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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Parking, Police and Panic

Ready yourselves dear readers this is probably the most traumatic tale that I have ever told. It's a whopper. Hopefully you will find it hilarious, unfortunately although I can see the funny side I am not laughing yet. Perhaps I never will be ...

This time my travels took me to the exotic Covent Garden. Wild.

Imagine the scene: 6pm, Sunday, late February. I'm in my car looking for a parking spot.

Those of you how know me will know how much I hate parking at the best of times and this certainly was not the best of times.

There is nowhere to park. Round and round we go (me and my gal pal). Nothing. Round again. Nothing.

Tourists blindly step out into the road, rickshaws whizz past, it is getting dark.

I am starting to feel quite fraught. I go up and down any road I can find. I don't care anymore I just want to get out of the car. Up. Down. Round. Nothing.

Eventually I turn down a wide road, parked cars line both sides and it has a string of taxis down the middle that ends with a HUGE lorry.

Obviously I am not going to get a space down here. I drive to the end only to find it is a dead end: a series of bollards separate me from a huge outdoor market with people swarming in, out, everywhere.

I panic. My friend soothes me.

It is a one way system on either side of the taxi rank so I must turn around the lorry and make my way up the other side of the street. Sounds simple but I can't get round the lorry. I can't get the angle right. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.

My face burns with the imagined faces watching me. I see two policemen in the throng. Oh god. I am freaking out now.

Policeman One knocks on my window. I lower it - it stops halfway - stupid old car - I manually yank the window down - puffing with effort and embarrassment. I can feel my cheeks burning crimson.

'Are you OK love? Do you need a hand?'

I nod.

'We've cleared a space for you -'
I look back and they have indeed removed all the rickshaws and gawking passersby from the area.

Both policemen then proceed to give me detailed instructions on the angle needed to get around the lorry.

I cannot understand. I cannot make the wheels do what they want. Then the lorry driver appears in high-vis. He too cannot get my brain to compute the required angels.

I am on the verge of tears. My friend - choking back a fit of giggles - tells me it will be OK.

WILL IT? My brain screams.

I want to curl up into a little ball and die. Eventually the two policemen and the lorry driver realise that this is never going to happen.

They let me turn around on the spot - swinging wildly into the cleared pedestrian area - and give me an escort - one policeman walking in front and one behind - back down the one way street and finally off to freedom.

I thank them with tears of shame, joy and relief stinging my eyes and then I flee the scene of the most embarrassing moment of my life ....

I never did find that parking spot and I am never going to try and park in central London EVER again.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Trapped behind a thin veil of politeness

This journey is one of two halves. The first six hour bus ride was the best I've ever had. Truly incredible: sleeper seats so long my feet couldn't touch the bottom even if I tried, with cushioning more comfortable than many beds I've slept in. At 2am I was not only reluctant to get off but checking into a cheap-and-not-paticularly-cheerful hostel was actually a downgrade from my bus bed!



The next day I did part two: another six hour bus ride. This could not have been more different. A cramped bus with hard seats that could be made to recline the maximum of an inch, whilst I was sitting next to the most annoying person that has ever ever ever ever ever existed in the world ever. Ever.

She was the personification of when autocorrect keeps changing your word even though you typed what you meant to type each and every time. Or when the self check-out machine freezes and the shop assistant can't seem to see you and all you want is your single loaf of bread. Or when you make a cup of tea only then to realise you have no milk. I could go on but I think you get the picture: she was a nightmare.

She kept sighing very loudly at odd intervals making me jump. And she had no sense of personal space at all whatsoever, she kept bumping me and leaning on me – literally leaning - on me watching my phone screen over my shoulder.



I start to feel a need to react but I cannot make a scene – I am far too British for that – I can't say or do anything outright. But passive aggression, now that I can do : as long as there is at least a thin veil of politeness to hide behind I can show her who's who.

I start sighing. Very loudly. Okay I lie, not that loudly, but loudly enough for her to notice – maybe.

This amuses me briefly, but the 'victory' was short lived as I start to need a wee. The bus has stopped a few times for people to wee but this consists of people jumping out and weeing in fields by the road, can I bring myself to do that?

But what if my bladder bursts?

Oh my god I need a wee. I need a wee so bad. 

And just when I think this journey cannot get anymore painful. The crowning moment.

I feel something touch my arm. I turn back to see what it is.

It's a toe. A horrible old cracked toe … touching my elbow.

I'm done.

Photos taken at Ta Prohm Temple : Cambodia

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

18 hours in silence : from Mui Ne to Suratthani

It began with emotional goodbyes, leaving my little crew and striking out on my own. It really felt as if I were flying the nest, which is weird because I only met these guys a few weeks ago and I left home a few years ago ... nevertheless bravely I board my bus. 

I felt fine, quite sad, but physically fine, and yet after my short bus ride into the city I woke in agony. My throat felt as though it had been home to a pair of feral weasels who didn't get along very well, and it hadn't so it was very odd.


After an uneventful first flight, I find myself pondering how many days of my life I have now spent in Bangkok airport, as I lug my backpack to the closest restaurant, waiting for checkin to open. 

I sit down and oh my god they have mushroom soup and it's cheap too! I order it and an exorbitantly expensive orange juice. Warm fluids and vitamins: just what I need.

Shortly I am presented with a thimble full of mushroom soup and a vast goblet of orange juice: it's quite comical really.


After checkin I spot a sushi restaurant, why not? And oh my god they have mushroom soup too! My soup thirst not quite quenched, I cannot resist. However what arrives is (incredibly) even smaller than my first portion. I shot my soup and leave.

Next I spy a pharmacy. Now this is what I need.

I buy some Strepsils, in the most ridiculous packaging I have ever encountered. I've ranted about this to many people and they all believe me to be belligerent but I will leave that for you to decide.

The Strepsils came in a small non-resealable foil wrapper.

Who the hell eats a packet of Strepsils in one???  In fact you're specifically advised not to. Although, admittedly, in this case you might have to because they melted in the heat and become one gigantic Strepsil: ridiculous! I mean really who designed this packaging?


Somehow I survive this disappointment and eventually arrive in Suratthani, but my problems were far from over. I had already paid for my bus with my airline, but where to get the ticket? 

When every sound you make is barely audible, not even a whisper, just a faint rasping punctuated by intermittent squeaks, communicating with people with limited English is very difficult. 

Eventually, with a lot of gesturing, I get by, and18 hours after I set off I find myself hoarsely screeching in delight (not unlike a baby owl with a broken voice box) as I spot my friends. 

I then proceed to drink until dawn and head off to the infamous full moon party ... so I'm sure I'll be right as rain very soon .... 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Alcohol Poisoning on a Plane

After weeks spent in the serenity of Indonesia's small islands and Myanmar's quiet towns our arrival in Hanoi's downtown was overwhelming. An area reminiscent of the Greek party islands, populated entirely by places offering cheap drinks and playing thumping dance music.

You know the kind of places you need to drink to enjoy, lest you notice all the sweaty drunk people dancing to the same three songs on repeat, asking each the same three questions over and over again.

Now I know I've painted a pretty picture here but having not partied in the best part of three months imaginably I got pretty overexcited. At our hostel they were offering FREE drinks. FREE. How could I say no?

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say the night quickly got messy….

       

Cut to the next morning: I am violently awoken by my friends, essentially rolling me out of bed. The storm has passed, flights are running, we need to leave NOW.

Oh my god. In a flurry fuelled by adrenaline I stuff my things into my backpack, shoving it all down, no sense, no order, just pushing and shoving. As I clip it up I realise something is missing.

Where is my phone?

Where the fuck is my phone?

My phone with my bank card and ID inside it…. Shit. Shit. Shit.

I don’t know, I don’t understand and we have to leave.

I get surprisingly calming hug from a giant Canadian, and then we’re off.

Here begins the worst trip of my entire life.

        

It felt as though my head was trying to give birth to my brain. In the taxi, having the kind of existential crisis that can only be triggered by an intense hangover, I start to feel nauseous.

My stomach appears to have been replaced with the drum of a washing machine. A top loader that could eject items at any moment : don't worry I'll spare you the grisly details but suffice it to say I was in a bad bad way.

Thankfully my friend is prepared and thrusts a plastic bag into my hands….I sit in the back of the car feeling very sorry for myself.

Somehow we get to the airport. At check in the woman looks me up and down and asks my friends if I am ill: I clearly don’t look fit to fly - I didn’t feel fit to fly to be honest - but I put on my best smile and (amazingly) she gives us the all clear.

I spend the remainder of our time in the airport tooing and froing from the bathroom, questioning what life choices I have made to leave me in this position.

The answer is not good ones …

On the shuttle bus I curl up on the floor trying to soothe myself, unsuccessfully. On the plane I am much the same until blessed sleep relieves me briefly, I wake as we touch down.

       

Thankfully this story has a happy ending : we arrive at our beach front hostel, I wolf down a plate of cannelloni (with real mozzarella) and fall asleep in a hammock.

And it gets even better!
I wake up to a message saying that my belongings have been found by a beautiful human who returned them to me a week later.


So really alls well that ends well, although there is a moral to this story : 50p mojitos are definitely a false economy. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Nineteen hours

The journey from Hoi An to Da Lat was always going to be a big one, but I had no idea quite what I was letting myself in for when I set off.

It began with myself and a handful of young British travellers standing in line for the bus and being, fairly almost violently, queue-jumped by a large group of old Croatian holiday-makers.

“fairly almost violently queue-jumped” : I doubt anyone has ever said anything so quintessentially British before.

Few seats remained when we eventually boarded: whisperingly lamenting our British conduct, because of course we did not want to create any tension by complaining audibly.

I had the final free seat, or rather bed (this was a sleeper bus): which was one in a set of three conjoining bunks, two of which were already occupied by an Asian couple.

I climbed up, inelegantly (of course), and resigned myself to being the big spoon in the weirdest cuddle puddle that I've ever being involved in.


I settle in as best I can and decide to watch 'The Godfather'. I have never seen this before (I know, shock, horror) and so I feel that this is as a good a time as any.

It was not: I could not follow the plot at all.

It was not a great copy of the movie and Marlon Brando's mumbles were all but entirely drowned out by the bus's engine. I struggled through, but I did not enjoy it as much as I'd hoped.

I only found out afterwards that the sections that are in Italian are supposed to have English subtitles: who knew?
This was not some quirky mysterious director's decision, which seems quite obvious now...


There was a brief interlude in my struggle: I was in the seat next to the toilet and a small queue had formed, whilst a man was waiting (patiently I am pleased to note) he began to lean on what I can only assume he thought was a pole.

It was in fact my leg.

I sat there, not wanting to say anything, slowly feeling my leg go numb, suffering full moments of pain to avoid two milliseconds of awkwardness: the longer it lasted, of course the more intensely I could not say anything...


We arrived in Nha Trang at 6am for a quick healthy breakfast of Pringles and coffee. Then our second bus arrived: only this time we were picked up by a small van, the very image of one my grandfather used to drive many moons ago.

This changeover was a baffling affair, with very little English spoken on the driver's side, and my Vietnamese being so, well, non-existent. We got in the van and hoped for the best.

I was convinced this van was taking us to a bigger bus, a sleeper bus. It was only when we hit the mountain roads, leaving the city behind us, that I was forced out of my denial.

When will I learn that even when you are so so sure, you really never know what your next 'bus' will be.

We sat in this van for the best part of 6 hours.


We arrived in Da Lat some nineteen hours after our original departure.


They say you learn a lot about yourself when you're travelling. I feel that this is certainly true of this journey: I found myself: I am an awkward over-polite Brit: funny how I had to come all the way to Vietnam to discover this.