Travel: Heading to Morocco – Unorganized and Ill-prepared

Two nights ago, I impulsively booked flights to visit Morocco this weekend – this will be my first time in Northern Africa, and I’m both excited and a little nervous. I’m travelling first to the small seaside of Essaouira, where I plan to see the beach, the harbour walls (used as a set for Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3), and then partake in a Camel trek across the beach to an area where famous hippies such as Jimi Hendrix purportedly adventured. I will then bus to Marrakesh, where I will join my Kiwi companion and hardened adventurer Stefan, where we shall explore the streets and secrets of this famous city. I hope to watch Stefan attempt to haggle with local traders, and will most likely be amused at his attempts not to be ripped off. We also have a day-trip planned to the Atlas Mountains, where some of the classic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of both camels and David Lean’s classic film about T.S. Lawrence, and seeing both these things in person will be quite a thrill.

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I would hardly call myself experienced at this traveling business, having really only started exploring this side of the world recently (such as my brief trip to Greece), so there are a few things that I am a tad anxious about. I have already been warned from many of my friends who have already visited Morocco, that you’re bound to be ripped off by local traders in the markets. I’m not great at hard bargaining, and I expect I’ll pay more than full price if I attempt to enter into haggling situations, so I may avoid shopping if I can. Crime seems to be a bit of an issue, and apparently if taking photos around busy areas, I could risk having to pay a charge to any traders or opportunists who I happen to snap. I’m not sure how much of this is true, and how much is people being cautious.

Adding to my worries, here are a few more quotes from the UK Government travel advice page:

“Morocco has a poor road safety record. In 2013, nearly 4,000 people were killed and over 100,000 injured as a result of traffic accidents.”

“There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco.”

These quotes obviously don’t fill me with confidence, especially as I plan to catch a bus from Essaouira, something I’ve not yet organized. But to travel to a country of such cultural renown, a site of importance for the hippy generation, the background for many famous films and with it’s own rich historical background is obviously very exciting. So provided I can sort my plans out and calm my nerves, this should be a great holiday.

Will my coming weekend in Morocco be a brilliant trip, or comedy of errors?  Watch this space to find out.

Travel Details:

Flight #1 – London to Essaouira, Easyjet, £37.50 (booked five days in advance of travel)

Flight #2 – Marrakesh to London, Thomson, £59

Accommodation – Riad Amin (Marrakesh), shared twin room, £50pp 4 nights

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Travel Blog: A brief tour of Crete and Athens

There has been a lot discussed in the media recently about the economic crisis in Greece – making it seem not the most appealing of holiday destinations. No doubt statistically, the country is not in the best state. Unemployment has reached 26% this year, thousands are homeless and 20% of shops in Athens are empty. Does this make it wrong to visit such troubled country for recreational purposes? On the surface, maybe so. But upon visiting Crete and Athens recently, I did not encounter a hostile and unwelcoming environment. In contrary, locals were welcoming and our experiences were nothing but positive. Greece is beautiful, and even if only visiting for a short few days as I did – you’ll find a lot of take away.

My itinerary was irrationally rushed. After finishing work on a Wednesday, I departed London to arrive on the Cretian city of Heraklion at two in the morning, their time. I was to spend two days in Crete, before flying Friday night to Athens. After a sleep in a backpackers I would have one day and night in Athens before flying back to London, with a day stop over to explore Rome on the way home. I would recommend spending a great deal more time in Greece, particularly Crete. There is a lot to take in and I only scratched the surface. I managed to see plenty of the ruins and historical sites, but something had to be sacrificed – in my case this was the beaches. Coming to the end of Summer this was not necessarily a terrible thing – I did manage one swim at a great spot just outside our Air BnB accommodation at Amoudara, yet if I am to return, I would most definitely make more of the Mediterranean sea.

heraklion venetian fortress

On my first day in Crete we hired a car at a discount price, and set off to explore the streets of Heraklion and drive the coast to the seaside town of Elounda. Before the leaving, we were given some insight into life on Crete, with the owner car rental business explaining to us that the depression had not hit Crete as hard as mainland cities such as Athens, due to the still booming tourist trade. We did however get a nice discount on the car hire price, perhaps due to it being the end of tourist season and to entice business in that bit more. If you do head to Greece at the right time, you’ll find it fairly affordable, accommodation as well as food and drink.

A flock of Kiwis with no previously experience driving on the right side of the road and in completely foreign country was probably not the most responsible group to be hiring a car, though we somehow we made our way from Heraklion to Elounda on the east coast in one piece. This was a great experience in of itself, tackling the aggressive Greek traffic while cruising past some amazing mediterranean vistas.  Once at Elounda we took a boat over to Spinalonga island, home to ruins of a 16th century Venetian military fort, and which was used as a leper colony in the early 20th century, before being abandoned in the 1950s. The ruins are fascinating and some good climbing is to be had. The town of Elounda is a charming seaside community in of itself with some nice restaraunts, and apparently beaches nearby. We did not stay long however – with Spinalonga taking up most of the day the sun was soon setting and it was time to return to Heraklion.

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Back in Heraklion we stopped at our accommodation before heading out to dinner. A friend attempted to have a hot shower – in order to do this the hot water had to be turned at the main switchboard, as all water is heated by solar panels in Amoudara. The wrong switch was flicked at the mains, blowing the fuse in our accommodation and cutting off all electricity to the dismay of several of our group. With our cellphones needing a charge before the next day’s adventures – stress levels were about to run high. This potentially awkward situation had silver linings however, as the incident served as a glimpse into the generosity of Cretian hospitality. Several of the neighbours gathered to help fix the blown fuse – and going out of their way, eventually taking a fuse out of their houses and installing it in ours. Due to a significant language barrier, it was not immediately apparent how he had fixed our fuse board – until we looked in the corridor and saw his house, the apartment across the hallway from ours. His wife was standing in his doorway, in the dark, holding a candle. He had sacrificed power for his own house in order to fix the outage we had created in ours. A touching scene you couldn’t stage if you tried. We were taken away by this hospitality – we thanked them as best we could and a bottle of wine and chocolates were bought for the man and his wife. We hope they shared it and forgave our New Zealand bluntness, as we left with our tale between our legs and resumed our previously plans of heading to a cretian restaurant.

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My friends had been in Crete for several days before I arrived and had developed some connections with the locals – the restaurant we visited that night becoming their local. At the time I was unable to decipher the name of the restaurant, being in Greek text, but I’ve since found it on trip advisor. It’s called kritiki Spiti and can be found here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g670533-d2446337-Reviews-Kritiki_Spiti-Amoudara_Crete.html#photos. They had brilliant Cretan cuisine and introduced us all to a fantastic local drink – Raki. Raki is similar to vodka or tequila and works well with cucumber and a hint of lemon – a cocktail known as a Rakitini. I would say a visit to Crete is worth it for sampling the food alone. Restaurants will bring out complimentary bred, olives, cheese and dips before you’ve even ordered. Of the mains we tried, the Lamb and Artichoke was a big hit, Rabbit and Goat meat being on the menu as well, worth it if you’re willing to experience outside the usual meats. On the day of our group leaving Heraklion, we walked past the restaurant that became my groups favourite, waving goodbye to the old man who worked at and perhaps owned the establishment. He called us in, offering us a bottle of home brewed Honey Mead as a gift (which would later drink by the docs at Chania). His humour was a little controversial by Western standings, with flirtatious jokes aimed at my female friends being the standard, but this was taken to be in good humour rather than sexual harassment, with the culture and generation gap being the excuse.

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In another example of Cretan hospitality, a taxi driver for example went out of his way to take me on a little tour of Heraklion where I stayed the first night, stopping for 40 minutes as I visited Knossus but charging me not a terrible amount extra to take me afterwards to the Venetian fortress at the harbour entrance. I gave him a tip – and yes the taxi still cost significantly more than public transport, but the conversation with a local of Heraklion seemed well worth it and more than I would have gained from a cheaper bus ride.

My time in Crete came to an early end, with a plane to Athens to catch on only my second night on the island. We had to catch the plane from Chania, the other major Cretan city, which had a larger and more organised vibe than Heraklion, and another spectacular wharf fort area, compliments of the Venetians. After hanging out of the pier, making friends with local stray dogs and getting a buzz going from the Honey Mead and Raki, the airport called and it was time for the mainland stage of the adventure.

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I have equally good things to say about Athens, even though my time there was criminally short. Athens is for sure faster and bigger than Crete, and the failing economy makes itself apparent in the amount of graffiti and the general level of cleanliness. That is only surface observations, but I was not in Athens long enough to gain any deep understanding of the situation there. My first impressions involved the tube ride out of the airport, which seemed an organised public transport system not dissimilar from London’s. The Greek government had obviously pumped some funding into this. Once inside the city we headed straight for the backpackers as this was now night-time, stopping first to get a snack. A pastry feta and spinach option was my choice, which seemed a suitably Greek choice of fast food. Athens smelt pretty bad, or at least our area. Kind of like piss, to be precise. So rather than hang around this not so great smelling city square, we opted to sleep in preparation for the next day.IMG_1140

For our one complete day in Athens, we chose to begin with a free walking tour of the city, which took us by the monuments and back alley areas and gave us an understanding of the city and it’s history packed into a brief few hours. It was a good introduction and exposed us to parts of the city we would not have thought to visit, such as the museum for Melina Mercouri. Our tour guide, who was a high school teacher, part time studying for a History PHD and taking tours on the weekends, shared his own insight into Greek politics and society, taking us not only to the old monuments but also to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guards. The guard tradition was not particularly moving, though our guides insights into the currently political zeitgeist, with far right parties of fascist comparison gaining traction. He seemed dismayed that Greece, the birthplace of democracy, would be continually plagued by un-democratic political influence.

We tipped our guide and were then left on our own to explore the city. Getting stuck into the ruins, we managed to tick off several of the main areas. These included the massive columns of the Temple of Zeus, the impressive remains of the Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora, a brief visit to the Archeological Museum of the Athenain Agora and then of course, the Acropolis. The Acropolis is particularly spectacular and with to see such old structures still in any condition at all is a transcendent experience. Sitting up there, looking at the Parthenon, one could only imagine how powerful and dominating these structures would have appeared to the peasants down below, three thousand years earlier. The gods must really have appeared to be watching over the city.

View from Acropolis

Exhausted from the sightseeing, we briefly rested at our accommodation before heading out for one last Greek dinner. The authentic restaurant we stumbled upon had a musical theme, with some seriously good Greek folk musicians jamming just beside where we ate. The food was good, perhaps not great, but the entertainment was excellent, completed with a waiter smashing plates and throwing napkins in appreciation. If you’re ever in Athens, the restaurant was just off the city centre and called “Taverna tou Psirri”, it can be found on trip advisor here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g189400-d1503450-Reviews-Taverna_Tou_Psirri-Athens_Attica.html. We invited all our new friends gathered during the early walking tour to join us, and the meal was thus extended with more and more drinks ordered. As we all had early flights, rather than sleep we opted to stay out exploring Athens some more, and consuming a few more beverages. This basically ended up with us all on the roof of a backpackers, talking smack and staring at the Acropolis in the distance. Perhaps an image that will be burnt into my mind for some time, contributed self-indulgently to the fact I turned 26 earlier that day.

The next morning I dragged my half-alive self back to the airport, not quite ready to say goodbye to Greece but being forced to due to a pre-booked itinerary. I had organised a stopover in Rome but in hindsight this time would have been better spent exploring Athens that bit longer. I spent an afternoon exploring Rome, but I had left my heart in Greece. For now, I will be an advocate of Greece over Italy as preferred holiday spot, but of course I will have to explore both in more detail later.

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TL;DR – Crete as we experienced it is a warm, varied and culturally interesting place. Athens was equally awe inspiring, with the obvious draw card being the share amount of Ancient ruins, some still in good condition. The locals we encountered in Athens were communicative and friendly, local customs are full of life and while there is some poverty most people seem to be getting on with their lives and the overall vibe is safe. I would encourage people to visit Greece – inject your holiday savings into their economy and learn more about what this historic Mediterranean nation has to offer.

Observations on London: The Weather

British people love to talk about the weather. This is no secret. Living in London, the locals constantly complain about the cold days, the overcast days, the wet days, and if a hot day comes along, they’ll complain that it’s too hot. Although it is true that London weather isn’t the best in the world, the time I’ve spent here so far I’ve been a little underwhelmed. London weather is quite manageable, if not calm and pleasant the majority of the time. Far from the completely miserable conditions Londoners act like they live in most of the time. Auckland seemed wetter. Dunedin seemed just as cold. Admittedly I’ve only been here four months, and just in time for one of the better summers in recent British history, so I may have just got lucky. It does make me wonder why British people are so much more obsessed with the weather than other nations of a similar climate (New Zealand being one of these).

Another horrible London day in Hampstead Heath

Probably it’s just that English people like a good moan, or so my co-worker has suggested as a reason for the London obsession about discussing the weather. It is the most obvious and consistent topic one can moan about, so I guess the theory makes some sense. But I would be a hypocrite if I claimed it was only the British over here complaining about the weather, because as this blog proves, the immigrants, over-stayers and ex-pats are doing it too. I guess I’m only going to raise more questions than give answers here, but is England weather so bad that it deserves all this attention?

When I first arrived, I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Not exactly the image of England I had been expecting based on the images of this country I had seen broadcast on TV back home. Coronation Street always seemed grey and grim, the same with most crime dramas and the news reporting never delved much into British weather. I was warned before I arrived about how bad British weather is, so much so that one of the large reasons for me delaying my UK arrival was due to fear of weather. To my surprise, almost all of the first three months I’ve spent here have been in pleasant conditions. A British heat wave was reported on New Zealand televisions back in 2012, but the way it was reported seemed only a few days exception to the depressing norm. It barely rained the whole of June to September, which is more than can be said for my first summer in Auckland where I was constantly caught in torrential downpours. Forward to the present time in London, and although late October is seeing the climate getting colder, it’s bearable and not even as cold as my home town Dunedin would have been in early Winter.

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The view outside my work window – The Westway

For example, we are nearing the start of November and on this particular day at 4.30, it’s not terribly cold and sky has plenty of colour to it. The grey British sky that I was expecting to see constantly seems to be partly a stereotype. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick, and London weather was always calm. Or could it be evidence of climate change, global warming or whatever name you like to use, that things are getting calmer around these parts. I can’t claim to be an expert of the weather of this country though – I’m yet to experience Wales or Scotland, which I’m sure is where all the really turbulent weather is found.

There is much to suggest that I am currently merely inexperienced and the bad weather has not yet hit. I am start to have to wear coats, and the sun is setting much earlier. I must admit that some nights after work, sitting outside having a pint with the work mates, it’s been pretty damn cold. But I’m adjusting. My friends and co-workers say that the worst is yet to come, so I’m bracing myself. Will it turn out that like other things in London, the worst weather will be a little bit over-hyped? (on a side note, other over-hyped things include – Hyde Park, the coolness of Hackney/Shoreditch, the quality of the local bands & the general social scene). Although I’m betting on a harmless winter, I will update you all in another few months time with word of whether things have gotten any worse. It won’t be long I’m sure that I’ll be eating my words.

Basically, if I can say anything constructive on the topic of British weather, it would be: don’t let it put you off coming over here. There’s plenty of other reasons to be turned off moving or visiting England, but the weather I don’t think should be the dominant reason. Unless you’re from California or Hawaii and you’ve never had grey skies and some cold ever in your life. But if you’re from a normal place like Auckland, Toronto or even Melbourne – London is probably on par with whatever weather conditions you’ve already faced. The winters are kind of cold, but not horrifically miserable and the summers are actually quite pleasant. Or at least so my fairly naive experience has led me to believe.

People reluctantly leaving their London houses

 

 

An Update On Life in London

I hate to think of this blog being dead, so for the first time in over a month I’m focusing and finishing a post. I had a good run there for a while – several posts a week for a few months. I guess it was the extra free time from being unemployed for the first time in several years combined with the excitement of being a new city. But then suddenly – inspiration caved away. To be completed honest I seem to have been in a post-travel rut for the last month. The first few months in London were hugely exciting, full of ups and downs – and although I found myself missing home I had enough anticipation and hope about what was to come in London that I remained optimistic. But during this last month, I guess the reality of living in this city dawned on me. It’s an expensive place, it takes a very long time to get anywhere and much of the time – it’s pretty boring. Just like anywhere. I’ve traveled half way across the world and relocated to a major international city only to find that life is much the same here as it was back home.

Not a huge revelation I suppose – I’m the same person here as I was 3 months ago in Auckland. You take your problems and personality traits with you. Life doesn’t automatically change just because you’ve moved to some foreign place with a lot of history between it’s walls and within it’s streets. The grass is just as similar a colour as what the saying suggests it will be.

So no great revelations, but I have learned a great deal. About myself, about friendships – about how people half way across the world from each other are not all that different at all. London is still a fantastic place and I’m having a lot of good times, and new experiences. Obviously I’m not leaving yet – I’m getting enough out of living here to stay for the time being.

There’s a lot I’ve been wanting to write, review and talk about – but have been lacking in concentration and motivation. I could be concerned about views a little too much. Rather than just writing what I want, I end up writing posts in order to get my view counts to rise. Sometimes it seems a waste of energy to write long blog pieces only to get a dozen or more eyes scanning the page. I don’t know how many people actually read these, probably very few. I’m not making any money from whatever views I do get on this blog, wordpress takes whatever cents I could be making. I’m therefore far from a successful blog writer, but considering this is only one of the many hobbyist activities I’m pursuing – it’s not a huge deal. I should probably keep writing for myself, little diary entries such as this, and then it might be much easier to keep up the posting regularly.

Just this last week I saw both Morrissey and Martin Phillips live in London. Both were great, although for me Martin Phillipps took the cake – playing a mix of rarities and crowd pleasures. Morrissey was great for sure, but his ego is so far up his own ass – he seems to really believe in the mythology of himself – that too much of the show is all about worshiping the great Morrissey, rather than about good music. Morrissey has a lot of good songs, but he chose instead to play majority songs from his newest albums, mixed in with 90’s deep cuts. The diehard Moz-heads seemed to love it, I guess I’m just not die hard enough. These are concerts I should review in more detail – and hopefully I’ll get around to more of that soon. Off to Greece next month as well – first time in the Mediterranean and could supply inspiration for a post or two. I’ll most likely just eat some awesome Olive drenched food, and stare at some old things.

There is a lot more I want to write about London as well. The city and experiences within it have been well covered within blog posts – but I feel there is still room for another voice on the joys are struggles of this over-crowded British center. Alas, life in London will continue – I will endeavor to tell you more about the stupidly high cost of living and terrible experience that is the London underground. Until then, here is video of a rap set I performed recently at Cafe 1001, in Shoreditch:

A Season Of Firsts part V: First day in London and it’s a toilet-less Blur

The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my experience of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel.

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Unwrapping the bags at Gatwick

On the 20th of June, 7am in the morning, I arrived in London. That’s over a month ago, so any thoughts I’ll be sharing on this iconic city will be from the mindset of the jaded recent arrival, rather than the completely naive and fresh London immigrant.

London has very few public toilets. This was my first major revelation about the place, and one that would strongly taint my initial first impressions of the city. Making my way from Gatwick to a hostel in a suburb I had no idea about, dealing with the underground for the first time, trying to use Google Maps and orientate myself with a 24 KG pack on my back; this was all hard enough. Let alone with a full bladder, and seemingly no way of emptying it. I skipped the toilets at Gatwick assuming I would easily be able to find one on the way. This is one of the largest cities in the world after all. The only one to be found at London Bridge Underground Station required coins, and I didn’t yet have any Great Britain Pounds to my name. There was none to be found at my next stop of Rotherhithe either. This is now a good hour and a half after I boarded the express train from Gatwick into the city. London looked nice, but I’d not yet seen any major landmarks yet, just suburbs of brick houses and a grey-ish sky. It was beginning to seem a particularly anti-climatic entrance to the city, but one that in it’s own way was quintessentially London.

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My introduction to London

I didn’t make it all the way to the Hostel, I had to dive into the first bushy area I could find and illegally relieve myself, making the most of the one of the conveniences of the male gender. Now able to think straight, I soon found my hostel and proceeded to the next mission of getting some Pounds in hand. Turns out withdrawing money from a New Zealand Debit Card was an equally frustrating endeavor, with the ATM in the hostel spitting my card back at me without handing over any paper. Off I went to find the nearest Barclay’s which were apparently fee-less. I got lost, ended up at a small Thameside mall, and gave in to the first ATM I saw. I would soon find out that there was no avoiding bank charges when withdrawing from an overseas account in the UK. So advice for anyone traveling soon; take all the cash with you.

My first day in London was therefore suitable un-restful. That afternoon, on my return to the hostel I would receive a message from a friend. Blur were playing Hyde Park that afternoon, so it was off to that. Being unaware of the time it takes to travel throughout London, and lacking in any sense of direction I gave up on trying to navigate the tubes and instead booked an Uber. Probably the best decision I made my first day in London, as the Uber got me right to Bethnal Green Station early. I met up with my friends and was able to head to Hyde Park together, right on time to see all the support acts. I wasn’t too tired at this stage; I had slept enough on the plane from Dubai to London, but I was completely overwhelmed by having finally made it to the British metropolis I had been anticipating for sometime. Being overwhelmed I was unable to truly appreciate seeing Blur live, or appreciate what it was like to actually be standing in Hyde Park. In fact, it didn’t seem that special. Turns out Hyde Park is just another park, which happened to have a large stage situated upon in, and a lot of people milling around listening to music.

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We’ve made it to a concert

It may not have the wisest idea to go to a large music festival the day of arrival in a completely foreign city twenty four hours from home. But regardless, Blur were amazing, and maybe one day I’ll see them when I’m not confused – and truth be told, slightly drunk. The ciders were flowing, the exchanging of dollars for pounds were taking place, and my slightly hedonistic first Great Britain summer was had begun. How else do you spend your time in London, then spend all your money on music, arts, performances and substances? I should add, before I sound too jaded, that Blur at Hyde Park was a great concert that well lived up to expectations. The set-list was huge, the new songs sounded great side by side with the old classics and they even made time for fan favorites like Stereotypes. But the whole thing was a bit of a.. fog. Too much entertainment, too soon.

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It was all a Blur

It would not be long until I would have a job yet again. Applying for positions before arrival turned out to be a wise option, and within days of touching down I would have my first interview. Finding a flat was not easy, and for someone looking to keep costs to a minimum I soon learned I would have to settle. London is no place for indecision and my problem solving skills were immediately tested. Savings would not last long, and as I sit writing this, I’m wracked with doubt about how I’m going to avoid expensive meals and drinking sessions yet still remain social. Still another month to go until that first paycheck comes.

If you take anything from my experience, it’s to be prepared. For the bank charges and for the lack of toilets. Learn from my mistakes – use the Airport toilet before you hop on the train to the city. London is a hard enough city without having to deal with a bursting bladder and no options to empty it.

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Disregarding the puns – Blur are awesome

A Season Of Firsts part IV: A day in South East Asia – Kuala Lumpur

The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my experience of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel.

I’m now five days into my travels and two hours from landing in London, writing this entry from my quite comfortable Emirates economy seat – complete with wifi and plus for my laptop. Having slept most of the last flight from KL to Dubai, I continued my sleep quest in order to be as rested as possible by the time the plane lands in Gatwick. It was one of those strange post-REM sleep phases, where dreams are vivid and sleep feels more like indulgent dozing than necessary rest. Never the less, the eight hour trip from Dubai to London flew by and I was quite happy to be awoken by one of the flight attendants for breakfast. Although in my groggy state, I took the word omelet to mean the same thing as a croissant, and not wanting a bread item for breakfast I ordered the Scrambled Eggs instead. The eggs were not bad, but who knows how good that omelet could have been.

Any fears I’ve had regarding air travel have been largely rendered unwarranted, as flying both Royal Brunei and Emirates were fine experiences. Emirates lived up to it’s reputation and was the cushier of the airlines, the multi-region charging plugs and wifi being greatly appreciated. Due to all the sleep I didn’t experience a great deal of in-flight entertainment, but there is a lot to choose from. I briefly watched Blazing Saddles during dinner and a few days ago on Royal Brunei watched the original film adaptation of Anastasia with Ingrid Bergman. A novel experience watching such an old film 10,000 feat in the air, but probably not that entertaining an adaptation.

It’s all been a bit of a gimmick so far, seeing new places and things, such as being able to tell people as I landed in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago that this was my first time out of Australasia (minus the hour stop of in Brunei just previous to that). My short lived and slightly frantic tour of one South East Asia metropolis was fun, but not without it’s hiccups. I was under the assumption that the hotel I’d booked was close to the airport and of a decent quality for the money I was paying. Turns out that close to the airport was still 20 minutes away, and no matter how comfortable the bed was and how polished the interiors looked, the cockroaches that crawled the hallway and my room before sleep would be the lasting impression. I had hoped to get into the city on my one night in Kuala Lumpur, but the hotel was in the opposite direction from the city and the only way to get in there would have been to go back to the airport. Things were not all bad and the experience was unique at least. The hotel was right beside Palm Oil farms, and so felt as if it was the hangout point for local workers. There featured a selection of independent fast food stalls as well as a KFC and Pizza hut, and the men and boys sat around smoking, drinking tea and watching TV movies, projected ohto screens surrounding the area like a drive in movie. I hung out with these people for a bit, wandered the grounds of the area that surrounded the hotel, tried a little bit of Malaysian KFC featuring a soy style seasoning before giving up on my adventures for the night and heading to sleep. Just after destroying my cockroach friend from before.

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My hotel choice, while interesting, was probably not the complete Kuala Lumpur experience, so the next day, against the advice of an Australian engineer I met at the hotel I headed off to the airport to catch a train to town. At this stage I had also lost one of Debit cards (thankfully I have both a Visa and a Mastercard), so spent the first hour of the day trying to call Westpac at the airport to cancel that card. Turns out you can cancel these cards online, which I preceded to do using the Airport Wifi, and after storing my bags at the airport for a reasonable 60 MYR, I found my way to the city train-line and headed off towards KL Sentral. KL Sentral is the main train meeting up in Kuala Lumpur and from there I was to catch another train, of which the last stop was the Batu Caves. I knew not much about these Caves, except that they are a Hindu sacred place of some sort, and that they were commonly rated a top place to visit in KL on the usual lists. Seemed like a good enough mission for my one day in the Malaysian Metropolis.

It was easier and faster than expected to train out to the Batu Caves, and on the way I met a Canadian couple who had been traveling South East Asia and seemed to know more about what the caves were than me. I followed them off the last train stop and found the Caves to be right there. The rumour that Monkeys were roaming freely around the Batu caves area was true, to my delight, and the next two hours were taken up taken videos and photos of nearly every Monkey I saw. They were quite the characters, ruthlessly stealing tourists’ bags if in reaching distance, mostly looking for food however and uninterested in material possessions

Leading up to the caves were a steep set of steps and a giant gold Hindu statue. The Australian man’s claim from earlier that the steps would take half an hour to climb were also untrue, but were quite an impressive and spectacular experience. Inside the caves were sacred Hindu worshiping areas, that I mostly avoided, although earlier I had walked through a scared area wearing shoes – a Taboo. Not intentionally a disrespectful traveler, but it happens.

Before leaving the Caves I took time to visit a dark area, which are a conservation area stripped of the lights, monkeys and statues that inhabit the other caves. The donation given to enter these caves goes directly into supporting the conservation of these caves, and inside a tour guide took us through areas containing massive stalactites, spiders, rare a-sexual worms and the highlight for me – bats. Although the bats were fairly hard to see, one or two swooped by which was thrilling in of itself.

Now just past midday, tired but feeling accomplished in my tourist adventures, I ate a nice vegetarian curry from a restaurant just beside the caves and then headed back to town. I meet a new friend on the way, a man from Uruguay who had also just arrived in KL after traveling Asia for months. We shared stories and then departed, after exchanging Facebook details of course. I still had a few hours left before I had to check in for my next flight, so in one last tourist quest, took another train-line to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Central perhaps?) in order to see a bit man made structure, the Petronas towers. They are indeed large towers but I couldn’t figure out how to get to the sky walk. Having experienced such things at the Skytower viewing point in Auckland I instead opted to pay 2 MYR to use a fancy toilet that came complete with a selection of perfumes. Smelling better I then wandered Kuala Lumpur streets for a little bit, taking a few more photos, shooting a few more music video shots in front of the towers (video to come) before finally deciding it was time to take my exhausted self back to the airport.

After a low amount of sleep the night before, and the adventures of that day in the fairly hot South East Asian climate, I was pretty much ready to crash by the time I had gotten to the airport. I struggled my way through check-in and a few more security checks, nearly had a breakdown as I couldn’t figure out where to buy a travel pillow amongst the huge amounts of Duty Free stores and then finally made my way to the gate where I collapsed in a fatigued but accomplished state. My first Asian experience was a good one, and just seeing new trees, animals, communities and types of food was a massive thrill. I’d chosen Kuala Lumpur on a whim, because it was a cheaper Asian stop-over than many, and because I’d once had a random dream about stopping over in a large unknown Asian country. It turned out worthwhile, if just as disorganized as I would expect. Next I will tell you of my four hour Dubai stop-over rampage (that took place a mere six hours after leaving KL) and of my introduction to London.

Hamish, shutting up for now.

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A Season Of Firsts part III: First Stop Melbourne

shut up hamish and mum

The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my fairly un-unique O.E. (overseas experience) of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel. I’m now several weeks into living in London, but I’m only just publishing blogs from a few weeks back. More up to date blogs to come soon, as well as general culture articles.

My adventure has begun. Surviving so far.

I’ve survived the four hour journey away from Auckland to Melbourne, made it through a new foreign city environment and managed to communicate successfully with the locals. Which is proven to be as you’d probably assume, not that difficult, given New Zealanders are kind of like slightly quieter, more insecure versions of Australians. One of the most interesting things I’ve learnt so far, is that the Aussie-Kiwi cultural competition exists more in the minds of New Zealanders than it does Aussies. Australians are too busy beating the world at most sports (or at least India, in their two biggest sports, Hockey and Cricket) and enjoying their far stronger economy. New Zealanders are far more aware than Australians of the cultural items they’ve had to share claim of with their neighbors. While I’m yet to totally shake these cultural insecurities, it’s nice to be given a sober, objective perspective on New Zealand’s place in the world and how we relate to our neighbors, and it perhaps was aptly only once I escaped my home country that I was able to take on board these perspectives.

melbourne from plane

Mostly though, I’ve been goofing around with friends and enjoying the size and prettiness of Melbourne. The city makes it easy to get around. There are trams everywhere, as well as buses and trains and there’s a bike share initiative apparently not unlike the ‘Boris’ bikes in London. You can hire a bike from numerous bike share depot points for about $3 for half an hour, with plenty of bike points scattered around the city at which to drop the bike off at. I got distracted and stuck with my bike for over 2 hours, which probably pinged me over $30, but seemed worth it for the uninhibited trip around the city.

Adjusting to the time difference has so far been relatively painless, although four hours in the past is admittedly not a huge time difference. I feel good I’m doing this in stages; heading to KL next, even for a day will break it up more. I still feel tired like it’s one in the morning, but with an added two hours to my day. I shudder to think how I’ll react to the London time difference, though we shall soon see.

A few notes, my Kathmandu 70l bag is on the uncomfortably heavy side and is a mission to put on at 22kgs. Might be time to do some clothes dumping, although I’m not ready to part with much of the clothes yet. Staying with a friend has bee a life saver, and seems to be a good way to go rather than a backpackers, if you can wrangle it well and be a considerate guest. You’ll know if you’re not wanted (or at least I think so).

City one of the big trip over and nearly done, just about on to bigger and more ambitious quests. Which reminds me, I’ve not made any progress towards finding work in my eventual stop London. So perhaps I should pause buying thousand dollar cameras and get back to what’s really important. At least my Glastonbury bootlegs will be mean.

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