Monday, 30 April 2012

Austerity Measures

In line with the rest of Europe, I am being forced to take austerity measures.

Let us not pretend otherwise, the years that have preceded this one have been comfortable ones, and sometimes careless. I worked for five years in the oil industry, bravely combating the elements dressed in a red one-piece, tackled monstrous machinery, and extracting what small moments of joy I could manage from the macho existence of the offshore cell, all as recorded lovingly in my nev360 blog. For this, I was paid pretty well, and if not quite able to buy country manors and coke it up with S Club 7, I was quite able to maintain an expensive whisky habit, get carried away on Ebay with antique maps, and of course save up enough for eight months of sensibly-rather than-extremely budgeted travel in Asia.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Unofficial Wonders

Although I did plenty of research into the various candidate Wonders around before I set off on travelling, I was very aware that I would inevitably stumble across the occasional building and landmark that I'd either not heard of or had chosen not to add that, upon visiting, I would realise, were definitely worthy of being on the list. My big fear was that I'd visit something that was suddenly a serious contender for an actual World Wonder, which would force me to go home, research it, and then revisit it fully. Fortunately, this never occurred, but I did encounter loads of places that were pretty damn good, and many of them better than a good portion of my official list.

I call these places "Unofficial Wonders", and here are the most significant ones I encountered.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Back Home

So, I've been home a week.

It was to a bright, fresh Glasgow morning I woke to last Friday, as light streamed through the small window of my Megabus sleeper. I'd arrived at Heathrow the previous evening and had several options available to me - plane, train, or bus. Usually an overnight bus would not even be considered after a 13 hour flight but some research a week earlier had revealed that Megabus had started a sleeper service. This piqued my interest, for it was substantially cheaper than either the plane or train options, at about £35, and timed conveniently between midnight and 7am.

I'm very happy to say that it proved a very comfortable option. The beds are arranged in layers of three, and have curtains, lights, a power point, and little windows to watch the outside world go by. Free tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks are available. The bus is one of these long bendy buses, and has plenty of space, and so each bed - there are about twenty-four - has a seat too, in case you fancy a sit down. There is a toilet, of course. This was my first ever experience of a sleeper bus, and I would definitely use it again, as it ticked the main box you'd want in an overnight service - sleep - but at a decent price. In fact, my only gripe would be the full volume techno and strobe lighting in every bed cabin and the hundreds of rats Megabus insist on letting run loose throughout the night... no, just joking.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Days 217 to 222: Korean Fling

My last days of my first leg of these Wonder travels were spent in South Korea - a final fling before going home.

Those that know me likely know that I lived in South Korea for a little over two years, from late 2003 to early 2006. I was based in the city of Daegu, a 2.5 million strong sea of modern tower blocks and neon nestled within some mountain-ringed plains. As with many - most? - foreigners there, I was an English teacher, mostly teaching young children the alphabet and "I'm fine, thank-you". I had a terrific time, and fell in love with the madness and bustle of modern Korean culture. My last visit was three years ago, a fleeting glimpse on my way back from a holiday in Australia: I was eager to visit again.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Day 216: Change Of Plan

There's been a slight change of plan.

Burness flies home tomorrow, on doctor's advice. I too will be cutting my travels short, and will visit Korea for a week before returning home late next week. I'm just shaving a couple of weeks from the travels, although this includes four Wonders in Japan and one in Taiwan. They can wait: obviously, Burness's health is a little more important.

Part one of a what will now be a four-part journey is coming to an end.  It's been fun.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Day 214: Pingdingshan and the Spring Temple Buddha

The Spring Temple Buddha is the 22nd on my list of Wonders, a number reflecting simply the original order I'd expected to visit each Wonder rather than the actual order visited (and nothing at all related to any ranking). It is also one of the more enigmatic. Perhaps it is a feature of gigantic statues, but the three tallest in the world garner very little in the way of written material. The Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha in Burma has barely no information - in English, at any rate - on it whatsoever online; in fact, I'd go as far to say that my review is perhaps the best source currently available. The Ushiku Daibutsu has a little more, but largely in the form of personal accounts of visiting it. These are the second and third tallest statues on earth respectively. The tallest is in the middle of nowhere, miles from an unknown city called Pingdingshan, in central China: the Spring Temple Buddha.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Days 212 and 213: Yangtze River Cruise Days 3 and 4

It's fair to say that the first day of our four days of river cruise wasn't really a day at all - we wandered around Chongqing and the boat only left port at 10pm. And the second day, although not unpleasant, wasn't quite the luxury surroundings or the world-class scenery we'd been expecting, and was characterised more by being herded into a Chinese tour group, moving rooms as the walls weren't thick enough to block the passion of the couple next door (in fairness, it would have taken a Great Wall to do so), and scenery that although pleasant veered more towards the industrial than the world-class. Fortunately, on the third day, it came good. And that's because we entered the Three Gorges.

Two of them anyway, I'm not sure what happened to the third. At 10am, as per schedule - the cruise, to its credit, was astonishingly precise as to its schedule - an announcement was made telling everyone to go to the top deck. Burness and I were already there, as we'd noticed the scenery had picked up. Qu Tang Gorge was on its way, and as our English-speaking guide, Tony, informed us, it was most known from being the image on the 10 RMB note.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Days 210 and 211: Yangtze River Cruise Days 1 and 2

The Three Gorges Dam, number 21 on my Wonder list, dams and takes its energy from the Yangtze River. Effectively completed in 2008, it raised the upstream water level by up to an astonishing 180 metres, creating a 600 kilometre long river reservoir and submerging 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1300 villages: in total 1.3 million people had to be resettled prior to its completion. It is down this section of river I find myself, on a supposed "luxury" boat cruise, floating to my destination of the Dam.

Burness and I arrived in the city of Chongqing yesterday, and immediately found ourselves in a rage. We had booked the cruise through our hostel in Chengdu, and had opted for the luxury one as there was to be an English-speaking tour guide, free food, and all our transport dealt with. Also heavily implied was that we'd be given a tour of Chongqing. But upon arriving there at a travel agency without anyone who spoke English I was handed a phone with a mystery man on the line telling me to be back at the travel agents for 7pm boat boarding. It was 11am - why on earth had we got up at 6am just to have to wait around for a day? We would far, far rather have had a lie-in and arrived in Chongqing at a more sensible hour. Like petulant brats, we huffed, and left the travel agents in indignation... and had quite a pleasant day in the end.