Wacken 2019: London first

I’ve not updated this blog in bloody ages so I’m going to use the trip to Wacken as an excuse to put up some garbage that none of you will read.

Wacken may be in Germany, but as usual I decided to head through London for a day or two to chill out and to catch up with old friends as I do most years. The sweet spot for train tickets (£30) this time was the Thursday evening. Unfortunately this was Niamh’s birthday but at least I got to see her in the morning when she woke up where I’d missed the entire day last year as I was in Slovenia covering Metal Days.

So, come 2pm and I started packing in the knowledge that I had to be out of the house by just after 3… Fortunately I travel light. Courtesy of EasyJet (and every other budget airline) now saying you can only have one tiny bit of carry-on luggage without paying £30+ for another bag, I’d picked up an appropriately small wheeled suitcase and ensured it had enough room in it to stuff my daybag for the flight back. Journey out: denim jacket in suitcase. Journey back, that space taken up by backpack while I wear the jacket.

Beyond that, one plug bar, a foreign plug adaptor, 5 t-shirts, 8 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of undies, a spare novel, a lightweight pair of trousers and my trainers. I chucked in some chocolate bars and peanuts I could snack on throughout the week and some toiletries I could throw away before the flight (because heaven forbid I try to down a Boeing 747 using 10ml of toothpaste).

Time was getting tight for my train to London, so I hopped on a bus into Glasgow (which turned out to be almost twice the price I expected – I’d have been better off getting the train), and went through my usual mild panic waiting for it to get to Glasgow Central. Just as Google Maps was telling me to stand up for the final stop, the bus hung a sharp left and kept going. And going. And going. Eventually dropping me off at the wrong train station.

I belted through the heavy crowds in the hot sun, knackered a wheel on my suitcase, sprinted into Central Station only to find… my train had been delayed by 50 minutes. Turns out that the overhead cables in London don’t like 40-degree heat and melt or something. Bizarrely this had caused problems with the rail network.

Well, I eventually made it to London over an hour late (which means I qualify for my ticket to be fully refunded) and I only got soaked a little bit as the aircon in the carried crapped itself having to deal with heat and leaked profusely from the ceiling several times. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually what they’re built for or anything.

Thankfully Clink-261 (10 mins walk from Euston) has a 24 hour reception. My 18-bed dorm, filled with very sweaty yet considerate people, had an air conditioner the side of a hair dryer in the corner which was making apologetic noises for how ineffectual it was. Thankfully months of acclimatisation in $3 per night Bangkok hostels came back and I slept moderately well despite one cohabitant snoring like a pig oinking underwater. Through a megaphone.

A quick trip round northern England – part 1

Twisted spire

Twisted spire

I’m a little over halfway round a quick nip round to visit friends and thought it’d be nice to add an update to the blog.

In brief, I’ve travelled from Glasgow down to Bradford; hopped back over the M62 to Oldham for a night; returned to Bradford then driven down to Chesterfield and up to Doncaster; finally back to Bradford for another evening.

I drove routes I’d not normally take due to the GPS in my phone. It just uses Google Maps to show me where I am and does some bizarre route planning. Often the route from A to B is not the same as the route from B to A! As a result I’ve ended up going along a couple of awesome country roads I’d never have considered and seen some simply beautiful scenery.

After spending so long abroad, it’s easy to forget exactly how stunning the British countryside can be. It is nice to be reminded once in a while, even if it’s by a wayward route-finding algorithm.

Shouts out to the following:

  • Steph B for exposing me to the Balti Mossala restaurant in Lees. Incredibly good food and great staff
  • Chris & Lydia for just being awesome parents to two (and almost three! I expect a text message saying she’s arrived soon!) of the loveliest little girls one could ever hope to meet. Thank you for the wifi use and the blow-up mattress
  • Vee for being Vee and despite being knackered, staying up till silly o’clock catching up and nattering about old times
  • Mel for thew wander around the Media Museum in Bradford and the chance to meet her gorgeous new(ish!) daughter, Sienna
  • Tracey for the comfy couch and the chance to see Up at the cinema
  • Janice for being kind enough to give me a walking tour around and potted history of Chesterfield. Tourists – check this place out. The church spire is an incredible site and it’s a lovely old town. Thank you also for lunch and the use of your camera!
  • Bernie for being her usual hospitable huggy self and providing me with dinner. I swear she’s the one person I know who’s nicer to animals than I am
Chesterfield's oldest pub

Chesterfield's oldest pub

The attached photos are of Chesterfield and were taken on Monday. I was camera-less bar the one in my phone so I have to repeat my thanks to Janice for letting me use hers to take some decent quality snaps.

Right now I’m in a McD‘s in Bradford, about to head up to sunderland *spit* to see Steph C. Given I’ve not seen her for what must be five or six years I’m sure I can put up with the geographical horror of it all!

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Rest of Reykjavik

Inside the Hallgrímskirkja

Inside the Hallgrímskirkja

There wasn’t a whole lot left of the capital for me to see, so I had a bit of a lie in (I needed it!) and met Elfa to see the last few things. We walked up to the church which this time was open. It’s very plain inside compared to just about any other church I’ve ever been in. Apparently this is typically Icelandic and I like it. Too many churches are filled with ornaments and decor that must have cost a fortune. It all screams “our religion is richer than yours!” whcih somehow doesn’t seem appropriate.

In contrast, the interior of the Hallgrímskirkja looks like the workers have just finished plastering it. There are rows of seats, an altar at one end and an organ at the other. They’re about the only things that lend colour to it. The ceiling’s magnificent, though – it reminds me of a similar design in one of the churches I visited in Liége.

As you face the main door of the church from outside, look left and you’ll see the house of a famous artist, Einar Jónsson (now deceased). Elfa wanted to show me that, but it’s closed in January and February. The sculpture garden attached to it, however, is open all year round. Access is through a gate on the next street down towards the town.

Now I’m not one for art. Never have been. I read comics and think the pictures in there are good, for crying out loud. I’ve been to Paris and couldn’t be bothered going to see the Louvre. In fairness, one or two of the enormous paintings in the art gallery in Nancy did catch my eye, mainly for the detail.

But the sculptures in this garden… wow. There’s something about them I like and I think – again – it’s attention to detail and the thought that’s gone into them. Whereas a lot of the sculptures I saw in places like Rome are detail-heavy on one side, these ones were definitely designed to be walked around. In fact, some seem to almost change as you circle them.

The cold, wet weather really suited them as well. All the sculptures are made from metal (I believe they’re bronze casts of plaster originals) and the little crags on them hold rainwater very well. I’m sure they’d look very different in warm sunshine.

Back down in town, we headed for the coastline and saw the modern “Viking ship” that was erected recently. It’s a metal framework and apparently a bit of a love/hate thing with the locals. Elfa is one of those who’s not impressed! I think it looks good – again, the misty weather suit it and I don’t think it would look anywhere near as good on a sunny day.

I should have noted the titles...

I should have noted the titles...

A short walk away is a Thai restaurant (Krua Thai) which we settled on for lunch. Staffed by Thais, the menu is varied, prices reasonable and service fast. Oh, and the food was good! We chatted for a while and then meandered through the streets to a little café which Elfa hadn’t been in for years. Apparently hanging around in cafés is something the younger generation do. A lot. It’s just what you do. Which I suppose beats standing around on street corners.

We talked for quite a while in there, killing time until Elfa had to go to work, and I found out a fair bit more about Iceland’s culture. With the population being so small, everyone is related to everyone else fairly closely – usually no more than 9 people link any person to any other.

Large families were common until fairly recently. Elfa’s father was one of nine if I recall correctly. Thing is, Iceland – until recently and now no more – was never really a rich country. Work was hard to come by and families are expensive to raise. As such, children were often “farmed off” to couples with no children – kind of like an adoption scheme. The children were effectively raised by the couple they lived with, in exchange for which they helped with whatever that couple needed – farmwork, looking after them if they were elderly and so forth.

Elfa’s father was one of these children and the couple he ended up with offered to take him on full-time and raise him, put him through school and so forth. It’s just something we’d not have in the UK. Too many lawyers getting involved and so forth. Oh, and the fact that generally the kind of people we have who have nine children don’t care what happens to them as long as the child support cheque comes in.

It really does give the image of a close-knit community and explains why so many people know so many people. That and the 300,000 population, half of which live in and around Reykjavik.

Half past four arrived and Elfa needed to get ready for work, so we strolled out and into the slightly more pleasant evening. She toddled off and I walked out of town a little way to find Gulla’s house. She was to be my host for the evening as she is slightly closer to the bus station than Roberto and Tamara.

After some walking up and down trying to spot house numbers in the dark, I made my way into her cosy little flat. While I checked my email and made friends with the cat, Gulla Took a quick trip to the American embassy to join a small protest against the situation in Gaza. Well, there’s no Israeli embassy in Reykjavik!

Modern sculpture of a Viking boat

Modern sculpture of a Viking boat

I got talking to her son, Gunnar, who’s thinking about selling up and moving to Denmark. His flat is costing him more than it did when he bought it due to how Icelandic mortages work. Essentially, you pay off your monthly amount and then the bank adds on another sum based on inflation. This, currently, is a larger amount then he (and a lot of other people) are paying off. Not good. So economically, it’s cheaper to walk off and let the bank take your home, claim bankruptcy and start again. Obviously not good for banks who are now being saddled with properties they can’t sell.

A little later I made a brief trip over to R&T’s to pick up all my stuff – they’d been out at the gym when I parted company with Elfa – and had another great chat with them. Fantastic hosts!

The evening was relaxed as Gulla and I sat on our respective laptops, talking to people abroad while taking the occasional break to chat to each other. I munched my way through all the snack food I’d picked up that I didn’t want to carry from country to country.

My original intention had been to grab a couple of hours’ sleep before my coach at 4:40am. Instead I sat up online. Whoops. But that bit really falls into tomorrow’s post.

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Around Kota Kinabalu

After spending a day doing pretty much naff all yesterday, I decided to do a little walking. My targets were the Sabah Museum and the nearby mosque. They’re near enough each other, but a bit of a hike from the hostel. On the way I passed the clock tower, which also used to act as a lighthouse until the town grew massively early in the last century.

The museum’s not bad, covering all aspects of Sabah lifestyle, history and natural life. It’s the first museum I’ve been to in Malaysia that charges an entry fee, though. MR15 (around £2.50 – locals pay MR2) isn’t a lot for the size of the place, but if you’re feeling really tight you could see a lot of it for nothing. Just don’t go into the entrance of the main building. There are several sections and the only place my ticket was checked was right opposite where I paid for it.

I’m getting Oz Syndrome with the museums – each one seems to have a lot of similar material to the last one. The main museum building is impressive and houses stuffed animals, pottery, a fake cave (the area around here has some large natural ones) and a history area. There are also tribal costumes and the like. All well and good, but I’ve seen far too much of it elsewhere.

The science and art gallery wing is OK, the bulk being taken up by a history of the railway and yet another Shell-sponsored “this is how we drill for oil” exhibit. In fairness, this is probably the most impressive one I’ve seen, but all the information (and in fact, some of the material) is a direct copy of that in other museums.

By far the coolest area is outside, where you can find plants labelled with what they are and what medicines they’re used in; a “history” of plant life; and a selection of traditionally-built structures detailing how many of the indigenous population still live out in the jungle areas. It reminded me of a similar area outside of the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi though none of the buildings here are as large as the ones there.

If you’ve not done another museum in the area, this is definitely a good one. However, it’s a little repetitive if it’s your umpteenth in Borneo.

A few minutes’ walk away is the Sabah State Mosque, so I took a squint. The tower is pretty enough, but the inside is typically functional and plain. I did find one prayer room and I’m not sure if I was meant to go in (though nobody and no signs said I couldn’t) so I had a squint inside. Nice enough with the inside of the dome to see, and a huge glittery chandelier. All very nice.

By this time – mid-afternoon – I was a bit peckish so started the walk back to the hostel. On the way I passed one of the three cinemas in the area and saw they had a performance of Death Race on shortly. I picked up a ticket for MR8 (Saturdays are the expensive day…) and had time to wolf a very small KFC beforehand.

Not a bad film, entertaining enough, but Malaysia cuts its films for violence and dubs out bad language. This is very frustrating when watching a film, the primary reason for which is to enjoy some carnage. The cuts are very clumsily done as well. And don’t even get me started on the people who had their mobiles on for the whole film. They never answered them – just stared at the screens and let them ring out for a minute at a time whenever someone called. Back home they’d have been ringing their supplier for a new one and trying to explain how the last one had become lodged up their back passage in the first place.

I think it’s about time to consider heading for Semporna. I might catch the early bus tomorrow, and start my Rescue Diver course the day after. I’m still looking into Dive Master courses but there are so many inclusions, exclusions, accommodation deals, park fees and so in depending on where you look it’s hard to figure out where is cheapest!

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Around BSB

Last night I found a 24 hour café with free wi-fi. Needless to say, I staggered away at a silly time (1:30) after the first half of the Sunderland v Liverpool game. As alcohol sales are illegal here, I had a nice pot of lemon tea while I surfed and shouted at the telly.

I didn’t sleep in this morning, though. My roomies were quiet, but I tend to wake at 8:00-ish anyway, so got up and ran a few errands. A nearby supermarket provided a nice healthy fruit breakfast for a little over a pound and I picked up some blank CDs to ship backups of my photos home. The nice man in the shop threw in some keyrings as a present when I told him I was in Brunei on holiday!

After eating, I walked to the bus station where I bumped into John and Mel, the Aus/NZ couple. Again. I swear they’re following me around. We all waited for the number 39 bus to the museum together. When it arrived, minor chaos ensued.

Bizarrely, Bruneian people wait patiently for things like buses. And when they arrive, they all dive at the door at once. A rather burly man forced his way in front of us, blocking us with his arm. But I’ll let him off as he pushed people back so two older men could get on first. He then nodded at us three tourists to board after them. There’s obviously some system we’re not aware of. The other rule seems to be that every passenger must be seated as nobody else was allowed on board once the seats were filled.

A dollar got us to the museum – remember to shout or bang on the ceiling to announce that you want off as there are no bells on these buses. As with most everything in Brunei, the museum’s free to get in and it’s pretty good. There are sections on natural history, Islamic art, oil & gas, ASEAN, culture, Brunei’s history and the recovery of a wreck found a few years ago. All the displays are informative, though the English can be slightly ropey. For instance, “i.e.” instead of “e.g.” when giving a platypus as an example of a monotreme. I mean, *tut*. There are two monotremes (OK, so five of you class each of the four echidna species as separate), so it’s definitely “for example” not “that is”. Alright, that was a very anal example of the “bad” English – most of the signs are perfectly fine.

We spent maybe ninety minutes checking out the exhibits… and the really smelly loo which isn’t anywhere near the standard of the rest of the building. Apparently there’s another museum nearby, but we were somewhat museum’d out and opted to walk up the road to the bus stop.

Before we could get there, a car horn beeped and a local pulled over. “BSB? Hop in!”. Mind, when your fuel is 17.5p per litre, you can afford to give people a lift. Reportedly, this kind of behaviour is very common in Brunei. People just want to help out and they do like to meet tourists. Despite their best efforts, they don’t seem to get too many (although we also bumped into the French couple who arrived at the bus station as we were waiting for the 39!). I guess most people come to Borneo for diving in the well-known areas such as Sipadan.

Our chauffeur turned out to be a security guard, an especially easy job in Brunei as there’s virtually no crime. As he put it, he locks the door then goes to sleep for the night. And he doesn’t pay tax on his income as there is none in Brunei. No income tax, no sales tax, no… whatever insane taxes we’re dreaming up at home now.

I separated from my colonial buds when we got back, though I’ll likely catch them on the early bus to the ferry tomorrow morning. I chose to go local for lunch and picked out Jollibee, a Bruneian (I think) fast food place. Well, I’ve never seen one outside of Brunei so I guess it’s local food. The chicken pita wrap I had was passable, though a little small. On a whim, I popped into an amusement arcade for half an hour as well. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but will someone please tell me when combat games started to require four or six buttons as well as the joystick? Crime Fighter and Yie Ar Kung Fu were always fine with just the three.

And once again I show my age.

Postcards have been written and will be posted shortly. Tonight’s plan is to chill out then head back to the same café to watch us getting embarassed by ManUre. Just because I’m on the opposite side of the world is no excuse to miss watching us taking a drubbing.

So my brief visit to Brunei comes to an end. It’s been cool, but the one thing that needs improved here is the public transport. It’s often easy to get somewhere, but as the buses all stop at 6pm getting back again can be a problem. Alternatively, give free cars to tourists! BSB itself is a nice enough city, but it’s quite small and everything apart from a handful of a handful of attractions are too far out to walk to.

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