Sunday, August 31


Ok, so i'm a bit behind. So you're getting the short version.
Constanta was a lovely little beach town that i recommend to anyone passing through the area. There's a great old disused art-deco casino on the point there that was built in constanta's heyday, early last century, and a mosaic and archeology museum that we probably should have visited, but somehow Cafe Mosaic next door, with its big sofas, excellent wifi and lovely cheap iced coffees was somehow more appealing. Swimming in the Black sea was a pleasant surprise- i discovered that it's not as salty as many seas, so you come out feeling relatively clean. It was lovely, really. I hadn't swum in the sea since the lost coast in california. The only negatives were the slight crowding and inferior sand (we're so spoilt in australia) and a guy in red speedos who seemed determined that one of up notice them. We studiously ignored him...
Another fantastic thing about Constanta was staying with Luana, a couchsurfing contact who offered, not just a couch, but a bed, which was so nice we stayed two nights. Thanks Luana!

Thursday, August 28

Leaving Chisinau

Another blogging... Er... i mean border post. And this one, between bulgaria and turkey, is notorious for taking a while. I didn't get to blog at the romania/bulgaria border- as they are both EU, and so are we, the formalities consisted of glancing at our passports. But now, i've plenty of time to recount the adventures of the last few days.
Leaving chisinau was fun. Both times. As there is only one bus per day, and it leaves in the evening, i thought we could make better time leaving in the morning and hitching to Varna. I should probably thought harder about imy hard it was to hitch in Romania a few years ago, and realised that moldova would be worse. But i was itching to hitch, so we set off. Following the directions on hitchwiki got us our first ride reasonably quickly. A trolleybus to the bus station on the edge of town, then join the army of hitchers standing at the trolleybus stop. It was all a bit confusing when you're used to having the road to yourself. But a nice guy who spoke excellent english picked us up, apparently stopping just for us, and drove us to Hincesti, a small town in the middle of nowhere, Moldova. Knowing we wanted to in to romania, he dropped us at the bus stop / hitching place, where we again joined the crowd. It wasn't so easy this time though. More local traffic, a smaller road and the disadvantages of being a foreigner with luggage made things hard. The system seemed to be that people would wave their hand at every passing vehicle, some of which would stop. Everyone would crowd around, and either people would get in, or someone would shout the destination given by the driver, or both. The system for the minibuses was more or less identical, except sometimes the destination was written on the front of the bus.
We had some problems with this system. For a start, the language and geographical knowledge barriers. It was hard for us to recognise the town name, and then work out if it was somewhere that would help us. By that time it was usually too late. And it reduced hitching, one of my favourite means of transport, to the same experience as waiting for a bus, except without knowing when or if it would come or where it would be going if it did ever come. Not so much fun, really.
We decided to wall up the road a bit, to get away from the local's hitching place, but it didn't help, really, and the 40 degree heat was getting to us, so, eventually, for the first time in my hitching career, we gave up. We walked the kilometre or so back into town, got out more moldovan lei from a bancomat and started asking about other options. I'm so glad romanian is occasionally comprehensible. The first lady told us the bus station was a long way away and we should take a taxi. Next was a nice conversation with a taxi driver, half in Italian (it took me a moment to work out why i was understanding so much of his romanian!) who sang his son who works at the train station in chisinau to tell up that the only way to get to romania was a bus that would stop in Hincesti, but only if you had already bought your ticket at the bus station in Chisinau. At that second, a bus to chisinau went past, so several of the locals who had got involved in our plight threw themselves in front of it for us, and we took it right back to the very bus stop we had started from 4 hours earlier.
We paid our ridiculously expensive bus fare (226 Moldtan Lei! Each! Our hotel was not much more than that for both of us! But, to keep it in perspective, the MOL is about 10 to one to the Aussie dollar... ) to Constanta and settled down to wait the hour and a half until the bus. At some point we thought to ask what time we would arrive in Constanta, thinking it could be fun to find accomodation late at night on arrival (no, of course we hadn't booked anything in advance!). We were only slightly horrified to discover we were about to spend 11 hours on a moldovan bus, and wouldn't arrive until the next morning. It's only 545km! But then you have to allow time for border crossing, and the bad roads and the bus driver who was either just learning how to drive (he was getting what looked like instruction from the second driver for the first hour or two) or was attempting to give up a very smooth ride by going at a max speed of 20kph forwhat seemed like most of the journey. Still, at least an overnight bus solved the need for accomodation. And it started to rain just as we were getting on, which turned into the most impressive storm i'd seen in a while, so i'm glad we weren't sleeping out that night. It's the only rain we saw on the whole trip.
The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. Several terrible movies dubbed in the amusing lektor style, frequent alternations between getting rained on or having the hatch (the bus's only ventilation system, it seems) closed and spiflicating, and the border. Thanks to my gps on this phone, we discovered that the bus took neither of the highways i had marked on this map, but rather a smaller road that runs between them. No idea why, but it wasn't the only bus at the border. We had an hour or so at the moldovan exit point, then something similar at the romanian side, although i really have no idea, as i pretty much slept through it. In fact, i slept really solidly the rest of the way- better than i ever have on a bus, i think, and arrived in constanta feeling actually slightly alive and ready to do things like work out where to sleep that night, and what to see in Constanta!

Wednesday, August 27

Now in Varna, Bulgaria

But the border crossing was way too easy, as they are both EU countries (unlike the last time I passed through here) and we are both EU citizens (unlike the last time I passed through here...). So no blogging. I do, however, have the Bulgaria-Turkey border to look forward to tomorrow night, and that takes hoursnhours. So I'm sure I'll have time to blog about Constanta in Romania and Varna in Bulgaria. Not to mention our adventures leaving Chisinau - both times.
In the meantime you just have to be content with the photos I'm uploading from my phone in the sidebars to the left and right here. And here's one we took this evening.

Monday, August 25

all about chisinau

We're through the moldovan side. Now we're waiting for Romania to let us in. According to my gps, we're not on a road. But the moldovan exit stamp says Cahul, and i've seen busses to there, so i assume it exists.
Chisinau was fun. We stayed in a huge old communist era hotel called Hotel Zaria that was quite affordable, and decorated like a polish grandmother's house. We managed to find it without too many problems, despite arriving at dusk and the lack of street lights in even quite major streets. We felt it was highly civilised, though, as we had a fridge, a tv that occasionally spoke english, and a 24 hour supermarket around the corner that provided most of our meals while we were there. We were so comfortable we decided to stay 2 nights.
The town was an interesting mix of crumbling communist and pre-communist era grand buildings and cars, and shiny new expensive shops and cars, particularly on the main street.
One entertaining sight- a bridal party standing next to a yellow taxi, apparently on the way to the wedding. It was amusing to think of the old crappy taxi being the wedding car, and even more so when all 6 people, all their finery and the taxi driver crammed in and drove off, all under the benevolent eye of a pair of polizia routiere in their own decrepit vehicle.
The fact that the national mobile network is called Moldcell also amused me regularly.
There was some sort of motor race happening this weekend. We didn't see any evidence of the race itself, but there was a huge stage on the main street with speakers so loud we could hear it from the hotel a kilometre or more away. We discovered it was also broadcast live on tv, so we could hear it in stereo. We didn't watch much, but there was a really interesting act fronted by a singer who wore a tshirt saying 'gypsy punk' and i decided that was the best description of the music too. If i can ever work out their name, i would attempt to buy their cd. It was excellent! And there was a glass flute!
And it was a whole lot better than the first act we were subjected to while still wandering around town, which had lyrics such as 'i'm made in Moldova, riggidiggidig...'

the transdniestran story

Yet another border, yet another blog post. It's becoming a habit to blog while waiting for my passport to be returned. I hope this time we don't need to bribe anyone to get out of the country...
So Transdniestr was great- a great big (ok, not that big, but biggish) open air museum to the communist era. Have a look at flickr for a pic of Sean and i in front of the great big bust of Lenin in front of Soviet House, which is the government building there. The train station appears to be brand spanking new, and definitely in the typical communist pattern (all international trains are suspended, of course, but the train station is still impressive).
Leaving Transdniestr, we were taken off the little minibus and informed that we could not leave until we had had our departure card stamped by the passport office in town, 40 mins or so back the way we had come, and, as it was 7pm on a friday, possibly not open all weekend. The border guard we spoke to on entry to this tin pot country had told up that we had to register at the passport office if we stayed more than 10 hours. We had stayed 3. No one really spoke any language we do (i just can't handle slavic languages) but one guard took us into a little room and managed to explain 'present, Chisinau OK' and we understood what was expected. Unfortunately, the 5 euro or so had left in transdniestran rubles was not acceptable, and nor was the larger amount we had in ukrainian hrivny. A 20euro note finally did the trick, and our passports were returned and we were allowed to rejoin our bus, which we were very glad to see had waited for us. And so we managed to escape and get to the comparative luxury and civilisation of Chisinau.

Saturday, August 23

things i had never done before today

Things i had never done before today. 22.08, 21.00
Heard of a country and gone there just a few hours later.
Bribed a border guard to get out of such a country
Been to Moldova

Friday, August 22

country count

Country count
Being now on the border of moldova and ukraine, waiting for customs, again, my country count has increased by 2 in the last day or so. But i have to think about this. You see, This bit of moldova is actually Transdniestr, a self-declared independent communist state. It has it's own stamps, valid for domestic mail only, its own currency, own government... But noone recognises it. So does it count? I never counted Christiania or Uzupio, but they are more hippy communes than countries, and are both within cities. This one takes up a large chunk of a country. I counted the vatican, but it is recognised by the UN. I haven't counted scotland, england and wales as separate (i've never been to northern ireland) but maybe i should? And then, of course i did count hong kong, but the first time i was there was before it was hande back to china. And i counted macau because i wanted to and because the visa requirements and currency are different. And then of course, Gibraltar has to count, because it'r so far from the rest of britain. Or england. Whichever it is supposed to belong to.
So basically, i have on hard rules for what counts. Which means i can just about make up my own number, and that number is, now that we have successfully crossed the Transdniestrian border, is 53.

that was odessa

After a mere hour or so waiting to get off the boat and go through customs, we were finally in Odessa. We had a total of 7 hrivny (about a euro) and there didn't seen to be a bank machine that accepted foreign cards at the port, but we knew it wasn't too far into town, as i had cleverly downloaded the map of odessa on my GPS phone (about which more later) and decide to slip the sir off taxi and walk into town with a couple of our new friends from the ferry, keeping an eye out for internet and hotels along the way.
The plan pretty much worked, although we discovered that hotels are few and far between, but, with the help of a net cafe, we found one after only a few hours of wandering around in 40 degree heat with our packs on, and it was only slightly overpriced. And apparently still under construction. I think we were the first people to use our room, as there was still plastic on the shower fitting. And the window didn't have a handle to close it. And it lacked curtains. And there was a great big metal beam diagonally across the middle of the room, but i gather that was a permanent fixture.
After that, and another similar walk from one end of town and back again to find dinner (sometimes it can be hard to find the post of cheap local stuff we wanted!) we figured we had seen enough of Odessa and decided to leave the next morning for Moldova.
While going to collect our breakfast from the reception desk (it seems the dining hall was also under construction, so we got a packed breakfast of one warm juice popper, one warm UHT yogurt, a wafer biscuit, a chocolate bar and a teabag) we met a polish couple just checking in who had a Lonely Planet guide to Europe on a Shoestring. When we asked to look at it to find a hotel in moldova (we knew there had to be one), they kindly lent it to us. Perusing it over breakfast , i learnt about the existance of Transdniestr, and decided that, as it was right on our way, we should stop there. We also photographed all the relevant sections of the guide before we have it back, so we should be a little less in the dark for the rest of the trip!

Thursday, August 21

ferry to odessa

Due to a lack of planning for this trip, which i blame on lines and the ridiculous amount of work involved, sean and i completely failed to book our passage out of istanbul. The plan was to take the ferry to odessa. The ferry only goes once a week, on tuesday evenings, and takes a day and a half. At least, that is what our net research told us. The guy at the tourist office, when we asked about it, said 'ferry cancel, since one year', which worried us. On monday we managed to find the ferry office, and were told that the ferry was fully booked, but that there might be a cancellation. We gave our phone number, and started working out a plan b. We were pleasantly surprised though, to get a phone call the next morning, offering exactly the ticket we wanted (that is, the cheapest), so we packed up, said goodbye to our couchsurfing host, and headed for the office. After buying our tickets we spent the afternoon on the Bosphorus ferries (to start getting our sea legs, of course). We could see our ferry at the dock- the big UKR on the side was easy to spot, but the first time was a little disappointing, as it was parked right next to two of the largest cruise ships i had ever seen. The website had tried very hard to make our boat sound like a cruise ship, so the juxtaposition was a little unfortunate!
After boarding, only 6 hours before departure (don't know why they wanted us on so early!) the impression of luxury continued to plummet, as we discovered the top deck was completely packed with body parts. Well, shop manniquin parts, anyway. And they continued to load things. A small army of men carrying packages on their back up to the rear passenger decks continued working right up to departure. After we left i headed back there to see what they had done, and discovered the sun deck and starboard side deck (the one that had been empty of people, as the view was to port) had also been entirely loaded up with more body party and what was apparently rolls of plastic tablecloth. Such luxury! We were also glad to find we had a cabin with a window, until we looked out the window and saw ladders. Lots of ladders, stacked up and almost completely obscuring amy natural light. On the upside, at least noone would be peering in our window!
The journey was pleasantly relaxing, overall. I did almost all the sleeping and most of the writing and other things i wanted to do. 36 hours of enforced nothingness was great really. They even fed us at regular intervals, and all but one of the meals was edible! We were much entertained by an ascerbic running commentary on the eastern fashions displayed aboard. Marvellous mullets, mismatched stripes, painful colours... There was much to be discussed. We completely failed to be entertained by the disco bar, or by the tacky eastern euro-pop emanating from it. The exchange rate for turkish lira at the snack bar was exceedingly entertaining (the boat works in US dollars), but we discovered that they were a little more reasonable in euro! And the served the best coffee i've had in ages.
So now we've disembarked and are waiting in the ukraine passport control line. In the time it'r taken me to write this on my phone, one person has good through th EU line. The computer was apparently kaput for a while, but even the 5 of up still waiting are settling in for a long wait. If we ever get through, the plan is to find accomodation, food, and internet (to upload this and find out something about odessa, like where to find accomodation and food...). After that, we have to work out how to get to Moldova tomorrow!

england and istanbul

Last saturday, Sean (who worked all 6 weeks at dh) and i flew to istanbul. I hadn't been to istanbul since i lived here in 2005 and 2006. Whenever people ask me if i liked living here, i generally reply that didn't have a great time here, but that i don't think that was istanbul's fault, as it had more to do with the person i was living with! I've been talking for sometime about giving it a second chance, so i sort of came with the idea of seeing if i would like to try living here again. And i think i might. It would be relatively easy, as i've already got some contacts and a start on the language. We'll be back there in about 10 days, and i'll think more about it then.
Our 3 days in istanbul were spent dying of the heat - it was something like 38 degrees! - and seeing the sights, sampling the cuisine and catching up with some of my old friends. I finally got to Topkapi palace- the number one tourist attraction in istanbul, which i had somehow managed to miss before, despite spending 5 months here! It was horribly expensive, and you pay separately to see the harem, which is one of the most interesting bits. Another highlight was seeing the collection of relics. Due to a complete lack of information or map about what was in the palace, we had no idea what was there until we stumbled upon it. It was a lovely surprise to find the actual rod of Moses! The very twig with which he parted the red sea! There was also Abraham's saucepan, which might have been the very one in which the mess of pottage was cooked and sold for a birthright (or whatever- i must look up that story again sometime). I was also amazed to see Joseph's turban, in a nice neutral colour that must have looked lovely when worn with his technicolour dreamcoat.
There was also someone's arm. And a bit of skull. And enough of Mohammed's beard to fleece a horse. And there was an actual person sitting intoning verses from the Qu'ran over them all, which was a nice touch. A sign at the entrance told us that there relics would be preserved as long as the world exists. It's nice that they have something to aim for.

Wednesday, August 20

where i've been

I know, i know. It's been ages since i've posted anything that actually said anything, but life has been a little busy. Right now, however, i'm sitting on a 'luxury' ferry from istanbul to odessa, in the middle of the black sea, out of sight of land, enjoying a bit of forced nothingness. So i have time to write.
After leaving berlin, i spent 5 weeks being director of studies at my summer school in hertfordshire. If i can be bothered, i might write something about that on my teaching and learning blog, because it was definitely a learning experience. And a hell of a lot of work. And fun, mostly, although there were definitely some un-fun moments. And i didn't get a lot of sleep.
As Queenswood is only a 5 week school, i went to the old downe house school in Cold Ash for the last week, and, as one of the DoSs there had to leave early, got to be dos again, which was nice, although it did mean a second week of coordinating the packing up. It was good to hang out with the crazy dh crew again, too. They are definitely a little wilder than my qw teachers!

Sunday, August 10

Paris Highlights

My photos from Paris last month are now on flickr.

One of the highlights of the trip was spending an evening with my host sister from my 1996 exchange in Toulouse, Muriel. We hadn't seen each other in 8 years or so, although I've stayed with her parents once or twice in that time. She's developed a little family since then - here she is with Zoe, who was about 3 months old.

Nathaniel and I also finally made it to the Palais de Versailles. We tried to see it way back in December 1999 - the morning after the hurricane that destroyed the gardens and caused the Palais to be closed for months. It only took us 8 years, but we got back there, and they had had time to restore it all in that time, so it's probably just as well we waited!

Other pics include the Fete de la Musique, and the view from the Pompidou Centre, which was definitely worth it - as was the art within, of course!

Monday, August 4


My favourite photo from Wales. Many thanks to the random stranger who didn't know she was posing for me...

Time Off

This Sunday, being the beginning of the last week here at Queenswood, there were no students arriving, which meant no placement testing, and no reason to do a single minute of work on a Sunday.
So I didn't do anything. I went to stay with Carollyn and Baska in London on Saturday evening, I watched Ten Canoes (which is brilliant, and having also seen the 'making of' documentary, I am amazed it ever got made at all!), I slept 11 hours, I moved from the bed to the sofa, and then I sat for 6 hours, getting up only twice, absorbing the luxury of internet on my own computer, and doing things like downloading podcasts and uploading photos.
I'm not up to date with the photos yet, but there are a few more "Montreal in May" pics on Flickr, and all of my photos from the few days I spent hitching in Wales in June. Paris and Berlin will follow when I next have internet on my own computer. I'm not too far from being up to date, though, as I have taken a total of about 5 photos since I arrived here at Queenswood a month ago - I'm too busy. It's a pity, really, as I have done a few crazy things, such as dressing up to MC the kids' theatre show every Friday night - I've been a witch and a pirate and an artist and a queen, and I think I'll be Hamlet this week, and I haven't got a single photo of any of them.