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March 2, 2003

Spring

It was a lovely sunny day, like winter was over and spring had arrived in Britain, so we went out for another life or death ride on Chris' bike to Bath. Later we returned to Bristol and looked around a yacht that Chris is thinking about buying in the centre of town as it's next to all the bars.

March 4, 2003

Chris's New Phone

down the pub tonight
Chris bought himself a Panasonic GD87 camera phone today so we've been down the pub using it tonight. Very cool, but it now forces me to upgrade my phone so that I can receive photos on it!

March 5, 2003

Swallow, Don't Spit

USA Today has a list of guidelines for Americans visiting Europe to help them avoid being spat on while they're here.

Avoid American fast-food restaurants and chains.

Keep discussions of politics to private places, not rowdy bars.

Take a rain check on wearing clothes featuring American flags or sports team logos.

Keep your passport out of sight.

Keep cameras, video equipment and maps tucked away.

Soften your speech; Americans typically overshadow their hosts in the volume department.

BMC Lecture

down pub
Chris and I went along to an Alpine lecture by the British Mountaineering Council this evening. It was a fairly good insight into mountaineering in the Alps and Himalayas, dragging people out of crevasses, and avoiding avalanches, though by the end of it we were desperate to escape to the pub.

March 6, 2003

Avon Cycle Path

This is Chris's bike in the woods
I had a cycle along the Severn and Avon cycle path today as it was a lovely sunny day and I hadn't done ridden a bike for weeks. As I wandered along the country lanes, I looked up and was amazed to see an eagle fly over me, especially being so close to the city. The route took me on a 20 mile (30km) semi-circle around Bristol, and then followed the river into the centre of town, by which time I was starving and went straight to Marks and Spencer's for sandwiches.

March 7, 2003

Laptop Fuel Cells

Toshiba have announced the world's first fuel cell for laptops. Finally I can stop worrying about my battery running out, but if only they could get it to run on ethanol then I could charge my laptop by filling it with vodka. For an explanation of fuel cells, look at this.

March 8, 2003

Powerbook Opinions

I had a look at the new 12" Apple Powerbook yesterday through in Bath as I was thinking about getting one and switching away from Windows, but it just didn't quite measure up to what I was looking for. No infra-red or usb 2.0, the dvd drive is region locked, only 256k of L2 cache and the volume output isn't very loud. On the other hand, you can spec it up with a dvd-writer and it is built well; hopefully Apple will do something about these shortcomings and upgrade them soon.

March 9, 2003

The Cloud

Inspired Broadcast Networks have just announced that they're building Europe's largest Wi-Fi network in some 20,000 locations in Britain. Called 'The Cloud', it'll have 250 sites by April and plans to be operating 1000 sites by this summer. Most of the locations will be pubs as they'll be piggybacking the network onto existing adsl lines that are currently being used for gaming machines. This looks set to revolutionise wireless access in the UK, and where better to have it than in the pub? Yet another reason to go drinking. BBC News Story

Kylie Goes to Wales

Chris and I had a cold, fast ride over to Cardiff today on Kylie (his Kawasaki). We got there, looked around, decided that Wales was crap, got back on the bike and returned to Bristol. This is what I've done on every trip I've ever made to Wales, but in another few years I'll have forgotten about it again, and optimistically decide to go back.

In the meantime, here's a big map of deviant desires and fetishes to ponder over.

March 10, 2003

Off Cycling

Tomorrow I'm off for a cycle ride along the Severn-Thames cycle path for a few days. Chris is currently busy methodically removing all traces of my DNA from the flat as he's in one of his tidying up moods.

March 11, 2003

Cycle to Bath

A ferret eating a frusli bar
I'm in Bath tonight after cycling here today from Bristol. My healthy day of cycling got off to a bad start when I woke up suffering from a hangover, then stopped for a fried breakfast after the first five miles.

The Avon cycle path is really lovely though as it follows the path of the old railway line, and soon I was cycling through the countryside on my way to Bath. I stopped by a small river for lunch, and while sitting there noticed a stoat ferret (thanks, Mark) on the river bank. I crept over & took some photographs of it but I began to wonder if it was stranded on the bank, so I fed it a Frusli bar, which it really seemed to enjoy. A bit further down the path I passed some squirrels so I gave them some Frusli bar as well.

When I got into Bath, the youth hostel turned out to be at the top of one of the city's highest hills (11% gradient for over 1km), which didn't really surprise me as they always seem to put them on top of hills to piss off cyclists, but by the time I got there my face was bright red and the sweat was pouring off me.

Right now I'm in the pub, having just had dinner, but I think tonight might be an early one.

March 13, 2003

More Cycling

Stopping for a break by the Avon canal
Yesterday I cycled out of Bath along the Avon canal towpath through some really classical English countryside until I got to Devises, where I turned and headed back. I'd made it back by the evening, happy to have covered 50 miles (80km), and just in time to meet up with Chris, who, worried that I might be getting too healthy, forced me to eat large quantities of pizza. I stayed in Bath youth hostel again last night and coincidentally found out that one of the other guys in the room had once lived in Denmark for four years, and so we sat late into the night comparing notes. Today I cycled back to Bristol, having covered over 100 miles (161km) on the trip, though glad to be back.

March 14, 2003

Flight to Denmark

I'm flying over to Denmark this evening with Chris to pick up my stuff. It's not something I've been looking forward to doing; in fact, I've been dreading it, but never mind. Click 'MORE' for my flight information.

GOING OUT
From London Stansted(STN) to Malmo(MMX)
Fri, 14Mar03 Flight FR258 Depart STN at 18:40 and arrive MMX at 21:25

COMING BACK
From Malmo(MMX) to London Stansted(STN)
Sun, 16Mar03 Flight FR259 Depart MMX at 22:25 and arrive STN at 23:15

March 17, 2003

Copenhagen Trip

moving out of denmark
Well, it's 05:45 and we've just got back to Bristol. I drove from Stansted Airport to try to let Chris get some sleep, and managed to get done for speeding within the first five minutes! The sun's rising now, and it's not worth me going to bed as I have to drive Chris to work in an hour so that he can collect a rental car and drive back down to London to fly out to Turkey for a meeting.

Remarkably, we managed to get around 70 kg, including my bike, onto the Ryanair flight without having to pay any excess charges at all. I'd thrown out anything that I could when I was packing, including my lifetime's collection of Wired magasines. We had carry on bags that were well pushing it, 5kg of books in our jacket pockets and the bike was so well disguised that they didn't even realise it was one and so didn't hit me with the bike charge.

Ironically, Denmark turned out to be everything I least expected it to be this weekend. The skies were clear and sunny, not cold and grey. We went out on Saturday night and Copenhagen was warm and civilised, rather than aggressive and rowdy. I held a door open for someone and, unbelievably, they thanked me. I walked through the park, which was full of ducks and geese, people jogging and cycling, and watched the sun as it went down. After all the times I'd complained about Denmark, I packed my stuff, but I didn't want to leave. I sat on the airport coach as it drove out of Copenhagen and thought of all the pointless, stupid things you end up arguing about in a relationship, and realised that not one of them had ever mattered.

March 18, 2003

Travel Plans

I booked flights at the end of last week to go to the Middle East and Asia for a while. I fly out to Dubai on Sunday, then planned to travel overland to stay with Colin in Oman. A few weeks later I fly over to Bangkok, and then intend to head over to Cambodia and Vietnam before returning to Thailand and flying on to Borneo.

Since then, due to the war, Oman has closed it's land borders, Dubai has been upgraded to high risk by the Foreign Office, and a mystery virus is sweeping across Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, causing the US to advise against non-essential travel there. Shouldn't be a problem finding a room then.

March 19, 2003

Bristol Harbour Swimming Club

The weather's been really good while I've been in Britain. Today it was fantastic so I sat down by the water having lunch and a beer in front of the Arnolfini. As I was sitting there, though, someone took their shirt off, ran over past me, jumped into the water and swam across the harbour! This is in the centre of Bristol, where, apart from the water not being very warm at all, is also not very clean, but he didn't seem to mind. I think he'd had more beer than me though.

Gulf Wars II

use the farce
Well, now that it looks like the time for war has come, Colin sent me this Gulf Wars II poster. Just don't expect any independent reviews of the production as the US has said they'll bomb any independent journalists in the area. Apparently Scottish troops are being sent to the front line. In yet another example of true life following fiction, it really is South Park The Movie coming true!

Amazon Screws Up

Amazon.co.uk temporarily closed for a while today after accidently selling $299 Pocket PC's for 7. They also had 500 computers priced at 23. Unfortunately, for the people who ordered them, they're now refusing to ship unless customers pay the full price.

March 20, 2003

New Iraq Government

Chris and his colleagues just arrived back from Turkey after having breakfast in the same dining room as Iraq's new interim government. It's the opposition party which fled during Saddam's reign and they're staying in the hotel, which was full of gun carrying Americans talking into their wrists, waiting to fly into Baghdad once Saddam Hussein has gone.

Bristol Wi-Fi

In my continuing efforts to encourage ubiquitous wireless access, I was talking to a couple of cafe owners in Bristol today about offering wi-fi for their customers. One of the cafes, Revival, is a really cool, laid-back place in the centre of Bristol which would be terrific if it had wireless access.

Rumsfeld - Saddam Handshake

This picture was taken back in the 1980's, after Saddam had used chemical weapons, commited human rights abuses, but when he was still a friend of the USA.

Currently we're getting lots of hits as Google is ranking us 11th under searches for Saddam Husseins website. Next the black vans will be turning up outside.

March 21, 2003

D.D.Deborah

I just checked my email and had a huge shock to find one from Deborah who'd just found the site by chance. So we spoke on the phone for the first time in five years and it was really lovely to talk to her again and catch up with what she's been doing - she's still as sarcastic as she's always been though.

March 23, 2003

Off to the Airport

I'm just finishing off packing, sorting some things up online, and leaving here about 06:00 without any sleep to head down to Heathrow. My flight arrives in Dubai about 01:00 the following morning, and though the foreign office is recommending extreme caution to anyone travelling in the UAE, Colin assures me that it's at least 300 miles from the current bombing. Apparently, the land border with Oman is open again, though I have to go to the embassy in Dubai once I arrive to try to get a visa to make the crossing, so fingers crossed.

I'll update this blog as often as possible as I'm travelling over the next couple of months, and hopefully manage to upload some photos, though it all depends on where I can get internet access.

March 25, 2003

Dubai

Chris gave me a lift down into Bristol to catch the coach to Heathrow airport. It was 06:45 on Sunday morning and we were both feeling rough and half-asleep. I stumbled up to the coach driver and tried to buy a ticket, but he refused. I was confused. Apparently, he'd run out of tickets - not seats, there were plenty left on the bus, but his book of tickets was finished. It took quite a bit of persuasion to get him to finally let me onto the coach so that I could get to London and catch my flight. But he did so, and he didn't charge me.

The sky seemed to be clear across all of Europe, and I had a terrific view all the way as we flew over France, the Alps, then past Monaco and over Italy. Eventually, I dozed off and awoke as we flew in over oilfield flames in the Gulf and came in to land in Dubai. Once I'd gone through customs I went to find out what the situation was with the Oman border. The passport information office assured me that the border was open and that it would be no problem getting a visa when I arrived there. I sat down in the airport cafe where everyone was intently watching the BBC World news which was showing a live report from the war in Iraq. Suddenly it all seemed very real and very close.

I managed to grab a few hours sleep on a bench, lying half across my bag, then got up at 06:00 (02:00GMT). The coach to Oman was due to leave at 07:00, so I went off to find the bus station. After a lot of hunting around it turned out to be an unmarked parking space in a back street, which I only managed to find because someone stopped me as I was about to walk past and asked me if I was looking for the coach to Muscat. Hardly anyone else was waiting for it, so I sat down. When it appeared, however, they wouldn't allow me on board as I didn't have an Omani visa. I wasn't having much luck with buses.

I grabbed a taxi and headed to the Oman embassy. I was hoping to get the visa I needed and be back for the coach to Muscat in the evening. The embassy was still closed when I got there as it was only 07:15, but one of the guards pointed me in the direction of a restaurant for breakfast. Around 35% of the population of Dubai are Indian so there's a huge Indian influence in the city. I sat down and ordered what everyone else was having, which turned out to be curry and bread. Afterwards I sat in the shade, out of the morning sun, across from the embassy and waited for it to open. Eventually it did, and in I went and applied for my visa. But after all that effort they just looked at my passport and rejected my application. Two local businessmen whom I'd been talking to also had their applications rejected. Apparently, they'd stopped issuing visas a few days before, and now they weren't giving them to anyone. The situation was supposedly the same at all borders in the Middle East because of the war. Disappointed, I caught a taxi over to the youth hostel and checked in.

The hostel turned out to be one of the most luxurious I'd ever stayed in, similar to a three or four star hotel. There were only two beds to each modern en-suite room and they had satellite tv and a fridge. I grabbed a few hours more sleep before going out to explore Dubai.

Dubai has shops everywhere, selling everything. There's a gold district, a clothes district, a tools district, electronics district, in fact a district for everything. The problem is that if you don't know where you're going, then like me, you end up in the clothes district looking for a flight to Muscat. Allegedly, I could get a visa on arrival at Muscat airport, so although it felt a bit like cheating, this was now my plan. Finally, I found a travel agent. After lots of typing on his computer he came up with a price of 1000 Dirhams, about �200. It was a bit steep so I told him I'd think about it and got up to leave. Then at the last second he said, "You could fly with Kish Air for half the price". This sounded like what I was looking for - a cheap ticket on an unknown Iranian airline. I bought it and couldn't believe my luck.

All that people are talking about here is the war, but still most people seem to be very friendly in Dubai. Strangers talk to you, and cars stop to let you cross the road (before starting again to try to run you down - just joking). I was in a taxi and the driver was talking about the war in Iraq and saying that all people want in the Middle East is peace when he asked, "But where are you from? You could be American or English and here I am telling you this." To which I replied, "No, I'm Scottish. We hate all of them". He paused for a second then exclaimed, "Aah! Scotland! King of the alcoholics!" Obviously, my reputation had preceeded me.

March 26, 2003

Bin Laden Airways

flying kish air
I spent yesterday morning going to see the Burj al-Arab, a huge modern building which is Dubai's most famous landmark and which I later found out was designed by the architects that Colin last worked with. Then I caught a taxi to the airport and checked in for my Bin Laden Airways flight. It was leaving from terminal 2, which seems to be the seedy backdoor of Dubai International. The plane turned out to be an ancient Fokker 50, hidden behind a United Nations jet, and everyone looked anxious as we boarded. I was sitting right next to one of the propellers and we taxied over to the runway past two crashed 737's. Some prayers were said and soon we were in the air. Everyone kept their seat belts fastened all the way as we bounced through the turbulence rising from the mountains below. Soon we were flying over Oman, with it's green irrigated fields surrounded by desert, and finally we landed with relief at Muscat airport. The airfield was full of US Hercules transport planes as they're using it as a base for flying supplies over to Iraq.

Hardly anyone else was getting off the plane in Muscat, so I left them to their fate and walked into the terminal where I filled in a visa application form, had my passport stamped, and was welcomed to Oman by the friendliest immigration official I've ever met. My bag was sitting in the middle of the floor in the baggage claim area on its own so I picked it up and Colin was waiting outside for me. He drove me back to his mum's house, we had a terrific dinner, then we sat drinking locally bought Danish Faxe beer, and Stoli until 4am.

March 28, 2003

Oman Weekends

omani scenery
I didn't realise this but the muslim weekend is on Thursdays and Fridays so Colin and I were out last night in some of the big hotels in town as they're the only place you can buy alcohol in Oman. Being non-muslim, however, we still have a duty to celebrate the normal weekend so we therefore get two weekends a week here.

We caught a taxi which had three young local guys in it, and soon, of course, we were asked about the war. We naturally agreed how terrible it was, and although the Omanis are very friendly, you can detect a heightening of tension out here as Britain and America continue to bomb Iraq. One of the guys in the taxi replied, "Bush and Blair die tomorrow. Saddam is good." We're considering changing our nationalities if things get any worse.

March 29, 2003

Off to Ras al Hadd

Colin and I are going off to Ras al Hadd with the 4wd for the next couple of days and planning to camp down there. In the meantime I've begun to upload some pictures from Oman under Latest Photos.