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24th-Apr-2010 03:19 pm - Writer's Block: Dinner's on me
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If you had to serve a meal to an ambassador from another country that symbolized your country's culture, what would you choose? Do you think s/he would love it as much as you do?

I'd go for a sunday roast...probably beef or lamb, with yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, carrots, green beans and gravy. Dessert would be bread and butter pudding.

Answering this question wasn't difficult. Most English food isn't that great :\
7th-Aug-2009 07:24 pm - Kefalonia
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So, I'm back from Greece now, and I thought I'd do a post which is mainly just photos, since that's better than rambling on for ages; "and then I did this, and then I did this, and then...". Ok, there may be a little rambling, but Kefalonia was so beautiful that to not accompany this with photos would be a crime.

The journey there was probably the thing I was most worried about. I'd booked my flights to and from Athens a while back (Easyjet, of course), and had since posted on a forum set up by the project I was working for, trying to find other volunteers to travel with. I was pretty much sure that at least one other person would be going the same way as me, but as the time drew closer it became apparent that actually, no, I was the only one. I guess it's not really a big deal to some people, but this was the first time I'd properly travelled by myself before. All other times there's always been someone else there, to stress out with if (when) you get lost, laugh with, eat with, guard your stuff when you go to the loo...which is a lot nicer, really. Anyway, I set off from the airport, bag strapped to my back, clutching some papers with vague instructions and bus/ferry information on them. Thankfully, the journey went fairly smoothly...I'd missed the two buses that would take me closest to Katelios, so I had a bit of a wait in the bus station, and was feeling slightly sick by the time we actually left, but a 3 hour sleep on the way to the ferry port made it a lot better.



The ferry was pretty standard, so not much to say about that, apart from meeting another volunteer on it an hour before it reached Kefalonia!! She'd come from Paris, flying to Italy, taking a ferry from there to Patras (where the bus I was on stopped), and then boarding this one. It was so great to have someone to do the last leg of the journey with, and after getting back on the bus and then taking a taxi, we were finally there. We arrived at about half one in the morning, kind of disoriented and VERY tired. I was shown to my bed for the night and given one piece of advice: "don't flush paper down the toilet". Then I slept. (I was a bit puzzled at not really being told anything else apart from this, but actually it's probably the most important thing to know...I mean, the last thing you want is to arrive somewhere and immediately block the toilet. Not a great first impression).

The next day, I learnt more: The houses we were living in were in a tiny village called Mavrata, 3km away from Katelios, the place we'd be working most of the time. There were 10 of us, 8 girls, 2 guys. The main method of transport around the island was hitchhiking; buses were infrequent and taxis too expensive. The nearest place to get cash out was 7km away (which left me in a bit of a bad situation for a couple of days, as practically all the cash I'd brought with me had gone on travel and rent). Food in the local mini markets was extremely expensive, and I was advised to go to Argostoli, the main town, to get groceries.





Our houses in Mavrata

Later in the evening we got our work schedule for the week, and got briefed on how to actually do things, ie. spotting tracks, measuring tracks, watching turtles, tagging turtles. Just before then, I'd had my first shift in a little building called the environmental centre, which had displays about loggerhead turtles, a few souveniers and some other environment-related stuff. As peak tourist season wasn't in full swing yet there were very few visitors, which made for a boring 3 hours of sitting behind a desk doing not very much. The most important shifts were night shifts, which involved patrolling the beach from 10pm to 6am, looking for nesting turtles. We'd work in pairs, walking half the beach (about 1.5km), resting on the other side for half an hour, and then returning to the middle. This was repeated until it became light, where we'd then collect any nesting data if there had been any turtles on the beach that night, return home and sleep. The first time was pretty difficult and tiring, but it quickly became a lot easier. Most people (including me) were able to sleep during the breaks, and so you'd usually get a couple of hours over the course of the night. I took my sleeping bag along as I found that most comfy :) The hardest part was actually in the morning, as it became hot very quickly, and the prospect of walking 3km uphill when tired, sandy, sweaty and carrying lots is one that most would dread. However, despite the lack of cars on the road at 7:30am, I almost always managed to hitch a lift; such is the advantage of being a girl in a place where most drivers are male (and therefore a bit pervy).


Mounda, the main nesting beach


Koroni, another nesting beach


The environmental centre


Turtle tracks on the beach after night shift, and me in the background looking a bit like a hobo (~6:30am)


The little shelter thing we used to build out of sunbeds to keep the wind off during the night

On the subject of hitchhiking, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of my time in Kefalonia. I know the idea of getting into a car with a random person might sound terrifying, let alone fun, but what needs to be understood is that doing it there is different from in the UK. I think the only way I can illustrate how safe I felt hitching is to say that I felt more at ease in a car, alone, with a man I didn't know, than I do walking home late at night (which I have done on many occasions after a night out. It's not a fun walk). Although only hitching with female drivers would ultimately eliminate the possibility of something truly bad happening (that four letter word in the back of everyone's mind...RAPE!), the idea is simply stupid, as there were so few women driving that it would be faster to walk. Although there were quite a lot of couples, the majority were tourists, and so they wouldn't stop.

Whilst hitching I met some lovely people...but I guess no one wants to hear about that, so I should probably just mention the bad ones. There were 3 during the whole month, which is pretty good considering that I was hitchhiking a bare minimum of twice a day. The first was a disgusting man that tried to convince me to go to Skala (a nearby town) with him, and then kissed my arm and touched me on the leg when I got out. The second was a repeat of what happened the first time, and it also happened the next day, at almost the same time...actually, I could have sworn it was the same person if he hadn't looked different and had a different car. Perhaps it's conventional amongst Albanian drivers to behave like this, although it's a little surprising they're not deterred by the disgusted responses that they must get from women unfortunate enough to get into their car. The third was when I was hitching with one of the guys in our group. We got into a car which was totally run down, filled with crap, and driven by a man that looked like he'd lived in a cave for the last 10 years. I wouldn't have got in if I was by myself, but since I was with a guy, we thought it would be ok. During the short drive down the hill, the man touched my arse, touched the leg of the guy I was with, offered us some sort of questionable cigarette, offered us weed and then started violently sniffing this flower that he had on the dashboard. Whilst this was going on he was also veering all over the road and basically driving like someone that was totally off their face. Needless to say we were quite happy to get out of that car, although whilst inside I found it very difficult not to laugh, because the man was clearly a complete lunatic.

The antidote to a few days' hard work was of course, a long night at the bar. We mainly went to this bar called Music which was right on the beach, as it's the bar which has been frequented by turtle volunteers for a number of years. There was also a payphone outside, it had live music (and usually decent music playing otherwise), and did really really nice milkshakes. The staff were also really cool - the owner took me and two of the other girls to Argostoli for food when we first arrived, and the barmaid was from Manchester and my age, so we hung out quite a bit. Beer became mine (and most other peoples') drink, just because everything else was too expensive. I did try wine a few times, but when I found out that the wine they had there was more disgusting than the stuff you could get in a big bottle for €2, that kinda put me off. We couldn't go out drinking that often due to night shifts and early morning shifts, which was probably just as well, as getting drunk was a very expensive pastime there!


Music bar at dusk


This photo makes me laugh uncontrollably for some reason :D


:]


The said cheap wine, in all its plastic bottled glory


Stupid face. This photo was a precursor to losing my shoes, passing out in the sand and waking up a couple of hours later to find Florian (the guy in the photo) also passed out (with a pile of sand next to him; I later found out this was where he'd buried his vomit...), glasses lost. Considering the fact that I'd drank almost all of the big bottle, 2 cocktails and some tequila, I'm surprised I was able to walk.

I think I've already written a bit too much...there are countless other stories I can tell, but perhaps I'll leave that for another time, and end this with some more photos, which will hopefully give a further idea of some of the other stuff I got up to during my month away. That and I imagine some people reading this haven't been bothered to go through all the ones on facebook (I don't blame you, there are way too many!).


Making crepes at midnight


The awesome fruit and vegetable markets in Argostoli


Caves in Sami


Melissani underground lake




The group

Plus, some animals...












...some views...













...and most importantly...






[The last two I took whilst snorkeling in the reef off Mounda beach]

Hope you enjoyed reading this :)

Oh, and the reason why there's a weird stain at the top of some of the pictures is because my camera really suffered last month. It was dropped a couple of times, but the main damage was caused by sand. I didn't have a proper case to begin with, and then I lost the little drawstring pouch I was keeping it in...After being dropped on the beach and coated with sand, it wouldn't focus, and I was sure it had broken for real that time. Then miraculously it seemed to fix itself, but later had some problems as the lens wouldn't retract properly. I'm not sure about the state it's in now...putting it in an empty hummus container thankfully kept it sand free during my last week, otherwise I probably wouldn't have been able to take any more photos!






24th-Jun-2008 01:16 am - Seoul
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Here is a run-down of what I've been doing in Seoul...yes this is long, partly for myself as I've been crap at writing in my travel journal thus far, but I thought people may be interested in what I've been doing.

My flight was on the 18th around 2pm, although it ended up being delayed for quite a while, and I was worried there'd be another China situation (on the way back from Beijing last year, the flight was delayed, and consequently Angie and I ended up having to stay in a hotel outside Amsterdam airport for a night. Not that bad, but inconvenient and tiring), but the plane arrived in Dubai with quite a lot of time to spare. I made a quick stop at the Dubai duty free before going to the boarding gate...I can't believe I didn't take in how truly awesome it is when I was there in January. The shop that sells alcohol, cigarettes and food (the only one worth going to, obviously) is nothing like the Heathrow duty free, ie. you actually save a substantial amount of money rather than just paying an extremely inflated price with the tax knocked off. I was instructed by Shinni to buy some spirits as it's expensive in Korea, so I got 1L of peach absolut (10 pounds!!) and 1L of smirnoff (6 pounds!!!). There were also tons of people filling these mini trolleys with bags of kitkats and powdered milk. Funny stuff. Anyway, then I got on the second plane and ended up next to this Nigerian guy who was a bit too tall, and so constantly had one of his feet and one of his arms invading my space. He was nice enough though, and I guess he couldn't help it. The food was pretty ok, and both meals arrived with a small pot of kimchi, which I found funny, but that was because I didn't yet understand the true importance of kimchi here (I'll expand on that later). 

I didn't get much sleep, and arrived at Incheon airport at 5 in the afternoon, but when I came out of customs, Shinni wasn't there, so I stood to the side of the crowd of people, and I was standing literally 2 minutes before I was approached by a man who asked where I was going. I thought he was trying to convince me into accepting a dodgy cab ride, but when I told him I was waiting for my friend, he phonned Shinni for me! It turned out they'd announced the gate wrong and she was waiting somewhere else. Pretty shocking...I can't imagine anyone doing that in London, and I think even if you asked anyone to use their phone, the general response would be suspicion and/or walking away. So, we got the bus to Seoul, which took about an hour. Shinni's house is really nice - loads of plants on the outside, and 3 hyperactive but cute dogs (some more than others...the little one pissed on me today when I was putting on my shoes.). That evening I was so tired, but didn't want jetlag to get the better of me, and I successfully managed to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time. 

Day 1: We went to this area called Insadong with lots of touristy shops and arty places. Stopped at a few art galleries and shops, with pretty handmade goods, and there was a shop with a vintage section which was quite interesting and similar to stuff in England...(mostly) horrible clothes. Then we went to Gyeongbokgung palace which reminded me a bit of the forbidden city, but smaller and waaaay emptier and the Korean Folk museum which had a section on Kimchi. Kimchi is like the most important thing in Korea...I can't think of any other culture which holds any type of food to a similar importance. Korean families have a separate fridge of coolbox just for Kimchi. Good thing I like it! Then we were tired, so we went back to Shinni's place and went out for food later than evening. 

Day 2:  Got up early to go to the beach with Shinni's old classical guitar club. This beach was on the west coast, so it was a 3 1/2 hour drive. Unfortunately the weather was shit, but that did not stop a bunch of crazy Korean guys throwing me, along with everyone else, into the freezing cold sea. Then we played some games on the beach and went back to have a bbq, complete with a MASSIVE bag of kimchi in the fridge. At first I felt like there was a total communication block between me and everyone, because although I know a bit of Korean I certainly can't understand much at all, and lots of her friends either didn't speak good English or were to shy to speak to me, but I actually ended up having a lot of fun. Later that evening we played tons of drinking games, some of which were just too difficult for words. There was lots and lots of soju (and later vodka after some people had already collapsed), and then we went to the beach in the rain at 3am. There were no beds - we slept with blankets on the hard floor.

Day 3: I woke up feeling like I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Worst hangover in ages...and my side ached from whatever weird position I'd been sleeing in. Luckily I'd more or less recovered by the time we needed to leave to get a bus back to Seoul.

Day 4: Shinni had to visit her friend in hospital, and she called her friend Ji Yoon to take me around some places during the day. I was a bit embarrassed because I thought this'd be such a hassle and she probably has better things to do, but it turned out being really fun. She studied in Australia for a year so her English was good, and although the initial plans for the day failed (we were meant to go to some other palace, but it was closed), it was still cool - we went around these arty/trendy streets (can't remember the name, but it was the only place I've seen so far where prices were the same as the uk, or higher), stopped for coffee, saw people protesting, went to a better priced shopping area (yay asian fashion and their tshirts with dodgy english) and had dinner. She told her about her boyfriend who's in the US army, and other interesting things. For anyone that wants to know, the idea that asian guys are smaller (and I don't mean in height) than white guys is a myth...

Day 5: We went this farm, about an hour outside Seoul, for a barbeque with some of Shinni's friends and family. There were scary horses which moved almost silently, and then we'd turn around and find ourselves backed into a corner with no easy escape route. In the evening we played some drinking games...I now think I've mastered quite a few of them, although some are ridiculously hard. I can't even deal with numbers when I'm sober, let alone drunk. Then we did karaoke for 3 hours, and my lungs ached (Sherry, if you're reading this, you would have loved it...LOTS of 90s pop songs in the directory thingy). There were also 2 strobe lights, so that was pretty cool. It was another fall asleep on the floor at 4am night  (although no hangover the next day, thankfully).

Day 6: Horseriding! Then that evening we met up for a drink with Ji Yoon and her boyfriend (the army guy). To be honest I can't really remember much as I am writing this 3 days later, and Shinni's aunt has been trying to get us drunk on 30% soju, so I feel sleepy. Oh yeah, after drinks we went to this restaurant with a hot plate in the middle of the table, so you can stir fry your own food (although the staff end up doing most of it for you). One of Shinni's dogs got all his hair shaved off...I'd never seen a border collie without hair before coming here. It's freaky!
12th-Feb-2006 03:50 pm - Friends Only!
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