There's a reason I'm not a poet

Posts tagged ‘foreign lands’

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

Na zdravi!

Been meaning to write a post for a while about my travels abroad, but I’ve been that busy since I got back that I haven’t really had time to. LET’S DO THIS.

So I spent twelve days or so in Eastern Europe, visiting Prague, Krakow and Budapest. There were four of us for the first two cities, and three for Budapest- I went with some friends from home, two of whom I know from school.

First things first: the foooooooooooood. (This is after all my blog) That part of the world isn’t exactly known for its haute cuisine, so the food wasn’t exactly the meticulously-presented fancy dining you might get elsewhere in Europe, but what it does provide is some fantastic heart-warming comfort food that’s fricking delicious. It was generally meat, some form of dumplings (I think I counted five variations on the term), possibly cabbage, and some delicious sauce either similar to a thicker gravy, a goulash or else something loaded with paprika. It was really fricking warm outside, but the food was so tasty that I didn’t go anywhere near summer foods the majority of times we went out for dinner. This was of course generally accompanied with beer so the calories and smiles were in abundance.

Each of the cities were really beautiful, and had some fantastic architecture and greenery around the place. There were some seriously old and grand buildings, and they basically all made Belfast look rubbish in comparison. Prague and Krakow had old towns sections, which were obviously quite touristy but that’s not something that bothers me when a place is as scenic as they were. Budapest on the other hand has its beautiful buildings a bit more spread out, with fantastic architecture in both cities of Buda and Pest- I ended up regularly taking photos of what turned out to be banks and hotels.

Each city had also been affected quite heavily with World War 2, the Holocaust and communism, so each had some seriously interesting points of history- albeit some seriously heavy ones. We went out to the Auschwitz & Birkenau death camps which was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had. It’s not something I find easy to write or talk about, but I strongly advise everyone to go to one of the concentration camps and see just how horrific they were.

On slightly cheerier notes, we were quite lucky with the timing of when we were in Krakow, as there was a street theatre festival going on! Some of it was pretty artistic and therefore went over my head, but others were a bit more comprehensible (usually the ones with magicians, clowns or slapstick- I’m pretty basic). Probably the most memorable was a group of pink aliens running around the old town square causing mayhem: they were chasing people down the street, standing off against police cars, walking into coffee shops, and rubbing their pink face paint all over anyone who stood in front of them. At one point one of them, in a costume that can only really be described as… well, a scrotum, got everyone to hold hands in a circle and chant while he gave birth to a balloon. That was a first.

Last summer I got a bit excited about the whole selfie business, and so in keeping with that tradition I decided to chance my arm and grab a selfie while they were all standing in a group. Scrotum Alien decided he wasn’t going to stand for this and decided to absolutely cover me in pink face paint. Which to be honest I found flipping hilarious. But it meant that once the aliens stole a car and drove off, there was no plausible excuse around as to why exactly I looked like a discoloured smurf. So on my walk back to the hostel to scrub off what turned out to be waterproof face paint, I got more than a few funny looks. Feel free to ask me for a photo!

Overall, I think my favourite city was probably Budapest. The three cities were all beautiful, but I think Budapest just kind of pipped them all to the post. It also seemed to have the most amount of life about the place, and was somewhere I could actually envisage myself living! Although the likelihood of me actually uprooting myself and heading over to Eastern Europe are slim to none.
One of the great attractions of the place was the baths they have there, due to the natural sources of water and some plumbing that apparently the Turks brought across. We went to the Gellert Baths which had some pretty impressive architecture. Sitting in them made me understand why the Romans/Greeks/delete as appropriate used them so much- it was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. Coming out of there my friend and I felt so fricking zen. I didn’t try, but I probably could have levitated at that point.

Coming back to NI was a bit of a bump, but I was very happy to be here, ready to start work and the next chapter in life! Blog post about that to follow shortly.

M