Monday, August 30, 2010

One Minute

The trapped Chilean miners have just been able to speak to their loved ones via a telephone line. Made me wonder what I would say to all my loved ones if I only had a few moments to convey anything I wanted but in the knowledge that this could be the last time I ever spoke to them.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Send Me On My Way

So extremely proud of my little sisters who received their GCSE results today - they did exceptionally well getting all A*s and a couple of As. All that worrying over nothing!

I read about a boy who achieved an A* for GCSE Maths at the age of 7 today and a girl who got a C grade at the age of 5 which is clearly astounding and reminds me of Roald Dahl's character of Matilda who is my absolute favourite! I love that book and film!

I think as long as there is not pressure on those young high-achievers then it is fair enough for them to sit a GCSE in whichever subject they enjoy or excel in if that is what they would like to do but it is when there is a phenomenal amount of pressure from parents that I think there is a real issue. Five-year-olds are not really supposed to be working out the circumferences of circles or the gradients of graphs. Having said that, who is to say what kids should be interested in? In fact, when I was at primary school age I was probably more content reading an encyclopedia and writing mini articles on the solar system or doing little word puzzles, which is effectively the same as being interested in being academic.

I wish I had enough money to just keep studying lots of different things and then one day write an encyclopedia of my own!
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain

Literally love the sound of rain at night - more when I'm inside than when I'm out in it! There was one night at university when we had come out of Sobar and there were no taxis to take us home at 2am so we decided to walk in the pouring rain - seemed like a cracking idea at the time! We all sang Southampton football songs, led by Michael of course until the other Michael appeared out of nowhere with a taxi for the girls to get home. Poor Stefan was not best pleased to have to give up his seat!

Anyway, take a peek at my Dad's website - he's been passionate about photography since he was a little boy and I learn most things from him :-)
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Enjoy, enjoy, as joy is the essence of life"

Omar Khayyam.

Edward Fitzgerald.

Beautiful, inspiring poetry about the simplicities and love of life.

Is the genius he who created it or he who translated it so the world would also appreciate it?
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

12 wonderful days

Literally sat and wrote down a brief overview of my 12 day adventure with Michael interrailing around Eastern Europe. We visited 5 cities but there is no way I could say I have seen them as we spent so little time in each place. Saw many more stations as a result of a few accidental detours!

The main trip turned out to be London - Berlin - Prague - Krakow - Split - London.
Along the way we saw.......London Gatwick Airport, Berlin Schoenefeld Airport, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Praha, Krakow Glowny, Wien Meiding, Graz, Zidani Most, Zagreb Glavni Kolod and Split!

Apologies for the note formation but I wanted to get as much in as I could remember quickly.

The inter-rail adventure.

Sunday 11th July 2010

- easyjet – snack pack was probably the most ridiculous purchase ever made. ever
- flew to Berlin Schoenefeld . s-bahn from here to Alexanderplatz.
- extremely hot, a little bit lost and approached by a Romanian gypsy who asked if we spoke English...soon learnt that the answer to this question is ‘nein’
- found a Geldomat, remedied our troubles with a Mango and Passionfruit Frappucino (so German I know) and revisited the map which we had previously misread
- arrived at CityStay Berlin Mitte Hostel which was literally down the road from the station. Great location and right next to a restaurant/bar which Michael spotted like a hawk and in which we ate Currywurst later that evening – fantastic waiter
- became well acquainted with the environment we’d be staying in for the next couple of nights
- walked along the river. So much space. Many many flat screen televisions surrounded by chairs filled with people watching the World Cup final between Holland and Spain.
- photographs by Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson held his baby over the balcony, the Brandenburg Gate which Hitler stole from the French and the Reichstag which is the most beautiful governmental building I have seen.
- watched the match in a beer garden of a restaurant. Lots of cute little mice running around being naughty and stealing food!

Monday 12th July 2010

- chilled in the hostel courtyard with coca cola for mikey – the start of a great obsession
- walked from Alexanderplatz to Hauptbahnhof via Hachesachtmarkt. Stopped for really yummy pizza pastries from a chain bakery similar to Greggs but which seemed so much more exciting
- stopped again for ice-cream and drinks as it was so so so hot – around 36 degrees Celsius
- graffiti covered walls and a whole abandoned building of graffiti which Michael was worried about but the only thing that annoyed me was that I didn’t have my SLR to take some decent pictures
- walking through East Berlin reminded us of Camden but with distinctly fewer people around – there is so much space in Berlin it seems like there is nobody about....or perhaps they weren’t about as the only people crazy enough to go out in that heat were stupid travellers
- reserved seats for train to Prague for the following day...except we later realised they were for Friday
- train back to hostel...more chilling
- u-bahn to see Checkpoint Charlie in the evening. Die Berliner Mauer information was fascinating as always
– we love that period of history. Sat right next to a fan in an Italian restaurant...i enjoyed my salami pizza but Michael did not enjoy his carbonara in the slightest
- we walked home in the dark via the Holocaust Memorial. Pretty weird experience walking through it with the fear of someone jumping out from around each corner as I shuffled from one end to the other. I appreciated the memorial as a testament to the millions slaughtered but probably would have been able to absorb the gravity of it all had there been daylight and had I not felt like I was in a chase scene in a scary movie/Harry Potter.
- even more chilling in the hostel, on the sofas with yet more coke and sprite. Soft drinks in Germany taste so so SO much better than anywhere else

Tuesday 13th July 2010

- Ostbahnhof - East Side Gallery
-Train to Hauptbahnhof. Asked lady at ticket office ‘Sprechen Sie Englisch?’ to which she replied in German that she didn’t but that we should continue to speak to her anyway. I proceeded to explain our Prague reservation situation and she managed to sort everything out with no problems whatsoever. Amazing for someone who said they didn’t know English. Other languages need to be a more prominent part of the curriculum in this country.
- huge McDonalds Big Mac meal devoured by Beattie but proved to challenge Mikey somewhat.
- train to Prague delayed by a bit but arrived early evening-ish. Lovely scenery on the way.
- booked reservations to Krakow and struggled to purchase a 26 crown metro and tram ticket without having to buy hundreds of items in the convenience store to break into the thousands of Czech Crown each note was worth – pizza flavoured crisps were an interesting but amazing find!
- 3 metro stops to Nadrazi Holesovice and then one tram stop to our hostel, Plus Prague.
- bunk beds
- went for a swim in the indoor swimming pool
- ate Klobasa, chips and pizza for dinner at the hostel bar.
- sat with some very nice Scots all evening, one of whom worked there and another of whom wasn’t Scottish but was in fact Polish and was the hostel manager. Really wish I could remember their names but I remember that the one who sorted us out and was really kind and told us the story of how he has been looking after some kittens who have now been taken away from an evil lady from a neighbouring building, was called David.

Wednesday 14th July 2010

- met Laura and Tom, a lovely couple from Canberra who invited us to go on a 3 hour walking tour of the city with. Incredibly hot weather made it difficult to concentrate on what we were being taught at times but all in all a very good tour made interesting by a great tour guide.
- saw the old square, astronomical tower, cubist buildings, statues, new square etc and had lunch at Bohemian Bagel – they give you a pot of spreadable cheese, a bagel and a knife to put together your lunch yourself if you ask for it to take away.
- sat in a cafe by the river and enjoyed a beer with Tom, Laura, Pete Craggs and Heidi. Beautiful views from the bridge
- ventured to the castle which is up on the hill. Grateful to find a water fountain on the way! Walked up quite a few steps to get to the top of the castle but the views were breathtaking – amongst the best I’ve ever seen – so many lovely buildings which seem so summery and orange. Literally no advertising littering the skyline – perfect!
- the castle was like a village of its own – so spacious and elegant
- yummy ice cream from Cream and Dream - I had strawberry flavour and it tasted b-e-a-utiful!
- tram back to the hostel – went for a swim in the indoor pool which was much enjoyed after a day of being in unbearable heat
- later went back into town – had dinner in the Letensky Gardens on the top of a hill next to the castle – such beautiful views of Prague at night. Literally the most beautiful city at night I think. The way the lights illuminate the river is just perfect. Ate lamb kebab, roasted vegetables and pizza bread. I love balsamic vinegar and olive oil :)  didn’t enjoy the Becherovka shot too much!
- moved away from the grill and towards the edge of the beer gardens which overlook the river and rest of the city. Surrounded by Czech people and enjoyed a couple of beers – Pilsner Urquell is yummy as is Staropramen. It was so nice to be away from the touristy bits of the city centre. Had the most perfect moment with Michael.
- realised that Tom and Michael are the same person and Craggsy pointed out that their girlfriends look scarily similar
- walked around Prague trying to find a bar but ended up only going in an Irish bar to use the toilet. Got home at around half 2 after a few problems with the night trams

Thursday 15th July 2010

- Gutted to be moving on from Prague.
- went for lunch at a restaurant near the hostel. Can’t remember what it was called but I ate pork-filled dumplings and cabbage with caramelised onions. Couldn’t manage more than one and half dumplings...too filling.
- went into town to buy some is a shame that every shop around the old square is a souvenir shop. Prague needs to restore some of its authenticity.
- found the most amazing pizza place opposite Prada. The ice cream was incredible – literally the best I have ever tasted. The pizzas were huge (obviously I finished mine, I demolish anything these days) and so so yummy. The prices were just the cherry on top of the icing of the cake.
- chilled in the hostel until the evening when we had to go to the train station and get the night train to Krakow.
- beds resembled tables or shelves stacked on top of one another. We had the middle beds. shared our compartment with a Canadian couple – one was a medic and the other a science and maths teacher. Also two locals.

Friday 16th July 2010

- arrived in Krakow at about 7am. Train was delayed.
- long long walk to the hostel especially with bags and heat despite it being relatively early. Not sure why we didn’t get the tram...
- arrived at Nathan’s Villa Hostel, deposited our bags in their luggage store.
- walked to Wawel Castle which was so close by and ate pancakes at the top. So lovely.
- went back to the hostel and slept for a couple of hours.
- woke up, rooms still were not ready so had lunch in Restaurant Horoscope which was at the end of the road we were staying on. Literally the best meal we had all trip - £15 for 3 pints of Tyskie lager, a free starter, two amazing main traditional Polish dishes and a raspberry sorbet for dessert. Such a nice meal and wonderful waitress so Michael tipped her £5 for a £15 meal. I wonder how much she earns an hour usually.
- returned to hostel and moved bags to our room. Told that the two beds near the window were free...resultttttttttt (it was so hot)
- walked to the main square, absolutely loved it. lots of little cafes, any of which you would have quite enjoyed. Lots of shops. Not touristy like Prague in the slightest...saw the occasional Polish school trip. Krakow is very authentic and just generally wonderful
- had a really yummy mixed grill for about £7 and more beer. Walked about...spotted an artist who did portraits of people but we were going to do that another day apparently! (we returned on our last day and he wasn’t there...grrr!)
- walked back through town and the parks to get to the hostel. Went back up to the room to find a couple of Trinidadian women in our beds. Apparently they had been sleeping in them for the last couple of nights....even though we were told they were free. Moved our beds to top bunks on the other side of the room (10 bed dorm)
- Met some charismatic Irish lads who were making jokes left right and centre and a couple of people from Portsmouth, one of whom guessed straight off that I’m Iranian – that never happens. Went down to the bar and played pool.
- returned to our room, started climbing the ladder and found a 55-year-old American snoring away in my bed. Got Michael to wake up the snoring specimen who also informed us that he had been sleeping in that bed for 3 nights already.
- went down to reception, asked for some more bed linen as the spare bed’s one looked a bit slept on...stayed away from that and Michael and I spent the whole night giggling at the walrus noises coming from the corner of the room – Michael started rating each snore out of 10. It actually sounded like he was going to die in his sleep.

Saturday 17th August 2010

- Walked into town via the river. Sat by the water and just appreciated Krakow and our trip
- found a restaurant that Michael had been to last year but has since undergone a makeover and resembles a stylish Irish sports bar – air conditioned like you wouldn’t believeeeee! Menu was full of burgers and chicken so we weren’t very Polish; Michael had a chicken pitta with chips and I had a chicken ceasar salad. The place had very nice toilets too. Walked out to find that it was the restaurant attached to the 5 star hotel next door!
- walked through the back streets to get to the edge of the squares where the main park is by the university building. Stopped in a cafe called Cafe Camera which was great – it had stills from different films on the walls, inc Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, and on one wall there was a projection of an old black and white film. Of course we had a coke and apple juice.
- somehow managed to walk in a complete circle whilst trying to make it to the train station.
- had difficulty communicating with the women at the ticket office but discovered that there were no trains to Budapest until Monday....we had wanted a night train that evening! Panicked slightly for a moment, went back to the hostel with a million different ideas running through our heads including just abandoning our flights home from Split and going somewhere else instead.
-only other train route that would get us to Split in time for Tuesday (we’d already booked our accommodation there) was a 22 hour journey from Krakow to Vienna on the night train followed by a train to Zagreb and then one to Split. Got the tram back to the station, thought we were being followed by a creepy couple of gypsies and booked our night train to Vienna for Monday.
- went back to the hostel and had a long chat into the night with the Walrus and a great Icelandic guy, Hagalin. Spoke about America, the monarchy, the legal system and other politics.... also found out that the Trinidadian women had switched rooms and intentionally taken the bag of one of the German girls in our room with her! I fell asleep as the men were chatting

Sunday 18th July 2010

- made an interesting decision to go to Auschwitz. For 100zl we were picked up in the morning from the hostel, driven to Auschwitz 1, had a tour, taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau and driven back to the hostel. Can’t really think of any words that describe the experience except quiet, thought-provoking and absolutely horrific.
- so depressed after the trip that we came back to the hostel, tried to find a burger shop, failed and found ourselves buying about 10 bottle of different types of Polish beer (660ml – still so cheap!!) and two XXL pizzas with Hagalin. Oh and kebab flavoured crisps...and goulash flavoured ones too! weird
- met more Australians – Adam, Angus and another one whose name I can’t recall. Astounded us with their clicks game...if anyone knows how that works please let me know!
- experienced a mad dog shot at the bar with Hagalin, Danja and Florentine. Sat in the smoking room of the underground bar in our hostel but obviously did not smoke
- slept in a different room...only a 4 bed dorm but the people in the bunks above us were considerably older than us.

Monday 19th July 2010

- went into town to buy the little shops around. Bought my sisters necklaces from the main square.
- it rained lots and lots so we spent a lot of time in the hostel just chatting to people.
- found the amazing burger place, Love Krove – incredible burgers and peanut butter milkshakes!
- we were pretty sad to be leaving Krakow as it was our favourite place on trip
-shared a cab with Adam and Angus to the train station – they were going to Bratislava. We got a night train to Vienna. Shared compartment with 3 British girls who had finished their first year at Leeds. Found it bizarre that they didn’t like Krakow! Rather mean train inspector who didn’t allow me to lie on a bed that looked like it was a medical room bed and wouldn’t listen to me explaining that I felt sick or that we couldn't open the window!

Tuesday 20th July 2010

- arrived in Vienna at 6am. Waited an hour for our train to Zagreb at 7am. Of course we got in the wrong carriage which wasn’t going to Zagreb and was in fact on its way to Graz and of course we were only informed of this AFTER the carriages split! Re-routed: Vienna to Graz, Graz to Zidani Most, Zidani Most to Zagreb, Zagreb to Split! Zidani Most is in Slovenia by the way!! Slovenia is really pretty and green but we spent 2 and a half hours at the station with nothing but a mountain, a river and musing baby names to keep us going.
- had 3 hours to kill in Zagreb which is a very cool city. Ate a terrible dinner outside the station in an outdoor seating area which looked a lot better than its food. Found an internet cafe in the travel guide to restore our sanity after 22 hours of travelling and still being too many hours north of Split.
- night train to Split looked terrible and Michael was adamant that he was going to stay up all night because he was worried about who would be on it so purchased himself a can of Red Bull. Didn’t need it in the end....shared our compartment ( beds!) with a Croatian man and his 10 year old daughter who was so so so cute! We had a little conversation when the men went away for a bit and she was very sweet and let me put my legs up on the seat opposite next to hers.
- fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night to find that another Croatian family had joined us...a mother and her two sons, one of which was very cute and the other wouldn’t move his bottom off of my seat!

Wednesday 21st July 2010

- Quite an uncomfortable 9 hours but finally arrived in Split after 32 hours of travelling at 6am!
- very beautiful sitting by the water and watching the sun rise. Got to our hostel, Guesthouse Zara, which was more like our own apartment as there aren’t many hostels in Split and the guy who owns it was brilliant! Let us check in at 6.20am, gave us a pillow from his house as our room was missing one and told us to sleep as we must be very tired and we’ll sort everything out later! Had a shower asap...Michael did manage to break it but no worries, the dude fixed that too!
- the room was lovely with nice decorations, a television which we didn’t even touch and a computer with free internet.
-slept til 1pm then wandered down the promenade, sat down for a couple of cokes and a beer which was actually so tasty, probably one of my favourites of the trip...Ožujsko yummmmmy
- walked around trying to find the city beach...found ourselves in the ferry port bit but it didn’t matter too much about the detour as it was all very beautiful! Stunning sea, so glittery and beautiful
- ate gnocci in a very nice restaurant by the sea – mine was covered in cheese which was very nice but too filling again and Michael’s was his absolute favourite combination – ham, peas and mushrooms!
- sat on the beach....white pebbles but they were quite painful to step on, especially in the water. It was so beautiful though. Seems like a lot of Croatian families go to southern Croatia for their summer holidays. Lots of people swimming in the sea and lots of kids jumping into the water from the edge of the walkways by the sea.

Thursday 22nd July 2010

- really sad it was our last proper day but we woke up early to get the bus/coach to Brela, a small series of beaches about an hour and a bit away from Split. Literally all the places we saw on the way to Brela, including Omis, were absolutely stunning...we could have got off of the bus anywhere and found a beautiful place to spend the day. the coach drove through windy mountain roads though and it did feel like we were in a film slightly and that a huge lorry would come around the next corner and we’d go tumbling off the side of the mountain into the green sea!
- walked down some more windy roads when we got off the bus by a sign on the edge of the road which welcomed us to Brela, the best beach in Europe and 6th best in the world apparently!
- ordered roasted potatoes with bacon and onion bits and chips. Bearing in mind all we’d eaten on the way to the beach was a quarter of a bag of crisps. We love potatoes!
- the beach was absolutely stunning. I will let the pictures speak for themselves!
- in the evening we found out that Peter Craggs (who we met in Prague) was in Split so we met him for dinner at Buffet Fife which was a great little restaurant at the top of the promenade. We all ordered the same meal so they brought it out in a big bowl for us to serve ourselves, as well as a plate of gnocci to help ourselves to. The starter was also incredible; the smoked ham was so delicious! I will remember what the main meal was called in a bit.
-perhaps enjoyed too much Ožujsko but had such a lovely evening, was great to catch up with Pete and loved our last night of the adventure!

Friday 23rd July 2010

- 6.20am bus to airport. Great after our late night!!
- waited in airport for 3 hours...had great fun buying a really ugly doll for Lucy! Literally haven’t laughed so hard in many years!
- so grumpy to be returning home I slept the whole way home!
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Turns out I can be patriotic sometimes

August 9th 2010

The papers today spoke about the release of Fereshteh Halimi, wife of the Iranian lawyer Mohammed Mostafaei. Mostafaei, who has fled the country and is currently seeking asylum in Norway, fears arrest for defending and publicising the case of mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who allegedly committed adultery and now faces execution despite already having suffered 99 lashes and 5 years imprisonment for her crime. Halimi was arrested and imprisoned in an attempt to find out her husband’s whereabouts but has been released as he arrived in Norway after gaining a visa from Turkey. Fereshteh’s father and brother had also been arrested for talking to Western media. Fereshteh Halimi and her seven-year-old daughter may never be reunited with Mohammed Mostafaei.

Paints a lovely image of my home country doesn’t it?

I googled ‘Iran’ and it broke my heart to see that the second picture that the search found, after a map of the country, was a number of men being hanged to death. This was followed by another image of a teenage hanging, a man receiving lashes, nuclear weapons and a woman being stoned. This just isn’t Iran, yet it is what the rest of the world sees.

Iranian politics has splattered a horde of putrid colours onto a canvas which was once gleaming and has presented it to the rest of the globe. What is never portrayed is the warmness of the Iranian people, the beautiful sights and rich culture which dates back centuries.

It is hard for these factors to take precedence over the negative information relayed via the news and human rights organisations, spouting statistics like 400 people being executed in 2009 alone and facts including that there are some women in prison solely because a man’s evidence is worth double that of a woman’s and there are women being raped in order to be able to execute them for their crimes as virgins cannot be killed. Of course it is difficult to think of the millions of individual Iranian citizens who do not agree with the system that they are a part of when we are informed that after China, Iran carries out the highest number of executions in the world. However, it is paramount that people understand that there are thousands of dissidents, some of whom bravely speak out and endure the consequences but the majority of which cannot for fear of imprisonment.

But again I emphasise that this is not Iran. A country should be defined by its people, not its fraudulent politics and fatal blend of religion and the state.

Iran is its kind-hearted people; the sofreh that is laid out at breakfast, lunch and dinner; the chelo kebab; the ghormeh sabzi; Googoosh; Dariush; Hafez; Saadi; Omar Khayyam; the chador and manteaunoon e sangak; the advanced scientists; tradition; the importance of family; the ever constant desire for revolution; the students; the elderly; the children; the young generation who dominate society in figures; the scorching summers and snowy winters; the stunning mountains and deserts; the paradoxes of the city; Farsi; red, white and green; Persepolis and the rich history of being the greatest empire in the world.

An anonymous Iranian journalist, now residing in the United Kingdom, has spoken to the BBC about the Iranian government’s ‘schizophrenic’ approach to the Western perception of its country. This seems exactly right. The decision to suspend Ashtiani’s sentence of stoning to death following pressure and publicity from Mr Mostafaei and also her children to Western media, including The Times newspaper, illustrates a mild consciousness of the western world’s resolute disapproval of this medieval method. What the government have failed to address is the staunch disapproval of a failure to exercise fundamental human rights. No doubt she will be murdered by another brutal method but, to quote Fereshteh Halimi, the bridge has been ‘crossed already’ and the fact that the Iranian government have been forced to listen to the voice of humanity, even if this is the slightest step, gives us hope for a direction of gradual change. In the meanwhile, those who are privileged to do so must give the world a proper education.


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