March Muchness

March was a fast month beautifully-dissected by a long-awaited return to my second home Japan. It also heralded the true beginning of my countdown to leaving Qatar. As the temperatures rise, bringing with them sand and electric storms, it’s time to get out of here. It’s fulfilled its role.

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Leaving aside Japan for a moment, work contracts are coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed them all this time round and should I not get into the university I want, I’d consider coming back for a few months in the autumn. But I know in my heart, I am done here and need an environment where I don’t need to search out things to do. We did however make a great little boat trip a few weeks ago for the afternoon into West Bay, sailing past the towers and onto an island out in the bay. The water was too salty due to desalination and the jetskiers were annoying but we had good company, a boat, sun and a barbecue. It served its purpose.

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Japan was every bit as excited, warm and rewarding as I hoped. It truly is a different world out there, inaccessible but liveable. I saw no shrines, no temples, no Mt Fuji but I did see the lights and energy of Tokyo, sang karaoke, drank sake, ate takoyaki and okonomiyaki, wndered at Kyoto Eki Ko, marvelled at the cleanineess and orderedness of the place and saw snow over Kyoto. Seoul remained its rougher edged brother, bleaker in many ways but has a vitality missing a few years ago. It’s progressing and interacting with the world unlike before. Wine, coffees, teas, food, music and beers were now international in flavour. The trade has gone both ways.

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Next month is going to be fairly-chaotic or at least looks that way right now. I’m planning a trip to Moscow follwed by Jan’s wedding in Belgrade. I’ll do a week or 10 days of travelling after that (Croatia, Amsterdam) with Olivia and then return to London. Nancy is coming to visit for a few days to look around summer schools. She’s hoping to stay for a few months later. She’s never been to England or London so it should be fun.

I also regained contact with a few friends I’ve not spoken to for a while. These people remind me of summer, travelling, freedom. Despite Oli being away, I’m looking forward to catching up with Weronica, Si, Tom, Viola, Mary, Alex, Luke, Helen. Jorden and the Devon guys. Even the lovely Ash (who was with me in my David Lynch dream) is talking about coming to Europe to live awhile. And Marsha and Jeroen….I promise I’ll be over in Holland to see you.

Uni applications are finished and I await the answers. My summer work looks set. June is a free-ish month. I suspect I’ll be watching a bit of the World Cup and travelling! I’ll be in Devon, Cardiff or Oxford and yes, I’ll be making sidetrips to see you. And you. And you.

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Mama No Lie

PANO_20120518_090156After seeing the glorious sunshine and coastline of Croatia/Montenegro, I felt I had no choice but to jump off the bus at Dubrovnik. Jan and Michaela didn’t want to stay that night for different reasons but continued to move on to Mostar. I’d been there before yet my last trip to Dubrovnik was too short-lived to justify it.

As I stepped off the bus I was greeted by a group of middle-aged women haggling for our money via their rented accommodation. A squat, old lady stood out. She quoted a price. I, at the time, had no idea of the exchange rate. Jan informed me it was barely 10 pounds so I took it. Other hagglers among the throng snatched out it was far from the old town but I took a punt on my old woman.

She explained on the bus to the flat she was Italian with two sons but only had poco english. Her husband  was called Bruno. I liked that. She knew everyone on the bus. She was no great vocabularist but was certainly able to confirm the same information over and over again. I have never said ok so much in my life.

I would say she was generous in her 10minute estimate to the old city. 15-20 would be more accurate. The apartment however had a sea view. She showed me round, the bathroom, kitchen and two rooms. Mama No Lie, see. I liked this place. The view confirmed Dubrovnik’s magnificent position.

I got up early to avoid the hordes of tourists, shuffling due to age and standing with confused attention as the guide talks. All walled cities are labyrinthine and Dubrovnik is one of the great surviving examples, with its smooth stone leading down lanes which are never straight. Like Kotor, it is a living city rather than a museum. Though again like Kotor, it would benefit from having some signs on the walls to highlight its history.

IMG_20120518_094722After Dubrovnik, (Mama blew me a kiss as I left) I headed north to Split and home. Its difficult to understate the beauty of the coastline. Jan met me there along with Jeremy. We wandered around the seafront, took pictures and drank a few beers. Croats are less open than their neighbours. There seems a more internalised nature to them. Split is the gateway to the island tours, advertised either as majestic or an opportunity to get shitfaced on a boat. I didn’t have time or the inclination to take part.

It was time to go home. On a trip that took me from Colombia to Canada, the US, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia, I’d seen a lot, made plenty of friends, re-met some of my favourite people, rode horses, cycled the Alps, seen coffee production first hand in Colombia, witnessed an Italian Easter in Canada, attended the Belgrade and Sarajevo derbies, saw the Yankees and the Knicks and ice hockey in Canada It was time. I returned happy, bewildered and tired. It’s been a long road…