Come along for the journey!

Come along for the journey!

Friday, 30 October 2009


It was intended to be a sacred visit to one of the holiest sites for the major monotheistic world religions - and certainly for me. Instead, with a chronic case of dysentery, and a relentless stream of camels to blame it on, I proceeded to poop my way up the mountain. What I had overlooked, in my zeal to ensure I was not ritually and literally 'unclean' before my fellow pilgrims, was that it was a full moon, thereby making the most private and 'off-the-beaten-track' makeshift loos, an utter spectacle. The tour group following us were not exactly expecting to marvel at an English 'full-moon' in deepest Sinai. Movements of such Biblical proportions, on holy ground, are most likely punishable by death. "Holy camel dung Batman!"
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BLUE HOLE: (Dahab, Egypt)

Travelling is as much about stepping out of your comfort zone and confronting your fears as it is kicking back and having fun. This was the mantra I had LilNeko repeating as we attempted to drop off the pontoon with as little fuss as possible, into a 300 foot sheer hole in the ocean floor just off the beach on the edge of the Sinai Desert. Although her vertigo induced screams were somewhat muffled by the snorkel gear, the sound was the kind that set your fillings on edge. Thankfully, there weren't too many people around to witness her amusing antics….. other than our friends and nearby neighbours from Bristol, Kate & Kenny! Of all the places and times eh? It was a great surprise, if slightly bizarre, to catch up with them and their kids for a drink, and they appreciated knowing they weren't the only ones having to suffer tantrums on their travels.

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

BEDOUIN GIRLS: (Dahab, Egypt)

Today, we were offered bracelets and other pretty things by young Bedouin girls who I imagined ought to be in school. You need to be wise when encountering people 'in need' all over the world, especially when we have such limited insight into their culture, personal situations and pressures. No harm in buying a bracelet from a kid is there? Win-win right? I used to have a part-time job (washing cars) when I was their age, of my own volition, and it gave me a few quid as pocket money. I'm not naive to the fact that kids are often pressured into working for others, taking on responsibilities and often risks, that ought to be left to adults, instead of being able to just….be kids. I suppose I am curious that after years of working with 'impoverished' (often financially) people in the UK and overseas, I still feel pretty clueless when I approach new situations such as these. I realise we can't help everyone, and furthermore, our 'helping' sometimes feeds the problem. It's case by case I know, and there's no lonely planet guide that gives you clear directions.

It felt right not to buy some bracelets today, as we knew nothing of the girls situation. Instead we asked if they'd join us for a drink. We enjoyed mango juices together, played some games, learned one another's names and got chatting. It was nice. I like to think they got more than they came looking for. We certainly did. I expect that's a pretty western take on the story. They still need pocket money, we're still probably clueless…but maybe a little less.
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SPOT THE TOURISTS: (Giza Pyramids, Cairo, Egypt)

At 4am, I got all 'David Bailey' and decided I'd like to photograph the pyramids in all their dawn splendour - "it's all about the light darling". We headed towards the suburbs (yes, we were prepared for the disappointment that the Pyramids are right next to a housing estate!) only to discover that we'd pre-empted sunrise by a couple of hours. We had a bit of time to kill then. Following the kind directions of a gent on the bus, we had a cuppa in an all night cafe, and stayed until we could take no more of the owner trying to flog us breakfast & camel rides. We passed a bakery and were kindly invited to come in when I asked if I could take photos (see album). Whilst I snapped away, N bought  some pitta-like bread. We thanked the guys and went to find ourselves a spot where we wouldn't be too harassed by camel drivers before the pyramids 'opened for business'. Then N realised she'd been ripped off fifty egyptian pounds. She had had so many people thrusting bread at her and talking that she thought she'd handed over a fifty piaster note. Actually, it only amounted to about seven quid, but Nekofelt pretty upset about the dishonesty, embarrassment, the fact that they'd been laughing and managed to bamboozle her. We decided we'd go back and take issue. We did we get the money back and an apology….and all it cost us was another hour on the cairo streets, having to reject further camel ride offers, taking 25 Egyptian men to task over a fiver, getting laughed at, and possibly followed back to our hotel. Totally worth it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


So we arrived in Egypt, following our awesome 'cruise' across the med. Dizzy from the quality on-board entertainment, it was a late night and an early rise with brekkie 'on-the-hop' as we negotiated a fairly militant egyptian immigration authority. We had absolutely no interest in taking the optional, over-inflated tour to Cairo, when we could make our own way at a fraction of the cost, and without the nauseating commentary and tour group crowds following umbrellas. Besides, it would undermine our travellers integrity…."we're backpackers you know!" (healthy doses of inverted snobbery).

Of course, the temptation to 'hitch a ride' on the tour bus, at no cost, rather than wait half a day  with a mob of pushy cab drivers at the bus station proved too strong a pull, and within minutes of being ashore on the African continent, we were swallowing our pride and swallowing our brekkie on the air-con coach convoy as we joined our fellow bloated cruise clientele on a ride to the city but without the 'tour option'. . Now, for reasons we cannot be certain of, the seven coach convoy had a military escort….we had a MILITARY ESCORT I tell you! That's a first for me…. since my band, the BOOM BOOM went platinum in Kazakhstan anyway. Theory no.1 - with oodles of bucks and zero travel savvy, the tour was a prime target for bandits in the desert between Port Said and Cairo. Theory no.2 - Terrorist activity against tourists 2 years ago requires heavy handed, even 'inflammatory' intervention. Theory no.3 - There's no way the tourists on their 2 day cruise to Egypt, with just 8 hours allowed ashore, and 4 hours normal drive in traffic to Cairo are going to see a darn thing unless some local cops are getting a serious back-hander to clear the peasants and traffic off the streets for a quick journey in & out of one of the largest cities on earth. Theory no.4 - with pork actually illegal in all Egypt, someone got wind of my late brekkie on the bus, and decided it best to fend off the madding crowds.

My money's on the bacon sarnie theory.

Monday, 19 October 2009


I like to have some banter with the rest of 'em. Fending off the vendors in Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar is an art, especially when you are resolute to be polite and respectful (learning indigenous swear words is a real time-saver, but not very me). The Turks we met were amazingly good humoured, and whilst they were keen sellers to say the least, if they couldn't secure a sell, they would be satisfied simply to 'spar' with you in the form of some witticism or another. The Turkish people have been incredibly hospitable and friendly without exception. Some bear a passing resemblance to Graham Souness.
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Sunday, 18 October 2009

TURKISH BATH: (Istanbul, Turkey)

There's nothing quite so relaxing as getting a vigorous rub down from a 400 pound sweaty Turkish guy. It's just as well that human skin has about seven layers. The service was abrupt, but sincere, and you have to appreciate that. What I really liked, was being 'clearly directed' when to tip…the intimidation simply helped me overcome my cultural ignorance and shyness. Bless them all. If we could have provided you photo's, we would have.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

SMIRKY TURK: (Istanbul, Turkey)

It's so nice to be welcomed to a country in an affectionate and cordial manner. That's why when the gentleman in the kebab restaurant leading from the train station in Istanbul greeted us with "Yesyes, Nicole Kidman, Antonio Banderas, come have a kebab!", I resisted the urge to smack 'im one (It's Bobby De'Niro or nothing), and instead plotted to exploit our flighting resemblance to random movie stars to our gain. Several attempts since for free drinks and sundries have thus far been unsuccessful.
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Friday, 16 October 2009

BORING BACKPACKERS: (Istanbul, Turkey)

The whole traveling thing is supposed to make you wiser, more interesting. How ironic that we, like many of my fellow backpackers, find ourselves becoming pretty boring at times. We spent a good half hour half-hearing backpackers outside our room talking about sandwiches. Just as we were into full swing judging them for obsessing over something so fickle, and their aloofness to the amazing beauty and culture around us, I caught myself talking for over ten minutes about the amazing plastic toilet seat cover in the hostel bathroom, that retracts automatically around the seat on each use. I suppose there is a risk with traveling, that it 'over-sensitises' us to wonderful things, and that the abundant blend of time and opportunities can lead to being introspective and indifferent, rather than aware and  appreciative. Fantastic toilet though.


We had a great time taking the sleeper train from Thessaloniki to Istanbul...there were hardly any passengers and we had our own private cabin to stare out the window across the foggy barren land, spotting tiny villages twinkling in the distance. The dodgy bit was getting woken up at 3am by a stern knock on the door for border checks and then realising we only had 28 euros and needed to buy our 2 visas on the spot. Eek - luckily we just had enough! Then we fell back asleep - waking up to the prayer calls sounding in our ears from the passing mosques, peeking out the window with excitement for the Turkish sunshine.
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Thursday, 15 October 2009


We're all about the environment. That's why we're now only travelling by train, bus, and boat, and avoiding planes.  We'll be ditching the 5 litre car! Actually, we did struggle with the idea of taking such a gas-guzzler. But it's a one-off trip and it's just a few thousand miles, and blah blah blah, more justification….!!! How things change from my militant 'cycle only', 'carry an extra D-lock to smack cars if too close' days of yore. I do think flight has got the raw deal on the whole carbon footprint debate, but I also think certain size engines are fairly inexcusable. Easy to say now we've done that leg of the trip right? Despite the berating we'll no doubt face from our carbon neutral chums Barry and Sam, we have LOVED our cruising around Europe.  Time to catch the sleeper train to Istanbul.

Monday, 12 October 2009


So it's been two and a half months since we left Bristol and have been having a fantastic time exploring Europe...but it's time to get away from the familiar and head to where East meets West: Istanbul! So it's bye bye to Jackie Boy, 'the good life', open top motoring, those deliciously comfy cream leather seats, Tom Toms, Maria's cooking, camping under the stars - and a big hello to pubic transport, big backpacks and hosteling. FUN. We're taking the sleeper train later this week, and in spite of our love affair with Greece, I'm sure we'll be humming the tune "Istanbul, not Constantinople."

Saturday, 10 October 2009

DEATH BY MEAT: (nr. Thessaloniki, Greece)

We drove out to Polis' longtime friend Nikos mother Sofia's country house (yeah for Greek hospitality!) about an hour north of Thessaloniki. It was so relaxing...the house came complete with an olive grove, free-range chickens and a very healthy barn cat - who incidentally thinks it's one of the chicks. We had the tastiest meal out in the garden followed by a lazy siesta on the grass under the olive trees before coffee and cake at sunset. Ahhhh, life is good. Not only does Nikos have a classic Greek sense of humour, but it is customary in these parts to consume half your body-weight in meat products. It was great, nearly killed us - a good way to go.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

QUIET TIME BY THE SEA: (Halkidiki, Greece)

We got the idea in our heads to go to Phillipi, since we've been visiting lots of the places that the apostle Paul went - Thessaloniki, Berea, the Egnatia Road, etc. But the sun was shining and there were signs from the motorway to a beach - so we jumped on the opportunity to soak up a bit more sun. We're so uber-spiritual. We found an empty beach with great taverna, where they spoke no English, but brought out a some local culinary goodies. Afterwards, we settled down into the sand enjoying the view of the Holy Mount Assos. You could see why as it appeared almost suspended magically in the sky (see photo album). The chef came out to do some octopus of course Kris had to volunteer us to show him how it was done properly! He said if we caught it, he'd cook it for us - he must have been pretty confident in our lack of fishing skills.

Monday, 5 October 2009


Neko has been supporting Maria to gather and organise the donated 'cast-offs' of Thessaloniki's high society, and put together a jumble sale in the salubrious area of Panorama (genius - take the rick folks things and flog them back to them! Raising money for the poor - it's like 'Bargain Hunt' meets 'Robin Hood'). She's also visiting poor families with food parcels - this may be the only guarunteed food the family gets all week. A real eye opener.

Meanwhile, Kris was being whisked around by Polis through the city's dingy drug spots on his weekly soup run. Afterwards, as a late night 'reward' for our efforts, and with a mind to bond in Thessaloniki's most parochial cafes, Polis treated me to a 'must have' local dish ominously known as Patsa. I'm generally game for any new experience - philosophically committed to the idea of trying anything once, as the saying goes… "except incest and morris dancing", and I tucked in to a steaming bowl of shredded pigs intestines. Mmmm. So long as I didn't entertain the thought of what I was eating for too long, and instead focus on my Greek hosts luminous conversation, I believed I was in with a chance.

I can only describe the taste as 'like licking a butchers floor'…greasy rotten offal with an aftertaste like hell itself. It's with a curious blend of amusement and pride that Polis watched me wretch and turn pale, as though I had passed some sick kind of Greek male initiation. I've eaten some very dodgy things, and this was by far the worst ever. As the alpha male, Polis tucked in to my remains. Aside from this harrowing experience, we've been fed like royalty in the Pantelidis household.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT: (Thessaloniki, Greece)

So who on earth gets to take a year out of life, sauntering around the world just to have fun? I'll have you know, this trip is all part of our charitable portfolio…it's not all beaching, dining, and elephant safaris you know.

Our good friends and ex-colleagues in Bristol, Polis & Maria, have just set up the Salvation Army in Greece. They are doing fantastic work feeding people who do not have the support of wider family or the state, building

relationships with homeless people on the street, and making in-roads into the dark underbelly of the city's human trafficking and sex industry.

Kris was privileged enough to accompany Polis on his work with the Homeless, and with Maria into the Red Light District, where, accompanied by some great volunteers, she is taking on the gangsters and pimps, and getting alongside very vulnerable women. She values them, raises their fragile self - esteem, and offers an opportunity of a 'way out' for those who have lost their way or are being held against their will. Not satisfied with simply 'finding' the women the rest of society overlook and forget, she also prays with pimps who keep them there, and challenges them to turn their life around!!! Madness right? With a God-given fearlessness that borders on crazy, Maria dragged Kris into the various trouble spots with his camera, to try and capture these efforts and avoid a beating from various hardened  'Lock-stock-esque' characters.