A Travellerspoint blog

Don't Worry About Global Warming - We Have Bigger Problems

The day we arrived in Great Britain, Queen Liz let it be known that she was tired of her subjects fawning and groveling every time she went out and about. It’s well known that she hasn’t been down to a Bingo parlour since she visited Australia with naughty Princess Anne in 1970. She’s passed the daily grind over to Prince Charlie and his bothersome brood. The next day, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands handed over the reigns of power to her boy (Wille the jogger) who will no doubt now knock off the diet he’s been on and get both feet into the trough of extravagant consumption. I imagine these two old girls have been on the telephone discussing this break out for some time and are now planning to meet at the Casino in Monte Carlo to bath in gin and regret.

It cannot be a coincidence that at the very same time, the many important things that bring comfort and stability to my life all started to fail. I don’t mean Flypaper … now she’s in the UK she’s full of beans and contributing greenhouse gases to the global warming scenario with a rhythm and tone that could get her invited to the Albert Hall for a solo performance at Liz’s going away soirée.
We barely felt the grit of London pollution on our sweaty brows before my brand new, state of the art tablet computer that makes young nerds go wobbly in ecstatic delight to be allowed to say they met a guy who had one, failed. I was tapping away – no that’s not correct – on this machine one creates a composition through a manipulation of advanced technology. In mid sentence it just died. Flypaper suggested that given the quality of the production in progress it may have committed suicide. No amount of restorative effort could get it to even flicker its pretty LEDs. The only downside to the new replacement is the enormous fat power plug that no longer fits into the carefully planned available space remaining in HeeHaw after Flypaper has packed her provisions for every conceivable occasion.

The following day we attended the Moldovan Embassy to receive our Visa’s. Given my earlier telephone discussion and understanding that the ambassador would receive us for morning tea and present us with these rare documents, it came as a disappointment to be greeted by a minion who required us to reapply on the ‘new’ forms that should be submitted together with a ‘Money Order’ from the local Post Office. The last ‘Money Order’ I experienced was as a 9 year old importing my first product. (A semi waterproof quilted jacket called a ‘car coat’ from Hong Kong. Ownership of these garments was on par with a Smartphone today.) On deposit of the funds and documents the minion advised that we should return in 10 days. That provided time for him to enjoy the following weeks religious holiday back home on the shores of a lake where his village friends’ fish for their next meal … something that will no longer be required after Flypaper has stuffed the state treasury with my hard earned liquidity. The problem with the 10 day delay was that (a) we depart England for Europe in 3 days and (b) 10 days later we would have completed our 24 hour contribution to Global Warming at the Nurburgring race track in Germany and be thrashing the flanks of HeeHaw towards Eastern Europe where it is very likely they will also wish to view our passports. 10 days would simply not do. Flypaper solved the problem. She ordered me back into the den of bureaucracy with instructions to dredge up a modicum of charm and point out the benefits of our eventual praises for this yet to be discovered land of 2,519 artificial ponds. The result was that we should return after a lunch to receive our permissions of entry. Mission accomplished.

However, during lunch at a typically quaint and historic English Pub, a new immigrant to the UK considered that we, who have been making a lifetimes solid contribution to the British Empire on its furthest border, would be the recipient of a parking ticket. Not acceptable! I mounted an offensive counterstrike at the local Council office nearby where the parking policeman’s sister (well, there was a tanned complexion similarity) told me in a tone that I did not appreciate, that my displeasure should be taken 6 miles up the road to the Sherriff who has now swopped places with Robin Hood … rob’in the visitors. I arrived there on a mission that took precedence over the next 3 months plans – only to discover they closed for ‘business’ at 4.15pm. It was now 4.30, but the doors were flapping as the lemmings rushed to their nocturnal lairs. This gave me opportunity to sneak inside and sit on a bell that someone had foolishly left on the enquiry counter. Eventually passing escapees stopped to discover if there was a fire, earthquake or bombing raid which gave me opportunity to tell them that I would not be playing their thieving game and that I would fight each and all of them right now. Fortunately a young man who had just returned from a holiday in New Zealand arrived wearing bicycle clips and those plastic hats that provide false expectation. He agreed that it was against the spirit of international relationships and, especially given that his whole family had been weaned on New Zealand lamb and his father had mercifully passed away from arteries clogged with New Zealand butter, he could see no greater calling in life than to offer me assistance. This took the form of providing a document on which I explained my obvious excuse for parking immediately outside the pub (we were hungry AND thirsty) and he photocopied sufficient to clog up the bureaucratic cogs to the point they would accept the futility of pursuing me further. Mission accomplished.

Our next challenge occurred when Flypaper offered her Barclay Bank card to a machine in the hope it would provide funds for future pub lunches. It swallowed the card and (I swear this is true) gave a distinct ‘burp’ of satisfaction. The lady inside the bank admitted that this machine did have an appetite but advised that another branch 6 miles up the road (the other way) could print us new ones. They did and were very pleasant about it, although speed and efficiency are not among their virtues.

The following morning my new watch stopped. Many years ago, just prior to my matrimonial pledge to Flypaper, she offered to give me a wedding ring. “Not #%*&@# likely”. I said. “That’s jewelry – how about an adjustable reversible ratchet spanner for my toolbox”? We reached a compromise and on the day of our nuptials I was presented with a very nice watch. Over time this watch has (choke) developed in me a certain sense of sentimentality. A couple of years ago I reasoned that as we were constantly traveling among thieves and bureaucrats it would be prudent to wear a lesser value timepiece. With Flypapers blessing I purchased a very nice watch and have been delighted with it … until 3 weeks before we left home. I discovered the glass was broken. The manufacturer made a generous offer to heavily subsidise another new unit rather than repair to old. Now, following Prince Charles slight elevation in status, this 2 week old watch failed just down the road from were he lives. Again, I don’t see this as coincidental and am fast concluding that there is some mysterious psychic phenomena occurring simultaneous to the UK is sinking into the Atlantic ocean – probably under the weight of the new immigrants arriving by the container load. As the watch is under warranty I will carry it for 3 months before exchanging it for yet another. In the meantime Flypaper presented me with a temporary replacement at the Chunnel Duty Free Shop. There may be a thinly disguised message in the fact that this watch cost ₤15 … but it will probably last forever.

Those of us in the idyllic South Seas Island have all heard over the past couple of years about the European floods, record snow and heat-waves interspersed with revolting Greeks and the general financial woes of the PIGS. Not bacon – that remains superb and I look forward to it each year. The pigs referred to are Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. They are no longer the favorite neighbours of the Germans who are sick of sending them money without receiving in return the idyllic holidays in azure bays that they used to enjoy. In fact, you could be forgiven for saying (and I hope I will be) that the Germans are really irritated by the outcome of their hard work that sees their prosperity heading to the Mediterranean without them. But never a race to be put down for long, the Germans have found alternative entertainment. At least the ones I know have. These people are surprisingly all involved in motorsport. I meet with them each year in Nurburg where they have an interesting car race circuit known as the Nurburgring. After 15 years I feel that I’m starting to understand the ‘ring’ and the people … when things happen that make me doubt that I do.

During almost the whole of the 6 days we were at Nurburg in the Eifel Mountains it rained. That is unfriendly after travelling so long to get here and anticipating the whole experience for a year. The result of this weather was a slippery track when we were racing which resulted in some intimate moments with the Armco barriers. Nothing serious mind you – just a tender kiss from each of our drivers … to demonstrate our love for this special place. Of huge annoyance however was the fact that the organizers stopped the race after 6 hours because of ‘bad weather’. Excuse me! This is supposed to be an ‘endurance’ race. One where those in the cars make prudent decisions and drive to the conditions. It seems someone is getting soft as the Nurburgring 24 hour race previously had a reputation for continuing no matter what nature or nambie pamby teams threatened. I recall one year a tree fell over but we drove off the track, through the forest around it then back on to the circuit. Another time it snowed so hard that the competitors all formed a line and followed a snow plow around for an hour. Neither fire nor hail nor the treat of political interference would stop it in the past. Now all it takes is a shower of rain that causes the flash new ‘younger’ drivers to throw their cars away in a shower of mud and carbon fibre. Bah! No skill or fortitude when the going gets tough. The race was started again next morning after 10 hours break. Thus we drove in the world’s first 14 hour race. I wonder if my team can expect a refund?

The other matter that makes me wonder, and is the new focus of ‘home entertainment’ in Germany, (so to speak) is the impious spectacle of many of the teams new sponsors. Among many others our own support team proudly displayed their sponsors wares on their transporter, tent, cars and ‘in the flesh’ outside our hospitality tent. Now that the German lads (not to mention some of their frustrated elders), no longer take their testosterone relief on the shores of the Mediterranean, they invite the objects of their remote desire to Germany where they advertise to the greater motorsport community. Isn’t that a sharing and caring idea? This includes those mature visitors like me who are not used to being exposed to ‘erotica’ while attempting a life threatening exercise. It made me feel quite inadequate and just a little bit vulnerable. Take for example, the larger than life poster of a lady in a revealing ensemble that adorned the tent where were ate, entertained our guests and ruminated on matters of universal significance (like: ‘Why doesn’t this @#$%*# rain stop?’). I was driving through a particularly challenging section of the circuit that requires one to picture where the road goes over a blind brow. This involves quite a bit of application of the little grey cells that keep one alive … including subtle turns left then right and the application of gentle left foot braking while maintaining full throttle … at about 170kpm on a greasy track while being stalked by a 600hp Porsche that is 2 meters wide and traveling 40kph faster, flashing his lights in intimidation. In the middle of this ‘recreational’ pursuit I believe I saw the lady depicted on our tent wall standing on the side of the track. Well … at least the cleavage was the same.

We survived the famous ‘Green Hell’ plus 2 days of recuperation during which Flypaper spent quality time with a washing machine. This is important. The two loads will enable her to last almost a week before we must again find her solace in the white powder. Today we leave Germany and Western Europe bound for new challenges in the East. I understand we are venturing into Dracula’s lair very soon. So … as our German friends say … Gute Fahrt.
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Posted by Wheelspin 12:33 Tagged england germany uk gb nurburgring Comments (0)

Here We Go Again

Black Sea Circumnavigation

View A Merry Go Around on Wheelspin's travel map.

Flypaper has been hanging around (and I've been stuck to her) for 38 years … you would think by now that she would understand that all I want is a peaceful existence pottering around the garden or attending to the list of tasks she has prepared to make her life perfect … Whoa! What’s that? There must be some ‘substances’ in the air, or perhaps it’s the Satay I’ve just eaten here on Malaysian MH004.

Following our return from the 3 Baltic States last year where we climbed their highest mountain (304 meters), doubled the flow of their highest waterfall (30.5 meters) by relieving my bladder under the viewing bridge, and offended over 4 million inhabitants, Flypaper checked her large map of the world. Just like Columbus a few years back, she discovered an area of the map that she hadn’t been to previously. This was a trio of small countries collectively known as the ‘Caucuses’. These ancient countries have been inhabited almost since Eve convinced Adam that the apples would provide delirious delights and he foolishly checked out the claim. Imagine life if Adam had been a bit wiser. (He and I have a lot in common other than poor dress sense.)
They nestle strategically on the crossroads between the Mediterranean, Africa, Europe and Asia – right on the ancient donkey trails used by most of the ambitious tyrants who cruised around that part of the world raping and pillaging and putting the heads of people with conflicting attitudes up on tall sticks to encourage their friends to get back to work providing taxes for their new boss.
Their other claim to notoriety is the fact that all of the worlds grape vines originate from this region. That wine you are using to provide courage to read these snippets of wisdom probably had its genetic geneses right in the middle of Flypapers wish list. Had Alexander the Great (who, by the way, was a cross dresser) been aware of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ he may have sorted the problems of many dependant imbibers’ out right at the birth of the viticulture industry by selectively pruning a few vintners.

Flypaper noticed that driving from London, where we keep our long suffering but trusty transport appropriately known as ‘HeeHaw’, required crossing Western then Eastern Europe, then driving through Turkey. She then decided if we turned left and cruised up through southern Russia, Ukraine and Moldova we are almost back to the UK. This includes 20 countries (a few twice - although that depends on any incidents during the first visit that may make it prudent to find an alternative route home), 2 car ferry crossings, transiting 2 current war zones and a total distance of over 12,000km in 3 months. (There’s a map associated with this blog somewhere. Sounds like a doddle. She advised her chauffeur that we would circumnavigate the Black Sea. When she mentioned Moldova I scurried off to consult all-knowing Wikipedia. I had previously thought that Moldova was a country dreamed up by the Brothers Grim where witches hang out with tall pointy hats stirring big black pots containing bats wings, frogs’ entrails and careless children. I was wrong – it’s a real country where the witches wear cloths stolen in Paris.

Well-meaning friends at our counselling sessions suggested that we may be wise to consider an alternative trip this year. They suggested Norfolk Island. They reasoned that as I grow older, my propensity to suffer those who disrupt the flow of my carefully arranged plans, becomes visibly obvious. I do agree that the military at many national boarders do annoy me when they poke their Kalashnikov up my nostrils and there are times I harbour thoughts of starting an international crisis by encouraging Flypaper to expose her prejudices. However, we overcome these incidents by employing our well tried modus operandi. We act like a couple of elderly people who became lost on the way to Bingo after collecting their pension. The armed bureaucrats usually look at their comrades, shake their heads and wave us along. If this strategy fails we declare for their inspection, Flypapers ‘SheWee’. (This is a very handy device for a middle aged woman on a winning streak at Bingo.) While not the final resort, this has never failed to hasten our border crossing experience.

Preparation for this journey started in November. It’s not possible to do too much planning as the situation in a lot of these places is ‘fluid’. Additionally, some of the countries that insist on keeping their consulate employees actually working between cocktail parties, won’t issue visas until within 3 months of ones arrival at their border. While we can do most of the prep ourselves we did enlist the help of a lovely Ukrainian Travel Agent who lives near Sydney (Google - Beyond Tours) to sort out the bureaucratic requirements of entry into Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. These countries require ‘invitations’ to visit, documents in Russian and prepaid accommodation that requires discussions with Russian speaking hostellers. I could see the wisdom in having Natalya undertake the translations as it could prove unfortunate if, in answer to the question, “Have you booked and paid for your hotels”, I was to inadvertently write, “The chamber couch you call mother cost me 1000 Roubles per night”.
Nataliya is to be recommended. Unfortunately I failed to follow her instructions perfectly and Flypapers initial application to enter a country that shall remain anonymous, was returned ‘declined’ 18 days before our departure from New Zealand. The reapplication was quickly made with the missing translated documentation that we had never previously required when visiting this country. When we had not received results 6 days before leaving NZ I called the visa officer at the embassy and in my best grovelling tones enquired regarding the status of our applications. He responded saying that they had not yet been considered. In a much modulated voice used to disguise my escalating annoyance and concern I pointed out that their excellent and very informative web site had suggested the issue would be completed in 3 – 10 days. We were now at day 11. He responded that it was always done on the 10th ‘working’ day and proceeded to explain our calendar. The applications and passports arrived on Friday after lunch so that day was not counted. Saturday / Sunday were obviously not counted. Monday / Tuesday were good. Wednesday was his day off. Thursday was ANZAC day holiday and the embassy had decided to take a long weekend off (including Friday). That’s 5 days not counted. Monday was good and the day of my enquiry, Tuesday, made 4 days into the schedule. Tomorrow, Wednesday, was the start of the Orthodox Church Easter 10 day holiday … so the earliest we could expect a decision was May 14th – 9 days after we planned to leave New Zealand and right in the middle of the period I was racing a car at the Nurburgring 24hr event in Germany. We have been facing these small ticklish problems long before this bureaucrat was born so I proceeded to lead him to a satisfactory solution. We finally agreed that if Flypaper scurried to the bank and obtained a certified bank cheque for a further $220 (double the standard visa fees) and sent it in a tracked courier envelope and I email my new best friend within an hour with attached scans of the bank receipt, the cheque and the courier receipt, he would dedicate 10 minutes immediately following his afternoon tea to issuing the visa’s and putting them in the courier today. We did, he did – we received our passports with visas the next morning. There are times I think gardening may be a more rewarding experience.

We had booked on Korean Airlines before Christmas to take advantage of a demon deal. A couple of weeks ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Pessimistic Advice, issued a notice saying that if we exposed ourselves to Kim Jong Un’s threatened Nuclear Bomb, they would not accept responsibility for returning our ashes to the family plot and considered that our insurers were unlikely to contribute to our estates. Having watched Kim’s growing popularity in North Korea based on a bizarre haircut and suspecting he hadn’t considered that exploding a nuclear device would only lengthen the queues at the rice soup kitchens, I considered it was a fair call. In my measured opinion Kim was quite likely to drop a bomb on Japan just to teach America a lesson. Given this, we changed our flights to Malaysian Air Services. Our reasoning was that the Malaysian hostesses are prettier (although the Koreans serve a brew that improves their girls as we fly along), their planes run on environmentally friendly mango juice, their food options did not include crunchy fried grasshopper in curdled goats wee as served on Korean Air and, if the bomb is deployed, at the new distance from ground zero, it would only add depth to our enviable Kiwi sun tans. I made a mental note not to walk behind metal bared windows while in Kuala Lumpur because should the unspeakable occur, I may end up with a striped complexion.

Although almost to the start line there remains a few issues to resolve. We require a Moldovan Visa that, following a telephone discussion with a charming but noncommittal Trade Commissioner in London, may be issued when we visit him – notwithstanding that, his website says he will only issue to British Passport holders. Perhaps at school he learned that the sun never sets on the British Empire and that both New Zealand and Australia as shown as red on the map indicating our love and affection to Her Majesty Queen Liz who will have most certainly welcomed him to the UK at a very swanky cocktail party. Another issue relates to a current ‘tiff’ between Turkey and Armenia. We understand that the Armenians became upset over something and closed their boarder. In retaliation Turkey stopped flying their aircraft into Yerevan. Should this not be resolved our fall-back plan is to leave HeeHaw with friends in Turkey and to fly into neighbouring Georgia where a local tour company will take us through the 3 countries in 2 weeks in a car with 1 guide who considers he knows where the very best wineries are to be found. We had to take a car ferry across the corner of the Black Sea anyway because the boarders between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya (Russia) are closed. The final issue is the possible addition of Poland to the route if the border between Ukraine and Moldova is closed. Currently there are some ethnic people who wish to have their own territory to govern – although some say the Ukrainian Mafia want their own country to make some interesting international currency laws. Breakaways of this nature are common everywhere and include places in the ‘Western’ World (e.g. Scotland, Tasmania and the South Island of NZ.) It can’t be bad because the world gets a net gain in politicians and bureaucrats. Yep – it must be the Satay that makes me think like this.

If you wish to suffer further you may want to read our previous travel blog ... 25,000km with a Washing Machine -http://wheelspin.travellerspoint.com/toc/ ...
( For some reason the pictures shown on this blog relate to that journey - at present. )

Posted by Wheelspin 06:13 Tagged turkey car_travel crimea moldova eastern_europe black_sea overland_tours caucuses Comments (0)

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