Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New experiences / Deep-rooted hate

Way back in the summer of last year, two friends and I found ourselves on a mini surf-trip to a beach near Swansea. As we kicked a ball around on the beach we talked about our shared passion for all board sports, and in particular - surfing. We were in our element with our boards in the back of a beaten up estate car, tents pitched right next to the beach, food on the barbecue hissing and the beautiful, calming sound of beer chilling in the cooler. As you do in that situation we decided that it'd be a good idea to meet up more than once every three years and we talked about where to go next. A few beaches and countries were banded about but my attention was finally grabbed when one friend suggested that we got together again to go skiing over the winter. I was over the moon - the closest I'd ever been to skiing was standing on a home-made death trap (sledge) and hurtling down an extremely steep (rock-studded) Welsh hill-side towards a barbed wire fence and a freezing cold river. Which in itself, was always pretty exhilarating - will I cut my head off? Will I get hypothermia? Will I just crack my head open on a rock? Nevertheless, I was ready for the next step.

Fast forward a few months and I'm sitting with an array of warm clothing and ski equipment strewn around my room and my ever-faithful rucksack sitting empty, eagerly waiting to be filled to the brim - which signals that it's time for another adventure. Perhaps foolishly, the only 'lesson' I've had was on Friday night when my housemate Becca (with beer in one hand) told me to just 'bend my knees and don't cross my skis'. I can see myself falling over quite a lot and perhaps wiping out a few ten year olds as I career down the nursery slopes - but that's half the fun, isn't it?

My excitement has been replaced with a massive pang of guilt, I've realised we're going to the sort of place that I swore I'd never, ever set foot. We're going to Andorra, and more specifically to a place named Pas de la Casa. Other names include 'Mandorra' and 'Essex-on-ice'. The skiing may be fun but it's the nightlife I'm more concerned about, with an unofficial 7:1 male to female ratio, the music policies in clubs ranging from 'mature cheddar' to 'stilton' and the reps (who annoy me to high hell) who spend their summers in Ibeefa seem to congregate here in the winter. When I'm abroad I hugely dislike seeing large groups of Brits getting leathered and annoying everyone else - I've come to despise such sights. Hopefully it won't be as I'm expecting, but I fear that I'm going to have to put on a t-shirt displaying the words :-

"Sorry for all the pricks that have invaded your country in the worst possible way"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Get cracking

Somewhere in between crashing (90% asleep) into bed at my parents house on 20th December and the walk to work this morning, Christmas 2007 happened. In 2006, the run-up to Christmas was an uncontrollable party-fest with people to see and places to be, this year I took a far more relaxed approach. So relaxed in fact, that I slept far more than I'd ever slept in my life. Breakfast at 2pm, lunch at 6pm and snacking before bed at 10pm was a schedule I stuck to rigidly until the 26th December.

Boxing Day
The 26th December is one of the biggest days out of the year in West Wales - I have no idea why. As usual, we all ended up ridiculously drunk and falling about in the quality event venue that is St.Davids rugby club. The days drinking came to a halt at 2am and the next half an hour was spent looking for our clothes (some literally), our friends and finally the exit. My good friend Bledd, who I was due to stay with, had disappeared which meant that two of us had to find our own way back. The walk home at 2:30am on a cold December night was actually nicer than it sounds, a cold, dry wind blew hard from the Irish sea and the moon lit the countryside enough for us to avoid any ditches at the side of the road. Our beer coats were more than adequate protection from the elements.

I'd originally intended to head back to Cardiff, but a (pretty harsh) Christmas day traffic offence committed meant I had to go back to my house in the hills to pick up all the insurance details etc for the Po-lice.

I waited on a cold, wet, windswept and - apart from myself - deserted train station in the morning to catch a train which travelled at a speed which would ensure a 2nd place finish in a race against a glacier. The time was passed constructively, by sleeping the whole way - I may have been snoring/farting, by the time we arrived in Cardiff the train was packed apart from the seat next to me - happy days. A few hours dicking around in Cardiff went quickly and I hopped onto another train to get down to London. I was greeted by some friends, and five shots of vodka. Not wanting to drink somewhere we'd been before, we turned out attention to Caledonian Road - the local cab driver later told us that not even he would have gone into any of the pubs on that street, because they were 'dodgy'. We laughed it off and told him to try going to a bar in Estonia and incurring the wrath of some angry, drunk Russians before calling a pub 'dodgy'.

I've never caught a flight without a hangover, the 29th of December was no exception. The 18:45 from London to Berlin was a little bit painful but with the help of a bottle of water and a complicated book I made it through. I rocked up to an apartment in East Berlin fully recovered from the night before and joined in the warm up for new years with a bunch of Swedes, Germans, French, Danes and a Finish guy named Jari.

30th Dec - 2nd Jan
Without doubt, this was the best New Years I've ever had. Displaying the full extent of my vocabulary, I would describe Berlin as a 'Kick-ass' city. We raced around the sights, drank lots of Gl├╝hwein, behaved like complete tourists despite having a local to show us around and talked about how great we thought Germany was. It was my fifth time in the country, it just keeps getting better! New Years involved a huge party and a trip to a railway bridge near Ostkreuz for midnight to see the 'firework display' - we quickly found out that it was a 'Let's see who can avoid getting killed or badly burnt display'. Thankfully health & safety laws don't seem to have reached Berlin, thousands of people armed with rockets and fireworks gathered on the bridge and just set them off whenever the heck they felt like it. Initially the sights and sounds had us fearing for our lives but after we'd figured out how to spot a firework being lit (tens of people run really quickly in opposite directions) we started to enjoy ourselves. Our drunken little faces were plastered with huge grins and the occasional scream from one of the girls made everyone around us burst out laughing. I have no idea how long we stood on the bridge, but dwindling supplies of beer, the arrival of a number of ambulances and the strange fact that no-one was bothering to run away from fireworks anymore signalled that it was time to take the party back to the apartment.

Jari and Guillaime attempt to scale the wall, no fears of getting shot - except by my camera.

The most insane Fireworks Display I've been involved in.

Rockets, fireworks and sparks flew in absolutely direction

A huge circle of people forms as a firework is surprisingly lit amongst them

New Years snow on a Berlin railway

After a cracking party, 2008 was very kind to our sore heads and it decided to snow - which was deeply refreshing on one hand and it made us act like 6 year old kids on the other (even the Swedes and the Finn who saw snow for a few months a year acted as though they'd never seen it before). We continued to eat and drink throughout new years day - German breakfasts are the way forward I'm telling you.

2nd Jan
Sorry to leave Germany, I reluctantly climbed onto a plane and instantly fell asleep. The trip home was marred by it taking longer to get from London to Cardiff than it did from Berlin to London - but that's the British rail system for you.

So, I'm refreshed, fed and watered - bring on whatever you've got 2008.