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Peter Mathews's Posts
Peter has posted 13 reports and 58 photos.

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England Visit: 2013-10
2010-01-02 - I believe it\\\'s very important to try and understand our own countries (the good and the bad).

I have seen quite a bit of England and it still amazes me that a country this small could have had such an effect on this planet (mostly good, some iffy). I continue to be amazed that so many people and countries fell under the domain of the British/English, be that good or bad. I often wonder how the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others would be if they had been colonised by the Spanish, Dutch, French or whomever. One thing that I have realised is that the English/British Empire was a reasonably benign one based mostly on trade (obviously there were problems lots of the time). That contrasts to other countries whose empires were built on conquer and convert (particularly the Spanish). Much of that \\\"conversion\\\" was done at the end of a gun barrel. Feel free to let me know if you disagree, just be polite and constructive.

This nation has been responsible for many of the basic fundamentals of life as we know them today. Of course it\\\'s not all perfect but it truly amazes and staggers me that so much came from here. Of course, there are various reasons why so much came from here and there is much evidence of it throughout this land. We\\\'ve a fascinating history and for various reasons, that history has been partly responsible for the world we have today.

That sort of history is reflected greatly all over this green (because of the rain) and pleasant (mostly) land. Especially in London. Of course there\\\'s the famous stuff, but there\'s SO SO much more to this country than Big Ben, Stonehenge, Buckingham Place, James Bond, Harrod\\\'s, Mr. Bean, William Shakespeare, Harry Potter, David Beckham, Rolls Royces, One Direction, Susan Boyle, the Beatles and whatnot. What is often under-estimated is the sheer beauty of this country. No doubt most of you are thinking of the rain, but take it from me, there is much beauty within our borders. We\'ve some lovely beaches but no matter when you visit, the water is almost always going to be cold. Surfers take note.

Due to the vast amount of immigrants that have entered England over the decades, this is an incredibly multi-cultured country and that allows many, many cultural opportunities to take place here. It\\\'s fantastic and I really enjoy that part of this country. Apparently, there are about 300 languages represented in London by its inhabitants!!

It is probably fair to say that in the great majority of England, nowhere is more than a couple of miles away from a Chinese and Indian take away restaurant. If you like that sort of food, then try and visit Southall in West London (although you\\\'ll think that you\\\'re in Calcutta) or the fantastic Brick Lane in east London. Kebab shops are all over England and so to, are fish & chips take aways. If you\'re into spending silly amounts of money, then London and the surrounding area offer you plenty of opportunities to dine your money away. I\'m thinking of places like the Fat Duck in Bray (by Windsor) and of course, there\\\'s always afternoon tea at Claridge\\\'s, the Dorchester and many others. One of my favourite restaurants is \\\"Rules\\\". It\\\'s the oldest restaurant in London, it\\\'s in Covent Garden and it\\\'s English food, but (fear not), it\\\'s English food cooked very, very well. Cuisine like venison and stuff like that. Oh, I loved the summer pudding there. Absolutely incredible. Plus, the fish and chips are served in the Financial Times. How cool is that?? Health and safety, eat your heart out!! By the way, Rules is furnished in the oldie type English decor (lots of old photos and dead animal heads on the wall)and is one of the places where Lillie Langtry and King Edward the 7th misbehaved.

Pop music buffs can visit Liverpool, home of the Beatles or, even go to Sir Paul McCartney\\\\\\\'s present home (by Lords cricket ground and Abbey Road Studios) and do some stalking!! No, I\\\\\\\'m not telling you his address (yes, I do know it). There\\\\\\\'s also the Royal Albert Hall, the Globe Theatre for Shakespeare buffs, over 40 West End theatres, oodles of opera and that sort of thing. Or, there are often free cultural events in Trafalgar Square or just walk along the South Bank. It truly is an endless list. I\\\\\\\'m trying hard not to be London centric here, but it has to be said that there is SSSSOOOO much in London. It\\\\\\\'s a great city to visit and live.

Fancy visiting the offices of James Bond? Well, the Jolly Green Giant MI6 (Babylon-On-Thames) building is not far from the Oval cricket ground but I doubt they\\\\\\\'ll let you in!!

We have some of the greatest museums on the planet (mostly free, except for special exhibitions), we have the world\\\\\\\'s most important language and we have been responsible for many \\\\\\\"firsts\\\\\\\" of some very important and fundamental stuff. It\\\\\\\'s a very long list and examples such as the police (not the rock group), jet engines, radar, Magna Carta, railways, hovercraft, vaccinations, longtitude, postal services (including the world\\\\\\\'s first postage stamp), parliamentary type democracy, modern nursing, the boy scouts + girl guides, the Salvation Army, the industrial revolution, the RSPCA, the first traffic lights (and related accident!!), telephones, broadcast television signals, penicillin, the search for longtitude, BTU\\\\\\\'s, modern computers and much scientific/artistic/sporting/exploration achievements come to mind. This country is responsible for some hugely important scientific discoveries, many of which are of the utmost importance to the world that we live in today. Let\\\\\\\'s not forget that the World Wide Web itself was invented by an Englishman (Tim Berners-Lee). Indeed, the very essence of life itself, DNA, was figured out in Cambridge, some 50 miles north of London. I still find it amazing that football spread out from England to almost every part of our planet and is today the world\\\\\\\'s most popular sport. Indeed, 4 of this planet\\\\\\\'s top 10 sports were coded in this country. For a partial list of some of the inventions that have come from England (not Britain), check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_inventions_and_discoveries. What that means to visitors is that besides the famous sights here, why not take a trip to Isaac Newton\\\\\\\'s home or perhaps visit the Michael Faraday Museum. USA visitors might want to visit Virginia Wharf in east London, the place from which some early colonists departed from, to what was to become modern day USA. Or perhaps go to visit Selby Abbey just outside of York. There can be discovered an interesting history of the Washington family and the Stars and Stripes. Australian and New Zealand visitors may want to go up to Whitby and explore the home of Captain Cook. How about a trip to Ironbridge in Shropshire to walk over the world\\\\\\\'s first iron bridge and one of the most (if not thee) important sites of the Industrial Revolution.

One of my absolute favourite things to do in London is to go on one of the many guided walks. They\\\\\\\'re cheap and very interesting. There\\\\\\\'s a very large choice and if you pick the right walk, you may even find yourself in the land of Harry Potter.

However, if you do visit, try and make it when the weather\\\\\\\'s in your favour. Although, I think that\\\\\\\'s not important in cities like London as there\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s so much to experience indoors.

Finally: BIG BEN. There seems to be a worldwide mistake as to what Big Ben actually is. It is not the tower on one end of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is the name of the bell at the top of that tower. You cannot see Big Ben from the street, you have to go up the tower itself. There are tours available and I went on one in 2007. The tour was free and lasted about an hour. The tours normally book up months in advance and if you want to go on a tour, you have to plan accordingly. UK citizens have to go through our MP\\\\\\\'s. Despite all of that, I enjoyed the tour and recommend you go on it if you can. One thing, the tours start at half past the hour and the idea is to walk up to Big Ben itself. There are a couple of stops along the way. You get to Big Ben at about 5 minutes to the hour. There\\\\\\\'s a short talk, you then put on the supplied earplugs and prepare to be deafened as Big Ben strikes (the earplugs help a bit). If you\\\\\\\'re into hearing and seeing Big Ben strike, then it\\\\\\\'s best to take one of the morning tours as Big Ben will strike more. On the afternoon tours, you\\\\\\\'ll only get to hear/see Big Ben strike either 1 to 3 times, depending on what tour you\\\\\\\'re on and therefore, what time you reach Big Ben.

By the way: Junius mate (the post in the England category below this one); I\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'m not sure how you could have seen everything in London if you were only there for 9 days. Swear to God, that\\\\\\\'s just enough for the British Museum!!

Galapagos Islands Visit: 2005-5
2008-12-19 - I arrived in the Galapagos by plane and without any tour booked. There are agencies that specialise in last minute trips and after a couple of days, I had found what I was looking for. There was quite a choice to be had.

I spent 7 days on the "Poseidon", a very small boat and only $700.00 all in for the 7 day trip. There were 10 passengers and we slept on bunk beds. Perfect.

Because it's a small boat, we were able to get into places that the larger boats cannot. Plus, with so few of us on board, that meant it only took a few minutes to get off the boat if we needed to take the tender to shore, although most of the time, we all just jumped in anyway. That sort of boat was perfect for me as it makes a big difference to all of our enjoyment if we find a boat suitable to our own personalities and desires. I would totally hate a large boat, no matter how nice the food/cabin/crew/facilites/showers/etc are.

The absloute highlight of it all was swimming/snorkelling with the sea-lions. Quite simply, it was a magical experience, which almost beats Liverpool winning the Champions League in Istanbul, which we did on my last night on the boat. Also, one of our group celebrated her birthday during the trip and her colleagues had arranged a bit of a party. At some point, we decided to board other boats and see what drink we could "acquire". Armed with only water pistols, we succeeded in boarding 3 other boats and we almost, managed to get onto a police boat!!.. It was a fantastic laugh and we all had an excellent time. Such an evening would not have been possible on one of those large and horrible monstrous boats.

At a couple of places, all 10 of us would jump in to go snorkelling, but within seconds, we were surrounded by dozens of young sea-lions. They would dart between us at high speed, whizz through our legs, circle us and it was obvious that the sea-lions enjoyed it as much as we did. On some of the photos I've attached, you can see the sea-lions grabbing hold of our flippers and playing tug-of-war with us. What a superb experience. Mind you, the adult sea-lions were also in the vicinity. They would check us out and as we were no threat to them, they'd just swim along. Fantastic!!

If you are planning a boat trip, it is important that you do a bit of research before time. Not all animals/birds/etc are on all the islands all year round. If you've got something that you really want to see, make sure that you're on a boat that actually goes to the island concerned and at the right time of year. I love to see penguins and I didn't any on my trip. However, I'll be going again and I'll make sure beforehand, that I'll actually be getting to see them that time around.

For me, the Galapagos are the most magical place that I've ever visited. Simply because of the interaction of the various animals/bird life etc. Lots of places on this planet have nice beaches, gorgeous water, lovely sand etc, but the Galapagos are the only place that I've yet visited that has anything like the sort of animal/bird life there and most importantly, the fact that most of the animals/birds just don't give a hoot about humans staring over them. It's a fascinating experience and one that I think all of us should experience in our lifetime.

Guam Visit: 2009-7
2009-07-16 - Guam is a colony of the USA and arriving into it is just like arriving into any US port, from the customs and immigration point of view. There are flights from Hawaii, the Philippines, Korea, China, the Northern Mariana Islands and I don\'t know where else. Basic accommodation can be found from $35.00 upwards. However, there\'s always the sleeping-in-a-rental-car route. I found a company at www.carsultd.com. They\'re about 1 mile from the airport but they will pick you up. Their cars start at $15.00 (although they claim never to have any of them available and I ended up paying $25.00 daily). All of their cars are a few years old. Their website says that they have cars available in Saipan. However, they\'ve closed that operation down. There\'s limited public transport on Guam. There are shuttle buses that run between the various shopping malls. Oh, Taco Bell is there plus the normal fast food outlets found in the USA. There\'s also a few hosts on couchsurfing.org

Iraq Visit: 2003-9
2008-12-19 - I entered Iraq in July of 2003. Oh, you\'re saying; \"isn\'t that just after the war started?\". Indeed it was and without going into the in\'s and out\'s of entering a war zone, let\'s just say that I was after a different type of challenge.

I spent 6 weeks in Iraq, although about 10 days were spent in the Kurdistan part of Iraq or the Iraq part of Kurdistan, depending on your point of view. That part is a lot safer than Iraq itself and I know of a few people who have spent time in Kurdistan and claimed that they were in Iraq. It\'s not quite the same thing. It\'s a lot safer in the Kurdistani part and they\'ve had nothing like the problems that have occured in Iraq itself. When I was in Halabja, I was asked to go to the local police station. At the time, I wondered if I was being kidnapped but as there was nothing I could do about it anyway, I sort of had no choice but to just go along with it. I wasn\'t scared or anything like that. It turns out that they were just curious, that\'s all. I kept telling them that I was just a curious traveller, although I kept them guessing by playing word games with them. I suspect that, to this day, they suspect that I was special forces or something like that.

Babylon: the Hanging Gardens are one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world (Babylon was a lot closer to the shore back then). I have read many, many times that the historical site of Babylon was occupied by US forces and how terrible that was etc etc blah blah. That I know not to be true. US forces were based immediately surrounding the site, not in the actual site itself. The entrance to the base is about 1 km from the entrance to the site and I waited at the base entrance for about 75 minutes before permission was granted for me to enter. Even then, I had to go with a US soldier/guide in a humvee and I even had to get a ticket, very surreal. The humvee stayed outside. Once inside, a local guide showed me and the soldier/guide around. Whilst waiting for permission to enter, I was chatting to a Polish soldier. At some point, shots rang out. I heard someone shout \"get down\", although both myself and the Pole were already down hiding behind a concrete barrier. Apparently, it was a drive by shooting. Nobody got hit and apparently, no-one gave pursuit due to the probablity of ambush/roadside bombs etc. I heard many, many stories of young boys being paid $10.00 or so to throw bombs off bridges and if they didn\'t, their families would get killed. On the way back to Baghdad, I stopped off at a mass grave site. Extremely unpleasant.

It was a very interesting 6 weeks, with many interesting and unusual situations. I wouldn\'t recommend most of you travelling to Iraq right now, unless you\'re of a certain type of personality. I\'m not foolhardy, no matter what any of you think.

Mali Visit: 2008-4
2008-12-26 - This post is only about Timbuktu. There's an airport there, for those of you that fancy that sort of thing. I took some sort of jeep there. The front seats are cheaper, but it's still a crap journey. I took a pick-up out to Gao and what agony that was. When travelling by whatever, the thing is you never know what is leaving, and when. The freight comes first and when they know that something is leaving, then it becomes available for people like me. So, it's a bit hit and miss. When leaving, I was in a pick-up truck that had its bed full of various freight. There were 15 of us sat around the rim of the bed. We left Timbuktu about 3.30 p.m. and arrived at Gao at about 4 a.m. Total agony. Sleep was impossible and I was more worried about hanging on for dear life. No-one could risk falling asleep for fear of falling off. Anyway, unless you're going to fly, then I suppose you could rent a 4 wd just for yourself. People do that although they normally try and get 4 or 5 together for the trip.

Nagorno-Karabakh Visit: 2008-10
2008-12-19 - Well, it\'s not that difficult to get to. The only legal way is to enter by road from Armenia. Most of us require a visa. That can be obtained at the Karabakh \"embassy\" in Yerevan or it can be got at the Karabakh Foreign Affairs Office in Stepanakert. It only took a few minutes. There has been a ceasefire with the Azerbaijanis since 1994. Since then, it\'s been a \"no peace-no war\" situation. During my time there, I spent 2 of those nights in Shushi with a French bloke who\'s given up his French citizenship and as he told me \"I\'ll be the first one on the front line if another problem breaks out\".

By the way, most people in the region refer to it as simply Karabakh. Nagorno means \"mountainous\" and for whatever reason, most of us refer to the \"country\" as being called Nagorno Karabakh. There\'s no need to arrange transport with an agency/embassy or anything. Just go to the correct bus station (there are a few of them) in Yerevan and buy a ticket. Unlike Jorge, I had no problem when entering Turkey with a Karabakh visa. Finally, it\'s only a problem going to Azerbaijan if using the same passport as you used when you went to Karabakh. By the way, the visa is a passport page size sticky label that is peelable. The officer who gave it to me said it didn\'t matter to him if the visa was actually peeled off and stuck into my passport or not. If you are planning on visiting Azerbaijan afterwards, then you need to NOT stick the visa in your passport. As there are no entry/exit stamps at the Armenian/Karabakh border, then by not having the Karabakh visa stuck in your passport, there will be no proof that you have ever visited Karabakh.

Northern Marianas Visit: 2009-7
2009-07-18 - Saipan/Tinian/Rota plus about 10 others make up the Northen Mariana Islands. Although a US colony, it\'s a little different in some respects.The islands maintain their own customs and immigration formalities. However, on 28/11/09, that is due to change (subject to a possibe extension) and from that date, the US itself is due to take over customs and immigration formalities. That won\'t affect the vast majority of you reading this, it\'s the Chinese, Russians and the overseas workers who will be affected mostly.There are inter-island flights plus flights to Guam and Korea plus China I think. Apparently, those are for the myriad of Koreans and Chinese who like to gamble and go to the casino on Tinian. No public transport at all. There are car/scooter rentals on Saipan and I did see scooter rentals on Tinian. That one location is located about 100 yards from the Tinian Dynasty (turn left when exiting that hotel). Apparently, there is basic accommodation available from about $45.00 upwards on Saipan. It\'s about the same in Tinian and it\'s all available in San Jose village. If you\'re into hotels like the Marriott, the only place to stay on Tinian is the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Resort. There\'s a better choice on Saipan. There is a ferry that runs between Tinian and Saipan. The schedule seems to change every now and then. When I was there, there was at least one sailing daily in either direction (except Tuesday). The cost is either $20.00 or $25.00, depending on what deck/level you\'re on. Also, there\'s a $2.25 passenger tax collected at the terminal. Cost wise, there\'s no advantage to buying a return ticket. The ferry is operated by the above mentioned Hotel and Casino. Apparently, if you\'re staying there, you don\'t pay for the ferry ticket, only the passenger tax. On Tinian, the ferry port is in the village of San Jose, about 1 km from the hotel and casino. On Sapian, the ferry terminal is about 2 miles north of the city centre. For whatever reason, the windows of the ferry are that frosted opaque sort, which means you can\'t see anything when looking out of the windows. A great shame. There are no ferries to any of the other islands. There is air transport to Rota. I figure that it wouldn\'t be that difficult to hitch on either island. Although if you\'re up for it, the distances aren\'t that great if you decide to walk. A bicycle would be great too. Either island has an abundance on military related historical sites. Plus, Tinian is the place from where the Enola Gay took off from and into history as it dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Most folks seem to dive on Saipan. Maybe because a lot of the dives can be done from the shore, which cuts down on the expense a bit. I did my open water certificate with Harry Ballock. He\'s got thousands of dives under his belt and is excellent. He\'ll even put you up at his home for free. Find him at: http://saipandiver.smugmug.com/ Let me know if you want his g-mail address. He\'s also on www.couchsurfing.org if any of you are into that. Couchsurfing is a bit limited on any island, but I guess there\'s no harm in checking it out. Continental, Freedom Air and Taga Air appear to be the local airlines around that part of the world.

Northwest Angle Visit: 2009-9
2009-10-09 - Like Point Roberts,

this is another of these "surveyor errors" that seems to have led to this oddity. At least, that's what their official publication says!! There is no border per se. There is a welcome sign. After that, it's an 8 mile drive to a small shack. You enter that and pick up the phone. There are 2 buttons: you press either the American one or the Canadian one, depending on where you're going. It's connected to a videophone, which may or may not be on. I suppose you could avoid all of that and just continue without bothering with the phone call. Apparently, there's a camera mounted high up on a pole, although the locals I spoke to said it wasn't good enough to zoom in on any particular vehicle.

Anyway, it's rather scenic and all of that, but the only reason I went there was to do the "phone" thing. It is rather odd.

Peninsular Malaysia Visit: 2010-2
2010-02-25 - I've spent about 6 weeks total in Peninsular Malaysia and often think that it doesn't get the credit it deserves. Penang is a lovely city to visit. The photos you see were all taken at an Hindu festival called Thaipusim. As you can see, it's a little unusual. The same festival also takes place at the Batu Caves, just outside of Kuala Lumpar. There's stacks of great beaches on the peninsular, many dive spots, lots of trekking and compared to most of its neighbours, Malaysia is quite a clean and organised country. It's a great example of how different religions can all get along OK with no worries. That's a big example for a lot of the rest of the world to follow!!!

Peru Visit: 2005-4
2008-12-24 - This post is only about one of this planet\'s truly great man-made sites, i.e., Machu Picchu. It\'s located about 8 km\'s up a very windy hill immediately outside the village of Aquas Calientes. Almost everybody arrives at the village by train. \"Almost\"?? that\'s until yours truly came along. The train is a tourist trap. Locals and visitors cannot travel in the same carriage. That gives the train operator (which much to my eternal shame is an English company) the right to claim that the visitors carriages are more comfortable etc and that\'s why we/they have to charge more. Typical b/s. I hate it when someone tells me that I cannot travel in the same way as the locals. I don\'t give a hoot about the comfort. I travel not to be that comfortable, I want to meet the local people and all of that. So, I decided to rebel against this outright crookery and I walked the 40 km\'s or so along the railway tracks. It took me about 10 hours or so. There is a river that follows the railway tracks for quite a while. I wondered if anyone actually travels along it, but it did look rather rough. Anyway, it wasn\'t that difficult to walk at all.

Once in the village, it\'s easy to find accommodation. There are buses (appropriately overpriced) to go to Machu Picchu itself. It took me about 2 hours to walk it. I had left the hotel room at about 6.30 a.m. I had already purchased my entrance ticket the day before at an office in the village. This saved me considerable waiting time at the ticket office to the site itself.

Machu Picchu is a great place to visit and I\'ve put a few photos up for you to peruse.

When it came time to leave, I noticed that the local trains were going beyond Aquas Calientes. As I hate back-tracking, I decided to get on one of those trains anyway and see where it was going. It only went about 5 km\'s to a hydro-electric station. The train left over an hour late and I wish that I had walked those 5 km\'s too. Once at the hydro-electric station, everybody had to get off. I followed the crowd and followed everyone onto the back of a large lorry that was waiting. We drove for about 30 minutes through the countryside before stopping at the top of a small cliff overlooking a river. The water was rough and there was no way that the lorry could get across it. No worries there as we all, 2 at a time, sat in a steel basket contraption thingy and hand winched ourselves across the river. I guess we were about 20 metres above the rather fast flowing river (see photo). Anyway, it was a good laugh. Once on the other side, I walked about 15 minutes or so to a small village where, by chance, they wre having some sort of Easter dance celebration. Excellent. The following day, I took a bus northwards to a small town from where there were buses to here and there (including Lima).

All in all, it was so much better than taking the tourist train rip-off there and back to Cusco/wherever.

Point Roberts Visit: 2009-8
2009-08-26 - I was pleasantly surprised by how rural Point Roberts is. A bit of a haven after Vancouver!!! To be honest, the only reason I visited was to see for myself how silly it is, to have a bit of the USA surrounded by Canada. Commonsense says that Point Roberts should be handed over to the Canadians, but alas, commonsense doesn't always dictate things!!! Anyway, I don't regret going and if you're in the area, then I'd go, just to see how absurd it is.

Thailand Visit: 2009-4
2009-04-15 - This was my 6th visit to Thailand and believe it or not, there's still so much to see and enjoy. Of all the South East Asian countries that I have travelled in, Thailand is still my favourite. It's just the choices that make it different to other countries. It's just the range of things to see, the accommodation, the food, the relative ease of transport. It's not called "the Land of Smiles" for nothing. However, in April of 2009, Thailand just proved to me that no matter what I've seen and done there, it always has something up its sleeve. I was in Bangkok during the problems with the red shirts and all of that. However, it must be said that the problems were in just a few blocks and 99% of Bangkok was fine to go to.

Trans Dniester Visit: 2008-9
2009-03-13 - I'd read many horror stories about visitors trying to enter Trans Dniester. Almost all of those visitors had tried to enter through Ukraine. I decided not to do that and when I was in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, I simply found the mini-bus going to Trans Dniester. At the border, there was just the normal sort of immigration form to fill out. Just the normal standard stuff. The bloke asked me how long I wanted to stay and I said until 7 p.m. that evening. He gave me until 10 p.m. No asking for bribes, no extortion, not even an official fee for entering. Nor even a stamp in my passport(sob, sob). All very easy.

I get the impression that attempting to enter through Ukraine is problematical (I've no idea why). I can only recommend you doing what I did.

The place itself is a bit of a mess, but if you're in the vicinity anyway, why not go and visit?

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