Friday, July 27, 2007

Mothers are like maps...

Just got home late Wednesday night and already I've been soaked by some of the heaviest rain i have ever seen - feel like i need another holiday! Anyways, i had left my car at my parents house and when i picked it up i was delighted to discover that it had been miraculously cleaned both inside and out! It was pretty bogging when i had left it so i kinda wasn't surprised that my mum was unable go look at a dirty car for 2 weeks! So i happily drove back to my little house which i must admit had been left in an equally bogging state before leaving. It's not that I'm a dirty person, it's just that life had been a bit hectic for the couple of weeks prior to going on hols and i just had no time!

So i walk in the door to find my whole house spotless from top to bottom! Floors mopped, carpets vacummed, bathroom
cleaned - even my bedroom was tidied and my bed was made with clean sheets! To top it all off my grass was cut too! I promise you i did not leave a list!

I've come to the conclusion that mothers are a bit like maps, sometimes they can be very frustrating, but at the end of the day you would be lost without them!

I'm heading off again tonight for one week to help lead a Scripture Union camp at Castlewellan Castle. The first 3 days we will be training a group of 16-18 year in leadership. They will then be taking on the responsibility of leading the camp for a group of 30 P7's who will arrive for the last 4 days. The theme for the camp will be 'It's Your Move' - teaching the p7's how to deal with change as they move to secondary school using the Biblical model of Daniel. Please pray for the camp leaders and the young people - and the weather!.

I wonder if i will come home to find my drive power-hosed or spoutings cleaned???

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Niall on segway in Prague...

The aforementioned segway moment!

Czech this out...

Hello there folks, just arrived in Prague this morning after an extremely uncomfortable 8 hour journey on a train that seemed to stop at every hole in the hedge. All sleeping cars with beds were fully booked so we were stuck in a carriage of 8 seats with 2 other Spanish guys. We had a good bit of room but it was still impossible to lie out flat and to top it all off, you had regular people coming round to wake you up and check your ticket or passport! Toilet facilites are brutal too, far worse than anything i remember in school and they surely haven't seen any toilet paper since well before you or i were born! 3-4 hours of broken sleep was enough to see us through though and so after dumping our bags at the hostel (very modern and beautiful, more like a hotel really), we ventured off into the city.

At this stage of our trip, after seeing 6 other cities, we are a bit weary of seeing the city sights because each church, castle and square looks much like the rest, so in order to spice it up a bit this time we opted for a Segway Tour of Prague (thanks for the idea Craigo!! The 2 hour guided tour was fantastic fun as we got to see the whole city without expelling any energy or shoe leather! I'm going to try and upload a video of the segway action on a separate post. The footage will show Niall raking it on a patch of grass and nearly falling off after hitting a pot hole! I laughed a lot at this but what unfortunatley wasn't captured on video was myself 2 minutes later hitting a pot hole at top speed (a hefty 12mph!) and completely tipping the segway and falling off! I thought i had wrecked the whole thing but the guide wasn't even concerned so i just climbed back on and cracked on! Segway tours are becoming more popular in many cities around Europe so if you get the chance, give it a go for a good couple of hours craic!

A few other random thoughts on eastern europe:
  • Sausage dogs - seem to be an obsession with them here as we have seen many!

  • Pedestrian crossings - EVERYONE waits for the green man, even if the coast is clear. Maybe this is a discipline that has been passed on through communism to the next generations (?) but it is amusing to observe.

  • C&A - it's great to see that this department store has not gone bust but is alive and thriving throughout much of Eastern Europe!

So that's me for now, probably see ya in norn iron soon! Is it still raining there?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Too much happening and too little time...

Ok, its been a few days and 3 cities since last post so let me give a brief update. Im currently in Krakow, internet access not so good at this hostel, hence the lack of updates and no photos this time. Enjoyed Vilnius a lot. Highlight was probably heading up to the castle on a hill looking over the city at night. From there we jumped onto another bus for 8 hours to get to Warsaw. Although it was long, i had the ipod in and had a bit of a 'moment' watching the beautiful countryside go by! I was listening to the new Foy Vance Album - Hope (album cover to the left). I've a whole other post to make about it but i'll reserve that for when i get home and have a bit more time. Needless to say, you should defintely get the album!

Warsaw was ok but probably my least favourite city so far as it is much more spread out and i didn't really feel there was much to see. It probably didn't help that the temperatures now are soooo hot that it's much less comfortable to walk around cities.

On Saturday we caught the train to Krakow and i have really fallen in love with this city! If you haven't been here then make it a must for a city break. The old town is really amazing with the hugest town square i have ever seen. There is a really good buzz about this place with lots to go and see.

On Sunday we took a bus to Auschwitz. When we first discussed travelling to Poland we definitely both wanted to get to see this place and it was definitely worth the trip. It's hard to put into words how harrowing it is to visit the place where approximately 1.3 million people (mostly Jews) were sent for extermination. I think what hit me the hardest was seeing the mass pile of childrens shoes. Approximately 230,000 of the people sent to the camp were children and almost all of them did not survive. I don't think anyone can ever understand how anyone could ever inflict such brutal cruelty on another group of people. It's sobering to remember that this attrocity only ended just over 60 years ago.

Today we visited the Saltmines near here which was interesting and then took a walk around the old town of Krakow. Tonight we catch a 8 hour train to Prague to spen our last 2 days there. Home on Wednesday night - sniff, sniff!

Aside, i think we have a tall bald stalker from USA! First met this guy in a tour in Tallinn then he turned up at our hostel in Vilnius and in Warsaw and now in Krakow too! We have not spoken one word to this guy the whole time so it's all a bit humourous! I'm expecting to bump into him in Rigmarole next week!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Latvian doughnuts and Vilnius so far...

We left Riga yesterday morning bound for Vilnius (Lithuania) by bus (5 hours). Just before boarding the bus i stopped at a little bakery to grab something for breakfast with our last 60cents. The lady had 3 types of what appeared to be filled doughnuts on the counter. I was thinking the fillings may be chocolate, or creme or something nice like that. When i enquired, this disgruntled old lady informed me the first one was filled with meat (generic term for substance that could originate from any animal), the second was cabbage (? i know!) and the third was 'patatenne'. It was a tough choice but i opted for the third one - i hadn't a clue what it might be but surely it was better than either meat or cabbage? Well low and behold when i take a bite i discover it is filled with mashed potato! Needless to say it went straight to the bin. A gravy ring filled with champ - only in Latvia folks!

Since arriving in Vilnius yesterday we have been walking around the city. It's more spread out than Riga or Tallinn but again really beautiful. You can see that this city is a little bit behind on Riga or Estonia but with evidence of lots of construction, it is catching up very fast. We visited the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul today which has a breathtaking interior that would rival anything i have seen before, even in Rome.

I have been really surprised by the Baltic cities we have visited. I think i naively expected to see more poverty here than home, more litter, poorer quality food and generally 'less trendy' if you understand what i mean. On the contrary, i have seen more wealth in these cities than i would ever see in Belfast. For example i have seen more Mercs, BMW's, Bentley's, Hummers, and other top range vehicles than would be the norm at home. There is definitely less homeless people and begging here than in Belfast. Also there is less litter, excellent quality food and everyone is extremely fashion conscious. I understand i am only seeing city centre life and there are bound to be other areas that are less well off that would perhaps explain the influx of nationals into the UK and Ireland, from some of these countries.

Oh yeah, my reflection on Finland is that the boys love their skinny jeans. I think Niall was going to get a pair too but i talked him out of it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Bungee Jump as promised!

Here it is folks, videoed by Niall in the cable car! I still get a bit nervous watching it!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Niall Bungee

This is Niall's bungee jump. I'll get mine up here asap!

The journey so far...

Hello there, haven't had much chance to update this since i left as i haven't had great internet access or its been expensive but lots has been happening so here is a quick low down! Arrived in Helsinki on Wednesday afternoon (weather was wet and miserable!) and dandered around the city, it's quite nice and modern but not stunning. On Thursday the weather was nice and sunny so we went to Suomelina (left picture). It's an old island fortress just off the coast of Helsinki (15min ferry). We got a guided tour which was interesting - a good spot to go visit if you are ever there.

We left Finland on Friday and got a 90minute ferry to Tallinn in Estonia (3 pics on left). This is is a beautiful medieval looking city (large town really) with lots of cobbled streets and squares with market stalls surrounded by cafe's and bars. It's to sorta place that's great to walk about and stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. We took a walking tour of the city which was interesting. The people in Estonia were very friendly which i suppose you expect when they are thriving on tourism. Lots of nice hotels and restaurants with great food so it's definitely a place i would go back to. Not as cheap as i expected though.

On Sunday we departed by bus for Riga in Latvia (5 hours). When we arrived and found our hostel we headed off on another 1 hour bus journey to Sigulda which is described as 'the Switzerland of Latvia' in the Lonely Planet. It's a beautiful small town which boasts snow sports during the winter and so we really went for some adrenaline summer activities. First we had a go at bobsleding down an olympic bobsled track in what basically resembled a tin bath on 4 wheels. The 80km/hr rush was well worth the cost of 5 pounds!

Next we headed off to the Cable car where we had read off the opportunity to bungee-jump (check out their website) from the cable car suspended over a ravine with a river at the bottom! At a cost of only 25 quid this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. The cable car takes you out and stops half way for your jump of 150feet! We had to queue for a couple of hours and weren't sure if they were going to have space availble for us or not but they did and before i knew it i was being fitted with a harness and strappings around each ankle. At that point the nerves started to kick in and i began to think that maybe this was not the brightest idea! However, that was nothing compared to the feeling you get 150ft in the air in a cable car with the door open and some bloke looks at you and says 'you're turn next'! Next thing you know you are clipped in and you have 15 other people in the cable car waiting for you to throw youself into mid air attached to a big elastic band. The peer pressure is immense! To top it off, you are beside a bridge and so the passing traffic stops to have a good gauk at you too and they beep their horns if you hesitate at all! So the upshot of all that is that against my rational thought, i did it! It was undoubtedly the scariest thing I've ever done and i don't think i would rush to do it again but i did it and managed to keep my pants clean! Niall has a great video of my jump on his camera so i'll hopefully get that up here soon!

Today we have been having a bit of a walk around Riga city. It's much larger than Tallinn and more cosmopolitan but still has loads of relly beautiful architecture. Apparently it's a lot like Prague. Also it is very cheap. We had a nice lunch today and it only cost about 8 pounds for both of us.

Tomorrow we move on again to Vilnius in Lithuania so i'll keep you posted on that one. Over and out...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

2 wise men head east...

Just back from Summer Madness and Streetreach with our young people. I wrote a blog about it with some pics on our Youth Ministries blog so check it out here. I leave tonight for my holiday in Eastern Europe (see last post for details) so it's been a pretty quick turnaround. Praise the Lord for mothers i say as thankfully i was able to dump all my washing with her on Sunday and collected it (ironed and all) yesterday - my mum loves a good challenge!

So i awoke this morning with that slightly nervous yet excited feeling that comes with heading off. Nervous because we only have accommodation booked for the first 2 nights and the rest we'll figure out as we go! However I love travelling and in the next 2 weeks I'm going to experience the culture of 6 countries i have never been to before which will be fantastic! On top of that i will meet plenty of people from many more countries along the way which is part of the enjoyment.

I hope to keep this blog fairly up to date as i go with some pictures too so keep on dropping in if you are interested!