IT’S stupid-o-clock. It’s some time between 2am and 2.30am and I can’t sleep.

I probably would have been able to sleep had I not incorrectly set the air conditioning/thermostat thing to ‘ludicrous’ heat before settling into bed.

My dreams began peaceful and placid and slowly progressed to being infinitely weird and hell-like.

You know those dreams where you’re parched and desperately trying to find something to drink? You got it, times infinity.

Air conditioning is admittedly something I’ve never been able to get my head around.

I mean, hailing from England how or why the hell would I know how to operate an air conditioning unit?

All I’ve ever done is light gas fires to combat the freezing winters.

Air conditioning? Pfah.

Where I come from ‘air conditioning’ is opening or closing a window. Or asking your flatulent friend to leave the room.

Holidays in Egypt… that’s what air conditioning is designed for for us Brits.

So yes, I can’t sleep. My bedroom, and in fact my entire apartment, is currently a blazing furnace.

I’m in a state of undress with sweat dripping from my brow onto the keyboard. Ewww…

It’s warmer in here than it is in the desert on a summer’s day.

I hear you… ‘open the windows’ and ‘stop whingeing’!

They’re open. And it’s really warm outside. Even at stupid-o-clock.

San Diego, it seems, doesn’t do ‘chilly’.

It’s actually so warm here throughout each and every day, that the city’s parks and recreational spaces boast an unbelievable amount of tramps – or ‘bums’ as they’re called here.

They’re largely harmless. They just sit around sleeping, acting weird occasionally if anyone offers them a glance.

It’s like a year-round bum summer camp. And we’re their entertainment.

 

Honesty deserves charity

Anyhow I digress.

As I write this I’m also Googling the bloody air-con unit instruction manual in the hope that I can rest easy tonight without the sleep/sauna detox.

I might talk the talk and walk the walk but there is no doubt, here in the U.S. I am a still a stranger in a foreign land – just as much as I was in next-door Tijuana.

I’m daily misunderstood, and often confused.

In the nine weeks that I’ve been here in San Diego I can tell you that Americans are a fascinating bunch.

Oh and in case you didn’t know, they are crazily open and honest about health and religion.

These are two things that people here love to talk about openly.

These are two things that we Brits never really talk about when we’re in the UK.

We have a funny way of avoiding discussions concerning our illnesses, ailments, and of course religious leanings.

Personally I’m not really comfortable talking about either – especially with someone I’ve just met.

“What do you take?” I was asked recently.

“When?”

“Now? Nothing, I feel fine”.

Again: “Seriously... what do you take?”

Me: “Uh… aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache… a ‘Lemsip’ if I’ve got a cold…?”

“Aha…”

*cue long lingering stare*

“And…?”

*stare continues*

“And… nothing… I don’t take anything. Nothing to get me through the day, nothing to help me sleep, nothing.”

“Isn’t that weird?” I was then asked.

“What REALITY?”

It’s only when you go to a supermarket (otherwise known here as a ‘grocery store’) that you begin to appreciate the national obsession with remedies.

 

Drugs - 'aisle' buy that for a dollar!

 

Shelves and aisles of pills and potions to cure everything from headaches and sports injuries, to sleep deprivation and toothaches. There are pills for things I’ve never heard of.

And natural remedies featuring seemingly unnatural-sounding ingredients.

 

'

'D3 5000 I.U.'....? Isn't that a brand of motor oil?

 

Sure, we have pharmacies in England but wow.

I’m sure there’s actually medication for medication here.

When you’re seen to be new to town religion is the other big talking point.

Within seconds of meeting some people they’ll ask you if you go to church and if you want to go to their church.

I always consider that I must have sinned during the conversation leading up to that point and that they’re trying to cleanse my soul as a result.

I immediately feel uncomfortable and I try to joke my way out of it.

Bad move.

So forgive me.

The actual process of greeting someone here in California (or indeed the U.S.) also confuses me on a daily occurrence.

Rather than simply offering a hardy handshake or a pat on the back, people here seem obsessed with a greeting known as ‘fist-bumping’ – or variations of it.

 

Bump day

How the pros do it

It’s basically the action of putting out your fist for someone else to ‘bump’ with their own fist.

I’ve observed plenty of Californians doing it here and I must admit, they look cool.

I however, do not.

There are simply too many variations for me to get my head around.

There’s the actual fist bump. Then there’s the high-five. And there’s some of other part-handshake part-grip thing.

And these are just three of the more popular types of greetings.

And for me, who is new to town and the whole fist-bump thing, I panic when someone puts out their fist or hand because I don’t know which greeting they’re planning on using.

It’s always an awkward moment and, despite the fact that the whole thing is supposed to look and feel ‘cool’, I don’t. I can almost feel my coolness dripping away as and when someone puts out their hand for the bump , or slap, or whatever.

I always hesitate.

Once or twice I admit, I’ve pretty much just thought ‘bollocks to it’ and shaken the outstretched bump fist.

Epic fail.

I actually freak out that one day I’m going to face-palm someone by accident.

So I’ve taken to YouTube to try and teach myself some basic rules…

Anyhow. People are strange when you’re a stranger right?

 

Hey, I noticed my last blog post was popular in Latvia.

Bizarre, but very cool. Welcome Latvians!

At the bottom of this blog is a ‘translate’ icon if anyone wants to read it in a different language.

I can’t promise my ramblings will make any more sense but hey.

Thanks for lending me your eyes.

 

Want daily updates on this bizarre life I live in…?

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tristan_nichols

Östermalms Saluhall in Stockholm; photo by Andy ParsonsI didn't know much about Stockholm to be honest. Meatballs, hockey, blondes and Ikea was my only knowledge of Sweden prior to last weekend, so I was intrigued in what I would find once I got to her capital city, oh yeah - I heard it's pricey too. After getting dirt cheap flights for an overnight stay and finding central accommodation via the excellent Airbnb website, we were very much looking forward to this. Once I found out where Skanska airport was though, in truth, I thought this may be more of a chore than a fun foreign foray - it's an hour-and-a-half drive outside Stockholm! Although in fairness, the Flygbussarna coaches are an effective way of getting you there at around £25 return. So armed with exactly £160, roughly 1600SEK, we arrived in Stockholm's main station, T-centralen, for our 24-hour whistle stop break. Luckily enough, we could pick up a 24-hour metro ticket, which cost around 200SEK for my partner and I.

We only travelled one stop north before it was time to get off. It had been an early start at now it was lunchtime. We stopped off at Östermalmstorg to check out the food market at Östermalms Saluhall. I had researched this was the best place to find authentic Swedish food, and with my partner being more health conscious than me, she was encouraged to find the many varieties of fresh national fare on offer. After pulling ourselves up to a bar next to the counter, I had some meatballs with a cream sauce and potatoes, while she had a beef stroganoff with rice. The food was incredibly hearty and we picked a lovely stall where to eat. The prices were very fair indeed, around 100SEK each which I thought was excellent. Some of the stalls in Östermalms Saluhallare aimed at the high-end market, and on our budget, we didn't want to spend everything in one gluttonous feast. After leaving there, we dropped off our things at our accommodation one stop up at Karlaplan before heading back on the train to see Stockholm's undisputed heart stealer, Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan in Stockholm; photo by Andy ParsonsGamla Stan is a lovely area to walk around with hundreds of inviting cafes, amazing boutique craft shops, bars and alleyways to explore. As with many major cities, this was crawling with tourists and the same items were in souvenir shops as you would find in London, New York and Paris, but just draped in yellow and blue. As we walked around, we saw the Palace and got some lovely views out towards the north of the city over the impressive Riddarfjärden bay. Very charming indeed. Time to move on, and this time north through the imposing island of Helgeandsholmen which houses the Swedish parliamentary buildings into the main shopping precinct area. This was a very clean area and many options in where to shop, so we carried on walking, trying to pronounce some of the signs we read (including Kvarteret Rosenbad, Utbildningsdepartementet and Akademibokhandeln Drottninggatan) before finding first a coffee shop then an hour or so later, a bar near Rådmansgatan station. Now I do like my beers, but paying 75SEK, was eye-wateringly expensive. The Swedes must come to London and think it's their birthday due to the 'cheapness' of the ale in the UK! At this point, I was getting quite worried about running out of money, as even a bottle of water was setting us back double the price it would have in London.

After heading back to the accommodation to get changed, I wanted to go to a lively area for a night out and importantly, somewhere new where we hadn't seen as of yet. So after delving into my guidebook, we decided that we would give the island to the south a try; Södermalm. Södermalm is apparently where many of the students inhabit and it has a strong blue-collar background. We were told by our host that the prices here wouldn't hit you as hard as they would in the Gamla Stan or the central areas. So we got off at Medborgarplatsen, which literally means 'Citizen Square' and went hunting for our evening meal. Now after looking at the prices in restaurants most of the day as we wereThe parliment building in Stockholm; photo by Andy Parsons passing, we noticed that you needed around 200SEK for a feed - again, expensive even by central London prices. We after exhausting many options, we found a Pizza Hut where two pizzas, a glass of wine and a beer came to 400SEK. This was a fine meal, although still, around £10 more than what you would pay in London. I wanted to try out the local nightlife though, and despite the extortionate prices, we found a fabulous vibrant drinking hole called Jameson's Bar, where I enjoyed a few lovely big bottles of Swedish beer was a more palatable 39SEK, which is in keeping with local suburban London prices, let alone those from the West End. We noticed that Swedes were a really calm bunch and welcoming while we were on our night out and everyone seemed to be having a great time. One amazing fact compared to London is that on Friday and Saturday nights, the trains run 24 hours. Alas, a night out in London can be ruined when it gets to 1230 as you have to scurry back to the underground to get home.

Our second day involved much more walking, but this time, it was to see the gorgeous area of Djurgården, the royal island to the west of the centre and accessible by local bus and tram services. Djurgården is absolutely beautiful - nestled on the bay with trees and lovely statues, and it made us think how lovelier it would have been in the snow or in the height of summer. We were free to roam the park as we wished, seeing squirrels foraging and occasional joggers before wandering past all the amazing museums in a small area which was just as touristy as Gamla Stan which we had seen the day previously. A quick check of the funds and it didn't look good - we only had around 300SEK left, we needed to find a cheap eat near the T-centralen before we got on the bus back to the airport. We eventually found a Mexican fast food joint which hit the spot quite nicely before saying our farewells to Stockholm after a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We loved it here and definitely worth seeing in a quick trip if you don't want to go to the museums. Stockholm struck me as a extremely liveable city as the people were so friendly and the transport so efficient. We knew it was going to be expensive before we came, but in my experience of travelling, the best places usually are!

Do I need warm clothes? Do I need to bring my hiking boots? Or is my toothbrush, tickets and passport enough? In only a few days before I'm off to Thailand. I'm excited, chaotic and nervous. Its my third or fourth time that I will be visiting Thailand but I'm still worried. Worried I'll forget something.

Now I have to pack my backpack and every time its a challenge. I always pack too much, but for the first time I’m going backpacking for a short time. Only two weeks, which means that I don’t need a lot and anything which I forget I can buy in Thailand.

This is my Thailand packing list:

    Basic Necessities
  • Passport
  • Photocopy passport
  • International drivers license (for renting a scooter)
  • ATM card
  • Credit card (just in case)
  • Student ID (for discounts when available)
  • Moneybelt (to keep everything in one place)
  • A small purse
    Clothing & Apparel
  • (1) long plants
  • (1) sweater
  • (1) long sleeve shirt
  • (2) T-shirts
  • (4) socks
  • (4) sets of underwear
  • (1) night shirt
  • (1) short and 1 skirt
  • (1) bikini
  • (1) harem pants
  • (2) tank tops
    Tech / Travel Gear
  • Iphone and charger
  • Photocamera and charger
  • SD-card for camera
  • Lonely planet Thailand
  • Book to read
  • Notebook and pen
    Accessories
  • Sunglasses
  • Walking shoes
  • Flip flops
  • Comb
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Basic make-up
  • Quick-dry towel
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Deet bugspray
  • Earplugs

Backpacking Thailand and my gear is ready to go!

Any Questions?

What else do you recommend for backpacking Thailand?

Nothing says winter quite like a proper snowfall, so make it your mission to experience it properly. Instead of a mild winter with plenty of grey skies and rain showers, you could be having fun in the snow, making memories and trying something new. That’s what Andermatt in Switzerland has to offer you; it truly is an alpine playground!

So how do you actually get to Andermatt, and what is there to do when you arrive? Here are a few hints and tips to start your planning process...

Travel Information

The closest airport to Andermatt is in Zurich/a>, 125 kilometres away; by car it should take you around 90 minutes, but if you prefer to get the train you can relax on your 2.5 hour journey. Then again, if it is easier for you to fly into Milan (MXP) the drive is still only a reasonable two hours. When you consider how much you’ll be able to do on your trip, the drive becomes a lot more appealing! Also, it’s a great time to look at the scenery as you make your way to the resort.

    Logistics
  • There are around 20 airlines that fly into Zurich airport, so you should easily be able to find a plane to get you into Switzerland.
  • You will need to change trains to get from the airport to Andermatt so be sure to write down the times you need before you depart.
  • If you don’t want to hire a car or get the train, organise a transfer to take you from the airport straight to your hotel.

Accommodation

When you get to Andermatt, you’ll want somewhere to put your bags and rest your head. There are some excellent places popping up, but The Chedi Andermatt looks especially nice...a perfect way to enjoy a little slice of Swiss luxury. Places like this stay true to the alpine playground description; it has a ski-in living room and a spa and wellness centre with hydrothermal facilities, that can help to get rid of those aches and pains from the piste!

Activities

Once you’ve arrived and had a chance to recover from your journey, it’s time to explore the good stuff. There is guaranteed snowfall in Andermatt, so skiing and snowboarding is the order of the day. You can go almost 3,000 metres high up Gemsstock Mountain in cables cars before you come down again with gravity! Beginners might prefer the Gurschenalp and Nätschen Mountain...

It’s worth keeping in mind that the temperatures in Andermatt are between -5ºC and -10ºC in the winter months; it’s a very good idea to bring your winter woolies with you. The cold can often deceive skiers who believe they’re getting hot; your skin will be exposed to the chill if you take off your layers so avoid doing this to protect yourself against frostbite!

If you're flying from Glasgow Airport, there's no time like the present to start looking for the most competitive deals and the best value for money on Glasgow Airport parking.

A good way to kick off the process is to search online, and use airport parking websites to find quotes on parking solutions that best suit your needs. However, make sure you only use reputable airport parking suppliers and be sure to satisfy yourself with the quality of your chosen parking provider. After all, you're leaving your car with them while you jet off to sunnier climes, so it makes sense to find a trusted supplier that offers a good service and a high level of security.

One such trusted name is Thomas Cook, and as well as offering a support network and secure parking premises, they also promise great value for money. Check out their Glasgow Airport parking page.

As you'll see, you can choose from numerous parking solutions including low-cost off-site parking, and on-site parking with valet services. Naturally, the off-site version is usually the cheapest, and offers a shuttle bus to take you to and from the terminal. These often run regularly and are surprisingly efficient, with the minimum of fuss. Or, if you prefer to park within the airport grounds, you could go for the valet parking option which includes a parking and retrieval service - perfect to help you save time at the airport. Simply hand over your keys and head straight for check-in!

For complete peace of mind, Thomas Cook also promise excellent security features at Glasgow such as automated entry and exit barriers, 24-hour CCTV and camera surveillance, patrols, floodlighting and high perimeter fencing. So, rest assured your ride home (or your pride and joy!) will be kept in a safe environment, while you get on with enjoying your holiday to the full.

What are mud volcanoes?

mud vulcano

Mud volcano. Image: wikipedia commons

Mud volcanoes are channels for releasing pressurized gas and mineral water from great depths of the earth (even 812km) and depositing them on the surface where they form cones that can reach up to 700m in height, although usually they are about 1m high. The width, on the other hand,  can range from a few centimeters to a few kilometers. They are also close cousins to magmatic volcanoes. Both types of volcanoes can erupt powerfully and throw flames to great heights, both can spew out millions of cubic meters of clay from the bowels of the earth, and both can create islands if they erupt from the floor of the sea (Source: Azerbaijan International). However, unlike magmatic volcanoes, mud volcanoes are at ambient temperature and may even be cool. Another distinctive feature of mud volcanoes is that  they are one of the visible signs of the presence of gas and oil deep beneath the surface of land or sea.

Mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan and its Caspian coastline are home to nearly half of all mud volcanoes on earth – there are between 200 and 300 of them in the country, located mainly in the eastern part fo Azerbaijan. The two largest mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan are Kinezadagh (397m high) and Turaghay (400m high). When the first one erupted on the 10th of  October 2001 it sent flames shooting out 300m into the air, the highest recorded flame height from a mud volcano eruption. 

mud vulcanoes locations

Locations of mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan. Source: Azerbaijan International

Are they dangerous?

Mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan occur in uninhabited areas thus they usually don’t have any disastrous impact on the population. However, there were episodes when they caused serious damage and loss of life. For instance, according to local residents, an eruption of a volcano, which took place northeast of Shamakhi, resulted in the deaths of six shepherds who were camping in its crater. About 2,000 sheep in their flock were killed as well. There is also a legend about destruction of an entire settlement known as ‘Old Gilady’ during an eruption that took place sometime in the 15th century. Fortunately, such events are extremely rare.

explosion

Explosion of Kinezadagh, 2001. Source: BBC News

Where to find them?

The best place to see mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan is probably the Gobustan National Park. Make sure you go with a driver who knows where to find them because there are no indications in the park. Also, keep in mind that some taxi drivers will want to take you only to the petroglyphs and will refuse to go further as the road is unpaved and rather difficult for a regular car. Ask us and we will be happy to advise.

Qobustan AZerbaijan

Gobustan mud volcano. Image by notebooklovespen

Another good place to find them is the Shirvan National Park. There you will find some indications leading to the volcanoes although the park’s guide discourages from going there mainly due to the long road of a poor quality.

shirvan mud vulcano

Mud volcano in Shirvan National Park. Image by Kuba Bak

Things to keep in mind

Mud volcanoes are a good fun but – especially when traveling with kids – remember to bring a few extra bottles of water to wash off the mud, and some clean clothes to change!

This is not a joke. I was playing a little I Spy with one of my classes and this is how they manage to play it not feeling any discomfort or awkwardness.

It actually describes just how people are in this country. Really, really blunt and direct (when it comes to others), not thinking about emotional consequences. Although at the same time, half of the time it doesn't make any sense when they say something. Because A. their English is average, B. they just are totally not direct at all. This is a world with al lot of contradictions. Once I think I'm starting to understand them, they just sweep away the sense of it all from under my feet.

As I told before, they see me here as a white skinny girl with yellow hair. Still not sure why yellow, but if they see it as yellow, well who am I to argue. Although, as my white-ness changes here with this insane hot and sunny weather outside, so does their opinion about my appearance. I went on a trip with a local girl from work (more about that later, probably in another post). When we returned to work one of the first things I heard from my Chinese colleagues was: "You are so black! Didn't you bring an umbrella?" Apparently I was the one who was thinking wrongly, cause for them it's more like: DUH, you bring an umbrella with you everywhere. For me it was more like: I went walking in the mountains for two days, what do you think? Off course I didn't bring an umbrella. Then they look disappointed and shake their heads.

I'm also totally confused about some the things they say sometimes. (Literally, this is the most contradicting country and culture ever.) But on the other hand, they cannot understand why I (or other white ‘western’ people) act like I (we) do.

For example, and remember this for any future trip to China: don't touch the food! Just don't, really, never! I have had some awkward moments unfortunately, being a curious creature and all. The other day a girl came with this big, bamboo looking, stick and was biting on it and eating it like a cave man, and well I just wanted to know what it is. So she was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to try it...curious and adventuresous as I am:) I tasted it, but as I'm not a cave man the biting and tearing didn't went smoothly. And I just wanted to look (and touch, with clean hands though but still: OOPS for that thought!) the texture inside. As a response I got an angry "Don't touch it, I have to eat it, it's dirty when you do that. (I didn't even touch it, it was more like a little tap) But really, THAT'S dirty?? Kidding me?!

Another example I heard from a friend, he went eating at McDonald's with some Asian people. He took his hamburger from the paper and started eating it. People where staring at him like he was from another planet. After some awkward eye contact they asked him, "Why you touch your food? That is so dirty." Apparently they don't take the burger out of the wrapper. Fingers and food should not touch, under no circumstances, EVER! BUT NOW. They (up to 10 people, sometimes people you don't even know) eat from the same plate, not changing their chopsticks. Dirty? If you ask me, Yes kind of! Spitting on the street, dirty? YUP, DEFINITELY!! Kids shitting on the street, dirty? I'm seriously not even going there. Letting food fall from your mouth on the table, dirty? Well, YEAH! Spitting on the street? Disgusting!! And slurping the last little pieces of food from your bowl? Well only thing I can think of is: Ugh, and blegh. But actually,' they slurp that last part from their bowls because they don't want to touch the food. Because, you know, it's dirty! I just don't know how that makes sense, it's all just so confusing sometimes!

So as a Western brought up girl with European table manners, if you ask me? Who is being dirty?

Another interesting thing: I'm the most interesting thing on the street ever, at all times, always! But then I see people walking with plastic foil wrapped around their legs -- no joke, really happened! (No pictures unfortunately.) I guess, to protect themselves from the sun. But I'm the funny interesting and awkward thing to check out? REALLY?

Or when one girl was insanely interested in The Netherlands and Europe, asking me questions like: how is this or this and this... Until it even got annoying. So once in a while I tried to say things before she could ask. Until the moment she responded me with "Well you're not in your country now so you should do it like we do." (........) was pretty much my response.

How adorable is this??How adorable is this??
And how beautifull is this picture? sorry for putting it just in between, but come on!And how beautifull is this picture? sorry for putting it just in between, but come on!

Also the Chinese way of being direct while they are totally indirect is just confusing the shit out of me. Chinese people can say to you without blushing or blinking you are fat, you should loose weight, you are ugly, who is more pretty, and so on. I’m used people talk around these kind of subjects, lie or just mumble something to avoid these answers. You know, we European tend to not (always) be to harsh to the other person. Honest, but in a nice and subtle way. Chinese love their honesty, though. But when it comes to what they want you will never, let me repeat that, NEVER , understand them. One day I walked home with a colleague who lives in my area. She wanted to pass by the market to buy some fresh corn: no problem. When she found corn that was good enough (they are SO picky if it comes to fruit and vegetables, they can search for 15 minutes in a big pile until they find the ones that are good enough) she asked me whether I liked corn. Yeah sure, I like corn. So she continued here search for the prefect corn and bought 4 corn sticks. That got me confused, I now she won’t eat 4, did she buy more for herself, or for me. Or did she choose four so I could buy 2 and she could buy 2. As she didn’t say anything and I was totally confused by my own questions, even questioning if I wasn’t questioning it to much, and she paid for all 4 we continued our trip home. Almost home I started thinking again: did this mean she wanted to eat together? What did she mean by that question?? Well as we just said our goodbyes, I thought I was just analysing it too much and should let it go. 20 minutes later I got a text: the corns were ready and if I wanted to try them out? Because 4 is to many’ (…) uhm, sure ok, I guess. So I told here maybe here place would be better as I didn’t have a lot of plates and stuff. Got a text back with a lot of ‘hahaha’ no silly I’ll just drop it off’. (…..) uh, ok. She came, after pushing a bit she came inside for 5 minutes and left. Until today I still don’t know: did she wanted to eat together, but was afraid to ask me? Did she pick those other 2 for me to buy? And you might think: why didn’t I just ask here? It doesn’t’ matter whether you ask them or not. You get a weird answer ending with: ‘that’s ok’. Always ‘that’s ok’, starts to piss me off these days. WHAT IS OK? Well the gesture was nice though, so didn’t make any big fuss about this situation, but still.
Actually asking doesn’t help, it just makes it more confusing..

To make this clear let me continue with some other awkward moments:

When someone tells me some new information, as a naïve interested obnoxious and curious European girl, I always ask questions. For example, when a co teacher told me  August 21th was Ghost Festival, I started asking questions: ‘What is it?’, ‘What do you do?’, ‘What happens?’ etcetera etcetera. Then they start to explain it in a typical chinese way: ‘People stay at home, because they are afraid of the ghost to enter their houses and they give money to the ghost (still haven’t figured out how though). But well, for me this is not enough, as I still don’t know the real reason for having this festival. So I ask more questions, but this ends in a typical way: they try with maybe 3 more sentences, then they get stuck, ask another chinese person for the meaning of a word they don’t know in English and they end up talking to each other in chinese, leaving me with my questions and a new question: ‘Did they forget they were talking to me and explaining stuff?’ But as any educated western person would do, I ask dear old friend wikipedia for an explanation of Ghost Festival, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival
Or, when I went eating with a bunch of local teachers and I, off course, wanted to know what one ingredient was, I got this reaction (after no one knew the translation in English and their googletranslate didn’t give any suggestions): Uh, uh, do you like it? Me: ‘Yes’, He: ‘Well then that’s enough, you don’t need to know what it is’. I just kept quiet after that.

SO for now enough about the unexplainable world of Chinese contradictions. Let’s talk about my future as a super model. Huh, wait what? Yup, I have a serious possibility to become a model in this country. Of course only online. Because, first of all, everyone buys everything online in this country. It’s way cheaper (the answer to the question: ‘where did you buy this?’ is always: ‘night market’: cheap or ‘taoboa’ THE chinese internet site to buy everything, yet again: cheap!). And second of all, apparently something is cooler, prettier or better when it’s worn by a white girl with blue eyes and yellow hair and people will buy it more easily. I kindly passed when I was asked to do this, in a bar, after a couple of drinks at 2 am (it’s such a business city, doing business is possible wherever, whenever). But I have been asked a second time last week, this time in normal circumstances. It pays good money, maybe I have to think about it.. ;)

Actually I’m getting a bit uncomfortable with al those comments on my appearance. How do you respond to questions such as: ‘why are you so beautiful? (Uhm, good DNA or something? I don’t know, why do you have a small nose?) And ‘One day I will just be staring at you ok? You have so charming eyes.’ (Uhm, I’m not sure if that is ok, it’s a little bit creepy actually) I don’t think I’m that interesting but for them here I’m a seriously interesting topic. Yesterday someone wanted to touch my nose: ‘because it looks so sharp’. Trust me after a couple of weeks of these insane, funny and totally inappropriate questions you kind of just let it go and just say ‘yeah, sure touch my nose, why not’.

Now let me tell you about the moment my school started using me as a marketing stunt. Yup, exactly like that. First they just wanted to take pictures of me and some other teachers for marketing purposes. They haven’t explained me in details, whether it was just for inside the school of maybe also for the entire city. But yet again, after getting used to their way of explaining, I was just kind of: ‘yeah sure touch my nose’ aka: let’s just make the pictures and do whatever you want. But then well it really started, let’s just say: now the story begins..

I got a question whether I wanted to go to an event at a western restaurant the next day with a co worker. We just had to show up as foreign people, say something about the restaurant and then we had free drinks and food. Well as I didn’t have any plans, I thought why not. The next day our manager gave us the text we had to say on the event: a 1 A4 page filled with English grammar mistakes and chinese words. I kindly passed this on to my co-worker and said I would support her. As it (apparently) was a beer festival we were told we could go in our working clothes and to not stress. Well, as I have learned something in this country so far it is to stop expecting anything (explained, sorted out, ask to you, told you, just don’t expect) because it always turns out differently. So no stress at all. We got to the car and the Central Manager of our school was there asking us if we had something more formal to wear, as we were supposed to pass as managers. Our reactions were sort of like this: (…), with an awkward, ‘What the hell is he talking about’ look at each other. So after some chinese words between the driver and the CM, (and an encouraging: don’t stress Joanna, it will all be fine. Should have figured there was more to this entire thing right on that moment) we got in the car. In the car the woman who was driving us (apparently owner of the restaurant) was really focusing on me, what kind of got me worried. Once at the restaurant, it appeared that there was a big ass stage, between 100 to 200 people, a fashion show to come, and a beerfestival going on. I think we’d better not tell the Germans how Chinese party at a beerfestival, they would be laughed at, and bullied until well forever. This wasn’t a beer festival, it was yet again a ‘Chinese happening’. Chinese people would literally die if they knew what a beer festival really is. Anyway, as soon as we got there I got a black skirt and blouse pushed in my hands and was pushed into a place where I could change. Wait, uh what about my co worker? We were supposed to do this together.. they could find clothes in here size, so it was now up to me. (OH, BOY, That sounds like fun) After squizing into this tiny size skirt, putting on some shoes of the owner (while she had to wear my converse, hihi). They finally explained to us that, the manager of the restaurant is going to speech first and I was supposed to act as the foreign manager and tell the same thing in english afterwards. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? We were supposed to come, show our faces say a couple of words and eat and drink. Now I have to go on stage, with more than 200 eyes staring at me, read a text filled with chinese words I’m not capable to pronounce in a stupid chinese ‘managers’ outfit. This was not in my contract!! And as soon as the CM from my school came I told him this. They didn’t ask me ANYTHING, they just pushed me into this awkward situation and I was stupid enough to do it. (maybe I should start to expect things again, and keep on questioning everything!!) So I went on stage, did the thing with some serious mistakes in chinese pronunciation, went off stage, directly switched into my own shoes and clothes and thankfully some people I knew where there so ended the evening drinking and eating and trying not to think about how the hell I ended up in that situation.

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Note to myself: LEARN TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF, OR THE CHINESE WILL KEEP ON USING YOU AND TRICK YOU INTO ANYTHING.

Or start to ask for more money for these kind of things. I actually told the cm that he is going to pay me more for this, but haven’t seen anything yet. Must check!

 

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HELLO Jungle, see something pink somewhere in the green?

HELLO Jungle, see something pink somewhere in the green?

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I wasn't kidding about the umbrella's and walking/hiking in the mountains

I wasn’t kidding about the umbrella’s and walking/hiking in the mountains

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It's not easy to keep the kids entertained on a family trip, especially when the grownups would like to see things that interest them as well as pleasing the little ones with fun activities. The trick is to find a good balance of activities – match a sightseeing trip with a fun-filled one that the children will relish in. Wherever you choose to visit with our brood, the same method can be applied; just make sure the kids know that after being dragged around ancient ruins or a cultural museum, they will have something fun for them too!

If you're heading for the Irish city of Limerick for a few days, you can guarantee that this balance of activities will be entirely possible. Book your family into one of the affordable hotels in Limerick that has a family room and settle in for the duration of your stay. Whether you choose to stay within the city limits or you're planning to venture a little further afield, having somewhere snug and comfortable to come back to is always a pleasant prospect.

{jumi [*2][b]}

While the grownups may love visiting the Hunt Museum or joining an Angela's Ashes Walking Tour, make sure you consider the young ones too – don't expect them to walk for miles every day because before long, you'll see a change in temperament and they won't be very agreeable at all. Instead, incorporate some child-friendly activities so that they can keep their spirits up too.

Luckily, Limerick is full of things that the kids will love to partake in. Whether it's pretending to be knights in the grounds of the 13th century King John's Castle or any of the following ideas, if your kids are happy, you will be too.

Other ideas include:

  • An afternoon at the People's Park playground – let them run off some steam!
  • Buttercup Farm in Croom, which has a wide selection of farm animals to see, feed and touch.
  • Catching a film at the Limerick Omniplex.
  • A visit to Craggaunowen, an award winning archaeological site, 30km from the city in County Clare.

However you choose to pass your time, Limerick and beyond are great places for quality family time.

{jumi [*2][r]}

Caucasus ? Where is that place, asked my 10 years old son.

Well this is somewhere between Russia, Turkey and Iran...After a few sec, he said: so there is war there .... I said: well, we are lucky, at this moment, there is no war :)

Then my wife came and asked why do you want to go Georgia and Armenia, why not just stay in more time in Turkey instead ? Well if I tell you: silk road, Prometheus, Noah's Ark, great wine and cognac, it should give you an idea why I want to visit those two post Soviet countries !

She said: well very valid points ! But is it safe for the kids (we are travelling with a 8 month old baby and a 10 years old son) ? I told her I had no idea but based on the info I collected, it should be fine !

So we flew to Istanbul and spent a few days in this the Turkish metropolis before to hit the road by bus until Ankara where the Dogu Express was waiting for us.

The Dogu Express, one of the oldest train in Turkey, that brought us to the East of Turkey in the city of Erzurum through an overnight journey. It takes around 15 hours ride between Ankara to Erzurum. The ride was comfortable enough for our little family and we could enjoy the fantastic scenery of the Anatolian region. Tickets in a  4 berth compartment coupe were about 75 euro for the four of us. Super cheap !

After a short night spent in Erzurum, we took a taxi to The Turkish and Georgian Border at Sarp. It took us 1 hour to cross the border. Minarets were replaced by churches, burqas and niqab also disappeared and were replaced by tiny bikini.

For our first stop in Georgia, we decided to stop along the Black Sea in Batumi (capital of the Adjara region). The city was  and is still a very popular destination  for the Russian. During Soviet time Batumi was referred as part of the Russian Riviera but also one of the biggest harbor in the black sea region. Very popular and strategic !

The city reflects in his architecture modernism and all the history the city went through (Russian, Soviet, Turkish, Asian with a touch of French and Italian). Dostovieski and Ella maillart mentioned Batumi in their literature, and I have to say their description are relatively acurate !

Batumi Georgia

 

The beach is covered by stones, no sand here. But don't worry, it's not bad, it's just different of the usual sandy beaches we used to see. All along the beach and the strip, you have a large amount of trendy terraces where you can enjoy some drinks and get some unexceptional finger foods served by Georgian or Lebanon waiter. During Summer, a lot of DJ are coming from all over the world to animate parties. Is Batumi becoming the next Ibiza, well I hope not !

During our stay, we visited intensively the old city mostly by walk. It’s just convenient. Lot of tiny shops selling artcraft are scattered around the old city. If you get tired, You can stop anytime at a coffee terrace, these are legions and pretty cheap. Summer time is also the season of water melon and melon, we ate those every day, super tasty ! Lot of sellers in the streets and ridiculously cheap.

The city is really relaxing. Batumi has certainly lost its flamboyance of the old days but I will not be surprised to hear that Batumi is becoming trendy again in the future.

Finally, we found the local people very friendly and really enthusiast especially if they see you are traveling with children. In Georgia, children are very important, they are cherished at the highest level by Georgian. The fact we travelled with our 2 sons really helped us at many occasion to break the ice (even if we had difficulties to talk in georgian and Russian). So many times, we were invited by locals for a drink (Chacha) or share their meal.  Yes Georgian hospitality is among the best we witnessed so far.

Batumi Beach Georgia

Goa is as amazing as it can be. I have been thrice to Goa in the last two years but my love for it never dies. I always enjoy the cool sea breeze, the culture, the food, the music, the people, the freedom of mobility and the most amazing vibrant atmosphere there.

It was in 2002 when I first visited Goa, which was a college tour and some how it started on a very bad note. We missed our train, travelled through bus and the trip was reduced to one day and night. All tired and some of us were down with fever but still we were able to hold few good memories of laugh, share, love, emotion and entertainment. It was a memorable trip though it had some soar notes. Goa never touched our hearts on this trip. It was in 2011 that I needed a vacation due to the high pressure of work and few suggested for Goa. Since my hubby was with me on last Goa trip (college) last time we thought that it will be good to recall those old days and we backpacked and took the flight to Panjim, the capital of Goa and its lifeline city.

Goa Beach in India

Since we were travelling with the winds (in other words without any reservations) we first though to get ourself a rest and then turn for the beach and the lovely place. We looked for the room and then took a rented bike from the corner shop. I was really very happy driving a vehicle around the roads of Goa. The bike and four wheelers (self-driven) are easily available on rent in Goa and it increases your mobility too. A great reason why I love Goa the most...it provides you freedom to move at your will.

Typical beach in Goa, India
Long and peaceful beach in Goa

The beaches of Goa are great, very long and quiet except for the north Goa beaches like Bagga and Anjuna, which are usually crowded with domestic tourists. We stayed near Candolim Beach and frequently visited it during our stay. There were a fewinternational tourist relaxing and taking a sun bath, but not too many. Several were getting body massages done on the beach by the locals.

Candolim Beach in Goa, India
Long and peaceful beach in Goa

The beaches not only provide relaxing area but also prove to be good playground for kids of all ages -- 0 to 99. There are various adventure and sports activities going at various beaches but you can find them more prominent at Anjuna Beach. There you can go water skiing, parasailing, banana boat rides, speed boat rentals, etc. Lots of fun and adventurous activities in Goa is another reason why it's a favorite of some many travelers.

Building sandcastles on the beach in Goa, India
Building sandcastles...the favorite pastime of every kid!

Locals in Goa are jolly and are willing to help. We almost took various inroads and never found ourself lost, even late at night. Though at night it can look spooky, we got help when we wanted so it became the another reason why Goa touched my heart.

The lush greenery of Goa, India

Even the lush green fields and road side greenery adds to the beautiful atmosphere. The sunset was my another favourite thing I loved to watch sitting on the beach side sipping my drink and cherishing the sounds of sea waves.

Sunset over the beach in Goa, India

Goa is a fabulous place for eateries and wines in India as you not only find good quality seafood but also other eateries serving continental and Indian food. The Goan cuisine is also fascinating and its a blend of Indian and continental cuisine. Plus with so many fine eateries just around the corner in Goa you need not ever worry for food, even around midnight -- Goa has a very active nightlife culture. As far as the drinks are concerned, you can find various brands being served here. Goa is heaven for alcohol lovers as the drinks are cheap here. Fenni, a local alcoholic drink made from cashew nuts, is very popular among the locals and tourists. It is very strong. Yes, Goa is truly a must visit for all the alcoholics out there ;)

Sunset over the beach in Goa, India

The next best part of Goa that helps make it my favourite was its nightlife. You walk down the street at midnight and you see people moving, shop twinkling with their colourful lights, casinos working...it is the only place in India to have legal casinos and people sipping their drinks at various bars.

The beachs in Goa, India

Goa has many facets. It's not just the beaches and bars but beyond that it has a vast diversity to offer. The famous waterfall of Doodhsagar, the calm beaches of south Goa, the elephant village, the backwaters of Goa and tons more. Even with three trips down, I am planning another vacation to Goa soon to explore it further.

Panoramic shot of Goa Beach in India

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