hi everyone, it’s a long time since I’ve done a greetings – probably about seven years, but i’m at a computer and would like to tell some of you what i’m up to. it’s been an interesting and varied trip so far.
first off was six nights in beijing. the temple of heaven was in some ways the highlight for me, a big park with thousands of people doing early morning tai chi, many kinds of dancing, floor calligraphy, diablo, singing, marching, clapping, amplified harmonica, hackysack and a million other intriguing activities, surrounded by beautiful buildings and gardens. the great wall was amazing as was the added benefit of getting out of the city, tiananmen square was confusing and i only got as far as the gates of the forbidden city before being overwhelmed by heat and crowds. the art precinct was worth very much worth the journey, but i’ve never seen a place as polluted as dongzhimen, which was a bit out of the centre, where i had to change transport several times. the beijing opera was both interesting and hilarious, but hard on the ears. otherwise much of my time was spent wandering the hutongs, interacting with people, getting my feet stared at even when i wore shoes and haggling for fruit, dumplings and other things. qianmen hostel made everything easy, it was a comfortable and helpful, and i met many amazing travellers, which is always especially helpful on my first stop, as i acclimatise to being a traveller again.
next stop was london, and we took off to wales almost immediately, giving us one good day in cardiff and one in caerleon. cardiff is a pleasant town, with a nice castle full of incredible details, such as the little cherubs bearing names of philosophers, painted at intervals along the walls of the library above the elaborate patterns and below the elaborate border and the elaborate cornices with individually carved monkeys amongst the carved trees and above the elaborate arched doorways with elaborately carved doors. then there’s the frieze of moses and his tablets right next to an egyptian woman with tablets of heiroglyphs and three others from different cultures, just to make clear this lord’s opinions on traditions. not to mention the ornate wooden bookcases, the desk with gold patterns stamped into the leather, inside an inlaid wooden border, inside a carved wooden edge and you might be getting the picture. there are many centuries of details overlaid and updated until it’s hard to detect what belongs to when. then there’s the roman artificial hill with a ruined fortress which you can climb for several floors, and the zulu wars reenactors hanging around outside and participating in the military day march that paraded through the city, complete with goat with silver tipped horns!
outside the castle, cardiff was having a busy day with louts in red and white making noise about a speedway, teenagers congregating in the mall with fancy haircuts and elaborate costumes including two separate tiger jumpsuit and hood ensembles, the military happenings and refugee week, where we got to listen to storytelling and african drumming, and find out about wales’ politics and immigration situation by talking to representatives of various refugee-related organisations.
the next day we drove to caerleon, a small town with roman ruins including an amphitheatre, barracks and baths and a spectacular small museum full of the artifacts of daily life around the area, from hairpins and scabbard and belt finals to engraved jewels to surveyors’ tools, as well as helmets and weapons and burial artifacts. we also had lunch on the grass at the amphitheatre as a brass band set up, took in the little sculpture park and wandered the pleasant streets of the little town, before returning to the modern world of cities and airports.
the next day was a little more of a challenge. we missed our flight at luton, and had to find a new one while 25 people clamored for the manager as they were told that it was their fault that they hadn’t heard the boarding call for their flight to riga. yes, all of them. don’t fly wizz air if you can help it. we ended up with an easyjet flight to budapest, which went smoothly once we found a wheelchair. since we didn’t ask for one in the whirl of rebooking and checking in, the airport couldn’t seem to find one further through the process. one was found, however, and it was up to me to push it at a run from security to the gate. this was particularly fun down the many ramps! at the end we got to sit down and wait long enough for my breathing to regulate, which makes me wonder what the rush was… but that’s airports for you. in hungary the airport drama continued, as we discovered we couldn’t book a car as we’d expected to in romania. we couldn’t find an automatic, we couldn’t take it out of the country, hungarian prices are just more expensive than romanian, and besides, there was a rave happening out of town and all the companies were booked out. eventually we got help at the taxistand and heard all about how this taxi company was founded in 1913 and the first taxis anywhere were in 1906, while we were taken to an easyhotel in the city.
this is the fourth time i’ve been through budapest, and the most notable feature is still the aging grandeur of the buildings; it feels like in a million years budapest will still be standing just as it is, with a little more wear to the details around the edges of the buildings. we rested, we ate, we stocked up on travellers’ food of fruit, cheap chocolate, pear juice, musli and yogurt. we walked a little and we got amazing help from the hotel staff. the final verdict, however, was that the hitchhiking websites say the ukraine is a good place to hitch, so to the road it was! it’s wonderful to be hitching again; even with too much luggage, this is what life is about. lisa says she’s never seen me smile like this.
after a meal of asparagus, duck and strawberry risotto, we found a road at about 2pm and by dinner time we were three hospitable rides further, eating well with our last ride’s family in debrecen, which is by all accounts a beautiful city. i happen to agree, we’re staying in university dorms – ensuite and all, very flash – with a forest of a path next door, on the way to some mineral baths and the town’s only tramline, which has taken us into the centre today.
tomorrow we plan to hitch to the ukraine, to lviv then kiev where we can get me a moldovan visa. then to odessa and through moldova, out to romania, particularly transylvania, from where lisa will probably fly back to london while i continue to copenhagen. it’s not quite the original plan, but it’s good!
29 june 2011