25 September 2007

Day One, the Journey to Boulogne

So the morning arrived, in a couple of hours we would be heading off to Dover. It was I thought about time I did all that packing malarkey. So two hours later with my clothes in a bag, my wash bag full and my random crap put in place I sit there thinking what in gods name I have forgotten.

This is the curse of the start of every holiday. You should be excited, raring to go, and looking forward to a fortnight of relaxation. Instead you find yourself morosely sat on the edge of your bed trying to remember what you have left. Your wild eyes scanning the room for the vaguest hint of what vital thing you have left behind in the turmoiled warzone of a mess you left while speed packing.

Fortunately this depressing saga soon came to an end. As the hour struck 11 me and Keith chucked our mound of luggage into his pristine (Slightly bird shit covered) car. With a slight sigh of relief as the final stash of cargo was stowed we jumped into the front seats of the worthy BMW and set off. The car started with a growl, relishing the challenge ahead, the lights in the gleaming distance turned green, and we were off!

The first (not so glamorous) port of call was the Tescos car wash, when we entered the continent for the first time we wanted to impress. A BMW is the perfect car for this, sleek but with muscle, an engine that growls and with an elegance well known by all people far and wide, whether they pronounce it B M Double Yew, B M Doubla Vay or B M Voe. So after a quick wash the car arrived bright and shiny, with only the most resilient of bird excrement surviving the onslaught of a Tescos Own Brand car wash.

The day was still fresh, the ferry was far in the future of a promising day, which I though, was probably just as well as we gradually crawled through some of York's less versatile motoring roads. Fortunately however we had soon left behind the inter city madness of snail paced traffic and made impressive progress on the road south, giving Keith an opportunity to stretch his speedometer.

I have to admit I thought it was slightly disappointing that we were leaving the fold of Great Britain just as the sun was starting to shine through after a dismal summer of rain and overcast clouds. Thank God all the newspapers were talking of the heat wave currently sitting over the continent with the stubbornness of a fat man on two bus seats.

The journey south sped by, and soon we saw the famous white cliffs surrounding the most famous of English ports, Dover. This was where we first began to experience the first impossible signs of trouble. After speeding into the first check point we were stopped by customs who brought in a dog to search our car. The dog was pretty damn good, it was trained to sniff out drugs and money to such a degree that it could even tell where money had been.. Of course when the man asked us to remove all items of food and cash out of the car I managed to leave my wallet in there, fool I am. I was more than impressed when the dog delved into my bag and found the pocket where 10 minutes earlier my stash of Euros had been held.

As we passed this checkpoint we hit the French customs, who also decided to check our car. I have very rarely been stopped before for looking suspicious, so for the second search I began to suspect that Keith was involved in some international smuggling ring to be gaining this amount of attention. Fortunately the Frenchman's way of searching our car, looking in the boot, seeing how much of a mess it was and waving us on. So customs passed we went to check in to our ferry..

The woman at the check in booth as we drove up to it had on a terminally bored face of one really wishing they where somewhere, anywhere, else. She was also incredibly quiet. So when she said that the order reference number we had was incorrect we were slightly worried. Fortunately after searching for Mr Taylor she pulled up his reservation details and we were passed our tickets for a ferry nearly an hour earlier than we were expecting, fantastic result!

Of course it was only later that we realised Keith had handed over the reservation details for the hostel instead of the ferry.

After getting into the wrong lane, down to the quiet lady seeming to say 2, not 209 we finally boarded the ferry and quickly made our way onto the decks above. This was the last time in just over two weeks that we would be seeing our homeland.

The sun was out as we left England, a promising sign from the journey ahead. As per my workmates instructions I took a picture of the pig and the penguin (Our mascots) with the white cliffs of Dover towering into the sky behind them. In less than three short hours we would be abroad, in the land of driving on the right, croissants and porn on the bottom shelves. Needless to say we could not wait.

Boulogne was our next destination, as soon as we were off the ferry we set off, leaving behind Calais towards our first stop off. From what our guide said the hostel had a bar, internet and a large number of rooms, needless to say we had high hopes for this place. Celebratory plans for my 23rd birthday in a different country that night in the form of a few pints were already underway, I was looking forward to celebrating my aging by another year in a completely new country.

After several wrong turns in Boulogne trying to find the hostel we parked up on the street and attempt to find the place, needless to say the hostel had advertised itself incredibly well by hiding all signs to indicate its presence in trees and shrubs. The car park for the hostel looked depressingly empty, similar in attendance to an aged bachelors funeral. Still, we did not give up hope, after collecting our room keys with Keith's impressive French lingual skills and my English in a French accent we head up to the room which, while sparse, was much better than some hostels I have stayed in.

The real disappointment was the bar. While it looked quite nice it was very empty, the only person in there had a big dog and looked like he had been a resident, and a drug dealer, at the hostel for a very very long time. The pool table was alright though, so we made ourselves at home and went to order a beer.

This is where we experienced for the very first time a foreign measure of beer. Their measures are not quite the same as ours, but I shall attempt to describe them in detail here.

Take one glass approximately the size of a slim jim glass.
Poor beer into glass with no tilt, allowing a health head approximately 1 third the size of the glass to develop.
Charge the price of a full pint despite it being about a quarter of the size.

That, I think just about covers it....

After several games of pool (Which I won, *Dances*) we decided to try and find a more lively drinking establishment, by this point the bar had become so dead that even the barmaid had left, never a good sign when you are looking for a heavy first night. The streets of Boulogne are quite nice, they are well lit, so you can clearly see the untied dogs half your size growling at you teeth bared. Fortunately though we made it to the town centre without painfully contracting rabies, leaving us with the minor matter of finding a pub.

France is well known as being a country of culture, their cafes are open till late serving food coffee and beer. Unfortunately there are not many places which give the pub like atmosphere an Englishman needs to relax and celebrate in. Eventually after a large walk we came upon an Irish bar.

Finally! I thought.

It seemed that fate had dropped us into the perfect place, in the window was a huge amount of Irish memorabilia, guiness items and little Irish flags. With uncontained excitement I stepped inside, instantly all Irish familiarity had gone. Two Guiness pumps stood alone and dusty on the bar, like two statues commemorating fallen soldiers. The bar itself seemed quite posh, and my mounting fear was confirmed when I ordered two pints, it took all of my self control to stop shouting TWELVE EUROS!!!! at the top of my voice, yes that's right folks, our first pub outside of a hostel had pints for six euros a piece.

It wasn't long before we discovered that Irish all so meant no air conditioning, as we went in for a quick game of pool (and unfortunately I lost this time) it didn't take long for the heat to leave me and Keith a couple of sweaty messes. Needless to say by the time we had drained our drinks we went in search of numerous other establishments. Unfortunately all of them followed the cafe culture style, no real drinking entertainment was to be found in this town.

There was a nicer side to this town though. While prices were high there were a few places we paced which looked quite lively, and some of the smaller streets captivated my attention. I would have wandered down a few more of these but after a days travelling we were both tired and I was not in the mood for getting randomly lost.

So with an air of defeat around us we headed back to our hostel for our first nights sleep on the continent.

20 September 2007

Brief interlude

Ok in the first post I said how my life was ina bad place, this was mostly because my relationship with aussie girl was on the rocks.

We attempted to patch things up but as of 5 past midnight this morning we are now officially apart. I cannot go into details here because she knows my blog address and though she has promised not to look at it again I know how inquisitive she can be (So stop reading Anj!! =p)

To sum it up though, I am not in the best of places right now. I had fallen head over heels for her and really do wish things had worked out. She was the most amazing person I had ever met and i cannot and do not regret a single moment I spent with her.

A man once said how science and politics do not hold a whisper of the strength of love, he said how nothing matters on this earth other than that. The same man went on to build a device that killed a huge numbr of people in japan during world war 2. Irony at its best.

Needless to say right now I understand his sentiments more than anything, this man lived a life of pure happyness thanks to the wife he met.

Despite the cliche I have felt worse after this than any other breakup, despite it lacking any shouting and so on. It is said that each person on this planet has one true person who is right for them. I feel that through my own stupidity in the early stages I have lost that one person.

Do not worry too much though, I live my life by the saying things will always work out.

18 September 2007

Introduction to the Two Week Road Trip

So I had a few personal problems and hit a pretty low point in my life. This happens to everyone at least a few times.

Fortunately my housemate Keith had just a few nights earlier mentioned how he had been wanting to travel. Needless to say I jumped on this opportunity faster than a rabbit in heat and mentioned a trip to poland. He was more than up for this but soon came up with a far superior idea.

Keiths old faithful BMW was a bit the worse for wear, a random squeaking while in transit from one of the wheels, a few dents and a cam shaft that was about to give were the major issues. So in his magnificence he decided to take the old beemer on one final trip around europe, a road trip if you will.

This road trip would be set to cover several major countries, and a few of the less major ones like Lichenstein, which is not so much a country as an extended border crossing.

Admittedly at this point we did not plan on passing through such countries, infact we were surprised by how far our travels took us and which parts we enjoyed.

But back on track, plans where underway, this involved Keith doing meticulous route planning, milage and time estimations, research on countries and picking up a few foreign phrases. I took on the roles of thinking 'I wouldnt mind going by Munic and Spain is pretty damn nice this time of year'

So with destinations in mind I began to make my preperations for the trip. Cash is always one of the more important things, so my first stop off was to get some of my good british pounds exchanged into Euros. There are a few places that do this commision free, the best rates at the time however were Marks and Sparks and the post office.

Anyone who has ever had to enter he post office will soon know what it feels like to be in a beaurocrats dream after too much cheese eaten in haste before his bedtime. After queuing for a minimum of 33 minutes and 28 seconds you will be presented with a multitudes of forms which are required for the simplest of tasks. It is for instance the only time I have been asked to sign a form after buying a roll of packing tape and some brown paper.

Once you have filled the forms in required for your purchase or service they will ask you to rejoin the queue. This time the minimum queuing time will be over 67 minutes and 41 seconds, since the queuing time is inversely proportionate to the amount of time you need to spend with the woman at the desk. If for instance you are merely wishing to return a pen you borrowed by the time you reach the front of the desk you will have grand children and mutated hovering shrimp will have taken over the world.

For these reasons I decided to go to the marks and spencers currency exchange. The Marks and Spencers Currency Exchange is conveniantly located on the top floor at he back of the room behind a lot of clothes. This location has a distinct advantage, that being I can find it before all the short people. The queue was pretty short as I joined up, looking at the signs saying they accepted visa I expected this to be a quick job.

Before I move on let me explain a little system i put in place at the start of august. Due to financial constraints I started a system to limit my spending on a night. This involved me having two wallets, one for nights out and one for living. Each week I put so much into my going out wallet and limit myself to that amount.

But back to the story, I walked up to the helpful looking cashier and asked to transfer £350 of my strong British Pounds into approximately 500 of those weak Euros and handed her my credit card. Here she spoilt my wandering dream of british dominance.

"Can I have some ID please" she chirruped in a slightly high pitched voice.

Being blissfully unaware of my unintended cockup I say no problem and went to hand her my drivers license. untill I realised it was in my drinking wallet.

At this point you have to realsie I have nearly 10 people stood behind me, watching my foolish anticts with the terminally bored faces of a British queuer. I mention to the lady that I may have forgotten my ID, to which the charming young woman says in a slightly louder than neccessary voice that if I do not have any ID I cannot pay by card and will have to get some money out of the cash machine down stairs.

The cash machines ni Marks and Spencers are conveniantly hidded in a corner surrounded by high shelves of foodstuffs and so forth. I see the queue at thesse machines and decide to go next door to the Halifax ATMs.

These are normally quite quick to get to, both queues have 2 people in them, so i position myself inbetween them both in an attempt to make my time saving decision of which queue to join at the last minute. I noticed the woman in the right queue seemed to be finishing but I decided to wait to make absolutely sure.

Unfortunately I was joined just a little too late. A short balding man with jam jar glasses appeared behind me and with infallible slowness attempted to move into the right hand queue. I saw this move coming a mile off, HaHa! I though as I jumped into the quicker queue before him, pleased with the way I had pronounced the capitals through the inner monologue of my mind.

But here tragedy struck, the original woman/child combo in the other queue had departed and the woman behind her was just checking her balance, HER BALANCE! I mean come on who doesnt do that online nowdays. After she had done that she walked off pleased with her apparent richness. the man was now ahead of me, withonly one person left, the man infront of him, a morbid looking affair, went to check his balance too, sweat started to drip down my forehead.

Meanwhile the person at the front of our queue had moved off, leaving me with one person between me and the grail of the till. The bespeckled man grinned at me, not realising his morbid preceeding ATM user was now going to withdraw cash. Then a miracle happened. The old woman infront of me, a killer in the world of speed, sighed and walked off. At exactly the same moment the person using the till took their cash and departed.

Then, the unholy mother abuser in the jam jar glasses actually tried, and i cannot believe this! He actually tried to slip onto that cash machine!

I was not going to take this obvious shunting into my space, so speedier than a squirrel on a caffine high I jumped to the machine and slammed my card in, much to the annoyance of the petite agressor who was now seething as the people behind him had moved forward, leaving him yet again stuck behind me.

Needless to say I made sure I took the cash out of two seperate accounts, checking the balance on each one.

Fortunately after that it went fairly smoothly, it was a bit of an in and out job. The escalators where in true M & S fasion designed to make getting to the top easy but require you to walk half way around the store to reach the next one taking you down. A fantastic marketting structure, but a pain in the scrotum when you are late back for work.

So with a smile on my face (You cannot have a big wad of notes in your hand and be unhappy) I proceeded back to work, only marginally late and looking forward to the holiday ahead.