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Laos

Aug 28, 2011

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My fellow volunteer buddies and I decided the best way to see Laos would be by motorbike. I’m not talking scooters, I’m talking off road monsters — 250cc Honda XR beasts. Ten days of dirty, filthy riding through northern Laos, with a bit of help from Remote Asia Travel.

I had visions of us riding into towns at sunset rousing sleepy communities from their slumber. We’d stop at bars and remove our helmets just in time for the last breeze of the day to sweep across our dusty faces. Attractive young women would greet us with ice cold Beer Lao and invite us in to drink the night away. We’d be charming. People from far and wide would gather in awe to hear our tales from the road.

None of this happened.

Continue reading “Mountains worth crying over: Laos by motorbike”

“You’ve got to have a different mindset.  You are not unemployed, but self-employed,” my English friend Michael said after I told him about my first ‘Tilting Head Episode’ a couple of years ago.

A tilting what? Let me explain.

The episode happened when The Englishman’s Ex came over to drop the kids off at his flat for the weekend. On this day, she turned up so early that I didn’t have time to dry my hair or take the undies off the radiators.  I tried to pretend that only wearing one of the Englishman’s big t-shirts and scrubby uggies was a deliberate style choice, but I don’t think I pulled it off. I might have been ‘between jobs’, but I didn’t want to attract any sympathy from the Ex as much as I kind of got on with her.

She smiled, taking in every detail of the chaotic scene, while I rushed around getting dressed and making coffee. When some semblance of order was restored, we sat down on the sofa and tilting her head, she asked me the dreaded question that I had grown to hate.

“So how’s the job hunt going?”

Continue reading “Redundant in London: the concept of self-employment”

On the road again

Aug 23, 2011

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When Brigham Young stopped in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and said ‘This is the place’ to his Mormon followers, thank goodness he was too worn out to head south. For the quite beautiful but heavily populated valley in northern Utah, home to the largest community of Mormons in the US, pales in comparison to the awe-inspiring landscapes of southern Utah, which have remained sparsely inhabited and relatively unknown to ensuing generations of American travellers.

In fact, I prevaricated over whether to even write about the southeastern corner of Utah we explored, as it feels like the sort of place that should remain unscathed by the relentless traffic of a highly mobile population — its emptiness is an essential aspect of its overwhelming appeal.

Continue reading “Be-Utah-ful”

France

Aug 21, 2011

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A bit of peace in former war-zone Normandy

At their closest point England and France sit a mere 34 kilometres apart, a journey easily travelled by plane, train or hovercraft, if you have one. We opted for an overnight ferry when on a recent trip to Normandy, and it turned out to be a remarkably relaxed way to travel. I’m becoming increasingly anti-air in my old age.

At their closest point, England and France sit a mere 34 kilometres apart, a journey easily travelled by plane, train or hovercraft, if you have one. We opted for an overnight ferry when on a recent trip to Normandy, and it turned out to be a remarkably relaxed way to travel. I’m becoming increasingly anti-air in my old age.

Normandy is arguably most talked about as a World War II battle ground; it was the focus of the Allies’ fight to reclaim France in the latter stages of the war.

I probably shouldn’t admit this in a public forum, but my knowledge of D-Day and Operation Overlord is dominated mainly by a small film called Saving Private Ryan.

Continue reading “A bit of peace in former war-zone Normandy”

Talkin' Travel

Aug 18, 2011

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Transport planner Rachel Smith writes: I’ve just returned from my best scuba diving trip ever. Mike Ball dive trips are legendary, so I wasn’t surprised people had travelled from the Caribbean, Canada and Cape Town to wonder at Australia’s Coral Sea.

But one full dive boat does not heal Queensland’s tourism industry rocked by the relentless negative publicity brought on by drought then floods and cyclones. This reality left me wondering, can cycling help to boost the tourism industry here in Queensland and around the world?

Continue reading “Can bicycle tourism boost our struggling tourism economy?”

Spain

Aug 15, 2011

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Midday, July 6 may be the official starting time for the world’s most insane party, but semantics like time matter little to the locals or throngs of tourists in Pamplona for two weeks of fiesta known as San Fermin.

It’s about 11.30am on July 6, and my girlfriend Tamzin and I are wedged into a side street not far from the town hall square, side-by-side with the cheerful, exuberant, and mostly inebriated crowd. With 30 minutes remaining till a fired rocket signals the commencement of festivities, I’m already soaked in sangria and champagne. My brother Luke, joining us in Spain for the next few weeks, is already lost somewhere in the crowd.

The first of many alcoholic contributions to my uniform — white pants and shirt, red panelo and sash — is provided not long after Tam and I arrived in Pamplona. A bearded man passing us on the street looks contemptuously at my pristine shirt, lifts his shoulder bladder and fires. I’m just happy the stream of sangria hits my chest. Sangria in the eye really, really stings.

Continue reading “Spain: the sun rises in San Fermin”

On the road again

Aug 12, 2011

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If intense colours, imposing mountains and rich indigenous histories are your travel must-haves, then the 260-mile stretch between Taos, New Mexico and Cortez, Colorado will deliver your dreams in spades.

The relief of climbing into high altitude after traveling across Texas in a record heat wave matches that of a cool and cleansing shower after a week of dry, dusty camping. And once we hit elevations above 5000 feet, we didn’t descend until southern Oregon, meaning no matter how hot the days, the nights were blessedly cool.

Stuart made some adjustments to the RockVan to keep it from gasping for oxygen and we all wished it were so simple for us as we swam, hiked and revelled in the grandeur of the southern Rockies.

Continue reading “High Adventure from Taos to Mesa Verde”

An Expat Opinion

Aug 10, 2011

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In this redundant wasteland, I have developed some very bad habits. One of them is to refresh my emails all the time in the hope I would receive one that will magically transform my life somehow. You would think I would stop this pointless exercise, particularly as the bulk of the emails are from supermarkets telling me about wine deals (which I can’t afford), fake banks requesting my details (and even they wouldn’t want to know) and from someone called Tad who wants to tell me all about his ‘titantic f*ckstick’ (hmm).

As Tad wasn’t doing a thing to prevent the ravenous wolves clawing at my door, I thought I had better find my transferable skills and fast.

Continue reading “Redundant in London: in search of my transferable skills”

If you come to visit me in Warsaw, it’s likely I’ll suggest visiting the Jewish cemetery in Bródno. And we’ll get on a tram and head to the entrance, on Sw. Wincentego Street.

And there, you may start to wonder if I’ve got the right place. Isn’t that just an old, overgrown forest of silver birch that could do with some TLC?

I’ll forgive you for doubting me, since it doesn’t look much like a cemetery. It’s not well maintained, or cared for. It isn’t even named. There doesn’t, at first sight, seem to be any graves. Although there are a few clues. The bas-relief of Jews praying, in grey cement by the gate. The stars of David on the fence posts. Some Hebrew inscriptions.

Continue reading “Uncovering long buried things in a Polish cemetery”