Wednesday, 23 February 2011


In case anyone thinks this is a travel blog from the past, I thought I would confuse you and add a current post.

It's linked to one on my other blog, a Thai curry recipe, but merits a tale in itself. And it means the other post isn't too long.

The first time I decided to make the Thai green curry I dutifully bought all my ingredients from the supermarket, knowing, apart from anything else that they sold limes and cilantro (fresh coriander). I bought one of those little pot things of cilantro that costs nearly a quid. The alternative is the cling-film wrapped stuff in a plastic tray that provides slightly more and costs nearly two quid.

But the next time I had decided I was going to cook it, there was no cilantro in the sm. I was devastated. I had bought all the ingredients but lacked the essential cilantro. I couldn't possibly change what I was going to cook as I had set my mind (and tastebuds and stomach) on Thai green curry for tea. It's easy and tasty.

I decided to try the market. Nope. In fact they hardly had anything. It was nearly ten o'clock and they were still unloading the veg boxes. I find this very hard to cope with as I worked on the market for years, and we were invariably ready to serve before 8am.

So I rejoined Partner who was waiting for me outside the paint shop where he had been pricing some stuff.

Inspiration hit me. Of course! The Moroccan veg shop a few doors up. I went inside and spotted the hugest box of the freshest greenest cilantro ever. Excellent.

'Pon me cilantro,' I said imperiously, in a very Spanish fashion and despite the fact that I was standing right next to the box.

How much did I want? I didn't know, that was why I asked him to pick it for me. I didn't know how much your average person bought, or how they sold it, or how much it cost etc etc.

So he picked up a huge bunch, and I said 'Basta!' In fact, it was more than enough. And how much was it? - 70p. Less than the price of a measly growing herb pot thing from the sm.

It did me for loads of meals, two Thai curries and other stuff as well. So the other day when I wanted some, off I tripped to the Moroccan shop. No joy. It was coming in the next day. The next day I went - but far too early. It was coming in later. I decided to give him a bit of space, so skipped a day and went yesterday. 'All gone,' he said.

Damn and blast!! I bet it never came in at all. How can a huge box of cilantro go in one day? When was it coming in again? Today? Tomorrow? He shrugged. No, it had come in on Monday and that seemed to be the end of it.

But I am not easily defeated. Off I went on an expedition to check out all the other Moroccan shops in Gibraltar. I WOULD find some cilantro.

There was none in the first shop I tried. I came back on myself in a loop and went to the one I had avoided because they usually rip me off in there. Yes, he had some. 'One pound.' For a bunch half the size of the one that had cost me 70p a couple of weeks ago. 'That's far too much,' I said snootily, and walked out.

Off to another shop which I used to use quite regularly at one point. But always best to change your shops because people seem to take you for granted and think you spend too much money.

'Cilantro tiene?' I asked yet again. Yes, he had some too. 'One pound fifty.' At this rate, the next shop will be charging me two quid. Perhaps I could get the price up to a fiver if I found enough Moroccan shops.

I said that was really far too much (in both cost and amount of cilantro, although clearly if it had been cheap enough I would have taken the lot) and could I please have less.

He gave me a small bunch. 'Perfecto. Cuanto vale?'

'Chin,' he said. Chin, I thought. Chin, what on earth does he mean? We aren't toasting each other chin-chin here.

I got it. It must be short for cincuenta, ie 50p. Well, that was the cheapest so far, even though it wasn't a huge bunch.

I counted out two twenties and a ten.

'CHIN! CHIN!' he shouted at me. I gazed at him like the tonta guiri I was.

He patiently took the two twenties and gave them back to me.

'No entiende chin? ' or 'You no know chin?' don't remember which language it was in at this point.

It was clearly a local or Moroccan colloquialism for a coin. He pointed to it. Perhaps it was to do with the picture of the queen's chin?

He pointed to the figure ten. 'Chin,' he said again proudly. 'Chin p'.

I finally got it. Ten p.

Not bad value though.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Pattaya, Thailand

It must be Pattaya because it says so on the back of the photograph, although I don't remember the boats and the landing.

But wait, right in the bottom left hand corner, surely that is Buni's little speedo thingy? No, not his swimming trunks, one of those zappy things to travel out into the sea.

My memories of Pattaya are few. The first one, is of the endless street of sex shops as the bus came into town. Girls asking for sex. When I say girls, I mean girls. Not young women, or teenagers. Girls. Under age sex, aka rape/paedophilia.

Later in Sydney, I met a Canadian who eventually confessed that he couldn't have sex at the time (er not with me I hasten to add very hurriedly) because he was recovering from an STD contracted in - Pattaya.

The next memory is of pineapples. Huge, juicy, cheap pineapples sold by the street vendors. So huge that by the time you had got half way down you were sick of the sweet/acid taste it left on your tongue. We took it back to our tidy, basic, and cheap room. I can't remember if we ever finished it.

Mostly I remember the beach though. And Buni of course.

When Travelling Companion and I were planning our trip, sometimes talking about it at work in the newspaper office, one of the other reporters thought the idea of lying on a tropical beach sounded rather nice.

And when we were finally lying there, on the fine golden sand, in the glorious sunshine, we sent him our virtual best wishes. In the days before the virtual world existed of course.

It was very hot. I suspected I was getting sunburned. We started chatting to some Thai boys who obviously spoke English. As they do.

Buni offered to rub some oil into my back. A free Thai massage? How could I resist? I didn't. And it was very good, I must say.

Then he seemed to think it was a good idea for us to go gallivanting off on his little speed thingummy. The local beach lads made a living out of taking tourists out to sea on these things. This offer was for free though. To a nearby island.

I decided I had taken enough freebies for one day, and gracefully declined that one. It was still a great massage though, thanks pal.

Sydney Opera House

Impossible to do a post about Sydney Harbour Bridge and not add one about Sydney's other world-famous landmark, and here they are together on this photo.

Sydney Opera House was designed by a Danish architect, and as I vaguely recall, there was quite some controversy and a few changes to the original design. But if you want to read about all that, there is plenty of stuff out there on the net.

Being in Sydney, I decided that listening to opera at Sydney Opera House was a Must Do, on the world trip tick-box list.

The tickets however, seemed rather pricey to me. Maybe 20 bucks at the time? Can't remember.

As the whole world knows, journalists are a scammy breed and always managing to scrounge something for nothing on the back of a press card (NUJ union card actually). While I hate to shatter such a popular myth, to that day I had never had anything for free apart from obviously, tickets for work where I had to do a review. Eg, a concert by the utterly boring Glen Cambell. I would probably have paid someone else to go in my place to get out of that one.

Even in those days, to get into something that was popular (and expensive) you invariably needed to be separately accredited.

But in Sydney on a budget, and with NUJ card in pocket, I decided to put this myth to the test and marched down to the Opera House. It seemed they didn't dish out tickets to random journalists who popped in from the other side of the world, but they did direct me to an office in the city centre.

Off I traipsed. Arriving at the office, I gave them my plausible and actually, genuine, story. I was a freelance journalist, and I was intending to do a series of reviews for the Illustrated London News (I thought a nice glossy like this might accept my submissions as they sometimes included non-UK stuff if it was prestigious enough). Blow me down, not only did they give me three tickets for the next three (different) performances, they gave me an extra one for each night for a guest.

I was very pleased. And not a little excited, because, not only was I going to listen to opera at SOH, but the very first of the three performances was Joan Sutherland. Singing Lucia di Lammermoor. This, for those of you who are not opera fans, was the opera that shot her to fame when she performed the famous Mad Scene.

Now, I should say, that JS was never one of my favourite sopranos, nor, was Maria Callas. Maybe it was an age thing, but I loved the voices of Lucia Popp, Frederica von Stade, and Victoria de los Angeles. Still, JS doing her mad stuff at SOH was not to be sniffed at, and my mother (a huge JS fan) would be so excited.

Anyway, she cancelled. There I was sitting expectantly in my seat, when an announcement came over the public address system. She had a sore throat, or something like that. According to the Sydney Morning Herald the following day, it was the first time she had cancelled in her career. Fine sense of timing.

I managed to acquire a guest for the other two performances. One was a pastoral thing, but as for the other, no idea. We wandered around the outside on a lovely evening drinking our glasses of Australian fizz, but after being deprived of Dame Joan performing her most famous role in her home town, they were just another couple of free operas.

No, I never did write any of it up for the Illustrated London News. Couldn't think of anything to say really apart from ranting about Joan Sutherland choosing the night I was waiting to hear her, only for her to make the first cancellation of her career due to ill-health.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

At one point, we lived in a flat with a view of the harbour bridge. In King's Cross. In 1985.

For those of you who don't know, King's Cross is/was the main area where travellers from all over the world congregate to stay in the cheap hostels. It's also, like its namesake in London, an area of brothels, prostitutes, drugs etc. Unless this has all changed in the last 20+ years of course.

I had moved in with someone I had met a couple of months previously. We had moved out of hostels and into a sort of apartment that wasn't. We had a bedroom, a kitchen-sitting room and a shower. The toilet was out the back :(

Our friends - I use the term amazingly loosely there - Tom and Didi, announced their intention to travel up to the Northern Territory. Tom was from Newcastle, UK, and had worked in Long Benton at the DHSS (as was). He was on the dole in Aus having managed to scam getting onto it somewhere out in the bush, and could never sign off. He had no legit ID so could never have signed on again, especially in Sydney. He had a lovely GSD called Khasah (?). Didi was much older than the rest of us, in his 40s, and Danish.

They wanted to keep their HUGE flat while on their travels, but needed a bit of income to help supplement funds - were we interested in renting a room in their absence? Huge flat to ourselves. Mmmm, very nice. Tempting.

Didi, sensing our interest, added another lure. Would we like to take over the lease, and when they came back they would pay us their share of the rent? Er, no. We were not that stupid in those days, and trusting those two to pay their share of anything would have been lower than the chances of winning the Aussie lotto.

So we moved in, left the lease in their names, and paid the rent every month. Or for one month, however long we were there for, which wasn't long.

I remember my 26th birthday in that flat so well. There was a shelf above the bed, and we always took a bottle of Perrier water to bed. For whatever reason, it fell and hit me on the head. (New theme to this blog - things hitting me on the head in the night).

Then, I left for New Zealand. We had discussed getting married and I thought a bit of time out gadding around on my own would be good. I told him to sort us a flat of our own. Figured that if he did that he was worth marrying. If he didn't .....

So that is the tale of the brief time we spent in a flat with a view of SHB. We saw Didi some time much later at a cashpoint machine. He too had got married. C'est la vie huh? Because that's what most people do in Australia in order to stay there. Gotta get that residency.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Hola Lanzarote

Rather Jackie Kennedy here I think. Large glasses and smell up nose.

That's probably about the nearest I will get to her, I suspect she wouldn't have looked quite so casually put together, nor would she have been carrying a daypack.

Just for you fashionistas out there, the shirt was some exceedingly fine yellow cotton I made up to a Donna Karan Vogue Designer Pattern. It was a painter's shirt or something. But perfect for warm/hot climes. Suffice to say I still have it now.

I bought the little red shorts dirt cheap in Puerto del Carmen (sorry Jean) and I reluctantly had to chuck those recently, owing to the fact that I couldn't even get my legs in, let alone do up the zip.

Oh, the photo. Well, we were at Teguise looking at the César Manrique House.

Lanzarote was the second of our package holidays. Partner had gone out and booked it, for not a bad price, only to be bawled out of house and home because he had us flying out of Newcastle and .... back into Middlesborough.

I did not live 20 or 30 mins by metro from Newcastle airport - or 10 mins by low-flying taxi or lift from a mate - to expect to fly back into Middlesborough. Bloody miles away.

Partner was given his orders to go back and GET A RETURN FLIGHT TO NEWCASTLE.

He did. The decently priced holiday suddenly became indecent. But notwithstanding, it was an excellent hol. The superb scenery, the beautiful Manrique influence, the great weather - even in November, combined for a wonderful week. It was my first trip to Spain incidentally. Maybe that explains a lot.

We tried to visit most of the Manrique works. The first trip was to Mirador del Rio at the far end of the island. We got off the bus and traipsed miles uphill to get there. Much to our amazement and total delight - there was a bar. Two San Miguels were never more rapidly demolished.

Then we walked back to the nearest town before getting the bus back to Arrecife. We skipped the bar/restaurants in the first pueblo, they all had bull-fighting on the television.

At the next town, we found a fine place, it had opened early, and we enjoyed our meal. But when we finished it was dark and we had to find directions for the bus stop.

We rushed up the street. Not a bus stop in sight. We kept on going out of the village wondering if we had missed it. Natch, it was the last one back to Arrecife. Missing it would be costly, ie night's accommodation or taxi back.

Out of the Atlantic darkness appeared - a bus!! But where the hell was the bus stop?? Absolutely without shame, Partner waved his arms around and shouted 'Hola!' The bus stopped. Thank goodness.

Perhaps I should rename this blog the bus blog? Because there are even more bus tales .....


Segovia. The fairy tale castle. I think that skinny blonde in red posing next to the parapet is me. These days, I am neither blonde, nor quite so skinny, and certainly can't imagine posing near parapets anywhere.

I never learned to pose for photographs. Sadly it wasn't deemed part of the essential education earmarked out for me by my parents.

We had flown to Madrid via Amsterdam from the UK for a wedding anniversary long weekend. In August. The height of summer and I was dreading the heat. The rucksacks were not part of this trip and nor was the tent.

In fact we had bought some special hand luggage for the flight so that we didn't have to hang around at baggage reclaim with all the other passengers who seemed to want to make a day of arriving at an airport and missing their luggage every time it came around on the conveyor.

I bought some nice new flat shoes too. I was going to be city chic and smart for once. And - we even stayed in a hotel. Quite a decently priced one on Calle Gran Via. Near to Plaza de España and a few minutes walk from the brothels around the back.

One day we decided to go to Segovia, so we found out the correct bus station and made our way there. We bought our return tickets and had a while to wait so found a fine bar which did excellent pimientos asados (roast peppers) tapas included with our beer.

Segovia is primarily famous for three things. The famous castle - Alcazar, the superb Roman aqueduct, and the cathedral. Possibly in that order, although I was most interested in the aqueduct.

We made our way up to the castle, which was worth a visit. The first mention of it was back in the 12th century, but as it was set alight in 1862, the current building is a relatively recent rebuild. Still, it is pretty enough.

One of the legends, is that a nurse looking after a royal babe dropped it out of the window, so fearing the wrath of her employers and certain death, she jumped out to follow the heir to all the Spains. It was a very long way down.

And the other main story about the castle is that it was the inspiration for Walt Disney's fairy tale castle in Disneyland. I had no idea about that at the time I visited however, nor would it have interested me.

When we got back to the bus station, I gazed at my little bus tickets puzzling what to do with them. Spanish bus companies mostly sell tickets at offices in the bus station that you often buy in advance. Occasionally you can also pay on the bus, but rarely on long distance ones. Segovia is nearly 100kms so we had a posh little folder with our tickets inside.

On the way out we had duly taken our allocated seats. But the ticket for the return had no seat number. This was the source of my puzzlement. If we jumped in a seat on the bus, although we had paid for a ticket, we might be sitting in someone else's seat. And as the occupancy of the bus is done by computer, the bus might even be full.

There had to be a way round this. Now, like most people, I hate making an arse of myself in public, especially in a foreign language, but I certainly didn't want to be chucked off the bus because I didn't have a specific seat.

I plucked up the courage and toddled over to the long queue at the ticket office which still seemed pretty stupid to me as I had already got a ticket. I prepared myself for much Spanish amusement, or just as bad, total incomprehension at what I was attempting to ask.

Neither. The ticket cashier calmly took my proferred return tickets, understood that I wanted the next bus to Madrid, and get this, issued some new tickets after keying a load of stuff into the computer - AND - they had the magic seat numbers.

There are some things that really make a day out successful. I have to say that swapping the tickets and getting ones with seat numbers was a serious highlight of the day. I sat in my seat for the whole return trip feeling smug and very pleased with my little self. I still feel pleased when I think back to it now.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Watch out for the guys

This is not the most brill pic due to the sun on it, but I am trying to show two things.

One is the beautiful grassy location at the top of an idyllic Hebridean beach on Barra where we were wild camping. I think it was Barra, although it could have been Benbecula. Probably Barra.

The second is the fact that the tent is somewhat disformed, poor thing. You can see that if you look carefully. The top is not smooth and taut, and the entrance door is totally skewed. Here is the story.

This was our trip to the Western Isles of Scotland, the Inner and Outer Hebrides and any other island or peninsula en route that we could use our CalMac pass on.

Caledonian MacBrayne is the Scottish ferry company that services the islands and the western coast. It is not cheap. I think we paid around £200 for our ticket at the time, it was an Island Rover ticket where you get to go all over the islands which isn't bad value if you can cram as much as poss into the necessary time, 15 days or so.

Arran was one of our early stops, in fact I think it was the very first night. As we approached the harbour/port of Brodick, the cloud lifted, and there was blue sky, sunshine, and a lovely view of Arran. We'd been given gloomy tales of endless rain while on the ferry across from Ardrossan, but it was all looking pretty promising as we cruised into the harbour.

We drove not too far down the road and found a camp site. After pitching the tent, we went out to look at the island and buy provisions for tea. Being early birds, we soon went to bed.

Some considerable time later, and in that instantaneous moment when something shocking wakes you up I didn't even know whether I was awake or asleep, I received a huge whack on the head. I have to say that, when you are soundly asleep in your comfy sleeping bag in your cosy tent, some drunken prat falling on top of you is not the best thing to happen in the middle of the night. He'd presumably tripped over the guy line.

I was pretty dazed, but as I'd taken the brunt of the falling drunken prat, Partner got out of the tent and asked what the fuck he was doing. Or something like that.

Drunken prat started to get aggressive, and pointed out he had a gun in his tent. Well, was I ever freaking out at this point. My imagination shot into overdrive and I immediately wrote the front page story, complete with gory headline, of my own death on a campsite in Arran, shot through the head.

Partner was having none of that though, and to my fear and horror he told DP to shut up and clear off or he would kick the shit out of him.

We went off to report it to the camp site managers/owners. They weren't interested and told us we needn't bother going to the police. They probably didn't like being woken up well after midnight either. We moved the tent to a different spot (just in case DP found his gun after all or decided to fall over the guy lines and onto us yet again) and cleared off early the next morning.

But what to do with the tent? The poles at one end were severely bent and buckled, but luckily the flysheet and inner tent hadn't ripped. Still, we had a planned two weeks in an area of high rainfall - and we didn't know if we would be able to even put up the tent the next night. And if it rained ..... The determining factor may have been that we had paid for our CalMac pass, so we decided to give it a go, and off we went to the next ferry journey and the next destination. We did discuss sleeping in the car. A Renault 19 two door hatchback. The dogs normally slept in it.

Partner straightened up the poles as best he could. It's a good thing they were strong, made of some sort of alloy framing that they use in aircraft. Flimsier ones would have snapped under the weight of DP. The next night, we finally managed to put up the tent after Partner had made a few adaptations with a tent peg between the poles to make things work. It was somewhat askew at one end, and not its normal perfect streamlined self, then eventually we went to sleep in a much quieter and far less eventful campsite.

And that was the worst thing that happened to us on that holiday. A bad start, but absolutely perfect weather for the whole of the two to three weeks, beautiful scenery, wild camping, lots of interesting historical sites to visit, whiskies to try - one of our best holidays ever. When we sadly returned home, everyone thought we had been to the southern Mediterranean we were so brown.

I loved the Hebrides.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Mycenae - Gateway of the Lion

Well, this old photo from my world trip says on the back, 'Gateway of the Lion, very famous apparently'.

It's in Mycenae. Greece, near Athens. Can't remember what the hell we were doing there though. Didn't even know about it, shame on me for someone with a degree in Ancient and Medieval History and Archaeology.

We'd got dropped off on the bus from Athens (or maybe we had taken the train??) and gone down the road to the youth hostel, and then, when I discovered there was a famous archaeological site up the road, we were off to find it. Rucksacks dumped, sleeping bags spread out to claim our bunks, and we were back up the hill in the not very cold Greek winter to find this famous site.

I think there was meant to be orange picking around there too. We didn't find any work. At least I have a pic of a very famous site. Similar to the one on Wiki :D

Edited to add:

I forgot when writing about Mycenae to mention my trip to Delphi, of which I don't have a pic. For some reason I don't remember, my travel companion didn't accompany me on that one, so off I went on my own with a tiny overnight bag as I figured I would need to find somewhere to stay. For another reason I don't remember there was no direct bus, but the tourist people told me it was easy enough to change at whatever village in the middle of nowhere and pick up the Delphi bus. And no, I didn't want to fork out lots of drachmas for an organised tour. I wanted to organise my own tour. Which I spectacularly failed to do. After wandering around said village in the middle of nowhere for around an hour trying to find anyone who could even understand remotely what I was asking about where to get the bus to Delphi, I gave up, and got the bus back to Athens. So that's why there is no pic of Delphi. And just as well I have this one of Mycenae.

Packing - in La Gomera

Playa de Santiago. I think. A small fishing village in the south of La Gomera. One of the Canaries.

This, as everyone knows, is a typical photo of an ambitious, well-paid, career woman in her 30s, on holiday.

One who buys a cheap flight to Tenerife, and takes her back-packing gear, including camping stuff, and gets the local bus around the place.

The camp site in Tenerife wasn't far from the airport, somewhere amidst banana plantations and an ambitious resort development that hadn't quite happened.

It was strange. Pretty quiet (well, it was winter), and the only other campers were a group of laid-back Spaniards who played the guitar at night, drank beer, and probably smoked dope for all I know. Who cares? Not me. They were pleasant and friendly whenever we met.

One day a British couple arrived and put up their tent next to us. They weren't impressed with the musical easy-going laid-back Spaniards 50 or 100 yards away.

'SHUT THE FUCK UP!!' shouted the Brit. The camp site fell silent.

We decided to leave. People enjoying themselves, with some noise is one thing, aggression is another.

Off to Los Cristianos and the boat to La Gomera - why not manage two Canaries in one holiday? From San Sebastian by bus (public, which all arrived to meet the ferry, but hurry because they leave quickly) and onto Playa de Santiago.

Where, we hiked out of the village, over the cliffs, past the rather exclusive Jardin Tecina, down the first bay, up the cliffs, down to the second one, etc etc until I think we finally decided to camp on the beach of the third bay.

But we didn't want to leave the tent insecure during the day, so every morning, we packed it up and made the hike back into Playa de Santiago. And then, in the evening, back we went to our lonely beach to re-pitch the tent where no-one else visited. Until one day, a woman came and told us the police were moving people on. In retrospect - doubt it. Never saw any. Police or other campers.

What else from this pic? Oh yes, meeting the local insurance agent and his wife who were staying at Jardin Tecina and so admired our adventurous spirit. And one of my medical work colleagues some years later, who had also stayed there and was busy showing off about the exclusive place she had stayed at to her other medical colleague who was due to fly out and stay there and do medical middle-class things. They both looked slightly put out when I said I'd been there and recited my camping adventures. Scruffy wild campers within a few hundred yards of Jardin Tecina?

Maybe ambitious, well-paid, career women in their 30s don't take the same holidays as me after all.

Different blog, different theme

There are some posts that really do not fit within any of my current blogs, so here is yet another blog. Based on the idea of every picture tells a story.

Yes, it's not an original idea, and yes, there are lotsissimo blogs out there with that very title.

This will not be a picture blog per se. Oh, no. I do not agree with the fact that just posting a picture is remotely helpful. Yes it can be an excellent photo (these won't be as they will be mainly scanned), but would you really expect a journalist not to at least include a caption?

In fact you will get more than that, the story behind the picture. The picture from the past.

Perhaps I should retitle it.