Tumble Weed

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."


A blog about my travels, and other ramblings that may spring to mind.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared

"The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared" is definitely one of the best, most funny books I’ve ever read.

It’s the debut novel by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson, and I think it’ll be hard for him to top it! The protagonist, Allan Karlsson, has just turned 100 years old. Whilst waiting in his nursing home for his party to start, he simply stands up, puts on his slippers and climbs out of the window. The novel follows his exit through the window and his journey across Sweden, but the narrative also features flashbacks into Allan’s fascinating life over the previous 100 years.

Jonasson is clearly a talented writer. He manages to somehow coherently involve Allan in prominent historical events throughout the years across the world, from America to China, across the Himalayas and back again, entangling him with politicians from all different persuasions. Allan himself has no time for politics, and when finding himself in tricky situations his solution is vodka, and explosions.

The narrative is hilarious. Allan’s lived a long and crazy life, and his indifference at situations most would be shocked by makes his journey all the more funny. Upon leaving the nursing home, Allan manages to steal 10,000 kronor, become the target of a criminal gang and the Swedish police, and make friends with an elephant. He does all this in his stride, although often he becomes tired and much more often he craves a stiff vodka.

I won’t say any more as it’ll ruin the story for you. But if you don’t laugh out loud at least once, there’s something wrong with you!

Long live Allan Karlsson!

Glorified Squatting

I’m a Property Guardian. You might not know what that means.

Several companies across the UK, and throughout the world, offer their security services to owners of unused buildings. They say they’ll have a 24/7 presence in the building, in return for the owners just paying the electricity and water bills. The companies then offer cheap rent to responsible adults in permanent jobs, with the agreement that only two weeks notice will be given if the building needs to be returned to the owner. The companies take on any kind of building, so long as it has a kitchen and bathroom. They offer rooms in places like churches, pubs, schools and hospitals.

At the moment I’m lucky enough to be living in a four bedroom house in a suburb of London. It’s a large house that belongs to a local Church, and I’m living in it with one other whilst the owners decide what they want to do with it. It has a large kitchen and garden, two toilets and nice bathroom with sizeable bedrooms. The place came without any furnishings (as is the case with most properties offered by property guardian companies), but other than that, all bills (electricity, gas, water and council tax) are covered, meaning my rent is just £300 a month.

It’s a great idea and has enabled me to move out of home on my own. I wouldn’t have been able to have done that if I were to rent privately, I’d have to move out with someone else. It allows people to rent whilst still saving (if they so wish… I really should get on with doing that!). It does require flexibility - you may only be given two weeks notice to vacate the premises. People have described it as glorified squatting, but I don’t mind. With property guardian rent starting at as little as £50 a week, I’m surprised more people don’t do it!

If you want to check it out, have a look at Ad Hoc property guardians.

Lest We Forget

Every year on the 11th November at 11am in Great Britain, millions of people take two minutes out of their busy lives and remember the thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for their country. Regardless of how you feel about war, I strongly believe that this is something that must be upheld. Not only is it respectful to remember the long dead soldiers and their families, but it reminds us of the horrors of war, and will hopefully prevent suh atrocities occuring in the future.

This year, a colleague of mine refused to take part in this two minute silence, and removed himself from the room. I’ve never come across someone chosing to opt out of this tradition before, and I am quite shocked by this.

I know that he would have spent those two minutes in silence anyway, as he’s not much of a talker! I fully respect his beliefs, that war is wrong, but I do not believe that through spending two minutes in silent thought about the fallen, one is condoning war. I’m simply paying my respects to the young men who have been killed in battle, some through no choice of their own. The horrors they would have endured, the friends and family they watched die in front of them, the awful conditions in the trenches, the nightmares they would have experienced night after night, their hopes and dreams for their futures dashed in seconds, and the post-traumatic stress that would have stayed with them for the rest of their lives, should their lives be spared, is something I cannot even begin to imagine. To stand up and walk out of a room as a statement, saying you will not respect the dead, is something I find unfathomable. I would go as far as to say it’s disrespecting the country you’re living in.

Yes, I agree that war is horrendous and those boys who died in Flanders Fields shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I agree that the massive loss of life could have been prevented. But without them, who knows what the country you’re living in today would be like. And, ultimately, it’s history. It’s in the past. And the most we can do today, is pay respect to the dead.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

We Will Remember Them.

Dear Michael and Emily Eavis,

Dear Michael and Emily Eavis,

Firstly, thank you for Glastonbury! 2014 will be my fifth year and I am very very excited.

I just thought I’d write to request a favour. It seems as though the lineup last year was affected by what I presume was a huge cost in getting the Rolling Stones to play. Whilst they were fantastic, and well worth the cost of a ticket, it did seem to me and many others that the rest of the lineup suffered as a result.

The headliners are a huge part of what Glastonbury is about, but it’s also the smaller, lesser known bands, and the up and coming bands playing midday slots over the weekend that add to the magic. Let’s get the spirit of rock and roll back out there and thriving and get proper rock bands back on the scene. Those bands who have been inspired throughout their lives by Glastonbury and the artists who have graced the stages over the years.

Glastonbury embraces variety, which is something that makes it differ from the rest of the festivals in the UK. Yes, dance, pop, drum and bass, hip hop, etc, have their place in the festival calendar, but there are so many other festivals out there which cater to the tastes of the Radio 1 massive that perhaps they should take a back seat on the Glastonbury line up. Proper, pure, rock festivals are quickly fading in the UK (just look at the history of V and Reading and Leeds festival line ups in the last ten years to see what I’m talking about!) and Glastonbury’s the UK’s, if not the world’s most prestigious music festival. Let’s wipe the likes of Rita Ora and Professor Green off Pyramid stage slots and put some proper up and coming rock music back on there. Glastonbury’s never been about catering to the masses.

I have a feeling 2014 will be one of the best Glastonburys yet, and look forward to discovering the exciting lineup that with undoubtedly come next year.

Roll on 2014!

Yours Sincerely,

Kate

Optimus Alive

OPTIMUS ALIVE
Following a night out in Barrio Alto, a bit groggy with sleep in our eyes, we packed up our things and enjoyed a free breakfast from the hostel on the outside terrace, showered and headed off. We’d been told that trains ran to the festival site so we walked to the train station, which apparently wasn’t far from the hostel. However, we got beyond lost, and decided to hail a cab. We loaded our bags and tents into the cab and the friendly driver talked us through all the sites of Lisbon as he drove us to the festival site. We arrived and unloaded our cab, and then waited for a guy I’d been in contact before the festival who wanted to buy the spare camping ticket we had. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sell the festival ticket as it was such short notice. We then walked down to collect our wristbands, only to find we were in the wrong place and therefore had to get another cab to the campsite to pitch our tents before we could go in to the festival. The cab drove us to the end of a queue. A very, very long queue. By now it was around 12, 1pm so the sun was high in the sky and beating down on us. You could tell the English from the Portuguese as people were covering up and digging through their bags for suncream!!

After about an hour we finally got to the front of the queue and got our cards for the campsite. The site is a lush green campsite with a swimming pool, small supermarket and restaurants. It also has various charging points, and flushing toilets! A shuttle bus system taking revellers from the festival site to the campsite operated throughout the duration of the festival. This was all included in the cost of the camping ticket which was about 15 Euros.

We walked up the hill to pitch our tent, but realised the lush green grass ended at the pitches, which were instead covered with prickly pine leaves which have fallen from the trees. You couldn’t feel them through the tent, but sitting outside the tent you’d definitely need a blanket or towel as they really dig into funny places! After having a few drinks at the campsite, a group of English lads came over and pitched up next to us, and we headed down to the festival buses to get a glance at Optimus Alive!!

The sky started to darken as we walked along the queue route. Getting to near the entrance, a large queue had formed but it was moving quite quickly and we got through it in about 10 minutes. At the gates you’re asked to dispose of any open bottles or alcohol you have on you, and your bags are checked. Your ticket is then scanned, and you’re in!

I was expecting to find a large green field with lots of tents, but Optimus Alive! is more like a playground or a carpark - concrete. As you walk in, the main stage is to your right, with some areas infront of the stage convered in a fake plastic grass-like material. To the left of the stage is a bar, and all around the perimeter are food stalls. Behind the main stage area are the toilets, and beyond there is the second (and only other) stage, with yet more food stalls. For the size of the festival, the site is quite small, but this didn’t detract from the sound quality (which was brilliant) or the crowd size at the stages.

As we walked in we were informed that as we’d booked tickets through the UK site we’d have to queue for wristbands. So we joined another queue. This was quite a disappointment as the other two had really wanted to see Snow Patrol, who were due on stage in about 10 minutes, so I told them I’d queue while they went to the bar and then to watch and would ring them from the front of the queue. (I’m not the hugest fan). I must’ve queued for about 45 minutes. The plus side to this was that it was at a good distance from the stage so I was able to see everything that was going on. I would say though, that if you are going, be prepared for this and get down there a bit earlier so you don’t miss a band you want to see!

Once we’d got our wrist bands, we got a few more drinks and then headed into the crowd to watch the Friday night headliner, The Stone Roses. It was then that we realised just how many British people had travelled over for the festival, particularly Mancunians! The Stone Roses played a good set, and had a good light display, but Ian Brown really can’t sing. At some points, it got a bit painful. But in general they’re a great band and played all their hits, which got the crowd hyped up for Justice playing afterwards. The stage area got even busier, so much so that you couldn’t really move to dance! A great live performance though, despite it being quite unusual for DJs to perform a headlining slot on the main stage.

The biggest problem I had with the Optimus Alive organisation was that the buses which brought you to and from the festival didn’t have a queuing system. Oh how English! You cry! Unlike other festivals there’s not really much going on after the bands finish and so it feels like the end of the night, so standing in a queue for a bus feeling knackered after a day of sun, booze and singing, getting pushed onto the bus isn’t very fun. Trying to keep with your crowd is pointless so just arrange to meet once you’re off the bus at the other end. To be honest, it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat.

Returning to the campsite in the pitch black we realised bringing a torch would probably have been a great idea. We managed to find our way back, hoping to find somewhere to continue the party, but the campsite was quiet upon our return and so we just headed to bed.

In the morning, we walked over to the food area where a hog roast was on offer for the duration of the festival. For 5 euros you could get a pork roll and a drink which was good value and really lovely. The campsite also had a swimming pool and supermarket which was handy for buying essentials (and beer).

Highlights of the festival included, (obviously) Mumford’s set, in the scorching heat. We stood on the ‘grass’ section and danced around - we sang along to every song at the top of our lungs and it was brilliant. The crowd around us didn’t seem to share the passion we had however, but we didn’t let that stop us.
The Cure played all their classics although their set was veryyy long! We arrived quite late to catch their set and so were stuck behind the sound system, but we had a good view of the screen and also lots of space to dance.
Radiohead’s set was incredible - the crowd were silenced as they played hit after hit and their haunting melodies enchanted everyone there.
The Maccabees played on the smaller stage but they got the crowds going (as usual) and I’d definitely recommend anyone seeing them at any chance they get!
Noah and the Whale surprised me with how good they were and how many good songs they have - they were great!

If you do go to Optimus Alive, go with an open mind. Expect the night to end once the bands do - although if you walk around the campsite you will find people up and still happy to sing and drink for a few hours. Expect gorgeous weather but long queues, and lots of pushing once you’re in them. But expect a great line up for a crazily cheap price and a great time!

Lisbon

We landed in Lisbon early in the morning and headed straight to the information point set up by Optimus Alive in the airport forecourt. The lady there was very helpful and gave us a map with directions and also showed us how to get to the hostel we were staying in in Barrio Alto (which means High Neighbourhood). The bus took us to the road next to the road our hostel was on. The directions on the hostel website insrtucted us to walk up the hill next to the tram line. We looked around the square and realised that it was a very steep hill climb up the road, so we began our ascent, dragging suitcases behind us.

The hostel, Equity Point Lisboa, is part of a chain of hostels around the world, with sister hostels in cities including London and Amsterdam. It’s located half way up a steep hill and has a good sized terrace with tables, two lounge rooms, a large kitchen with an indoor and outdoor dining table, and rooms and dorms accommodating 1 - 15 people. We opted on a shared 8-bed mixed dorm, hoping that we’d meet some people heading out to the festival or just to have a drink with at the hostel.

We arrived at the hostel too early to check in, and our room wasn’t ready. The staff kindly allowed us to store our bags in a room next to our dorm and gave us a map of the city, so we decided to head out and explore Lisbon, find the beach and look for somewhere to have lunch.
We walked down the steep hill and turned right which took us to a square with a statue in the centre and shops, restaurants and bars all around. Past the square was another, larger square, Terrieo Do Paco, with a large statue of King Jose I and an archway, Arco de Rua Augusta behind him. The statue overlooks the River Tagus, which we went to sit by for a while in the sunshine.
After a while sitting in the sun and listening to some fantastic buskers behind us, we took a walk up to try to find a tent for the festival. There’s a small shopping centre on the roads between the two squares, and has a sports shop on the ground floor. Most of the tents had sold out, but luckily we managed to get the last two 2 man tents, for only 19 euros each. It worked out cheaper and easier to carry two small tents than one larger one that would fit all three of us in.
At the entrance to the hostel, recommendations are written on a chalk board for every day of the week - bars, restuarants and tours are all included. On the Thursday, Chicatitos was recommended so we asked the staff what it was and how to get there. They explained that it was an authentic Portguese outdoor restaurant that serves great food and gets very busy. It wasn’t a typical tourist place but it offered great entertainment, and that Thursday night was Circus night. We thought that sounded great so walked up the hill towards the castle to find the restuarant. Tables are arranged over the patio and we were taken to a table next to the kitchen, which is situated inside a wooden shack. The restaurant offers only Portuguese food so we struggled. A lot. The waitress didn’t know how to translate the food items and said to ask the chef, but he also struggled to explain it to us. Eventually they asked a young man, about 18 years old, who came and helped us with the menu, so we finally decided on what to eat. However, we waited for our order to be taken for about half an hour after this. Although this was partially our fault as we couldn’t speak the language we had no waiters come over to us at any time and when they eventually bought our food over it was made clear that we’d need to be quick as the restaurant was filling up quickly! The outdoor area had a lovely atmosphere with lovely lighting around but, unless you speak Portuguese, I wouldn’t recommend it to tourists.

We’d heard that Barrio Alto had a great nightlife, and so asked the ever-friendly hostel staff of some good places to go. We knew that to get to the bars we had to walk further up to the top of the tram line, but after that we didn’t really know where to go, so we opted to just follow a group of people and see where it took us. We walked down some winding side roads, confused about where we were going, until we arrived at the end of a street covered in bunting and heaving with crowds of people. The street was narrow and had small bars all along it, all with open doors, and the crowds all spilled onto the street from one bar to another. We walked along, soaking in the atmosphere, and realised it didn’t matter which bar you went in to as they all had the same sort of vibe. We went in to one and ordered a Super Bock (the seemingly popular beer in Lisbon) and headed back out on to the street to wonder along. A car came along down the road and everyone had to squash onto the pavement to get out of the way! We heard music coming from one bar so went in to watch a live band. It was a great night - the only two pieces of advice I’d give is be prepared to go to a different bar to avoid queues for drinks, and don’t wear a maxi dress!
I’d recommend a night out in Barrio Alto to anyone!

Upon our return from the festival (which I’ve wrriten about here ….. ) we returned to the hostel and checked in again at Equity Point. We were given the same room and so had a nap and a shower before me and Verity headed out to have a look around. We decided to walk up through Barrio Alto and see what it was like during the day. We stumbled across an alcove with a veranda overlooking Lisbon, and walked through to find a lovely indoor and outdoor bar with multicoloured parasols, soft cushioned seating and a beautiful view. We chose a mosaic patterned table and ordered a jug of sangria to share while we overlooked the city and enjoyed the sunshine.

On our last day, we took a bus tour of the city which was great as we learnt more about the history of Lisbon. Remember to wear suncream though! We then queued for the Santa Justa lift, (Elevador de Santa Justa) which connects the lower streets with the higher. You can have a single ride up or a return; we opted for a return. The lift is 45 metres high with a lookout at the top, offering gorgeous views of the city. You do have to walk up a spiral staircase which, although I’m not scared of heights, I found petrifying, but its definitely a must do in Lisbon.

Its a gorgeous city with a lovely atmosphere and friendly people. I’d definitely recommend it and would love to go back to Portugal one day.

Wishing Your Life Away

I’ve been temping here at the LPO for just under two years. I’m so shocked at how fast the time has flown by, but I guess it’s true when everyone says time goes faster as you get older. I don’t regret my time here in general, but I do regret the fact that it’s not what I want to be doing and I have been wishing my life away.

I, like most other people on my train on Monday mornings, dream of Friday afternoon when we’re free from work for the weekend.

I don’t think this is a healthy frame of mind, and although I struggle not to think in that way, I have decided now is the time, with my contract potentially ending in a few weeks, to find a job I ENJOY. Because life’s too short to wish 5 days of your life away every week.

There are 168 hours in a week.
I spend 56 of those asleep, leaving me with 112.
I spend 35 of those at work, leaving me with 77.
I spend 10 of those getting to work, leaving me with 67.
Approximately 14 - 15 of those hours are spent washing, sleeping, eating and other ‘personal activities’ (let’s not go into detail there), which means I’m left with 52 hours to spend at my will.

52 hours in a week is not a long time! Life is short!

So I’ve decided, it’s time to take control, and find a job I will enjoy! I want to do something I believe makes a difference. I don’t want to waste my life away, I want to make something of it.

Wish me luck!

Wish me luck!

Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

I’ll be adding some photos later.

This time last month, I was in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria!
Myself and Jamie booked the holiday in January, in Thomson and First Choice’s sale. We paid just over £350 each for an all-inclusive week at the Helena Park Resort, with flights and transfers included. We each planned on taking £500 however we were only able to change £250 each, which was definitely more than enough for a week’s all inclusive holiday.
I went round to Jamies before we left with my massive bright pink suitcase with leaf print. We had a 20kg allowance for luggage for the hold, however mine weighed about 23 and Jamie’s only weighed about 13 so he took some of my things in his case. We left on the Monday afternoon to Luton airport at about 5pm, with the flight due to leave at 8.30 We flew with First Choice. The plane is very Easy-Jet like, with the company clearly trying to cram in as many people as possible. We were very excited and happy to touch down at 11pm Bulgarian time to a clear sky and night time temperatures of up to 18 degrees.
My large pink case came out quite quickly and Jamie’s case came out straight away after, so we got out of the airport quickly and found the transfer coach was waiting to take us to our hotel. The entrance to the hotel was very grand and the driver unloaded our bags before we’d realised we’d been taken to Helena Sands rather than Helena Park. Although to walk it would take 2 minutes to cross a bridge to the reception, the driver reloaded our bags and drove us around to the entrance of Helena Park, where we were checked in and went to our room. We did have a problem or two with our room, and went to reception to complain about this, however a larger problem soon overshadowed it when we realised that we’d picked up the wrong suitcase and instead of having Jamie’s, we had “Poppleton’s”. Oops! The case was extremely similar to Jamie’s and since it came out straight after mine, we just presumed it was his.
We grabbed the case and ran to reception, where a new bus load of guests were checking in. Luckily, the Rep that had checked us in on the coach was in the lobby and informed us that our hotel Rep would be arriving any minute and she could help us with the problem. I’m not going to go into the details of how very unhelpful she was, but the situation was finally resolved after a £50, 32KM 40 minute (each way) return cab journey across Bulgaria the following day to exchange suitcases with the owner who was staying in a hotel in Obzor.
The rest of the holiday went without fault. (We both believe this is because we did our best to avoid anything related to Thomson for the rest of it…!)
The hotel is situated right next to the beach, and at the top end of the Sunny Beach resort. This is an ideal place to make the most of the peace and quiet of the lovely hotel and also to be a stones throw away from the hustle and bustle of the strip where hotels and bars are open until the early hours of the morning. We had many a cocktail at the beach bars (which are very reasonably priced) and enjoyed lovely meals in both the hotel and restaurants along the strip.
However we both agree that the part of the holiday we enjoyed the most was spent in Nessebar, an old town situated just a 15 minute cab ride away from the top of Sunny Beach. It’s an ancient town which is situated on an island, connected to the mainland by a long bridge. In 1983 it was listed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Travelling over the bridge, you can see the remainder of the fortifications and walls around the town, and as you walk around you come across the ruins of several churches, some dating back to the 13th century and some of which were only discovered relatively recently, within the last 100 years.
The town is full of cobbled streets and wooden houses, with gorgeous sea views all around. Once you can look past the bar and restaurant workers who will try to convince you to come in, and the women who forcefully try to sell you bracelets, you’ll realise that Nessebar is beautiful.
We’d both recommend Bulgaria as a holiday destination for those looking for somewhere reasonably priced with blue skies and friendly people. Just don’t go with Thomson!