Saturday, 29 June 2013

The only gay in the village

After we arrived at Aberystwyth on Thursday afternoon, we were met by Jean's mum and dad, Tom and Mag.  And the weather welcomed us too.  It was raining - somewhere between gently and heavily.  But then it's Wales.  Because of the rain, we decided to buy a SIM card the next day (yesterday).  Since we've acquired the SIM card, we've found that reception is not fantastic either at our friend, Ann's house or at Tom and Mag's house.  Hence blog posts have been slightly behind schedule.  
Since we've arrived, we've caught up with old friends, Ann and Barry and boys, as well so far as our friend, Alison, and her young son, Jac.  Also, Alison's mum, Moya, and dad, Gwyn. 

Yesterday, Ann drove us around.  We drove a little around town, and had lunch in The Carlton, a cafe which overlooks Great Dark Gate Street, the main street in town.  When Jean and Ann were young kids, they used to drink coffee in The Carlton, and watch the world go by, staring at passers by below, and dodging their teachers.  Afterwards, we headed through extremely narrow country lanes for quite a while to the little village known as Llanddewi Brefi, which was made internationally famous by the comedy series 'Little Britain'.  It is to Llanddewi Brefi that Matt Lucas' character Dafydd is referring with his classic one-liner "I'm the only gay in the village".  Sadly, the only 'pub' in the village that we saw was the New Inn, which was closed.  I had my photo taken by the sign bearing the village name, and took another photo of the sign with the horse in the adjoining field.  He was the only horse in the village.

Yesterday evening, we had dinner at Wetherspoons with Ann and her son, Tom, and Alison and Jac.  Jean had (very tasty) spare ribs, and I had a roast.  The meals included one alcoholic drink each, which all came to £13.44 (about $20).  The chips they serve in Wetherspoons are thick as!

Friday, 28 June 2013

A pic of Euston Station, London

Below is Euston Station at 8.30 am, as seen from the Britannia pub on the first floor.  The station was not so packed at the time.  

In training

The train from London to Aberystwyth is a funny journey.  It blitzes along at about 125 miles per hour, northwards from London.  After changing trains at Birmingham International, our 'second' train was much slower, as if to remind the traveller that the destination is Wales, after all.  (And the first train offered Wi Fi, the second didn't.)

When the train pulls up at Shrewsbury, it then goes in reverse.  I mean that if you've been facing forwards till now, you now find yourself travelling backwards.  Eventually, the landscape becomes much hillier and slightly mountainous, which means you've arrived in Wales, and, at Machynlleth, the train cuts itself into two pieces.  The back two carriages are the only ones which proceed on to Aberystwyth, so, if Aber is your ultimate destination, you need to make sure you're sitting in the right part of the train.

From the United Arab Emirates to the United Kingdom

After an overnight flight from Dubai, we landed at Heathrow at 10 past 5am.  Forty minutes later, we were on London's Piccadilly Line bound for Euston.  At Euston, we obtained our tickets to Aberystwyth, and settled into the Britannia, a pub on the first floor of the station, overlooking the main concourse.  There, we ordered breakfast - the good ol' fry up of fried eggs, pork sausage, baked beans and toast, washed down with two English teas.  The pub had Wi Fi, and everything seemed to get working except Facebook.  I snapped a photo of the early morning rush of workers and travellers pouring through the station, and uploaded it to Instagram.  

The girl serving in the pub hailed from Turin, so I practised my Italian on her, and probably did badly.  It was around 15 degrees Celsius, and you didn't need a jumper.  A good thing we learned our lesson last year, and came to Europe slightly later when it was a little warmer.  Another lesson from last year paid off too.  I was reminded this morning that on the London Underground, sometimes passengers have no choice but to climb the steps when lifts and escalators are unavailable.  Last year, we had to negotiate such steps with huge bags.  Our pocket-size baggage this year proved to be a godsend when confronted with the menacing steps.

The train left Euston at 10.43.  A male passenger struggled to hoist his massive back-pack onto the overhead shelves.  Jean whispered that he was an 'amateur traveller'.  I whispered back that he was practising for next year.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sexy Arabs

A couple of days ago, I spoke of the Arab men dressed in their long, gleaming white flowing robes and round, black coil which holds their equally gleaming white head scarf to their heads.  Jean is impressed with the look of these men.  For her, they look smart, clean and 'sexy' as they go about their business.  

And I think I've been here long enough to make an assessment of my own.  I used to wonder how it would be possible for an Arab man to choose a young bride, when young Arabic women are clad entirely in the niqqab with only their eyes exposed.  How could you tell what they looked like?  But now, after only a few days of being here, I can identify the attractive ones.  They are short, slim, and have stunning eyes.  Maybe I can see the appeal for Arab men.  The women have a certain allure and a degree of mystery beneath that black flowing veil which, I think, evokes curiosity, something that is not so possible in the Western context.

In case you never hear from us again...................we've run off with Arabs.

The PM is dead. Long live the PM.

The Cafe Nero in the Dubai Mall has Wi Fi!  We signed in, and discovered that Julia Gillard has been replaced by Kevin Rudd!  I so knew last week something would happen just after I left the country.  I hate missing out on the action!  Well, it will be interesting to see what happens now.  I guess Rudd is urgently meeting the Independents.  I guess too there could be an election earlier than 14 September.  So, might Turnbull become the Leader of the Coalition?  The country now has a 'viable' alternative to Tony Abbott.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Gold and spice not so nice

After the Burj Khalifa, Jean and I took the Metro to the Mall of the Emirates.  Here, there is Ski Dubai, which is cooled to sub-zero temperatures.  You have to wear coats in there and boots to tread the snow underfoot.  There's also a chairlift.  The place seemed to be packed with families out for a day's fun.  We didn't go into Ski Dubai, but strolled through the Mall.  Eventually, we found a supermarket, the Carrefour, and noted that the UAE imports fruit and vegetables from all over the world, including potatoes, sweet potatoes and grapes from Australia.

We took the Metro to Al Ras where the gold and spice souks are located.  I wasn't that impressed.  For a start, the place wasn't air conditioned, and we'd had to walk for nearly 10 minutes in 40 degree heat.  Secondly, the gold souk was one of those places where every single merchant pounces on you: "Watches, jewellery, handbags, T-shirts," they constantly barked at us.  "I have a really good deal for you.  You come inside."  They must get sick and tired of springing out of their chairs, and leaping through the door to coax you inside.  The gold on display was apparently all real, but, funny enough, doesn't look real.

At the spice souk, the same deal applied, with every merchant throwing the proverbial lassoo around every passer by.  The spices looked pretty good, but to show any interest only heightened the hopes of the merchants who would've been more painful.

We returned to our hotel, and had a Stella Artois.  The UAE is a fairly conservative Muslim country where alcohol is not allowed, except for certain areas such as in hotels frequented by tourists.

Burj Khalifa - tallest building on earth

We taxied to the Burj Khalifa this morning, the tallest building in the world with over 200 floors.  It's so high, nobody seems to know exactly how many floors there are.  The lift took me just 30 seconds to travel to the Observation Deck on the 124th floor, which is where the tour takes you to.  Jean stayed on the ground.

From the Observation Deck, I looked down on Dubai below.  What struck me was how this is a city carved into the sand.  Its buildings, houses, shopping malls, mosques, roadworks and waterways are all surrounded by the ubiquitous off-white colour of the sand.  It stretches to the horizon and beyond.    they say the haze you see from that lofty height is not smog, but sand.  It was the highest I'd ever been in a building.  The World Trade Centre in New York had only 110 floors.  The tip of the Burj Khalifa can be seen 95 kilometres away....perhaps assuming there is no haze.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Safari in the Arabian Desert

Yesterday afternoon, we went on a Desert Safari.  Ten Toyota Land Cruisers - with us in one of them - ventured into the Arabian Desert.  Here, we tore over the sand dunes, spinning the tyres and madly tossing up the sand, seemingly nearly rolling the car again and again.  Up sandy hill and down sandy dale we went, constantly being tossed to the left and then the right.  Every time we came close to one of the other vehicles, its passengers beamed broad smiles at the fun we were all having.  A couple of times, we spotted camels and stopped for photo opportunities.  

Eventually, we arrived at the campsite in the desert in an area called Al Awir.  The campsite consisted of huts arranged in a circle, and in the middle was a large dance floor.  It was like the United Arab Emirates' answer to a Hawaiian luau.  When we arrived, Jean and I had a camel ride.  Later, I went sand boarding, surfing down a sandy hill on a board.  After watching a brief performance by an Arab performer, we ate dinner.  

Tandoori chicken, lamb chops, beef burgers, flat bread, hummus, tabbouleh, salads, potatoes, rice, fried onions, and Dahl - there was plenty of it!  I had absolutely lashings of it. It was piled so high on my plate, I didn't think I'd get through it.  But I polished it all off.  One also had to swallow vast quantities of water here.  It's steaming hot.  Like a sauna.  Sand crept into everything.  It was nice to throw off your footwear, and let your feet kick the sand.  We were all stinking hot, sweating like fountains, covered in sand, but having a marvellous time.

The evening finished with an Arab belly dance, performed by a young woman from Ukraine, of all places.  As I expected, no Arab woman, I was told, would be allowed to dress exposing her lower tummy and arms in such a way, and to perform such a provocative dance.

Below are a couple of pics on our safari.  The safari was with Orient Tours, which is owned by the Royal Family of the Emirate of Dubai.

Day 1 in Dubai

After a 13 hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai, we arrived around midnight and stepped into the pressure-cooker atmosphere of this city that sits on the edge of the Persian Gulf.  The Qantas flight, God bless 'em, had been so much better than last year's flight on Virgin Atlantic.  We were comfortable!  The Dubai Airport is a surprise, with its forest of shimmering bright pillars, row after row, that dominate the arrivals hall, more than hinting at the amount of wealth there might be in this small corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

Jean and I didn't hurry to get out of bed this morning.  After we finally did, we taxied to the Dubai Mall, where there is a large aquarium (saw a grey nurse shark), an ice skating rink, and which Jean thinks looks like Westfield Bondi on steroids.  We saw the Dubai Fountain in action, which I've put on FB, have had an avocado milkshake, and have now returned to the hotel in preparation for tonight.  We are going on a four-wheel drive desert safari and dinner in a desert oasis.

The taxi driver said it was 41 degrees.  It is very hot.  You could not walk a couple of streets here.

The Arab men look good in their gleaming white robes, which stretch to the ground, and their equally gleaming white head scarves with black coil on top.  These all have names, but I've forgotten already.  

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Beer and fish

Our bags are packed and we're ready to be on our way.  Tomorrow, we fly to Dubai for a few days' stopover.  We then head to Wales for a little over a week.  The real action starts in early July when we head to Paris.  A month from now, we will be in Barcelona.  Two months from now, we will either be in Athens or the Greek Islands.  Three months from now, we expect to be in western Germany.  

it should be a great trip, and a good holiday.  It's finally come.  It's been a long time in the planning.  About seven years.  It's a little hard to believe the time has come.

I'm looking forward to writing about the different beers we'll encounter, and I want to try various fish dishes.  Just under a month from now, we'll reach the Mediterranean.  We'll see a lot of the Mediterranean, as our itinerary hugs its shores for five weeks, from Barcelona to Turkey and back up to Venice.  I intend to eat fish often, and write about it.  Beer and fish.......a good combination.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

'Flu before we fly

We're now half way through our final week before heading off on our big holiday.  As final weeks go, it's not been a good one.  Jean's been battling the 'flu since last weekend.  She'll get better, of course,  but we could have done without this.  

Maybe we just need to get away from this chilly Canberra winter.  We'll be in warmer climes very soon.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Why 'To Ephesus With Love'?

So, why is my blog entitled 'To Ephesus With Love'?  First, I wanted to create the impression that Jean and I were 'going somewhere', and not just to Europe broadly.  So, I chose to twist the common phrase of 'To Rome With Love', the title of the 2012 Woody Allen comedy and the 1970s series starring John Forsythe.  There's also the 2002 drama 'To Moscow With Love'.  So, the precedent has been set.  Voila: 'To Ephesus With Love'.

Why Ephesus per se?  The title is symbolic.  In Europe, we'll be on the hunt for things that are 'old'.  We'll be exploring ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and the city of Pompeii, preserved for 19 centuries under the lava and volcanic ash of Vesuvius.  We'll visit the remnants of the Visigoths underneath Barcelona, which pre-date the Romans by 2,000 years.  Also, a tiny fraction of our15-week trek around the Continent will be devoted to visiting a mansion in Italy and a castle in Switzerland connected to my family history.  We will see the famous, centuries-old art works in the Vatican, and the Mona Lisa in Paris.  And, of course, we will travel to the ancient site of Ephesus in Turkey, which provides the background image you see on my blog.

Ephesus will be a turning point too...literally.  From the time we leave Aberystwyth in Wales on 6 July, we will broadly follow a south-easterly direction across Europe.  After Ephesus, in mid-August, we will reverse, following a broad north-westerly direction until we finish up in Brussells in early October.  I could've called the blog 'To Brussells With Love',  but I don't think that sounds terribly exciting, do you?  You'd probably think I was some sort of EU nutter, and log out.

So, we hope you'll travel with us, vicariously, as we explore the 'old' as well as whatever's new.  We hope you'll enjoy our 15-week journey as much as we will.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Practice pack

Today, we did a practice pack.  It went well.  It all fit in.  We are bringing very small bags to Europe.  They stand no more than 40cm tall, 33 cm wide, and about 25 cm deep.  Most people would be surprised by our little luggage, but we learned our lesson last year in Europe.  Small is better.  When you've got less to trudge round with, the headache is smaller.

Getting ready to go

This is Jean.  She's been preparing this European trip for six or seven years.  Here she is sussing out the bargains.

Getting closer to the time

We are now getting very close to the time when we head off on our European holiday.