Bulgaria – part 3

Yesterday we went on an excursion to the ancient town of Nessibar, which is full of old churches, historic buildings, and the kind of commercialism that reminds me of Venice at its worst. There was a lot to look at, but if we looked too closely or too long then there was the inevitable sales pitch, reeled out a hundred times a day, and as insincere as it was ineffective. I enjoyed looking around the churches, and took lots of photographs, but I do wish I could see places like this as they were in their prime.

The weather has largely continued to cycle between sunshine and rain, although there was no thunderstorm last night. I watched a local football match from the balcony of the hotel, and then drank wine and apricot liqueur until it was time for bed.

There is very little else to do here during the evenings. The days are a frenzy of activity (and purposeful inactivity), but after dark there is little to do but drink, talk, read, and enjoy the warmth and the feeling of calm.

It’s been a good holiday, but I am also quite looking forward to getting home, where I can hopefully reap the benefit of a relaxing week away.

Bulgaria – part 2

Last night there was a heavy thunderstorm and a short power cut. We took photographs of darkened skies that erupted into occasional brightness, and drank wine and cocktails until it was time for bed. This morning there is still a coolness in the air, but it is dry again now, and the sand on the beach is firm enough for walking on.

I am starting to see the patterns of weather now. The days are generally bright and sunny, with the storms only arriving once the sun has gone in and the warm and cool air meet over the Balkans. I suspect the power cut was unusual, although I doubt the storms are, which makes me envious for this climate where such beautiful and extreme weather is so commonplace. In the UK we curse the rain, but here I think it is possibly welcomed as a respite from the heat.

I am starting to feel disconnected from the lives of other people, but without the expected levels of anxiety that are usually associated with these feelings. Having this time away has given me a change to evaluate where I fit I the world and which interactions and connections are valuable to me. I am unsure as to whether this will change anything when I get home, but I thought the feeling was worth articulating.

Despite this feeling of disconnection, I have not missed being online anywhere near as much as I thought I would. I am sure there are things of interest that I have missed, but there are even more things of interest that I have been able to fully absorb myself in. I think there is probably a lesson there.

I also watched Factory Girl tonight. I need to write more about this soon.

Bulgaria – part 1

I am writing this from a table on a sunny balcony in Bulgaria. The journey here was about as good as economy flying gets, which is to say it was draining and tiring without anything in particular going wrong. We arrived at our hotel in the early hours of the morning, which was a lot better than the people flying from other UK airports who had still not arrived 24 hours later.

It wasn’t really possible to make a judgement on the hotel at that time of night, but after more than 24 hours I must say that I am very impressed. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, the food is excellent, and there is a wide array of drinks to choose from. The longer we spend here the more thankful I am that we ended up getting a very good deal on a good hotel rather than settling for the cheapest holiday we could find.

The weather yesterday was perfect, at least until the evening, and we spent most of the day lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, and doing the sort of things people do when they are on holiday. We have two trips booked (an evening out tonight, and a day trip to look at pretty buildings on Saturday), but will otherwise we staying fairly local, and exploring as much of this beautiful area as we can.

Last night there was the mother of all thunder storms which was really pretty to watch, and which took the heat out of the air nicely. We sheltered from the rain in the bar, and sampled the hotel entertainment (including a bingo game which we both came fairly close to winning). I’m not sure the entertainment was to everyone’s taste, but the bar itself was pleasant, and the bar staff were friendly enough. I think we may try and grab a small balcony table next time though, especially if the weather is as good as it is right now.

Also during the last two days I have been reading The Kills by Richard House. I had been meaning to start this for a while, but it is a fairly large time investment so I was saving it for this trip. So far I am enjoying it, although I think I have enjoyed each book a little less than the one before it. Here’s hoping that book 4 bucks that trend. I also have a variety of other things to read, as well as the usual array of music and films if I get bored. But so far I am not getting bored, which is a good sign that I might possibly be starting to relax.

Films, travel, and being offline

I watched a couple of films last weekend which I totally failed to blog about, and seeing as I’m flying out to Bulgaria this afternoon and won’t be online for a week or so, I thought I would write about them before I leave.

18th May – Stoker – The narrative of this film is fairly simple. A man dies, and his brother moves in with his widow and teenage daughter following the funeral. There is a lot more to it than that, but as a basic summary I think that is enough. What makes this film stand out for me is exemplary performances by Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman (who has surprised me in a good way for the second film running), and the fact that there is a genuine sense of darkness, suspense and mystery that runs throughout the film. I enjoyed it, I’d recommend it, and I don’t think I can say much more than that.

18th May (later) – Blue Jasmine – I’m still not sure about Woody Allen, even though I’ve quite enjoyed everything I’ve seen of his. Blue Jasmine is from 2013, and is another film that explores relationships between people in a world of changing circumstances. I didn’t hate it, and it certainly compares favourably to most other Woody Allen films I’ve seen, but there was nothing about it that was particularly spectacular, and as a result I don’t really have a lot more to say about it.

I do plan on taking things with me to watch, although probably nothing too challenging. I’ve also downloaded a few books to keep me entertained – I’m one book into The Kills by Richard House, and I may also finally get round to reading Neil Gaiman’s new book which a lot of other people have raved about.

I will of course be blogging and photographing my travels over the next week or so, but it may be a while before I get round to sharing anything with the wider world.

A tale of two cities

Yesterday we did all the walking in the world, or if not all the walking then enough to result in a huge purple line drawn around several major chunks of the city. We explored beaches and parks, main streets and backstreets, and saw everything from the most opulent parts of the city to the areas which demonstrate a level of deprivation I have not seen for a good while. I always say that when I visit cities I want to experience everything they have to offer, and to try and discover what it would be like to live in them. There are plenty of places here that I would happily live in, but also areas that made me feel very conscious of how privileged I am to be in this city and to have the opportunity to briefly explore areas that the people who reside in them would probably give anything to escape from.

That was just one observation of many, but it is the one that sticks most firmly in my mind.

Other things I noticed were far more positive, and are further evidence that this is the sort of city I feel at home in. I think the main one is probably how environmentally aware everyone is. There are recycling bins everywhere, and sustainability seems ingrained into the culture here. The whole city is very cycle friendly, and I think if I ever return here then I would definitely look at hiring a bike. There is also a decent amount of good public transport, with fuel-efficient bus/tram hybrids, and the sky bus, which is like a cross between London  Underground and a monorail system.

There is also food of every type available, and we have already sampled several delightful cafes, as well as the restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel which was pricy, but worth it for the delicious food and perfect service. Another thing I like to do when I visit a place is to try and eat how the locals do, and I hope to do much more of that over the next couple of days, starting with breakfast as soon as I have finished writing this blog post.

Talking of which, my soundtrack to writing these words has been “Kaputt” by Destroyer. It’s a record I’ve long loved, and one which very much sums up Vancouver to me. I like to soundtrack my travel appropriately, and hearing Dan Bejar singing about Chinatown and Downtown and knowing that I walked those streets only yesterday makes me feel closer to the music in some way, and I am sure that listening to the music in the future will make me feel closer to the city too.

More travel ramblings

(Written yesterday)

I am writing this from a delightful Air Canada plane, where I have lots of leg room and more space in general than I know what do do with. First class was definitely the right choice, and after a very nice breakfast in the departure lounge, I think we will be getting more food shortly.

So far the trip has been remarkably stress free. Last night’s hotel was both opulent and functional, and we dined on very tasty curry and white wine in the hotel restaurant. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, but still managed a few hours before having to leave, and I am sure there will be plenty of opportunity to sleep on the plane.

(7 hours later)

I was right about getting more food. We were given a 4 course meal (with wine) about an hour out of London, and have been given regular drinks and snacks throughout the flight. I think we are about to get more food before landing, and I have a feeling I probably won’t want to eat much more today.

I didn’t sleep though, and have instead spent the last 7 hours watching movies, reading, and listening to music. I am so glad I bought my iPad on this trip, because it has hit the spot perfectly as a source of entertainment.

Next stop Vancouver, home of some of my all time favourite music, and a place I have long been interested in visiting. I am not sure how many hours I can stay awake, but I want to try and banish as much jet lag as I can early on in the trip.

A brief note from London

I am sitting in the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport, where we are staying before flying to Canada tomorrow. It is a lovely hotel, with free wifi, great food, and a real sense of space and relaxation.

I don’t expect that the next couple of weeks will see too much of this sort of luxury, but I am very much looking forward to exploring Vancouver, and also to grabbing some time away from the stresses and strains of the UK. I hope to post occasional updates and photographs, but certainly have no intention of doing anything that feels like work until I am back in the UK.

Thoughts on travel

This summer I will be spending two weeks away from home, during which time I will spend a fair amount of time on aeroplanes (two international flights, plus two local Canadian flights) and in hotels. I am quite used to hotels, and carry around a fair amount of technology designed for hotel living, but this trip is going to be more challenging, and I think I need to plan in advance what clothes, accessories and gadgets I need to keep me productive and connected throughout such a long trip.

My hand luggage usually contains my 11″ Macbook Air, plus my iPhone, Kindle, and associated chargers. I also carry a UK 3G dongle, and several USB drives (including one I can reinstall my Mac from should I need to). I sometimes also carry various adaptors and cables, depending on where I am travelling and what I am there to do. I also plan on taking plug adaptors for any country I will be visiting, chargers for all my devices, and an additional device to charge my phone if a plug socket isn’t available.

Usually I don’t take a bootable clone of my laptop with me, because it makes more sense to keep my backup drive somewhere safe whilst I am travelling. For a two week trip I may invest in a new external drive though, or will at least have a smaller USB drive with a bootable installation of OSX with my settings and applications intact – just in case of emergencies. I should also look at how often I think I will be able to get online in Canada, and perhaps pick up a cheap pay-as-you-go 3G device to cover any shortfall.

I will also have my old iPod with me as a backup music device, and will also wear a watch rather than relying on my phone to tell the time. Time keeping is even more important on trips which involve a lot of travelling between places, and I need to make sure any timekeeping anxiety is minimised.

I also plan on packing slightly differently for this trip. Part of the reason for travelling is a family wedding, and so I need to make sure I have smart clothes with me. I will fly in the usual combination of loose many-pocketed combats with no belt, slip-on shoes, and a loose cotton shirt. But I will also style the rest of my wardrobe around things that can be work with a suit jacket and/or waistcoat. This should cut down on luggage, and ensure that everything can be worn with everything else.

I also plan on packing a second bag for the shorter (English) section of my trip, and arranging for it to be waiting for me when I get back to the UK. That way I am not carting things all over the world that I won’t need until the last few days of my trip.

Yes, I’m not travelling for ages, but I find it is useful to have these thoughts sufficiently early enough to do something about anything I may have forgotten.

All roads lead to Rhodes

I’m currently on holiday in Rhodes. I’ve just finished the 7th book I’ve read since I got here, and I’m really appreciating having the Kindle with me as it has quickly become an important part of the technology I carry with me when I travel. It’s interesting to see what the other guests are using actually – there are a few laptops, lots of phones, but not much in the way of kindles or other ebook readers. A fair few people are accessing the internet from the hotel lobby, and it is certainly more socially acceptable to do so then it was a few years ago, although some older people still blatantly disapprove. There are also many many internet cafes in the general vicinity, and I get the feeling that although this is a sleepy tourist area it is also fairly well connected. The signal here is strong, and the speed is comparable to UK broadband.

I carry technology with me wherever I travel. I don’t always take the full range of devices, but I generally have something to read, something to listen to music on, and some sort of communication device at the very least. I actually find that being able to access my books and my music relaxes me, and I do enjoy having internet access when I’m away as it allows me to research what the weather will be like, and what local customs I need to be aware of. On this trip I’ve limited my net access to one session a day (usually around an hour), but in that time I’ve researched what I need to research, as well as reading (if not replying to) all personal email and skimming through articles of interest from my growing list of RSS feeds. It interests me that this activity takes less than an hour a day, because when I’m at home it often takes significantly longer.

Happy Christmas from New York

We are now in New York.

Wednesday was a very long day. We got up at 3:30am UK time, and didn’t arrive at our hotel until the sort of time we would normally be thinking of going to bed. Despite this, we went to Starbucks for a coffee (there are no coffee making facilities in our room), and then wandered to Times Square to look at the pretty lights and generally marvel at how big and alive everything feels. We then went to the restaurant next to our hotel to grab food and drink before getting a stupidly early night (8pm NY time, which felt like 1am).

Thursday (Christmas Eve) involved a lot of shopping (or rather wandering around shops and not buying a lot). We also saw lots of Christmas celebrations which made me realise how bad the UK is at celebrating Christmas. I managed to stay up until 10pm, and seem to have slipped back into a half decent sleeping pattern.

Today (so far) we have wandered around Central Park, taken lots of photographs, and eaten delicious bagels. Tomorrow we plan on doing more shopping (proper shopping this time) along with a visit to the Museum of Modern Art to see Tim Burton’s exhibition.

All in all, I think I like this city. Some things about it are strange though. I really like the hotel we’re in, but it does lack a bar (there is a mini bar, but with no price list I’m not risking it), and we could really do with a way to make coffee in the room. On the bright side, we’re a stones throw from Starbucks and about 20 places to eat and drink, so it’s hardly a massive chore to go out, explore, and try out lots of different nice food (on Wednesday I had the best pizza I’ve had for ages, and everything we’ve eaten so far has been great).

The first batch of photos should be on Facebook soon.