allochthonous: (communist party)
I am out of bed, bandages off and well and truly over being any kind of invalid. All my former teammates are enjoying a giant Christmas party in Vienna, and I am hobbling around the house picking disconsolately at a large block of marzipan which I am supposed to be putting on the Christmas cake.

But! The prospect of future employment has cheered me up no end (SO glad I had that conversation yesterday because I got a trickle of rejections today. I do wish that there wasn't a requirement to advertise jobs if organisations already know they're going to fill the position internally - it's such a waste of everyone's time. At least the emails I got today came right out and said that thye'd basically known who they were going to take all along, so I don't feel that inadequate). I still feel that saying anything about immiment Georgia-ness will jinx it as nothing's been signed, but if all goes to plan then I should be retreating to the Caucasus early next year for much eating of dumplings and cheese pies, drinking of dodgy homebrews and cheap red wine, and (if my boss has anything to do with it) being forcibly taught to ski in ex-Soviet ski resorts. Could be worse.

In honour of the prospect of my buggering off somewhere more interesting, here is something I wrote about Albania. Er, six months ago.

In which I have a Byronic moment. )

Now I am going to go and try and make some panettone. Possibly sacreligious, but I think it might work well with cranberries. After all, most things do.
allochthonous: (Default)
I am having issues with the weather at the moment. Belgrade, this is not OK.


This was a particualrly nasty shock coming straight after a week in Amsterdam, which required a blissful number of layers and the frequent use of an umbrella. In response to this unprepossessing weather, I am resolutely working from home this week (home air-conditioning unit >>>>> office air-conditioning unit) which has the added benefit of my colleagues not having to put up with a constant muttered refrain on the subject of the weather in Foreign Parts in general and the Balkans in particular. Two weeks to go before I can escape off up a mountain somewhere.

In the meantime, it's histories time! I've been looking forward to the BBC adaptations of the second tetralogy for ages, and last weekend was Richard II.

Dodgy religious imagery ahoy! )

So yes, good stuff (I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun watching them without plenty to complain about), and I am very much looking forward to the Henry IVs (the buzz at the moment is that they are the best of the four). Bring on Falstaff as a Jesus-St Ursula hybrid (only joking, Richard Eyre, please don't).

PS on a still-Shakespeare-but-not-histories note, somebody tell me why we haven't had Chiwetel Ejiofor's Hamlet yet? I was wondering this earlier today and I googled and found him doing the Hecuba monologue from Hamlet on youtube and ow, I need the rest. Preferably at the Donmar Warehouse, so you can get close enough to see him properly. Somebody want to get Josie Rourke on that stat?

ETA Important point related to medieval headgear: anyone know how historically accurate the scarf/turban/giant sock combo everyone was wearing on their heads is? They really distracted me for a good proportion of the indoor scenes.
allochthonous: (then you can tell if it's summer)
Today and tomorrow are holidays here, but deadlines wait for no woman so I am sitting at home gloomily drinking coffee and researching national energy policies in the Balkans, wishing that I had remembered to go shopping yesterday (current food supplies for the next two days consist of a bag of sunflower seeds and some dried apricots). To cheer myself up, I am sharing one of the best pictures I found when digging up information about natural disasters in these parts: 


This is from 2010 when a private zoo in Montenegro was flooded and Nikica the hippo went AWOL. She spent several weeks lurking around the village looking baleful before being lured back into her enclosure when the floods subsided. If the threat of a stray hippo turning up in your garden isn't an argument for taking measures against climate change, I don't know what is.
allochthonous: (i cannot rest from travel)

Just stating for the record that Macedonia has not disappointed, what with peacocks and monasteries and bona fide miracles and coffee and Roman bits and pieces and ten whole minutes of sunshine. There was a bit of minor excitement in Skopje this afternoon which I hope for everybody’s sake does not get any more exciting, but it has otherwise been a gorgeous weekend of which more anon.

No cavemen though, and no sheet-folding lakeside ladies, although in fairness the weather was not terribly conducive to laundry, so I am prepared to let it go for the moment;  I may have to come back in the summer to check.

allochthonous: (then you can tell if it's summer)
When I was living in Uzbekistan,the only English TV channel available was BBC World News. This was a little surprising given that BBC journalists had been banned from the country for several years at that point, but I was grateful for it. When watching Russian dubs of Mamma Mia palled (hard to believe, I know, but it happens), the BBC was my background noise of choice. Since they can’t use commercial advertising, the breaks between the updates on the antics of minor members of the royal family, studio audiences in Qatar arguing over US foreign policy, and interviews with African Union delegates which constitute most of BBC World’s output were filled with promotional shorts from the tourist boards of various countries. You know the kind: spectacular scenery/wildlife/ruins interspersed with shots of an attractive tourist couple being hugged by local children all improbably wearing national costume, learning traditional dances from nice young ladies in spiffy hats, and buying each other necklaces in the shiny new shopping malls, all set to an exciting soundtrack (cliché-filled narration optional) and finished off with a slogan of superb banality and/or incomprehensibility.

In the absence of any other TV, I became quite the connoisseur of these little promos. Back then, BBC World was dominated by Incredible India (I actually quite like this one) and Malaysia Truly Asia (snooooresville) with a sprinkling of South Africa: It’s Possible (the narration wins a prize for the most clichés packed into a minute, and believe me, the competition is stiff in this genre), all countries with well-funded tourist boards that could afford to get these commercials run multiple times a day. However, like all the best trainspotters, I was much more excited by the more elusive appearances from countries with slightly less generous marketing budgets; quite a few, now that I look back on it, came from the corner of the world I’m currently exploring. Kosovo: The Young Europeans (not so much a tourism promo as a political statement), Montenegro: Wild Beauty (featuring a flying mermaid) and Croatia: The Mediterranean As It Once Was (what happens when a advertising company decides it can’t be bothered and just throws a bunch of random clips together) all showed up only once a month or so and were savoured accordingly. But how ever frequently they aired, they are all pretty similar. Mostly they are pretty uninspired. Sometimes they are hilarious (see above re: flying mermaids). Very rarely do they actually pique my interest in a particular country.

The one exception was one I only ever saw a couple of times, but it really stuck with me. It covers all the standard ground (scenery! ruins! dancing!) but you can tell that some genuine thought has gone into it (it even has a framing device!). There are some ill-advised costuming decisions (why is there even a caveman in the first place?), but also some really tasty-looking watermelon. There is a small child involved, but she somehow manages to avoid murderous levels of annoyance. They do not stint on the icons and archaeology. Congratulations, Macedonia, you have my attention.

All of which is an incredibly long-winded way of saying that this evening I'm flying to Macedonia for a week and I cannot wait. If there aren't lakeside ladies folding sheets on their heads (what?) I'm going to be terribly disappointed.
allochthonous: (Default)

Back in the land of regular meals and someone else doing my washing (hi Mum!).

My last few days were a bit of a blur, as I picked up some pretty awful flu in Sarajevo and had to get to Budapest to catch my flight (sleeper trains with six border stops? Not so much with the fun when you're feverish and hallucinating) rather than just curl up in a ball and ignore the world for a few days, which would have been my preferred solution. There was a point at which I was getting pretty freaked out, since my health insurance had run out the previous day, and I was seriously doubting my ability to get from A to B, even to walk. My diary from those two days is full of incoherent gibberish mixed with me wishing that Mum/Dad/best friend was there, and when I finally got to the central train station at Budapest and I realised I had no way to get to the airport I nearly sat down and cried. There were no taxis, I didn't trust myself to find the minibus stand, and all I wanted to do was call Mum or Dad and get them to sort it out, but short of actually flying out and getting me, there was pretty much nothing that they could have done. I just sat at the station for three hours wondering what on earth I was going to do, and for the first time in three weeks I actually felt the lack of a travelling companion. In the end, I told myself that if I was going to make a big deal about being self reliant, then I was damn well going to have to rely on myself, and somehow I figured out the subway system and got myself there via train and bus. I was nearly weeping with relief by the time I got to the airport.

Of course I was fine (two days of solid sleep in a non-bunkbed! Who knew that could feel so good?), and it probably wasn't nearly as bad as it felt at the time, but it brought home quite sharply one of the problems - or rather, challenges - of solo travelling. Without a doubt, the past three weeks were some of most rewarding I've spent, and taking that first step and deciding to just go for it was one of the best decisions I've made. If I go on a big trip next summer, I will seriously consider going alone, and I think I'd have a better time than I would with a travelling companion who was even slightly non-ideal (currently there's only really one other person I know I can travel with long-term with no issues). Most of the time it's great  - there's always loads of people to meet at hostels, there's usually someone going your way if you need a travelling companion, and you can always ditch them if need be! I spoke to more people in three weeks this time than my friend and I did in two months last summer in Central America. This was largely out of necessity, and I talked far more to local people (whose English was always embarrassingly good. I have got to sort semi-fluencey in at least one language at some point - monolinguality is getting depressing). Having a flexible itinerary was truly joyous - I felt that I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted, even with time constraints. After the previous six weeks it was wonderful to have time to myself and to be entirely on my own if I chose.

However, you do have to be proactive and get up your backside and sort things out. Which is something I'm generally bad at, but once I realised I wasn't actually going to go anywhere if I didn't steel up my courage and brave the ticket booth armed only with about ten words of Serbo-Croat, I just did it and it was fine. The only hard part was realising that there was no way around it. Ill, tired, grumpy, depressed or hungover, I still had to go and carry my bag and change money and find a hostel and get food and generally cope, and no-one was going to do it for me. That was HARD - and I am proud that I did that, and know that I can do it in the future. People at home are all expressing shock at the fact that I travelled around on my own, because I was a girl and wasn't it dangerous, but I never once felt threatened or harrassed because of my sex. The challenges I had to overcome I would have faced whether I was male or female, and I'm pleased that I pushed my comfort zone and extended it.

Wow, that's enough navel-gazing for now. I'm going to go watch my pirated versions of Superman and Pirates of the Carribbean (legal in Bosnia!)

allochthonous: (Default)
The cappuccino here is fantastic. This in some measure consoles me for the fact that this time last year I dived the Blue Hole in Belize. It does not console me entirely, since sharks top coffee any day of the week. Stupid mapping.
allochthonous: (Default)
Never before have I felt so acutely the lack of a t-shirt bearing this slogan. I guess that's what I deserve for insisting on arguing with pissed old guys about the nature of the Big Bang. I may no longer be a physicist, but I still refuse to hear Stephen Hawking's name taken in vain.

Veliko Tarnovo is indeed north of Plovdiv, and kind of in the middle of Bulgaria. It used to be the capital, and is dominated by Tsvarets fortress, a gigantic medieval walled citadel. VT is built on several inconveniently large hills, which, although adding to the general absurd picturesqueness (I'm not entirely certain that that's even a word) of it all, is a pain in the arse. The hostel is lovely, and has a kitten that was so catatonic when I first saw it that I was afraid that it was dead. There's also an excellent view of the fortress,  especially good at night when the sound and light show turns it an attractive shade of neon pink.

One of the first people I met at the hostel was J, another student bumming around EE trying to string out the long vacation for as long as possible. She was the first female solo traveller I'd met, and I was the first she'd seen for a while, so we practically flung ourselves into each others' arms (um, figuratively) and spent a couple of days investigating the delights of VT together. A chocolate-cake-eating-competition on the first night (we found a place that does magic sachertorte) rendered us ridiculously giggley, much to the chagrin of our dorm-mates when we attempted to make our beds at 11 at night (incidentally, what is up with the sheets here? They're all made double with a huge round hole in one side. Maybe all sheets legally have to double as duvet covers?). Apparently everyone thought we'd known each other for years, and to be honest, it really did feel like that. We hit it off really well, and spent far longer chatting at the fortress than we did thinking deep cultural thoughts (I'm sure we were soaking it in though). She spent her gap year in Romania, and would open her ideal hostel in Brasov (mine would be in Guatemala, preferably by Lake Atitlan). Sadly she's headed in the wrong direction, (although I'm still not entirely sure which direction I'm headed in - I LOVE this), but hopefully we'll stay in touch.

Back to Sofia now I think - I vaguely toyed with hitting Romania, but don't really have enough time. That leaves Serbia or Macedonia next then - I think I'll have to leave the decision in the lap of the train timetable gods.
allochthonous: (Default)
Heh. I was so planning to update this at least every week. Is backdating cheating?

Well, Plovdiv started off great, since I had scarcely been there for two hours before I had released a pigeon outside a cathedral (I'm not entirely sure why I did this, apart from the fact that it cost about 50p, but I'm sure it was an important local tradition or something), been presented with a bunch of flowers by a charming old American man, and eaten an enormous ice cream of extraordinary sugar content. However, there's not an enormous amount to Plovdiv, if you're not planning to investigate every single museum mentioned in the Lonely Planet, which I sure as hell wasn't, unlike the fantastically keen other occupants of my dorm at the hostel there (I lay low and read determinedly).

The LP is always a mixed blessing: on the plus side, it is reassuring to arrive in an unknown destination clutching your big purple book and feeling confident that you can find your way from the bus station to somewhere, but on the other hand, it does mean that you are walking around clutching a large purple book, which, in combination with a backpack, amounts to a flashing overhead neon sign screaming "Please overcharge me for taxi rides and attempt to sell me "hand-woven" rugs with "Made in China" labels on them!" (hell, I'd try and take advantage of me, and I am me). You tend to stay at places where all the backpackers are and eat where all the backpackers eat, and drink where they drink, and while this helps if you're travelling solo and looking for company, it means that it's much more difficult to meet locals. I'm kinda tempted to chuck it (possibly at the next person who tries to sell me one of those rugs) but I'm still not comfortable doing this totally blind. Baby steps.

Having sampled most flavours of ice cream at the stand there (and rather horrified to discover I hadn't eaten anything else for nearly two days, and drunk only coffee and a small bottle of water), I thought a change was necessary in order to rescue my digestive system, so got a bus to Veliko Tarnovo. Which is...actually, I'm still not entirely where it is. Somewhere north? Well, Plovdiv is somewhere south, so the likelihood is that it's somewhere north.
allochthonous: (Default)

Excuse me, I'm a little overexcited about being in a country where they have backwards Ns and Rs. And other weird letters.

Ж Б Д Л И Я ЖЖЖЖЖЖЖЖЖ (I like that one especially).

OK, think that's got it out of my system now. It is probably painfully apparent that, pretty as the Cyrillic alphabet is, I have yet to work out how to decipher it.

The geology project which I have spent most of the past six weeks plotting to escape from is done, and I have precious little to show for it apart from numerous mosquito bites and a reputation as "that drunken English girl" in a couple of small Macedonian villages. Having been ditched by the friends that I was planning to dive with in Turkey, and realising that if I wanted to live my life free of skin cancer in the future I would have to make a fast track out of the country where there had been 43 C temperatures for the previous week, I pitched up at the train station in Thessaloniki, saw a departure for Sofia, thought "anything is better than here", and ended up in Bulgaria. I'm not entirely sure what one does in Bulgaria, but I intend to find out, and then damned well do it to the best of my ability.

Having finally escaped from the all-embracing clutches of The Rock, I now find myself meandering homewards through the Balkans. Meandering being the operative word here, since I have pretty much zero idea of where I'm going, when I'm going there, and what I'm doing when I get there. Travelling solo in a country whre I can't even read the signs, let alone speak the language, means that I take disproportionate pride in even the smallest accomplishments: currently I am gloating over my acheivement in getting from Grevena to Thessaloniki to Sofia without losing wither my luggage, my important bits of paper, or my temper.  The fact that I was told "get a new passport" by the Bulgarian border official (by which I mean she told a trilingual Greek guy sitting opposite, and he told me) is only mildly disheartening. It appears that passports are not OK when in the past they have been dropped in streams thus rendering all previous visa stamps illegible. This seems to me to be excessively pedantic (and wow does the turquoise ink from the Guatemalan ones bleed like anything, even after a year), but then I'm not being paid to keep undesirable people with damp passports out of the country. Such is life.

I should probably stop abusing the free internet at the hostel and work out where I'm going next (Plovdiv has a pleasing sound), but in the meantime, someone is offereing me free spaghetti and beer. I think I like it here.


allochthonous: (Default)

April 2015



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