Monthly Archives: May 2008

Things I learnt at the weekend

* Never try and climb a mountain when walking with huskies. Their preferred pace is just a little faster than is comfortable for a not-entirely-fit Londoner.

* Head torches are remarkably good at channeling flies into your mouth at night.

* Trying to find the right turn off from a Motorway that didn’t exist when your roadmap was published is a little tricky.

* People look at you funny when you explain you arrived late due to an old road map. Apparently I am the last person in the world not to have satnav.

* Don’t think that ridge up ahead is the top of the mountain. It won’t be.

* Cheap camping stoves without a windbreak are a bit pointless.

* Supernoodles are best left for students, regardless of how easy they are to carry and cook.

* It always rains in Wales.

Travelling at home

I get so excited about overseas travel I never really think much about spending time doing the same here in the UK.

One of the biggest bars is the lack of foreignness – one of my favourite bits of travel is seeing how even the most mundane things are different in other countries, which makes just walking up and down the street a new experience. Whereas I know if I go anywhere in England I’ll get the same shops, the same signs, people dressed in the same familiar way.

And then there’s the landscape – I’ve spent most of my time living in the South & East of England, where the hills, even at their hilliest, are best described as ‘gentle’ or ‘rolling’. All very pretty, and enough to move some people to poetry, but not for me – I much prefer a more dramatic landscape.

My weekend in Wales has made me think I’ve perhaps been a little harsh on my homeland: the mountains of Snowdonia may be piffling by global standards (Snowdon itself is just over 1000m) but they are still suitably bleak and imposing, and the gale-force winds and horizontal rain made getting to the summit feel like more of an expedition too.

View from Snowdon

There’s even a bit of foreignness – all the signs are of course in Welsh, which I think can easily give any Eastern European tongue a run for its money in terms of unpronounceability and vowellessness.

So I think I need to spend more time exploring the UK before I go away. Next stop Scotland?

Camping it up

Woo! My new tent arrived today, and it’s even better than I hoped. I just hope it’s easy to put in the dark and rain…

Up until now I’ve been using a tent that I bought for £40 at Glastonbury in 2004. Great bargain, but boy is it heavy lugging it about (which is particularly painful after five days of partying).

Now I’m planning a long distance walking holiday this summer I knew I needed to get a proper lightweight one. I may be turning into more of a fitness nutter in my old age, but I’d have to be seriously masochistic to lug my old beast of a thing up and down the Pyrenees for a week. The new one fits two people comfortably and is just over 1.5kg, which is perfect. Just need to find a walking partner now – I’m normally happy travelling solo, but for my first long hiking trip I know I’ll appreciate the company.

In the meantime though, I’ll get to roadtest it this weekend in the Snowdonia national park. I’ve only ever been to South Wales before, so I’m really excited about it. Although sod’s law says it’ll piss it down with rain the entire time, especially after the last bank holiday was so nice.

AND if all that travel-related excitement wasn’t enough, Paul & I finally settled on Istanbul as our July holiday destination. There’s no better feeling than having trips to look forward to, and now I have Wales, Glastonbury, Istanbul, the Pyrenees and my big trip to look forward to.

This is going to be a good year.

My first flight quote

So today I decided that the weather was so miserable I might as well stay in and make productive use of the time to get a quote for my flight.

Now I knew it was going to be expensive, because I want to visit 5 continents and include Central & South America, but it was even more expensive than I thought – both agents quoted me around £2,300 including taxes.

I know it’ll all be worth it once I head off, but it still seems a fair bit. I think have some more shopping around to do.

Decisions, decisions

Looks like I spoke too soon about Valencia. Our freebie place to stay hasn’t worked out, so Paul & I are looking for somewhere else to go this July.

So I was browsing away through the Easyjet & Ryanair sites looking for inspiration (safely outside the Eurozone of course, now that the pound is slipping ever closer to parity) when I was reminded of the fact they now fly to Marrakesh & Istanbul, which got me very excited.

I’ve never been to Morocco, or anywhere in Africa, and my only trip to Turkey so far was a week on a beach resort doing some sailing, so I’ve seen very little of the real Turkey.

The only problem is deciding which one to go for.

Loads of my friends have been to Morocco in the last few years and have all raved about, and seeing the stunning photos over at Gallo Moa has just confirmed that. Oh, and obviously, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to bump my countries visited list up by one.

Whereas Istanbul was where my sister went for honeymoon, which I’ve just been reading about in Rory MacLean’s brilliantly evocative Magic Bus, and which I’m fascinated about because of its incredible history.

I’m not complaining though, it’s a great dilemma to have, it gives me even more excuses to daydream when I should be working!

Some people don’t really get the travel thing

Overheard in the park today:

“Where did you go again?”

“South Africa – it was stunning”

“Really? You never think about it being beautiful, do you…you just think about people getting shot and stuff”

Balenthia

All this thinking about travel has me increasingly desperate for a trip abroad in the meantime. It’s all very well saving all my spare cash, but I figure it’s worth splurging a little just to keep me sane.

I’ve booked tickets to go to Glastonbury again (and this time it’d better be sunny or there’ll be trouble…) and figured it was the perfect opportunity to go away – the state I’ll be in after 4 days in a field in Somerset means heading off to the sun is a far more appealing proposition than having to stay awake in meetings back in the office.

My original plan was to head off somewhere in Eastern Europe where I won’t get fleeced by the Euro exchange rate, but it now turns out I have the offer of a place to stay for free in Valencia. So Valencia it is. Spain just about edges Germany as my favourite country in Europe (it’s the weather, I think), and Valencia is one of the places I’ve never got round to visiting yet.

and for some reason the thing I’m most excited about is trying Horchata. I’m sure it’ll end up being a disappointment.

About bloody time

Finally the sun has come out. It’s been warm all weekend and it’s due to carry on for the rest of the week too.

London really comes into its own in the sun. The view from the bus as I went over Waterloo bridge this morning was enough to almost distract me from the fact I was heading into work – the blue sky behind St. Paul’s, the sun reflecting off the river. Everyone’s even walking around smiling, which makes a change from the usual London scowl.

If it was like this all the time I might not even have the travel bug as much as I do…except we all know it won’t last. There’ll no doubt be torrential rain and freezing temperatures by next week, and life will return to normal.

Reasons to go #3

London, what have you done?

Leaving the comfort zone

Reading this post really resonated with me.

Before I went to Laos at Christmas I was worried it might be a lonely trip – I’d never been away for three weeks on my own before, and I’ve always been really shy when it comes to introducing myself to new people. When i got there I quickly realised I needed to just get over my fears and go out and talk to people – and guess what? It really wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be…and by the end of the trip I ended up spending New Year’s Eve with a bigger group of people than I’d ever spent it with back home.

New Year\'s Eve on Don Det, Laos

I’ve really noticed the effect on my confidence since I got back – both socially and at work.

An obvious part of the desire to travel is to see and experience new things, and my experience at Christmas has shown me I want to make sure lots of those new things are ones that lie outside my comfort zone.

To that end, I’ve just signed up for a beginners’ climbing course – I have a slight fear of heights, so figured forcing myself up cliffs will be a great way of confronting my fears!