Bank Holiday Weekend 24-26 May 08

With May in the UK comes two bank holiday weekends (in kiwi terms: Monday’s a day off!) the first one (5 May) we spent moving into our new flat – seems like a lifetime ago! So this second one we really wanted to make sure we got something planned...yet we still typically left it ‘til the last minute! We wanted to go to Wales for the weekend but after looking into transport etc we decided it would be too expensive.

Luckily Sheree contacted us on Thursday to see if we wanted to go to the cheese rolling in Gloucester and she also mentioned that the rugby sevens finals were on at Twickenham on Sunday...Yay 4 Sheree!
And there you have it - a full bank holiday weekend!

Tickets for the sevens online were either £25 or £15 and the boys were keen for good seats so were prepared to pay top dollar, or should I say - pound. Then we found out about £7 tickets on sale at the local Aussie/Kiwi pub – so I told the boys they could suck it up cos that’s one great bargain!!

So Sunday morning we headed off arms laden with bags of munchies (incl kiwi onion dip!) and alcohol decanted into plastic bottles..what can I say -we're all class! The weather forecast wasn’t the best but luckily we didn’t get too soaked and managed to get there with not too much hassle – well compared to the other guys anyway! Niki was pretty excited as it was his first time to a rugby sevens and also was stoked to see the Twickenham stadium – the home of rugby!

Our £7 seats were fantastic and we had a fabulous day with the sun even poking its head out on occasion. We sat behind a fun group of guys, a Pom, a Scot, and 2 Aussies which made for a good day of bantering… wasn’t a good start when the kiwis lost their first game to the English! It didn’t seem fair that all the other “good” teams were playing unknown teams for their first games, but I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles!

During the course of the day a few "daring" people "streaked" across the field - all male and all fully clothed (much to my disgust!). It was rather entertaining to watch them try to dodge all the security men in fluoro orange jackets...The fluoros always won! It happened about 5 separate times (and was getting a 'lil boring), until the final one, which was a group of half a dozen fellas dressed as monks...absolutely hilarious!

There were some fantastic costumes on display, my favourites included a skinny guy as Hulk Hogan (down to the red wrestling underpants) and a guy dressed as a woopy cushion…ingenious! We watched New Zealand play against Portugal and later South Africa whom they managed to beat to win the plate. The big winner of the day was Samoa, who won against Fiji to take the cup. Apparently NZ is still leading overall however and has a good chance to take the whole competition out… go black =)

Monday morning we were up at 6am as we had to catch the tube to Marty & Sheree’s – nearly an hour away (Don’t ya love London!). Cheese rolling is an old tradition in Gloucester, a small town. Basically people go to the top of a very steep hill and someone rolls a giant cheese down and the crazy people run, roll, slide after it, and the first to reach the bottom wins the cheese. It was an extremely wet, horrible day, yet hundreds of people turned out to watch. I don’t own any appropriate footwear for mud events so my trusty jandals were the choice for the day and I must say they did me well, even though I got some strange looks! There were about 6 races, 3 downhill and 3 uphill. The uphill races don’t involve cheese…we watched the young boys and young girls races, and these kids are impressive, some tiny ones gave it a go and needed a hand towards the end but it was gorgeous ‘cos the crowd went wild for them. In the first race ambulance staff had to take one guy off on a stretcher in a neck brace, but I reckon he was just being a bit Hollywood!

The woman’s downhill race was the most impressive, with the winner basically taking a huge tumble and rolling so fast, the crowd ooh’d and aah’d as it looked like she must be hurt but then she jumped up with a big grin on her face and sprinted a bit further before sliding over again and rolling over the finish line. Crazy biarch!

On the way home we stopped just outside of Swindon for a lovely pub lunch to warm us up… unfortunately the fire wasn’t going and we had a few shitty mix-ups with our food including Sheree basically being accused of stealing a glass of Pepsi and Toni receiving a hot chocolate that was more like a hot milk… Whereas my dilemma was having to eat a whole extra bowl of fries we had mistakenly ordered (and paid for) so as not to waste them… oh the pain! We arrived home at about 6pm, completely soggy and exhausted… what a brilliant weekend!

A few pics from Eastern Europe ...FINALLY

Hi everyone, I've finally got some of our Eastern Europe trip pics off the camera and will be loading a bunch of them onto our web albums in the coming days - it takes ages as I don't have Picasa on my work computer! Anyway here's a couple to keep you interested...

Gorgeous sunshine in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Stunning Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Scooting around Aegina - 1 of the Greek Islands

Da-da: Athens!!!

View from the castle, Budapest, Hungary

Astronomical clock, Olomouc, Czech Republic

High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

So excited to see snow!! out near the salt mines, Krakow

Auschwitz - Birkenhau

the awful rail track that brought the prisoners

giddy-up! Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia

These aren't even in the right order...slack I know!!

Working & Living in the Big Smoke

After we arrived back in London on 15 April we were able to stay at Mandy & Aaron’s (whom we met last year on Busabout) house for 10 days while them and their super nice flatmates, George & Bridgitt, were away travelling.

It was so great having our own space and they left us their laptop so we were to set to look for a flat and a job for Niki. I had luckily already secured work and was to start on Friday the 19th (and I’m still working at the same place now a month later!). Niki had a bit of a hard time finding a job paying a decent rate, or one that didn’t mind him taking August off or leaving at Christmas, so by the time we had to move out of their house we were still half jobless and flatless! This was very frustrating for Niki as he just had to spend hours a day stuck inside, no money to spend, trawling the internet and not seeming to get anywhere. We went to stay with Spence (Lee-Ann’s british boyfriend, whom she had to temporarily leave behind!) who is an absolute star, letting us have his bed whilst he slept on the couch and putting up with us for a week in his tiny flat. (THANKS!) Luckily on the Tuesday Niki got offered a driving job starting Thursday, and we also found a flat to move into the following Monday…what a relief!

Niki works for a wine company and does warehouse and delivery work. Usually working 7am-2.30ish but a few days ago, started work at 1:30am (craziness!) to beat the traffic out of London, drove all the way out passed Plymouth & Exeter, stayed away overnight and got home at 5pm the next day! Adds a bit of variety to the job I guess =) he’s also been told he gets a wine allowance every month and the team seem really good so he is happy. They know he wants August off and will be leaving before Christmas so that is thankfully the last job hunt he will need to do over here!

We have signed up until 6 Nov in our flat. It’s a nice flat above a shop on the main street with plenty of shops only 2 mins away. Our room is pretty small but we have a decent size living room which is great, and it’s only a 5min walk to the tube, which goes straight to my work! (Takes about 30mins) We’re living with an aussie couple who are pretty cool, yet a few days ago dropped the bombshell that they are breaking up so will need to get out of the lease… We’ve only been there 10 days! So they are looking to fill their room and really it shouldn’t make much difference to us, hopefully they get another kiwi/aussie couple in… will keep you posted!

Messiness at the church

My fab friend Hollie came over on holiday from NZ whilst we were travelling but luckily we got back from our travels in time to spend a few days with her before she left again.

We caught up on Saturday 19th April, and it was soooo fantastic to see her! We had a pub lunch and hit the shops (two of our fave things, eating & shopping!) and ended up at Primark (a very cheap clothes store). Whilst we were there we were laughing at some of the hideous stuff for sale and had a brainwave to buy some awful 80’s gear to wear the next day to the church. Hollie was to meet up with people from her travels and I recruited a couple more keen beans – including another besty, Pam, who I had not seen for at least 18months.

We had a decent breakfast washed down with a few vodkas (!!) and then made our way out. The church is a pub open only on Sundays from 12-4pm. A lot of people dress up crazy and are usually rotten drunk on arrival, still partying from the night before. It’s mostly frequented by a young crowd of antipodeans, it’s loud and crazy and gross (strippers, beer skulling races…etc etc) and has a door charge….. but despite all this, we had a blast! The photos speak for themselves…

Don’t get me wrong though, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to go back again, been there done that… and I didn’t handle the drinking during the day time too well either…didn’t come right til the Tuesday! (Can anyone say wuss?)

Athens & Aegina (Greek Islands), Greece

It was exciting to be in Athens as it was a city I had obviously heard of growing up, compared to all the random places we’d just been! Unfortunately the streets and beaches are surprisingly grubby and filled with rubbish etc. We had warm weather but it was very hazy which we were later told was sand blowing in from Africa!! On our first day we explored the city a bit, it’s cool how you just walk along and then see impressive ruins and pillars amongst it all. We had dinner out sampling the Greek cuisine including moussaka, stuffed vine leaves, greek salad and local wine. On our second day we went over to Aegina on a ferry (1.5 hours) and spent the day exploring the island on a scooter, it was lots of fun! On our last day we headed to the Acropolis which was pretty amazing, I’m not into history and stuff but it still kept me entertained for 3 hours. We spent the afternoon doing a bit of shopping and I got a great pair of leather jandals. Our flight departed at 9pm (but was delayed) so we finally walked through the door in London at 2:30am… exhausted but so thrilled with our travels and happy to finally put our feet up…until the next morning when the flat and job hunt was to begin!

And as you can see this “Eastern Europe Blog” ended up being a novel… I don’t expect you to read it all! I’ve had a lot of spare time at my current temp job and I figure it will be nice for me to look back on in a few years =)

Black Friday

On the Friday we got up at 5am to catch a bus to the border town near Greece and then got a taxi over the border and to the next town. We got there at 8:25am just in time for the bus to Athens…or so we thought…this was the start of black Friday (hahaha yes ladies and gentleman it’s all drama!). We soon found out that there is an hour time difference between the two countries so we had therefore missed our bus by an hour…grrrrr. The next bus to Athens wasn’t until 12 hours later. We decided to get a bus to Thessaloniki at 11:30 and arrived there at 2:30pm. Thessaloniki is a large city and has a train and bus station with numerous connections to Athens per day. There was a bus scheduled to depart to Athens at 3.15pm but we had read in our guidebook that trains were slightly cheaper and also faster (not to mention more comfortable) than buses so obviously we decided to head to the train station instead. Unfortunately after standing in line for 30minutes (I’m not exaggerating!) I was told that all the trains to Athens were fully booked! Can you believe it!!! By this time it was 3pm so no way we were going to catch the 3:15pm bus …which is the only thing that keeps me sane about what happened next! We got back on the no.8 bus to go back to the bus station…turns out the bus wasn’t doing a loop like we thought and we got on the one going the wrong way and sat on it for 40mins and ending up on the outskirts of the city by IKEA and another bus interchange. Arhhhhhhhhh We eventually got back to where we were meant to be and caught the 6:18pm bus to Athens… The cherry on the top of our crap day was that seats were allocated and we had to sit on the back seat between others (Niki got the superman seat…you know the 1 in the middle and if the bus stops suddenly u go flying), which along with the heaters blasting on full made for an uncomfortable ride. We arrived in Athens at 2am and luckily I have Niki cos we seriously were just dropped off on a random street and had a crappy map, I would’ve been stuck paying for an expensive taxi…but he is really my superman =)

Tirane, Albania AND Ohrid, Macedonia

From Dubrovnik we caught a bus to Bar in Montenegro and then took a taxi to the border town and then another taxi over the border to Albania. Everyone has to pay €10 ea when coming in and our of Albania – like a visa charge I guess, bit of a pain as we weren’t going to stay it just happened to be the way to get to Macedonia!! Once we were in Albania our taxi driver found us a mini bus that was driving to Tirane, where we finally arrived at 8pm…luckily the hostel we had looked up had exactly 2 beds spare as we hadn’t booked! We passed a lot of poverty in Albania, and most shacks had a skinny cow out the front of their house. We briefly explored Tirane but didn’t really like it and were on another mini bus by lunchtime the next day on our way to another border town – this time to Macedonia. We then walked across the Albanian border (and weren’t charged the €10 departure! Bonus) and then walked through Macedonian border (NZ is quite lucky they don’t need a €35 visa – Aus and Canadians do!) we followed directions we’d been given from the hostel in Tirane and ended up in an abandoned camping ground with a whole lot of tourist shops that were closed. Luckily there was one old guy there who understood us enough to confirm that there was a bus coming to that afternoon that would take us to Ohrid. I’m starting to feel like a “real” traveller…

Ohrid was really beautiful, it’s a town on the edge of a big lake, with snowtopped mountains in the background. We just did a lot of exploring and relaxing and took some amazing photos.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Later that morning we took a bus to Dubrovnik, Croatia. All the borders in Eastern Europe are in tact so we always had to go through departing and arrival borders – we were usually some of the only foreigners on board without local ID cards so our passports always had to be taken away for inspection…a little freaky! We now have many stamps though, which I think is neat…a bit geeky I know.

Dubrovnik was really nice, we had great weather and really made the most of the time spending a lot of our days outdoors. We explored the lovely old town, had a drink in a bar on the side of a cliff, walked the city walls (splendid views!), ate gelato, took a 15min ferry to an island for the afternoon where we sunbathed and saw wild peacocks and a monastery. We stayed for 3 nights in a hostel which was again in someone’s house, a lot larger this time and the hosts were approx 60 year olds who had 6 grown-up children. They were really lovely and even though their English wasn’t perfect the Mum was so great at remembering every person’s name (there were approx 15 backpackers staying!) and was always cooking us things and sharing what they had.

I’d be really keen to go back and see other parts of Croatia in summer, perhaps a sailing holiday with Busabout…but I think I’m dreaming, can’t see us having enough time/money to do that as well!

Belgrade, Serbia AND Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

From Budapest we took a train to Belgrade, Serbia – this was not part of the original plan but it would’ve been too far to travel to Bosnia in 1 day. It ended up working out superb though as we really enjoyed Belgrade. It’s a really nice city, quite modern and plenty of parks. On the other hand we also saw bomb sites from the last fighting in 1996, this was really scary to see, it’s just completely munted buildings in the middle of busy streets and bullet holes everywhere, we had never seen any evidence of war before so it was pretty major for us. We also saw slums on the outskirts.

We took a bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo, Bosnia and then a train to Mostar. This was probably my favourite stop of the trip. We stayed in a fantastic hostel (Majda’s Rooms) which is actually based in a family’s apartment, run by a brother and sister (in their mid-30’s) and their mum lives there too. The brother, Bata, took us and 3 others out on a van tour of surrounding areas, we left at 10:30 and didn’t get back ‘til 9pm, seriously it was amazing all the things we saw and did in a day, and he only charged €15 ea – this is VERY cheap. We had the opportunity to climb up inside a massive tall cross on top of a hill and see amazing views (I don’t do heights so stayed at the bottom!), we saw beautiful waterfalls, old ruins, bomb sites, fortress, landmine signage (scary), a monastery, and had an awesome Bosnian mixed grill for lunch in the most picturesque setting. I also did a 10min horse ride (ie a man lead me around the farm, haha) it went a lot better than the previous time I tried so I don’t hate horses as much now =)

The next day we had a couple of hours exploring the old town which is lovely. It’s quite touristy so a lot of small souvenir stores and restaurants, all in narrow cobblestoned streets. There’s also a graveyard in the middle of the old town which is very sad as all the gravestones are dated 1993 – which is when the war was on. Bata told us a few war stories - he had to hide in the basement and later managed to escape hidden in an ambulance and went to Switzerland (who happened to be taking refugees at the time) – where he lived for 10 years and had a really good life. The high school he attended is still a bombed out building today and you just walk down the street and always see bullet holes everywhere. You just can’t imagine having to go through something like that, 1996 was my first year of high school…not that long ago really…haha well sort of!

Štrbské Pleso (High Tatra Mountains), Slovakia AND Budapest, Hungary

From Krakow we travelled to Slovakia, getting a bus to Zakopane and then another small bus for a few km’s round quiet roads before crossing the border on foot. There was nothing much there, apart from 1 shop and a couple of houses so we thought we were screwed. But luckily we found out there were a few buses a day to Poprad and managed to catch one an hour later. We got off at Stary Smokovec and took the electric train up the hills to Štrbské Pleso. It was so beautiful in the Tatras, it looked like a large cake that had been iced perfectly – I’ve never seen so much snow in my life. It was really light and fluffy to touch as well. Niki spent 3 days snowboarding and had a great time. I visited him for lunch one day, was cool to see him in action! The next day I went down again and got to see some ski jumpers who were all aged approx 12-16 – absolutely terrifying and impressive. I just kept myself occupied by relaxing, visiting Niki and also explored Poprad for half a day as well

From the Tatras we took a train to Budapest, taking us approx 10 hours. The first day we went to do the walking tour but didn’t find it, a few hours later we realised it was because day light savings had started that morning so we had missed it! Luckily it was a beautiful day so we kept ourselves entertained by exploring the gardens and had a dip in the bathhouse – all natural mineral water from a hot spring. Kind of Rotorua-ish! That night we went for dinner and had the customary goulash for dinner, delicious! We found the walking tour the next day, however there were only 3 of us on it. Was a good informative few hours which ended up in the castle with fantastic views of the city. We were all “sightseed” out after that so decided to head to a pub and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sun.

While in Budapest we looked into our travel plans a bit more and discovered that things weren’t going to work out the way we planned….long story cut short we ended up booking new flights out of Athens on 14 April for £220 and in essence lost our Ryanair flights from Croatia (thankfully these had only cost £30). Not a happy chappy!

No snapshots yet

So I know you all would rather check out our photos than read about our travels but unfortunately the pics are stuck on our camera at the mo as we don't have a laptop and I don't think my work computer lets me upload pics. I've already written blogs for the other places we visited on our Eastern Eu trip (and they are VERY long!) so I figure it's best to get these posts on here now, as we have since had more fun times which I would like to blog about... You can't wait I know!