So Spym and i got up at 4:45am in order to get to St Pancras for our 6:30am check in…. after so little sleep this was not good! We made it on time though, only to find that Eurostar had double booked almost every seat in our coach 🙁 not a good start!
In the end the train manager found us some other seats – after my travel sickness tabs i was knocked out for the whole journey….we changed trains in Brussels and headed on out to Brugges.
It was lovely and sunny when we arrived in Brugges, and just a short 15 min walk around the picturesque canal, small streets and around the Beguine convent till we got to our hotel. After checking in, Spym and I went on a hunt for food, and found a lovely little deli bar we visited more than once on our trip!
First tourist attraction was the Brelfort (bealfry) in the Market Square, which was built in across 13th-15th centuries. At one point it also housed important city documents and the treasury. It was 366 steps up a winding staircase to the top [which wasn’t as claustrophobic as Prague cathedral]. We stopped off in the gears room at 2pm just when all the bells started – i took some cool videos of all the massive cogs rotating and turning to make the bells ring and the time to change. We climbed up to the top and looked across the whole city. Its a strange view with modern housing spotted with random pockets of Gothic and (later) architecture.
We moved onto The Burg, a market square east of the main one, and full of beautiful decorative buildings. We first went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood and went to the shrine of a crusader that supposedly brought back a vial of Christ’s blood during the 2nd crusade. The vial was even on show, you could touch it if you donated some money. The inside of the upper chapel was stunning with brightly painted walls and ceiling and unusual stain glass windows.
Next on our list was the 14th c. Townhall, which we toured with a very good audioguide. It was fascinating, covering the history of the town, key residents and the building. The most amazing sight was the vaulted ceiling inside the Townhall….photography was prohibited, but i took some sneaky shots on my cameraphone. The ceiling was full of gold hanging arches, something i have never seen before! Pics will be posted in the photos section. Finally we popped next door and had a look in the 16th c. Renaissance hall, it was used as a treasury and a place for law officials to meet to discuss cases.
Spym and I ended the day with a leisurly 3h long dinner, sampling traditional cuisine and beer 😛 which sent us to sleep quite nicely!
So I’ve had a couple of busy days! I began my “weekend” at about 2pm on Thursday – we had our office party to celebrate funding brought into the department. The party was at The Plough, with free booze and not having drunk alcohol for 12 weeks, this was a dangerous combination for me. I decided to brave the red wine as i seemed to be OK with rasins (oh how i regretted it the next day! red wine = nono). I left MK and headed for Spym and Als office in Highgate and was met by a frantic Spym and Al and a very tall Jean! Spym and Al went off to Charlee’s bday dinner whilst i made a frantic phone call to Aaron to let him know of my change of plans. In the end I met with Adam and Aaron for tapas, it was gone 1am by the time we all crawled back to Spym’s. Then it was gone 2am by the time we all went to sleep.
So Cat invited us to Lisbon to experience the way she lives, so off we trotted….
Day 1, 27th March
First things first, someone had to lose their luggage, that award went straight to pip. Luckily though his iPod made it off the plane.
We were stopping at Cat’s apartment in a suburb of Lisbon south of the river. By the time we got there it was late and we were all hungry, so Cat took us to a local restaurant, the food was ok (steak and chips), but we didn’t expect much that late at night, but the wine was very nice. I am not a red wine drinker, but since we were here I thought I would give it a go, and mmmmm, alentejo.
Then, when we got home, we made a wondrous discovery, Dan brought cards with him!
Quote of the day; Pip: Have I corrupted anyone?
Day 2, 28th March
Today began the big exploration of Lisbon, so after a bus and ferry we were in the centre of town. Luckily the ferry was relatively calm, so we didn’t have to put up with a pukey Becca, but we thoroughly expected to have to later in the week.
We wondered around the main square for a while, took a few pictures, and found an Irish pub, how English we are. We were all rather amuzed when we saw a car that had bumped into something and broken it’s headlight, not a great travesty, except it had stopped in the middle of the road and brought most of Lisbon to a halt!
We ate at a seafood restaurant close to Cats, not being a fan of sea food I ate steak, but the others assured me the fish was good. Then we retired to play some cards, who would have thought the game shit head could have so many different sets of rules.
Quote of the day; Pip: Patronize me more.
Day 3, 29th March
We called into the cathedral on our way to the castle, it lacked much of the grandeur you would expect from a cathedral, still I guess there is something to be said about understatement.
Cat used to be a tour guide at the main castle of Lisbon, so we used her super tour guide skills to get a tour (how cheap we are). The castle itself is rather dull, there are some nice views of the city, but no real museums or things to see, except the periscope that is. This was a mirror and lens system mounted in a tower which projects the city onto a large white thing. The guide there gave us a tour of the landmarks with this thing, it was very cool, and now I want one put on my house……..
Pip did his utmost to help the Lisbonese street economy by hanging his wallet out of his pocket for all and sundry to see. Luckily, just as the inevitable was happening (pick pocketing) a nice Portuguese lady saw the perpetrator and shouted at him so he ran off. Thank you lady. Pip’s luggage turned up too.
Cat took us to an Italian restaurant tonight, the trouble with this being that Italian food is probably the only cuisine Becca cannot eat anything of, ho hum. Then back for more cards.
Day 4, 30th March
Cat decided to go leave us to go see her friends a family today, time to see if we can survive by ourselves.
Apparently the Portuguese church elders said during the war that if they managed to escape unscathed then they would build a mini version of the big Jesus thing in Rio. They did, so they did, and so we went up it. It’s just up the road from Cat’s house so we walked there and took hundreds of pictures (reduced to just fifteen).
From here we went to the fado museum (it’s a type of local folk music), all spanishy guitary type stuff with a whiney singer, not really my cup of tea.
We also found a church with the word ‘testes’ on a display, amused us a bit. Even more cards was played.
Quote of the day 1; Pip: Something a bit ooh. (Pip’s interpretation of that wonderful Girls aloud classic).
Quote of the day 2; Pip: I’d rather be cold and frightened then warm and frightened.
Quote of the day 3; Dan: Cuck funt.
Day 5, 31st March
With less of us in the house we managed to get out of the house and down to the port by 10am!
Lisbon is rather hilly, so some bright spark built a lift in the centre of town near a big hill, nice. Some nice views, which of course means lots of pictures.
We were reliably informed that the Bario Alto is the place to go out in Lisbon, so we went for a wonder around during the day to see what it was like. Everything was closed, covered in graffiti, and smelt of urine. We decided that this wasn’t really the kind of place we wanted to be drinking in.
We had heard that there was a nice eatery and drinkery place by the docks in the general direction of the big bridge so off we went. We couldn’t find it, sigh.
We found the restaurant district and found somewhere that was selling kid, so we had some, it was nice, a little salty, but nice. Afterwards were very English and went to the Hard Rock cafe.
Quote of the day; Pip: Becca’s going to do a Marylin Manson. (This was in the context of Becca walking over a grill venting air from the subway while wearing a dress).
Day 6, 1st April
Woke up feeling rather dehydrated, all that salt I suspect.
We went to St. Vincent, some fantastic views. Got to climb all the way to the top.
Dan bustificated his travel card, again, like the retardo he is (hence danificardo). We traced the problem to his ass, bizarre!
We finally found the dock area with lots of restaurants, lots of different nationally places to eat in. We were bored of Portuguese food (too salty and bland) so we decided on Spanish, mmm it was good.
Now one of the odd things about the Portuguese is that they don’t seem to like using toilet seats; virtually all the places we went didn’t have a toilet seat at all, it was only the really touristy places that did. Just struck me as a little odd.
Quote of the day; Dan: Danificado.
Day 7, 2nd April
Pip and Dan went to an art museum in the morning so Bint and I went shopping, she bought a few things, but seemed to have trouble paying everyhere we went. We ate at the Hard Rock cafe, again trouble with her card. Then when we tried a cash machine all our cards failed, maestro, switch, mastercard, all danificardoed, hmmm. We tried different cash machines, all broken, the people in the bank said they were all broken to foreign transactions. We met up with the others who had had the same problem, looked like we were about to be stranded in a foreign country with no money, so we did the only thing we could do as English folk with our remaining 40 Euros, drink.
We went to the Port wine institute, it had a wealth of different ports. We were considering on trying them all, but after the first three we decided against it. We had Ruby, tawny, and white, it was a split opinion on what was best, the ruby or the tawny.
Quote of the day; Pip: Tawny is like a party in your mouth, Ruby is like your grandparents staying over.
Day 8, 3rd April
Sintra is a small town outside of Lisbon that is a must see, so Becca booked a tour for all of us. This did mean that we had to be at the Hard Rock cafe at 8:00 am, not a happy bunny. Still, we made it, and Cat and Russ made it too, albeit 30 seconds before 8:00!
We went to the most westerly part of continental Europe, it was westerly.
Went to a nearby beach, Dan and I stood and took pictures of a gheko while the others paddled and got wet.
We finished up in a small fishing village, Caiscais, rather a posh little place, still, I managed to buy a lot of Portuguese cocks for my sister.
Pip left his glasses on the bus, but managed to get them back, luckily. Then the others went to a classical concert while Becca and I ate and went back.
Day 9, 4th April
Belem is a small part of Lisbon with a lot of stuff hidden away. There is the coach museum full of pretty old school coaches. A really old fort used to defend the city back in the day. Of course back in the day they were a lot shorter, and so us modern men struggled inside a bit!
We decided to go back to the eatery place we found the other day, this time we picked a nice French restaurant. It was posh looking (so we stuck out) but the food wasn’t that great, which was a shame.
It was today that we discovered that testes is Portuguese for forehead, as you can imagine much merriment was had.
Quote of the day; All of us: Testes.
Day 10, 5th April
And so we come to the end of our holiday, a thorough tidy up of Cats apartment and we are good to go. We all made it back ok, Pip’s luggage even made to London and not Johannesburg.
In July 2005 a group of eight of us, the motley crew above, went to Prague. Here I offer my take on what we did.
Day 1, Tuesday
At Gatwick airport the strangest thing happened, Ramiane bought a book. Now I had heard that she can read but I have never witnessed it. Arrived in Prague at about 9pm. God bless EasyJet with their cheapness.
Got to the hotel only to be confronted by the night porter, and he lived up to the guide books warning, he really didn’t want us there. Good old Gunter, how we would come to love him.
Went exploring to find sustenance, eventually found a pub. My my, it was so cheap. Sadly it was only the beer that was cheap, and not being a beer drinker it was spirits for me. The spirits were still cheap, just not by that much.
Day 2, Wednesday
Got up bright and early to have breakfast, well 9:15 at least. True to form they didn’t have any tea, well being English and all I had prepared for such an occurrence, I had my own.
We decided to go exploring as a group in to the town centre. So, after a short walk, we found the tube stop, surprise surprise their tube puts our beloved system to shame. The trains were clean and air conditioned. There were only three lines in all of Prague though.
We found the astronomical clock in the centre of town, very pretty. Whilst wondering around the town we came upon a sex museum, enough said. After going back to the hotel the eating really began in earnest. With a proper meal costing the equivalent of about a fiver we really couldn’t say no. I seem to remember seeing Ramiane with her book in her hands, hmm.
Day 3, Thursday
By now the tourist in all of us was trying to do its thing, so all of us, except Rob, mounted an expedition to Prague castle. Now it’s not just a castle, it’s an entire complex of buildings situated on top of a big hill. After almost all of us struggling up the side we eventually got to the top. To begin with we went to the museum of the area, found out many cool things.
Next was the cathedral. It was HUGE, it had a very tall tower which we decided would be a cool thing to climb, so up we went. It was a small stone spiral staircase, with people going up on the inside and down on the outside. After about a million steps I was starting to feel both knackered and incredibly dizzy. After us all getting to the top the first thing we did was to sit down and catch our breath, who says the young are lazy and unfit?! After much panting and sweating we were ready to admire the view, it was amazing, if you go to Prague and you don’t see this you are a fool. Now for the trip down, well on the way down we encountered a slight problem, two, lets say Americans, decided to climb the staircase when really they shouldn’t have. So asthma/panic attacks ensued. This slowed our decent to a nice leisurely pace and so I avoided the dizziness.
After wondering around the complex for a while we happened across a tram stop at the hill, dammit. Rather annoyingly whoever had the guidebook told us that “oh yeah, I remember it saying that now”. Having discovered the steak it had to be eaten every night. Mmm.
Day 4, Friday
Well by now, as is standard procedure for the English, we were starting to feel the effect of the local water. I’m not entirely sure what they put in it, whether it be fluoride or rat poison it eventually got to most of us.
Now Prague boasts the largest nightclub in all of Europe, well we couldn’t not go could we? So we donned our glad rags and headed out. The club is called the Karlovy Lazne and is next to the Charles bridge. The rumours are right too, the place is huge. It seems to be a series of clubs stacked on top of each other. I didn’t even make it to the top. It was however, unbearably hot inside. Five minutes was all you could last on the dance floor. Needless to say fun was had by all, especially Pete who perhaps had a little too much fun.
Day 5, Saturday
The girls, in that I include Pete, thought it would be a good idea to go shopping and take advantage of the cheapness. All was going well until Pete made the final transition from being male and started spending uncontrollably. After a quick scuffle his credit card was parted from him and the spending halted. While the insanity that is shopping went on Rob, Chris and myself went wondering. We spent most of the day sitting in the sun in the centre of a nearby market.
Day 6, Sunday
By this point we were all starting to feel the strain of actually leaving our places of sleep everyday. So a nice relaxing day of nothing was had. I’m pretty sure that I saw Ramaine with that book again, she must be using it to attract intellectual types.
Since so much merriment was had the first time in the club it was decided to revisit it. Once again looking dapper we hit the town.
Day 7, Monday
Prague has a very strong Jewish history, for hundreds of years they have inhabited a picturesque quarter of the town centre. It is here that they have six museums. Well worth the money I feel. One of the most disturbing things though was the list of names on the walls of one of the museums, on it lists the names of all the Jews killed in the war. There is also a cemetery to visit. It has graves of Rabbis dating back hundreds of years. Rather oddly though, it is very high up above street level. The reason for this is the every now and then when they run out of room they just cover the entire place with more soil and start the whole burying process over.
It was here that the travesty of the trip occurred, I dropped my glasses in the street and they broke.
Day 8, Tuesday
Prague is famed for some of its emotionally tortured writers, none more so than Kafka, with this in mind a trip to the Kafka museum was essential. You can really see why he’s so weird when you wonder around here.
After Kafka Becca and I wondered around and found the torture museum. Ow! I think we both agreed the most painful relic there was a frame on which you were hung upside down with your legs spread, from here the executioners take a saw to you and work their way down until you are split in two.
This being the last night it was thought necessary to go drinking in the centre of town, so off we went. We drank cocktails in a few bars around the main square.
Day 9, Wednesday
And so to the last day of our trip. With money to burn, well the exchange rate will eat it otherwise, we head out to the Charles Bridge to get some souvenirs. After some money spending we happened across the Kafka museum again, outside is a rather interesting statue, with which we had much fun. Then back to the hotel to get the taxi back to the airport. Only a couple of hours delay at the airport. Shock horror! Ramiane finished her book!
All the pictures here and many more are in the Prague section of the photo album.
In August 2002 we went to Greece for two weeks and did a bit of island hopping, here’s what happened…..
Becca and Tanya had spent six weeks on a field trip on the small Greek island of Samos, poor them. When there horrible workload was over Andy, Sarah and me went to meet them, we landed in Athens and took the bus to the port. After about ten hours in a McDonalds we finally got a boat to Santorini to meet them.
Santorini is a small volcanic Greek island. It was originally a very large volcano which blew its top a long while ago; this has left a crescent shaped island with a small volcano poking out of the middle. Since there were three geologists amongst us it was thought entirely necessary to go to the volcano, after much climbing and nose holding (sulphur), we reached the top. The boat journey took us past a small remote church where the sea water was warmed by the volcano. Everyone jumped in and swam to it, everyone but me, since, alas, I cannot swim. Oh well, someone had to take a picture or two.
There was one small museum on the island, Akrotiri, it boasted a small town which they had dug up. Becca and Sarah seemed to know all about it, I think they had read up before hand.
It is on this island that Becca and I got engaged. She had been planning it for a while so she had a ring made up ready to pop the question, I of course beat her to it and asked for her hand before she had the chance. I was, predictably, a little unprepared and had no ring, so we took the opportunity to go ring shopping in Thera. We found the perfect ring for Becca, it was very sparkly and the perfect fit, unlike mine which I wore around my ankle until we could get it resized.
It was here that Andy and Tanya decided to part company with us and they headed off to Samos.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and it’s very very hot. It’s also where the Minoans set up shop some 5000 years ago. It’s home of the ancient town of Knossos, it was one of the first places to have multiple storied houses, and the palace is so complex that the town was considered a labyrinth. Toss in the fact that the Minoans worshipped the bull and you get the story of the minator!
Crete has a plethora of cafes and restaurants in its main square, every time we went to eat here the owners would tempt us in with freebies, sadly it was usually ouzo.
One thing that was very nice was all the ice cream shops around, I think we had ice cream breaks every few hours every day.
On the coast of the island is a Venetian fort, the place looked really imposing, and seige proof too.
Instead of going all the way from Crete to the mainland we figured we would stop off on a random island on the way, so we picked this one. Island hopping being so popular and all we thought we would sort out a hotel when we made land fall, BIG mistake. We arrived in the afternoon and immediately began to ring around for hotels, after trying everyone in the phone book we came to the realisation we were screwed, so it was a night spent in the port for us. Being slightly apprehensive about our luggage we shackled it together and gave Sarah an espresso, this ensured any potential thief would be scared off!
The next morning we ate in a restaurant overlooking the port, while phoning the hotels again we happened across another traveller looking for a room to stay in. We chatted for a while until we found a hotel, and as we headed off to it she started to follow us, she wanted us to join her on a camp site but we wanted to go to the hotel. When we got to the hotel we eventually got the manager to get rid of her. It was here I lost my sunglasses, dammit.
Now Milos apparently has a very nice beach, it was a bit far from the port town where we were staying so we got a taxi. The beach was, as promised, very nice, the sea was a nice clear blue, and you could see the bottom of it. It was when we left the beech that we ran in to trouble; we didn’t book a taxi to pick us up as we were told we really didn’t need to. Yet when we tried to get one we could not, and so began the long walk back to the port. Not too much of an issue I suppose, unless you have to catch a ferry soon, and so the walk became slightly more hurried. By the time it was getting dark we were knackered and suffering from a high degree of chaffage, then all of a sudden hallelujah, we managed to flag down a taxi! Got back in time to catch our ferry. And so we vowed never to go back to Milos.
When we got to Athens we met up with Andy and Tanya. One of the first ports of call was the Acropolis. It was very cool, this was one of the places that the girls hadn’t swatted up on so we thought we would get a guide to show us around. The guide had an id badge on with his photo when he became a guide, the funny thing was in his photo he was about 20 yet he was now about 80! After looking at many great things we decided to leave, just as we did the Heavens opened and a huge storm began, I guess the gods didn’t like us being there.
Needless to say, much fun was had by all, maybe we will go back again one day.
All the pictures here and many more are in the Greece section of the photo album.