Friday, October 9, 2009

The Final Tally

So, we're back! And, as promised, here are the long awaited and eagerly anticipated trip stats....

Miles: 10, 293
Miles in a car driven by someone else: 3,820
Miles in a car driven by me: 1,320
Miles in a big bus: 2,016
Miles in a minibus: 882
Miles on a train: 1,438
Miles on a boat: 877
Miles in an aeroplane: 140 *
Cheapest hotel: 500 Pakistani rupees in Passu (£3.80)
Most expensive hotel: €220 in Santorini
Countries: 24**
Border crossings: 29
Passport stamps: 49
Stressy moments when we realised they'd only stamped Trev's passport and not mine and we were now a day's journey from the border: 1
Best kebab: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Worst kebab: Goreme, Turkey
Trains missed: 1
Bouts of swine flu: 3 (at least)
Shaves: 2

*Important fact: this aeroplane trip didn't count as cheating for three reasons:
- it was too dangerous to go by bus; the Swat valley refugees were camped on the road
- it took us East, not West
- it was an internal flight, not a border crossing.
So there.

**Including made up ones

We're now back in the UK, staying at Trev's parents in Rochester. We've found a flat to rent and as long as credit checks and suchlike come back OK we'll hopefully be moving to Belsize Park on Wednesday. And it's been drizzling pretty much constantly since we got back. Nice.

As ever, photos to follow when Trev gets round to posting them. Don't hold your breath.

Gem.

Monday, October 5, 2009

There'll be bluebirds over....

There'll be bluebirds over....

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Et alors... La France

Et alors... La France

The last week we've spent in France, driving from Nice to Avignon, then Biarritz, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and now Brittany, with a Michelin guide for company.  Avignon was pretty, but the highlight was a fish soup. Biarritz excelled itself with Bayonne ham. In La Rochelle and Brittany we gorged on assiettes de fruits de mer.

In Bordeaux the food played second fiddle to the wines, and we spent a lovely day driving around the small vineyards trying and buying. I was driving so had to spit, but Trev was blotto by lunchtime. We filled up the boot to see us though the first month back in London. Or the first week, depending on how grim it is.

Until yesterday it was warm enough to be on the beach, so we spent lazy days finishing off our stock of English paperbacks, topping up the tans and admiring all the French breasts on display.

Now we're in Brittany at Trev's Mum and Dad's house, getting excited over English TV (Strictly Come Dancing proving to be the highlight), getting all our washing done and continuing to eat and drink excessively.

The plan is to stop overnight in Honfleur tomorrow, then we'll be back in Blighty Monday afternoon. Et alors, on est pres de termine. Really pres now!

Gem.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A tribute to Lisa Cordwell

A tribute to Lisa Cordwell

Dear Lisa, you wanted a mention,
We hope this will make you content
But don't think it will bring much attention,
Our readers don't like to comment.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Italia - part 2

Italia - part 2

From Venice we took the train to Rome, where we saw the Roman stuff and the Roman Catholic stuff, and Trev well and truly jumped on the Swine Flu Express. So he did a lot of laying in bed sweating and shivering and I did a lot of sitting in internet cafes trying to figure out if we went to a doctor they would just give him Tamiflu or decide to quarantine or deport. We also ate a lot of pizza with no cheese on, which may sound rubbish but is actually far superior to the cheesy variety.

Then it was on to Genoa, where it turned out that the largest aquarium in Europe had immense medicinal properties.

We also spent a day in the Cinque Terre national park; five beautiful villages linked by a hiking trail along the coast for the toughies and a train for those recovering from flu.

We said goodbye to Italy on the train through Monaco to Nice (does it count as a country visit even if we didn't get off?), where we wolfed down a quick Nicoise salad for lunch before setting off.

So now we have une voiture, une Guide Michelin, sept jours et un tres fort grasp of franglais. Vive la France!

Gem.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Italy - Part Uno

We spent our first couple of days in Italy in Trieste, visiting Emma and Sandro.  It was a fabulous weekend: perfect weather, good company and a ludicrously high 'eating and drinking time' to 'not eating and drinking time' ratio.  Trieste highlights included seabass pasta, mussels, Pinot Grigio, veal, proscuttio with figs, Cabernet, pesto pasta (a la Sandro) and more Pinot Grigio.  The skinny jeans have never been quite so skinny.

We then took the train to Venice, which was wonderful.  Although I'd seen pictures, I didn't realise what a special place it would be.  And although swarming with tourists around the main sights, it was surprisingly easy to escape into the backstreets and churches, which were beautiful.  Taking the boat bus up the Grand Canal was probably my highlight; really fun and beautiful surroundings.

Sunday afternoon we bought tickets to explore the Biannale exhibition.  Call me an uncultured heathen, but it was Shite.  A real load of rubbish, perhaps made even more incomprehensible by this year's special focus on video art.  Particular lowlights (in deteriorating order) included:
- the story of a speaking cat, narrated by a stuffed cat perched on top of some Ikea furniture (by Germany);
- the video of someone washing their hands (by the USA);
- the video of a man on a motorbike running over a kangaroo (Australia);
- the video of plasticine people removing their own arms to wipe their bums after a poo (by this time I'd lost interest of which country's pavillion we were in); and the piece de resistance...
- the gang banging shadow puppets.

Trev, apparently, quite liked the cat.

I thought the only decent exhibits were a series of drawings called 'Landscapes of the Future' by Russia and some gold thread that was lit up quite nicely.

The special award for the Least Shit Piece of Video Art went to Italy for a fireworks display that had been slowed right down and played backwards... but it wasn't exactly hotly contested.

Needless to say, I'm very glad we didn't spend €60 on an unlimited season access ticket!

The Peggy Gugenheim collection was, by contrast, very enjoyable.  Perhaps it's only the filter of history and noone will remember or view this year's Biannale exhibits 50 years from now, or perhaps modern art in the mid-20th century was just less rubbish than in the early 21st.  Either way, it was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

So we're enjoying Italy immensely, despite the prices (surprisingly astronomical, and made even worse by the current state of the pound) and the fact that you seem to only be able to buy knee-length socks rather than ankle socks (it's got cool enough to wear socks and shoes in the evenings and I guess uber-stylish Italian men couldn't risk an inch of leg showing between sock and trouser leg when they sit down). This is keeping me amused as Trev looks like he's wearing those stockings that Mum tries to make Dad wear on aeroplanes to stop DVT...

Ciao for now!

Gem

Friday, September 18, 2009

Balkans and beyond

Balkans and beyond

Gemma says that I have to write a blog post. I've explained that this may not the best way of encouraging creativity. My protestations, alas, have come to nought. Besides, we've started this thing and kept it up until now - so I guess our reader(s) deserve some sort of denouement. Gemma has been seen adding up the distances we've travelled by various means of transport - so it should be a thrilling climax.

We've started spending more time thinking about getting home and everything that goes with it. We've been worrying about starting back at work, fighting with the company that is/should be shipping our stuff, and making lists; of tasks that need to be done for the wedding, possible areas of London to settle in and of trilobite specimens to look at if there is any free time before Christmas. All quite dreary. Luckily I was only responsible for one of these. I am very lucky to have such an organised fiancee.

In a further intervention, I've been reliably informed that I should be writing about where we've been and should stop being 'horrible'.

Since we last wrote, we've almost completed the balkans leg of our journey and are now on the bus from Rijeka in northern Croatia to Trieste. We'll spend a couple of nights there, visiting Emma, Sandro and new-ish baby Arturo. Its amazing how many new babies of friends there will be to meet when we get home... at least 5, without being thorough.

Anyway, from where we last wrote in Kotor we headed further North in Montenegro to Herceg Novi, mainly to catch the direct bus from there to Bosnia. We also got an afternoon on the beach and some nice clams for dinner.

We then spent a couple of nights in Sarajevo and a night in Mostar. The weather finally turned on us in Bosnia. This was a disappointed for Gemma, but I feel that overcast skies, grey light and light rain lend a more authentic atmosphere to eastern european cities. Ideally  accompanied by pensioners selling unpaired shoes by the side of the road and musty cafes that only serve salted pork fat. I guess it reminds me of happy years living in east London... Other than the weather, Sarajevo was a big disappointment: the food was good, the city attractive and the people cheerful and friendly. There were at least a lot of bullet-holes.

Mostar was even prettier, and even more bullet-ridden. The town only has one real attraction, an old bridge. Our Europe Lonely Planet boldly translates the name of the bridge (Stari Most) as 'petrified moon', a reference to its 'slender and refined beauty'. I'm not sure where they find their writers from; everyone else translates it as 'old bridge'. I expected Mostar to be a bit of a disappointment, but it is a very good bridge.

The weather improved slightly when we got back to the coast at Dubrovnik. At least enough for a few hours of sunbathing each day. We splashed out a bit, rented an apartment overlooking the beautiful old city and ate oysters for the first time on the trip. We could have happily stayed for longer.

Finally, we travelled up the coast of Croatia by overnight ferry. It was much more comfortable than the 12+ hour bus would have been and no more expensive than bus tickets and a hotel room. We had a few hours on the beach in Rijeka when we got off the boat. It will probably be our last bit of sun for a while - the water was freezing and its now chucking it down as we cross the Slovenian border. Our plan after Trieste is to spend a couple of days in each of Venice (G's never been), Rome (I've never been) and Genoa (you should be able to guess why we're stopping there?), then head across France to rent a car and drive up the West coast (better than the East coast), to finish with a day or two at my parents' place in Brittany and a couple of days in Paris.

Pictures to follow...

T.

P.S. Neill - I don't have your new address, so Mum's got your postcard.