A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: iainph

Back to reality

Not a moment too soon

sunny 30 °C
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My days of unemployment are officially numbered. They number 3 more to be exact. Which is very exciting and worthy of celebration for lots of reasons, but the chief one right now is that my new workplace has airconditioning, and my house does not.

Don’t get me wrong, fun-employment in mid-summer London has its perks. The last few weeks have seen plenty of picnics in the parks, sunbathing, various outdoor big screens and large pitchers of Pimms. However London has now transitioned from best-run-of-summer-weather-anyone-can-remember to its-officially-a-heatwave-we-all-might-die. Which means, actually, we’ve had 5 days in a row where the temperature has been at least 5 degrees above the average. Whatever. It’s hot. In a way that other cities I’ve lived in don’t get hot. A sunny day in Auckland is great until about 2pm when the cumulus clouds start piling up, the sea-breeze kicks in, and there an even chance of a late afternoon thunderstorm. Not here. It’s clear, calm and stifling all day long.

Which is nice in San Diego. In London, the streets are narrow and crowded; the buildings are old and designed to be warm in winter, not cool in summer; and most of the infrastructure (including the sewers) was built in Victorian times and has changed little since. All of which adds up to the experience being not quite as pleasant as you might imagine. If you believe the headlines, the central line was hotter and more humid than Bali this week. I believe it. I was there, and it was more like a well-dressed mosh pit at a rave deep inside a volcano. If I’d had to endure the sheep-pen crush of rush hour tube travel in these conditions more than once, I might have quit a job rather than accepted one.

As it is, I’m extremely lucky to have landed a job within easy walking distance of our place, and that walk is a pleasant riverside stroll the whole way. Kayleigh mentioned in the last blog that slow and steady wins the race, and it turns out she was right, despite me doubting the strategy a few times in the last few months. The London job market is a strange beast which has taken me a while to learn to tackle. After many years of skipping happily from one pre-arranged job to the next, it was a steep learning curve for me. The sheer scale of the job market here is mind-blowing and there are far more interesting, well-paid roles than I could ever apply for even if I was spending my entire day on the hunt (which I seldom was).

Unfortunately there are even more well-qualified candidates than there are roles, so getting noticed is a big challenge, even when you know you’d be perfect for the job. There were certainly moments of extreme frustration and anger along the way. Ultimately however, persistence has paid off and I’ve been offered exactly the type of role I wanted, with a great company full of fun, motivated people.

I won’t go into lots of detail here about strategies for finding work. Everyone has plenty of advice to offer, some of it is useful, and some is just barely disguised pity. If you want to know what worked for me send me a private message and I’ll be happy to share some tips. Mostly I just wanted to say that I’m glad I jumped in the deep end. I never would have mustered the determination to secure the job I have now if I’d been sitting comfortably in another job and trying my luck occasionally. In the last few months I learnt more about myself, my talents, and what I want to achieve that I have since basic military training 14 years ago.

To me, all forms of adventure are just ways of learning about yourself. Climbing mountains and sailing oceans are great ways to initiate the learning process. So is quitting your job and moving to the other side of the world on a whim. Everyone should do it. Oh, and if you do, Canada makes a great stopover!

Posted by iainph 10:49 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Turkey for a week

So much more than an amusing thanksgiving pun

all seasons in one day 13 °C
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There is so much I could write about Turkey. Mostly because I knew almost nothing about it before I arrived. Being a typical Kiwi, I knew it only as a far away place with a mildly amusing name that produces some great kebabs, carpets, delicious sweets with unidentifiable ingredients, and that the people have some odd habits when it comes to public bathing.

Unfortunately it seems that even European tourists come with this limited set of expectations. The main downtown tourist area of Sultanahmet is purpose built to satisfy tourist expectations and is therefore packed full of shops and markets selling kebabs, carpets, ‘Turkish Delights’, and traditional ‘hamami’ bath experiences. All of which is great and delicious and almost convincing. If we had just arrived from Paris or London we probably would have been sold on it and believed we were genuinely experiencing the exotic East. But, we were wiser. We had just arrived from Morocco and Egypt and are no strangers to bazaars, spice markets and the like. The ones in Istanbul don’t feature the mules, carts, motorbikes, snake charmers and loud bargaining exchanges of a real Eastern bazaar. They are nice, but too nice, just a little bit sanitised. We had seen the giant western-style shopping malls on the way in from the airport and so it all just seemed a little contrived.

Fortunately, Sultanahmet is not like the rest of Turkey. The rest of Turkey is the way Turkey actually is, not the way tourists want it to be. It’s actually a modern, fast paced, well-dressed, surprisingly wealthy, surprisingly European nation with a fierce sense of national pride. I think that surprised me the most, and it didn’t sink in until we visited Gallipoli.

Gallipoli is another one of those places that you think you know about because you grow up hearing about it all the time, but when you actually get there you realise you know nothing at all, other than a bunch of place names. I had to find a book and read up on it and realised I was learning most of it for the first time because somehow it never sunk in before. It’s funny how history works like that – the details never seem very important until you are standing on the site of some historic event and trying to understand what you are seeing and how and why it changed the world.

Visiting Egypt and Greece prompted us to spend some late nights in the hotel watching online documentaries to fill the gaps in our collective history knowledge. Visiting Gallipoli made me wonder what I’d been doing every ANZAC day for the last 32 years that I didn’t already know the intricate details of the harrowing tale of that campaign.
So far from home, we suddenly found NZ flags and monuments everywhere, tales of incredible courage by NZ and Australian troops, rows upon rows of graves with familiar names and ranks and regiments. We heard the stories of the brave soldiers and the appalling conditions, dismal planning and gut-wrenching failures of leadership. Finally it all sunk in. I finally understood why it was such a formative moment in the history of Australia and New Zealand.

More importantly, I understood for the first time just how important Gallipoli was in the history of the Turkish nation. The Turks lost more men at Gallipoli than the UK, Australia and NZ combined, but they prevailed, and they ultimately won the campaign. It united a collapsing Ottoman empire, gave new life to a nation falling into obscurity, and ultimately set the conditions which led to modern, proud, independent Turkey. Today, they celebrate the victory at Gallipoli every year with more pride than we celebrate a world cup victory. Ataturk - a leading figure in the Turkish defence at Gallipoli, who later went on to become the first president of Turkey – is revered with almost god-like status. He repeatedly spoke of his respect for the NZ soldiers who fought to invade his homeland, understanding they were simply doing their duty. His famous statement is written on a giant stone plinth near to ANZAC Cove.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

I’d like to think that the values and determination Ataturk saw in the Kiwi soldiers were an influencing factor in his drive to create the nation of Turkey after the war ended. Perhaps some of these values even became enshrined in the constitution.

It’s the only officially secular nation in the region. Islam is practiced by many, but in a modern, liberal way where women have a voice, are allowed out and about, and are not frowned upon if they choose not to wear a headscarf. The mosques are beautiful, open (for free) to non-Muslim visitors and happy to explain exactly what the faith is about – dispelling a lot of western myths.

If it wasn’t for the call to prayer 5 times a day and the obsession with soccer, it could be New Zealand. If only the nations further south would take note.

Posted by iainph 10:08 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Monsoon June

sunny 17 °C
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Hello friends. Well it has been a while since our last update. Sorry about that! I guess I got a little too excited about these lovely warm temperatures and the ability to actually spend time outdoors without wearing 20 layers and needing some form of snow contraption strapped to our feet.
So what has happened since our last post? Well, quite a lot. Firstly, we rediscovered rain. I hadn't really considered it before, but rain really is one of the downsides to having positive temperatures. In the winter here it is always so cold that any precipitation falls as snow. Soft, dry snow that falls right off you and blows right past your car so you don't even need windscreen wipers. I walked to work every day and never arrived wet, despite frequent snowstorms.
Well, spring changed all that. We now have weather more reminiscent of a New Zealand spring. i.e. four seasons in one day, most days. It's a pleasant change actually, and a necessary one because we had so much snowfall during the winter that a large number of the hiking trails are still too snowbound (or too exposed to avalanche risk) to hike yet. Rain is much more effective than sun at melting it, so we need the rain to open up the trails. That doesn't stop the locals moaning about 'monsoon June' as they call it. But it hasn't stopped Kayleigh and I from getting out and about and making the most of the outdoors either.
Kayleigh managed to rearrange her work schedule so that she has weekends off, which means we can head off on a new adventure every weekend. Already we have completed half a dozen different hikes, a few bike rides, and a rafting trip, all of them wildly different and equally spectacular. We've visited the highest teahouse in the world (for scones), wandered unwittingly into a recent avalanche path (it took us a while to realise why all the trees had fallen over), hiked to the top of the gondola that all the tourists take in Banff (just for fun), and stayed overnight at Skoki Lodge (a luxury log cabin in the middle of nowhere that played host to Will & Kate). And we've got plenty more planned, as well as a few bike adventures and a weekend in the big smoke of Calgary learning how to line dance and speak cowboy at the Calgary Stampede.
The wildlife has all emerged from hibernation now which adds a new dimension to our adventures. Bears are our neighbours here and we see them pretty frequently. I think we are up to 15 now, half of them Grizzlies. Even when you don't see them, they leave plenty of evidence on the trails to remind you they are there, and send you running back home to collect the bear spray. (It's mace, not repellent, so don't spray it on your face like the poor Asian lady in Kayleigh's store today. You'll be 'sufferling' for days).
We also see plenty of deer and elk, the occasional marmot and porcupine, and assorted badgers, pine martins and squirrels. Actually we have a yard full of ground squirrels, which were cute for about 2 weeks until their chirping became incessant. Apparently the Grizzlies like to dig them up and eat them. They are welcome to come and do some landscaping in our yard.

So that's what we've been up to. Fun times, and more fun on the way. Especially as this weekend we will be celebrating Canada Day. We have no idea what we are in for but by all accounts it should be entertaining. If you can call jumping in a lake that is around 2 degrees C entertaining? Crazy canuks.

Posted by iainph 21:42 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Our first cold Christmas

rain 6 °C
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I’m not sure what it was about the Christmas build up in Hawaii that got to me. I’ve only ever known Christmas in warm climates and all the strange traditions that entails. Maybe it was the constant TV and radio broadcasts from the mainland USA where it is cold and snowy. Or maybe I had just seen one too many inflatable plastic santas wearing jandals. Whatever it was, it didn’t get me in the Christmas spirit at all. Kayleigh even accused me of being the Grinch.

Well, I am proud to report my Hawaiian Christmas grinchy-ness is well and truly cured. Christmas here in Canada just makes so much more sense. Firstly, it’s cold – proper cold. So hats and mittens and scarves are not just strange objects featured in Christmas cards and brought out to adorn the dusty fireplace, they are essential items for venturing outdoors. Secondly, it’s dark by 5pm. So the ubiquitous twinkle lights are pretty all evening, not just for half an hour before you go to bed.
Somehow red wine and cups of soup and hot chocolate and turkey dinners and all the other trimmings just all make sense in this setting. Much more sense than in NZ. Even the yulelog channel (which features an open fire burning away 24/7 and the occasional glimpse of someone stoking it) is almost okay. At least it makes you feel much more warm and cosy than the endless hockey which is the option on every other channel.

Anyway, on to what we’ve been up to for the last week. Actually, I’ve kind of covered it already because we have spent a fair bit of our time enjoying red wine and cups of soup and hot chocolate and turkey dinners. We have been very fortunate to have a few old friends here to share the Christmas spirit with us and help us find some of the better local spots. Kinloch was our tour guide in Vancouver, among other things showing us the ‘real’ Gastown (we had only found the tourist bit on our own) and helping us to find decent coffee – not an easy task over here. In Victoria, we stayed with Brandy, who talked us into joining the lineup (not queue, what’s that?) for the Blue Fox Café… a very cold half hour wait but well worth it for the enormous, extremely tasty, and exceptionally good value eggs benny, washed down with a mug of Phillips – it had to be a good brew with a name like that! In case we hadn’t eaten enough by this stage, we were collected by Jason and Rachel, who gave us a scenic-spot filled ride north to Lake Cowichan to spend a very un-NZ Christmas with Jason’s Mum.

Let me set the scene. Jason’s Mum lives in the woods in a little cabin that is completely off-the-grid, with no electricity and not even a mailbox. The large pot-belly stove burns continuously, keeping the place toasty warm and boiling the kettle in no time. Outside there are a couple of small sheds where the firewood is stacked and a large vege garden, fenced to keep out the deer, elk, and bears which roam freely around these parts (we saw them all on our travels).
We adorned the porch with a small pine tree which Jason, Rach, Kayleigh and I went hunting for and cut out of the woods, then decorated to enhance the Christmas feel. It hardly needed it, with two (real) holly bushes growing either side of the front steps.

If you can picture that, then add us, sitting inside sipping eggnog, doing puzzles and playing 500. That’s how we spent Christmas. No contrived artificial cheer, no shopping malls or plastic santas, no cheesy TV shows. Not even the use of a fridge, everything is kept outside, it was colder out there. If not for the one battery powered lightbulb, it could have been 1911. I think they knew how to do Christmas back then. It was perfect.

To see the pictures of Vancouver Island click here...

Posted by iainph 16:29 Archived in Canada Tagged christmas vancouver Comments (0)

The final countdown...

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Where did the year go? It seems like just yesterday that we were in Thailand and celebrating our engagement. Now the wedding has been and gone (what an amazing time that was) and we are busily packing our house into boxes and packing and repacking our bags for the journey.
Turns out its not that easy to pack for a whole year away, especially when we are going to be visiting so many different places with different climates and activities along the way. Not that I'm complaining!

Anyway, I'm sure we'll get it sorted and a week from now we'll be on the beach in Hawaii. :)

Kayleigh and I aim to keep this blog updated with stories and photos as we go, so look out for a post in a week or so showing just how blue the sky is and how white the sand is. Until then, I'd better go and do some more packing or we will still be here next week.

Oh, by the way, if you came here looking for wedding photos check out this link.


Posted by iainph 19:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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