« January 2004 | Weblog Main | March 2004 »

February 1, 2004

iPod Cafe

I took a ferry over to Ibiza yesterday and spent a chilled day wandering around. I checked out Ibiza Town's newest cafe, which, although it doesn't yet appear to have a name, is directly across the road from the ferry terminal.

The Spanish really spend a lot of money fitting out their bars and cafes - many of them are so beautifully finished inside that if they were in Britain, they'd be too posh and expensive to go into for a coffee. They'd been outfitting this place all summer; it's all sollid wood, marble, and brass panels (though I'd be tempted to squeeze four times as many tables into the place, but that's just me).

Another thing that Spanish cafes invest highly in are their speaker and hi-fi systems, and indeed this place has lovely big JBL loudspeakers in the corners. I sat there, sipping my cafe con leche, enjoying the sound, and afterwards went to pay the bill. It was then I noticed that behind the bar, apart from a big Yamaha amp, there didn't seem to be any other hi-fi equipment. No cd player or anything. Then I spied it - a tiny iPod sitting in it's cradle. All the tracks were mp3s from it's hard drive, and though it's just about the size of a deck of cards, it was handling the whole sound system beautifully. Slick. I've been thinking about replacing Zamindar's stereo system with one for a while, but please Apple, give it wi-fi, and then it'll be the ultimate remote hard drive... and you could file-share with it as you walked around.

February 2, 2004

Off to Madrid

I've got a flight to Madrid tomorrow morning and then ten days before I have to catch another flight from Bilbao to London. Haven't quite decided where to go during that time yet, but I'll just see how I feel when I get there.

February 3, 2004

Overnight Train to Algeciras

I flew into Madrid this morning, dropped my luggage off into a locker, and bought a ticket to Algeciras. I know it's the wrong direction when I should be heading towards Bilbao, but I just felt drawn south. I'm on the overnight train right now, travelling light, with basically just the clothes that I'm wearing, my toothbrush, and a few things in my jacket pocket. When we arrive in the morning I'm hoping to catch a ferry across the straits to Africa, probably Tangiers, and see what Morocco's like for a bit. Not having a big rucsac or a bag lets me look a little bit less conspicuous when I'm travelling, and also lets me run faster if, suddenly, I need to.

February 4, 2004

Marrakesh Express

One of the nice things about spending the night on a sleeper is wakening up to discover that none of the other people in your compartment have murdered you during the night. Delighted about this I set off to find the port in Algeciras and buy a ticket to Morocco.

Surprisingly, it felt cooler there than its been in Ibiza; it was also overcast and once we had left the port the seas began to pick up. I had forgotten just how much weather the Straits of Gibraltar got; that and all the supertankers thundering past at 30 knots made me glad not to have the boat there. The jagged mountains of Morocco were ahead and it felt exciting to be going somewhere new and different. When we docked, however, everyone apart from myself and an old Finnish couple were allowed off - we had to wait for the Commisarriat to come and stamp our passports.

Eventually, though, we made it ashore as well. I managed to dodge some touts, walked up into town, and suddenly found myself in the middle of the Medina, the only white person around. I felt the shock of suddenly feeling very foreign, surrounded by Moroccans, Berbers, stalls full of brightly coloured crafts, and people trying to sell me hash. My instant reaction was one of wanting to get back to the ferry, but instead I found somewhere to chill out and had something to eat.

After that I found the railway station and booked myself onto the Marrakesh express. It leaves at 2300 tonight and get into Marrakesh, the furthest south you can go in Morocco by train, tomorrow morning. I decided to splash out and get a first class sleeper as it was only about 25 Euros (a second class sleeper is just about 17 Euros) - not bad for such a long journey!

Although the official language is Arabic, many people here understand French. Unfortunately, although I spent four years doing French at school, mine remains appalling. For example, I asked a policeman for directions today and he asked me if I spoke French. "Petit pois," I replied, meaning "Peas!"

Apologies for punctuation, etc. The internet cafes here have French-Arabic keyboards, a huge culture shock in themselves!

February 5, 2004

Marrakesh

I was sharing a compartment with three Austrians from Graz last night on the train and they seem like really nice people and have been to Morocco several times before so they know where they're going. After a pleasant sleep on the train we woke up in Marrakesh with palm trees lining the streets and the snow capped Atlas mountains in the distance. Marrakesh seems lovely, quite different from anywhere I've been before, and I'm sharing a room with my new found chums while I'm here as they knew a good, cheap hotel.

February 7, 2004

Life in Marrakesh

Yesterday we caught a bus from Marrakesh out to a small village near the foot of the Atlas Mountains. There, after a bit of haggling and some cups of mint tea, we managed to negotiate with a taxi driver to take us out to a village close to some waterfalls in the mountains. Moroccans tend to use the entire road when they're driving and being on the right-hand side really does seem to be optional, but eventually, after some fairly hairy driving up a mountain valley, we arrived. There, we had some chicken and vegetables to eat and watched a cow and some sheep standing in the stream next to the outdoor restaurant. Only later did we notice the cook washing the raw chicken downstream from the cattle.

From there we walked quite far up the mountains and past the waterfalls until the sun began to go down. The air felt thin as you breathed it in, and we reckoned we were about 2000m above sea level. The countryside was incredibly beautiful, and felt a little bit like how I expect Nepal looks. There seems to be a lot of great trekking in the Atlas and it would be fantastic to come back with more time and some decent maps. By the time we got back down to the village, all the taxis had left, but we managed to all bundle into an old Transit van for the trip back.

Most of our time here in Marrakesh has been spent drinking coffee (nous-nous, which is half espresso and half milk), eating cake (the French thankfully brought wonderful cake culture with them to Morocco), drinking mint tea, freshly sqeezed orange juice (only the equivalent of 20 euro cents a glass), and eating. With alcohol only being available in the bigger hotels here it's been refreshing to realise that you can go out and enjoy yourself at night without it. The patisseries here are packed on Friday nights with everyone eating cake and drinking fresh mango juice, though I suspect if I spent a long time here I could easily double in body weight.

Urban, Julia, and Barbara, my new Austrian friends and roommates, left for the coast today and tonight I catch the overnight train back up to Tangiers. It's been really enjoyable travelling with the three of them, as, apart from Urban being fluent in French, and knowing some Arabic, they're really cool, relaxed people who don't get stressed about things. Hopefully I'll get a chance to travel with them again some other time as it's always a bit sad to say goodbye.

As I have to be in Stansted airport on Thursday night to meet Carita, whom I haven't seen for far too long, I have to begin heading north, away from the lovely sun and warm light of central Morocco. So in a couple of hours I catch the overnight train back up to Tangiers. I wish I could spend longer in Morocco, but I have to spend three nights sleeping on trains this week to get to Bilbao, from where I catch my flight to London so I have to leave soon.

February 8, 2004

Tangiers to Algeciras

I spent most of today in Tangiers then caught the ferry across to Algeciras in Spain. We passed lots of pilot whales in the straits, including a pod of them feeding in a circle on fish theyd rounded up, then we passed about a dozen dolphins - which always makes a trip.

Algeciras has improved since I was last here but its still a dump. Maybe some places are supposed to be, and no matter what you do, theyll never change. In the short time since I arrived back in Spain, everyone has been incredibly rude and I really feel the difference after being in the friendliness of an Arab country. Luckily, rather than having to stay in Algeciras for a short eternity, Ive managed to book onto the sleeper up to Madrid, which leaves in 30 minutes.

February 9, 2004

Toledo

I arrived in Madrid and, having been there twice in the last month, decided to catch a train to Toledo this morning. Somewhat exhausted from being on trains since Saturday, I got a room and went to sleep for a long siesta. Really, after travelling in the clothes I was wearing for a week and just washing them occasionally in hotel sinks, I was quite lucky to be allowed into any hotel at all.

Toledo is a great place if you want to buy swords and marzipan, but it all seems a bit of a tourist town to me - after hours of walking I still couldn't even find a supermarket. It's nice to sleep in a proper bed, however, and have break before I continue travelling up to Bilbao.

February 11, 2004

Vampires on Trains

Buying a ticket for the night train to Bilbao I discovered that it was in fact the insomniac express, it didn't have any beds in second class, and you were expected to remain awake for the entire nine hour journey. The only other passenger in my compartment was a blonde, Romanian woman from Transylvannia who had been working in a dodgy bar in Madrid. As the train left the city behind she pointed up to the moon, smiled, and my worst fears were confirmed. Obviously, I too was about to become one of the undead, a child of the night, and there was nothing I could do about it. So I made myself as comfortable as I could and tried to get some sleep.

The next thing I knew she was wakening me up as we pulled into Bilbao station. I didn't feel too good; my reflection had gone and I was looking a bit pale, but it was 0730 in the morning. I staggered out, tried to find a hotel room to escape from the daylight, but everywhere I went to told me, if my Spanish translation is correct, to piss off. So I found a cafe and camped out in a corner of it for some hours consuming caffeine until the people of the Iberian Peninsula awoke. Then I found a lovely, overpriced squat with a bed and crashed out in it for the remainder of the day.

February 15, 2004

Back in Scotland

I spent most of Thursday at the Bilbao Guggenheim, the structure of which is a sculpture in itself, then I caught a bus out to Bilbao's impressive new airport and caught my flight to London. There I met Carita, who had just flown in from Finland, and dragged me off to the pub to celebrate our reunion.

We spent a restless night sleeping on the floor before being rudely awoken by Israeli El-Al security personnel (Carita was sleeping under her Yashmagh!) and told to leave the area. Security was incredibly high for the flight with police with sub-machine guns everywhere, even on the gantry above the check-in desk. We caught a Ryanair flight up to Glasgow in a plane with cheap plastic seats that didn't recline and caught up on some sleep when we arrived in Colin's flat, where he very kindly gave up his bed. Time since then has been spent mainly catching up on what's been happening in Scotland recently, mainly in pubs with Colin, and Ged today.

February 18, 2004

Scottish Hangovers

We spent a lovely few days in Scotland, rented a car, drove up to Loch Lomond, spent a night at Aviemore, and drank far too much last night. Today, after wakening up with a horrendous hangover, we managed to catch a flight down to Bristol where we're staying with Chris.

February 19, 2004

Off to Bangkok

Carita and I are in Heathrow right now, just about to board our flight to Bangkok, where we're planning to travel around for a couple of months and escape from the cold weather.

I just tried to look at bronek.org from one of the internet terminals here and couldn't as it's been blocked by surfonthesafeside.com due to containing nudity! Finally it's now officially a porn site!

February 21, 2004

My House Guesthouse

We're now in Bangkok and staying in my old home here, 'My House Guesthouse' - very nice to be back too. When I checked in the staff said, "Where have you been?" as if I was actually a full time resident. The flight over was quite pleasant, with an hour or two in Amman airport where we changed planes. Since then we've just been taking it fairly easy, trying to get over our jetlag (wakening up in the middle of the night), and exposing Carita to the full extent of Bangkok's shopping possibilities, which she's found quite overwhelming.

February 24, 2004

Surviving the P800

Contrary to what the telecom companies try to tell you, gprs roaming doesn't work yet, so yesterday I bought a Thai sim card (from One-2-Call). Unlike when I was in Spain, where I spent days trying unsuccessfully, I've managed to get gprs working properly here so I can now update my moblog with pictures in real-time. I've thousands of proper photos from my digital camera that have piled up from recent trips, waiting to be photoshopped and uploaded to the site, but by the time I finally get around to working through them I'll have forgotten what they're pictures of. Must keep on top of things.

Though I still hate my Sony Ericsson phone (the P800, which insists on crashing every couple of weeks and re-formatting all it's memory as well as being awful to use), having a proper internet connection on a mobile makes things so much easier when you're travelling. Gone are the days of hunting for an internet cafe to check your mail and sitting there typing away for ages. Now I can check it anytime, and as it also runs the wonderful Opera browser I can pull up any information I want quickly from Google while I'm on the move. But even still, I've been very close to smashing this phone to pieces on many occasions. I was in a phone shop in Cornwall last month which said that everyone who'd ever bought the phone from them, apart from one person, had returned it because it's so bad.

February 25, 2004

Cheap Chicken

With my usual impeccable timing, Avian flu appeared just as I booked the flight here. Last year it was Sars and the Iraq war, but at least this time I was hoping for some cheap chicken. Unfortunately though, it's proving quite hard to find. Last night we ordered chicken but it tasted suspiciously like rabbit and some of the meat was hairy. There seemed to be quite a lot of screeching coming from the kitchen while we were waiting for it too.

You still see live chickens around (or else there would be no banana pancakes and that would be a real disaster!), but they tend to be in cages these days rather than running around free. The real problem is that so many Thai families depend on their chickens for income that due to the enforced slaughter happening in many places, there's likely to be widespread poverty and malnutrition as a result. Cock fighting is also a big sport here with some of the birds worth up to �1000 so many people are hiding them, making it even more difficult to eradicate the disease. Now some cats are getting it as well so I really wonder what the restaurants are going to be serving next week.

February 26, 2004

Bangkok Flower Market

We caught a taxi to Bangkok's flower market last night. It starts at midnight and goes on until dawn so it fitted in perfectly with our persisting jetlag. The taxi driver, however, began to give us a tour with commentary of the hooker areas - first of all the part full of girls, then the gay part. Obviously, he'd misunderstood what I meant by 'flower market' so I told him again, but no, he was just taking us the scenic route!

The flower market itself is incredible - with streets full of exotic flowers that are trucked into Bangkok each night from the countryside, and I bought Carita some orchids and lotus flowers; we're probably the only backpackers here with orchids in our room.

February 28, 2004

American Psycho

We're planning to head up to Ayuthaya sometime next week but for the moment Carita and I are 'acclimatising' to Thailand in My House. This basically seems to involve drinking quite a lot of Thai beer and getting Carita used to eating red or green Thai curry everyday whilst observing the strange habits of the backpacker community.

My House is normally a fairly peaceful, civilised place, however, we've endured several restless nights this week due to a room full of Americans down the corridor who insisted on shouting, screaming, and playing crap music at high volume all the time. Carita, as well as people from other rooms, asked them to keep the noise down, but after five minutes they were once again screaming excitedly to each other about the merits of different NFL players and similar gripping discussions. Finally, Carita met one of them, who was about twice her height, in the corridor, lost all attempts at diplomacy, and screamed various expletives up at his face. This pissed the guy off so much that he turned around and smashed down the door to one of the rooms, which resulted in them all being immediately kicked out of the guesthouse. This morning, however, we were awoken by a new bunch of yankee accents as our new neighbours played basketball up and down the corridor. Maybe we'll go travelling in the Middle East next time.

In something rather similar to a scene from The Beach, the people in the room next to us seem to have mysteriously disappeared. It seems they left their room one day last week with all of their stuff in it, and never returned. The staff keep going into the room every day to see if they've come back, but there's no bodies or any sign of them. They didn't piss us off before their disappearance either, so it was nothing to do with us.