Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Working hard to make a living...

We are now into that part of our trip which requires us to settle down and work. We have been working for a week and are loving it here in Inveraray, a little fishing village on Loch Fyne. We worked six days last week which gave us a lot to get used to but seeing as we have had the last two days off together we have come to the conclusion that with the weather being what it is (wet wet wet)and the size of the town (population 700) and at the moment it gets dark just after 4 there isn't a great deal to be done on days off. That is except sleep, watch tellie and do the laundry.
Adam has been put behind the bar and Eva is waiting but we generally get put on similar shifts so our time off is generally together. This works well as most of the other staff are coupled (not necessarily romantically) and days off can be alternated. There are about 40 staff here as far as we can tell and the majority live in the hotel. We have been lucky enough to land in the new staff quarters, new bed, new bathroom, new cooking unit. We get meals provided when we are working and when we aren't meals are half price. The food is tops too! Adam is learning very quickly about malts and whisky, he has around 100 types behind the bar, also part of his job is to keep all the open fires burning, we have five of them. What a cool job. Eva is proud to have only started one box-kicking, swearing fit from the chefs, these guys are hilarious when they get fired up! Just like My Restaurant Rules. One good thing too is that is in Scotland it is illegal to smoke in public places, very strange being in a smokeless pub.
Other staff are mainly travelers, there are about six other Aussies, two Kenyans and loads from Poland and Slovakia. The amount of languages getting thrown around makes us feel dense for only knowing English. French, Kiswahili, Austrian and Polish are constantly flying around. And of course Scottish. Och Aye!
We have gotten on really well with everyone here so far and have gotten to know the family who own the hotel. Mr Clark, the father, Kris and Marina who live on premises with their little girl and Kris' brother Donald who also works behind the bar. We have got along so well with everyone that Donald has asked us to house sit his place over Christmas when he and his wife go away! Unfortunately this means a slightly longer walk to work but we will be right overlooking the Loch, beautiful.
Our body clocks have adjusted very quickly to the hours we are working, maybe a little too well in fact, most nights everyone stays back for knock off drinks. The other night we were up talking and having a few drinks with people until 4 am, crazy on a schoolnight.. In fact most nights we have been up well past one and the bar closes at midnight!!! The late nights don't really matter for Adam as the earliest he starts is 10:30 but Eva gets the occasional 7:00 brekkie shift - yuk!
We have to keep pinching ourselves as to how we managed to end up in such a friendly, beautiful place. We really do have good luck! We have been in many pubs in our lives so far but this would have to be one of the most amazing ones we have been in yet.
Photos: The two streets in town Main street and Front street, our local wharf, The one way bridge into town, our local Lord's residence the Inverarary castle, Our kitchen in our room.

Things that make you go mmmmm....

Beer flavoured chips? not as good as it sounds.

What every smoker needs....

Strange things happen......

Those bloody lights...

What a good idea, a cheese and ham roll. Saves a lot of time.

A shiny pebble on the beach.

Never did work out what bird made this nest.

What kind of nut would eat one of these whole?

Good guess.. But it looked so small.

A temple in Thailand

Anyone for a barbie? Tartar food in Crimea

Missing you Huck :(

When Russians visit a place they enjoy traditionally they tie a ribbon (or whatever they can find) to a tree in hope to return, this can be either very pretty or very hideous.

I think this is more what they were going for.

Adam catching up on the daily news.

Orange revolution?? (Promo girls in Kiev)

What a big bell. Oh and Eva dressed as a babushka, she had to wear this to get into the church.

More golden domes in Kiev.

We will let you decide...

Look at his eyes. I think this cat was somehow possessed

Typical Ukrainian street corner.

MMM Salo!! Healthy snack.

Refridgeration. Blah

2 ltr beer bottles. You beauty!! Excuse the laundry.

Just a picture for Paul

Ahh nice place

On a mountain top.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Job Hunting

    Well this would have to go down as some of the quickest job hunting in history. We rang an agency who organizes live in jobs, they gave us a huge list of jobs all over the UK looking for couples, we rang two and we got a job.
    The first pub we called was a 13th century building in Bath and the bloke there sounded really, really nice but he'd just about lined someone else up for the job. The second one was on the west coast of Scotland in a small town called Inveraray. After a five minute phone call we had the job! The place is called The George and seems pretty bloody nice. We get en-suite accommodation (away from the hotel as far as we can tell) and meals on the job as well as a decent wage. The guy we talked to, Chris is a member of the family that has owned the place for six generations and seemed like a great bloke, we'll have to get used to the accent though.
    We have now lined up a cheap (ish) flight to Glasgow where Chris is going to pick us up on Friday and he reckons he'll start us on Sunday. What a trip!

    London Town

    We arrived in London safe and sound on Friday morning and headed to our hostel which is a tops place less than half an our from the city centre. We spent Friday and Saturday wandering around the city, particularly the Camden Markets and adjusting to the sound of English and Australian (so many Australian) accents.
    Saturday night we were lucky enough to witness some crazy firework displays. We started with the staff (again mostly Aussies) at the hostel trying to blow themselves up by burying the fireworks before lighting them, and causing them to go off at ground level.
    We then headed to the council fireworks at the local park. The council was charging £5 for entry so we joined most of theneighborhoodd at the fences and actually were quite close to ground zero. The celebrations included a 15m bon fire packed with explosives which scared the life out of some of the kids watching (and adults). The reason for all the fireworks was Guy Fawkes night which turns into Guy Fawkes weekend as it is the only time of the year fireworks can be bought without a permit! 1000 people were injured last year!
    On Sunday we hopped on a topless bus tour and froze our faces on the top level seeing all around London. The tour included a boat trip along the Thames which we took just before sunset (which is at 16:30!) so the view of Big Ben and Parliament with the sun set behind it was just magic.
    As we headed to check out Soho on Sunday night we were met by a police blockade on Leicester Square outside the Odeon Cinema. A film premiere, yay! Some of the people waiting had been there for six hours but we just walked up and got a spot one row back, Ha. The premiere was for The Prestige and we saw Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johanssen and Sir Michael Caine. It was the real works with lighting, flame throwers, smoke machines and magicians working the crowd. What a random thing to come across.
    Since Sunday we have been bumming around the hostel getting organizedd for work, getting a phone number, bank account etc etc. What fun.
    Photos: What a pretty sunset, Hugh Jackman

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Trying all the meals

    We like food. Anyone who knows us knows this and we have come across some interesting dishes over the last three months.
    Might just describe a few:
    Salo: Ukrainian pig lard with spices. Slice and serve on bread. Really tasty with beer.
    Borsch: Ukrainian beetroot soup, not bad.
    Tochitura: Romanian stew served with polenta, cheese and a fried egg. Contains all sorts of meat but the sausage in it gives flavour. Adam got hooked on his first one but the many he tried following could never reach those heights again.
    Ciorba du Burta: Romanian cow stomach sour soup, really, really good. Kinda like calamari. It is normal to receive a small plate of chillies with any soup to munch on, burn your mouth and then drink your soup with a real sense of need.
    Practically all Bulgarian food: The salads covered in grated feta, the grilled meats, the one pot casserole type things, baked feta dishes, the stuffed vegetables, the thick creamy yoghurt with jam or honey, the feta, the wine,the feta, the feta.

    Breakfast has been an interesting experience. Sometimes we didn't know if we should be grateful for it being provided or not. Ukraine won the strange breakfast vote with chicken casserole, franks and spaghetti, eggs and peas and the relatively normal pancakes all being offered while we were there, we are sure vodka would readily be available for breakfast if requested.

    Pizza was a staple food in Romania for all Romanians. There historical ties with Italy are taken seriously in the restaurant business and every town had a pizza bar. Even if you couldn't find a shop for bread or water you would find a pizza place. Boy were we sick of pizza by the time we got to Bucharest but it was often a case of pizza or starve. Seeing that Pizza Hut is a top notch affair in Bucharest only highlighted the importance of this food here. The awful truth is the pizza wasn't that flash anywhere we went and it is customary to douse your pizza in ketchup, mayonnaise or any other condiment at hand.

    Have we mentioned we enjoy Bulgarian cooking? And the feta?

    We are sure there is more we could mention but after so long and so much food it is hard to remember. Too much vodka, wine, beer and palinka to go with the food maybe?

    Yes or No?

    Something we almost forgot to add. These crazy guys in Bulgaria shake their head for yes and nod for no. We knew this would be a challenge but had no idea how much we are programmed to read body language over spoken word.
    When asking someone: Does this bus go to....? Can I do my laundry? Can I print from this machine? etc and we get a yes answer we have often walked away thinking, 'Gee, they were grumpy' only to realize that it was because we were picking up mixed messages from their spoken word and body language.
    We have noticed that people we have dealt with in hospitality who know we are foreigners are very careful to watch our mouths and listen carefully as it is impossible to not nod or shake your head when speaking to someone with either your broken Bulgarian or their broken English.
    Eva walked away from a bus thinking it didn't go where we wanted and we met some guys who kept thinking cab drivers didn't want their fare when asking to get to such or such location. The whole experience has been mindblowing and we have tested how much we nod or shake in normal conversation with each other. We can go about two sentences!
    Try it at home, it's hard. Let alone in a hurried conversation where sign language is normally your savior!

    Sofia for the last time (on this trip anyway)

    We arrived in Sofia yesterday determined to finish off our shopping and get a whole bunch of stuff done (including this blog). We managed about 75%. We finally found some jeans that fit Eva although Adam had some body issues as we failed to find shoes in his size (have we mentioned how little they are over here?) and grabbed some warm tops just in time. We woke up this morning and it was rainy and drizzly and cold. Less than a week ago we were sweating in Veliko Tarnavo and now freezing in Sofia. About two 'o' clock we were walking along when the light rain started suspiciously swirling and we realized it had started to snow. Adam was in weather spotters heaven forgetting that we still hadn't managed to find him a travel thermometer.
    We just got back from dinner and the snow has started gathering on cars and other such objects although still melting on contact with the ground, our new jackets kept us toasty and warm and it was so much nicer than rain!
    One disappointing thing about today was that we didn't manage to meet Dobrinka, one of Matt's (Stuart's Matt)friends he has been chatting to for ages on the net. We had swapped several emails but due to us leaving things way to much to the last minute and our phones not liking each other things fell through. We are quietly confident that we may return to Bulgaria one day (it rocks!) so we will keep in touch with Dobi and maybe be a little more organized next time.
    We are now in our hostel, which we have to ourselves. That is apart from Natasha who has been here every time we have stayed. She is a middle aged housekeeper/receptionist/mum for the hostel and we are fairly convinced she works 24/7, sleeping on the couch in the common room and being generally great. We are getting more and more edgy about going to London tomorrow. Although previously we have been changing beds every couple of days and seeing so many different things this feels like the biggest change yet and scarier than leaving home even as there seem to be so many more unknowns. Hmm, better go pack.

    Varna and Veliko Tarnavo

    After enjoying a night in Nesebar and considering spending another we instead grabbed a bus to Varna, another coastal town. This town was split by pedestrian strips as Burgas had been which made for very pleasant wandering. We visited another Roman ruin, this time a thermal bath complex which is apparently one of the largest ruins of it's kind. It was awfully large and again smack bang in the city centre but without much explanation it didn't really have a huge impact. There were a few very well preserved columns and pipes from the heating system but a lot was left up to the imagination.
    We decided to visit the waterfront park which had a kind of packed up feel to it. There were heaps of bars, clubs and cafes which must only operate in Summer. After seeing Crimea in peak season we can only imagine how busy it would get. The beach was great with clear water and real sand so we sat for a while enjoying the view. Once again however the chain smoking, littering crew had been through before us though so the whole beach was covered in butts, yuk!
    We only spent one night in Varna although we once again considered staying another night, this time with the intention of revisiting the Halal restaurant we had eaten at the night before, really, really tasty! We figured we would be able to get equally tasty food elsewhere (hadn't been confident of that in either Ukraine and Romania) and so grabbed yet another bus to Veliko Tarnavo. The bus trip was great in a new bus which even showed a movie, although it was Universal Soldier.
    Veliko Tarnavo is one of the major tourist draws in Bulgaria. It is built on the side of a river gorge and the town twists along until you reach the ruins of an ancient fortress. The fortress was similar to the one at Kamyanets-Podilsky in Ukraine only much larger. Almost every piece of land inside the restored walls has ruined building foundations on it with a few bits and pieces being restored a little. Another similarity to Kamyanets was that we were free to clamber over everything in sight which would have been fun if not for the humidity. Unlike Kamyanets Eva did not leave with a gigantic bruise on her behind. Thank goodness.
    We ended up staying four nights in Veliko Tarnavo. We originally had plans to visit another town but decided to stay put for a while before heading back to Sofia and on to London. Our decision to stay put was also prompted by the fact we had a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the gorge, how could we leave!?!
    We ended up doing a bunch of shopping in Veliko Tarnavo as the prices in Bulgaria are a fair bit cheaper than what we think we'll come up against in London. The whole shopping experience was slightly (hugely), stressful for Eva as jeans above the equivalent of an Aussie size eight do not appear to be available. When explaining with various embarrassing mimes that the jeans being brought to us by the assistant were too small we received looks ranging from blank to amazed that it was possible for someone not to fit these jeans. It didn't help that the first pair Adam tried on fit, looked good and were cheap! After considering binge eating for a day we instead settled on a new pair of shoes and lots of comforting words.
    Photos: View from out room in Veliko Tarnavo, Two dorks on a beach in Varna, Street in Veliko Tarnavo