Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hopscotch'n All the Way

I remember playing hopscotch as a kid, throw a pebble into a block, and hop on over to whatever number you were on. Starting off was easy but the further you got the harder it was- sometimes the pebble would land in the right block and other times it was to the one above, to the left or right or even the previous one. Then there was the dreaded wobbles, teetering on the border of where you should be and where you might like to be. I've enjoyed playing some global hopscotch: I know where I'd like to visit, but sometimes I overshoot and land up some where to the left or right or torn between my plan and where I'd really like to go.

I think that's what keeps things interesting, in fact I'd take a bit more overshooting if I could. As long as I get to the places I want to see, I'm not particularly fazed about the order or whether it makes geographical- or economical- sense. I've once flown from Tel Aviv to Sicily via Latvia and Rome.

Mt Etna, Sicily. Active volcano that we climbed
Nov 2010
Yes, things are better minus a map!

Couch surfers @Madam Tussaud's Dec 2010

Touching the highest point in Grazalema
If it were't for the clouds we'd
see Africa

The Turquoise Coast in Turkey
the diving was amazing

So how exactly have I been managing to throw my pebble to places such as France, Spain, Turkey, Israel and Italy all on one- long gone- pay check?

I will forever lament their names, Workaway and Couchsurfing will always be my perfect idea of travel.

Getting ready for Shabbat
What more could I possibly want than to live in a place for a few days/weeks/months and be completely immersed in the culture, the language and the people? Learning, experiencing and being has been one of the greatest privileges so far.

My Workaway experiences have been nothing short of fantastic while my latest Couchsurfing exploits have surprised me each time.
Living in Château's, grouting 12m pools, swimming in natural springs, painting, visiting castles picking- beans, oranges, lemons and the odd nose- moving rocks and rubbish, climbing mountains, walking hills, cleaning hotel rooms, crashing in studio apartments with strangers, dodging heroine junkies, writing websites, going out all night, sleeping under the stars, trekking on a volcano, building sheds, jumping from cliffs, and hitch-hiking. And that's before I mention the wonderful people- hosts, travellers and locals who have each contributed to gems of information, treasured memories and uncontrollable laughter.

Summer 2011, let's see where my pebble lands.

Not quite a couch- our room in
Gent, Belgium
A reminder that while you were
 people were shooting up on your doorstep.

Picking olives in Sicily

Myth (not) Busted: Reading on the Dead Sea

We never got to test out our grouting

3 weeks of broad beans 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Failure To Launch

Word on the street is that this travelling thing is supposed to be filled with lessons: every day poses new situations and one is meant to gain and enhance many skills over this time. Or so they say...

I for one seem to be the only person whose a) already terrible skills have worsened and b) managed to say/do the stupidest of things. I must admit, I don't really mind and do manage a sheepish grin from time to time. 

Obviously I've learned a lot of valuable things, for example that no matter how old I get, how far I travel or how many times I look at a map, whether I arrive somewhere will always be hit or miss. My sense of direction has completely eluded me over the past year and I'm sure it'll be the reason behind my prolonged absence...

So here, in no particular order, are some of the most memorable moments of stupidity:

1. Epic fail: Almost trumping all moments is this tale...

When planning our road trip to Scotland, Kayle and I decided that I would take an early bus from London to Stafford (in the midlands) as I'd done before. She would then meet me at the station in the afternoon, we'd  leave straight away and spend the night in Glasgow (allowing maximum time in the highlands). As I'd taken the journey before to Stafford, I knew that I had a 40 minute stopover in Birmingham, so I got off the bus and waited. When it was time to board I hopped back on and continued to read my book.

Er... Kayle, don't wait for me...
At 17:40 when my bus was due to arrive Kayle calls to say ask why I'm late, I tell her that it can't be much longer. At 6pm I look out of the window and realise that the scenery is very different and that I'm more than 30 minutes late. Panic sets in as I run to the nearest person (very few passengers by this time) who then tells me that I'm in Wales!

A dear old lady helped me get off at the next stop and organise a train back to England, where I eventually arrived at Kayle's house late at night. Delayed by a day and a half we had to set off to Scotland at 5am!

2. Most recently (two days ago in fact), I was at a bar for an open mic night/live band organised by some travellers from Couchsurfing. I'd been there about 10 minutes and as more people slowly trickled in,  someone sat next to me:

 Sanjeev: Hi, I'm Sanjeev.
 Me: Nice to meet you, I'm Rashika.

 we talk to different people and five minutes later....

 Sanjeev turns to me: So it's Rashika, right?
 Me (quite freaked out) : Er... yes, how do you know?
 Sanjeev: You just told me...

3. Kayle and I are planning a trip to Ireland for my birthday, a few weeks ago we met up for coffee and began talking about flights and prices.
In a moment of absolute clarity and feeling like a money-saving hero I exclaim, "Can't we take a train there!"

4. Every morning I drive Tom, my au-pairing kid, to the school bus stop not too far away. On some days the dad will come with to show me the route or if he needs a ride. Two weeks ago (still being new and going through the routine) I was surprised when the dad got into the drivers seat, he parked (rather terribly- in the middle of the road) at the usual dead end close to the bus stop. We all jumped out and he said that he would walk Tom across the road (what I would usually do). Slightly confused as to why I was with them in the first place and thinking that he'd really parked like a wingnut, I walked away . I got home and a few hours later the police are at the door asking about the car because someone had reported it with all the doors open and the keys still inside but when they had driven past the road they had not seen it. Still confused I say that it should be with the dad at work as he had taken it that morning. Turns out there is a tube station next to the bus stop and I was meant to meant to drive the car back.

To the  slight relief of my thudding heart and before I could puke in a police car, they realised that they had not looked as far as the dead end. With renewed hope I stared anxiously out the window as we approached the road and luckily the car was there, nothing amiss.

Yes, the map is upside down...
5. On every trip I get hopelessly lost but this one is totally worth mentioning for it's sheer stupidity... it's really one of those moments that I just have to ask myself "HOW??".

It was my last day in Tel Aviv and my flight was quite late at night. I decided that I wanted to spend the entire day vegetating on the beach and have lunch at what is meant to be the best hummus bar. For starters I woke up really late, so decided I'd go straight to the hummus bar. Map in hand, I went more or less to the area I had been the day before, with some difficulty (naturally) I found the small, crowded bar- and yes, it is the most amazing pitta and hummus I have ever tasted, no one goes for their service, that's for sure!

Completely stuffed and with the staff glaring at me to get a move on, after all it isn't a restaurant, I left for the beach. Stubborn as I am, and believe it or not determined to improve my sense of direction, I set off map in hand.  I found the harbour, I found a lovely lady to walk and talk with for a while but I never found my beloved beach from the day before. Two hours later, and my time slipping away, I was still walking along the shore and walking and walking... and walking... every little while taking out the map and thinking OK, not that far now.

Time dictated that if I didn't start heading home (where ever that was!) I'd become a permanent Israeli resident. I moved inland, stumbled upon a bus stop, pointed at the map, tried to utter what little Hebrew I knew to the bus driver and with some difficulty he understood where I wanted to go "Aaaah, you want Tel Aviv?"....

Yes, I had walked straight out of Tel Aviv... with a map and possibly the best navigation tool in the universe- the sea.

I'm not complaining the 2hr walk
was beautiful- just in the wrong
The destination I was aiming for...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Great Scots!

May 2010 saw Kayle and myself head from sunny Spain to what was rumoured to have been a rainy Scotland. Stepping off the plane at Glasgow airport at 11pm, the cold hit us like a ton of bricks and we thought we were in for a rough time.

After meeting our new host we camped the night, before our long drive up to the highlands. And what a night it was, wrapped up in numerous blankets and sleeping bags and wearing all our winter clothes!

The next day we started a supposed 4-5 hour journey to the highlands, taking the scenic route along the coast. Unfortunately it ended up being nearly 10 hours as we broke down in the middle of the highlands with nothing more than the "hills" ie mountains for comfort. At least we had our camping kit if AA couldn't find us! Eventually we arrived at our new home....

Cluttered is a wee bit of an understatement. And this was the lounge after we'd already been there for 2 weeks clearing up the place. My permanent spot was on the floor next to the radiator and t.v.

I was the soldier always on lunch duty, the others lost all focus upon entering and would come out empty handed.
The actual width
of the kitchen

But with views like this from our garden, who cares what the inside looks like!

Katy, from Brighton, was another volunteer on Clutter Island and arrived two days after us-so we had someone to drown our sorrows with at the pub- and who helped build the shed into which we moved the rubbish from inside the house. She didn't last too long but was a good laugh, I think we may have lost her in the clutter. Next to arrive was San Diego-an/Mexican, Regina, who lasted even less time and eventually hopped on the bus with us to Edinburgh never to return again. After Katy's and Regina's untimely departure there was a Candian girl... I can't remember her name, she was only there one night and also hopped on board with us when we left on another adventure. Looks like Kayle and I outwitted, outplayed and outlasted on Clutter Island and were the sole survivors- a pity there wasn't a million dollar prize and those awesome bandanna's!

Scotland is a place of many 'firsts' for us. Our first (although wonderful) host that seemed cuckoo. The first time we hitch-hiked and the first time the word pint entered our vocabulary! 
We spent a lot of time at our local (a 4 mile walk away, trust me there's not a light in sight when you're stumbling home) and came to know many of the locals, young and old. There was Ronan our host's nephew, Sean (both pictured further down) the blind chef who lived in a great caravan, a guy called Pumpkin- never understood why, but he was a crazy driver, and then there's our dear friend the fisher-boy with  the yellow 'willies' (apparently saying wellies in an SA accent is a bit of a problem) who ran around the pub pants half down trying to show us his hernia- the literal kind! Most of those we met are fisherman and you'd be surprised at how many have never left the highlands.

We enthusiastically joined our friends in the Scottish national sport- drinking & banter. Each flowing as easily as the water in the lochs. One such night of debauchery saw us waking up to a scene straight out of a teenage spoof movie...
Fields and fields of sheep and not a soul in sight. We knew how we got there, we knew who were with as I'm sure everyone did (our village was tiny- don't even think of hiding in the trunk of a friends car to scare them, no sooner had I done it someone asked our host whether the small Indian girl always stayed in the boot!) 

Sadly, after a few weeks, some crazy nights, beautiful walks, plenty of craic (fun) and a trip to Edinburgh it was time to take a nine hour train ride to England. And this time there were no runaways. 
Fast forward to August, after months of hard work in England and before setting off around Europe again, we decided a mini road trip back to one of our favourite places was in order.

I'd like to say the drive went forth without a hitch, but the fact that I was involved does carry with it some risk! (I won't go into the dopey details but there's a reason I don't use maps!)
When we did finally make it to the highlands, the weather was as beautiful as we'd left it, if not better, and the scenery a well received change from London's busy streets.
Friendliness, a good craic and a wee
pint can always be counted on. 

As the saying goes it's about the journey not the destination, and as eventful as the journey was, meeting up with people we thought we'd never see again was wonderful - Ronan, Sean, Katy (who now lives in the highlands) and even our host.

We stayed for a couple of days before making our way back to London where Kayle and I split up for some solo travels.

These breathtaking views were completely worth the long drive and few days.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A Date With History

On 31 January 2010 two high school friends and graduates set off ready to take on Europe. Looking back now, to the children we were nearly a year ago we have completed our first year in the University of Life and have learnt far more than we ever have in 22 years of formal education.
This year has taught me the meaning of the word friend. It has shown me a world of beauty, kindness and generosity. But most of all, this year has given me the privilege of calling my life just that. Life.
 Because I believe that that was the day it really started.

Alright, that's about all the seriousness I can muster. Enjoy the pics folks and remember you can click on 'em to enlarge

Viennese  Snowman Feb 2010
Snowboarding in Austria
Budapest March 2010
Oldest Medieval Town in Europe- France March 2010 

Narbonne Beach with host, Sundara
France March 2010

Canal du Midi South of France

Blending in- Montpellier

Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi
Barcelona April 2010

Add caption

Andalucia, Spain

Great Peacock Moth

Travelling Buddies Sierra de Grazalema, Andalucia

Our chickens- Gonzales the Rooster
Ronda- Oldest Bull ring in Spain

Productive day picking broad beans and lemons

My favourite friend poking his head out
Green Oscillated Lizard- very rare

Sierra de Grazalema

Spider gobbling a bee

Dos Los Titties- The Twin Peaks