a man was feeding the seagulls creating a frenzy. Somewhat predictably, as is my luck with birds, one of them made me its toilet target though no one I was talking to fortunately realised so I made my excuses to leave so I could clean up.

As we drove from Lapseki we passed Canakkale and from there we could see some of the World War One memorials on the opposite side of the sea. Volkan then read out a speach from Atatürk In 1934 about how the Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed and buried in Turkey were considered brothers in a now peaceful land. We then had a 1 minutes silence to reflect on the 500,000 lives that were lost which was incredibly moving.

Eventually we arrived at the archeological site of Troy, the city made famous by Homer and which for centuries (like Atlantis) was believed to have been a myth. It’s discovery in 1870 by Heinrich Schliemann proved its existence however the city was built over 5000 years ago and rebuilt so many times that little remains of the legendary layer from the Ilion of Homer. At the entrance there was a wooden replica of the Trojan Horse and we slowly made our way around the ruins.

We stopped at various remains where Volkan provided some information including the South Gate, the Roman Odeion (theatre), the Sanctuary (first built in the 7th century BC) and the Palace House. It was also possible to see Schliemann’s famous trench which ultimately led to the discovery of the city however the techniques used destroyed large sections. Before leaving I climbed to the top of the wooden horse which was the only real highlight. The site was slightly underwhelming, perhaps not helped by the weather but I was so grateful to have visited such a historic and iconic site.

After another couple of hours drive we stopped off for another toilet stop and I stock up on supplies because I’d eaten most of my chocolate and sweet rations on the long journey. Boarding the bus, one of the ladies noticed some beers and Vulkan then gave them to us for a tip because a new tax law meant they couldn’t be sold. This meant the final hour passed a lot quicker and put those of us at the front in a more relaxed state.

Marcus and I dumped our bags in the room before going to dinner where we sat with Alex and her mum Deborah. We were getting used to the high standard of food and we weren’t disappointed by the selection on offer. I had wanted to experience a Turkish bath in Turkey so once we were done I went to book myself in at the Health Spa whilst it wasn’t busy. They provided me with some budgie smugglers which barely kept my modesty especially at the back and some wooden sandals which felt like I was learning to walk all over again.

First I sat in the sauna at a temperature of around 115 degrees and slowly all the impurities in my body seeped out. After leaving I was given a scrub which was so hard it was as though the masseuse was a child attempting to rub out an ink stain. To say my skin felt smooth afterwards would be an understatement. Next I went back in the sauna where, like in Marrakech I thought I had been forgotten. Then I had a  shower, followed by the actual massage which was very relaxing though I didn’t fall asleep like the last one I had. Finally I returned to the sauna before a final shower.

When I returned to the room I realised I had been away for two hours and Marcus was already in bed. We had another 7.30 departure but rather than dropping off to sleep straight away the experience had given me unwanted energy. Marcus was convinced I’d had a happy ending due to my smile and I tried to convince him I  hadn’t.

Saturday 12th December
After we woke up we made our way down to breakfast which was a little disappointing compared to the high standards that had been set by the previous hotel and the dinner from the night before. Of course in comparison to my usual breakfast it was still a feast fit for a sultan.

We all boarded the bus on time and set off however after a few minutes Volkan did another head count because someone on another coach was missing and he needed to confirm they weren’t on ours. They weren’t and it later emerged they had overslept and been in their room.

As we drove along Volkan told us he was originally from Antioch, and provided some information about how Turkey is the biggest producer of figs, raisins, apricots and pistachio nuts. Apparently it is one of the few countries that can produce enough food to sustain its own population. He also told us about Ashure a traditional pudding which originated from the story of Noah’s ark as a celebration after the flood.

After a few hours which included a brief toilet stop we arrived in Sardis which had been the capital of the Lydian Kingdom and seat King Croesus. Our first stop was to see the Temple of  Artemis which had a stunning backdrop of mountains in all directions. The temple itself was quite ruinous, mostly with broken half columns though two of the tall columns remained and climbing one of the hills it was possible to appreciate how big it would have been.  Near the temple were also the remains of an early Christian Church dating from the 4th century and this was one of one of the seven churches to receive a letter of Revelation from St. John the Apostle.

Our second stop was the metropolis of the city which had been occupied from around 547 BC and remained inhabited until the Sassanian invasion in 616 AD. This second site contained the Roman Synagogue and the baths-gymnasium complex. Before viewing these up close we walked parallel to an old Roman road, a small stretch of which had been excavated and marked by columns. We also passed up to 30 Byzantium shops dating from the 4th century some of which had been occupied by the early Jewish merchants as well as the excavated remains of a public toilet.

I doubt I’ll ever have my mind blown like it was in Egypt but the baths-gymnasium complex were amongst the best archeological remains I have been fortunate enough to see. I was impressed at how many of the small details had survived, such as the small faces on the columns, and equally that the structure was still mostly intact.

After leaving Sardis we stopped for lunch and Marcus was again centre of attention many of the waiters believing this time he was a boxer. The starter was again lentil soup but the freshly baked bread was particularly welcome and the main course was also nice. I’m not sure what we would have done if we hadn’t paid for lunch to be included because there was no where nearby. Really I got the feeling the travel company should come clean and make this a compulsory, unhidden local payment.

After boarding the coach we continued our journey this time to the archeological site of Laodicea which is still being excavated. It isn’t on the scale of Pompeii but evidence suggests it was once and on two major trade routes. First we walked up the main street stretching 900m, once part of the Syrian Road, where Volkan told us about some of the ruins. Laodicea is probably most famous for the Basilica church, one of the oldest anywhere in the world which like Sardis was also mentioned in the Book of Revelation. There were also the remains of an Agora, baths and the remains of a big theatre.

Both Sardis and Laodicea are less travelled compared to other sites such as Ephesus so my expectations had been low and I was therefore pleasantly surprised. Both contained fascinating remains and Laodicea in particular was a much bigger site than I expected. It was also interesting to see that the archeological work is still going on and who knows what more will be uncovered.

After leaving Laodicea we continued to our hotel near the white calcite cliffs of Pamukkale where we stopped off briefly for a picture and so Volkan could withdraw money. It wasn’t the most picturesque spot just behind a car park but it was still good to get a quick glimpse even though we would be returning the following morning.

We arrived at our 5 star hotel and before going to dinner I made my way to the hotels natural thermal pool. Volkan had earlier told us the natural thermal pools in the area had been used for 2500 years and that the ancient civilisations believed they had healing properties. It was as warm as the Blue Lagoon in Iceland but the water there had been a lovely blue colour where as this was browny green. I decided to have a quick dip in the cold water to give my body an unpleasant shock before returning back to the hot waters.

After getting out I went to the toilets to get changed but didn’t have the room key. By the time I found Marcus in the dinning room to get the card it looked like I’d wet myself because I’d been trying to disguise the fact I was carrying my swimming shorts through the hotel. Eventually I came back down for dinner where the donor kebab was particularly good.

Alex and I returned to the thermal pools and had a shot of Raki before Marcus joined us in the reception. We then went to the disco where a group of women were dancing and one in particular looked like a 90s raver. They forced Alex to dance much to the amusement of Marcus and I before we all went our seperate ways and to bed.

Sunday 13th December
After breakfast we drove a short distance to a more scenic spot to see Pamukkale however we didn’t have time to make it to the top to see the Roman ruins. We did however see the mineral rich water flowing through the park and it is the sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs which has created a natural wonder giving it UNESCO world heritage status.

Another coach journey then commenced and eventually we reached a carpet shop where we learnt about the traditional methods used in Turkey. Really it was all part of the attempt to sell us carpets and as I’ve said before, if I had my own home I would have by now because it would be nice to have at least one room decorated with souvenirs from places I’ve visited. That dream will currently have to wait, however in the meantime I will take the free drinks whilst politely saying no.

After the carpet shop we carried on to a restaurant for lunch but as I was feeling peckish I broke in to my rations of dorritos. Fortunately I didn’t lose my appetite because the soup wasn’t lentil and the main was rice and kofte meatballs. The yogurt dessert with honey, pomegranate, poppy and sesame seeds was also quite possibly the tastiest thing ever to pass between my lips. I also had my first white wine of the trip which had been locally produced and I was pleased with my choice. Leaving lunch our next stop was our final destination Antalya.

Rise: Istanbul

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Wednesday 9th December
When I was growing up there were three series of computer games I was addicted to, Championship Manager, The Sim City series and Age Of Empires. I believed that once I was older and no longer had to go to school I could stay up late and divide my time amongst all three creating the best football team, city and civilisation respectively. Reality is of course rather different and two of the three have been consigned to memory (my urge to play what is now Football Manager occasionally gets to much).

Age of Empires was arguably my favourite of the three and it was playing the series I first heard of the Byzantines (my civilisation of choice) and their great capital city Constantinople. The Roman Empire which had grown to big split in AD395 and whilst the Western half of Europe gradually fell in to the dark ages the Eastern half survived. Byzantium prospered and slowly expanded with Constantinople becoming the Imperial centre previously held by Rome. The Empire lasted until the great walls of Constantinople were finally breached by Mehmet II in 1453. The legacy Mehmet II left would have made even the Great Caesar nod with respect and the Ottoman Empire lasted until the end of the First World War when it was finally broken up.

Turkey took on more significance when on my travels I made long lasting friendships with Australians and New Zealanders who had visited Gallipoli and specifically Anzac Cove, the Ill fated Allied landing site of 1915. I had already started planning a trip to Turkey (further fuelled with encouragement from Lucy) when in February 2015 after receiving some junk mail I’d got in a magazine I noticed a hugely discounted tour around the time I wanted to go. It seemed to good to be true and did some research to confirm the company was legit. The deal was for two people though I was fairly sure I could find someone to travel with. Sure enough Marcus an old work colleague and looking to catch the travel bug took up the offer though once booked we had to wait nearly 10 months until we actually left.

The flight was 17.20 and I don’t remember ever having a flight at such a civilised time and almost made me too relaxed on the way to the airport (a bit of edge adds to the adventure). As we were going to Turkey we had an extra check at the departure gate and then I had a full body search before my coke (bottle) I had forgotten about was confiscated. Marcus, the relative newbie to travel made no such mistake and had also mastered packing light, something I have still failed to achieve.

I had never heard of Freebird our airline and first impressions were not great when the TV screen froze during the safety video forcing the air hostesses to do it manually. During the (admittedly) bumpy take off I quickly settled in to napping, reading and blog writing whilst Marcus clutched the seat before falling asleep for the duration waking up every now and then to claim he was resting his eyes.

We landed on time but we were a big group, it seemed everyone on the flight was on the tour and there were 12 coaches in total though most including ours were admittedly only half full. It did however mean that it took well over an hour before we actually left the airport and then were delayed further because some people had boarded the wrong bus. On the way our guide Volkan provided us with details and eventually we arrived at the hotel where we had a welcome drink and a light snack because no one had eaten dinner.

Marcus and I went to the room and unpacked, both gradually realising items we’d left behind before finally turning off lights around 3am. We knew we and everyone on the tour would only get a few hours sleep because we had to be up at 6.30am.

Thursday 10th December
After waking up and showering we went down to breakfast. There was a big selection including a really nice chocolate pastry, chicken sausages with scrambled egg and various cheeses. By the time we boarded the coach my stomach felt well stocked for the day ahead.

Volkan gave lots of facts as we passed various ancient structures on our way from our hotel to the old town including a Roman Aqueduct. The highlight of the journey for me was seeing my first glimpse of the Great Walls of Constantinople. Volkan also told us about the Hippodrome which had a capacity of 100,000 which is more than most modern stadiums and could hold 1/3 of the Ancient adult population in the city.

After getting off the coach Sultan Aahmet Square we walked towards the Aya Sofya,  consecrated as a in 537 and converted to a Mosque by Mehmet in 1453 and became a museum in 1935. It really was a quite stunning interior with a beautiful dome and lots of interesting artifacts including Ottoman Medallions and mosaics. A section of marble in the main floor on the lower level marks where the the Byzantine Emperors were crowned however Mehmet was also crowned there as the first Ottoman emperor to symbolise continuity.

The upper level was accessed by an atmospheric ramp which took much less effort than steps. On this level there were a number of lovely mosaics representing historical events including one of Constantine and Christ. The grave of Enrico Dandolo who had ransacked Constantinople in the 4th Crusades is also buried on the upper level and there were some Viking inscriptions. On the way out we saw a sarcophagus to the Empress Hagia Sofia and a mosaic of Mary and Jesus.

Next we made a short walk to the Topkapi Palace the first stage of which was built by Mehmet after he conquered Constantinople and after his death home to various sultans between the 15th and 19th century. It was very busy with lots of school parties but I’m sure less busy than in summer. Unsurprisingly the gates to the palace were grand and two scary looking soldiers with guns stood guard. The size was quite overwhelming and there were four courts for us to explore each of which included different buildings including the kitchens, a room of elegant clocks and the Imperial Council Chamber.

Unfortunately the Harem the Sultans “private” apartments cost extra and we didn’t have time to visit so we mainly explored the fourth court which contained a number of summer pavilions. As it was winter however there were no flowers to view in the garden. There was a gilded canopy called the Iftariye Kameriyesi which had a lovely backdrop of Istanbul behind. From the fourth court it was also possible to see the route of the famous orient express railway. At one point I went to the toilet and when I returned Marcus had a huge crowd of school children around him all asking him various questions and trying to get selfies with him. Volkan later said it was because the school children thought he looked like a famous rapper.

By the time we arrived at the Sultan Ahmet Mosque it had started raining. As we waited outside Volkan suddenly remembered he had to go back for Mr Logi who had difficultly walking and disappeared. We’d been given headsets and Vulkan had forgotten to turn off the mic which meant as he went away the sound slowly faded and replaced with a distant crackle. Marcus and I pretended to use ours as walkie talkies saying “Valkan please confirm if you have located Mr Logi. Over.” Gradually the crackle returned and then we could pick up Volkans voice, celebrating a successful mission. I don’t think the rest of the group experienced this amusement as they sought to stay warm.

We removed our shoes and the women in the group had to wear head scarf’s before we could enter. It was another lovely interior and the colourful tiled mosaics inside (specifically the Dome) means it is more commonly known as the Blue Mosque although other colours were also included. A small area of the wall was a different colour and contained a rare Kaaba of Mecca black stone which it is believed came from Heaven. On the way out I didn’t realise the marble was wet which meant my socks were damp when I put my shoes back on.

After walking through the site of the Hippodrome we arrived at our lunch venue where we had a side salad and soup as a starter. The main course consisted of döner Kebab meat, marinated chicken pieces, a spring roll and rice which I had it with my first Efes of the trip. Marcus described it best by saying it was a fancy kebab meal. The dessert was baklava which I had with a Turkish coffee which was unfiltered, very grainy and I wasn’t a fan. Marcus said his first one was sweet and it had gloop at the bottom which resembled melted chocolate and as it had been sweet I encouraged him to try. He wasn’t impressed as it turned out it was all the coffee grains.

After leaving the lunch we went on a brief walk through the Hippodrome Square where we saw the oldest standing structure in Istanbul the Obelisk of Theodosius. Originally built around 1549 BC and placed in the Amon-Re temple in Karnak it was transferred to Turkey in AD 390. There was also another rough stone obelisk mostly destroyed by the 4th century crusaders and the remains of a spiral column which once had 3 serpent heads at the top. Finally we saw a fountain which Kaiser Wilhelm II gifted to Sultan Abdulhamit II In 1898 which incorporated the initial of each to symbolise the friendship between the two nations.

Unfortunately for us the coach got held up in traffic so we were waiting nearly 10 minutes before our driver Mr Bekir turned up. It was bitterly cold. When the coach turned up I waited until everyone else was on board before getting on because I knew that some of the young at hearts were suffering more than me. The journey to the boat was short but when we arrived the light rain had finished.

Whilst most of the group dived in to the covered, warm section of the boat I made my way to the top deck because I’ve never let a bit of potential hypothermia and frostbite get in my way. It was really windy and I had to ensure I had my London Underground legs (sea legs) on so as not to fall over board. There were however some nice views and whilst there was an audio commentary eventually I decided to find Marcus inside.

Opening the door it looked like a refugee centre because everyone was huddled together and wrapped up in big jackets. I found Marcus at the back having a nap and had one myself before going back up on deck because it was dark and I thought I could get some nice night photography shots. By now the wind had also eased but it was still just as cold. As we entered the port we came in to close to another boat and the tires of each scraped against each other and some seemed to burst with the pressure.

After we arrived back in the hotel Marcus and I blasted the room with heat to thaw out before we went down for the dinner buffet. This time I tried a dark Efes which was a bit stouty and whilst I tried to pretend I wasn’t interested in the overly sweet desserts I eventually relented. There was another good choice of food and after the first day I was feeling quite impressed with how everything had gone.

After dinner we went to the bar for a drink of Raki. We weren’t sure how it should be served but the bar tender advised us to have it with water which turned the drink a milky colour, hence the nickname “Lions (courage) milk”. I don’t like aniseed so I closed my eyes and knocked it back as quickly as possible though it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve had. Later we learnt we should have sipped it. Having drunk our night cap we went up to the room for an early night as everyone else had done.

Walking in Winter Wonderland: Copenhagen

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Saturday 28th November
I can’t remember if I’ve said this before so if I have I apologise. When I’ve spoken to Australians and New Zealanders it’s become a running joke that after initial enthusiasm they gradually tire of the castles scattered around Europe. Likewise when I was in those countries for just under 5 months my enthusiasm for waterfalls waned. Whilst they are both undeniably fantastic destinations, with some stunning natural landscapes, travelling across the vast distances with fellow Europeans made me appreciate the different landscapes, histories and cultures that were on my own door step.

I had made it a mini goal to have lots of mini breaks to see the different cultures of Europe in 2015 rather than a trek to a far flung corner of the earth. As a child I was desperate to go to Denmark due to Lego. It never happened and by the time it opened in the UK I was at the stage in life guys go through when they deny their imagination any pleasure beyond believing they may play for their favourite football team one day.

All this back story explains why, despite being emotionally drained after Germany the trip (explained in the previous blog) some advice from Kim in Greece had sowed a seed in my brain. As I quickly settled back in to my “old” Ealing life I got itchy feet. Searching skyscanner using a flexible destination and sorting by cheapest returns Dublin came up first then Copenhagen for £59. It wasn’t Lego land but it was close enough.

The flight was at 6.40am but I only had hand luggage and checked in online so I left it as late as possible before getting to Heathrow airport. There were only 7 people on my flight so I took over the entire and row and slept some more and had a complimentary coffee. All of that meant by the time we arrived in Copenhagen 2 hours later I was feeling fairly refreshed and eager to explore.

First stop was breakfast and as I wondered towards my hostel even though I knew I couldn’t check in I noticed La Glace, the oldest bakery in Copenhagen. The display of cakes had me drooling and so I stepped in for a treat. I ordered ‘La Glace Tea’ which had a vanilla flavour and the Sportskage which was their special, consisting of crushed nougat, cream and caramelised profiteroles. I can only imagine it’s called ‘sport cake’ because you’d have to do a lot of exercise to burn off the calories. It was as delicious as it looked, though incredibly sweet.

It was raining when I arrived and rather than clearing it gradually became heavier. A queue of tourists had built up outside and as I had been there quite a while I felt an obligation to give up my seat even though I knew Emilie was 20 minutes away. I had a look at a very touristy shop which had a display of polar bears playing instruments. Eventually I walked back to La Glace and stared at the wonderful displays of cakes and chocolates until I was woken from my daze by Emilie calling my name.

We walked to the end of the street and I saw my first Copenhagen Christmas Market. Naively I had assumed there was just the one at Tivoli but I was wrong. We walked around the city and there were 5. The second market we visited had a big Ferris wheel though the rain meant it was running empty.

We walked to the opposite end of the city and saw the Hotel D’Angleterre with its impressive Christmas display. It was at the Christmas Market opposite that we brought some of the famous Glogg (similar, if not identical to mulled wine) which was well received due to the rain. Next we walked to Nyhavn where we stumbled across another Christmas Market.

Emilie managed to talk one of the traders in to giving me a few samples of some Danish biscuits to try along with two types of honey one of which contained cinnamon. Emilie had told me about Apple slices, originally apple slices in batter, now just fried batter balls served with jam and caster sugar and as we went to leave Nyhavn she saw a pub selling them.

We ordered some more Glogg and the Apple Slices which were unsurprisingly delicious before we walked to the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market where someone dressed as Hans Christian walked around. Next we got some food and whilst the traditional Danish Christmas dinner sounded a culinary treat I was full on all my desserts so I opted for the Danish meatballs.

Emilie Had to go so we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the hostel. As I did so I walked past the Rundetarn and noticed it was still open and as it had stopped raining thought the views of the city would be nice lit up. So despite carrying my backpack I made my way up. I feared it would be all steps but it was mostly a ramp until the final section and the view of the Christmas lights didn’t disappoint.

I checked in to my hostel before heading to the Tivoli Gardens which were jaw dropping pretty and everything I had hoped. It would have been nice to walk around with someone and to ride the rollercoaster but it was still very pleasant and the light display to the swan lake music was stunning. I think I explored every inch of the site and even the biggest Christmas Grinch would have warmed to the atmosphere.

Even though I knew it was only 5.30 back home I stupidly checked the Watford score. We were leading 2.1 but there was still 15 minutes to go. As has become recent holiday tradition I found a quiet area and with rapidly decreasing battery cradled my phone. Deeney made it 3.1 a few minutes later and with victory seemingly assured I turned off my phone and went back to exploring. I checked the score 15 minutes later and to my horror the match was still going and it was 3.2. Eventually I got confirmation it was over and I could release a little ‘get in’.

I returned back to the hostel and met my housemates, a couple from Madrid. After the usual language barrier conversation I asked if they supported Real or Athletico. It didn’t really matter, either way I knew I’d proudly declare Sanchez Flores was manager of Watford and as he has God like status with both clubs I knew I’d make a good impression. Long may he continue helping me make Spanish friends.

I had planned to do a pub crawl but my battery needed charging and by the time I left I’d missed the start. I headed to the first bar but when I entered I knew it wasn’t right for me. Emilie suggested a few places the other side of the Queen Louise’s Bridge however I couldn’t find the main one she recommended and realising I wasn’t in the mood for a late night decided to get some food from a place called Spisestedet FEED before returning home.

I fell asleep reading my book and the Spanish couple were as surprised to see me in bed as I was to be woken up by them returning. There was still an empty bunk and just as we had decided it wouldn’t be filled a German girl from Bonn came in who had been separated from her friends due to a mistake with the booking. We spoke limited Deutsch before she went out with a her friends and the rest of us went to sleep.

Sunday 29th November
The hostel was pretty poor, certainly compared to the one in Berlin and the bunk was pretty uncomfortable. I woke up a number of times and when the nearby church bells rang early next morning I realised I wasn’t going to get much extra sleep. I hoped someone else would stir first but they didn’t so I got down, had a shower, packed my bag and took off my bed sheets.

The receptionist at the hostel was incredibly helpful by printing my boarding pass for free and she became particularly excited at helping me find out what time the Crown Prince and Princess would be lighting the Christmas tree. After that I stocked up on a good continental breakfast including the triangle cheese and Nutella (not mixed together).

When I left the hostel for my walked towards the Little Mermaid there were grey clouds but it was dry and I didn’t think it would rain. As I wondered along I saw the Royal Danish Theatre and the French Embassy with a memorial of flowers to those killed a few weeks before and poignantly reflected on how even Copenhagen had been a victim of a terrorist attack earlier in the year.

At Nyhavn a couple asked for me to get their overheard them asking about canal cruise and realised one was about to leave. The canal boat tour had been recommended to me by a few people and it ended up being perfect timing because as soon as we left Thor unleashed a thunderstorm which included hail. I was thankful I had taken a break from walking and wasn’t in the rain.

The tour guide was also really good and had a good sense of humour and did well to disguise his frustration when people on the deck outside ignored his warnings about low bridges and refused to sit down. One guy came very close to being de-capitated because although the guide said sit down low bridge in 5 langugaes including Russian, the guy just smiled back. Despite the rain it was a pleasant journey and I got my first glimpse of the Little Mermaid where a small crowd had braved the elements.

Amazingly when we arrived back in Nyhavn the clouds had been replaced by blue sky and a golden sphere which wasn’t radiating much heat. I dashed over to Amalienburg slot, home of Royal Family for the changing of the guards at 12.00pm. I imagine it must be very busy in the summer months and whilst it felt fairly busy in the centre by the statue of Frederik V on Horseback I still got a front row standing position looking towards Frederik’s Church, the Marble church. By complete luck on my part this was the street the Royal Guards came up.

As the guards passed me I walked in the opposite direction to most of the crowd who ‘followed’ them. I stood facing the arch and the guards I assumed were being replaced. My hunch was correct so again I had a great spot for the actual ceremony where the band played various tunes and the soldiers went through their various drills one of which involved them shuffling over very quickly which caused a few people in the crowd to snigger loudly.

After the ceremony was over I continued my walk to the Little Mermaid but first had a walk around Kastellet the old fort which is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. It was free to enter and I ended up more of the site than I had expected and climbed to the top of the mound so that I could get a good view of the site however unfortunately the Commander’s House, the main centre piece was covered in tarpaulin.

I finally arrived at the Little Mermaid which was crowded but it must be utterly horrendous in summer when there are loads of coach and cruise tours lining up. The Little Mermaid disney movie is one of my earliest childhood memories so I was glad to make the effort to see it and I was prepared for it to be as small as it was. In fact if anything because I had been warned to lower my expectations, I was actually quite impressed with it.

I walked back towards the Rosenborg Slot which is home to the Danish Crown Jewels. The group in front of me were turned away because it shut at 2 and the ticket office had closed 1 minute before they arrived (at 1.45). I used some English charm and the lady kindly relented, let me in and then even looked after my backpack for free. I wasn’t fussed about viewing the apartments and I had ample time to view the Crown of Christian IV and the other items.

I continued my walk this time heading for Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament but walked via the Rundetarn and the Cathedral of Copenhagen the Vor Frue Kirke (Church of our Lady). There appeared to be a small gathering outside the Parliament and continued to Christianshavn to see the famous spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of our Saviour). I didn’t have the time to see the eco settlement Christiania however I wanted to see the lighting of the Christmas tree by the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark.

I hurried back to the Københavns Rådhus (City Hall) to see the Christmas tree and on the way I got a famous kanelsnegl (a danish pastry but not the type we have here) from a bakery before passing the parliament where the small gathering had turned in to a big demonstration about climate change. I arrived in plenty of time and had a fairly good view despite the big crowds which had gathered and waited in anticipation with locals and tourists.

Mr and Mrs Clause arrived on a fire truck and due to my ignorance I thought they were the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark thinking they had thrown down the gauntlet for William and Kate. I wasn’t alone in thinking this and after they had shaken hands with members of the crowd and waved regally to the crowd, the actual Princess Mary stepped out of the City Hall however Frederic was not with her so I still believe he was the one dressed as Santa Clause.

Aber Scheiss Drauf: Stuttgart

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Friday 2nd October
Summer had stayed over so that we could travel to Gatwick together but unfortunately since we’d booked the tickets I had moved back to Ealing and due to the departure time I had decided to book a taxi rather than us attempting to navigate public transport. This was to give us an extra bit of time in bed however even so the alarm still went off at an unkind 3am. It did however mean we could just relax and the journey to the airport was uneventful.

We got some food from the airport and boarded the plane where I fell asleep almost straight away causing Summer to get a photo of me however at least unlike in Spain she was kind enough not to wake me up. Arriving in Stuttgard we followed Sina’s precise instructions which even included pictures and headed for the train before Summer realised she’d left her jumper on the plane. We went back but unfortunately as there was little chance that she’d be reunited with it we continued with our journey.

Sina and Christoph met us at the station and drove us back to their apartment where I changed in to Lederhosen that Christoph had lent me and Summer changed in to a Dirndl provided by Sina. Once we were ready we made our way to the Cannstatter Wasen festival site and eventually found a beer hall with some spare benches for us to sit at where we ordered some food including Käsespätzle and obviously some beers.

Despite us being at the early session the guys behind had drunk to much and as they danced on the benches to the music one of them fell on Christoph and nearly feel on me. Those on the adjacent table didn’t look in a great condition either and one guy in particular seemed to spend most of time with his head in his hands. As the music played I also got in the mood especially during the German dance songs Aber Scheiss Drauf and Traum von Amsterdam.

Sina wasn’t drinking beer or feeling that well so we all went outside for some fresh air and as we walked past the rides Summer and I decided to go on the roller coaster which also spun the car around. Whilst I felt fine before we got on, as soon as we completed the first spin a mixture of tiredness, alcohol and general dizziness dramatically hit and by the time we got off I wasn’t in the best state. I tried to pretend I was ok and to concentrate on feeling better but even drinking water didn’t help and ultimatley I only felt settled after using the toilet where thankfully there had been no queue.

After leaving the festival we sat on the grass outside new castle and I looked up at the clouds which were spinning though after a few minutes my brain had adjusted and the dizziness had gone. Summer had decided that she wanted to buy a dirndl and we went to various shops as she tried different ones on. One of the shops offered Christoph and I a free glass of wine however I declined even though I was felling ok by that point.

We caught the train back passing the lights of the festival on the way and got some pizza from a takeaway which was playing Star Wars in German. I know I shouldn’t have found it weird, but I did find it slightly amusing because all the voices were different. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the apartment.

Saturday 3rd October
After having breakfast we met Christoph’s friend Alex at the station so that he could join us at the football match between Stuttgart Kickers vs Sonnenhof Grossaspach. First we made our way in to town by train and then we caught the Zahnradbahn (rack railway train) up the hill where got some good views of the city below. The stadium which is the highest in Germany and close to the Fernsehturm Stuttgart (the telecommunications tower) holds around 11,000 people and wasn’t much of a walk from the station.

After getting a beer outside of the stadium we made our way on to the terrace which is where most of the fans seemed to be congregated. There were only around 5,000 people at the match but they created a brilliant atmosphere especially when the players came out on to the pitch as various flares were lit which clouded the view with smoke.

Unfortunately the Stuttgart Kickers who we were supporting weren’t performing that well but at half time they were only 1.0 down. Sina got Summer and I Bratwurst and Maultaschen which was really nice. The second half got off to a bad start and the Kickers were soon 2.0 down before a crazy period of poor defending meant they conceded another two including a penalty. Throughout the match the fans on the terrace chanted but the display of the team was not worthy of such support as they lost 4.0.

After the match we went to the Pauliner restaurant where I had a schnitzel and a couple of beers before we moved on to another bar. Then we saw the Kugel brunnen a fountain which was a piece of granite rock which floated on some water where Summer got a picture pretending to push the rock. Next we saw some slim rubber street bollards which were bendy and we got some slightly tipsy funny photos of Summer and I pretending to look strong.

That evening we watched the rugby union match between England and Australia. Due to England losing to Wales the week before it was particularly crucial they didn’t lose and I was optimistic even agreeing to a bet with Summer that if we lost I would learn the lyrics and sing Aber Scheiss Drauf. Unfortunately it was an awful performance from England and both our fates were sealed. They were out of the world cup and I had some lyrics to learn much to the amusement of Sina’s brother and his girl friend who had come over to visit.

Sunday 4th October
The weather wasn’t particular good the following morning so we decided to have a late start and to play a few competitive games of kniffle a dice game similar to yahtzee.

Gradually the weather improved and as it was approaching lunch time we went to a wine pub called |Besenwirtschaft Escher. Sina and Christoph looked through the menu and picked the items including Maultaschen, Winzerbratenm, Leber und Griebawurst mit Kraut and Bratwurste mit Kartoffelsalat and various wursts. We ended up with to much food but It had been a great feast and the wine had been good as well.

After leaving the pub we parked near the Mercedes museum so called in so that we could see the displays in the main entrance. As we left the others made me do my recording of Aber Scheiss Drauf and Sina continued to try to make me believe I’d have to perform the song as part of the half time handball entertainment.

Next we continued to the handball match to see Stuttgart Wild Boys Vs Gummersbach Young Boys. Handball really is an exciting and ruthless sport being a cross between football and basketball. Every goal that the home team scored was met with a huge cheer whilst every goal conceded was met with groans of despair. I get quite intense about football and I doubt my emotions could handle handball because every attack seemed to lead to a goal.

The intensity and unpredictability is perfectly summed up by the final 60 seconds of a 60 minute match in the ultimate “They Think it’s all Over” situation. With less than 60 seconds to go Stuttgart were losing by one goal and conceded a penalty and it seemed certain that the match was over. Amazingly the Gummersbach player missed and Stuttgart had the chance for one final attack. The away team looked to have closed all the gaps when just as the hooter sounded the referee awarded a penalty to Stuttgart who scored making the final score 37 37. The players huddled and bounced like they’d won the League, the away players desolate. Unbelievable.

After the match we drove up Württemberg hill for the sunset where we also had lovely views of the city especially the lights of the beer festival below. The Sepulchral chapel was located at the summit and was apparently built by Kaiser Wilhelm I as a monument to eternal love. It certainly couldn’t have been located in a nicer area of Stuttgart. We drove back to the apartment where we had a quiet night in and Sina made a delicious Nutella puff pastry.

Monday 5th October
I hadn’t slept that well and unfortunately when I did I ‘breathed heavily’ causing Summer to wake me up because she couldn’t sleep. We all had a lie in before eating breakfast and making our way in to town to have a look around the shopping centre.

We wondered round some of the shops and I brought myself a pair of shoes before we sat down for a relaxing coffee. My Lonely Planet guide hadn’t been overly complimentary to Stuttgart saying it was a great place for those living there but suggesting there wasn’t much for tourists aside from the car museums. I certainly enjoyed my time there but perhaps it helped that I was visiting friends who took me to the sporting events and Cannstatter Wasen.

Finally it was time to make our way to the airport but there was one final treat and as we were all fairly hungry we went to a curry wurst restaurant near the airport. Over the past year i’ve fallen in love with a lot of German food and the curry wurst is probably number one and I would happily have my rains hooked up to the curry sauce.

Summer and I had a walk around the airport and spent a considerable amount of time wondering whether to buy an expensive tankard. Ultimately we decided not to and wondered over to a cafe. A group of Australians arrived and sat down and Summer got chatting to them, and over the next few hours they certainly livened up the journey home, keeping us amused at the airport with their drunken laddish jibes at each other and then on the flight and train back to London.

Unfortunately the flight had been delayed so it was pretty late by the time we got back to London and I was exhausted as I had barely settled after getting back from Greece let alone unpacked my life having moved back to Ealing. Not that I was complaining, I knew within a few days i’d get itchy feet and start looking at my scratch poster which Victoria gave me when she moved back to Australia 3 years ago…

Hello Goodbye: Santorini

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Wednesday 23rd September
The next morning I had the headache I thoroughly deserved from the two tequilas. I took every minute I could to extend my time in bed and Kirstie kindly had the first shower. A shower revived me slightly and after we were packed made our way to breakfast. We caught the bus to the new port however the ferry was running late and we ended up waiting around for around 30 minutes.

Kirstie and I were sat at a table with Steve, Nik and Anna. I spent most of the journey trying to close my eyes without success, watching a documentary with no volume and Greek subtitles on shark attacks and a very brief trip to the upper deck to photograph Naxos an Island with some archaeological remains including what appeared to be a big arch to an old temple. Despite the fact we had left Mykonos late we flew through the ocean and arrived in Santorini on time.

It was lovely and sunny and we were given some free time to get a late lunch. Kyriaki led us up the hill to the small square and a group of us ordered a Gyros from a stand for a bargain price of €2.30. We returned back to the hotel where we had some more free time to enjoy the pool. Kirstie and I were there first but were soon joined by quite a few others including Josh, Mel, Kim, Anna and Nik. The water was quite cold but refreshing and eventually they opened the bar for us.

After having a quick shower, we all re-grouped and Kyriaki took us on an orientation walk around Fira the main settlement on Thira. Our first stop was a viewpoint that looked over the old port and towards the Caldera one of the main volcanoes. The view was particularly stunning and she took the time to tell us about the geology of the island and how it was created by various volcanic eruptions and earthquake.

We continued on and entered one of the large Greek Orthodox churches which was quite pretty on the inside. Kyriaki explained how all Greeks are named after saints and they receive small gifts on their saints day, comparing it to a second birthday. She then went on to explain the difference between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic and the historical reason for the split in which also caused the split between the East and West Roman Empires.

Next we boarded a bus where we went on a winery tour. The Venetsanos winery was apparently the first industrial winery in Santorini when it opened in 1949. The entrepreneur behind it had developed a cost effective clever method to get the grapes from the high ground to the harbour as wine by using chutes. For reasons I didn’t quite understand the winery had closed 2 years after opening and only reopened a few months ago.

After the tour we had the opportunity to try some samples. Apparently the wine was famous world wide when it was first developed and I believe the original recipes and methods are still used. I particularly liked the dessert wine, found the whites alright and forced the red down. The sun was just setting as we left but it was in the wrong direction to fully appreciate it.

We continued on to a traditional looking village called Megalochori where again we had a short walk before making our way to a restaurant called Feggera. I was feeling quite tired so initially I didn’t order any wine however this appeared to offend the waiter who said “May I ask sir, with all these lovely wines you aren’t ordering one?”. I ended up ordering one, hoping to feel better after the first sip but instead it went down as well as I expected so I gave half my glass to Kirstie.

We returned back to our hotel in Fira and as I was still feeling tired I went straight back to the hotel room and was probably asleep by 22.30.

Thursday 24th September
I felt slightly more refreshed by the time I woke up the following morning. Kirstie and I had signed up with a few others in the group to do a morning tour of the island with the largest volcano. We and those with us had also all decided to hire quad bikes for the afternoon so we had to go there first to pay in order for us to collect them

We boarded the boat and made our way out of the harbour towards the island and some nearby hot springs which were to be our first stop. The hot springs are a reminder that the volcano is only dormant and not extinct and the water was red because of the high levels of sulphor

Eventually we stopped and people started jumping off the side. I had brought my go pro along so lined up next to Kirstie. I had jumped off the boat in Portugal but for some reason I felt slightly nervous on this occasion not helped by some false jumps because people swam under our path just as we were about to do it. The water was cold and quite salty and we made our way to the hot springs.

I was mostly towards the back with Nik and Anna and we slowly made our way through the shallow water where it was easy to walk than swim in some parts. On the way back we tried to get a group picture and then, Josh, Aaron and I smeared some of the mud on our faces. The water had been so salty I’d initially found it difficult to swim deep enough to grab a handful because I kept bobbing back up.

We returned to the boat and continued our journey to the volcano. I saw a small looking hill with the Greek flag and naively believed it to be the summit, which I admit was very naive considering the eruption of the volcano was partly responsible for creating what is now Santorini. It was only when we reached a path to the hill that we saw the summit of the main crater. Apparently 1.6 million people visit Santorini every summer and even though we were visiting outside of the main season the island still felt full of tour groups.

We climbed to the upper crater and once we were there our guide provided with some fairly interesting historical and geological facts and myths. This included the belief that the famous City of Atlantis In Plato’s ‘Republic’ was destroyed by a tsunami caused by the eruption in Santorini. The view was faultless with perfect blue skies and one land mass that resembled the head of a crocodile however after a few minutes at the top we had to return back to the boat.

We returned back to Fira where we had gyro’s from the same place as the day before. Daina, Shanell, Nick, Kim, Kirstie and I agreed after filling up with petrol to meet at the hotel and to leave as a group. On our way we saw Fallon and Jayde who decided to join us and as they’d already spent a morning on the roads agreed to lead the way in our search for Red Rock Beach. Kirstie was our driver and as it felt like we were speeding along my baseball cap caught by a gust of wind lifted off my head and disappeared before I realised what had happened.

As we approached a junction we saw Nik and Anna by the side of road and a discarded quad bike. They explained that Mel’s had broken down at the bottom of a steep hill but because it was a one way road Sarah hadn’t been able to drive down to give her a lift up. Instead Sarah had to walk down to find Mel and at one point we were notified by some passers by in a car that they weren’t far away. The rest of us also waited with Nik and Anna and it showed how tight-knit the group had become in a short space of time

Eventually we were all together and ready to continue our adventure. We saw a sign for Red Beach and then shortly after when we saw Caldera beach we turned in. It was a steep path down and when we got to the bottom the sand was not red nor could I see why it had the name. Anna and I checked in the small cafe and we were actually on the opposite side of a narrow section of the island to where we wanted to be. Kirstie is used to driving dirt bikes back home so had no trouble getting up the hill but was trying to put the fear of God in to me by thrashing the Quad from side to side to keep up the momentum.

We led our convoy the rest of the way to Red beach before we climbed over some rocks to an observation point looking over the beach below. I hadn’t seen any pictures so whilst I had obviously expected a red tinted cliff but not something quite so vibrant and stunning. We went for a swim in the water which wasn’t quite as nice as I expected because the red ‘sandy’ beach was actually formed of pebbles and there were loads of tiny bits of seaweed in the water which meant I was covered when I got back out.

After leaving the red beach we went our seperate ways with some heading back to the hotel whilst Kim, Nick, Kirstie and I drove to black beach which we found without to much difficulty. The water was much clearer nicer but the beach was still formed of small volcanic pebbles and the cliff wasn’t as specactular as at red beach however the area we went to was a pleasant setting.

We didn’t stay to long because we wanted to see the sunset at Oia and hadn’t allowed to much room for error and to get there because it was pretty much the opposite side of the island. The distance wasn’t far (though it looked it on the map) and whilst it felt like we were doing 100mph in reality we were doing well probably doing a max of 15. As we stormed along we thought we were taking a shortcut across the island because the map wasn’t overly clear and because the signs were in Greek.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a short cut. We went higher and higher, obtaining some lovely views of the island but after around 10 minutes which we couldn’t really afford to lose we could go no higher and worse, the road was a dead end. We had arrived at the highest point of the island which in any other circumstance would have been a moment to enjoy. This however was not that moment, and we really were now in a race against time to be back.

We raced back down and followed the signs to Fira and then to Oia however again we had bad luck because it turned out their were two routes to Oia through Fira and the one we took was longer. It was evident as we approached the outskirts of Oia that the sun was beginning to set and so when we had a clear, unobstructed view we found a fairly secluded spot to enjoy it. It may not have been the postcard picture across Oia which is so famous but it was still very pretty to witness.

After the sun had disappeared we continued to Oia however it was incredibly busy and in hindsight we should probably have arrived at the main viewing area an hour or even earlier beforehand. By the time we arrived back in Fira it was dark but we found quad car hire store before walking back to the hotel and getting changed for our final meal with the rest of the group.

When we arrived at dinner we were all aware that Nik and Anna two members of the group were not present. At some point during the meal Kyriaki told us the news that they were about to arrive and Nik had proposed. From day one “The Doctors” had been easy going and we were all thrilled for them so needed little encouragement to clap and cheer loudly when they came through the door to join us.

After dinner we went to one final bar where I think I had what I considered the best pina colada ever and danced with Nik, Anna and others to celebrate their engagement which included a few moves inside a cage. Throughout the night members of the group slowly left, starting with those who had a midnight ferry to Kos later that evening. Eventually Kirstie and I returned to the hotel about 1am with Aaron, Daina and Lindsay and as we made our way home we all agreed to meet up in London.

Friday 25th September
With the tour sadly officially over we finally had a bit of a chance for a lie in except my pedometer still went off at 7.30am. We had arranged to meet some of the group that hadn’t already left for Kos for breakfast at 9.30am. Throughout the tour new people had joined us at different stages and as we said our goodbyes to those we had known since day one and those that we had only met a couple of days it seemed the majority of us had bonded surprisingly quickly.

Kirstie and I walked in to the main town towards the Cable car so we could catch it down to the old port. It hadn’t even occurred to us it might be busy but luckily it wasn’t that busy and we ended up being in the front carriage going down. At the bottom there wasn’t much to do and the markets weren’t overly exciting but our only reason for going had been to ride one of the donkeys back to the top.

The donkey i was on seemed to want to take the inside corner and took no prisoners as it sought to make its way to the top taking out unsuspecting tourists that tried to block its path to take photos. All I could do was apologise but ultimately it did what it wanted and I could do nothing. It seemed to want the lead at all costs and whenever it slowed down to let one of the others catch up it quickened the pace.

We wondered through town and I got myself a souvenir tshirt and as we walked past a pub heard a voice shout out which turned out to be Jamie. He told us that him and Josh were watching the rugby (league) match between Brisbane Broncho’s vs Sydney Roosters NRL game. Brisbane scored within the first minute and it was shaping up to be an exciting game though after 20 minutes the amount of AFL fans meant the landlord switched to the game between Hawthorne Hawkes and Fremantle.

We had to prepare to catch our ferry anyway so returned to hotel via a third consecutive gyros lunch. As we prepared to leave the hotel we said goodbye to Jamie and Josh for the third time in the day before we walked to bus station, and caught the bus to ferry with time to relax at the port. As we waited in the line an english guy behind us started up a conversation and I quickly realised he was a Luton Town fan. We both agreed that it would be nice if they joined Watford in the premier league so we could enjoy a proper top flight derby day again as it’s been nearly 10 years since we last played a meaningful competitve game due to how far they have fallen.

As our boat arrived the visitors arriving disembarked and the port became a flurry of commotion. “Tourist information over here” a frantic shout of “Shuttle bus, shuttle bus, leaving now”, one man holding a laminated sheet of cars quietly muttering “Rent a car, Rent a car here” and one guy resorting to “Come in, come in, just come in”. This repeated for a few minutes and such was the disorganised racket they attracted next to no one. Even those looking confused and possibly in need of help hurried by. We boarded the ferry and started our long journey back to Athens.

Brutal Planet – Back in Athens (Epilogue)

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Friday 25th September Continued
We boarded the ferry and as were in the general economy section we didn’t have airline style seats but instead found a comfy sofa where we made a nest for the next 8 hours. The journey initially seemed to pass quite quickly but as the hours dwindled by I realised I had cabin fever and nothing could keep me occupied. I tried deleting photos from the holiday, having a nap, writing my blog and finally stretching my legs but ultimately nothing worked. If anyone wants to know how I felt watch Muppet Treasure Island and listen to the Cabin Fever song.Once back in Athens we found our hotel which was within a 5 minute walking distance of the port. After the ferry ride it was a relief to have somewhere so close and I told Kirstie how great she was for finding it. It looked alright from the outside and the staff at reception were friendly enough and we were given a room key. We made our way upstairs and to our room. If there had been a camera on us our facial expressions would surely have been priceless. As we opened the door there was general clutter in a long hall way but as we approached the area for sleeping I wondered if prisons were nicer.

Still, we were tired and it had two beds. Kirstie got out her sleeping bag, which i’d mocked her for bringing and I pulled what was little more than a small sheet over me.

Saturday 26th September
It was quite fortunate the room was so horrible because at least it meant we had no reason to stay and every motivation to get up and get ready. We both attempted to have a shower which involved squatting because it wasn’t possible to raise the shower head and cleaned our teeth as the basin wobbled away from the wall. At some point decades ago it probably had been quite nice and perhaps this was the most obvious example of the impact of the struggling economy.

After leaving we found an internet cafe so Kirstie could print her boarding pass however as we were in Greece it was initially out of order and we had to wait about 20 minutes before the owners son turned up to sort the computers out. We were still in decent time to catch the two trains we needed to get to the airport and made our way to Piraeus the station nearest the port.

There were no attendants serving and the ticket machine was a lot older than the one we had used at the airport so the English information was limited. Perhaps there is little need for investment, the station didn’t seem that busy and I suppose most tourists that arrive in Athens are whisked away by their tour groups so don’t have to attempt the journey in the opposite direction alone like us.

We got the adult ticket that said it covered ‘the entire network’ however once we were on the train to the airport we saw a sign that a special tariff applied. We hoped that if a ticket collector came they would understand that the ticket was not available at Piraeus station and as it was a genuine error they would let us pay the difference or at worst purchase a new ticket.

We weren’t far from the airport, probably less than two minutes when two officious and threatening looking ticket collectors did eventually arrive. Far from being sympathetic they proceeded to write out a fine, forced us to hand over our passports and to sign the form. Most of the fine was ‘Greek to me’ with one small paragraph in English unlikely to cover 9 long Greek paragraphs. The lady in the ticket office wasn’t any more helpful and so we ended up asking at the airport where tourist information kindly interpreted the form and directed us to the post office where we paid the fine.

i later received something which could be interpreted as an apology from the transport network even though the fine stood and there is more I could add about I how I feel towards Athens however it will sound petty. Suffice to say it was a bitter end to what had been a great holiday and a reminder that you are particularly vulnerable when travelling abroad. It was silly to be naive and I will be more careful in future especially in cities which are poor and may target tourists.