Sunday, November 28, 2010

Getting the blog back on track

Hello again. I've decided to get the blog up-to-date whatever happens today, even if it means writing a haiku or a one-word summary of the last few days. It'll probably start with a flourish and end with a whimper, but at least I'll be able to go out this evening relaxed in the knowledge that I've done as much as I can to keep you posted.

Right, Tuesday is probably going to be more detailed, because it was the last day I actually wrote an entry in my diary, so let's start with that (I can just copy it word for word!):

Tuseday 23rd November 2010

After a good night's sleep I woke up to an empty house, well almost empty, because Amalia, the cleaner, was downstairs. I had been warned about this the night before, plus the fact that I would need my best Spanish to communicate, so it didn't come as a total shock. Well, I managed to understand when she asked if I was having breakfast inside or out (outside, obviously!) and from there our conversation progressed onto the good old stand-by topic of the weather.

After breakfast (Italian style) I went to meet Axel at the hotel where he works. It's a lovely boutiquey place only a few blocks from where Camila lives (I'm having to get used to everything being in blocks here, much like in the USA). We then went to the bank (successful extraction of Pesos) before heading back to Camila's for lunch. After lunch I spent a while catching up on internetty stuff (wow, this is informative stuff... I'm even boring myself here!) before Martín and Juliette came proferring cakes. OMG, what an abundance of goodness! I managed 3 with a cup of tea (thus allowing this little rhyme). Martín ate eight! Yes, you read that right. It is one more than seven.

I had previously agreed with Axel to go out with him, Carolina and Lourdes for an aperitif. So, no sooner had I licked my lips clean of sugar, than I was sat in a pavement cafe in Los Lomitas, drinking an artisanal beer (a lovely caramel/honey-tasting fruity affair) and consuming "picada" (a vast board of meats and cheeses + olives, crisps, peanuts and aubergine [not a whole, raw aubergine (obviously), but pieces, cooked and marinated in oil and vinegar, and a bit too much salt!]).

Then, just in case I wasn't already full enough, it was back to Camila's in time for dinner. If I carry on eating at this rate, I will exceed the rate of weight gain that I achieved in Italy (which in itself was a staggering 3kg in 2 weeks). If I keep going at this rate, that equates to at least 2 stone(s) over the course of my trip. Instead of writing this diary entry, I felt I should have gone for a long walk instead, but lethargy overcame me and I decided to go for a calorie-burning 9-hour sleep instead. Tomorrow: el Capital!

Wednesday 24th November

After a glorious uninterrupted sleep (I have slept so well in Cami's room, it has been wonderful, for which I owe her a massive debt of gratitude - Thank you!), I went with Martín (who had kindly offered to accompany me) to get the train into the centre. I had been warned about how dirty, congested and generally unpleasant it was, but I have to say it was no worse than the London Underground. And, of course, there is the added benefit of it being a cultural insight into the place that I am visiting (Cumbia music and ambulant sellers being prime examples)!

After saying goodbye to Martín - he had to go and sit an exam, I walked up Av. 9 July (otherwise known as "My Birthday Avenue" - which also happens to be Independence Day in Argentina) to the obelisk and then back down to Cami's university to meet her after her exam (exam season is in full swing in Argentina at the moment, as it is approaching the end of the academic year). As befits the widest avenue in the world, it was very wide indeed. And very busy too! My first impressions were of a hectic modern city, teeming with life.

After we met up, we walked north, via Plaza Libertad, The Palace of Justice and Teatro Colon, to Plaza San Martín. Here, Cami said goodbye (to go to work at her mother's school - every mother owns a school in Monte Grande - or, from the people I have met, so it seems!). I then proceeded to explore the centre, Puerto Madero and San Telmo, before getting the train back (all by myself - which everyone was terribly impressed by, given my apparent naiviety and innocence abroad!!!). I was probably most impressed with Puerto Madero (modern expansiveness, with some beautiful new parks), and San Telmo (historic quaintness with Tango Dancers in the central square). But I also really like Plaza San Martín, which boasts (god, that sounds like a brochure!) a very large tree in the centre and the glorious blue flames of Jacaranda trees all around. Naturally, the lack of public toilets of course causes me a few problems (god, that sounds like I've got bona fide prostate problems!), but I'm managing, through a mixture of enforced dehydration and making the most of any opportunity that arises!

For a bit more colour and detail re the above, I can let the photos do the talking:

I was pretty tired in the evening, so I am assuming that after dinner (al fresco - que lindo!) we didn't do very much (apart from sit around and chat). However, when it is so balmy (and the air fragrant with jasmine), sitting around chatting is a lovely thing to do...

Thursday 25th November

Thursday was a virtual repeat of Wednesday, albeit in a different area of the city and with the company of Martín for more of the day. Again, we got the train into the centre together (this time it was free [because they didn't have any change!] instead of the extortionate sum of 1.35 pesos [about 20p]). This time I had the added adventure of getting the underground [1.10 pesos] and took in the sights of Retiro, Recoleta and Palermo (the highlights of which were the cemetery and the botanical gardens). However, I enjoyed the relative opulence of Recoleta and Palermo, where the tree-lined avenues reminded me of Paris and Rome (the newer bits) respectively. Oh, and the underground was also free on the way back (this time because the electronic gates weren't working). I'm doing well from the already well-state-subsidised public transport system.

Cami's Milanesas in the evening were a culinary triumph, and I once again went to bed full and tired after a busy but fulfilling day. Oh, yes, and I also went to visit Amelia's English school before dinner (Amelia is the lady who organises the Argentinian trip to S.I.S.). Much like when I was in Locorotondo, I was invited to play an active role in a lesson, speaking to the students and getting an interesting insight into what life is like in an overseas language school (as it happens it reminded me a lot of Italy, which Argentina is managing to do in many ways!)

Friday 26th November

Nursing still-sore feet from the previous two days, I decided to take it easy on Friday and spend the day in Monte Grande (at least during the day). In the afternoon I went to Carolina's mother's school, where I spoke to some of the teachers and students. It was a nice afternoon (very hot too - the temperature has been on the increase since I arrived, along with a lot of sunshine [I burnt my nose and neck walking around the city] - reaching 32 degrees on Friday). There seem to be a lot of small private schools in Monte Grande, but I think it's just a co-incidence that I've met 3 people whose mothers own 3 different schools!

After a mid-afternoon ice-cream stop (dulce de leche and walnut and bitter chocolate - yum!), in the evening we went round to one of Cami's friend's houses (Tincho), for pizza and drinks (Fernet Branca and coke, an Argentinian classic!), prior to going to another friend's graduation party in a bar/nightclub in Palermo. In true Argentinian style we didn't get to the club until 2am and I managed to stay the distance until 6am (sweating buckets in the process... I don't think the temperature dropped much from the peak it had reached during the day). Still, despite being rather a late night for me (according to the others it was early - they don't usually get back until 8am!), it was a lot of fun. The club and the company were both great, so I didn't mind losing a few hours sleep in the process!

Saturday 27th November

Saturday started slowly after such a late night (early morning), but soon picked up pace when we went out for lunch. We had asado (number 2!), which comprised the following:

Matambre (a special cut of beef, stuffed with a filling, rather like your stuffed breast of lamb, Mum!)
Vacío (another cut of beef)
Chinculines (chitterlings - your favourite, Dad, and Cami's dad's favourite too!)
Morcilla (black pudding)
Chorizo (I hope you all know what that is - although it's a little bit different from it's Spanish cousin)
Molleja (sweetbreads - which aren't testicles [a common misapprehension] but a gland found in the neck of a cow, I believe - although I'm happy to stand corrected by any butchery expects out there)
Red peppers (for a token veg content!)

It was all delicious and accompanied by a couple of different salads and red wine (of course). We then visited some elderly relatives of Cami's family, which was interesting as they were former grocers and still had the old-fashioned grocery shop (sadly now closed) attached. It was like a walk down memory lane (meat-slicers and scales bringing back assorted childhood memories)...

I'm now writing this prior to another late night (this time a party/gathering at Monte Grande Rugby Club). But before that I'm going to make dinner and have something to drink...

I hope all is well with you.

Best wishes,
James xx

Friday, November 26, 2010

Actually telling you something about Argentina (maybe)

Afternoon folks.

I've got precisely 30 minutes before going out for an ice-cream (to help bridge the gap between lunch and the late Argentinian dinner). You'll be pleased to hear that "operation weight-gain" is proceeding nicely! So, as I sit here, laying down fat into my adipose tissue, I'm going to start telling you about what's happened since I left you last time (on the way to the airport). Without further ado, here goes:

Sunday 21st November 2010 (continued) was a bit of a long wait at the aiport (4 hours of trying not to fall asleep and miss my flight), but I must say that I felt at home in Terminal 1 (after what must be more than 30 or 40 Saturdays over the last couple of years, already idled away there). I did the obligatory perfume-testing, loitered around in case of whisky tasting (there was none) and generally mooched around to kill the time.

The flight left more or less on time and was okay but no more (Qatar and Singapore's respective airlines have clearly spoilt me). 3 stars, at a push. The meal/drink service was cursory to say the least, but I did manage to procure a red wine and a (large) whisky, so that helped to knock me out. I even managed a solid 3-hour stretch of kip at one point, which must surely be some kind of record for a male member of the Wood family.

The flight was generally uneventful (not even that much turbulence to get excited about), but I was sat next to an interesting character. He is what I can only describe as a Brazilian boxer/cage-fighter, which I am obviously guessing at (we had no formal communication), but judging by his rude manner ("oi, more coke" to the flight attendant), buldging biceps and the fact that he punched me a couple of times while I was sleeping would seem to hint in this direction. But, (in the words of the passenger arriving back home from Lanzarote last December) I survived!

Monday 22nd November 2010

I arrived at Sao Paulo airport about 2 hours ahead of schedule, which meant a rather long wait for my connecting flight. The airport didn't provide much of an insight into Brazil, although there were some fantastically atmospheric views of the surrounding favelas on the way out. And OMG, the city is HUGE. It goes on forever. Wow.

Unforunately, despite having an optimally-located window seat (no wing to obscure the view - well, obviously the plane had a wing - two of them, in fact - but I was sat near the back) it was cloudy most of the way down to B.A. It did break up a bit over the River Plate, so I could see the beast of a (brown) river making its mighty way out to sea (also brown, albeit slightly less so). And then B.A. was sprawled out below, seemingly as vast as S.P. We landed slightly ahead of schedule and I have to say the flight was a vast improvement on the first leg. There was even a choice of food this time (chicken or meat). I assumed the meat was some kind of Brazilian bush-meat/road-kill (or at least, something without a name), so I went for the chicken instead. Accompanied by red wine (obtained after a lengthy exchange - me: "red wine, please", hostess: "water?", me: "no, red wine, please", hostess: eh?, me: "RED WINE", hostess "quizzicle expression", me: *points to bottle*...). We got there in the end, and it was rather a nice Argentinian Malbec at that.

So, we land and wait on the tarmac for what seems like an eternity (obviously getting a bit excited at this point). And then, after worrying about being stopped by immigration and customs (for no particular reason - just officialdom-inspired paranoia), I found myself in the arrivals hall before I knew it.

Carina was the first person I saw, swiftly followed by Axel, Camila and Lourdes (in alphabetical order, so as not to discriminate). Needless to say I was very happy to see them on my first (ever) day in South America. They dropped me off at Camila's house in Monte Grande (not far from the airport), where I had a quick shower (and sit down) before we headed over to Camila's Aunt's house for her birthday party. It's quite different from Monte Grande (which is a proper town, albeit attached to Buenos Aires). It was a nice modern house on a gated compound, with lovely wooded grounds. We were a bit late for lunch (it was my second of the day - having had the first one on the plane at about 10am). It was a typical Argentinian asado (BBQ) - gorgeous meat washed down with a very nice bottle of Patagonian Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (not the whole bottle - I'm not that bad - at least, not on the first day). So, just over 2 hours in the country and I had already experienced  my first asado/red wine combination. And the hospitality extended to me was amazing. Everyone was so welcoming, I cannot describe how well they managed to put me at ease (my first few hours on the continent and I already felt at home).

After eating we went for a walk around the complex, admiring the trees and plants (which looked lovely in their late spring glory - this reminds me of the "don't the trees look beautiful at this time of year" taxi incident in Durham!). It seemed strange leaving in late autumn and arriving in late spring. But, obviously a very good kind of strange. The weather was bright and warm (low 20s I would guess). A nice gentle introduction, indeed. After birthday cake and bubbly we drove back to Camila's house, at which point we had a light shower, just so that I didn't feel too homesick!

Dinner was empanadas (Argentinian pasties) and I stuck it out until 10:30pm before collasping into bed. In summary, after a long and tiring journey I found a fanstastic welcome waiting for me at the other end. Things bode very well indeed....

Well, it's ice-cream time! I'm going to have to be more concise with future updates, because I'm already 4 days behind schedule! Whoops (that's whoops as is "oh dear", rather than whoops as in "makes sound like an American expressing mild interest"). So much for good intentions!

I hope all is well with you in a cold and snowy England (sorry... I feel a bit guilty, but I only escaped the winter, I didn't create it!).

Best wishes,
Love J xx

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Voice from the Other Side (of the Atlantic)


I made it! I fell from the sky (not literally... it was actually quite a soft landing) and Argentina opened it's arms to catch me. In other words, I've landed on my feet, good and proper. I arrived yesterday and had a small welcoming committee at the aiport to meet me (you know who you are... and I am very grateful). That was just over 24 hours ago, and in that time I have been made to feel very much at home, so have settled in already. I think I'm going to like it here! :-)

Anyway, to start at the beginning, I thought I would tell you briefly (or not so briefly, knowing my own propensity for unedited waffle) about my weekend in London, because that too was fun, and provided a nice transition from the calm of Sidmouth to the big city action of Buenos Aires. So, chronologically speaking, this is what I've been up to the last few days. I'm getting into the spirit of the siesta (i.e. not doing anything during the afternoon... but instead of sleeping,  I'm using the time to keep virtually connected to the outside world). Anyway, from the beginning, here goes:

Saturday 20th November 2010

I made use of the wonderful (and now world-famous) SIS bus service to London Heathrow, with Gareth and Helen for company (thanks guys). It evoked wonderful memories of all the Heathrow runs I've done over the last 3 years (and I'm not even being sarcastic). We even stopped at Fleet Services for old times' sake. No free fry-up this time though (with only one student on the list, it would probably have been pushing it a bit too far).

Upon arrival in London I met up with Tiziano (who was waiting for me when I got there - surely a first for a Southern Italian, being 15 minutes early!). We went to the Saatchi Gallery which was, apart from a couple of exhibits (featuring used sump oil and dried instects respectively), a bit, well, er, to be frank, crap. Still, we had a nice walk through Holland Park and Kensington, looking at various posh pads and posh people. Nice to see how the other half (or rather, the other 0.01%) live.

After returning to the hotel for a shower we met up with Alex and Sara (from Surrey and Puglia respectively, but all connected via Locorotondo), who had been ice-skating in Hyde Park. The walk was rather longer than anticipated (Hyde Park is a bit bigger than Arcot Park, as it turns out), and the corner of Hyde Park devoted to a Christmas-themed fun fair was absolutely heaving (interesting people-watching, mind). After meeting up with the others it was decided (note the use of the passive) to go and get dinner in Covent Garden. It wasn't exactly the evening of pubs and carefully-researched dining in Notting Hill that I had in mind, but I've got to learn to be more spontaneous and anyway it turned out well in the end. I had a lovely lamb steak and the house wine was eminently quaffable. The highlight of the evening for Tiziano was the visit to the Apple Store (Dad - you'd have loved it too), where he managed to get his damaged iphone replaced (which he had been unable to do in Italy), showing us all that the all-powerful Apple customer service machine is alive and well (even in the biggest Apple store in the world). Well done Apple: another satisfied customed (and an impressed bystander)!

Sunday 21st November 2010

After the inevitable sleepless night (excitement unfortunately overrode the very comfortable and quiet hotel room), we met up with Carole, Ed and nephew at the Science Museum (what a load of patronising old tat that is!). I ate the most ridiculously over-sweetened chocolate brownie every made (even Greg Wallace would have turned his nose up at that), which further clouded my judgement. I won't be going back there: even free is too expensive. Anyway, it was nice to see Carole and Ed, even if it wasn't so nice to feel nauseous for the whole morning (I blame the combination of nerves and sugar-intoxication).

We wandered back over to Notting Hill for lunch. The first pub was rammed (Windsor Castle was the name - very atmospheric and cosy-looking), so we moved on. The next two pubs didn't do food, but then we found one (The Churchill Arms) with a Thai restaurant attached, which was a bargain to boot (7 pounds for a massive curry/stir fry). Finally, we wandered along Portobello Road before heading back to the hotel to collect bags and make our way to the airport. After saying the last goodbye to the known it was unknown here I come...

After waffling on for ages, I've run out of time and not even actually told you anything about my first impressions of Argentina. Martin and Juli are about to come over and then I've got an appointment with Axel, Lourdes and Carolina. What a busy social whirl! Oh well, (if you're interested) you'll just have to come back for more later...

Monday 22nd November 2010: please come back for an update

Tuesday 22nd November 2010: it hasn't even finished yet. Be patient!

PS The spell check is in Spanish, so please excuse any misspellings, typos, gross misuse of the English language, or other content liable to offend those of you with more delicate lingual sensibilities (sensitive tongues?). If anyone would like to be my editor, please post your pedantic comments below!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Packing Procrastination

  1. ¡Buenas tardes!

With just 3 days, 3 hours and 9 minutes remaining, a small error has been brought to my attention.

It was kindly pointed out to me today (thanks Simon), that the title of my blog was somewhat misleading, given that I'm still actually in Sidmouth. I was umming and aaaaaaaaahing (that's with a Devon accent, hence the preponderance of "a"s) about a name change, and was (fleetingly) considering the following:

1. A Sidmouthian at Home
2. A Sidmouthian in Sidmouth
3. Still at home (with a Load of Geriatrics*)
4. Counting Down the Days (in God's Waiting Room)...
5. A Load of Old Pre-Travel Bollocks

In the end I settled for the above (that's "A Sidmouthian (Almost) Abroad" for the sake of prosperity, i.e. once I remove the bracketed item from the blog in precisely 4 days). In order to please the pedants among you I envisage that it will read "A Sidmouthian (Travelling) Abroad" for the duration of my flight. I hope there's free internet in São Paulo airport so that I can make said change forthwith.

If it wasn't already patently obvious (the title was a not-so-subtle hint), I should really be sorting out what to take with me instead of writing this mierda de toro. But procrastination always was my strong point.

Just to prove I'm still in Sidmouth, here's another wintry photo for your delectation (dedicated to all those who have been to Sidmouth at some point in their (undoubtedly-enriched-as-a-result) lives:

Hasta Luego amigos,

James xx
*I'm not referring to my colleagues, by the way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wintry Sky

A wintry photo taken from Core Hill (that's in Sidmouth for any non-locals), to remind myself of what I'll be leaving behind (in 5 days, 2 hours and 9 minutes). I can't wait (no, really. I really can't wait... it's like being desperate for the toilet. And I'm about to burst [most of you know how weak my bladder is]. In fact, it's starting to make me a go a little bit [more] crazy [than usual]). Ooh, lots of brackets: normal service has most definitely been resumed.

Gotta go (to the toilet)...

J xx

Monday, November 15, 2010

7 days away

Good evening peeps. In an attempt to keep up the momentum on the blog front (and thus increase the chances of actually keeping it going once en route), I thought I'd attempt a postette prior to making dinner. I haven't got anything remotely interesting to say, but it's now less than 7 days until I leave for warmer climes and, all being well, this time next week I'll be basking in the sunshine of the Southern Hemisphere (they're 3 hours behind us, by the way, so it's currently 14:41 for all you time-zone aficionados out there). Yay to that (the sunshine bit, that is... whilst I am a bit of a geography geek, the time difference isn't something I get really excited about).

For those unaware of the details, I'll be in Argentina for 90 days in total... starting out in Buenos Aires... meeting up with a bunch of the nicest students I have ever taught (you know who you are!) and seeing where the wind blows me from there. I've got vague ideas of where to go and what to do (wine-tasting!) but no concrete plans. I'm not intending to rush around ticking sights off a list. I just want to get a flavour of the country (which in my mind is currently a combination of beef and red wine, with a bit of dulce de leche sweetness to finish and maybe a touch of Fernet bitterness on a Friday night). I would also like learn a bit of Spanish and (perhaps most importantly) escape from the winter blues. If I achieve all that then it will be mission accomplished. I'll be as happy as Larry (is that Larry the lamb? [come on, admit it, who else read that in a tremulous voice?] Hmm... Just wondering...). Anything else will simply be an added bonus.

Well, that's enough twaddle for now. It's time to load up on carbs and fibre before the onslaught of protein begins...

Have a good evening!

James xx

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Good evening from a cold, wet, autumnal Sidmouth (it's decidedly dreary here today). It's been a while (over 3 years, in fact) since I posted anything on this blog. It's not that I've been in prison or anything, or even stuck in Sidmouth for the whole time. I just haven't felt the need to blog about travelling during the last third of a decade. "Why's that?" the more curious among you may ask (or not). Well, it's probably because I don't actually consider myself to have "travelled" in that time. I've lived in Sweden, yes. I've been a tourist in a lot of other places, too, yes. But the backpack has stayed in the attic during the whole of that time. But no longer! It came down this morning (not of it's own accord, I went up there to get it, obviously), I blew the dust off and opened all the pockets to give it a good airing. And I also found a few mementos inside that had been there since it was put away all that time ago. A random assortment indeed: a pair of chopsticks, a fly net/hat, a camping knife, fork and spoon set and a CD. Odd, but interesting and memory-provoking.

And it's now just one week (almost to the hour) until I leave for Argentina, so I thought it would be a good idea to get back on the blog bicycle. I may have fallen off (and stayed lying on the ground for a considerable time), but I haven't forgotten how to do it. Hell no! Well, maybe I'm a little bit rusty, but I'm sure I'll soon be able to pick up where I left off (not literally, because I'll be nowhere near Brisbane or Fiji this time). All of which means the rambling is back... the over-long sentences with too many brackets (within brackets)... the tangential thoughts... the random observations... the arcane language. And maybe some smileys too, just to prove that I can keep with the times as much as someone half my age. ;-)

So, as the excitement builds, I will leave it there for now. Feel free to comment, question, criticise (not too much of the latter... I can be quite sensitive, you know)... It's your blog as much as it's mine (how naff does that sound? - a sure sign of the crassness to come!)

Well, have a good evening y'all. Happy reading...

James xx