I’m a bit late with this, given that we got back from Octoberfest a month ago but it stays pretty much the same each year. So for those who are merely interested, this will be a fascinating account as usual. For people going to Octoberfest 2014, this should give a bit of a heads up as to what to expect. Hint: bring Berocca. I wrote this soon after we got back to London.
OCTOBERFEST!!! What is there to say? My bucket list has been pretty shortened recently what with a visit to Pompeii and now a slurring stumble through OCTOBERFEST!!! (That’s how it has to be pronounced I’m afraid.)
So what is OCTOBERFEST!!! (alright, I’ll stop now) actually like? Mrs Word of Ward and myself were a bit mental in that we went in October. Most of it is in September, but the Bavarians obviously decided Septemberfest sounded stupid. I highly recommend going mid-week because it can get ridiculously busy at weekends or holidays. Our first day was a Monday and we found a seat in several ‘tents’ pretty easily, which was a relief and erroneously made us think things would always be this civilised. Each time we moved to a new tent we wandered about, found a bench, then chatted to the other inebriates at the table. It was a pleasant international pissup indeed and a fine way to start the week.
Here’s a breakdown of things as they happened.
We arrived at around 3pm and headed for one of the bigger tents – the legendary Augustiner Festhalle (www.festhalle-augustiner.com). We found a seat pretty quickly – between an older couple from Vancouver and a group of drunken Italians. A middle aged German waitress, who was very much in charge and a little bit scary, took our order. Which was pretty easy because there were just two options – a litre of lager or nothing. She then took several other orders. Five minutes later she was back and carrying TEN litres of beer. Just one is heavy, ten beers weighs more than my wife. Probably.
There is a band in each Octoberfest tent and every 15 minutes or so they play a drinking song which then necessitates everyone to cheers each other. Or specifically – say ‘Prost’ and smack glasses together. Everyone on our table chatted to each and it was all remarkably friendly. The Augustiner beer is probably my favourite lager there and I pride myself on being a beer connoisseur/mild alcoholic.
After our first litre we went for a wander. The festival is a bit like a standard fair with several roads lined with food stalls, fairground games, a few rides, and lots of drunks (the latter are common in British fairs too but at least here there is an excuse). The Octoberfest beer halls are immense – some can hold up to 10,000 people. The amount of beer being drunk is quite awesome and inspiring to behold.
We decided to check out a few more of the beer halls because that was the whole point of being at Octoberfest after all. We had a guide we had printed from the all-knowing internet that gave a rough overview of each hall and their differences and specialties. Frankly, by our fourth ‘Festhalle’, we realised that they were all pretty much the same. A massive hall with a band in it and tons of wasted people singing and shouting ‘prost’ every few minutes while incredibly strong German women charged around with tankards of ale. Of course it could also have been that after four litres (actually a bit more as I gallantly helped Mrs Word of Ward with some of hers), your ability to analyse, discern, or even see is somewhat compromised.
As the evening wore on, the halls got more and more packed and the people got more and more drunk. By the time we left I was amazed that so many were still able to walk, although there were a few casualties sleeping it off here and there. If this had been anywhere in Britain there would have been fights, vomiting, rioting, random nudity and so forth, but the Octoberfest was ridiculously nice.
On the second day we got there in the early afternoon and it was noticeably more packed. It was the 2nd of October and the 3rd is German reunification day and a national holiday. It seemed as if everyone had taken the afternoon off, knowing they could sleep in the next day. We went to a tent called Schützen-Festzelt (www.schuetzen-festzelt.de) as it was legendary for its suckling pig. Unlike the previous day, it was a nightmare finding a seat. After half an hour we lucked out when a group of young, traditionally dressed Germans took pity and let us join them at the end of their table. From that point on, the aisles started to fill with people so we really were quite fortunate. We ordered more beer and the tent specialty – roasted piggy. The huge slab of pig and crackling was amazing. Perfect beer food. Our table was entirely local Bavarians and the smaller tent felt very German. I didn’t hear any other languages being spoken anywhere and we felt a bit left out when loads of German beer songs started to get sung. By the end of our epic porcine breakfast/lunch the place was heaving and it was a relief to get out.
We wandered around a bit more but the crowds were getting pretty oppressive. We then found a seat outside a tent and got a couple more litres in. Our table was once again full of chatty local Munich people. They asked if I thought German was a harsh language, which was hard to answer without being rude. I basically stated that at least it wasn’t French and left it at that. Some guys started singing and suddenly everyone else did too. This had a slightly more passionate edge to it than the happy go lucky drinking tunes of the tents and one of our neighbours explained that it was a football thing.
It was then that we realised that it really is essential to be inside a beer hall. Being outside in a beer garden, we could have been anywhere and the atmosphere inside was a hell of a lot more fun.
After a couple more halls we were done. It was too busy. By 7pm, there were now queues forming outside each beer hall and we couldn’t be bothered. One tent, called Fischer Vroni was famous for fish. Outside they were cooking them whole over a long line of coal. We bought one and it was bloody delicious. I highly recommend it. At 16 Euros, it was expensive but it really was worth it. Also each beer costs 10 Euros, so it’s all relative.
So what tips can give?
-Bring lots of money. A bottle of water was 4 Euros, and beer was 10 (actually a bit under that but the waitresses really deserved a tip).
-Pick your day carefully. If it’s a weekend or holiday then get to the tents early. You can book a table for a couple of hours if it’s busy but otherwise it is fun to wander around and share seats. Most tents have a reserved area and a free-for-all area.
-Most evenings get pretty packed. Be prepared to queue. Or beat the system and get drunk early.
-The atmosphere inside the tents is much more fun than outside.
-The food can be pricey but they are American (or Bavarian) sized portions and are good for two people. Unless you are American or Bavarian.
-Eat the fish cooked over coals, it’s seriously nice.
-As I said at the start – bring Berocca.
Erm… that’s all I can think of. Octoberfest is pretty much what you imagine it will be. A massive pissup organised by Germans and enjoyed by all. In a tent.
As I have mentioned frequently over the last few weeks, I am currently on holiday in Thailand. For some reason this caused a lot of envy-laden comments amongst my Facebook buddies. Bastards. I suppose, to be fair, I had just posted a link to this website from a hammock. Which would annoy me too if I had read it. But hey, bollocks to them.This is going to be way more annoying.
I know Thailand incredibly well. I even used to write for a well known travel website on the country. For some reason however, I had never been to Railay beach even though I had always wanted to. It is a stunningly beautiful part of the world and I highly encourage you to go.
The main problem you are likely to face is where to stay. The entire peninsula is basically a load of interlinked resorts, which is a bit of a shame. On the West side, there is the main gorgeous beach, lined with posh resorts. They seem nice enough, but the food we had was ok and a bit overpriced. Another option however, is to head for the East side, (which is a bit swampy) and enjoy the cheaper nosh there. A third option is to do what we did: stay in Ao Nang (which is ok but has good food) and just take longtail boats everywhere.
If you are in Thailand and haven’t visited, you should. It’s gorgeous. If you don’t believe me, here is a photo:
Here’s a panorama. Because I can. Unfortunately my wife’s arm moved and now she looks like a mutant. The beach is nice though.
Dear readers, I apologise most profusely for my lack writing. But I do have a pretty awesome excuse.
I left my flat of 4 years and had to pack everything in storage. As anyone who has ever moved apartment will know, this was a massive stressful ball-ache. Not just the lifting but calling half of Britain to cancel direct debits. Just try calling Camden council and you will see that the stress induced is reason enough for my not having time to write.
I am in the final stage of my degree and am now entering the ‘Massive Bastard Essays’ stage. I have two huge fiction essays to write and accompanying essays of several 1000s of words. This is all while moving. I probably shouldn’t be writing this in fact.
As well as being technically homeless, I am now technically unemployed as well. I probably shouldn’t say this but both of those facts are brilliant and I love being in this state of limbo. Consequently though, I am now constantly scouring the job pages to persuade someone, anyone, to hire me. To do anything. I work in TV, write fiction, am a journalist, and can teach, so please send me an offer at firstname.lastname@example.org. This leads on to the next time consuming point.
I also left Britain. Quite frankly, it was cold and the natives were grumpy. Maybe these points are connected. I flew to my old home and place of birth – Hong Kong. I bloody love it there and in the 5 days we stayed we drank, met people, and generally revelled in the futuristic awesomeness that is Hong Kong. Superb place. I also applied for some jobs while there in addition to looking at property and writing the aforementioned essays. Busy but brilliant times.
The next stop was the current one. Bangkok! Again, a place where I have lived and loved and lagered. I spent a couple of years as a journalist here and that is another option on the cards. I have spent the last week looking up old contacts and going out with friends. A lot. Oh yeah, and the essays.
So there you go. I’ve been a busy boy so cut me some slack. If you are rich and live in Hong Kong/ Bangkok/ Singapore and want to hire someone to write some stuff or work in a TV studio you own, give me shout. Then I can write more here as well and everyone’s happy.
In case you feel a twinge of pity, there really is no need. I am headed to this beach in a couple of days. Bye for now.
I probably won’t be writing much for the next few days as I am in Florence. That’s in Italy, in case you are a tad geographically challenged. If you have never been here before, you should. It’s bloody gorgeous. One of the Assassin’s Creed games was set here and bizarrely, it helped me find my way around. I have had to fight my urges to climb and stab people though.
On the plus side, (the negative being that I won’t be writing much) I will have lots of lovely pictures. I recently bought a new phone – a galaxy note 2 – and the camera is actually better than my camera. Which is a bit odd. If I can work out how to post pictures from it then you will be inundated with holiday snaps. If I can’t then I will gripe about it when I am back in London.
I was born in Hong Kong and lived there until I was 21. It is a superlative place. It is like living about 10 years in the future. Hong Kong is like Blade Runner mixed with Minority Report/5th Element/Coruscant. We are actually thinking about moving back there in a couple of years.
People often ask, ‘What is Hong Kong like?’ They just imagine hordes of people shuffling between glass skyscrapers. Which is actually pretty accurate in the business part of town but it has so much more. I could go on and provide a breathtaking description of the contrasting juxtapositions of colonial and modern, of steel towers and palm trees, of ultra modern living and street markets. But I can’t be bothered. So here is a short video that shows all that instead. It is really worth a watch and brought a nostalgic lump to my throat.
Yikes! A few days ago, the 31st to be precise, I turned forty. That would officially make me middle aged if it wasn’t for the fact that life expectancy in the West is now over 82 and will be higher by the time I get up to my octogenarian milestone. So I have a couple of years. There’s also the fact that I have known deep down that I will live to 400 at least (I can’t reveal how at this moment but it’s going to happen).
Consequently I’m not too depressed. It did seem a good excuse to flee to the Czech Republic and revel in an orgy of beer for a week however. Or pivo as it’s quaintly known as here. I’ve been to Prague a ton of times over the last 15 years and love it. Not just for some of the best beer in the world either, although that is a plus.
Prague is just so gloriously bohemian and the prefect place to write in. I’m not just saying that as a pretentious prick either – it is actually in Bohemia. It’s ideal for drinking coffee all morning in a cozy cool cafe while scribing, then in the afternoon you can switch to beer. Often in the same place. The beer is legendary, cheap, and so fresh and organic that you can drink buckets of it and if you drink some water before you go to bed you don’t even get a hangover. Unless you match it with an absinthe shot, in which case you may wish for death the next day.
The coffee is good too and the cool coffeeshops nearly always have free wifi. Plus you can smoke (although I am quitting at the end of this holiday). The Czechs do pretty well when it comes to famous writers – not as good as the English or Americans obviously – but Havel, Kundera, Kafka and others are an impressive intellectual group. Like the French and English creative types of yore, they used to enjoy being creative in cafes/bars. The cafes here are superb to write in and have been used by writers for decades. I miss that in England. Since the smoking ban, cafes in London are full of mothers who let their kids run riot while smiling proudly. It’s not good for writing in unless you are writing about a crèche or being irritable. The smoky cafe where intellectuals and students drank coffee and alcohol while discussing Kafka have sadly gone from the Uk.
Anyway, I will stop whinging about Britain. I’m happy. I’m writing and drinking beer in a place called the Rybka cafe and loving it. I’m surrounded scruffy unshaven types drinking wine and ale and chatting about literature and art or tapping on laptops or (in my case) my iPad. The walls are lined with books, art and, a little bit bizarrely, typewriters. Soon we will move to somewhere similar but different.
This is the sort of lifestyle I intend to lead for the next decade. One full of booze, writing, coffee and culture. Also, if this blog entry is anything to go by, a hugely pretentious and up my own ass decade. Prague seems a good place for it.
Or possibly Berlin.
Pakbeng is a small and not particularly brilliant little town. It was clearly just a little village that was fortunate enough to be roughly half way between Houie Xai and Luang Prabang. It exists as it is now because of the boat. The hotels and guesthouses are fine for a night, but in comparison to most places are pretty shit. Our hotel was ok for £10 a night, but you could get a better deal pretty much anywhere in Thailand outside Bangkok. And we were in Laos, which is even cheaper. But it was perfectly adequate for 1 night, so I won’t grumble. The town has beer, ok food, and sold pillows and baguettes. I happily bought a pillow.
The next day we were up at dawn and the Mekong looked stunning below our balcony in the morning light. The evening before I had been dreading the second half of the trip but despite the solid bed and bizarrely huge and rock hard pillows in our room, I found myself eager for the trip. The boat was due to leave at 9am, so at 8am we loaded up on baguettes, and snagged some great cloth-covered seats at the front left hand side of the boat. My buttocks loved the added comfort of the pillow.
The morning was the aforementioned ‘bracing’ and when the boat left at the crack of 9:35, everyone was wrapped up in jackets. The day and the view then proceeded to be pretty identical to the one before. The difference this time was that the temperature remained superb until about 2pm. The scenery remained spectacularly beautiful. Our new improved seats were similarly awesome. We were so content and comfortable we celebrated with a Beerlao at 11am. Others on the boat were enjoying Sangsom Whisky and coffee which was pretty damned civilized of them.
The boat was a nicer one on the second day for some reason. The lady selling snacks, coffee and beer at the back even had a little counter. The toilet was nicer as well although I was still pleased not to have to sit on it. This was fortunate as we were supposed to be on the boat for at least 8 hours. Or thereabouts. We were originally told we would get to Luang Prabang at 4pm. Someone near us said that they had heard 3pm and someone else said 5pm.
At about 4pm I saw something I recognised. The Pak Ou caves. I had been there before on a boat rented from Luang Prabang. The caves are at the foot of massive cliff and are filled with thousands of Buddha statues. It’s pretty cool and well worth a visit. I confidently predicted another 10 minutes or so which was a mighty relief as everyone was getting a bit fed up again. It is a long time to be sitting in boat, no matter how gorgeous your surroundings.
Over an hour later, there it was. Luang Prabang at last. A finger of raised land that sticks into the confluence of the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. I could see temples and bars all along its side high above the river. It looked like the promised land. It looked lovely and relaxing. The only negative aspect was that, like around northern Thailand, the locals think it is an awesome idea to burn down half the forest. It makes farming easier and if that means a few people choking to death, what the hell. On the plus side, the smoky atmosphere made for some spectacular sunsets. The whole area is beautiful.
The looks didn’t deceive. Luang Prabang remains awesome. The trip was worth it.
In case you navigated to part 3 by accident, part 1 is here.
Our boat was due to leave Huay Xai at 11am and it was hot already. Easily over 30 celsius. Given that we were in Laos I was fairly surprised at the efficiency of the crew and the fact that we left just after 11:30. (I’m not being sarcastic, I have been to Laos before and timetables are like indecipherable hieroglyphs.) The first couple of hours you cruise down the Mekong with Laos on your left and Thailand on your right. The scenery is pretty with the occasional concrete or wooden village on each side of the low banks. Once the river turns off into Laos itself the banks rise a bit higher and eventually so do the hills behind. The riverbanks alternate between cool igneous looking rocks and white sandy beaches. Most of these beaches are deserted but occasionally you see wild buffalo lying in the sand chewing, flicking their tails and generally looking happy with their lot. At first everyone leapt up to take photos, but the novelty soon wore off.
In the hills among the jungle there are occasional villages perched on the slopes made out of wood, the houses raised up on stilts. Occasionally some of these villagers need a lift. The Mekhong river is their only way of getting around as the roads are pretty poor or non-existent. They will plant a white flag on a prominent part of beach or rock and the boat will pull in and the villagers clamber aboard and sit on plastic stools in the aisles. Usually the boat pulls into another village to let them off, but occasionally a smaller craft will pull up alongside and the passenger will transfer themselves and (usually) their tons of things into the moving boat. It’s pretty impressive.
There is a lot of talk about rivers being a ‘lifeline’ to somewhere, or that it is the ‘beating heart’ of a place. A lot of that talk is fairly valid but less so these days. In olden times the Thames for example, brought trade and wealth to London. While there is still some trade and money being made by the Thames, it is now mostly a place where Londoners can erect tourist attractions or, if you are bastard rich, even live next to. Most Londoners don’t really need it as such in their day to day lives and can go months with even seeing it.
The Mekong really feels essential to the communities that live by it. Their life exists because of it. All along the river you see villages that exist, and continue to exist, purely due to the Mekong. There are fishermen standing waist deep in tshirts and swimming trunks casting their nets by hand. There are bamboo fishing rods tied to rocks throughout its length (either the same fishermen with the nets or a really lazy guy having a nap). There are even a lot of people panning for gold, which caught me off guard and gave me a flash of avarice until I saw how clearly unsuccessful they must be given their obvious poverty. I guess they found enough gold to just about survive.
By about 3:30pm the heat was at its maximum. Even the buffalo were in the river at this point, their horned heads just visible along the water. I don’t know if the kids went to school (I doubt it), but on the beaches and rocks below each village there were scores of them playing in the Mekong. Some were starkers, some were in trunks, some in trunks and tshirts. They all seemed happy and waved, shouted and occasionally posed for photos as our boat carried on by. On one group of rocks a bunch of teenagers waved and started diving into the water. By this point, I was feeling a bit hot and cramped. I had a Lao girl on a plastic stool pressed against me on my left, Nim on my right, and a hot plastic seat welded beneath me. Even constant cans of Beerlao failed to make me feel better. I envied those kids.
From 5pm onward the temperature thankfully began to drop. It now seemed to be adult time by the river and we passed small groups of villagers having their evening bath in the river. Men in swimming trunks and women wrapped in Lao embroidered skirts were soaping up and washing their parts all along the bank. I generally tried to avert my gaze when a group of ladies were washing but when they all waved at the boat I thought, bollocks to this, and took some photos and waved back. Everyone seemed very chilled and relaxed.
By half past five everyone was pretty eager to get off. Even the pillow gang were uncomfortable and those of us in the back, full of Beerlao and stuck to our seats, were doubly keen. The sun was surprisingly low on the horizon and was gorgeous and we knew we were nearly there. Shortly after 5:30pm, we thankfully pulled into Pakbeng.
The moment our boat touched ashore, the touts were on us. It was like being boarded by overly friendly pirates. Thankfully we had booked ahead and waved them off. We wearily headed up to town and I predictably headed for a Beerlao.
Here endeth part two… In part three – we make it!
Our journey began in the mountains an hour outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand. My group consisted of myself, my wife Nim, my mother-in-law (Nim’s mum), her friend, a guide (who happened to be a student of Nim’s mum and was a local Chiang Rai businessman), and another guide who was from Laos. A lot of guides I know but they also happened to be friends, so it was pretty relaxed.
We were staying in a resort owned by another student of my mother-in-law (he was also tourist police so we felt pretty safe) called the Maenam resort and a bloody nice place it was too. Our balcony overlooked undulating jungle covered hills and fields. It was downright peaceful and relaxing. The view was hindered somewhat by the fact that half the mountain was on fire due to the annual slash and burn but It was beautiful there despite the smoky haze and falling ash. We drove two hours from here to town of Chiang Kong and had a quick breakfast of crispy pork, rice and chilli (awesome) before hitting the local market. We bought a chicken (a dead and cooked one) and some sticky rice and we were good to go.
The first stop was Thai customs which consisted of a small building by a dusty track that led to the river. It took about a minute to be allowed out of the country. Then, there before us, was the mighty river Mekong! Stretching from Tibet to Vietnam via China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We jumped on a tiny and unnecessarily low boat that took us across the sluggish, brown (but mighty!) river. A perilous minute later and we were in Laos. I love travelling overland, it seems a lot more civilised than all the shite you get at airports. The next step was to get a visa at the Laos border office. This took about 10 minutes and for no reason at all included two queues – one to get the visa and one to pay for it. You are supposed to have a passport photo but for the unprepared, like myself, they will scan your passport for $1, which is actually cheaper than if I had gotten a passport photo in the UK. Fortunately the windows are next to each other and I didn’t actually have to move. The visa took a couple of minutes, during which time the border guards chatted to my Thai wife. It was either because they were curious about her having married a farang, or because they were chatting her up. Either way, it made the process fast and friendly.
We were now Laos, in a small town called Houie Xai, although the spelling varies (Huay Xai being another). My mum actually came here in the 60s during the war. Officially the war never visited to Laos but that, excuse my Laotian, is well known to be bollocks. In fact war did visit and it overstayed its visa and behaved pretty badly throughout its stay. My mum hitched rides all over Laos with either aid workers or CIA agents (sometimes the same person). When she was there the town was called Ban Houie Sai. It is a tiny place that now seems to exist purely for the border crossing and as a place to buy tours and Beer Lao. From here we were driven through the brown and dusty streets to the pier where our ‘luxury boat’ awaited.
I may be a soft city type but it wasn’t that luxurious. But it wasn’t too bad either. A better term would be simply ‘boat’. It was about 80 feet long and there were probably about 100 of us. There were two seats on each side separated by a narrow walkway. This averagely luxurious vessel was to be our transport for the next two days. I could smoke and they sold large chilled bottles of Beer Lao, so I was confident I could survive the trip.
First off, here is my advice if you are going to do this trip:
Arrive a bit early. Although it is supposed to be allocated seats, it isn’t. This is Laos and nothing is that organised. The boats vary, but on ours the first half of the boat had quite comfortable seats with a cloth covering and the second half had plastic.
Try and sit on the left hand side as you are facing the front. Or the ‘port’ side if you are a nautical type, you salty sea dog. This way you will avoid most of the sun. We were in plastic covered seats in the sun and it became a tad uncomfortable in the sweaty buttock region after a few hours. Sadly there are no photos of that.
Bring a pillow. A huge group of Scandinavians got on all carrying pillows. At first we mocked them (in a friendly way) and dubbed them the ‘pillow gang’ because we are so damned witty. Four hours later as my arse fused to the seat, I realised they were pretty wise. Bastards.
Bring a jacket or something warm. This may seem laughable at first when you are sitting in 35 Celsius sunshine but by the end of the first day, it can get downright chilly. The early hours of the following day are definitely brisk and bracing and other alliterative cold words like brrr (both alliterative AND onomatopoeic – woohoo). Then it gets bloody hot again.
Bring some food. You can buy pot noodles, crisps and biscuits on board but you will envy those with the foresight to bring baguettes. Or a chicken.
Wear thick sandals, shoes or preferably Wellington boots as the toilet can be a bit iffy and there are lots of bad shots on a swaying boat. The toilet on the second day was much better, so the unpleasantness seems a bit random. Good luck.
Owing to lots of photos and general waffling I have decided to split this up. Excitingly in the next installment – the actual trip…
Well I’m back in Blighty. Bangkok was, as always, very exciting and warm and fun and full of hot sexy, er, food. I’m feeling mildly homesick for the place which is a bit odd as I only lived there for two years. Maybe I just miss South East Asia – my home for over two decades. We landed in the evening on Tuesday and as I write this I have yet to see some sunshine.
Still, mustn’t get too maudlin. My wife and I have a plan and by the time I hit 40, things should be sweet.
We arrived and partied. The first stop was the Bangkok Trader magazine party. Nim used to work for them and I wrote freelance articles for them. I looked through one of their new issues and to my surprise I had an article in it. It was a rerun of an old piece which can be found here: http://www.suite101.com/content/gift-giving-in-thailand-a276529 Technically, I should have asked for some money but I couldn’t be bothered. Plus I was a bit drunk.
We did a lot of other things too, like go to art gallery openings with the Danish ambassador (he was there, we didn’t hitch a lift with him or anything) and other cultural things.
We also appeared on the Bangkok Podcast. This is a great podcast run by a guy called Tony and a guy called Greg. I’d like to think that we were asked after these Bangkok experts scoured the expat community and picked the two most erudite and charming couple they could find. It is more likely though that they wanted to talk about Thai weddings and Greg is a mate of mine who actually went to our wedding. Whatever the case, you should check out the podcast. Especially if you are in any way interested in Thailand. The website is found here: http://www.bangkokpodcast.com/
I apologise if I’m not my usual witty and amusing self. I’m back to work tonight and the greyness of London is crap. Soon I will be beaten down by the humdrum of life and will have come to terms being back. Think of the plan, think of the plan…
Here’s what I was looking at just a few days ago. I apologise.
Well we are back from Koh Chang. Quite frankly it was awesome. I miss being able to jump on a bus and be on a stunning tropical beach a few hours later. My life has taken a wrong turn somewhere and I surprisingly find myself as a thirty eight year old non billionaire. I was supposed to be rich, with time on my hands and easy access to a beach. What the balls went wrong? Fingers crossed for forty.
I will write about Koh Chang soon. With photos in case I am dull (unlikely I know, you avid reader you). The reason I am not writing about it now is because I am on my iPad and I haven’t gotten round to transferring photos to it yet. I love this device but having to use itunes to do any-bloody-thing is a definite minus. I would have brought out my laptop but unlike my beloved iPad, it seems to have a problem with connecting to any wireless outside of England. It’s either due to racist software (nanny state pricks), or simply vista. I suspect the latter although nanny state firewalls might be a factor.
I can look at porn in London for fuck’s sake (I did a check for journalistic purposes), but I can’t log onto wireless in Bangkok to check my emails. There is something wrong there. I can get a ‘local’ connection but I don’t even know what the fuck that is.
In a couple of days I will move from the suburbs to a hotel which will hopefully have wireless my suspicious operating system will trust. Then it will be a glorious technicolour wordofward once more! A wordofward where you can marvel/find pretentious the writings within or look at the pretty pictures. A wordofward with choice. With freedom for all. Unfettered by Microsoft paranoia or Apple self importance. Or, as I said, pretentious shite.
What with the economy being broken and credit crunching and blah blah tedium, more people are having what has annoyingly being termed a ‘staycation’. We thought we’d give one a go. I’ve always wanted to go to St Ives and Cornwall in general. It was also my wife’s birthday. I knew there was both art and pubs there, so we’d both be happy.
The trip from London to St Erth (where we were supposed to change trains) took five and a half hours. Which is a bloody long time for a train. It’s still better than a motorway though ,as you get to see lots of places and lovely countryside and can go to the toilet without having to stop. Bring a book. And a laptop with movies. And an mp3 player.
I thought that St Erth might be a large interchange station but it wasn’t. It was tiny. What was also tiny was the single carriage train that arrived to take us to St Ives. Quaint or cute would be apt words here. We all boarded and acted like excited school kids on a trip to the seaside in Victorian Britain. We also got to see the lovely Carbis Bay and some other appealing places en route.
Finally, after a quarter of an hour, our quirky little train arrived.
When you first get off the train and walk down the road a little bit, you get your first proper look at St Ives. And my word, is it pretty. Although it started as a genuine fishing village, it could easily have been designed just to look picturesque and appeal to stupid gawking tourists from places like London. Which is good for St Ives as our fishing industry has been screwed.
As we walked down the high street on the way to the waterfront and our apartment, we gawked at all the art galleries and cafes and restaurants. It seemed like an ideal place to chill out for a week. The two busiest streets are the waterfront, called the Wharf Road, and a cobbled street that runs parallel to this just a bit inland, called Fore street. Which happily was where we were staying. Here’s a handy map so I don’t have to get all descriptive.
We found our apartment, which I was happy to note was practically opposite two pubs. We walked in and got a glimpse of the view. We were supposed to have views of the bay but I was not expecting it to be so bloody fantastic. Have an envious look:
It was a glorious sunny day and we thought we’d celebrate our arrival with a drink. We got to the waterfront and found a nice bar called Hub and because we were in the West Country opted for cider. A pint of Rattlesnake cider each to be precise. This proved such a good idea, we had another. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 6 foot 1 and under 185 pounds who doesn’t drink too much already. Or to put it another way, I felt the effects immediately but was ok. My wife felt the effects slightly more.
We soon switched to lager and G&Ts and decided we should get some food. We were tired and weren’t feeling that adventurous so went went to a place that looks like the sort of trendyish bar that can be found everywhere and was possibly part of a chain. It was called the Firehouse Bar and Grill. Surprisingly, my pizza was great and Nim’s seafood linguine was superb. Truly superb. It could have been because we were hungry and a bit drunk but who cares.
The next day we awoke refreshed and invigorated. The view was fantastic but unfortunately the weather had turned cold and grey and windy. Here is a warning to everyone: drizzle and wind are the default settings for Cornish weather. They might lay on some sun when you arrive but then they switch back to grey once you are settled in. No matter. We are hardy city folk and could take whatever was thrown at us.
As it was our first day we followed the local law and had a pasty for breakfast. I have to say I was disappointed with my first true Cornish pasty. It was exactly the same as the West Cornish pasty shops you get in major train stations in London. Fair play to the West Cornish pasty shops as they have obviously brought the genuine article to London, but it then means you have no real baked treats to look forward to when you get to the West Country itself. Which is a shame. There now follows a brief description of places we went to in case you fancy going there yourself.
Things to do and see in St Ives.
Following the second law of St Ives, we went to Tate gallery. It’s pretty cool to have your own Tate. This one was in a really nice building but I was mildly miffed by the fact that I had to pay. Cornish people got in for free (although this may have been a promotion). Yet Cornish people can come to London and see our two Tates, which are much bigger and better, for free. Anyway, the Tate was good and full of art. It really is a must see if you are in St Ives, even if you’re a nasty non-Cornwallian. It’s a great building but obviously not as cool as Tate Modern.
As we were on a cultural roll, we then visited the Hepworth museum which comprised of a museum, (hence the moniker,) and a beautiful garden. And they were beautiful even though we were still experiencing the aforementioned shit weather. Barbara Hepworth was a legendary sculptress that even I had heard of. It was only after the exhibition that I realised I had seen two of her pieces of already – one on John Lewis in London, and the other outside the UN building in New York.
In fact, the gardens were so pretty Nim went back with a camera a few days later as the sun briefly appeared. Here’s the result:
Apart from through shop windows, these were the only galleries we actually visited. All the others were on the rather predictable theme of ‘Paintings of St Ives’. Which some might argue as not being that surprising but I personally think it is a shame. Lots of artists have been attracted to St Ives over the years and artist colonies have formed there. These included people like Hepworth and Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo. And lots of others I have barely heard of that where very successful. They found St Ives to be a place of inspiration but their work wasn’t of St Ives. This seems to have changed with the vast majority of paintings you’ll see being various different ways of representing the bay. Ad nauseam. Maybe I’m being unfair as we just looked through the windows.
Other things worth seeing or doing in the immediate hood:
Climb up the hill at the end of the peninsula between the main harbour and Porthmeor beach. Check out the views and take thousands of similar photos.
Walk down to Porthmeor beach and have a delightful walk while staring at surfers. Or you could even learn to surf here, it’s the best beach. It might be chilly though – you are still in Blighty after all.
Behind Porthmeor beach is the local cemetary which is pretty fascinating in a morbid and occasionally touching way. There are lots of moving memorials to locals lost at sea. All on a hill overlooking the ocean.
Just wander around generally going ‘Ohh’ and ‘ahh’ and generally annoy the locals by walking slowly and blocking the roads. That’s what a lot of tourists seemed to be doing anyway. Why not join them?
Or alternatively, once you’ve done the above, you could go on a lovely day trip.
There are two trips that seem popular, so like sheep we did them as well. You may have noticed if you read this website regularly that there has been the odd Cornish day-trip and restaurant review recently. It was all a cunning plan for this guide. Otherwise this entry would be truly epic. Now I can just link. I’m not just an incredibly handsome face you know.
First recommended trip:
The Eden Project near St Austell. The possible future of mankind! Massive bio-domes full of jungles and rare plants. Plus restaurants…
Second recommended trip:
Land’s End. The end of Britain! Spectacular cliffs and ocean views. If you squint really hard you can see America.
If you can’t be bothered to leave the warm drizzly heart of St Ives, then you can spend your time eating and drinking. Which is pretty awesome too.
We’re not alcoholics and were only there for a limited time. Consequently, we only went to four pubs regularly.
The Golden Lion – seemed to be the pub with the most locals in it. All of whom were very friendly. There’s a room out the back with a pool table in as well, which is a bonus.
The Castle Inn and the Union Inn. These two pubs were practically opposite the entrance to our apartment. They are about 5 seconds walk from each other and both were great pubs. We saw live music in one and attended a real ale festival in another. I just can’t remember which one was which.
The Sloop. This pub is on the waterfront and consequently was quite busy. It has low ceilings, cute little booths, and a good fish pie.
We liked all these pubs but probably spent the most time in the Castle and Union Inns. I also chatted to both managers and they were extremely friendly.
We went to a lot of these. You have to as a human or you die. There are some superb restaurants in St Ives and rather predictably we ate a shit-load of seafood. They can be very pricey though and you need to book ahead. If it is July or August, I suspect you should book about a year in advance. Here are the favourites, which I have already written about:
The Loft. Very nice place. Also has a roof terrace if you happen to be in St Ives on one of its rare nice days.
The Saltwater Cafe. Possibly our favourite place. Very, very small with a family feel. Book now for 2015!
The Mermaid. Charming little place with eclectic stuff all over the walls.
So there you. A St Ives guide in a finely crafted nutshell. I hope you find it useful if you go there. As staycations go, it is a great place. I would imagine it might be a bit of a nightmare mid-summer but it is ever so quaint. Buy an umbrella and give it a visit.
It’s the End of The World as we know it. Well the end of England anyway. The land part. Ok, I’ll stop, this is getting a bit tortured.
In case you didn’t know, Land’s End is at Britain’s most south westerly point. Not including islands we have in the Atlantic, obviously. If you are visiting Cornwall then Land’s End is probably on your itinerary already. So what is actually there? How should you get there?
I’ll answer the second question first. We got a bus from St Ives to Penzance and then another bus. Penzance is nothing spectacular really. It just has a name made romantic by its association with pirates. We missed all the pirates but did manage to see a Greggs bakers, a McDonalds, and a Weatherspoon pub, so if you like them you should check it out. For some reason it reminded me of Colchester except Penzance has the sea whereas Colchester has a castle. Otherwise they are the same. I apologise to both Penzance and Colchester for this comparison.
If you take the bus you can take in some lovely scenery and who doesn’t love lovely scenery? Also it was the only way to do it without a car. Fortunately this worked in our favour as we would otherwise have missed the best bit.
After about 40 minutes, our bus drove down a steep road and lo! a huge beach, cliffs, the ocean. It was truly breathtaking. Assuming we had arrived, we started to disembark when the very friendly driver stopped us. Somehow he twigged we weren’t locals and informed us that we had arrived at a place called Sennen Bay. He then informed us that we could walk from the bay to Land’s End. The beach was stunning so we got off. Photos can’t really to credit to the place but here goes. The tiny dot is a person – the beach was huge.
From Sennen Bay to Land’s End is about a mile. Or 30 minutes or so given that you are walking beside cliffs and it can be unbelievably windy. I was getting the impression that Cornwall was permanently the brunt of Atlantic winds and walking along the cliffs toward Land’s End certainly bore this theory out. I had experienced wind like this before but it had been in Hong Kong as a typhoon hit, not in England on the edge of a cliff. My wife, who weighs almost half what I do, clung to me almost the entire way in case she was blown off.
I would highly, highly recommend getting to Land’s End by this method. Partly because once you get there you feel as if you have achieved something and seen some stunning coastline, but mostly because you will feel a bit let down otherwise – there’s not really a lot there when you arrive. There’s the usual sign you get in places like this that marks your destination, points to other places, and provides a place to have your photo taken.
Apart from this sign there is a pub/coffee shop sort of place where you can have cheesy chip and a pint. It’s nice enough but could have been a lot better. But why should it try really? It’s not going to have regulars, it’s just going to be full of wind-swept tourists who want a coffee after having had their photo taken. So it is pleasant enough.
Behind this, is a small but slightly complex. There is a shopping mall, and a couple of bizarre entertainment ‘rides’? ‘Experiences’? Whatever they are they were weird and felt out of place.
Ok, pirates. The sea. But Doctor Who? This complex was small so I assume these ‘whatever-they-are’ thingies are going to be pretty crap. It all just seemed a bit weird and a cheap way to cash in on tourists. ‘Ahhh,’ you might be thinking, ‘the place is probably heaving with tourists in August.’ Smug bastard that you are. If that is the case then why is the complex so small?
Also, for a tourist heavy location, there is the whole issue of the bus stop…
Assuming that there must be lots of transport to and from one of Britain’s more famous locations we were rather surprised that we couldn’t see any. We asked in the tourist office but the dumpy sack of a lady who worked there was really unhelpful and seemed to hate us. ‘There’s a bus over there,’ she waved vaguely with her pie-like hands. If you loathe outsiders, why work in a tourist office? You can probably guess I didn’t like her much. Maybe her dog had just died or something.
Eventually we found the bus stop after a bit of a walk. Like a lot of places we visited in Cornwall, it was hard to find and we had to wait ages for a bus. As a city person, I found this frustrating and annoying. Land’s End is a popular place but I guess you are supposed to drive. There was one bus an hour. Here is a picture of it:
The bus stop is near the white house. It took five minutes to get to this point.
I’ll stop bitching. It just annoys me when lots of things are set up to get money from tourists but there’s no public transport. It was a superb day and I just thought it was a shame. Once on the bus, the journey back was a breeze.
So… to conclude.
Go to Sennen Bay and walk to Land’s End. You’ll see some gorgeous Cornish coastline, which is what you’re there for after all. It is truly a beautiful spot and the walk is a spectacular and rewarding one. You’ll get a year’s worth of healthy fresh air in a wonderful half hour. Then have a coffee. Then drive home. Enjoy.
I’ve been wanting to go to the Eden Project for years just because of some awesome looking photos I saw on the internet. If you don’t know what this project is, you should read more about it. It’s brilliant. Massive bio-domes in an old clay quarry in Cornwall. It’s being done as an experiment with funding from the National Lottery so I felt like I already owned a bit of it. As far as I can tell, the experiment is to see if it can actually be done. Turns out – it can. I love when people get together and try to do something just out of a desire for knowledge and to see what can be achieved. It makes me feel good about humanity for a change.
To get there, you need to take a train to St Austell. From there you will hopefully find a shuttle bus waiting that will take you to the project. Sadly it is just a bus not a large replica moon buggy as I’d secretly been hoping. To get in you have to pay £16, plus the bus, plus the train and then back again. I’d recommend getting a return ticket to the project including all travel. You’ll save a fortune and don’t have to queue anywhere. I’m not designed to queue as I’m far too self important.
Once you get off the bus you’ll find yourself in a car park. It will be named after a piece of fruit just to remind you damned eco-friendly everything is. As you walk down to the project, you will get an occasional glimpse of the project. It was around this point that I started to get quite excited.
We walked down the hill and found ourselves at the entrance building. There’s a huge shop selling lots of Eden Project merchandise and eco stuff and hippy things like herbal teas and seeds. There’s also a cafe and the main entrance where you’ll need to show your ticket. Then you are through. Looking across a small nicely manicured valley at the two main domes. They are unbelievably cool, like something out of a science fiction movie circa 1970.
We walked down the hill through the predictablypleasant gardens. There was one building that was shut as it was going through a transformation from an ice rink to a display area for weird plants which was a shame as I would have enjoyed either of them. Or both together – skating through huge man-eating plants would be exciting. It also doubles as a stage and they have held numerous gigs and parties here which must be pretty incredible. If you feel like you are walking through a sci-fi set from from the past, there are certain random things that might add to this. Giant mutant bees for example…
I would have included some robotic triffids, but that’s just me. As you get closer to the domes the scale of the things really starts to impress. Look at the little people!
As you can see each biosphere comprises of three domes stuck together. (Or is it that each bio-dome consists of three spheres stuck together?) There are two huge biospheres in total and they are linked by a building that has restaurants and toilets and so on. The biggest biosphere is the tropical one. It was a cold and windy Cornish day so we eagerly headed for the tropical zone. My wife and I were both born in the tropics and we missed being uncomfortably hot and clammy. On entering the dome it was pleasantly warm and full of people taking off jackets and doing minor wardrobe adjustments. There is a recreation of an old fashioned steamboat hull surrounded by old crates. As if you are a landing party on some African shore in the early 1900s or so. Which is a pretty nice touch. They should have gone one step further and hired a Tarzan look-a-like to swing through the trees but you can’t have everything.
Then you see the interior of the dome. It is immense. I started to wonder which bit I would live in if society suddenly crumbled outside and we were all stuck in the dome for the next decade.
There was a path that wound up through the jungle. Dotted around were added things of interest – unique or weird plants with accompanying explanations, a Malaysian long-hut, a small clearing in an African village, tribal wall murals, random gardeners talking and displaying unique items such as the world’s biggest seed from the Seychelles. Happily, the seed is also quite rudely shaped which is always fun when it comes to seeds and fruit. Apparently this seed is remarkably tasty and nutritious but the killjoys wouldn’t let us sample it because of rarity or something. They could have faked it and we’d be none the wiser. Fill a mould with creme caramel and melon or something. I do realise that it is these thoughts that would ensure me never getting a job anywhere serious, but it would be more fun.
After all this excitement you barely notice that you have been travelling gradually upwards. It soon becomes apparent however, when you notice the levels of sweat dribbling down your arse. By the time you get to the top it is 35 Celsius and unbelievably humid. It was like being in Bangkok in the summer but without there being a chilled beer in an air-conditioned bar in easy reach. Which is a shame as having a bar there would have been fucking brilliant.
The descent is quicker than the ascent and you are soon back at the start. There are lots of other things to see that I haven’t mentioned here – such as unique plants, colourful flowers, and lots of educational things like the history of rubber or where coffee comes from. I just don’t want to ruin it all for you. Plus I can’t be bothered. We decided to cut through the restaurant area and go straight to the Mediterranean bio-dome. This was a pleasant place and a bit like being in the Med. Which isn’t a surprise I guess. The temperature was quite pleasant – like spring in Spain. It wasn’t as huge or impressive as the main tropical dome but it was well done. Lots of pretty flowers and all that crap. Here are some now:
Enough? Ok good. Actually my favourite bit was an area that had been filled with an artistic statue recreation of beings worshipping Bacchus, the Greek god of fertility and wine. Surely one of the sweetest jobs if you happen to be a god. These photos are better than flowers:
He’s also the god of rabbit heads on sticks apparently:
How cool is this god? I may be an atheist but if I was to pick a fictional deity with magic powers to blindly worship, then Bacchus is the one I’d go for. Why pick one that smites you all the time? Why choose an afterlife where you have to sing hymns and live according to stringent rules? Let’s face it, there will be no drink and drug fuelled orgies in any normal heaven. None. I’m not saying every night but you’re there for eternity God’s sake, it will get boring without hedonism. Anyway, I digress.
The Mediterranean dome was nice and pleasant after the heat of the tropical zone. I highly recommend doing it in that order.
By this point we were starving. As we walked back into the area between the zones and the aforementioned restaurants, we saw that there was a Mediterranean kitchen near us. Brilliant idea, I thought. They must have Mediterranean food this end and ‘tropical food’ at the other. We eagerly hurried to the restaurant adjacent to the tropic zone hoping for a Thai curry or fried Amazonian piranhas or something. Washed down with some delightful African elephant juice or Papa New Guinea punch. But no. It was Cornish pasties and sandwiches and bottles of coke. Which was a shame.
After a traditional Mediterranean dish of pepperoni pizza and Peroni beer, we left the main domes and headed for the final building. It was full of kids and displays and information about the project. On the ground floor there was loads of activities and displays and stuff. It was pretty interesting but the kids started to annoy me. Bless them and all that but fuck they are noisy. There was also an art gallery by an artist commissioned to paint the project from its infancy. Which was pretty good, if a little pricey.
The were two things I was impressed by in this final bit. One was a huge machine, like something you’d find in a Victorian factory that was massive and child-labour intensive and made pipe cleaners. It had a handle that you could wind and make it all work and judging by the kids eagerly waiting their turn – still used child labour. Fortunately, at 37 and 6 foot 1, I was bigger than they were and was able to push them aside and have a go. It was pretty interesting to see it all in action. Here’s yet another photo:
The second good thing was a video that showed how they decided to build a gigantic stone seed to symbolise the birth of the project. They searched for two years to find a massive chunk of stone. The stone was huge and when carved, weighed 70 tonnes. Which is quite a lot. It was then lowered into a special chamber where you can wander around and have thousands of photos taken and touch it for some reason. It was pretty inspiring and the effort to get it there symbolises the kind of effort that went into the project as a whole. Here is, you guessed it, a photo:
So there you go. After that it was a walk to the initial building, the purchase of coffee and an Eden Project T-shirt.
It was here that we had a problem. The Project prides itself on eco-friendliness and encourages cycling and recycling and all that crap. But if you don’t have a car, the transport is shite. We had to wait ages for a bus. Then, when we got to the train station, we had to wait 2 hours for a train. I know we are from London where a 5 minute wait for transport is tedious but this was ridiculous. Anyway, gripe over but it is something that they should look at.
I really liked the Eden Project. I like the idea, the fact that people are willing to get together just to see if something can be achieved, how it’s funded, the way it has all been put together. Apart from the transport it was well worth the trip. It wasn’t quite what my sub-conscious was hoping for, but my sub-conscious is permanently imagining doomsday scenarios and cool ‘end of humanity’ survival stories. Plus I grew up on 70s and 80s Sci Fi where everyone lived in places like this and I think I was hoping for cheesy robots and gardeners with jet-packs and hot chicks in lycra with lip-gloss. All of which was lacking.
We thoroughly enjoyed the place and I can now tick it off my life to-do list. Hopefully they will listen to my suggestions above and the place will be perfect. If you are in Cornwall it is an essential visit. Go and support them. We might all be living in these domes in 50 years. Sadly though, probably not.
Yes, I’ve done it again. Same lady, but different country and very different ceremony. So my blog and review output has been somewhat lacking. Apologies for this but I have to have priorities.
My ‘Wedding 2′ was held in a large ballroom in Bangkok. There were nine monks, a hundred guests, and lots of emotion. It also featured myself giving a speech that ended with a load of surprisingly comprehensible Thai. I will write more on this very soon but I’m a bit drained at the moment. It promises to be a fascinating article when it happens. The ceremony was opened by a (now) relative who is the head of the Ministry of the Interior. That’s just for starters. I will talk about all the monks chanting and string tying and water blessings soon. I promise.
Life has almost returned to normal. Normal for my life in Bangkok anyway. It feels great to be back here and hanging out with friends. I barely feel as if I left. All I have to do now is write a 1500 word essay on linguistics and historical perspectives on socio-dialects and attitudes toward them by tomorrow night. Then I can finally chill out and blog my ass off.
Right now though, I’m going for a pint. Of Tiger. In a street cafe in Bangkok. Life is good.
Well, I’m back. I apologize for not writing recently but I have been on a minor European tour. First off, I’ve been to Bruges. In Belgium. Like the feckin’ movie. It was a lovely place and is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in Belgium. It’s full of cobbled streets, cafes, statues, old buildings, horse-drawn carriages, chocolates and tourists. Plus bars and beer.
We then went to Ghent, which is pretty similar except much larger and more exciting and less twee. I love Ghent.
Then we are the first people I have ever met to go to Luxembourg. It was about as exciting as you’d imagine. Which leaves it up to you.
Then finally, Brussels. The heart of the EU. The place where the smoking ban originated and rankings placing Britain as the most binge-drinker filled place in Europe. It is fall of bars where you can smoke and drink beer that is 10% alcohol. Why are they able to get it right?
I shall write about the trip in more detail very soon on this very site. I might even start a new tab. While on this minor excursion I also read the 6th book in the very inaccurately named ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ trilogy. It is called ‘And Another Thing’ by Eoin Colfer and is damned enjoyable. Different from Douglas Adams’ style but I liked it.
There will be more on all the above in lots more detail very soon. I just thought I’d update the site in case anyone thought the website, or myself, had come to a halt. We are both in fine fettle - apart from the fact that it is now 6am and I’m back at work trying to aid my ailing bank balance after a European trip. Other than that, fine bloody fettle!