Sparky Travels

January 24, 2011

London & Southend Stopover

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On the evening of the 13th of January 2011, approximately 555 days after I’d last been in Britain, I landed at Stansted Airport and caught the train and tube to Nick’s flat in Finsbury Park, London.We sat up chatting for a good few hours with the help of some IrnBru before the long day finally caught up with me.

The next day we took it easy before heading to a good old London boozer in Holborn. It was a real joy to be sitting in a real pub drinking real ale with a real $£**”%er. That evening we went to one of the newly opened Byron burger restaurants with Lou and Claire.

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They sure know how to cook a mean burger there, the meat was almost rare and very tasty. Later we met Nick’s mate Adam, girlfriend Lizzi and some of her friends.

On Saturday I met Dad in Carnaby street and we made it to a pub for pie and chips after a quick stroll through the National Portrait Gallery and a long stroll through central London. Unfortunately my food poisoning from Ubud decided to make a reappearance and I was laid up for most of the evening.

I met Dad again on Monday and we went to the usual haunt of the Tate Modern where we saw some impressive works by Gauguin. Then St Paul’s Cathedral, Oxford Street and King’s Place for a bite to eat.

The next day I caught the train to Southend to see the rest of the family. I met Jo and my nephews in town for lunch. This was very exciting as I’d last seen Harry when he was only 16 months old and had never met Jamie before. Harry had grown up into a handsome wee man in the intervening 18 months and was full of excitement ahead of his upcoming 3rd birthday party. Jamie was a smiling 15 month old baby who seemed perfectly at ease with the world.

Ruth arrived a few hours later and we checked into the grotty Travelodge in the town centre. The place was a shambles and looked like it was falling apart. We had a lovely homecooked dinner at Joanna’s before heading to bed.

The 18th of January was surprise day! For the last month or two we’d been spinning a lie to Mum that I was flying straight from KL to Argentina. This had involved keeping my plans secret and surreptitiously planning my arrival in the UK with a few informed people. It got even harder when I actually arrived in London and we all had to pretend that I was in Buenos Aires.

Finally, after a nightmare journey from stansted airport, Mum and Auntie Fi arrived at Joanna’s house. We were worried that Harry might give the game away, but he was impressively tight-lipped so I was able to execute my appearance perfectly. Once everyone was inside I stepped out from my hiding place and waved at them from the back garden. After a second of confusion Mum and Auntie Fi recognized me and were very pleased. No tears of joy though, how disappointing. :-)

Harry’s birthday party the next day was a riotous affair with a horde of babies and toddlers leading the procession to Kids’ Kingdom, a Little Marco’s style play ground with foam, ball pits and slides. We all got involved with herding the kids around and trying to keep an eye on the wee rascals as they hurtled around the play area. Everyone had built up an appetite by the end so we trooped back to Jo’s for the obligatory sweets, finger food and cake. Harry ended up with a real haul of presents including numerous Postman Pat toys.

My food poisoning reoccurred that evening and was not at all linked to the sweeties I’d munched throughout the afternoon. A few days later I went to the doctors but the good old NHS was not much help and all tests proved negative. A weird bug/virus for sure!

I packed my bag and returned to London on the 22nd where I met Hilary and Nick for lunch. In a busy day of hopping across the city, we also met Adam and Rav before going out for a Thai and beerage in Hoxton with Claire, Lou, Adam (again), Lizzi and Amir.

T’was great weekend, blighted only by our decision to watch The Expendables, an absolute stinker of a movie, on Sunday night. The takeaway pizza made up for it though.

On Monday the 24th, as Nick went to work I threw my backpack on my back and caught the train out to Gatwick Airport for my flight to Buenos Aires via Madrid. I finally bought a replacement camera in duty free, a Sony DSC-W350. My flight with Air Europa was everything you’d expect from a cheap, low quality airline with drinks being offered only once on the 13 hour flight from Madrid to Argentina. On the plus side, I did have a tv screen of my own for the first flight of my travels so far.

It was a short but sweet trip back to Britain and makes me look forward to seeing everyone again in only 4 months time.

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January 13, 2011

Two Nights in KL

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I caught the bus from Kuala Lumpur low cost carrier terminal (LCCT) to Pudu Raya and strolled down to the familiar Monkee Inn. They only had space in the 28 person dorm so I reluctantly took that and relaxed for the evening. As large dorms go this one is pretty good; People are mainly passing through and are generally too jetlagged to make much noise.

The next day I moved to my own room in Original Backpackers Travellers Lodge and grabbed lunch at the Central Market. Lev from work was also in KL on his honeymoon and we arranged to meet at the reggae bar. We ploughed through the beers and caught up on each other’s holidays so far. After a few hours we decided we should leave the pub and headed to their hotel to pick up his lovely wife Jannette. In comparison to my spartan cupboard-sized room their palatial penthouse suite was a sight to behold. We went for dinner on the revolving rooftop restaurant of KL Tower. The food was extravagant, the view impressive and the company great but the restaurant was starting to show it’s age. DSCF1216

We went back towards Chinatown and strolled through Petaling market before heading our separate ways. I decided to leave the final pieces of shopping till the morning and headed to my old friend, the rooftop bar at Backpackers Travellers Lodge. The place was packed and although Chris - the friendly barman - had left to travel himself, the atmosphere was as good as always. I got chatting to a gang of English, American, Japanese and Indonesian guys and the night flowed hastily away from me.

I woke up later that morning (13th of January), somewhat hungover, and managed to do the last of my shopping in the airport before my 13 hour Air Asia sleepless flight back to good old blighty. Normally I sleep pretty well on long journeys but my excitement about going back to the UK and the early afternoon takeoff time combined to keep me awake throughout.

January 12, 2011

Ubud MkII

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Our Perama bus returned us uneventfully the way we had come, from the Gili Islands, through Lombok, onto Bali and back to Ubud.

We’d contemplated going to a beach resort but having had our fill of gorgeous sand and sun Ubud was the preferred destination. This time we decided to do very little and just enjoy being on holiday.

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We got into Ubud late on the afternoon on the 3rd and struggled to find a place to stay. Inexplicably, everywhere was booked up and as it got dark we finally found a mediocre room at an inflated price. The next day we moved to one of the places we’d scoped a few weeks ago; Merthayasa on Monkey Forest Road. It was cheap, the room was decent and the pool was lovely. Our days were spent playing cards, swimming, returning to our favourite eating/drinking spots and doing some shopping. Helen and I both bought some art and trinkets as well as presents our families.

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We did a walk out of town along Campuan Ridge one day. It was a pretty stroll out in the country until we met a village filled with rabid barking dogs. After passing through it physically, if not emotionally, unscarred we realised we had gone too far and would have to retrace our steps. We chose a slightly different route with marginally fewer evil barking dogs.

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On our penultimate day in Bail, the 10th of January, we splashed out and had indo-spanish tapas at the Buddha Bar and in the evening went to Nomad for a slap up meal. Tapas were again the food of choice with 12 different, extremely tasty dishes. We agreed that it was the easily the best meal we’d had so far.

The next morning we were tempted to revise our best meal rating…

Helen had felt kinda sick during the night and with ten minutes to go till our shuttle bus to the airport I began spewing my ringer. We missed the bus and booked a taxi for an hour later. Unfortunately, an hour later I was spewing again! There were thoughts that Helen would have to leave without me (her flight to Melbourne was later that day whereas I had a couple of nights in KL as leeway) but I pulled myself together to get in the taxi and endured the hour long ride to the airport.

I felt rough but managed to avoid spewing as we flew with the ever dependable Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur. Here we had a teary farewell as Helen got her flight to Melbourne and I got the bus into KL centre for a couple of days.

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January 3, 2011

Gili Trawangan

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On the 27th of December Helen and I hopped on the public boat to Gili Trawangan for the second time. This time we hadn’t come for shopping, we were here to stay and celebrate New Year. I’d done a bit of scouting when we were here on Christmas Eve and had a recommendation from a couple in Ubud so we checked into the Beach Cafe and Bungalows, oddly named since there was no cafe. Our room was alright, way cheaper than Gili Air, had a porch and hammock and was well located just off the main strip. It was 10 metres to the beach but out of the way enough to feel peaceful and quiet. We mainly sunbathed on our first day and that evening I had a whole Barramundi for dinner while it poured rain in the evening.

On the 28th we hired bikes and rode round the island. There are a few weird parts towards the south-west with eerie almost derelict failed hotels and bars. We had a disappointing snorkel (due to poor visibility) the next day and some fun frisbee action.

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One evening we joined locals and tourists in a bar to watch Indonesia vs Malaysia in some South East Asian football cup final. We only saw the second half and Indonesia lost but the atmosphere was great with everyone getting behind the boys in red.

On the 30th we headed to the third and smallest of the Gili islands: Gili Meno. Meno is also known as honeymoon island and is quieter than the other two. It boasts superb empty beaches and is less developed. We spent the day there sunbathing and playing frisbee. We walked inland for a wee roam and ended up at a lake where we were viciously attacked by mosquitos. It would have been nice to spend a couple of days on Meno but with NYE coming up we headed back to Trawangan in the afternoon.

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During the day on Hogmanay we relaxed and avoided the draining ourselves in anticipation of the night ahead. We bought tickets for the big Extravaganza party on the beach which advertised DJs, a big stage and ‘sexy dancers’.

After getting ready we headed to the Irish bar Tir Na Nog. Gili Trawangan advertises itself as the smallest island in the world with an Irish bar – I’m not so sure. As we ate and had a few drinks we made friends with a motley crew of travellers at the table beside us. They included a couple who were returning on their honeymoon after being here ten years ago; It was interesting to hear how much had changed since then. The others were Dutch, German and Aussies and once the music started everyone was up and dancing, having a whale of a time.

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At about 11pm the heavens opened and the torrential rain began. The streets had earlier been crammed with tourists and hordes of Indonesians from the mainland who head across for the festivities. Now they were scrambling for shelter and crowding into the nearest bar. Soon the street was 2 feet deep with water so we stayed with our new friends and welcomed in the new year in Tir Na Nog. The doors to the Extravaganza party had opened but the rain was still teeming down and the venue was open air so we ended up not going. We finally left Tir Na Nog and after a trip back to the room to patch up Helen after her obligatory fall in the muddy river/street we found ourselves at the Blue Marlin surf club bar. We helped to revive an unconscious irishman and chatted to some more europeans before heading to bed early in the morning.

As expected, the 1st was a writeoff, used for recovery. The weather wasn’t great and had improved little by the 2nd so we booked our Perama bus ticket back to Ubud for the next day.

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