Thursday, 29 November 2007

Two Fahs-end Posts, Innit

But nothing profound to add, as we are without internet access until the weekend.

Our "wonderful hotel" neglected to advise us that they charge 5 Euro per hour for its use.

Robbing gits, but we'll be making a formal complaint in due course...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Topical

Oxo have just brought out a new red and white cube to celebrate England's Euro campaign - it's called "The Laughing Stock"

Cheers, Bren. :oD

Crying Shame

Good article that falls in with my way of thinking. From today's Times, by Peter Millar:

The British pub is under threat. An institution adored and envied all over the world is disappearing before our very eyes and with it our national drink, beer, as the nation that invented jingoism succumbs to its terminal preference for anything foreign.

It says as much as our football players’ performance on the pitch – or the number of foreigners in the Premier League – that the England team are sponsored by a Danish brewer. And how do we greet tourists from the Continent arriving at our magnificently refurbished St Pancras station? With a bar selling fizzy French wine at £8.95 a glass.

Vive la différence – the difference is that it’s twice what you’d pay in France.

According to figures released by the British Beer and Pubs Association (BBPA) last week, beer sales in pubs are down by 14m pints a day, or 49%, from 1979 levels. Nearly 60 pubs each month shut their doors for good.

This at a time when the alcohol abuse lobby, fifth column of the nanny state, is complaining about a binge drinking culture fuelled by 24-hour drinking.

Have any of them tried to find a pub in central London that is still open after 11pm on a weekday? It’s not easy. According to the BBPA, just a tiny number of pubs have added more than an hour to their opening times and that only at weekends.

The binge drinking culture is there – look at any town centre on a weekend – but it is built on people getting tanked up on cheap supermarket booze at home before going out to hit the bars and clubs that always had later licences anyway.

It revolves around vodka chasers, tequila slammers and overcarbonated imitations of continental lagers, produced by big corporations that pour millions into advertising them.
A quiet pint overlooking a cricket game on the village green is an iconic image of English identity, yet in rural areas particularly, rising property prices and fewer pub-goers mean inns that were once at the heart of communities become private “period” homes. Then the people who move into them wonder why there’s nowhere near to have a half on a Sunday and what happened to their rural idyll when nobody knows anybody any more.

A crucial element in encouraging the rot was the arrival of the alcopop in the mid1980s weaning an entire generation onto alcohol as a sweet fizzy drink. Restrictive licensing – keeping children out of most pubs and closing at 11pm – meant they grew up on alcohol bought (by an older mate) or shoplifted from supermarkets and drunk in bus shelters. As soon as they were old enough they gravitated to the bars and clubs that sold the same sort of drinks and didn’t send young adults home hours before bedtime.

Hence the modern prevalence of “second generation” alcopops – drinks such as WKD, heavily advertised, quirkily coloured vodka mixes, and vodka itself, a cheap, easily made spirit hyped by packaging and a hefty dose of prime-time telly.

If the government and the antidrinking nannies were serious about hitting binge drinking they would ban all alcohol advertising – listen to the television companies squeal! – restoring a level playing field for the small producers of traditional ales.

An acquaintance of mine, a retirement-age senior partner in a Midlands accountancy firm, boasts of never going out to the pub as if it is a sign of social advancement from his working-class roots to prefer to “sit at home of an evening with a glass of wine”. Snobbery, as ever, the telling British vice.

Yet not at the top. Young’s brewery still treasures its photograph of the Queen Mother pulling a pint. Prince Charles’s “the pub is the hub” campaign was right on message. It’s just a pity that the poor bloke rarely gets the chance to go down his local: most of his other ideas are the sort of thing you hear people come up with all the time after a couple of pints.
British beer and the British pub are joined at the hip, intermingled like no other alcoholic combination. British ale bought in a bottle is a fine but different product from cask ale drunk in a pub. Traditional real ale is a labour-intensive artisanal drink made with natural products and producing a rich range of flavours.

My local, the Pear Tree in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, is blessed by being owned by the village’s brewery 150 yards away – which still delivers locally by horse-drawn dray – but we are well aware how lucky we are and terrified that we might be living on borrowed time.
Regulars include a jobbing gardener, a carpenter with a degree in earth sciences, the drayman who looks after the brewery horses, a nursery school teacher, a builder, a software writer, an optician, a lorry driver and one of the brainiest blokes I know who refills cigarette machines. Very few of us would know each other if it weren’t for the pub.

So stop reading this and get down to your local. Buy a pint. Talk to somebody, get a life and save a British institution.

It's Only a Game

Southend lose 0-1 away to Luton and now drop to 8th place, Arminia Bielefeld didn't play but take on the minnows of the Bundes Liga, Bayern Munich next Sunday (2nd December) and Tottenham have a local derby against West Ham today at Upton Park.

Going to be another shit weekend for results with ktelontour...


PS: Wifey's a Geordie and her mob, The Toon Army (Newcastle) got knacked 3-0 at Liverpool. We're not very good at this, are we? :-(

The Camera Never Lies



Yip, the temperatures we've been enjoying in late November...

OI- Woss Going On?

Since arriving in Greece, only a few weeks ago, we've been seeing a downward trend in exchange rates for the Euro(€):

1.417

1.397

1.397

1.387

1.388

1.386

Time for a reversal, please- ASAP!

Happy Birthday

To my Uncle over in Bielefeld today- hope you have a great day and we'll be in touch a bit later for a chat.

:-)

Final Leg of 2007

Tomorrow we board the Hellenic Seaways' "Seacat" for the last part of our travel this year.

Just over three hours away is our ultimate destination; Port Heli, nestling amongst the Aegean Sea in the Peloponnese and hopefully similar (better?) temperatures to what we've been experiencing here in Athens/Piraeus.

We have a short stay in a hotel there and take possession of our new "home" on Friday, 1st December, where we shall stay until Easter 2008 and we are so looking forward to hibernating in a peaceful, idyllic and pretty fishing village over the winter months'.

We'll be off line again for a while until we obtain our internet connection, but until then, have a great weekend and we'll see you real soon again.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Ale and Hearty

Good news for beer fans, it has fewer calories than a similar measure of wine, milk or fruit juice.

Trouble is, who drinks beer from a tumbler or flute?

I Wish To Make a Complaint

Fed up of getting ignored when you are faced with shoddy services or goods and wish to register your dismay? This chap found a novel way to get a response.

After spending six months and more than £200 chasing up BT (British Telecom) to explain why they had requested an additional payment from him, Mr Askins went onto YouTube and posted up his complaint there.

Within days he had received a response from the office of BT chairman (Sir Christopher Bland) and a full refund. :oD

Here it is: Good on You, Pal


But The Croatians Do Do Humour Well...

Having spent just over three months touring all the way down the coast of Croatia this summer, we have been most fortunate to get to know not only the country but also its people. Both are wonderful, but in particular we have been entirely charmed by their sense of hospitality and their humour.

An example of this? Take the Wembley match (and I'm sure a lot of you would love to take it and bury it forever) and the playing of the Hrvatskan national anthem. I'm not gong to dwell on the shameful and ill-mannered booing of the song by some backward louts masquerading as so called English "fans", but I will make one brief comment about that episode. You disgust me and for that reason alone I am ecstatic that England lost.

But back to the main point.

The anthem is written in the old Croat style, and instead of singing "Mila kuda si planina", which translates to: "You know my dear how we love your mountains", the singer sang "Mila kura si planina": "My dear, my penis is a mountain".

Some of the Hrvatska players were seen grinning at each other when they heard the mistake, and the fans said it relaxed the team to help them to their 3-2 victory; even the Croatian ball boys could not stop themselves from smirking at the hoolie.

I have to add that speaking Croatian is difficult but even my attempts have not led me to make such a quality cock up, so to speak...

Who Says

The Germans have no sense of humour?

Franz Beckenbauer has been quoted as saying he believes Jurgen Klinsmann is the ideal man to revive the England national team and become their next manager.

BWAAHAHAHAHAAAAAAHHHHHAAAAAAHHHHAAAAAAAA... :OD

Friday, 23 November 2007

Cheers, Charlypuss

My husband, being unhappy with my mood swings, bought me a "mood" ring the other day so he would be able to monitor my temperament.

We've discovered that when I'm in a good mood, it turns green. When I'm in a bad mood, it leaves a fucking big red mark on his forehead.

Maybe next time he'll buy me a diamond...

A British Motto? No Ta

The Times recently ran a competition in an experiment for popular democracy to encourage people to sum up Britain by suggesting a suitable motto for Gordon Brown’s New Britain. It makes interesting reading:

The Top Ten

20.9% No motto please, we’re British

18.6% Dipso, Fatso, Bingo, Asbo, Tesco

13.5% Try Writing History Without Us!

11.3% We apologise for the inconvenience

9.6% Mathematically, we could still qualify

9.5% Smile, you’re on CCTV

6.9% Once mighty empire, slightly used

4.3% Britain The Birthplace of Freedom

3.4% Free, Tolerant, Fair-minded & True

2% Mind your own business!



Source: Comment Central/Times Online

Fagged Off

Those wonderful French guys are at it again.

Highly displeased at the forthcoming ban on all smoking in all cafés, restaurants and nightclubs in 2008, 10 000 of them will be holding a protest march in Paris where they are demanding the use of smoking rooms.

Contrast that to the rather polite Brits who shrugged their shoulders, whinged in their beer and lamely accepted it.

And if the Parisians don't get their way, they won't mind as they'll just carry on regardless. That's the way to deal with your government. :oD

The Nanny State

The Government claims it is for freedom of choice and impartiality. It also supports ("encourages") young mothers to breast-feed their babies.

So what does it do? It bans advertising of powdered milk for babies on television, in the national press and through NHS leaflets given to mothers.

Great way to allow people to make up their own minds, wouldn't you say?



The ban is due to start from January 2008 as part of a new EU directive on infant formula.

Belated Birthday Greetings Webby

Happy birthday to a well, old friend- our apologies for missing the day (21st) but it's been a bit hectic here doing all the tourist things in a new city.

Hope you had a smashing time and that the hangover is now cleared- 2 days should be enough for an old get like you, right? ;-)

The Reason England Are Shit?

Their shirt sponsors.

Yip- all around the globe, all top class, national football teams have their kit supplied by world famous brands. adidas, Nike, Puma, real top-drawer, quality marques.

What do England get?

Umbro- the giant amongst sports gear.

Any of our foreign readers ever even heard of them outside the UK? 'Nuff said...

AWOL in Athens

We were a bit quiet yesterday as much of our spare time has been spent sight seeing around Athens. That, and reading up on the news about England's shock exit from the Euro 2008 Championships.

It makes me laugh how many non-football fans are all saying that they can't see what the fuss is about, "it's only a bloody game" etc. Well, "the fuss" is more than a tad significant as it does have a huge impact on the country's economic standing. Watching CNN yesterday, they have estimated the cost of failure to qualify for the Finals at $2.0 billion! OK, that's an American billion and it's in dollars, plus the Yanks know feck all about football, but that is still a big enough number for the non-believers to understand it is not a good thing.

The obvious backlash in the press also kicked off immediately and following McClaren's predictable sacking (it's almost as transparent as his tactic; "kick it up the park to the big fellah and let's keep our fingers crossed, eh lads?") the search is now on to find a replacement.

Here at ktelontour we have been fortunate enough to have an insider's peek at the draft advert shortly to be going into the local press:

Wanted by the English FA (that's Football Association, not what we know about the glorious game): Thick and stupid Fall Guy prepared to be continually ridiculed by the "popular" British press.
Must be his own man (and expert at saying "yes, sir" and sycophantic toadying to a board of decrepit octogenarians)
Knowledge of football irrelevant as all tactics will be supplied on the back of a fag packet
Must be prepared to travel all over the world, stay at five star hotels, endure fine dining, first class travel and free hospitality at major sporting events
Baby sitting skills essential, as will the need to be able to return toys and dummies to prams
Additional skills necessary: Be able to gurn, grin, and sneer at press conferences. Be able to use the phrases "sick as a parrot, at the end of the day, to be honest (and keep a straight face), it's a game of two halves, I'm the manager/coach so blame me, the lads done us proud, 120%, gutted, well gutted and I will never resign
Package: A gazillion quid per year for the next 20 years irrespective of actual results. Working hours: 1620 (18 games) minutes over 16 months...
I wonder who the next manager will be?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Sick as a Parrot?

All England had to do was avoid defeat at Wembley against a strong Croatian team last night and they would be in the Euro 2008 Finals, in Austria & Switzerland next year.

Having already made a huge pig's arse of the qualifying matches throughout the previous months, the blustering retard McClaren whittered on about how he had always believed that the campaign would "go down to the last match" (erm, why? Surely as England's manager it would be your mission to enable them to qualify at the earliest opportunity) and after Russia's unexpected defeat in Tel Aviv last week, England did indeed get another bite at the cherry.

So, the scene is set and the tactic is none to complex:

"Whatever happens, do not, I repeat do not, let them score and we're in the Finals."

"Yes, boss- good call. All we need to do is scrape a draw. We don't care how poorly we play, how boring the game is, we just have to ensure we don't lose and the fans will be well happy to be in the FINALS."

Fast forward to 15 minutes into the game and England are 0-2 down...

Ultimately they fought back to even the game up at 2-2 with a mere 25 minutes to go but even then they couldn't hold on and allowed the Hrvatska boys to score the winner in the 77th minute.

I have little sympathy for the over paid, strutting-peacock, prima donnas within the professional world of football players who care more for their appearance, the type of car they drive or the trophy burd hanging off their arm. Nor do I accept that they have a "hard season" with too many fixtures- try cricket pal, where a game can last five days and not 90 minutes.

No, they represent their country and if they cannot summon up the passion, determination and pride to give it their all, then it's time to step down and simply fuck off.

Whilst I have little sympathy for the team, I have absolutely none for the "manager". Steve McClaren is, I'm sure, a nice enough guy (aren't all England managers, with the possible exception of "El Tel" Venables?) but as coach to the national team his credentials are woefully poor. For a start he was deputy to Goran-Erikson, which should have been enough to get alarm bells ringing.

His tactical nous is nil (I swear he thinks tactics are a small, white mint), his motivational skills are missing and he can't even decide on a team line up. Let him collect his pay off and let him sink without trace back to mediocre club management. Thank God we have just obtained the services of Juande Ramos at Spurs- McClaren could have been our manager!

My sympathies lie with the thousands of footballing fans who continually pay extortionate prices to follow their "team" through thick and (usually) thin and who always, always get behind them. They deserve more and once again they have been left wanting. My old mates in England are the ones I feel really sorry for and I take no pleasure from this sorry state of affairs.

And if you think I am being harsh, here's what Alan Hansen (BBC pundit and no nonsense observer) had to say:

"England got exactly what they deserved, which was absolutely nothing. They were out-thought, out-played and out-fought and this really is a real low point in English football history because they were abysmal, truly abysmal.

You stand and fall by your decisions and Steve McClaren got it wrong. The keeper, the formation, it was all just plain wrong. The first-half was probably the worst 45 minutes you'll ever see from England right across the board.

But all in all, with the exception of Peter Crouch, from one to 11 England were devoid of class, devoid of organisation and most of all they were devoid of fight. No-one can argue England deserved anything from this game, and no-one can say they deserved to qualify from the group. They didn't deserve a thing. "

Mind you, he is a Scotsman...

And it's not all roses at my end either- Germany could only draw with Wales (fine 0-0 result for the Welshmen) which sadly means after the Czech Republic's 2-0 win over Cyprus, that we only come runners up in the table and so now face a more arduous task to progress in the Finals next year. Still, at least we got there.

Aitch Too... Oh

Dining out on our travels has revealed some neat "tricks" of the trade for bumping up the bill. One of the most obvious is the addition of a basket (if lucky) of bread or rolls, which is usually assumed to be gratis until the final check is properly scruntinised.

Throughout the summer we've noticed this but with such reasonable prices down through Croatia and beyond, a few pennies (quite literally) is hardly a concern, particularly when the bread is so delicious.

The latest wheeze we have come across recently though is immediately upon arriving and being shown to one's table, the waiter(ess) is pouring mineral water into your glass, usually before one even has a chance to sit down and peruse the menu. Again, it's assumed that a free, litre bottle of still water is on the house as it has not been requested, but no, checking the bill it clearly shows one is being striped.

Just be aware, and if "free" water is not your bag, politely decline the proffered beverage.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Sorry, Duff Gen

It wasn't the post office, but a TNT Courier service who dropped the bollock losing the discs.

My apologies to the post office; I blame force of habit for accusing them of being the shower of shite that they really are.

10 000

Well, well, what do you know. We have just gone past the 10k hits score and they can't all be down to me. :oD

All I Want For Christmas



The trouble is, it's uncomfortably close to the truth...


Our Problem; You Pay

Air passengers are to be forced to pay up to £20 on each ticket to fund the revamping of Heathrow, Britain's biggest (and most criticised) airport. BAA was yesterday given the go-ahead for much higher than inflation increases in the landing fees it charges airlines.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says the increases are needed to pay for improvements for passengers who have suffered from massive queues at security and check-in.

The possibility of paying for their own improvements from their own profits is obviously far too simple an idea...


The CAA said charges for Heathrow landings should increase in real terms by 15.6% to the equivalent of £11.97 per passenger - in 2008/2009 and then after that, charges will be allowed to rise again by the rate of inflation plus up to 7.5% for each year until 2012/2013. That would mean charges of between about £18.50 and £20 per passenger by 2012/2013, depending on the level of inflation. Currently, passengers pay £9.28-a-ticket landing charges.

First Class Service!

Here's a refreshing idea from Superdrug; its cutting the price of stamps in time for Christmas.

The High Street chemist chain is knocking 21p off a book of 12 first class stamps, bringing the price down to £3.87 and it is cutting 10p off books of six first class stamps, reducing the price to £1.94. The price of a book of four first class stamps for bigger letters will also fall by 10p, to £1.82.

What a top thought and perhaps something the post office may wish to consider? Nah, didn't think so. They lamely said: "Royal Mail's stamp prices are already among the very lowest in Europe and we lose almost 6p on average on stamped letters and cards".



NOTE: Superdrug's move is anticipated to be so popular with customers that it is planning to limit each to 72 stamps. The reduced price stamps will be available while stocks last, so get in quick and make the most.

First Class Service?

You all be aware of the recent events where two compact discs, containing bank details and addresses of 9.5 million parents and the names, dates of birth and National Insurance numbers of all 15.5 million children in the country went missing, after a junior employee of HM Revenue and Customs put them in the post, unrecorded and unregistered.

It seems the country is (rightfully) up in arms at yet another monumental cock up from the Government hell bent on introducing ID cards in the interests of "safety" whilst insisting that we can trust them to guard our personal details.

I'm sure I would also be rather alarmed at the thought of my personal banking details now possibly being available to every low-life scum bag opportunist looking to steal my identity, but fortunately three things are in our favour:

(a) we have no kids
(b) we have no money
(c) we no longer live in the UK

However, one thing that does interest me more than the screaming headlines and the numerous comments by "outraged of Tunbridge Wells" and the "let's bring back hanging brigade". That is why no one is looking more closely at the post office.

They are the people that have lost the discs and they have been losing items in the post for decades without any true concern or worry over the distress they have caused their customers. Why should we need to pay extra for insurance or recorded/registered delivery? We pay more than enough as it is to expect the post office to fulfill their obligations and deliver a letter or package safely and on time, to its destination.

Whilst I agree the Government is equally culpable, let's also be mindful of the real culprits in this fiasco.

Cute


Cheers, Bren- this tickled me. :oD



Ads in Greece

Watching the only film of the day in English, on the only channel that shows films in the original language is now fast becoming our highlight of the evening. Which is rather good for our meagre budget. Like, free.

There is however a downside, and that is the advertising in between programmes.

The movie usually begins at 21:00 and runs on as long as it takes but it will finish around 23:15 to 23:30, so around two and a quarter/half hours for the entire show. Thus, if a film on average is approximately an hour and a half long (maybe an hour and forty-ish) it doesn't take much of a mathematical genius to work out how many bloody adverts one has to endure.

We timed one "break" and it went on for eleven minutes; and that was a short one!

Ale Downer


Beer consumption in pubs has slumped to its lowest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s according to brewing bosses.

I don't doubt it.

Looking back our thorough research over month's of painstaking sacrifice it's obvious an ale in the UK is waaayyy disproportionate compared to other countries and it's only denied top spot as we happened to use data gathered from Venice, which we all know takes the piss.

Trouble is, the brewers are hardly guilt free. Whilst it is always easy to blame the budget, why do they always add a penny or two on top of the increase in duty? Not only that, but by banning smoking in pubs, is it any wonder people have voted with their feet and choose to sup a beer at home?

Nah, they're all as bad as each other and deserve all they get.


We'll be introducing the new look ktelontour beer-o-meter after we conclude our investigation into beer prices in Greece, once we get to Port Heli, soon. Currently we've used an average price of £2.15 (3€) as we've had costs vary from 2.5o€ for Amstel to 4.80€ for a Carlsberg! Local brew "Mythos" was 4.0€ and quite awful...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

We're Not Bad at Everything...

Britain is the shoplifting capital of Europe, with more than £1.5 billion worth of products a year being stolen by customers*.

Britain has topped the table in Europe for the last seven years, meaning consumers have paid hundreds of pounds extra to cover the cost of the thefts. Every household in Britain will have to pay an extra £150 for their goods this year alone.

Who takes what:

1. Alcohol

2. Cosmetics

3.Women’s wear

4. Perfumes and aftershaves

5. Razor blades

6. DVDs and CDs

7. Children’s clothes

8. Accessories

9. Designer clothes

10. Specialist foods

Worst Countries in Europe:

1. Britain

2. France

3. Germany

4. Italy

5. Spain

6. Poland

7. Belgium/Luxembourg

8. The Netherlands

9. Sweden

10. Switzerland

Cheers to The Times for all details.




*Another £1.6 billion worth of products will be stolen by employees or "lost" in the distribution chain.

Word of Mouth

Tallinn, Estonia is 90 and to mark its birthday it is holding a contest to find the world’s most beautiful language. They are requesting people to send recordings of sentences of up to seven words (hhmm, not much scope there) for the nation’s celebration of its first period of independence from Russia.

Well, we've been travelling a bit (we've been to Tallinn which was absolutely excellent; definitely recommended) and encountered more than enough different tongues. The best language? Hard to say, each as everyone has merits and sounds simply delightful, but by far our favourite is the one which starts with:

"Let me get you a drink".

It's All Greek To Me



Having spent many months trying to get to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet as used in the Slavic dialects (and in my case, failing quite miserably) we thought that at least it would help with understanding Greek.
Er, no. They have an entirely different set of characters (see above) and so we need to start again.
Not exactly from scratch though, as I recognise quite a few symbols from my old school days where Greek letters were often used in maths and physics formulae. How that helps I am still unsure as I didn't understand a word of it then either...

Final Stage of Tour 2007 Booked

Yesterday we sorted out the last part of our travel arrangements from Piraeus to Port Heli, where we intend to shore up for the winter in hopefully milder climes.

We're taking to the seas again and headed down to the port to suss out options, but it really couldn't be simpler. Find a ticket office for Hellenic Seaways, have a chat with the person about what you want (as ever, they all speak perfect English) and 33€ lighter (per person and one way) it's all done and dusted.

We catch the Seacat (amaran) for the three odd hour crossing and they offer three sailing times (09:00, 13:00 & 17:00) to suit your needs, even during the "off" season.

The only potential problem is the weather which if it cuts up rough, the service will be suspended until it is safe to set sale again. However, full ticket refunds are available or they can be used for the next available crossing.

Quasemodo and the the Return of the BELLS

It's all well and good having your hotel next to a striking (and massive) church; it looks great and reminds you of where you are- somewhere foreign, like.

But that is also exactly the problem, striking.

For some inexplicable reason, they insist on a early morning wake up call at 07:00 with a rather crappy attempt at campenology and then that's it for the rest of the day. Bugger all until the next morning again.

Couple that with "safety" lights in our room akin to Heathrow airport and it has all the ingredients of a wonderful night's sleep. Still, we needed an excuse to begin the Greek leg of our ktelontour beer-o-meter research chapter so the timing is perfect. Oh happy daze.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Key-Babb

One of Greece's more famous exports (although Turkish in origin); the humble doner kebab, is the life saver of many alcoholic fuelled stumbles home at dark o'clock, even when the curry house has long shut up shop and the rest of the winos are safely tucked up on their park benches snoring away under yesterday's news.

A simple repast of unidentifiable meat mass (lamb? Pork? Carpet tile? Who really knows and who indeed cares?) crammed into an unleavened pitta pocket with a scant attempt at health by including a few shards of cabbage, half a dozen shredded onions and some kind of Devil hot chilli sauce (hold the tomatoes, please), all expertly packed into a one handed snack. A key feature, as this allows the scoffee a free limb to negotiate the labyrinth of walls, hedges and other road furniture obstructing safe passage home.
The kebeb then only half eaten really comes into its own as it doubles up into a handy pillow and hey presto, at the crack of dawn, it lays its ace up the sleeve and becomes breakfast in bed. Magic, and what could be better?

Well, follow the Greek's example and introduce chips. BUT, wrap the fries within the doner itself. Fecking genius.

Heart attack city and all for the price of an extra beer...

Grub's Up- Eventually

A world record attempt was held yesterday in Rabat, Morocco to lay claim to the world's largest barbecue. A 550 kilo camel was spit roasted for 15 hours, using three tons of wood and 15 litres of oil to cook the meat, upon which 500 diners feasted.

The French chef is already planning his next effort- the biggest spit-roasted bison in Costa Rica!

I wonder what the vegetarians get?

Still Going Strong in Belgium

We're now at a 161 days that Belgium (founded in 1830) has "survived" without a government.

Talks on forming a coalition following the elections in June are still dragging on acrimoniously and there is currently little sign of an end to the impasse. Christian Democrats in the Flemish north are seeking greater independence, whilst Liberals in the French-speaking south are concerned that this will cause the country to divide.

Some fear this could lead to the break up of the country. Let's hope not.

Who Do You Vote For?

Something entirely appropriate for British politics at the moment:

"Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody."

- Franklin P. Adams

Warm Towels? No Problem

Which leads us to how we (I) set fire to a towel in the room.

Following floods of enquiries (any enquiry happens to be a flood for us, OK?) it seems certain areas are intrigued to know as to how one can achieve this.

If you've just read the previous post (which due to the Blog set up is after this post) you'll know we have this peculiar lighting set up and all the "off ceiling" lights are on the same circuit. This means like all good British union members going on strike, they're either all on or all out at the same time.

Not too good when wifey wants to read and I'm trying to suss which TV channels we have at our disposal and settle down to watch the football that was being shown. The writing desk light is situated immediately above the TV and being a spotlight (of sorts) becomes plenty irritating after a short while as it is in the direct eye line contact.

Thinking it was an LED and thus cool light (unlike conventional bulbs, LEDs {light emitting diodes} run cold and do not generate heat) I dropped a hand towel over the fitting to douse the beams.

It was not an LED and after a few moments of "can you smell burning, can you?" we rapidly realised our (my) mistake, resulting in a scorched and now ruined towel, followed by a rather embarrassing apology to reception.

They say we learn from our mistakes so I prefer to consider that a lesson in increasing my knowledge and not look at it as a demonstration in how to be a complete spazzer. Anyhoo, situation now rectified as we have taken out the offending bulb and all is well.

Let There Be Light

They have a very odd lighting system in our room and I must presume in all of them.

Usually, one gets a small bedside lamp for night time reading so as not to disturb the other person if they prefer to have an earlier night, and always one can switch them off independently from each other.

Not here; it's all one circuit and so if one light is on, they're all in, including the desk light, located above the TV.

And the fascination with lighting doesn't stop there either as they also have a "small" light set above the door in the ceiling acting as an emergency light in case of evacuation, a kind of health and safety feature.

The trouble is, it's like sleeping on a aircraft runway as it bathes the entire room in an eerie, orange glow like some kind of kid's night light. That takes some getting used to and is wholly unnecessary.

And I Haven't Forgotten

My team Tottenham either. Since Ramos has taken over we seem to be getting some results with the latest 4-0 thumping of Wigan at White Hart Lane seeing us pile up the league to a heady 14th* place. Blimey; what's going on here then?

Southend meanwhile do their level best to let bottom club Cheltenham win their first match in eleven games by going 0-2 down at home. However, when it was pointed out that Christmas was not until next month, they did they decent thing and managed to square the game off at 2-2.

The resulting point keeps Cheltenham in last place and Sarfend stutter in fifth place, equal with Leeds- who happen to have started the season on -15 points due to some dodgy financial wranglings last season. Good for Leeds but let's hope we'll be going up with them.

To conclude the round up of shonky football teams, Arminia Bielefeld beat Nuremburg 3-1 at home and storm to a quite pathetic 14th* place having nearly led the Bundes Liga at the start of the season. I remain dead chuffed as 14th is not quite relegation zone yet and hope we can keep this up until the New Year when the campaign usually turns to shite. Up the Blues...


*Hhhmm, how come all my teams are in 14th place and trying to stave off a relegation dog fight? Ah yes, that'll be 'cos they are crap. Southend excepted as they are in Division Three in your old money and don't count. :-)

The Magic of Television

On our travels we've been thoroughly spoilt as we have usually had access to cable TV or similar. That was not been the only stroke of good fortune, as throughout "Slavia" all imported films and shows are shown in their original dialogue with sub-titles for the home viewers.

Clearly being able to parlez English is a distinct advantage as the vast majority of movies are either in American, a loose form of corrupt English, or indeed in proper Brit speak, which rocks.

Erm, not in Greece.

They obviously have a far bigger budget for their tele-visual entertainment as every bleedin' thing is in first class Greek. Well, apart from one channel, "Star" which shows a fill-um every night at 21:00 and we are really enjoying them. Jackie Chan on Tuesday and Batman on Thursday? Not half. :oD

Piraeus, The Port of Athens





Top: View from the balcony of our hotel room
Mid-top: A local park with typical orange trees
Mid- bottom: Looking back over the Marina
Bottom: Local fishermen still hard at it
More on Flickr now.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

No Smoke Without Fire

A top children's authoress has been told to drop a fire-breathing dragon illustrated in her new book because the publishers feared they could be sued under health and safety regulations.

As well as a scene showing her dragon toasting marshmallows with its breath, illustrations of an electric cooker with one element glowing red and of a boy on a ladder have also been censored.

The writer has had books published in Japan, France, Spain and Holland and they have not asked to change anything, only in Britain and America.

All together now,

"Puff the Magic Dragon, lived by the sea,
he couldn't breath any fire at all,
on the grounds of health and safety..."

By Hook or By Crook

From 2008, passengers on domestic flights and ferries between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland will be required to carry identity papers for the first time, thus establishing an internal border within the UK. This could pave the way for identity checks on all domestic flights and ferries in Britain.

Naturally, this is being done in an effort to combat the threat of terrorism and to ensure our on-going safety and well being. Right.

Got nothing to do with trying to introduce ID cards in the slightest...

Speaking of Dreams

England's continue to flicker with the quite amazing result that Israel beat Russia 2-1 last night. This means that they only have to draw with Croatia at Wembley to sneak in through the back door for the Euro 2008 Championships in Austria & Switzerland next year.

Will they bottle it or seize the opportunity they (read McClaren) scarcely deserve? We'll find out on Wednesday, when they take on the boys from Hrvatska, but it will not be an easy match. I reckon a draw and that'll see 'em through, but it won't be a pretty game and they'll be nervous as hell.

No one likes to see England fail to qualify, particularly this German fan, and whilst I would ordinarily be rooting for the Croatians having had such a brilliant summer there this year, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed the Brits gan through, like.

Howay the lads, man.

Piraeus Dream City Hotel


A snap of our room. Flat screen TV, full air con, en suite bathroom, full, wireless broadband internet (free) a very comfortable bed and a balcony with an amazing view of the harbour.
What more could anyone want? Well, how about a free breakfast too? OK, done. :oD
And all the staff are simply excellent. First class English, nothing too much trouble (even when I accidentally set fire to a towel; don't ask) and with a great sense of humour.
ktelontour highly recommended, unlike the previous "hotel" we stayed at in Thessaloniki, but that's perhaps another story for another time...

Athens at a Glance

Against popular advice by all and sundry, we decided to stay in Piraeus, the port of Athens, located to the south-west of this major, capital city. It was reputedly dirty, busy, a little dodgy and not many had a good word to say about the place.

Well, we do.

Getting away from the Metro station and walking down to the harbour, some of what is said is true. It is a little seedy; a little grimy and the traffic is full on. However, we felt safe and secure and by the time we had wandered past the docks, we saw lovely green parks full of traditional orange trees and wonderfully ornate and striking churches.

We found our hotel, the aptly named Piraeus Dream City Hotel and were taken to a very comfortable and large room, which will be home for the next nine nights. Despite being a little weary from our five hour plus transfer from Thessaloniki (and through a cracking thunder and lightning storm) we dropped off our bags and had a quick scouting mission to get the lie of the land.

Lovely.

The main high street is for pedestrians only and has all the usual main name stores in abundance. The little side streets off the main drag hold all manner of fascinating eateries and bars and as one meanders down to the Marina, the warm night really enhances the mood and reminds you you are no longer in central Europe and some where a little more tropical. Prices at first glance also appear a little keener than our experience in Thess; thankfully.

And of course, with the main city of Athens available a short Metro ride away, the full pleasures are still to come...

Saturday, 17 November 2007

We Don't REALLY Mean It

Labour’s manifesto in 2005 clearly stated: “Not all problems need a 999 response, so a single phone number staffed by police, local councils and other local services will be available across the country.”

A trial was run for the 101 number, intended to be used to report matters such as antisocial behaviour, vandalism and graffiti, you know, the stuff that the Government wants to stamp out because it really cares about British citizens.


Funding for the project will cease at the end of March 2008 and so another Labour promise bites the dust.

Thessaloniki; The Real Deal

OK, having been here now nearly a week, it's fair to say our initial impression was way off the mark and we caught this amazing city on an off day. Rubbish collection day, to be precise.

It's not dirty at all, far from it; as it rates at one of the cleanest main cities I have come across. It is vibrant, lively and fluctuating and the people are very friendly, smiling and welcoming. You see amazing architecture and sights almost at every corner and the weather is mild and temperate at this time of year.

Yes, traffic is a killer but name me a very large town that is any different. It also has its less than spectacular side around by the train station but again, that is par for the course, even though it is hardly seedy or threatening. Kings Cross it most certainly ain't.

And the prices have been a shock to the system but that holds true to any place following on the coat tails of Eastern Europe and in particular the Slavic regions.

No, Thessaloniki is definitely a place to come and visit and stay a few nights. You may not return home entirely relaxed but who needs or wants that, when you have to pack in as much as this?

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Grass is Always Greener

Britain is experiencing the largest exodus of its own nationals since before the First World War but it is also has the most immigrants entering the country.

In 2006, 207 000 British citizens (that's one every three minutes) left the country while 510 000 foreigners arrived to stay for a year or longer.

Since Labour came to power in 1997, 1.8 million British people have left but only 979 000 have returned, with majority of British emigrants settling in just four countries: Australia, New Zealand, France and Spain.

I wonder what they know?

Cop Out

Insurance policies are designed by lawyers and they have one aim; to avoid paying out any claims made by the policy holder. They achieve this by hiding "get-out" clauses (called policy exclusions) in the small print of the insurance contract and with thanks to The Times, here are some of the more outrageous ones:

1. Ever thought of cricket as a "hazardous activity"? It is more than likely your travel insurer does. Most policies classify cricket as a dangerous activity and, as such, if you are injured whilst indulging in a few overs on your next holiday, you could learn the hard way that your medical bills aren't covered.

2. The great get-out clause in almost all insurance policies is alcohol. Few people realise that if you have consumed alcohol, your insurance company can void your claim whether it be for theft, damage or personal injury. Worse still, policies do not specify the the amount of alcohol that must be consumed and you could find yourself out of pocket after just one drink.

3. Fantasising about galloping through the mountains on horseback on your next overseas holiday? Unless you have made sure your policy allows for it, don't. Horse riding is another so-called "dangerous activity" as far as most insurers are concerned.

4. Insurance cover for delayed baggage is a useful feature of many travel insurance policies. However, few travellers realise that insurers tend to only compensate for baggage that is delayed on the way to the holiday destination. It may seem infuriating but if your bags disappear on an internal flight or on the way home they can't be claimed for.

5. Storm damage is one act of god that insurers will pay for - but don't expect compensation to extend to fences, gates, and hedges. Essentially, anything that is not nailed down - or considered part of the building - is excluded from cover.

6. Forget bicycle insurance if you haven't locked your pedals. Insurers demand "reasonable care" is taken before they will make a payment for stolen bicycles and non-motorised scooters. This means locking the bike - ensuring it is attached to something permanent - or storing it somewhere safe, such as inside a locked home or garage. The rule counts when claiming against a household insurance policy.

7. Don't bother asking your household insurance to pay for damage to your favourite dress damaged in the wash or by a dry cleaner. Damage caused during the cleaning process is generally excluded under home and contents insurance policies. This also applies to furniture restoration and upholstery. One broker's advice was to try suing the dry cleaner instead.

8. When working from home, be aware that your standard household policy may not cover you for theft or accidents which occur there. If setting up a cottage industry from your garage, make sure you talk to your insurer or broker as it is likely you will need an extension to your household policy.

9. Some insurers may refuse to pay out if you have filled your car with the wrong type of fuel. It may sound odd, but insurers consider so-called misfuelling to be a form of "reckless" behaviour when it comes to car damage. Steve Foulsham, of the British Insurance Broker's Association (BIBA) says drivers who quickly park their car and phone their insurer or breakdown company rather than driving off have a better chance of receiving compensation.

10. Most drivers know they must notify their insurer when they have an accident. But did you know that if you are a named driver on another person's policy, the policyholder needs to also notify their insurer when you have an accident? This applies even if the named drive has an accident in another car. Central claims databases record all claims, and insurers can refuse to pay a claim if one of the named drivers on the policy fails to notify the insurer after an accident.

11. When travel insurance policies ask about pre-existing medical conditions most people tend to think of serious and life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks or strokes. But take a closer look at the insurance policy small print and you will see that most policies fail to define what is a pre-existing medical condition. In fact, if you have ever been diagnosed with high-blood pressure, or have undertaken major surgery you must tell the insurer or risk voiding your policy.

12. Do you know what kind of window and door locks you have at your home? Take a closer look. Most home insurance polices have a clause to say that you should have window and door locks approved by the British Standards Institute (BSI). Many people unfortunate enough to be burgled have subsequently learned their locks are not to standard and they are ineligible to claim.

13. Many people assume their iPod, wallet and designer sunglasses are covered by insurance when they're out and about. But take a closer look at your policy. It is usually the case that valuables outside the home require a personal possessions extension in order to be covered by regular home and contents insurance policies.

14. Most insurers impose a limit on the value of collections they will insure under regular home and contents insurance. For example, valuable stamp collections can be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and are likely to need separate insurance. One insurer recalls an unsuccessful claim under household contents insurance for the theft of a miniature whisky bottle collection, some of which were valued at £5000 each, that was not separately insured.

15. Insurers will reimburse for the cost of one lost earring, but will not replace the pair. This is because most policies contain a pairs and sets clause which means you are only entitled to replace lost and damaged item and not its pair or set. A more annoying example of this encountered by flood victims occurs where insurance companies agree to compensate for a bottom drawer which has been damaged by water, but then quibble over replacing the entire set.

16. Planning to go away for more than 30 days? Your home and contents insurance may not be valid. Check your policy to make sure you are covered when your home is unoccupied for long periods.

17. Dogs may be man's best friend but they are given short shrift by insurers. Damage caused by pets is excluded under normal home and contents insurance. According to brokers, insurers receive an astounding number of claims relating to hamsters chewing up the carpet.

18. The Y2K threat may be well and truly over now that we are seven years into the new millennium but the insurance companies aren't taking any chances. Date related breakdown - formerly termed the "millennium clause" - remains an exclusion for the cover of electronic equipment including computer hardware and software. But this is not merely an antiquated precaution. Apparently the threat of data related breakdown remains real thanks to palindromic dates (such as 21/11/12) while the year 2010 may yet pose a problem.

19. Insurers usually refuse to cover the theft of vehicle if you have been careless enough to lock your keys in the car.

20. Those who prefer to travel light may find it tempting to store valuables such as cameras in the cargo hold with the bulk of their luggage. But be warned - travel policies may refuse to pay for theft or damage to valuables not kept with you. Be warned: this also applies where valuables are left in a car on a cross Channel ferry.

21. It can be enormously expensive to fix but damage to your home caused by insects and vermin, for example, termites, is historically excluded from buildings insurance.

22. Fancy a sojourn in the Middle East? Thinking of trekking in Afghanistan? Don't expect your travel insurance policy to cover you if war breaks out. Insurers generally steer clear of covering war and terrorism.

23. Insurers will only pay for the cost of removing fallen trees according to home insurance policies if property is damaged when the tree falls.

24. Damage caused to a home after a boisterous party generally won't be reimbursed by your insurer. The same applies to items that are stolen from your home during the party. As a rule of thumb, insurers refuse to pay out if you have had any control whatsoever over the events which lead to the claim.

25. Payment protection is arguably the most exclusion-riddled of all forms of insurance. PPI, which is sold with loans, credit cards and mortgages, covers repayments if people are unable to work due to an accident, illness, or termination of employment. However, most PPI policies do not pay out for the first 30 days. Conditions such as stress and back pain tend not to be included while the self-employed, students and housewives are also not usually covered. The deliberate sale of PPI policies to those unable to claim for them has been the source of outrage from consumer groups due to the wide range of exclusions, and has been the subject of investigation by the Financial Services Authority and the Competition Commission that has resulted in companies being fined for inappropriate selling.

Amazing at what lengths these "people" will go to, to weasel out of paying up.

Double Bubble*

My God, is it expensive here!

A huge shock to the system when we're used to paying 30p a loaf of bread and now it's around a quid. Beer at best, 3€/500ml, toothpaste ~£2 for a tube; we've not found anything that is better value compared to prices we've been paying throughout Eastern Europe.

And dining out is extortionate. Beef hotpot, mixed salad, potato dish, bread and still, mineral water (litre) came to over fifteen quid!

I think I need to lie down...


*Bubble and squeak, Greek innit.

Dr P

Dr Pepper claims to blend of 23 flavours to produce its world famous "looks like cola but most certainly doesn't taste like cola" drink. However, the company acknowledges that three of those flavours are different concentrations of vanilla extract, therefore it only really uses 21 different tastes.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Costs of Policing the World

The current estimate for the costs of America waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan could reach $1.6 trillion by 2009.

That's 1.6 000 000 000 000 dollars...which despite being a bit gurlie compared to a proper trillion in the UK (a million million million, hence tri (m)illion = 18 zeros) is still bog fulls of cash in anyone's book.

Grecian Traffic?

You have got to be having a laugh. Manic, chaotic, desperate, congested, deadly and non-stop.

Even crossing the road in Thessaloniki is a near death experience and should be avoided.

Still, keeps you on your toes, provided you keep them off the road's edge and still have them left...

"Autumn" in Greece


It was around 18 degrees Centigrade when this was taken and we're in the middle of November. Global warming, don't you just love it?

20 Months On


The map runs out at Athens and so we'll be keeping a track on a new one from next month onwards. We've had this set us our desktop view and it will be odd not to see it every time we boot up.
Looking at it now, it seems we've hardly travelled far in 20 months, but that is little over a year and a half and we fully intended to take our time on this adventure to see things at a pace we could dictate.
So far all has been well. We no longer rely on personal transport and use public options throughout, which has not hindered us one iota.
After Port Heli we no longer have any long term accommodation commitments and so next year, with minimal luggage (we will not have to pack for colder climates in Turkey, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) we will turn up on spec and stay where we wish and as long as we like without agenda.
2007 has been a fantastic year for us and we're hoping 2008 will be even better.

Down to Athens

From Thessaloniki there are several options to head south and get to Athens where we will be staying for around a fortnight before we settle in Port Heli for the winter (and then some). Bus of course, ferry or train. The ferry does not run in the winter months which is a great shame as it is quicker; one doesn't have to follow the coast line around and can sail directly and the bus would take too long. So, it's our first train journey since our trip began.

Heading off to the main line station, we'd written everything down in our bestest Greek (ancient and modern, just to be on the safe side) and tentatively we queued. Gallantly as ever, when we got to be seen, I cowered behind wifey in my best "ladies first" routine and we enquired as to options. The first being, "do you speak English"? Luckily the lady did a little (a gazillion times better than my meagre Greek) and we sussed our fare with little problem.

A not too unhealthy 35€/head sees us on the train for around 5 hours and with luck we'll be in Athens before we know it, this weekend.

Out and About in Thessaloniki





Away from the unrelenting traffic and continuous road works, the city (second largest in Greece) has so much to see and marvel at. More on Flickr now.

Nativity Plays

Excruciatingly painful for both child and parent, this, at least for the moment before the pc-brigade get their hands on it, remains the jewel in the crown of the school's "drama" department (usually only held if it's raining and they call it a wet playtime).

Over recent years though, stronger and more stringent security has been enforced to prevent any type of recording from taking place, whether photo or video, in the best interests of "safety". The children's safety of course, for the audience may be made up of a paedophiles' end of term jolly, doncha know.

Well, no. They are the parents of the children who are performing in the play. If they are sadistic enough to want to watch their little dears perform as a bush or a sheep, let them have that right and allow them to video the blasted thing. Surely a far better form of punishment too.

"Eat up all our greens or I'll invite all your friends around and let them watch you being Jesus when you were 7" must surely be better than a slap around the heid, right?

Anyway, I ramble off point once more.

No, the schools are onto a good screw here and don't they know it. Let's get the Deputy Head to make a shonky vid of the entire shambles and entitle it "The Director's Cut- Bethlehem Behind Closed Doors" and punt them out at £14.99 with the orange squash and Nice biscuits. No parent would dare not to buy them and it'll cover our end of term teacher's piss up in the staff room.


Yeah right- and this will stop undesirables from watching it, how...?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Homesick for "Slavia"

As stated earlier, this week marks the anniversary of our arrival in Izola - Slovenia ( still the place we are hoping to semi-retire to upon our return from Asia ), and I am missing it a lot.

We have spent THE most wonderful 12 months living and travelling through the former Yugoslav republics and for me this has simply been the best year of my life to date.

Now we arrive in Greece and for the first time since leaving England I feel vulnerable. I am used to feeling totally safe, protected, even cosseted by the overwhelming hospitality of our Eastern European hosts.

This is no longer the case. Thessaloniki is a big, bustling, noisy, impartial city. The traffic is terrifying. I find myself checking my purse. I cannot read or speak the language. I feel exposed.

This is not helped by the fact that we are in a hostel/ hotel near the train station and there are always a couple of dodgy looking geezers hanging around downstairs.

I now appreciate just how much Serbo-Croat I do actually understand. Even Cryllic - I have picked up enough in the last three months to get by and read menus and signs - even subtitles on TV.

I had naively thought that as Cryllic descended from ancient Greek the two would be similar. They're not. I can't read a bloody thing. Nor speak more than a few basics words.

Where are the caring and helpful receptionists I am used to, or the smiling and attentive waiters and waitresses. There were more English speaking staff and signs in "Yugoslavia" than here. Even the checkout staff in the supermarkets made an effort to help us. No-longer.

The Greeks here sneer at the FYR Macedonians. - Even saying Macedonia in reference to Skopje is a no no. Contrary to popular Western opinion and its having EU status, this is still a very Balkan country. More so perhaps than even Serbia, but then we are in Thessalonika, closer to Bulgaria and Istanbul - Sorry another no no - I mean Constantinople.

Okay - time for me to file away my happy memories of the past year and move on with our tour. First stop - a bookshop to pick up a language guide!

The Dirtiest of the Dozen?


Greece is the 12th country of our tour to date and whilst we hope to see as much of this world as we can, our progress is less than "invigorating", shall we say. Particularly as we intend to be in Greece for another half a year or so.
Anyway, Thessaloniki is amazing and we'll be updating with a proper post on what we've seen and loads more pictures but it has to be said, clean it ain't...

Gotta Lotta Bottle

Woohoo, Greece brings us back into mass commercialism and has supplies of Coke Zero. Not only that, but Sprite Zero too.

At just over 50p/500ml it's still loads cheaper than the UK but not the 35-40 odd pence we've been used to in recent months.

The new prices as a whole are a bit of a shock for us; it's back to Central Europe prices (around a third cheaper than in the UK, we go on a £ = € basis) and it's going to be interesting making ends meet whilst having to eat out for the next few weeks. Still, that will improve once we land in Porto Heli and can cook for ourselves again.

Beer is going to be killer- 3€/half litre! I'm hoping that is just major city prices...

Imagine

It was my aunt's birthday in Bielefeld last month and we spoke to her to wish her a happy day for the "big" one. I am not allowed to reveal the exact score, so don't even bother asking and it's not that big anyway. ;-)

She mentioned that they had been out for a nice meal and also that her and my uncle had been to my grandmother's favourite bread shop in the old part of town to purchase some of the gorgeous German bread they produce on the premises.

Whilst there, a small group of English/American speaking people were looking around and one of the guys asked my uncle what a particular type of bread was- fortunately he is quite able in English and advised him it was a black, "Pumpernikel" bread.

Auntie was looking around and noticed a small women in knee boots, coat, hat and dark glasses and felt she looked somehow quite familiar but couldn't work out why. The next day she was flicking through the local newspaper and was dismayed to see her name in print for reaching her "n"th birthday (it's traditional to list them in public as it's seen as an achievement) but on the opposite page she read:

"Yoko Ono in Bielefeld for the Day"



Clearly that was not what was written in a German newspaper but here at ktelontour we ignore budgetry constraints and pay out for top of the range translation services irrespective of personal hardship.

McDonald's

Often criticised, maligned and made out to be one of the world's most evil empires. Cobblers; they're a fast food joint who happen to be good at what they do and people are just jealous.

Anyway, I'm happy to admit to eating there from time to time, usually through choice but sometimes through necessity (lack of alternative venues, it's late and it's the only place open, minimal funds, it's familiar food and you can point at a picture, that kind of thing) but since we've been doing our tour thing, I have scoffed a Mc-something-burger only twice to date and that was in Pula and Zagreb, both in Croatia earlier this year. In fact 2006 was entirely Maccy D's free.

However, after the limited food options and choices of dining cuisines available to us in Serbia, I had a craving and when we landed in Skopje and found our hotel had a McDonald's at the top of the road, it seemed like a sign from above.

Unusually, the Macedonians don't offer the entire menu you'll see in Central Europe and so my preferred quarter pounder with cheese meal (or "Cheeseburger Royale" as they say in outside of the UK) was not a goer. Instead I plumped for a Big Mac and aside from it not being overly hot*, it was rather nice indeed. I also remembered why I hardly touched Big Mac's in the past, it's so tall that most of contents gets pushed out of the buns and down your arms...

We are just by a Maccy here in Thessaloniki and it seems it's yet another sign. :oD


*A recurring theme with all of our food in Skopje aside from soup that would take the first three layers of skin off the roof of your mouth and wither your tongue in 0.4 nano seconds.

Exactly One Year Ago

At this time last year, we drove all our our personal belongings from the hotel we had stayed in for a few nights in Izola and pitched up at O & O's home to stay with them for the winter. Little did either of us know that we'd end up staying there for five months and how much we fell in love with this delightful little fishing village.

But it's not that the point of this thread. Rather, it's that was the last time we drove our car and we have not driven anything since. A whole year without "personal" transport and we haven't missed it one bit.

No hassle wondering if it will start or break down, no problem with arsey jobs-worth's at insurance companies and post offices, no stress over mounting fuel bills and definitely no fear over the gazillion GATSOs that are there for our "safety".

OK, I grant you our lifestyle is not your normal one and a car is far less of a necessity for us, but even so, not getting behind a steering wheel for 365 days? Brilliant.



The down side is that I have been off a motorcycle for 22 months now and that really hurts. With luck though we shall have that remedied as we may be hiring something when we get to Port Heli at the end of the month. *yay*

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Taxi to the Bus Station

Up at stupid o'clock to make our 07:00 bus from Skopje to Thessanoniki. There is a taxi rank just outside Hotel Square and we lug our luggage down to the first (and only) waiting cab. We play the "Stupid Foreigner and Clever Fleecing Taxi Driver Game"* and after five minutes of trying him to get him to understand our required destination, we have realisation. We hope.

An agreed, but still over-inflated price (we still got him down to 150 MKD as opposed the usual rate of 50 MKD) sees us take off like a scalded cat past a Plod Wagon and straight through a set of red traffic lights at a major junction.

Sitting in front with the guy in an enclosed space, I quickly realise why we had difficulty in our conversation and it wasn't down to our lack of Macedonian language. The guys is shit faced. Unmistakingly mangled and off on another planet.

It made for an interesting ride though- he of course continued playing the "Stupid Foreigner and Clever Fleecing Taxi Driver Game"* by taking the longest route around town to "earn" his triple inflated fare and even then he got it wrong and dropped us off at the train station, not the bus station as requested.

Life, you've just go to live it to survive, right? We survived. Just.

:-)



*Hands off, we are considering bringing out this new board game for Christmas so don't nick our idea, OK?

Postcards From Skopje

It's become a custom of ours to send out a few postcards to friends and family from each and every country we have stayed in and that has unfortunately meant becoming acquainted quite a few post offices.

Long term readers will be aware of my "post office phobia", but what the hell. If you want your nieces and nephews to remember their Aunt & Uncle on Tour, we all have to make small sacrifices, right?

In Macedonia we faced our 11th trial of the tour as we mounted our "postcard campaign" and hit the streets of Skopje running and fired up.

Well, buying the postcards was entirely painless. Lovely little art shop with good (over-sized) cards and a warm and fiendly reception. So far, so good but as expected, as we were nowhere near the dreaded post office. That beckoned next as we required stamps and so we entered on full alert.

Atypically, after a long wait we were pleasantly surprised to find we were in the correct queue but then again, there was only one window. The guy seemed more interested in chatting to his off duty (?) mate and hand stamping in a very loud and flamboyant manner a large pile of cheques.

Eventually he noticed us and deigned to offer us some of his precious time although he was less than impressed at our request for "eight stamps for postcards to England, please" in T's now passable Macedonian. Labouring to get off his buttock-moulded stool he waddled over to the back of the post office (a whole two steps away) and returned with one stamp. He was even less impressed to find we wanted eight stamps and not the one he had struggle to liberate from the pack and the look of frustration and despair he had when he realised he had to retreat another two steps back and forth almost made me wish I had our camera with me.

Anyhoo, post office phase accomplished without major casualty, the final phase; writing an sending, the best and easiest part. Not quite.

Skopje does not appear to have any public letter boxes- we walked for miles and found not one single receptacle and in the end we gave up our handwritten goodies to a big, posh Hotel.

ktelontour tip 53: If lost, need a free map, need to go to the bog in luxury or have any minor concerns, drop into any big posh Hotel, be polite and appear helpless and reception are only too willing to help.

We asked about letter boxes and they said there were none and you had to hand them in at the...post office. Best Western, Skopje branch came to our rescue though and said they would send our cards out with their mail the following morning. :oD

Monday, 12 November 2007

Fag at the Wheel? Not Anymore

Since the inclusion of smoking in new editions of the Highway Code as a potential hazard to safe driving, motorists who smoke while at the wheel are to be targeted for the first time by police as a potential threat to safety on the roads.

Those caught could face an on-the-spot penalty of £60 or prosecution either for driving without due care and attention or for failing to control their vehicles.

Department for Transport (DfT) said the smoking reference in the code was an advisory one and it was down to the discretion of police forces as to how it was implemented. The acting deputy chief constable of Merseyside police has already told his officers they will be expected “to be on the lookout” for smoking motorists.

Ho hum...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Skopje in Image

Finally we get our arses in gear and we've added some pictures of Skopje here: Flickr

Bye Bye Macedonia

Sadly our last day and it's tipping it down outside. Not that the weather will dampen our spirits as we're celebrating our final day in Skopje with a return trip to the Chinese restaurant (it was fifty : fifty with the Indian restaurant but Shanghai is nearer, cheaper and we can use chopsticks) and a blow out meal.

Then it's one last look around this fascinating city before an early night as we have to be at 05:30 tomorrow morning in time to catch our bus down to Thessaloniki and the start of our next six odd months in Greece.

So again, we may be off line for a while but we'll be back ASAP. :-)

Remembrance Day

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marks the signing of the Armistice, on 11th November 1918, to signal the end of World War One.
At 11 am on 11 November 1918 the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years continuous warfare.

Remembrance Day is on 11 November. It is a special day set aside to remember all those men and women who were killed during the two World Wars and other conflicts. At one time the day was known as Armistice Day and was renamed Remembrance Day after the Second World War.
Remembrance Sunday is held on the second Sunday in November, which is usually the Sunday nearest to 11 November. Special services are held at war memorials and churches all over Britain. A national ceremony takes place at the cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

1916 by Motorhead

16 years old when I went to the war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Chasing my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled and I died,
And I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time that a year in the line,
Is a long enough life for a soldier,


We all volunteered, and we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history's pages,
And we brawled and we fought and we whored 'til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun,
And that's what you are when you're soldiers,


I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees,
Coughing blood as he screamed for his mother,
And I fell by his side, and that's how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud and the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother and she never came,
Though it wasn't my fault and I wasn't to blame,
The day not half over and ten thousand slain,
And now there's nobody remembers our names,


And that's how it is for a soldier.



Saturday, 10 November 2007

Car-tastrophe

Drivers who let their insurance lapse could face having their cars seized from outside their homes and crushed, in a bid to crack down on uninsured drivers. There are currently around two million people uninsured.

The new powers are to be introduced in April 2009 and will allow the Traffic Rozzers to access the insurance database and then check it against information held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Two minor problems. The DVLA has utterly shite records and this will only target the law abiding citizens who have previously insured their vehicles. What about the others who have never insured their cars and are already off the database?

Get Out Of Gaol

The manufacturers* of the world famous game Monopoly decided to run an internet poll to find France’s best-loved towns for the national French version. The winner was to get the coveted and prestigious spot of "Mayfair" whilst runners up would occupy the other spaces on the board.

Unfortunately, the poll got hijacked by pranksters and the winner (by miles) turned out to be Montcuq, which is often pronounced without the final “q”, and sounds like mon cul, or “my arse”.

But Hasbro* are not amused and have welshed on the deal, instead offering the village a board of its own and it will now use the runner up in the competition, Dunkirk, in the national version of the game instead.

Not only are the people of Montcuq rightly upset, the whole idea has been a washout, with Paris not even featuring in the top 22 and therefore not going to be in the final version of the game.

Fill Her Up

A German driver filled his car up with petrol, paid for it and then walked off, leaving his vehicle at the petrol station. Police tracked him down and advised him he had an hour to collect his car, which he had completely forgotten he had been driving.

That'll never happen in England- the petrol is so expensive now you're not likely to ever forget having paid for the fuel!

Shonky Mouse

Probably through over use, but our two/three year old, optical mouse seems to be on its way out. It keeps sticking on left click (I think) and won't highlight and hold text and so we may well need to pick up a replacement.

Having followed an IT expert's advice (given it a right good slap) it has recovered enough to be working OK for the moment but it could be time to pay up for a new one and so we had a quick look around.

They all seem rather reasonable (compared to the UK anyway) at under a fiver, but what was even better value was the head piece we picked up in Kraljevo for use with our Skype phone calls. £1.50 for an earpiece and mic combi!

Eastern European prices really are good for some techie stuff and now we're just trying to find some toothbrush heads for our Braun- they're never cheap,

Ring of Fire

An old Johnny Cash number and always an appropriate title for a post on curry.

Yesterday we finally tracked down the only Indian restaurant in Skopje but not without difficulty. Their website gives clear directions to get to it (opposite the American Embassy and next to the local zoo) but it doesn't actually say it's moved and has re-located into The Aristocrat Palace Hotel- the opposite end of town. Fortunately the staff at our hotel are well on the ball and put us straight before we set off and we found it without further ado.

I'm not sure why Bombay felt it necessary to move as its new site was really well out of the way and nor why it is sharing room with a hotel (which despite a four star rating is no where near as well placed as our Hotel Square). Perhaps it's a cost issue? It was completely empty when we arrived around 13:00 on a Thursday afternoon. Anyway, I care not for ambiance or window dressing, I go for the food and here we hit pay dirt.

Many familiar items on the vast menu and also some new ideas; we were spoilt for choice. Indeed, it took us so long to decide I feared the waiter had passed out into a korma*...but eventually we selected:

  • Sambhar, a South Indian mixed vegetable soup (sour, hot)
  • Onion Bhaji (fresh onion dipped in chick peas flour and deep fried with a delicious hottish curry dip)
  • Murg Curry (boneless chicken pieces with onion and curry sauce)
  • Bombay Dhall Tarka (boiled mixed lentils cooked with herbs and mildly hot spices, garnished with clarified butter and garlic in traditional Bombay style)
  • Muglai Saag (spinach and chickpeas cooked with light spices)
  • Matar Pulao Basmati (rice cooked with green peas, garnished with golden fried onions and fresh coriander)

Fan-bloody-tastic. Coupled with attentive and yet unobtrusive service, we really had a feast fit for a king/queen and devoured each and every thing with relish and appreciation. Everything cooked to perfection and the sauce for the chicken dish was sublime- I have yet to taste better.

As usual, ktelontour highly recommended and price for two, including soft drinks a reasonable £16 quid. At least a third cheaper than in Britland and two thirds better food.

So that makes it three curries since our departure from the UK- one in Berlin (by far the best), one in England when we visited last Christmas (takeaway and decidedly average) and now in Macedonia, far far better than we could have hoped for. I wonder where the next will be?



*To any foreign readers or non-curry enthusiasts, this decidely witty pun will be lost. Strike that, it's going to be wasted on the majority on here.

Happy Birthday

To my (direct) youngest nephew for today. It's a shame he won't be able to read this yet, but wishing him a "max"ium fun day with lots of presents, jelly and ice cream.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Chessboxing

To demonstrate that not all boxers are brain dead knuckle draggers, the World Chess Boxing Organisation* (I kid you not) has just held its world championship, which has been won by a German copper, Frank Stoldt.

The rules of the game are simple. Bouts are composed of a maximum of 11 alternating rounds of chess and boxing, with checkmates or knock-outs resulting in instant victory.
Fighters can also triumph if the boxing match is stopped by the referee, or if their opponent times-out at the chess board.
Chess rounds last 4 minutes each, and each player has a maximum of twelve minutes to make all their moves.

It doesn't quite sound the same, does it? "Float like a butterfly, sting like Boris Spassky".



*Its slogan is: "Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board"

Angel Delight?

The world's most expensive dessert, The Frrrozen Haute Chocolate goes on sale in New York at an eye-opening (or should that be jaw-dropping to fit it in?) $25 000 (~£12 000). It is a frozen slushy mix of top grade cocoas from 14 countries, milk and 5 grams of 24-carat gold, topped with whipped cream and shavings from a La Madeline au Truffle.

It is served in a goblet with a band of gold decorated with 1 carat of diamonds and with a golden spoon that diners can take home.

Only in America...

Freer Movement

Citizens from nine new EU member states (Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Malta*) will be able to travel without a passport to most other countries in the bloc after ministers endorsed plans to lift border checks.

The opening of the borders with the nine countries will be marked with ceremonies at former border crossings a minute after midnight on December 21. Cyprus, the tenth nation to join the EU in 2004, will keep some border checks and stay out of the Schengen borderless travel zone, as will Britain and Ireland. Switzerland, which remains outside the EU, is set to join the zone next year.

*The only country we have not yet been to- so far.

And Johnny Foreigner Can Stop Laughing Too

At present, local authorities are unable to gain access to the information needed to trace foreign drivers who have tickets issued for speeding, illegal parking, bus lane fines and congestion charges. They have to cancel most of the tickets which are issued to non-UK drivers and there are currently 700 000 unpaid penalties issued annually to vehicles that are registered overseas.

The Local Transport Bill, published yesterday, now includes a provision to allow the DVLA to approach its counterparts in other countries to obtain the names and addresses of the registered owners of vehicles and pursue the outstanding fines.


The downside of course, is that it will be a reciprocal action with participating countries and anyone caught speeding abroad can expect to chased up for what is due too.

New Speeding Points

As mentioned before, the government is to announce higher points and fines for excessive speeds, such as 45mph or above in a 30mph limit. The new proposal will be a fixed penalty of six points and a £100 fine, up from the existing flat rate of three points and a £60 fine.

However, the other idea of reducing points to two (and a £40 fine) if only slightly over the limit, for example, up to and including 39mph on a 30mph road has been dropped. It was felt that introducing a lower penalty of two points would undermine the Government’s message that even small breaches of the limit can kill.

You will still get banned at twelve points, so before where you had four lives, you now only have two. Happy motoring in the UK people...

The Food of Gods

It's looking grim as we're down to the last third of a jar. Luckily, we have a fresh supply waiting for us in Port Heli in a couple of week's time. I just hope we can make it last...

It's Not All Fun & Games

TIRANA: Albania voiced concern over a police operation that claimed at least six lives in an Albanian-populated region of Macedonia.

Members of an armed “criminal extremist group” were killed in the raid in the western region, police said.

From today's Times

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Medium Rare?

You just can't win, can you? For years our so called "experts" have been banging on about how sunbathing is dangerous and can lead to skin cancer and now they are saying it can slow the ageing process by up to five years.

What's the matter with these people? Black is white and white is black? Twats.

Lobster Pot

Currently, crustaceans are not listed in the Animal Welfare Act, as they supposedly do not feel any pain. This may soon change thogh as scientists have shown that this could well not be the case.

They dabbed an irritant (acetic acid) on to the antennae of prawns and they reacted by grooming and rubbing the affected area; a response similar to that seen in mammals exposed to a noxious stimulant. Previously, it was believed that only vertebrates can feel pain.

So, if lobsters and prawns do suffer, I wonder if the traditional methods of cooking will be changed?

S + C + R + A + B + B + L + E

We mentioned the UK Scrabble Championships a while back and so to keep you up to date advise you that this year’s World Scrabble Championships starts tomorrow in Bombay, India.

110 of the world’s best players, from 42 countries, will battle it out and Britain has 14 players in the competition. Each contestant will play 24 games, with the top two going through to the best-of-five-games final on Monday.

If you hurry you may still get tickets...

Rin Tin Tin & a Rat Tat Tat

Continuing talks to form a new Belgian Government have reached stalemate once more, with Flemish and Francophone leaders unable to agree on rights letting French speakers in Flemish parts of the largely Francophone capital vote outside their area for French-language politicians.

They sound like kids in a playground but if this continues, the public will soon realise that one may not need a government at all, irrespective of the language they speak :oD

Chinese Whispers

And they're all muttering "Shanghai"*.

After several months travelling down the Adriatic coast over the summer, we've been dining out on typical tourist fare such as calamari, Ćevapčići (delicious {usually} kebab-style minced meat kofta-like sausages), salad, soup, pizza and chips. Not always the most healthy of food and not always the best in quality or inspiration, but we've survived and usually kept the bank balance under control.

Arriving in a large capital city, we were hoping to have a bigger choice of keeping our rumbling stomachs content and eventually found a Chinese restaurant*, which we checked out yesterday. Our last attempt was way back (well over a year) in Gdansk; Poland, and quite frankly it was a mess. It nearly looked like an "authentic" Asian meal but it was decidedly rough, full of oozing fat and barely edible. Hence this time, we were a tad cautious.

We found "Shanghai" easily enough after having worked out our map was indeed upside down; believe me, the river cannot change its course and arrived shortly after lunch, around two o'clock.

We went in and were greeted by a very friendly, polite waiter who did not look a bit Chinese but did speak perfect English and we had the pick of where to sit. The room was airy and cosily light and table spacing would easily allow some privacy had we not been the only customers. The next major result was that the menu also had English sub-titles and so the game was own.

Wifey chose wilted spinach and stir fry noodles with vegetables, I had the hot & sour shredded beef accompanied by garlic and soy rice. We didn't bother with starters as we invariably lose our appetites and the main course becomes too much of a chore to really savour.

Without doubt the best meal of the year, made without fuss and ceremony and tasting quite sublime. Simply delicious. All plates were cleared in a leisurely fashion with kack-handed chopsticks and much mess to the pristine table linen and we will definitely be heading back once more before we Skopje.

But first, we have finally tracked down the only Indian restaurant in town and aim to be checking out the culinary delights tomorrow. The last time we had a curry? Berlin; Germany, at least 14-15 months ago.

Anyway, "Shanghai" is ktelontour highly recommend. Chuck in a litre bottle of mineral water and the whole lot came to 1050 Denar, less than 12 quid for two!