There's a reason I'm not a poet

Posts tagged ‘foreign lands’

This little light of mine

… It has been a while since I last blogged. I’ve had a nice few months! Work has been great, plenty of fun times with my friends, and lots of good wholesome family moments- really enjoying spending time with the nephew. 

I’m unlikely to say much more than that cause let’s face it I’m a lazy sod. So instead let’s talk about my wee winter trip! I’m just back from a couple of days in the French city of Lyon, which is a really beautiful city. Aside from the fact that it’s the gastronomic capital of France (obviously nothing I’d be remotely interested in), part of the reason I went to Lyon specifically was to see a French friend of mine I’d made earlier in the year. 

I was sitting in the park one day on the grass when a guy comes down and sits next to me. I did the standard British thing of thinking “what does he want is he selling something check if he’s crazy do you think he’s in a cult”, as well as the standard Irish thing of talking away to him. It turns out he’s just really friendly and perhaps was missing his family/girlfriend. Anyway over the few months he was in NI on placement I got to know him and he met my friends a few times. So PJB and I decided we’d pay him a visit in Lyon!

I’ve been to France a couple of times: Paris maybe three or four times, Val Thorens and Tignes for skiing, and Nice earlier in the year. Each time I had a bit of interaction with the French people but it was usually in the form of me being a customer. But my friend invited us round for a family meal and I was able to see what PJB (who’d spent a year in France on her year abroad) meant when she was talking about French hospitality. My previous experience with French people has been somewhat variable when it comes to how nice they’ve been, but it turns out that’s cause most of the ones I’ve met have been Parisians.. The family were so ridiculously welcoming. His niece was being baptised the next day, so we were greeted by his immediate family, his cousins, aunt and uncle, and his kickass granny. I had a wee moment reflecting on how a chance opportunity had led me to having such a rewarding experience. They were all so nice, so attentive, and they ploughed us with so much food. And wine. Oh man the wine. 

That actually brings us nicely to the next topic: the fooooooood. Sweet Lord almighty, did we eat well over the four days. As with anywhere in France, you don’t have to walk far to find a glorious bakery, or a patisserie with a window display that’d make you mug your granny just so you can buy something. We subscribed to the standard Michael philosophy of “why have three meals a day when you can just eat constantly”, and there was no lack of options. We dropped into a bakery at almost every available opportunity, and hunger became a distant memory. Lyonnaise food tends to be a little rich: cured meats, pâtés, obviously lots of cheese. There’s also a classic dessert which is a tart made from candied pralines, and as a result of the sugar the tart is a beautiful red/pink colour. Hoping to make it myself some day! Restaurants commonly call themselves “bouchons”, which are small traditional taverns serving local fare on checkered tablecloths accompanied by lovely bread and the warm greeting of the host. We tried two out and it was definitely worth it. Now that I’m home, the plan is to try and train my body to not expect the constant infusion of butter that it’s been treated to for the past few days. 

The reason we visited Lyon when we did is for their annual Fête des Lumières (festival of lights). In commemoration of the installation of a statue of the Virgin Mary, the whole city is covered in lights, be they candles on windowsills or artistic light shows projected onto the beautiful Renaissance architecture of the city. And it’s class! The city is full of hundreds of thousands of people, so there’s a fair amount of crowding/security presence, but it was a great atmosphere and really beautiful. I’ll leave you with a wee snap or two.


M

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The weary traveller

And now, back to our regular programming.

Yup, my four months of farting around China and Japan are over, and it’s back to porridge for me (time to find out what a year “out of training” means). I had a ridiculously great time exploring the cities, villages and mountains, and my stomach was well-and-truly stretched. Given how much fun I had, I was a bit unsure about how I’d feel about coming back. Thankfully, I was pretty excited about it! Four months is a fair amount of time,  so coming home was pretty welcome, and also it’s nearly Christmas! so there’s a great buzz everywhere.

I managed to get to my godson’s nativity play (which was brilliant fun) and see a bunch of home people before heading to Lahndahn to catch up with some uni ones. With Regent Street and the like covered in giant canopies of Christmas lights and angels, the place was looking great. It’s a bit crazy how much people are growing up though- the number of my friends who now have a mortgage is terrifying. Thankfully to help wash down the fear, London also comes with a massive collection of brunch joints and cake shops, and I went to an all-you-can-eat Japanese breakfast buffet to help me cope with the Asian withdrawal symptoms. Drool.

Belfast has its fair share of things to do too. As well as seeing Lisa Hannigan for like the eighth time, I finally got round to going to an event that’s been going on in Belfast for a couple of years: tenx9. 9 people get up and tell stories lasting up to ten minutes around a monthly theme. The stories can be warm, funny, or heartbreaking- but they all have to be true. I went to one focused around “family”, and unsurprisingly warm, funny, and heartbreaking were all well-represented. I was impressed with the bravery of some people, to be able to stand up and talk about things so personal to a room full of strangers. But it’s a great atmosphere in the place, so I imagine even if you got up and your story was shite everyone would give you a lovely round of applause.

One of the downsides of coming home though is that I went through nine time zones in the air. I don’t know if I ever really had jet-lag before but I can tell you man did I have it this time. I didn’t even really notice that’s what it was, but at one point I nearly fell asleep face-first into a pile of Lego, and there’s a Christmas tree in my parent’s house that I’ve definitely walked past about seven times and that I definitely have no recollection of actually seeing. I’m starting work again tomorrow (some one-off locum shifts) and it’s a good thing I didn’t start sooner as I feel like I’ve only recently entered the land of the living.

Other projects going on at the minute includes sorting through the 1,701 photographs of China and Japan that I took, and trying to whittle them down into something that can (at a stretch) be described as “bite-size”. I’ve spent about three full days on it, and I’m only on about week five. What with Christmas and its food/drink/TV binges coming up, expect to see the facebook album sometime in autumn 2018.

M

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Lads.

I have officially booked my flights to China.

Aaahhhhhh this is so fricking exciting.

This blog is meant to have some degree of literacy and as a general rule I try to stop myself from posting all in capital letters all the time.

BUT YOU GUYS I AM MAKING DEFINITE PROGRESS TOWARDS ACTUALLY GOING TO CHINA.
CHINA. LIKE ACTUAL CHINA. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

I finished my Mandarin lessons a month or two ago (basically two hours every fortnight of me sitting and wishing I was as cool as my middle aged teacher) and I had planned to get to planning/booking/applying for visa but I’ve been really busy until the past week or two, with changing jobs/exams/deadlines/extra-curricular curricular activities. So I hadn’t actually made progress. But now I have! Went into the travel agents on Wednesday and tied down some dates and then booked them yesterday morning.

The next step is applying for a visa. China is reportedly one of the more difficult countries to get a visa for, and you have to be particularly organised. Some countries allow you to rock up for a grace period of x number of days, but with China you need a formal letter of invitation to the country from someone in China, and you also need to provide them with the purpose of and an itinerary for your stay. As well as proof of your itinerary- this means confirmations of flights and hotel bookings.

So although I’ve booked my flights, sadly it doesn’t mean I’ll definitely be going to China! Earlier this year, the President of China visited the UK and they cosied up to each other (but if garden party chat can be believed it’s a bit more complicated than that) and as a result they’ve actually relaxed the visa rules. You can now visit China on a single entry for a total of 90 days at one time, and you’re allowed re-entry into the country as many times as you want in a 2 year period. Which sounds fantastic! My worry is that in relaxing the requirements they’ll be stricter about how many visas they give out, but I guess that remains to be seen.

So at the minute I’m trying to work out what exactly I’ll be doing every single day for 90 days. Needless to say, it’s proving a bit complicated! And I keep getting distracted by places called “Fairy Pool Scenic Area” and mentions of golden monkeys. But my plan is to fly out mid/late August to Shanghai, move around using the squiggly green lines below before ending in Hong Kong mid/late November. I’ll stick around there for a couple of days then fly out to finish my adventure in Japan!

China Route Map Plan1

At the minute I’m getting very confused trying to work out how to compare small guesthouses in rural China. But it’s most definitely a labour of love. Asia here I come!

M

Maltan Hot

Northern Ireland is cold and grey and a bit crap.

I love this place I call home, but unfortunately the above were my thoughts when I returned back from a week’s holiday in Malta. My mum had a big birthday and a couple of months ago had the idea of the lot of us going out there to celebrate it. We were more than happy to make the sacrifice.

The place we went for was an all-inclusive hotel, something I’ve not done before. As it’s off-season we got it for proper cheaps: flights, transfers, accommodation, food and wine (and beer and cocktails and rum) all for just over £300! Not bad at all. Flipping glorious some might say.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from all-inclusive. I figured there would be food/drink any time I wanted it, but I guess I kind of thought what was on offer would be pretty basic- cheap-tasting spagbol or Sainsbury’s basics red wine. But I was actually really impressed by how yum everything was, and of the quality of the meals. There was salmon, mussels, an omelette stand at breakfast, pineapple juice on tap, and a cocktail list you could shake an alcoholic at.

Needless to say greed was entertained and kilograms were added.

Malta itself was a brilliant country, with fantastic history and pretty impressive buildings everywhere you looked. Pick almost any point on the island and do a 360 view of the horizon and you’re pretty much guaranteed that you’ll spot one if not several of the 359 churches. They’ve also got a thing about citadels. Having had several different occupiers and being in a pretty strategic naval location, there’s been a fair amount of conflict over the few thousand years they’ve been around. So the fortifications in a bunch of their cities are pretty impressive; and behind these giant walls there are quaint little narrow streets with decorative balconies leaning over you. With their golden limestone buildings the whole place is a great sight to behold.

We visited their “Silent City” Mdina, a former capital with less than 300 residents and streets that you can just about get a car through, the main cities of Valetta and Vittoriso, the nearby island Gozo (which comes with its own history including prehistoric megalithic temples pre-dating the pyramids) and also the custom-made-village film set of the 1980 Robin Williams “classic” Popeye.

I’ll leave you with a wee snap.

 M

“This horchata tastes like soap”

Slight delay in getting round to writing about it, but on Monday I came back from sunny Barcelona! I’m currently wearing my Barcelona Beer Festival t-shirt and it’s keeping me cheery.

Two of my friends decided to run the marathon, and being the kind-hearted, selfless individuals we are, a group of my friends and I decided to go along and support them. We arrived and left at different times but overall I think there were ten of us, so obviously the holiday was great craic. It had been a good few years since I’ve been on holiday with a group of my school friends, so it was a nice opportunity to all hang out together.

Barcelona as a place, it turns out, is class. I had heard about Gaudi’s buildings and his interesting architecture, but I hadn’t realised how the whole city is filled with intricately designed buildings, and so I had a great time dandering about gawking upwards. We had this apartment and oh my god it was so sweet- there was a massive kitchen and huge ceilings and two giant sofas and a huge TV and several bedrooms and an office desk and a BALCONY.

I took photos but I’ve tried and I have no idea how to upload them from my phone so you’ll just have to imagine the pretty scenery. Of which there was a fair amount- we had a great walk around the area where the Olympics were, and along the beach/marina, and where the marathon started/ended with its bajillion fountains and waterfalls. Rest assured it was National Geographic level of quality. One of my friends actually brought along a GoPro with him and catalogued the trip in true hipster fashion.

Spanish everyday culture was a bit different to what we were used to. For one thing pretty much everyone has a wee nap in the afternoon, and when they’re not napping they’re floating about on micro scooters. Between us we also got offered enough drugs to write two Beatles albums. I took no drugs, rode no scooters and siesta’d no siestas- clearly didn’t get into the spirit of things enough.

This wouldn’t be one of my blogs without talking about the fooooooooood. I was expecting to get bled dry with the amount I was planning on eating, however stuff actually didn’t cost very much which just increased the sickening volume of stuff that I bought. One night we went to this tapas place and people were getting like four things between two people. We had fourteen between four, and it was glorious. One of em was foie gras and it still only came to 20 euro. Life is good. I had a nice sample of horchata, paella, seafoody stuff, tapas, cheesecakes upon cheesecakes, Spanish bready things and the glory that was white chocolate-covered Oreos.

We also went to a beer festival and it was great one of them tasted like bacon the end.

M

Allons-y!

Got back from skiing yesterday. I am le tired and my legs are le sore, but obviously the week was absolutely full of le craic. Just had a look at my old blog and the entry there about the first time I went skiing, and the repeat performance didn’t disappoint! Four uni friends and I went to France (to Val Thorens) for about a week, staying in an apartment and armed with lots of layers and one aim: to not break any bones during the inevitable 208570871 falls.

Success! Although one of my friends did set his glove on fire and later got cellulitis. But still- no fractures!

We were staying in an apartment which was pretty 70s in style, and very much did the job. The location was fantastic as the building was right on the slopes, meaning you could ski right from the back door and be on a lift in about three minutes. Val Thorens itself was a top notch place to go too, as the snow quality was generally great and there were a huge number of different runs which meant that you could nearly always go down a different route than you had previously (until the end, when really heavy snowfall meant big risk of avalanches and therefore a bunch of pistes were closed).

Like the last time I went skiing, we went for lessons again. And this turned out to be a great idea. We had a stereotypical French mountain guy who had done every kind of skiing possible: speed racing, disabled skier world record attempts, uphill climbs, slalom and ski acrobatics. Every day he’d just casually drop in something like “oh and I’m a pilot too”, and his mother had been on the French Olympic team. So as well as being awesome it meant he knew his stuff! It was incredibly useful having one teacher for the three of us (as opposed to 13 the last time), as it meant you were able to get constant personalised feedback on what exactly you were doing wrong and how to improve.

Which meant that I got an awful lot better over the course of the holiday! By the end I was happy with every blue piste, held my own on the reds and event went down a black slope! Hardcoooorrrrrrree.

Two of my friends have their birthdays coming up, so the three of us clubbed together and decided to take them out for a meal. One of them researched a place beforehand which was up in the mountains on a ski slope, serving traditional Alpine French food (essentially carbs and cheese) and a dessert buffet put on by their own pastry chef and you were allowed to take several things. Obviously this all kept me extremely happy. Following the meal we obviously had to get down from the restaurant that was up in the mountains. So we popped on our skis, were handed a torch each and made our way down in the dark! It was such an awesome feeling (albeit obviously a little terrifying) to be skiing down en masse in the dark trying not to set yourself (or someone else) on fire or fall over and become a giant flameball. And we mostly managed it! The only person who had difficulty didn’t drink any alcohol- I’ll let you reach your own conclusions there.

It was obviously very nice to be back hanging out with my uni friends for a more prolonged period of time. I did have an awful lot of fun over in England, and it is a shame that living in NI means it’s that much more difficult to see people, and that much less like it used to be. So I enjoyed the opportunity to go back in time and pretend that chapter of my life hasn’t quite ended- the incessant fart jokes helped.

M

Plans

Work’s going alright at the minute: I’m continuing in my efforts to slowly transform into a man of German-style efficiency, and it’s nice when it pays off- some people have complimented me when I get things done quickly. Hooray! I’m not incompetent!

My bank balance has been taking some pretty major hits recently, but for fantastic reasons as I have been making plans. The first takes place later this month: I’m going skiiiiiiiiing! A few friends from uni and myself will be heading to the French Alps and doing what people with incomes do. I will of course be doing what dyspraxic people do, and will be spending a huge proportion of my time on my bum/back/face/weenis covered in snow- I wasn’t exactly good when I went skiing the first time. Two of the others are beginners like me, and the other two went as children, so it should be a good balance. Thankfully my sister tipped me off to the possibility that my travel insurance mightn’t actually cover me for sliding down mountains at high speed, and that’s been sorted.

The next destination is Lahndahn in late February- as part of training, doctors have to undertake an Advanced Life Support course, and I figured if I was gonna do it why bother doing it in my normal hospital when I could go elsewhere and see people in the mainland. So I’m gonna be in a posh London hospital where the complaints are less about being stabbed and more about being kicked by your pony. I’m over for the weekend, so if you’re reading this then send me a message so we can arrange to see each other! If you’re not reading this then obviously you don’t deserve my company.

The third current plan is probably the warmest of the three- my housemate and another friend of mine are planning on running a marathon in March, and being the virtuous person that I am I decided to get a bunch of people to come along and support them as they run it. In Barcelona. Hell yeeaaahhhhhh. I don’t know much about the city other than people who’ve gone there have really enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to exploring it for a few days. Unfortunately I don’t speak much Spanish apart from “I am lost”, “Hello”, and “I’m pregnant”. Hopefully I’ll only need the middle one.

Maybe I’ll go for tapas. That’ll count as me doing my research.

Oh and before I forget I’ve also signed up for some Chinese lessons! I did a course a few years ago and really loved it, so I’m looking forward to getting into it again. Unfortunately the only course I could feasibly get to from work is the “Level 2” one so I may be struggling a little for a while! I’m also meant to be working 13 hour shifts over some of the days when the lessons are so my rota may require a bit of tweaking. If I end up not being able to attend much/keep up I can always take the course again: my aim is to be at least vaguely passable by the end of my FY2 year, as my pipeline dream is to take some time out and explore China for a bit. Bad for the career, good for the soul.

Anyway I’m off to bed. AU REVOIR/ADIOS/ZAIJIAN

M