And these are some of my favourite things…

Someone asked me the other day about some of the highlights – here’s some of them, excluding my time in Crete:

  • Best journey – sitting on the back of a scooter, wearing full backpack, getting a lift from Olympos up to the main road. About 11km of narrow, winding roads, on a small scooter. Certainly a lot more fun than the minibus, although perhaps not quite so safe…
  • Best country – has to be Turkey. Nice people, nice place, so much to see and do. I could (and will) go back and spend a lot more time there. Just a nice, relaxing, low stress place to travel. A little more expensive than I expected, but I imagine that will only get worse if/when they ever join the EU, which I hope they do. Jordan would be the second-best country I think – again, it’s the people that make it. After all the hassle of Egypt, it was so nice to be in Jordan.
  • Best town – Goreme, in Cappadocia, Turkey. If I didn’t force myself to leave when I did, I could still be there. Just a crazy landscape, with a lovely relaxing town to base yourself in. Heaps of good, well-priced places to stay in too. Go to the Kose, and get Spotty the dog to take you for a walk through the valleys.
  • Best experience – getting a haircut, shave and massage in Turkey. My head has never been so well looked after. I’ve never had a haircut involving a lighter before. I don’t know how many different steps were involved in the complete procedure, but it’s not that expensive, and such a cool thing to do. Cut-throat razors certainly make for a smooth shave.
  • Scenery – would have to be in the Sahara, just feeling lost amongst the vastness of it. You start to understand why the Arabs think of it as a sea. Just a feeling of vastness, and terrible power and beauty. Second place would be Cappadocia, for all the weird land formations.
  • Graeco-Roman sites – Leptis Magna in Libya is pretty hard to beat. A huge city, with only part of it uncovered. The ampitheatre is particularly well-preserved.
  • Best city – on this trip, but outside the Middle East would be San Francisco. In the Middle East, Istanbul was awesome. Amazing location, with huge oil tankers cruising right through the middle of the city.
  • Best bar (outside Crete) – Spitfire Bar, in Alexandria. Like a Bangkok bar, but without the girls. Quoting from their business card in front of me ‘If yoy come to Alexandria, dont miss to drop into the “Spitfire Bar” where you will find good drinks And any kind of Music.’ Quite. I liked their system for keeping track of how much you’ve had – rather than throw out the empties, they create a pile just for you, then count them up when you go. So much easier than paying per beer.

Some of my favourite people

I’ve been thinking a bit about some of the more interesting people I met while on the road. Unfortunately I don’t have names recorded for all of them. In no particular order, here’s a few quick portraits:

  • At a bar in San Francisco, I was sitting next to Mark (and his wife who looked like an aged rock groupie – think Goldie Hawn). Mark pulled out three harmonicas and laid them on the bar. I remarked that not everyone carries three harmonicas. “Don’t worry Lindsay, I’ve got more at home.” Not quite the response I was expecting
  • I arrived at Homs in Syria, looking to change buses to get to Crac des Chevaliers. LP said there were two bus stations, right next to each other. Actually LP, there’s another bus station on the other side of town as well. I didn’t know where to go, or anything, plus I was tired and sick at the time. Then I met Hasan, who showed me which bus to get on, refused to let me pay for my own ticket, and took me to the other bus station to get the right bus, and invited me home for tea. This, from a guy who is educated, working a good job, but earns less in a month than I can in a day in London. There is indeed truth to the stories of Syrian hospitality.
  • I’d never seen a 60-year old break-dancing before. But, in Crete, I met a man who did just that. In between sessions on the dance floor (including doing a flip at one point), he would come up to the bar, and order the bar staff and me rounds of drinks. He could certainly put them away too. We didn’t share much in the way of common languages, but we were good friends by the end of the night.
  • Walking past a carpet hospital in Goreme, I was called in for a chat. The owner didn’t want to sell me carpets though, he just liked to chat to travellers and practise his English. Then his uncle turned up with a bottle of Turkish wine. They then opened it in a way I have never seen before. After hunting around for a pair of pliers, they then used the handle of the pliers to whack the cork down into the bottle, splashing wine across the room, and us. Glasses were then passed around. It was a quick way of opening the bottle, if perhaps not the cleanest.
  • In Antakya, I started chatting to a young guy. We were sitting in a park, talking about Turkey, travel, etc, when he started telling me how all his friends were gay. He was quite insistent that he was not gay, but then he went on to describe, in detail, what happened when his gay friend was staying with him for a few days. Now I couldn’t care less what you do with your friends, but I don’t think I needed that sort of detail from someone I had just met. All very strange. It wasn’t even like we were out drinking at a bar late at night – it was just sitting in the park in the middle of the afternoon. However, I now have a contact if I want to import quality leather shoes into New Zealand. Apparently I could make $20,000 in a month, or something like that.
  • Possibly the best guy I met was the connoisseur of fake watches I met in Alexandria. While drinking at Spitfire Bar (well worth a visit) I met Rob, who was in for a few days rotation off the oil rig he works on. His dealer turned up with a bag full of fake watches, and we then spent over an hour going through all the different watches, narrowing it down to a few, then testing the luminous dials, the waterproofness, etc. I learnt several things about fake watches – one is to make sure that all the date/time dials can be set correctly – sometimes you can only have a Tuesday if it’s the 10th of the month. Watch the waterproofness, usually they aren’t. If looking for fake Rolexes, try and get the ones sourced from Italy, not China. Philippines ones are best if you can get those, apparently. It’s not just a matter of going for the cheapest you can find, you know.
  • While sitting outside the train station in Alexandria, a group of young girls came up to me to talk. They were quite impressed with my eyes – I don’t think they see a lot of blue eyes. After chatting with them for a while, they told me, quite seriously, that I should not sit outside the train station, there were too many crazy people there. Funny thing was, that they were the only ones I met outside the train station. Hmmmm.
  • In Libya, we had some locals driving us around the desert. I learnt two things: Even Arabs can have chavs – the desert is not too hot for wearing a tracksuit, and two: you can have an extremely explicit conversation with someone without needing any common language whatsoever. Sign language goes a long way, you know.
  • Captain Basta, in Aswan. He runs a felucca on the Nile. We hired his services for the afternoon, and had a pretty good time. After talking about how he is a Muslim, he then asked if we wanted beers (we did, and we had to get one for him too), and if we wanted any of the joint he had (no thanks, but you go ahead). For the whole afternoon we were mucking around on the boat, we didn’t cover much distance, but we had a good time. He also taught us some Egyptian songs, but I can’t say we were very good at singing them.
  • Pia and Linda at DNA – watch out for Norwegians behind the bar, they get you very drunk. Don’t even think about trying to outdrink them. You have been warned.

Say you’re leavin’ on the 7:30 train and that you’re headin’ out to Hollywood

Well, actually it’s the 11:00 train to Kings Cross, but anyway…the time has come for me to ship out of Edinburgh. My gear is mostly packed up, and I’m heading out tomorrow, to spend the next few months on the road.

Edinburgh is a fabulous city, both to live in and to visit. Even when you’ve been here a while, you still find that it will suprise you when you go into a new area, and find more amazing views, or beautiful architecture. Last week I went on a bike tour of the city, and even though I knew the general area, I still found myself suprised by different views on the city. If you are in the city, the bike tour is well worth doing – it’s much more interactive than a bus tour, and you find yourself getting much more involved. For the less fit out there, don’t worry, it’s not too difficult, as there are lots of stops, and you don’t have to go straight up any of the steeper parts.

The other thing I did was go along part of the Waters of Leith Walkway, from Stockbridge up to Roseburn. This is a really nice walk, well worth the effort. It’s not especially widely-known or utilised, but it is well worth the effort. It gives you a much different view of the city to walking along the roads.

Last night I went out to the England/Scotland game with Craig – fantastic evening, great atmosphere at the game, 67,000 people all screaming for Scotland. The crowd went crazy at the end, with Scotland pulling off a great upset win. Town was packed later on, with plenty of happy fans, and a few Englishmen drowning their sorrows. I was fully looking the part, with a kilt and Scotland jersey on. Apart from risking hypothermia, it was good too. Women seem to go a bit crazy over a man in a kilt though…

I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be able to post updates over the next few months, but I’ll try and put some on content every now and then, even if it’s just a short note on whatever country I’m currently in.

Where I’m at, where I’m going, and LOTS OF PHOTOS!

Thought it was about time for a bit of an update on what’s happening in my life, and where I’m planning on traveling.

I’ve only got three weeks to go at work here, and it can’t come soon enough – I’ve got very itchy feet, and I’m looking forward to being on the road again. End of February I’m on the road, heading to NZ for a month. I’ve got a few things planned – Tongariro Crossing, Queen Charlotte track (by bike), the Otago Rail Trail, plus a fair bit of driving around. And perhaps more importantly, catching up with friends and family.

After that, I’m going to San Francisco for a few days, before carrying on to London. I’ve wanted to go to San Fran for a while, and this is a good chance. Plus I get to fly Air NZ, presumably on the fancy revamped planes. Plan is to catch up with Bruce and Blair in London, before flying to Libya for a couple of weeks. Due to visa hassles, I then fly back to London, stay overnight, then on to Cairo. From there, I’ll work my way around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Depending on timing, I’ll then either go overland back to the UK, or fly. The only set date I have is to get back to see The Eagles at Twickenham on June 17th. Should be a good trip through the Middle East, hopefully the political situation isn’t too bad along the way. I’m sure things are often different on the ground anyway. After that, I’ll probably need to find another contract, to get some more cash.

I’ve told some people about this, but not everyone’s aware of it yet – I’ve got my own complete website up and running now. It works out a bit better for me in terms of uploading photos, and formatting things just the way I want to. Problem is that I don’t really know how to do the formatting I want, or for that matter, what formatting I actually do want. So it’s still a work in progress, but I’ve got quite a few photos uploaded now – everything from 2005 onwards. I still want to upload some photos from my 2004 travels, but for that can wait for now. I’ll keep fiddling around with the formatting until I get something I like a bit more, but it’s passable for now. Suggestions are welcome. I would like to integrate my blog stuff more with it, but that could be a bit of a hassle, so for now I’ll keep my blog here. So check out Northland Boy. Dig around in the photo sections, see what you think.