London Part 6: Trains > Buses

Loaded up with caffeine, MWF and I headed for the bus and joined a worryingly large queue. If all these folks are getting on our bus, I thought, it’s gonna be cramped as hell.

Thankfully, many were going to Bristol. These were the lucky ones. The rest of us poor souls are boarding the bus bound for Swansea, stopping at Newport and Cardiff. The ride up (see Part 1) had been easy and I could see the wisdom in getting a bus as it was so much cheaper. Score one for buses.

The first bad sign was that the traditional Megabus double decker was off the table and instead we had a coach. Like you used to have for school trips.

With half the queue gone it was still rather busy and the bus was full. MWF and I grabbed two seats near the back and waited, with everyone aboard the bus pulled out.

Forty minutes later we left London. Score one for trains, no traffic.

Now, I know I’m not the smallest bloke but there is no way in hell coach seats are designed so two adults can sit comfortably by each other. The seat itself was odd in that it didn’t support your behind right, meaning I got a numb bum before Reading.

MWF and I kept banging elbows and so I put my arm around her meaning I got a dead arm after a while.

It didn’t help that the bus was boiling. A hot, full bus is not a pleasant environment, especially as we had no stops to let air in. A tiny fan provided some assistance, sending a fifty pence piece sized area of cold onto my forehead. Trains score again.

I got increasingly fed up. The bus seemed to be getting warmer, and the smell of human bodies grew. My patience frayed and there was no Kindle to distract me as I’d given myself motion sickness. Five points to trains for letting me read.

The woman on the other side of the aisle fidgeted constantly, never working out what she wanted from her bag and moving around all the time.

It felt like I’d been on the bus for days.

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Finally we entered Wales.

I apologise for all the complaining, but to get to Cardiff from the bridge shouldn’t take too long, right?

Wrong.

There was a bit of traffic and we pulled off. My confidence in our driver plummeted as he took an entire lap of a roundabout before taking the first option.

We were headed for Newport.

I intend no disrespect, but I’m sure even Newport natives will admit it’s not the kind of place an outsider would choose to visit without a reason. We had no reason, because not a soul boarded or disembarked. Heck, the bus didn’t even stop.

We essentially added to our journey to have a look around Newport.

I was incredibly cranky when we finally reached Cardiff and got off. Free of the bus I stretched my stiff limbs and then crammed into another bus seat to head for MWF’s mums house.

I was tired and crabby, but I’d enjoyed the trip.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 5: Chicken and Cats

Dan took us to a place called Ma’ Plucker a small place that did chicken. You picked a base, sauce and type of chicken and I went for maple waffle, fried chicken and gravy. It sounds weird but it really worked.

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The atmosphere was laid back and food was a little slow but we didn’t mind as it gave us a chance to talk, mainly about travel and where we want to go. Dan has been to the States a few times and I was green with envy as he discussed his trips.

Food was lush, with the chicken being crispy, full of flavour and surprisingly grease free. As an apology for the delay we got a free sundae, which was gorgeous. The delay wasn’t a big deal but I think the whinging suits on the next table got to them.

I heartily recommend checking the place out.

We wandered to the bus stop where we said goodbye to Dan and headed back to the hotel.

Thursday, our last day, didn’t start brilliantly as tiredness led to bickering, leaving me a little crabby. We checked out and headed for the London Cat Village. You need an appointment, and we were ridiculously early so we looked for some breakfast.

One place looked promising but charged a tenner for a cooked brekkie so I got a bacon and egg roll elsewhere. Then we headed for the cat cafe.

MWF is obsessed with cats so cat cafes are already a holiday tradition for us. Unfortunately, the London Cat Village was a disappointment compared to what we’d had in Budapest. It didn’t help that the first thing you noticed on entering was the smell of cat pee. The staff were a bit aloof too, but the cats made up for it and I eagerly awaited my coffee.

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The cats flitted about and the variety of kitties on show was impressive. They had a Scottish Fold who blanked everyone and wasn’t bothered. Like the hottest girl in a school she knew she didn’t have to try to be admired, and without doing anything would have people eager to win her favour.

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The owners gave us some treats to encourage the cats to interact and we were swarmed. One large ginger Tom muscled his way to the front and got the lion’s share of my treats. Snacks exhausted he left, dunking his tail in my coffee so I couldn’t enjoy that.

While it was relaxing and the cats were lovely, it wasn’t the best value for money and unlike the ones in Hungary there was a sense of them doing it to follow a trend rather than from a love of cats. Still, it was a chilled hour and left both of us happy.

Leaving we headed in search of coffee and our bus home. I suspected I needed the caffeine to face the long journey home.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 4: Harry Potter Tour

After tea at Cafe Nero we headed to see my friend Dan and meet his boyfriend Adam. They’ve been together for years but I’ve never met Adam before,so it was kind of exciting and thankfully we all seemed to get along and had a great evening chatting and chilling.

MWF and I headed back to the hotel to crash and slept in before heading to Euston Station where we were meeting up with Dan in order to head for Watford where we were going to the Harry Potter tour.

This was one of my birthday presents to MWF this year as she’s been wanting to go for ages, getting increasingly annoyed as various friends have shared their visits on Facebook. Finally she was getting to go and she was as giddy as a child on Christmas Day.

We joined a tour and wandered around amongst a large crowd of Potterheads. It’s basically a behind the scenes look at the Harry Potter movies which was kinda cool, getting to see the costumes, sets and props used.

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The problem is that while I enjoyed the books and have seen the movies, I wasn’t a big enough of a fan for it to really enthrall me. That and the fact I was desperate for a coffee halfway through.

MWF however was loving it, and getting me to pose for photos and snapping away. She wasn’t alone in this as you had to watch out or you’d inadvertently photobomb someone’s snaps.

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Halfway through we got to the cafe where I grabbed a latte and bought a Butterbeer for MWF.

Butterbeer is a big deal at the tour, the website actually lets you book a drink in advance, which I think pubs should start doing. It’s based on a drink in the books, but the muggle version is slightly disappointing. It looks great, at first but as the head mixes becomes a murky colour.

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As for the taste, well it’s very sweet and kinda like a mix of Cream Soda and Irn Bru. Not as bad as I feared but still not great.

The rest of the tour was alright, the creature workshop was cool but production art was a tad dull. Luckily they finish strong with a large model of Hogwarts which is pretty cool.

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Then came the shop. I wanted to grab some gifts for family and a memento for myself but it was pricey as all hell. I get it’s a money making venture but it got a bit ridiculous, as even basics like a couple of small Hufflepuff notebooks was over a tenner. Also, they don’t sell Luna’s lion head which feels like a missed opportunity as they sold almost everything else.

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Want

In the end I settled for a prefect’s badge (the only way I will ever get one) and some Bertie Botts’ Every Flavoured Beans.

These were a mistake as around half are utterly gross.

Dan and I had enjoyed, but the major thing was that MWF was buzzing and extremely happy. This made the queuing worth it and it’s hard to be negative when it’s made someone you love so happy.

I was starving by now, so we headed back to London and Dan promised to take us somewhere nice for some grub.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 3: Putting Off the Ritz

Needing a hot drink MWF pulled out her phone and a quick Google search later showed the nearest option was the Ritz.

Well, why not? The extra cost would be worth it just to say we’d been there and if I could swipe a branded saucer or something it would be cancelled out.

We walked along signs for the Ritz’s bar and jewellery store (who knew?) And asked a doorman where the cafe was, he guides us down to the far corner.

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We were walking along and as we rounded the corner we saw the main entrance. In situations like this the best course of action is to just act as though you belong there. I’d just passed on this advice to MWF when she broke this and spoke to the doorman.

“Excuse me.”

He turned around with barely disguised distaste etched on his face.

“Yes, may I help you?” His voice was posh and professional.

“Umm, we were just wondering if there a tea room inside?” MWF asked.

“There is, yes.” He began. “But there is a slight problem with your clothing. We have a dress code and, well, you’re wearing sports shoes.”

This was true, we were both wearing trainers but I found it annoying. A dress code to buy a cuppa?

I know the Ritz has a rep for being upmarket and classy, but it’s all b*****ks, isn’t it? That reputation only exists because we go along with it and they artificially maintain it with daft dress codes. They make out that dining there is an event, and a special one, one that requires you to dress up nicely.

Imagine if your local cafe started doing that? Insisting that you dressed a certain way, you’d tell them to jog on, but because the Ritz has been around for a long time (110 years) we go along with it. I suppose that’s why people like going there because it has that “classy” appeal, and maybe even why MWF and I tried going in, but it’s silly.

If Prince Harry rocked up in trainers would they turn him away? It’s enough to make you want to get obscenely successful and wealthy just to turn up as slobby as you like, to see how dedicated to that dress code they are.

If I ever got wealthy I’d set up a five star restaurant with the best chefs, plush decor and the finest wines known to humanity. I’d have a dress code. Tracksuits only. For those unsure, think Goldie Lookin Chain.

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“Is there anywhere else we could go around here?”

“There is a Cafe Nero just up the road, madam.” Again, all politeness but the meaning was clear “P**s off to the chain store with the rest of the plebs!”

Denied entry we wandered back and took our seats among the common people. And the tea in Cafe Nero was bloody lovely.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 2: Eye in the Sky

Disconcertingly the pods on the London Eye don’t stop, so you have to step on as they pass in front. MWF and I made it aboard without trouble. MWF isn’t the best with heights and yet this is the second time that we’ve incorporated it into a holiday.

MWF had been on the Eye before, and hated it, but knowing that I wanted to she had bravely agreed to ride it once more, making it abundantly clear that this was the only time she would do so.

I enjoyed the view although it was limited as I couldn’t navigate around the pod due to having MWF clinging to me like a limpet. I still managed to take a few snaps, like the one below, and even walked around a bit.

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It was here I made a mistake. I took a step forward to the end of the pod. There’s something about placing your foot and seeing a long drop behind it that shakes your confidence.

I’m standing in a glass bubble hanging several stories above the river. What the hell was I thinking?! And the guide told us the Eye was only supposed to be up for 5 years! It’s over ten years past it! If this breaks, I’m doomed!

I had a weak knees moment and moved back to the centre, and MWF’s iron embrace.

Getting off we needed something to steady us and set out in search of coffee. Unfortunately the nearest was Starbucks. I took a bit of a gamble and decided to have a peppermint latte, which thankfully was quite nice as I’d have been more than a little annoyed if I’d given tax dodgers cash for something which was undrinkable.

MWF went to the bathroom, but it was blocked. Returning she informed the barista who responded with a helpful “yes, it is.” I don’t know if she thought MWF was just letting her know, but it wasn’t helpful. MWF asked what she was supposed to do and was informed that the nearest bathroom was at the London Eye.

It was a frustrating exchange as the woman seemed unsympathetic and unhelpful, and the staff had clearly just accepted that they had no working loo without trying to sort it. I bet there was a staff toilet that worked fine, which is why they didn’t care.

If Starbucks aren’t going to pay tax they could at least invest some of the cash they’ve saved in training their staff to be a bit nicer,or to hire a plumber.

After coffee we legged it back to the London Eye to answer the call of nature and go to the 4D experience which was included on our ticket and was fun in a cheesy way.

Afterwards we debated our next move. MWF dismissed the Sea Life centre as “boring” and fancied the London Dungeons, but that would be almost £50, which was ridiculous.

MWF then realised that there was a Florence Nightingale museum, so we headed there. It was a no-brainer, really, what with it being International Women’s Day and MWF is a student nurse.

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It’s a small museum but quite a good one, and it was interesting to hear more about Florence and her work. Like most people I’d heard of her briefly at school so it was cool to learn more about her life and work, especially the lasting impact she had on nursing practice. MWF was even more interested, and raided the gift shop on the way out.

Leaving there we headed across the river to have a look at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and then set off towards the Palace cutting through St James’s Park.

I’ve never been in the park and it was gorgeous, with squirrels rushing everywhere and a chance to see a heron closer than I ever have before.

We stopped briefly outside the Palace, where the guards did a bit of marching. One of them was clearly new as his timing was off and even at distance he looked oddly boyish, maybe he was on work experience?

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It’s odd that the guards with their daft hats get so much attention as they do the same job as the armed copper who stood a little further on, ignored and without a little hut to shelter in.

We had lots of time before we had to go meet my friend Dan, so we strolled through Green Park and decided it was time for another cuppa. But where to go?

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 1: Buses and Boats

On Monday I lost my Megabus virginity as MWF and I headed for London. I normally take the train because I like trains more and the idea of being stuck on a bus for hours fills me with dread. But with the bus being considerably cheaper we were hitting the road.

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MWF and I took our seats on the top deck and luckily I had a book to entertain me. I didn’t think it was that bad. The leg room wasn’t the best, but we were moving without issue.

However I did have to use the toilet somewhere near Reading and that was a mistake. If I should ever write a “5 Worst Toilets” post then the Megabus is guaranteed a spot. It was absolutely tiny, with my shoulders brushing both walls, and I had to tuck my head down. It was like peeing inside a small cupboard.

A very smelly cupboard.

That kept rocking.

I retreated upstairs and advised MWF to hold it if she could. I read for a bit, but I always get nauseous reading on the road, so had to stop. Another score for train travel.

I was hoping that I’d overhear some drama to write about or see something weird but the other passengers were a dull bunch and the most interesting thing was that a girl in front of us watched MMA fights the whole journey.

Arriving at Victoria we jumped a tube to King’s Cross and wandered to our hotel, where we dumped our stuff and chilled for a bit.

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Cool graffiti seen on our walk to Soho

MWF’s cousin works in Soho, so we walked in and hung out there for a while before we set off to find the Duchess Theatre, where we were to see Michael McIntyre, but more on that at a later date.

The first day over we hit the sack and had a day of sightseeing planned for the next day.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

A relaxing full English was interrupted thanks to a fire alarm which meant MWF and I had to loiter outside until we could return and eat. MWF had the sense to take her hot chocolate with her, but I was left with lukewarm tea.

After this we hit up the Museum of London, which was nice but I was glad it was free. It’s the kind of place that gives you information overload and the tattoo exhibit, which I was excited for is extremely short. It’s worth checking out if you’re at a loss, but I wouldn’t call it essential.

We passed St Paul’s but at £18 a head we decided to skip it. It felt ridiculously steep, because as one of London’s most iconic buildings it’s bound to be popular and you get the feeling if JC was to come back he’d be in there turning over tables of souvenirs and chasing out tour guides.

Breakfast was worked off as we walked on, crossing via the Millennium Bridge and then strolling alongside the Thames until we got to the London Eye. Here we hopped on to our river tour and were treated to some quality sights of London.

It helped that the guide was genuinely funny, making sarky comments and observations about the Houses of Parliament and the fact beer there is only 79p a pint as they don’t pay tax on it. Standing as an MP never sounded so appealing.

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View from the tour

The views were worth it even if it was rather chilly. We’d all but finished when MWF revealed that she had packed my hat. I gratefully pulled this on and it helped but later that day it would be stolen to protect MWF’s hair.

We disembarked and joined the queue for the Eye. MWF was nervous but I was excited and even the annoying school trip didn’t dampen my spirits.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fear and Loathing in Algeciras

Prompt: Share the story of a time you felt unsafe.

March 17th, 2011.

The train down from Madrid had been surprisingly pleasant, and a supply of podcasts and doodle paper had kept me entertained. I’d also read a bit of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, a thoughtful gift from a friend to take with me on my own mini adventure.

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The first few days had passed with little drama and I’d navigated Paris and Madrid surprisingly easily. Sure, I got done by a street scammer and had lost a few Euros but on the most part I felt pretty good about it all.

This was my first solo trip anywhere and having thrown it all together in a matter of days, the whole thing was going better than I had expected. This travelling lark was a doddle.

The only concern was that as we neared Algeciras the sky was darkening and I had to admit to feeling a few nervous doubts as to the reliability of my directions, a few sketchy notes and a Lonely Planet which had one page about the town.

But I reassured myself that it was fine. After all, my hotel was apparently just around the corner from the station.

Grabbing my stuff I hopped down and found out that the hotel write up had lied. The station stood slightly apart from the town, and I crossed a wide road to reach the streets.

I set off into town and soon got more than a little lost.

First impressions of Algeciras were not good. It quickly claimed the crown of roughest place I’d been, and bear in mind my trip had started in Port Talbot.

A car blaring loud, aggressive rap slowly rolled by and would reappear during my waderings, succeeding in weirding me out. There were very few people around, aside from a gaggle of ageing, rough looking women congregating on a street corner who I decided to avoid.

The car passed for the second time and my unease was growing, I wanted off the streets, my phone and body in need of recharging. Algeciras was unappealing but it was only for one night and then I’d be leaving Europe for the first time, catching a ferry South to Morocco.

I found a sign with a map and found the street I needed, but the sign didn’t have a “You are here” so it didn’t really help.

If I was nervy before it only got worse as two dogs emerged from the darkness a hundred yards away. A few months earlier my little sister had been attacked by dogs in Romania, and this was still fresh in my mind. This transformed them to hulking hounds, vicious and hungry beasts on the hunt, while in reality they were probably just scavenging mutts.

My ears caught the thumping bass of angry rap, growing in volume as it neared, the car circling around once more. Pride be damned, it was time to ask for directions.

The only barrier was my Spanish.

All I knew know was what I’d gleaned from Speedy Gonzalez cartoons and how to order two tequilas, courtesy of Alan Rickman in Dogma. At this point another line from that film seemed fitting.

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I grabbed the next local I saw and hesitantly, in an unholy mash of English, French and a few Spanish words (there may have been some Welsh and Klingon in there, I was babbling like a madman). Luckily his English was far better than my Spanish and he gave me easy, basic directions.

I was less than 200 metres from the hotel, two turns and I was there. Had I not asked I would have missed it and ended up as food for los perros. I checked in, texted my mother and stretched out on the bed.

I scribbled postcards and relaxed. I would leave Algeciras behind and be on to Tangier. My eagerness to see Africa swelled and I felt sure that the hard part of the trip was over.

I was a fool…

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Free Country by George Mahood

Land’s End to John O’Groats is a famous journey here in the UK as these are the two furthest points on the mainland. Travelling it is a cult trip done by charity fundraisers and people who fancy a challenge.

George Mahood fancied a challenge so he and his friend Ben start at Land’s End in just a pair of boxer shorts. They plan to get all the way up to Scotland without spending a penny. They will rely on the kindness of strangers to provide them with food, lodgings, clothing and hopefully bikes.

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It’s a cracking idea and an interesting route and the book is passably enjoyable. It falls down however due to Mahood’s writing. He constantly looks for humour, which is good, but far too often it’s juvenile and his snarkiness undermines the point of the trip, which is to find nice people. The people they meet are nice but Mahood’s bitchy asides are definitely not.

There’s also a stream of gay jokes throughout, the kind of thing a teenage boy finds funny and it gets old fast. The result is that Mahood and Ben start to come across as a pair of plonkers and it never inspires much warmth, or at least it didn’t in me.

Some of the events are funny and quirky, and I’d be lying if I said some jokes didn’t land but at too many fall flat or feel lazy.

Mahood’s writing is also kinda bland and he lacks the nuance to tip it into greatness. It passes the time but for a tale of travelling through charity I’d say you’re better off with Mike McIntyre’s The Kindness of Strangers.

Verdict: A decent idea but the narrator is a bit irritating and the writing pedestrian. A few moments raise a smile, even an occasional laugh, but on the whole it’s lacklustre. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Minty Memories

Recently a travel website had a vacancy for a food blogger position, which I would have loved to do, but I’ve never been one of those cats who writes vivid, flowery descriptions of my food. Normally I’ve scoffed my food far too quickly to wax lyrical about it. To apply you had to talk about a dish you’d discovered on your travels that you’d adopted at home, and explain how you make it and the personal meaning behind it.

Much as I’d love to have applied, I couldn’t really think of any food I’d bought back from a trip. That’s not to say that I don’t have food related memories, France calls to mind my Dad going early in the morning to bring back fresh, warm baked goods while we stayed in Normandy and I’ll always associate the country with Orangina.

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In Ireland after a very hearty meal my Dad decided to finish off the puddings that the rest of us, stuffed, had left half eaten. My Dad is a man who loves his food, and will stuff himself silly at Christmas or buffets (like father, like son) but in this instance he’d miscalculated and he staggered from the pub like a man carrying a cannonball.

During my trip to Sri Lanka I discovered rottis, and scoffed a few on a day long train ride. The following morning in Badulla I bought one for breakfast, but I guess the recipes vary in different areas and I started my day coughing and spluttering as I ate an obscenely spicy rotti.

Can I cook rottis or bake stuff? No. Heck, I can’t even find Orangina in most shops. I had nothing.

And then I remembered something I could make. It was no frills and tasty, and it definitely had memories for me.

Mint tea.

When I visited Morocco a few years ago I drank several cups a day, and loved it. I could easily make that, all I’d need is some mint leaves. This turned out to be a bit of a struggle, as most places sold mint plants or shredded mint, which would be too small, but finally, weeks after the deadline for the site, I found mint leaves and bought some.

The next evening at MWG’s I made myself a cup. It’s pretty basic- mint leaves + boiling water, and then you can add sugar if you want. It’s really lovely and refreshing, and I’d advise people to check it out, unless you hate mint flavoured stuff.

mint tea

The first thing that hit me was the smell, and it definitely seems to be the case that this is the sense most connected with memory because it brought a ton of things to mind.

My trip to Morocco was a solo venture which saw me travel by train through France (Orangina galore) and Spain before I caught a ferry to Morocco, which was the first time I’d left Europe. It was an exciting trip for me, as I’d planned the whole thing and was striking out by myself, it made me more confident in my abilities and eager to do more traveling.

Llywelyn, my flatmate at the time, and a far more experienced traveler had helped in the planning, and had told me to try mint tea. I finally ordered one on my second day in Morocco, at Chefchouen a beautiful mountain town where I sat outside looking across a glorious valley.

The mint tea was made by the owner of the cheap and charming hotel I was staying in, and it tasted wonderful, although I think it tasted even better because I was feeling relieved and hopeful.

The trip up until Algeciras, the Spanish port I caught the Ferry in had been fantastic, but there’d been a bit of a bump in the road after that. Algeciras is a little bit rough, but it’s heaven compared to the city which was my first exposure to Morocco, Tangier.

I’d only booked one night in Tangier, warned by guide books to just get the hell out of there ASAP, and it didn’t take long to figure it out. Four years later it remains my least favourite place that I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to Port Talbot. It’s a claustrophobic town, filled with little alleys and labyrinthine passages that would be appealing in an Arabian Nights kinda way if it wasn’t for the fact that almost every step you take sees you hounded by people trying to sell you stuff or wanting to be your guide.

After finding my hotel I’d ventured out in search of food and the forty-five minutes I was out on the streets was not pleasant. Maybe I was just tired, but the pestering and harassment got to me, and after loading up on some basic snacks and soft drinks I retreated to my hotel room where I sat and cried. I felt utterly isolated and for the first time wondered if I’d made a massive mistake.

Was all of Morocco going to be like this? Was I to spend the rest of the week feeling got at, harassed and hot, reduced to hiding out in my hotel rooms and reading? Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the traveling lark after all, and should stick to package holidays or look into caravans?

Luckily Tangier was a blip, and while the rest of Morocco saw street peddlers, beggars and would be guides it was less menacing in the other cities, and a firm “No!” was usually enough for people to smile and back off. I didn’t know this at the time though, and a snafu with finances just made me more stressed.

The next day improved my mood, I left Tangier behind and sat on a bus, watching Morocco role by as I listened to music (top tip: The Bee Gees make surprisingly good traveling music, although CCR are still the best soundtrack for a road trip). I sorted out the snafu, and got to Chefchaouen, where despite being offered the three things it’s famous for repeatedly (water, weed and women), I never felt harassed, and the Moroccans I met were largely friendly and cheerful.

Having people watched for a bit at a large communal square where half a dozen kickabouts were taking place I returned to my hotel and the owner brought me a drink. I sat there when he brought me a mint tea, and it tasted delicious as I took in the view and looked forward to the rest of my journey.

Sipping the mint tea at MWG’s bought that all back and made me remember how much I’d enjoyed that trip, and how I’d like to take MWG there and show her Marrakesh and Chefchaouen. And it got the old feet itching once again.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Budapest Part 4: Dizzy heights and return flights

Our last day started with a hasty last minute pack, breakfast stuffing and then we wandered over to the tram station to catch one into town. We’d missed our sightseeing bus but took a stroll over the Danube by bridge and wandered around Pest for a bit before we arrived at the basilica, as we’d decided to ascend the tower.

MWG isn’t great with heights, yet she was pushing for it as the views are said to be impressive. The first stage of the trip up was easy enough, with us traveling by lift but then we took to the stairs, which were metal, a tad shaky and spiral, which made MWG a bit more nervous. We stopped halfway up and I attempted to calm her nerves, and advised her to take it slower. She was breathing faster due to nerves, and going full tilt was just making this worse, so we slowed up.

She improved once we hit some straight stairs and took to the stone walkway around the dome. I was impressed that she’d faced her fears and while she was still a little cautious, she managed to circle the dome, snap some photos and even go nearer the edge so I could get a shot, even if she looked nervous in it. I was quite proud of her for doing it and that despite her nerves she’d enjoyed the views.

The view from the top (the big building with the redish roofs is the parliament)

The view from the top (the big building with the redish roofs is the parliament)

I have to admit, while I’m not too bad with heights, even my legs were a little shaky and after a full lap, I was more than happy to get back to earth.

Halfway down I saw the sign below, and I’m rather glad MWG and I hadn’t passed it on the way up.

BP sign

We laughed, but it was slightly nervous, hysterical laughter.

Terra firma and some chocolate helped calm us both and then we boarded the bus to see a few more of the sights and head for our second cat cafe of the week.

This one wasn’t quite as nice, with fewer cats who were all a little shy, although you did get a slice of cake with your entry fee and that brought the cats towards you. Cats did their magic again, cheering up MWG and we set off to catch a bus back to the centre.

Unfortunately time constraints meant that we didn’t get to do two things we’d been looking forward to, and so the river tour and Memento Park (where all the old soviet statues have been stashed) will have to join Columbo on the “next time” list.

MWG had used her noodle and had screenshots of various Hungarian phrases that would help us figure out how to get to the airport, and it impressed the staff at the metro station, who were extremely helpful and went out of their way to tell us how to get to where we needed to. There was a bit of a language barrier, but the dude managed to explain it to us, and I was impressed by just how far he went to help us, which seemed to be a regular characteristic shown by the Hungarians we dealt with (cab driver aside).

The flight back was uneventful, although I had to wait ages to get to border control at the other side due to me not having a fancy new electronic passport. The drive home was long (road works, or rather a ton of cones and no signs of activity), and when we finally got home at around 5am we climbed right into bed, grateful to be home and incredibly pleased with our trip.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.