Looking for tickets or info for the Get Happy Tour 2018 featuring Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen and The Aquabats?

This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk and bowlingforsoup.com
 


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Posts Tagged ‘River’

Santiago part 1

January 22nd, 2016 No comments

I have been in Santiago for most of a week and I am having a great time. Staying with Steven in a rented apartment in the city has proved useful as we have been close to everything, have been able to keep costs down and I feel that I have been able to see more of the “real” Chile, compared to if I had decided to stay in a hotel.

The apartment itself is not the best compared so some I saw online but it is adequate for my needs. It has a living room with dining table, a small but functional kitchen, a clean bathroom and a bedroom with two single beds. The cost was approximately £190 for the 8 days that I am here which, given its location, I find very reasonable indeed. The only downside is that due to interference from the fire station across the road reception on the TV is very bad. However, my past existence as a radio scanner enthusiast taught me that there is always a workaround available, in this case attaching the external antenna to the clothes airer in order to create a giant antenna. On the other hand, in addition to the location, it has the added benefit of being in a gated compound that has people on the gate so it should be fairly safe.

It looks funny but worked

My creation which helped improve the TV signal

I have spent most of my evenings making home cooked meals and watching Chilean TV / Netflix with Steven. I am learning Spanish at the moment but as I quickly found out upon arriving here Chilean Spanish is very unique, with its frequent and almost exclusive use of slang words, that it is very difficult to understand. Fortunately, many of the programs on TV are from the USA and I have discovered an interesting Judge Judy style show called “Caso Cerrado” which has helped me practice.

Although that is enough about the apartment.

Santiago seems a really nice city. I have spent my days exploring and walking around with no real plan, checking out some of the sights, eating some good food and just generally having a good time.

Cerro Santa Lucía is a good place to visit when you first arrive in Santiago. It’s a hill close to the centre of the city which gives you a good view of the local area. It isn’t as high as Parque Metropolitano, and definitely not as high as the viewing platform of the Costanera Centre, but I enjoyed my time here. Fuente Neptuno and the grounds definitely provided me with some good photo opportunities.

Santiago de Chile

The steps up to Cerro Santa Lucía

Santiago de Chile

The view of the city from Cerro Santa Lucía

Cerro Santa Lucía

Cerro Santa Lucía as seen from the main road.

Parque Metropolitano is another good place to visit if you are looking for a view point in the city. You can either walk up the hill or take an old funicular lift and are presented with some great views. There is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary here as well as a church, and it’s well worth a visit. Just be careful on the steep steps leading up to the statue – I slipped over and hurt my shoulder, much to the amusement of the only American tourists that I saw the entire time I was in the city. If you like the bar scene then head in the direction of Parque Metropolitano anyway as the road leading to it from Plaza Baquedano, called Pio Nono, is full of bars, restaurants and clubs and is very popular with university students from what I am told so should have a good atmosphere in the evening.

Funiculars are fun

Ascending the funicular in Parque Metropolitano

A great view of Santiago de Chile

The view from the very top of the hill at Parque Metropolitano.

Pio Nono

Pio Nono, near Parque Metropolitano

The Costanera Centre provided me with the best views of the city, although being inside a shopping centre it is very sterile and expensive. The Costanera Centre can be seen from all over Santiago, as it is the tallest building in Latin America, and consists of a huge shopping centre combined with offices, a hotel and the viewing platform. The shopping centre contains a few local brands but mainly big international brands and so for me was nothing special. The viewing platform, called the Sky Costanera, can be accessed from the basement and is the highest view point in the city. You are shot up to the top of the skyscraper in elevators really quickly while you are told the history of the building in Spanish by the attendant. The viewing platform has telescopes to allow you to see things in the distance, but other than that I will let the photos do the talking.

Sky Costanera view

A view of Santiago from the Sky Costanera

Me in Santiago de Chile

Me at the Sky Costanera viewing Platform

Costanera Centre

Inside the Costanera Centre

Costanera Centre

The Costanera Centre

Santiago has a really nice atmosphere. In addition to the viewpoints mentioned above we spent the first half of my time here walking around and taking in the famous sights such as La Moneda, which is the Presidential Palace which was infamously bombed by the Chilean Air Force during the military coup which killed President Salvador Allende. More about that coup later on as I am planning to visit the Museum of Human Rights before the end of my visit. Other sights that I have seen so far include Plaza de Armas, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Iglesia San Francisco, The National Library and the Violeta Parra Museum which was brand new when I visited. We also visited the cultural centre contained in a basement underneath the plaza next to La Moneda.

Plaza Baquedano, Santiago de Chile

Plaza Baquedano, 5 minutes from my apartment

Plaza de Armas, Santiago de Chile

Plaza de Armas

National Flag

Looking towards La Moneda and the National Flag

Cultural Centre

The Cultural Centre next to La Moneda

I would highly recommend all of these sights, maybe with the exception of the National Library which we only went into in order to get out of the heat, as they all show a little bit of Chilean culture and history. One thing that you will notice in the city is the large number of churches and cathedrals, as Chile is a fairly religious country. Some of the churches are fairly basic but some are really impressive such as the Iglesia San Francisco, which is very close to La Moneda. I believe it is the oldest church in Chile and is beautifully decorated, and well maintained as we found out when a cleaner asked Steven to help her lift some of the heavy cleaning equipment up some steps in order to help maintain a chapel.

Metropolitan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral

Iglesia San Francisco

Inside Iglesia San Francisco

I have heard a lot about Violeta Parra from Steven, and if you read much Chilean history it is very likely that you will have heard of her too as she is somewhat of a national hero that helped put Chile on the map and develop the Chilean folk music genre. I won’t go on about her too much as I don’t want to get any details wrong but if you want to learn more about her then the museum, very close to Plaza Baquedano, is well worth a visit. It is free to enter and showcases a lot of her work including original lyrics sheets, her guitar, photos of her and her art work. It also tells you more about her life, from her humble origins all the way up to her tragic suicide. A word of warning though, at the time I visited the museum was completely in Spanish but the information was easy to translate.

Violeta Parra Museum

Inside the Museo Violeta Parra

One thing I love about Santiago, in addition to the climate, people, and the atmosphere is the large amount of open space and the number of parks despite being a populated city surrounded by mountains. Parque Forestal, Parque Uruguay and Museo Parque de las Esculturas are among the open spaces that I have spent time in so far, most of which have been situated along the river. Museo Parque de las Esculturas is worth a visit as is has a great atmosphere and a large selection of public artworks, perhaps you could visit it when walking back from the Costanera Centre like we did. Parque Forestal is very central and seems to be a place where people like to go to relax at weekends and during their lunch breaks. I visited here a couple of times and during the first visit I was taken to what has quickly become my favourite ice cream parlour in the entire world, Emporio La Rosa. If you like ice cream then come here and take some into the park, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have fallen in love with lúcuma flavour, although as it’s a local fruit I doubt I will be able to find it in The UK.

Mapocho River, Santiago

The Mapocho River, near the Costanera Centre

Santiago

Public art and sculptures in the Parque de las Esculturas

Me in Santiago

Me walking back to the centre of Santiago after visiting the Costanera Centre

We are due to take a break from city life over the next few days and have booked a couple of day trips out of the city in order to see more of the country. Tomorrow we visit Valparaíso and then on Monday we visit Viña del Mar, which are both on the coast approximately 90 minutes from Santiago. The intercity bus service in Chile seems a LOT more extensive and efficient than that in The UK. If you want to visit either of these towns, or indeed other ones locally or further afield, then just head to the Estación Central and you can buy tickets inside the bus station next door for all of the major companies. Alternatively, I have seen kiosks dotted around the city for all of the companies if you won’t be going near Estación Central, but going there allows you to check prices and schedules of all of the companies.

I am looking forward to both day trips. Valparaíso is a city that I have heard a lot about and Viña del Mar comes highly recommended by everybody from Chile that I have talked to.

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Visiting a Kiev Shooting Range

June 21st, 2013 No comments

One thing I discovered online while researching things to do on the final spare day in Kiev is the possibility to visit a shooting range outside of the city. I’m far from being a gun enthusiast, and in fact I’m proud that I live in a country where people don’t have access to guns, but I’m the sort of person that likes to experience everything. So when a couple of other people in the group said that they were interested in visiting the range we decided it would be an experience.

It took some time to organise the trip to the shooting range. Before going to Chernobyl a few days ago we tried to book but couldn’t get through to them on the phone. The concierge at the hotel offered to try for us again and book while we were in Chernobyl but when we returned we found they hadn’t booked it – all they had done was call to find prices for us. So we called them back again and it seems we interrupted the guy when he was “busy” with a woman and were asked to call back later. When we finally managed to get through to him we arranged to be picked up from the hotel after breakfast.

The trip out to the range only took half an hour or so and we spent most of the time talking about the last couple of days exploring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The minibus we had was a luxury executive seater which would have been great to have over the last couple of days. I think the general consensus between the group, except for the disagreement yesterday, is that the discomfort of the minibus was the only bad point of our visit.

On the minibus

On the minibus to the shooting range

When we arrived at the shooting range there was a short delay while the group ahead of us finished their turn on the range. It seems that the range isn’t just used by amateurs as it was being used by bank security guards. We took the time to sit and relax while confirming which weapons we were interested in firing. We had booked AK-47, Dragunov Sniper Rifle and Shotgun but decided to swap the shotgun for a pistol and we found out the Dragunov was unavailable so would be swapped for an M4 Assault Rifle. This change wasn’t too much of an issue for any of us as the main thing we were interested in was the AK-47.

We spent maybe an hour or so firing the various weapons. During my time on the M-4 it kept jamming so we it was swapped out for an M-16 which was fine by me as it meant I was able to try out more guns for the same price. A few of us decided to pay a little extra to take a turn on the pump-action shotgun anyway though as we were given the option to have 10 shots on any other weapon for a set price. I have to say it was a little scary how big the adrenaline surge that the shotgun gave us was – all of us found it the same and were rather jumpy at the end of our 10 shots. I am glad I chose to have a turn on it but I don’t hope to be using one again any time soon!

AK-47

One of our group with an AK-47

AK-47 impact

An AK-47 hitting the end of the range

Pistol time

Pistol time

M-4

Next was an M-4

M-16

Then it was on to an M-16

Shotgun

Finally it was a shotgun

AK-47 target

Apparently my AK-47 shooting is rather accurate!

On the way back the minibus driver dropped us in the city so we could have lunch and stock up on souvenirs (or ‘tat’ as most of the group had started to call it). We decided that the area around St Andrew’s Church would be a good place to start as we saw loads of souvenir stands there the other day and it was close to the old town that we also wanted to visit.

We spent some time checking out all of the souvenir stalls before slowly making our way down towards the old town. The road down the hill was still lined with stalls but the majority of the better ones were up the top where we started. We were all starting to get pretty hungry by this point so decided to grab something to eat at a restaurant half way down the hill which had a nice terrace overlooking the street. A bit stereotypical but I decided to have Chicken Kiev and while it was very different to what we have back in The UK it was really nice.

Souvenirs

Lots of souvenirs were available

Walking around Kiev

Walking towards the old town

Chicken Kiev

Eating Chicken Kiev

Lunch time

Looking out from the restaurant

When we got to the bottom of the hill we spent a little time exploring the old town but it was starting to get a little late in the afternoon so we made our way towards the Funicular that travels from the old town up to the top of the hill. We spent a long time trying to find it as it was further away than we thought but a couple of locals helped point us in the right direction. It’s right on the main road though so if you plan to use this to get back to the city centre just head up the hill out of the old town along the main road and it’s on your right you can’t miss it.

The views from the Funicular weren’t as spectacular as we hoped as the trees were in the way but it was incredibly cheap (the equivalent of 15p) and took us back up to the back of St Michael’s in no time. We relaxed up in the park taking photos for a little while before deciding to head back to the hotel ready for our night on the town. There were 5 of us so it would have been too many for one taxi so I decided to make my own way back on foot as I was in the mood for exploring on my own anyway.

Old Kiev

The Old Town

The Funicular

The entrance to the Funicular

Kiev Funicular

This is the Funicular in Kiev

I said my goodbyes to the group and made my way back to the hotel via St Sofia’s Cathedral and then some of the back roads that ran parallel to the Khreshchatyk street to get a sense of what Kiev is like away from the main roads that tourists use. I took some great photos along the way and eventually got back to regular surroundings in the vicinity of the Lenin statue.

Statue in Kiev

Walking back to the hotel

Kiev Independence Square

Independence Square

Walking around Kiev

Khreschatyk Street is the main street in Kiev

Time for a quick refresh in my room before meeting the others down in the hotel bar. We had found a Ukraininan restaurant down the road from the hotel that served traditional foods with live music and homemade drinks so decided this would be a great place for a final group meal. We were right in some aspects, but how wrong we were in others.

This is a view of the Hotel Rus

Our hotel

Hotel Rus

The hotel bar / restaurant outside on the terrace

The restaurant, called Shinok, had a great atmosphere. We were greeted with homemade flavoured vodka when we arrived before being shown to our seats. There was a live folk band playing in the room next door which helped the atmosphere and the staff were really friendly. We couldn’t decide what to have as a starter so the waiter persuaded us to try some sharing plates in the centre of the table. The sharers were really nice, as was my veal main course, but we had a nasty surprise when the bill arrived. What we didn’t realise was how expensive the sharers or homemade drinks we were served at regular intervals were and several of us didn’t have enough money to cover our share. Luckily between us we had enough, and I had just enough to cover everything, but it meant that we had to walk the 2km back to the hotel. It provided a great chance to see more of the city and get away from a couple of people who kicked up over the price of the meal plus a few other things.

Music Time

Entertainment at the final meal

Dinner Time

Dinner for me. It was yummy 🙂

Kiev by night

Kiev by night from my room

I’m back in my room now and have just finished packing for the flight back to London tomorrow. We need to leave fairly early so I’m not able to do my usual last minute panic packing that tends to happen every time. Sometimes I even surprise myself!

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Exploring Pripyat

June 20th, 2013 No comments

Before heading to breakfast this morning there was time to pet the hotel cat while waiting for our guide and minibus to arrive from outside the zone. He seemed to love the company so I guess there aren’t many visitors to the hotel although from the feel of various cuts and lumps that we noticed while petting him he didn’t seem too well which was a shame.

Breakfast was two courses and you’ll never guess what the first one consisted of. That’s right… cucumber! The second course was just as unusual and consisted of cold pasta, a cold fried egg and a lukewarm burger but I guess it’s part of the whole Chernobyl experience even though I hate cucumber. There was some paperwork that needed taking care of so we relaxed for a bit outside the canteen before making our way further into the zone.

Cat :)

The Chernobyl Hotel resident cat

Breakfast at Chernobyl

Breakfast in the canteen

There are several checkpoints within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The first is at the outer perimeter which is 30km away from the plant itself and is where you have all your permits checked before being allowed on to Chernobyl town where our hotel is. The outer perimeter is also where the most sensitive scanners are that make sure you aren’t radioactive upon leaving the zone. The next checkpoint is 10km away from the plant and while the scanners aren’t as sensitive on the way out you need extra permission to enter this part of the zone and resettlement is totally prohibited. There is one final checkpoint that you must pass before entering the abandoned city of Pripyat and it was here where we spent most of today.

Our first stop was in what was one of the squares within Pripyat which is now completely overgrown to the point that you can’t even see the road or lamp posts around the edge until you’re right next to them. Around the square were military dorms and you couldn’t see those until you were right next to them either but when we arrived at the main door we were surprised by our guide by being told that we would be allowed inside the buildings at Pripyat if we wanted to. Of course we all accepted but I’m guessing as we signed papers to say we weren’t allowed in, and we were told yesterday that entry into the buildings of Pripyat was prohibited, then while officially it’s only discouraged to enter the buildings if anything did happen and we got injured then it would be our own fault.

Lenin

Lenin inside the dorn

Military bath

A bath inside the military dorm

Changing room

Changing room inside the military dorm

Walking around Pripyat

Walking around Pripyat

We spent some time walking around the first floor of the military dorms and it was a very eerie sensation considering we were the only people there but 30 years ago there would have been hundreds of people at any one time. All of the bedrooms were empty, except for a few small items such as brushes and a chair, although the shower rooms still had baths and all of the fixtures. The highlight of this particular building was finding a room which had a portrait of Lenin on the wall which was at one point a meeting room. There wasn’t as much to see here compared to other buildings later in the day but all of us on this trip are keen photographers so we still spent quite a lot of time taking photos – not so much of the ruined state of the buildings but about how life just stopped and moved on one day.

Walking down the road from the dorms we passed a few apartment buildings and stores before arriving at the Pripyat Hospital. We weren’t allowed too far into the building as it was fairly dangerous according to our guide but we were able to walk around long enough to find the doctor on call list, a couple of ward rooms and an examination suite that had the remains of X-ray machines among other things. I got the feeling very early on that one day exploring Pripyat would not be enough as I could easily have spent an hour or so exploring the hospital.

Pripyat Hospital

The notice board at the hospital in Pripyat

Pripyat Hospital

Walking around the hospital

Medical equipment

Medial equipment inside the hospital

Pripyat Hospital

A chair and gas tank surrounded by debris

After the hospital we spent some time exploring the Pripyat River Port before walking down the road to another square which was hardly recognisable with all of the trees that have taken hold since the disaster. Pripyat was a planned city and was made up of several districts all around the main parade ground – each district had a square, stores, recreation areas, a school and a square but as we found out while walking around the city only the bigger buildings have survived so far and some of them are in bad shape as we found out in this square. One of the buildings that we saw was a concert hall and we were able to enter as far as the main auditorium where there were seats, or what was left of them, and a stage which still had the original piano on it. The stage itself was in very bad shape and we were a little foolish to walk across it but we got some great photos.

Vending Machines

Water Vending Machines at the River Port

Me in Pripyat

Me at the Pripyat River Port

Waiting area

The waiting area at the River Port

An overgrown square

This used to be a big open square

Pripyat theatre

The outside of a theatre in Pripyat

Pripyat Theatre

On stage in the theatre

We walked past a secondary school that had collapsed in the middle, allowing us to see into the classrooms on the top floor, before making our way around to the main parade ground in Pripyat. This is an area that you see in many photos and contains a hotel, the offices of the atomic energy department, a theatre, supermarket, restaurant and more. It was the only square that was still recognisable as it was so big in its day that trees haven’t had a chance to reclaim it yet. While in the square our guide showed us a photo of the main road leaving the square, Lenin Street, which was once four lanes wide and is now unrecognisable as a road.

Collapsed school

A doorway in the collapsed school

A collapsed school

A collapsed school

The hotel was the first place we explored around the square. It had been stripped pretty completely but you could still make out the reception area, restaurant and store rooms. We didn’t spend much time here as there wasn’t much to see so we headed straight along the square to the supermarket. It wasn’t safe to go upstairs but we spent some time exploring the ground floor of the building which still contained all of the original refrigeration units along with shopping trolleys. At the far side of the ground floor loads of beds had been set out which looked confusing but our guide explained these were available on the first floor of the supermarket but that after the disaster looters had moved them downstairs to use the area as a base for stealing what they could find.

Abandoned hotel in Pripyat

The main square in Pripyat had a big hotel

Abandoned hotel

Inside the hotel

Before...

Lenin Street before the disaster

.... and after

Lenin Street now

Supermarket in Pripyat

Inside the Supermarket

We entered the backstage area of the theatre and saw some materials which were being prepared for the May Day parade that year. One of the most striking stories to come from the disaster is how while the area near Chernobyl was being evacuated the rest of the Soviet Union just got in with their business. It was 36 hours after the disaster before the Soviets admitted there was a problem and started evacuating citizens near the zone but even while they were doing this they denied the disaster was serious – it was only when the radiation was detected in Sweden that they even acknowledged to the outside world anything had happened. During the time the citizens were being evacuated, and being exposed to huge levels of radiation, just up the road in Kiev the May Day parade happened as planned even though they were close enough to get exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.

After leaving the square we had a chance to explore the famous theme park which was due to open the day after Pripyat was evacuated. Most of the articles about Pripyat that I have read featured photos of the theme park and I was excited to finally see it. In the park there were several rides, a Ferris Wheel and a dodgem arena. We spent maybe 20 minutes exploring the area and it was great to wander around in a nice open space which was still clear of trees… although by now the temperature had risen above comfortable temperatures so while the main photo savvy people in our group finished taking photos of the Ferris Wheel I hid in the shade of the ticket office. I was very impressed with the time we spent in the theme park, however, but we would soon be lead to another entertainment facility that was even grander.

Pripyat Fairground

The famous Ferris Wheel

Dodgem time

Abandoned Dodgems!

The Pripyat Stadium was just around the corner from the Theme Park but once again you couldn’t see it for trees. Our guide told us all about the stadium and how it was used to train athletes, in addition to holding meetings of its own, but it was only when we reached the stands that we realised we had walked through a collapsed section of the stands and across the field without noticing. Our guide said we would have 5-10 minutes to explore the area so I decided to walk into the building to get a sense of the original enormity of the site by walking up to the top level of the stands before emerging to look over the field. It took some time to find my way – I got lost a few times, found the toilets, motor room, several long corridors, the commentary boxes and then had to climb over a wall but eventually I found my way to the back of the seating area where at one point thousands of people would have sat to watch sports.

The sports field was so unrecognisable even when sitting down for a few minutes taking in the view but it was at this point when I realised how a trip to Pripyat isn’t about death it’s about life. We were visiting places that once thrived and were crawling with people and even though the human population has moved on the earth is still thriving. There are trees where 30 years ago there was a big open space and even though we didn’t see any wildlife there are loads of animals in the area including wild horses and wolves. I have witnessed the power of nature on several occasions – I have seen an avalanche, skied over the remains of another even larger avalanche, felt a magnitude 6 earthquake, seen a tornado and I also happened to fly over Iran a few years ago when they had those bad nationwide floods but all of those were about what the power of nature can do to us. A visit to Pripyat is the reverse and shows you that no matter what we try to do to the planet, and no matter how important you think human life is to the planet, things seem to work better without us. Of course I had known this for years but it’s very humbling when that reality hits you in a situation like this.

Pripyat Stadium

This is a view of the Pripyat Stadium grounds

Pripyat Stadium

The stands at Pripyat Stadium

Pripyat Stadium stands

Looking out over the track and field

Relaxing at Pripyat Stadium

Relaxing in Pripyat at the stadium. Disclaimer – do not sit down in Pripyat it is against the advisory notice.

I was sad to leave the stadium as we met up with our minibus and I thought that the trip was over but we were told there were still a couple more sights to see. The first was one which I had looked forward to since seeing photos of the first Regent trip here a few years ago – the sports centre that included the main swimming pool. We spent some time exploring the area although we had to stick together and be quiet and I got the feeling that this was one building we definitely weren’t supposed to be in. In addition to the swimming pool area we saw a motor room, basketball court and gymnastics arena but the batteries in my camera ran out at this point so I wasn’t able to get too many photos.

Swimming Pool

The famous abandoned swimming pool

Basketball Court

The leisure centre also had a Basketball court

After returning to the minibus and putting new batteries in my camera we were taken to what ended up being by far the highlight of my visit to Pripyat – the secondary school that you see in many photos of the area that has a huge pile of gas masks in one of the rooms. Our guide showed us up to the first floor before giving us 15 minutes to explore at our leisure as long as we stayed on that floor. What made it the highlight for me is how most things there had been left exactly as they were before the city was evacuated. The hotel had been stripped, the dorms had been completely emptied and the supermarket had been looted but the school was still full of items. The entire corridor was littered with books where they had been tipped off the shelves by the decontamination team but walking around the rooms I discovered geometry text books, paintings that students had created, postcards, a model of The Kremlin and even a science room still with experiments out on the table and test questions written up on the board. I genuinely believe that I could have spent half a day exploring this building so it’s a shame we didn’t have an extra day in the zone to be able to take in things at our own pace.

The Kremlin

A model of The Kremlin

Geometry time

A Geometry text book

Science Lab

A science classroom at the abandoned school

Abandoned corridor

A corridor in the abandoned school

Painting

I wonder what the teen who painted this is doing now!

School dinners anybody?

A very old looking cooker in the school kitchen

After meeting back up with the rest of the group again we were shown town to the ground floor where the kitchens still had plates in the sinks, there were bike wheels in vices where they were being repaired and even the huge pile of gas masks which I mentioned previously. We asked our guide about these and she said these were all made available for the children but they evacuated Pripyat in such a hurry once the order was given that they were never used.

Our final stop in Pripyat was the old Bus Station where workers at the plant, and residents at the city, would have been able to board buses to Kiev and other towns / cities in the region. We only spent 5 minutes here but we took some great photos, including the below photo of me in the ticket office, and I also now finally know what the mechanics of a locker look like due to one of them being broken open.

Me at the bus station

Me in the ticket office or Pripyat Bus Station

The time had finally come to leave Pripyat and head back towards Kiev. There would be a chance to stop for one final late lunch at the canteen first but unfortunately we were told that we would be unable to visit the resettlers houses inside the zone as we had taken too long in Pripyat. This was a shame as it would have been nice to see the residents who have come back to the exclusion zone to live but it would have been a set up meeting so I not sorry about missing that opportunity to be able to explore the building which, officially, are completely off limits. We would have missed so much by not exploring the buildings that seeing the resettlers would not have made up for.

Cucumber... again

Two different types of cucumber to start lunch

Main Course time

Main course… it was mainly barley!

After passing the first radiation checkpoint and making our way back to Chernobyl town we had lunch which consisted of two courses. The first one, you guessed it, had cucumber in it but this time not just one type of cucumber it had two – sliced cucumber with cucumber fritters. The second course was much more pleasant as you can see from the photos below, however it was soon time to leave the zone for good. We made our way back out the main road, were scanned again at the outer checkpoint, before saying goodbye to our guide. She was an amazing guide and showed us far more of Pripyat than I ever hoped to see so I’m incredibly pleased with her service.

When we arrived back in Kiev it was already early evening so after checking into our rooms and having a well-earned shower we met in the hotel bar to discuss dinner plans. The unanimous decision was to go back to the Bavarian restaurant from the other night as those of us that went had been talking about it so much the others wanted to try it.

Over dinner there was a little bit of a disagreement with one of the group in relation to missing the resetllers. I agree with that it would have been nice to have seen them but on any trip that’s into the unknown you can’t expect things to go exactly to plan. Our plan, according to the brochure, said that we weren’t going to be able to go into the buildings and even missing out the resettlers the trip still went more to plan than any trip to Africa that I have done. The disagreement didn’t spoil dinner, however, and I’m glad we came back here. I highly recommend the restaurant to anybody that visits Kiev. I can’t remember the name of the street but once again if you go along Khreshchatyk Street from the Lenin statue in the direction of Independence Square you’ll come across the political protest tents on the left. Go past those and it’s the first road on the left where the tents end, a few doors up just past the bar.

Back in Kiev

Back in Kiev

The night finished with watching a pyromaniac display with the group, before exploring on my own again for a little bit, but I’m now back in my room and completely exhausted. I have a feeling that I will sleep well tonight after what has been a very long and exhausting but extremely worthwhile couple of days visiting Chernobyl. We still have one more day left and have arranged to start it by visiting a shooting range which should prove very interesting!

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Mother Nature keeps me awake

February 13th, 2012 No comments

They say if you watch a kettle it never boils but in the case of last night it was “if you need to get to sleep then you won’t” due to numerous factors keeping me awake all night. Firstly I had to wait up until Guido got back from the club, which was fair enough, but when they all got back whoever was in the room next to us put the TV on quite loudly which kept us awake. Then I had to turn the fan off in our room as it was so loud but this meant it was too hot to get to sleep although I got used to it after a while – just in time to hear Guido start snoring. Our came the ear plugs and just as I thought I was drifting off to sleep we had an earthquake which shook the building for around 20 seconds. I decided that it really wasn’t my night and as it was almost 5am at this point I just gave up and sat up in bed collecting my thoughts – I can usually get through anything but I can’t compete with Mother Nature shaking me awake!

I wish I wasn’t such a light sleeper when I travel as half of our group didn’t even feel the earthquake. I’m not sure how they managed that as they’re estimating it was a pretty strong magnitude 6.0 on the Richter Scale with an epicenter just south of San Jose but it’s a skill I need to learn. I guess on a positive side it wasn’t the Arenal Volcano erupting like I initially thought when it shook me awake.

The earthquake

An image I borrowed showing the distribution of our Earthquake

After a last minute explore of the town it was back to the hotel to check out and wait for our transport to San Jose. Half of the group wanted to go rafting but were unable to fit it in along with the other activities available so Mena organised a way for them to be able to fit it today which was set aside for travel. One of the rafting options goes in the direction of San Jose so they were able to do that this morning and then the rest of us picked them up on route in a private minibus ready for the final part of our journey to the capital. It cost us a few dollars to upgrade from local bus but gave us a more leisurely day and meant everybody could do the things they wanted.

We arrived at the rendezvous point early so had to wait a little while for them to finish lunch and collect their belongings but we were soon on our way. We stopped for a quick lunch as those of us that didn’t go rafting hadn’t eaten all day – the others were annoyed but we were starving and they soon found ways to entertain themselves during the stop.

Lunch in CR

Stopping for a quick lunch on the way to San Jose

Anne and Kristy

Anne and Kristy entertained themselves while we ate

I relaxed and listened to music during the remainder of the journey to San Jose during which the scenery became a lot more mountainous as we passed over the mountain range between La Fortuna and San Jose. The scenery itself wasn’t as beautiful as some of the valleys in Honduras but it was more “large scale” if that makes sense with huge rivers to cross and larger rolling hills which were perfect to collect my thoughts on our last group transfer day of the trip. After passing over several hills and through several police check points we slowly made out descent into San Jose.

San Jose is the most built up and chaotic place we’ve visited on this whole trip so I’m glad we’re finishing here rather than starting. There is so much traffic and the city is full of one-way systems it’s just chaos unless you know where you’re going and it took our driver some time to find our destination, Gaudy’s Hostel, but we got there in the end. Gaudy’s is a nice little place with a couple of lounge areas, the rooms set out around various wings leading off a central courtyard and all the facilities you’d expect at a hostel like kitchen, Internet etc. The rooms could do with some improvement but San Jose is an expensive city compared to the others we’ve visited so it was a good place on our budget.

A river

We crossed this river before passing over the mountains to San Jose

Mountain Road

One of the mountainous roads we went along before San Jose

San Jose outskirts

The outskirts of San Jose

After checking in and freshening up it was time to head into the city for our goodbye group meal which Mena had booked at an oriental restaurant that came highly recommended called “Tin Jo” which was really nice but a little pricey. A few of us decided to stretch our legs after a long day of travelling and walked there but we managed to get lost due to the fact San Jose has no visible road signs and there are so many open parks and plazas which, although they are lovely, confused us quite a bit. We got there eventually and I tucked into a lovely meal of crunchy tofu followed by Filipino pork. During the meal the bulk of the group presented Mena with her tip but they didn’t even think to ask us to contribute – apparently they didn’t think we would want to give her a tip as we hadn’t been on the trip for as long as them which I found a bit rude. Mena has done a great job even though it’s only her first group lead and I’ve had a great trip so of course we would want to contribute. We’ll be having a Team Breakaway group meal tomorrow so I’ll see about organising one then, but I’m not going to let the whole thing bother me :).

Instead of walking and getting lost again we decided to get a taxi back to the hostel although this was an experience – the driver was absolutely crazy and drove the car like a mad man. From his random incoherent rantings I’m sure he was drunk or high or something but we somehow got back in one piece where we relaxed with a few drinks before bed. I’m glad I’ve booked an extra night in San Jose tomorrow night – I’m not ready to say goodbye to Costa Rica or Team Breakaway yet!

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Africa videos

September 16th, 2009 No comments

I’ve finally been able to upload all of my videos from Africa. They’re all now on YouTube and can be viewed below, or in full by clicking on the videos themselves. If you have a user on YouTube feel free to comment on the videos if you want.


Baboon Family at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya – August 24, 2009
 


View from Ngumo Primary School, Gilgil, Kenya – August 25th, 2009
 


Meeting local kids on the Tea Plantation walk near Fort Portal, Uganda – August 27th, 2009
 


Chimpanzees at the Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda – August 27th, 2009
 


The Amahoro Group of Mountain Gorillas during our trek, Rwanda [1/2] – August 31st, 2009
 


The Amahoro Group of Mountain Gorillas during our trek, Rwanda [2/2] – August 31st, 2009
 


Pygmy village dancing and singing for us near Ruhengeri, Rwanda – September 1st, 2009
 


Some of our group rafting on the River Nile at Jinja, Uganda – September 4th, 2009
 


Visiting Bujagali Falls near Jinja, Uganda – September 4th, 2009
 


Den, Amanda, Jono and Al go Bungee Jumping at Adrift near Jinja, Uganda – September 4th, 2009
 


Al number 2 goes Bungee Jumping at Adrift near Jinja, Uganda – September 4th, 2009
 


Having fun at the campsite near Eldoret, Kenya – September 5th, 2009
(This is the video with the 50 states, the rapping etc)
 


A Sparrow attacking itself in Oscar’s mirror at the campsite near Eldoret, Kenya – September 6th, 2009

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Fish River Canyon

August 16th, 2002 No comments

We did it! Fish River Canyon has been conquered by a gang of kids from Kent, a Metropolitan Police trainee and a trainee teacher! At 85km it was a bit tiring but we saw some amazing things along the way.

We got up early on the 13th to begin the trek. We took a while to get ready which meant we didn’t start until a bit later than we wanted to but we made enough distance to an ideal camping location 7km into the canyon. Before we started Rod took group photos for us all and this is another photo that brings back such great memories as I type up this transcript.

Our group

Our group

Rod - the TRUCK driver

Rod – the TRUCK driver

It took a while to descend into the canyon. The trail was a bit crumbly under foot and you needed to watch where you were treading. One of our group was a little hesitant so I stayed back with him and Jez until we caught up with the others at the bottom of the canyon next to the river. We relaxed there for a bit before starting off on the main portion of the trek. We only progressed a few km on the first day, which was a lot less than we hoped, but where we stopped was an ideal location to spend the night. Our campsite was on a bit of an embankment with ditches that had been etched in the sand on either side. We had some sort of monumental WWI trench battle throwing sand backwards and forwards which was fun for a while but soon got annoying. We won anyway when me and Dominic went behind enemy lines and ambushed everybody from the flanks.

Bottom of the canyon

Bottom of the canyon

Our group

Our group

The next day we stopped at some hot springs and a building which somebody, probably from the UK, had painted “Sainsbury’s” down the side of. I didn’t get a photo of that but somebody else did – I’ll see if I can find it later. The hot springs really helped the feet which were starting to ache by now. While we were there we also saw a Horse although how he was there and how he survives is a good question! That day we progressed quite a bit and trekked about 23km and our campsite for the night was next to some bushes near the river on the bend of the canyon. It was really windy so we had to weigh the top sheets of the tent down with rocks to stop them blowing away. Although strangely enough even though the tents only just stayed in position the cutlery and plates that we had to abandon when the sandstorm came in were still there. I guess they had a low enough profile even when abandoned mid-way through a run from the river up to camp! We also saw our first rain of the trip although it only lasted 20 seconds.

Me at the Hot Springs

Me at the Hot Springs

Horse

Horse

My tent group

My tent group

Yesterday was our longest stint of the trek. We trekked about 35-36km seeing some really lovely scenery such as “Four Fingered Rock” and also the grave of a German soldier. When the country was a German colony the army had a huge battle against the Nama tribe who didn’t want them there. The battle took place in Fish River Canyon and the Nama were destroyed but only one German soldier was killed and he was buried at the scene. Our campsite last night was near the river but surrounded by bushes, which we thought was a good idea after the storm the night before, and it also provided us a good shelter from the baboons we saw 15 minutes or so before setting up camp. Last night was also the night most of the group decided to “sample the facilities” – ie digging a hole in the ground… but enough said about that. We thought it was going to be another storm due to the sky but nothing happened and it was a fairly calm night. This was just as well as Harley decided it would be a good idea to swim across the river yesterday when he took a shortcut that got him stuck on the other side of the river – his stuff was wet enough from that!

German soldier's grave

German soldier’s grave

Four Fingered Rock

Four Fingered Rock

Red sky at night!

Red sky at night!

Something I will really remember from that day is the Haribo incident. We were resting at the bottom of a hill that we were going to climb over as a shortcut when Will suddenly said “Do you know what I could do with right now? Haribo!”. He then went into his bag and pulled out a big bag which he had been saving and shared it out. Jez, our other leader, said the same thing but about Kylie Minogue but alas she wasn’t in there even after he pulled everything out all over the floor!

Dan R went one too far last night too so Jez got his own back by poking him with a big bit of wood then chasing him around the canyon floor. I didn’t take part even though I felt like it due to him being a complete menace to society so far this trip! We had a nice campfire going though which added to the atmosphere and he didn’t make this one explode !

Dan and the stick #1

Dan and the stick #1

Dan and the stick #2

Dan and the stick #2

This morning we knew the end was in sight as we only had 24km to go. The leaders decided it would be a good idea to give us some training so gave us one of the radios we had then set off into the distance without letting us get ready first. It was good to be out on our own but the group did get split up a few times. We all regrouped at the bottom of what we thought was a shortcut before heading up the hill a bit to try and get reception on the radios to contact the leaders. It turns out it was the wrong way anyway so we went back to the river and followed it along its course until we found our leaders waiting for us. After a few harsh words we progressed further before stopping for lunch.

After lunch we all headed off at our own pace. Some people were faster than others, then there was a group of people that finished a little later, followed by me, Dan Becks and a couple of other people. We were all pretty exhausted by the end but when we walked up those final steps and saw the campsite there was relief! We walked into the campsite, around the corner and saw the truck which was even more of a relief. Dan B screamed “trruuuuuuck!!!” and ran towards it which was something I didn’t have the energy for despite it looking like paradise.

Finishing the trek

Finishing the trek

Since getting back we’ve just cleaned up and relaxed by the pool. Unfortunately my electric razor has run out of battery so I had to get a disposable one from Simon and attempt to use it for the first time ever while in the shower. New experience but I managed it.

We’re going out for a meal in the restaurant tonight!

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