I did have high hopes of utilising cheap airfares to Europe to see some of the more exotic sights of Europe in the weekends. A brutal class schedule meant that the weeks took their toll and come the weekend, a bit of R+R was needed rather than jetlag and less sleep. However, I did manage to sort a few trips away with the crew. Plans to see the Northern lights and to St Petersburg will have to wait until another time.
Hillsy, Alice and I locked in a late January adventure to Hungary. Tom’s previous trip there a few years back had been cut short through other dramas so was good to see the sights properly. It is a very impressive city set straddling the Danube. The historic castle and fortifications of the hilly Buda contrast to the the wide avenues that are found on the plains across the river on the of the Pest (‘Pescht’) side.
A lot of the Jewish quarter has been left in a dilapidated state, now featuring a series of ‘ruinas’ bars, with exposed concrete walls, covered in graffiti and home to some of the best bars I have been to. A glibpse into some of Eastern Europe’s rocky 20th century past was also possible at the House of Terror, the former home of the Hungarian Arrow Cross (secret police during WWII Nazi occupation) and then the AVH
secret police during communist occupation. The organised repression, imprisonment and murder of multiple different groups in society was rampant during this rocky period of Hungarian and world history, and unfortunately was not an isoloated occurance.
The trip wouldn’t be complete without some good hungarian sausage and some goulash, washed down with the local drop.
Brian, a mate from uni days had recently made the move to Madrid, so that was all the catalyst that was needed for my first trip to the Iberian peninsula. What started as a couple of us visiting soon included most of the Selwyn crew from London and Andrew tagging in from Paris. Ryanir proved to be on time once again (due to the their intentionally lengthened flight times and subsequent high rates of flights on time) getting us into the hostel some time just before midnight. Spain being Spain, meant that things were only just kicking off, and the sangria flowed to just before the sun came up. Sightseeing was tempered by the attraction of tapas, and an obsessional explosion of geo-busters, a take on the crytic trivia for cities of the world. Many jumped across the border from cryptic to craptic, but it was reminsent of the days of medxico related puns from early days of uni. We must have looked like a very antisocial bunch, all sitting there not talking for minutes at a time, only for a few words to be uttered and then the odd cackle of laughter.
Having already seen a bit of the UK in 1997 on family holiday, my trips around the country were limited. Soph and Shand had reinsured their car, so a weekend away to Bath was locked in. Asty was roped in, and it wasn’t long unti we were cruising the alleys of Bath, and marvelling at the architectural ability of the Romans to build what still stands as a majestic structure. A couple of pub meals sorted out the rest of the trip, including some great meat pie and mashy peas. The trip home was a quaint sunday drive through some English villages and calling in at Avesbury and Stonehenge. Apparently we had a cuppa at the ‘Best Tea Rooms in England’ at the Avebury Manor Tea Rooms, as voted by the National Trust. However, I didn’t see the Dugong or any other porpoises in any rooms there.
Concerning the equipment we had to bring, losing my puffer jacket a couple of days prior was suboptimal timing before heading to the proper snow. One last European adventure was in line before I headed to Africa. Postulation about Easter trips largely relied on Ryanair’s ability to get us to Europe for less than it would cost to buy horse meat in the UK. JK was an advocate for Riga as he had a few mates heading that way, so it was locked in. Growler, a uni mate from Chch social rugby days used to live in Riga and had always sung its praises as a destination for cheap beer, good fun and crazy people. I hadn’t managed to make it whilst he lived there, but so it happened, he was back there for Easter too. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the old town mainly dates from the 19th century. Quaint cobblestone streets with a light dusting of snow, flags proudly hung over doorways, markets selling smoked and cured meats and fish of all varieties and pints of great Latvian beer for $2 set a good scene for the weekend. Derice, Sanka and Yull Brenner made an appearance as we rode an olympic grade bob sled course. JK had had passport mishaps at Stanstead, so we were without Junior to complete the team, instead relying on an olympic bob sledder to take us through our paces. At times when apparently we were pulling 4g, it felt like my spine was going to pancake out. Awesome way to get down a big hill in 45 seconds!
A trip to the Baltic isn’t complete without a trip to the beach. We had been reasurred by other tourists that ice floes that were continuous with the beach for a couple of kms were fine to walk on. And given that one of the ice floes had broken off and drifted into the sea stranding a couple of hundred people a few days earlier, surely that meant that our odds were low?