Cool for the Summer

Ugh. UGH. I just glanced at the date and realised that in one month’s time I will be returning from my holiday. Which means in one month and one day, I will have nothing to look forward to except autumn, which is a tenuous thing to look forward to when a) this weather might last until October, and b) autumn is rarely as autumn-y as I’m expecting.

I mean, there are some other things to look forward to. It’s my birthday in September? I recently joined a cashback website and am interested to see if it makes me any cash? Life is actually pretty decent given that I’m living in a first-world country in a house with good plumbing? But still. I’m so excited for my holidayyyyyy that it’s hard to look past it. There will be (more) sun! There will be (non-Thames Estuary) sea! There will be tasty (not cooked by my mum or I) Greek food! Oh yeah I’m going to Greece what a surprise. Well I kind of have an excuse; a friend is celebrating her birthday in Zante, so I’m going to backpack from Corfu down to Kefalonia and then to Zante. It’s going to be My Family and Other Animals meets that time I went backpacking before. I’ve got extra packing cubes this time, and I know what I don’t need to take versus what I do. It really boils down to packing cubes.

Who else is going on holiday soon? Who has had a holiday recently? My uncle recently sent me photos of somewhere in the north of Scotland that apparently has its own micro-climate and I shit you not, I thought it was the Mediterranean. It wasn’t until I squinted at the mossy stone walls and distinctly rolling hills that I thought ‘could this actually be north of the boarder?’ I can’t remember the place’s name, but as soon as I remember it I’m adding it it the list (also: York, Malta, the Giant’s Causeway, Rome, Haworth in one of the Yorkshires where they Bronte sisters lived, Cornwall, eastern Greece, New Zealand).

I’m going to attempt a minor digital detox while I’m away, so fully expect some bullshit ramblings from me on my return about the joys of getting back to nature and interacting with other cultures. Maybe I’ll stay out there and avoid any potential crises and just finish dragonnovel underneath an olive tree or something. Use up my freedom of movement while I’ve still got it. Hm.

Lawrence Durrell in the Durrells 2016

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In Which I Climb a Mountain in Flip Flops | Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay view Vietnam

To be completely honest, we planned our route through Vietnam using the route the Top Gear guys took in that Christmas special a few years ago. Ha Long Bay was one of their stops so it was one of ours too. We went with a group from our Hanoi hostel to stay on one of the bay’s islands for a night, because Ha Long is ages out from Hanoi and the occasional group trip is good for you, probably. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO site and, on Top Gear, looked sparkling and beautifully emerald. We went on a cloudy day, so it actually looked like this:

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam on a cloudy day

But we’re British, so it was just like being at home for the summer! Speaking of home, the dock we boarded the boat from reminded me so much of Southend on a bad day that I had to take a photo:

Dock Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Mud: check. Giant container ships on the horizon: check. Grey skies: check. There were a million little crabs trotting about on the mud, which made a nice change from the crap you normally see on Southend’s mudflats, ha.

So as part of the group trip we were required to partake in group activities. Number one: canoeing with a friend. Or, in my case, my wee brother who is actually a lot taller than me and way more into the sport of canoeing than I am. We nearly came to blows about my ability to paddle right after this photo was taken:

Canoeing Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Not as bad as Monopoly at Christmas, but close.

That night the island hostel had a beach bonfire. We tried a local type of dance with bamboo sticks that I have since found on YouTube because I don’t know how to explain it without overusing the word ‘ankle’…

The next day we took a walk up a hill. Or, to be more accurate, we climbed a mountain. Climb because it was made of rocks and mountain because there’s no international definition for what constitutes a mountain so although it may have been a large hill, I’m going to call it a mountain. Also, I did it in flip flops. This was because as we were leaving the hostel in Hanoi, someone mentioned there would be a hike of some sort. I had packed a tiny bag and left my proper shoes in a locker, because when we booked no one mentioned a hike. ‘Should I go back for my shoes?’ I thought. Everyone had shoes apart from Maxim and I. ‘Ah, live a little,’ I told myself. ‘You always over plan and over pack.’ So I left my shoes.

I am never living a little again. It was a fucking mountain.

Ha Long Bay island mountain

There were monkeys on the other side of the giant pile of rocks, which was nice, although they were basically trained to be nice to tourists which was gross. Also, when we were done saying ‘hey, a monkey’ we had to climb all the way back over the bloody mountain. I ripped the elephant pants I bought in Saigon. Always over pack, kids!

Monkey in a tree Ha Long Bay Vietnam

We had to leave our hostel the morning after we got back from Ha Long, because we’d forgotten to book another night, so we relocated to a slightly different part of the Old Quarter. I know I hate group activities, but I was sad to leave some of the people we’d been with on the trip. I don’t really do casual friends but I guess it’s hard not to bond with people over bamboo dancing and rock climbing. So if an American named Suzie (maybe Suzie?) who au paired in London before flying to Hanoi and lost her phone is reading this, hiiiii. Also: an English girl named Claire studying in Australia the English guy travelling with her wearing several ear piercings. We compared passport stamps. It was nice to meet you, and I never say that and mean it.

Oh, by the way, the bathroom of the hostel in Ha Long Bay had no window. This was the view while we cleaned our teeth:

Ha Long Bay view Vietnam

Emerald waters might be slightly overrated.

Francesca 1, British Winter 0 | Where’s the Best Place to Go in Barcelona?

Is it weird to feel bad on a good day? I feel kind of icky, because I’ve had a cold and my copy of Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor finally came into the library – I reserved it in July. July! – so I’ve been reading more and sleeping less (well, reading more than normal and sleeping less than normal. That was a bad comparison now I think about it). But it’s a good day, because I’m seeing Lorde in London tomorrow and I just booked a holiday! In fact, I’m having a mini-holiday when I see Lorde, because it’s easier to stay in Wood Green and take the tube to work in Portobello on Thursday than it is to go home at midnight and get up at seven for a two-hour commute. The big holiday is four days in Barcelona with my friend Ruby in January, because what’s the point of January if not to head south. Technically we’ve only got as far as booking flights, which is what I wanted to talk to you guys about.

I’ve never been to Barcelona – the last time I was in Spain, the term ‘eurozone bail out’ hadn’t been coined yet – and Ruby has, but on a school trip in year 10… We both want to see the Sagrada Familia and Picasso’s museum but other than that, we’ve got four days to explore and let’s see everything. If you’ve been to Barcelona, tell me: where would you recommend for two faintly antisocial, faintly arty people in their early twenties? One of us – ahem ahem – does not get holiday pay and will be on a strictish budget. I’m fairly sure we’ll bump into some Gaudi buildings and museums and La Rambla, and I’m aware that Barcelona takes ‘faintly arty’ to another level, but unlike the last trip I took, I won’t have three months to read Lonely Planet and decide whether or not I can stomach another jade buddha. Am kind of banking on not seeing any jade buddhas this time around, you know?

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
(from Pixabay) 

Let’s assume I’ll be making a similar decision regarding crucifixes… anyway, tell us your recommendations!

Happy Wednesday.

  Apologies for the distinct lack of funny/Germany-related blogs, but I have had a pretty intense weekend and am still catching up on my beauty sleep. As you can tell, I need a lot of it:

 

  My camara ran out of juice a couple of times on the trip, so I need to raid some people’s Facebook pages and (this is a hint, guys) get some photos from my friends. You know what my email is. Once I’ve got enough stuff together I’ll work on a slide show or something – the only problem with this blog’s layout is the lack of space for photos. Either they’re too small to see or go in columns.

  Anyway, as we got to Berlin via aeroplane, have a looksie at some complaints made to Thomas Cook about holidays last season…

  • “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”
  • “It’s lazy of the local shop keepers to close in the afternoons. I often need to buy things during the siesta times – this should be banned.”
  • “On my holiday to Goa, India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food at all.”
  • “We booked an excursion to a water park, but no one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels,”
  • “The beach was too sandy.”
  • “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white.”
  • “Topless sunbathing on the beach should be banned. The holiday was ruined as my husband spent all day looking at other women.”
  • “We bought Ray Ban sunglasses for five euros (£3.50) from a street trader, only to find out they were fake.”
  • “No one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled.”
  • “There was no egg slicer in the apartment.”
  • “We went on holiday to Spain, and had a problem with the taxi drivers, as they were all Spanish…”
  • “The roads were uneven.”
  • “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England, but it only took the Americans three hours to fly home.”
  • “I compared the size of our one bedroom apartment to our friends’ three-bedroom apartment, and ours was significantly smaller.”
  • “The brochure stated ‘no hairdressers at the accommodation.’ We’re trainee hairdressers, will we be okay staying there?”
  • “There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish, the food is Spanish, too many foreigners.”
  • “We had to queue outside with no air conditioning.”
  • “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”
  • “I was bitten by a mosquito. No one said they could bite.”
  • “My fiancée and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”
  • A tourist at a top African game lodge overlooking a waterhole who spotted a visibly aroused elephant, complained that the sight of this rampant beast ruined his honeymoon by making him feel ‘inadequate’.
  • A woman threatened to call the police after claiming that she had been locked in by staff. When in fact, she had mistaken the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the back of the door as a warning to remain in the room.
  • A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained his soup was too thick and strong. He was inadvertently slurping gravy at the time.

I have a few of my own to add:

  • Zakynthos, Greece: “The portions are too big. I am on a diet.”
  • Zakynthos: “The eggs are too strong.”