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What’s your favorite city?

New York.

When I first went to New York I wasn’t a city-type person and the place scared the living shit out of me. I didn’t like it at all. It was big and very fucking scary and I really wasn’t comfortable there. It then didn’t help matters that I left the day before 9/11.

But then a couple of years later, after having moved to Manchester, I ended up there again, quite randomly in fact, and this time I really loved the place and I’ve been going back there whenever I can ever since. It’s an absolutely amazing place. Its scale, diversity, history and what it has to offer is breathtaking. Nothing in Europe even come close.

Ideally I would like to live and work there for a few years sometime during my life. I don’t want to spend forever there, because I don’t want to die young from the stress that it would inevitably bring eventually, but to have that experience I think would be a really fantastic thing to tick off my bucket list.

Decided to give Formspring a go. I will answer most questions but if you want to insult me then please do it to my face.

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Zurückgegangen VON Boston

Yeah, so I spent exactly four days and four hours traveling to Boston, being in Boston and travelling back from Boston this week. It’s kind of a surreal feeling; I feel as if I should be totally overwhelmed by such an intense trip but I’m not, I’m really chilled out about it and it feels like Boston is no further away than London rather than being five timezones away over the Atlantic. Each journey and each day went off without a hitch; never before have I had such a relaxed and straightforward trip abroad. Would that all our holidays were the same!

The conference itself, Fall VON, was very interesting and I truly immersed myself in the IP communications world for two whole days, meeting some very clever people and some notable industry names. I’ve gathered a wealth of information that will prove to be very useful for my current project at work and so the trip was well worth it from a commercial point of view. A couple of the talks were by people who had used the technology with which I specialise in specific applications and while these applications were reasonable clever they weren’t on the sort of scale that my current project is going to be, so I’m going to see if it’s reasonable and feasible for me to do a talk myself at next year’s event once my project is finished.

Boston is a marvellous place. My favourite city in the United States is of course New York, but Boston comes a very close second. Its relative age combined with its New England environs, cleanliness, friendly inhabitants and functional transportation systems make it a pleasure to be in. Manchester, Boston and New York are the three places in the world where I really feel at home, more-so even than my birthplace. The only thing it’s really lacking is the sort of gay scene that I’m used to in Manchester, but then I’m willing to admit that my standards have been set pretty high in that regard. Not even New York comes close to Manchester, mostly thanks to the Republican Party, but that’s a different story.

The local baseball team, the Red Sox, apparently won the “world” series last week, although unclear how much of the rest of the world beyond the United States were invited to participate in this tournament. There was a giant parade through Boston on Tuesday which lasted practically all day. I didn’t see it because I was at the convention centre, but it was apparently enourmous.

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Actually a holiday

Having a great time in the US of A. Currently in the middle of our stay in Provincetown, Massachusettes (the discerning gay couple’s choice of holiday destination), known locally, and also for the purposes of this report, “Ptown”. We’re staying at the Crowne Point, which is very nice indeed, very private and very quiet, although the air conditioner in our suite keeps me awake at night.

Provincetown, as it was when we last visited, is a beautiful place. Right on the end of Cape Cod, it seems relatively untouched by globalisation and it’s very “anything goes”, everyone leaves their cars and houses unlocked and there isn’t a megacorp logo in sight, save perhaps for the odd Budweiser neon sign in the windows of various bars. We’re literally doing nothing, sitting around the pool all day, taking walks through the town, perhaps a drive along the cape. It’s great, our holidays are normally much more hectic than this.

This isn’t our first port of call of course. By contrast our first stop was Manhatten, where we spent four night at the W on 49th & Lexington, where we stay every time we come to New York, and will will return there for three further nights next week before returning home. New York is a big, busy and exciting place, yet despite that we find it relaxing there, it’s a place where you just “be” rather than “do”. Since moving to Manchester my tolerance of big cities has increased somewhat, and I would love to live there at some point, if only for a few years or so (my life has, at least for the past 10 years or so, followed a rough pattern of living for 3 years somewhere and then moving on).

Provincetown is a 1 hour 30 minute ferry ride away from Boston, the state capital of Massachusettes. We’ve been there before of course, two years ago, but we might visit again as it’s a really nice place – slower and more spacious than New York. But probably not, it’s not as if we’re short of the city element on this holiday.

Hired the normal Ford Explorer for the drive from Manhatten to Provincetown. Yesterday we found some corners for it to go round, which it didn’t like very much, making this clear by squealing its tyres. For all of the X5’s lumbering appearance, it goes round corners better than most cars, and certainly better than any American car.

Anyway, I’m just rambling now. Back to doing nothing. We’ve been blighted with a number of minor emergencies from the office since we came on holiday but nothing that couldn’t be solved (or at least, deferred) relatively quickly.

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Canada catchup

Not blogged as much as I intended, but then in all reality there’s only so much to blog about when you’re in a ski resort.

We arrived late on Sunday evening after a gruelling 23 hours of travelling (for me, at least, since I had to take a flight down from Manchester to Heathrow; Chris was already at his parents’ house) and went straight to bed. Straight onto the slopes on Monday morning but soon had to abort because my boots were all wrong. I had the same problem two years ago, intense pain in my feet, as if if they were being crushed in a vice. So we took to them to a professional boot fitter in the hotel who did the Canadian equivalent of sucking air over his teeth and muttering “which cowboy did this then?” as he measured my crazily flat feet and then put my boots in a furnace so he could basically change their shape to accomodate my unbelievably crap feet. The pain’s since gone, although it still hurts if I spend a long time on the cat tracks rather than doing downhill turns.

I had a lesson on Wednesday at level 3, which I breezed through and have since graduated to level 4 (of 6), with a lesson at that level tommorow (Sunday). I’ve done some free skiing, but unfortunately not as much as we would normally want because Chris has been rather unwell and has required several trips to the hospital and the dentist. One of his wisdom teeth has caused a problem whereby an infection has taken hold and basically filled one side of his face with pain. He’s now had it removed and is now all doped up on north American-strength painkillers and antibiotics, so no skiing, solid foods, alchohol, driving or pretty much anything else for him :(

The snow‘s been brilliant, especially for the time of year. Apparently, it’s been “the worst year on record” in terms of snow. It didn’t snow from the end of January right up until the night we arrived, apparently, at which point it snowed 10 inches, so that was quite well timed. It’s snowing again now and is set to continue to do so through Monday, which is fantastic considering it is the end of March, and by all rights, Spring. Much better snow than the last time we came, and that was peak season!

We’re going to try and take a trip to Vancouver on Monday to do the city thing that we’re so fond of. We rented a Ford Explorer at the airport after discovering that renting such a car for the whole holiday worked out cheaper than two shuttle services from the airport to Whistler. It also gives us the ability to drive around whilst we’re here too, which has been pretty essential while Chris has been ill. Last full day is on Tuesday and we come home overnight on Wednesday. Horrible jet lag will then ensue so I probably won’t be back on all six cylinders until Monday.

I am taking pictures but they’re going to be pretty much the same as the lot I took when we last came, except this time I have a much better camera.

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Uganda holiday report

Here is my holiday blog as promised. I’m not going to to into an incredible amount of intricate detail or anything, just a concise report on what I got up to. If you didn’t already know, I visited Uganda from May 23rd to June 7th with Chris. Chris has been before, as his best friend from school, Hrishi, lives out there, and indeed part of the purpose of this visit was to see him.

General Map

This is a general map of the country. During the first week we stayed just west of Jinja (find Kampala, then look west, Jinja is the country’s second city) in a place called Kakira, which is a huge sugar cane plantation owned by the family of Hrishi. During the second week we spent 4 nights in Semliki (look at to the east on the border with the Congo and find the Semliki river, it’s around there), and two nights in Mweya in the Queen Elizabeth National Park (look for Lake George, I’ve no other point of reference).

Map of Uganda

Map of Uganda

Background

Hrishi belongs to the Madhvani family (of Indian origin), which owns the Madhvani Group, the largest company and the largest employer in the country. We stayed in their house which is part of a small wholly owned town on the sugar cane plantation, and is called “Kakira”. The town also houses many of the employees, and the company also provides schooling, healthcare and recreational facilities onsite to every employee. Compared to many occupations in the country, employees of Madhvani Group get an extremely good deal.

The house itself is called JMM Bungalow, JMM after the man who built it (Hrishi’s grandfather Jayant Madhvani), and “bungalow” is a word meaning “executive house” in India, possibly a colonial origin there somewhere. The house has quite a history, as does the family. The Madhvanis were kicked out of the country along with all the other Asian families by Idi Amin when he came to power in 1971, something which only came about because of the death of Jayant Madhvani, who had by then built up the Madhvani Group (originally started by his father) to be an economic powerhouse. This led to some economic uncertainty and instability, and gave the military dictator the chance he needed to seize power. It’s also rumoured that he proposed marriage to Hrishi’s grandmother, to which she refused, thereby exacerbating the situation, but this is unconfirmed.

Amin was eventually kicked out by the Tanzanians around 1979 after 8 years of terrorizing the people of Uganda and democracy was restored to the country. The Madhvanis were invited back in to the country to resume their businesses, which are essential to the economy of Uganda. However, the Tanzanians left their mark, as they ransacked the Madhvani’s houses for anything of value and used them as knocking shops. Presently Uganda has a stable political system and economy, and its temperate climate and fertile soil means that it’s an extremely prosperous country, especially when compared to some other countries in Africa.

Today JMM Bungalow has been restored, although not updated. It’s stuck in the 60s as far as decor goes, and normally this would be abhorrant, but there’s something about this house that makes it perfectly acceptable. Completely retro of course, but because it’s done to a high quality, it’s lasted a long time, and the period styling is consistent throughout, it’s not as if they’ve been updating certain rooms over time and leaving others. I dunno, it somehow “works”.

Week 1: Kakira

We spent the first week in JMM Bungalow and Kakira doing nothing, by design. Both myself and Chris have had a stressful six months and we deliberately did nothing for the whole week. There was a pool, extensive gardens, and 18 house staff to wait on us so it was an easy week. The food was all vegetarian indian fare, which meant of course I was farting my way through most nights, but it was jolly nice nonetheless. In the evenings we’d go to this backpackers campsite just outside Jinja where there was always a group of people our age from the four corners of the world. It had a great view of Bujugali Falls on the river nile, and they sold cheap beer, so we weren’t complaining, especially as we had a driver to cart us back to Kakira when we’d had enough.

The same bunch of people ran a white water rafting activity, which we did on the Wednesday. We went down 18 kilometres of the River Nile in (and out of) rubber dinghies, through grade 5 rapids. Marvellous fun, and the river was so warm too it was amazing. Bit smelly around the edges though, as is common with warm freshwater rivers. And yes, people really do wash their clothes in it, I witnessed it first hand.

Week 2: Safari

During the second week we went on safari, firstly to Semliki Lodge in the Semliki National Park just a couple of miles from the border with the Congo, and then to Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park, owned by the Madhvanis. We were going to stay at a third lodge called Ndali in the middle of all that, but we got there and absolutely hated the place, it felt like a cult and we felt remarkably unsafe there, so we immediately left and hot footed it back to Semliki to spend another two nights.

Semliki

This place was amazing, I mean truly amazing. It was at the ends of the earth, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, a good 2.5 hours drive through bumpy mountain roads to the nearest town (Fort Portal). It was a “tented camp”, which sounds awful but was actually very clever. They had 8 thatched huts (amongst the larger communal structures of the same style), under which they had pitched a large tent on top of a solid wooden floor. At the back of each hut was .. get this .. an ensuite bathroom with running water. There was no electricity, the whole lodge was lit using paraffin lamps. There was a bunch of small solar panels which they used to power the fridge, and they had a gas freezer.

This all sounds like roughing it, but nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, this place was a full board hotel, with a chef and servants and housekeepers, the works. You just didn’t need electricity, or air conditioning, or even windows. Strangely enough however we got a full mobile signal there. The place even had a fully serviced swimming pool, and while I’m still yet to find out how they kept it clean without electricity, it was nonetheless in pristine order.

We went on a couple of safaris from here, one in mid-morning, another in the evening and finally one at the crack of dawn, in which we went looking for chimps in the rain forest. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything very interesting on any of them, but to be honest the “safari” part of staying in Semliki is secondary, the place was a paradise and we spent most of our time in and around the lodge. I could spend months there, I truly could. Definately one for the list of places to return to. Ironically, one of the owners met Craig last year when he went to Uganda for four months. Small world.

Mweya

This lodge was completely different to Semliki, but by no means comparable. This was the westernized luxury 5 star hotel version of a safari lodge, comfortable in anyone’s books, but you simply couldn’t compare it to Semliki because of the wildly different format. I’d happily spend a week in either place. It was nice to come here to some air conditioning though, as the temperatures on the day of arrival hit 37 degrees C (99 degrees F)! We only spent two nights here, I could have spent a bit longer but we were bound by our flight home. The place was also virtually empty too, so we more or less had the run of the lodge. I’m not sure when peak season is.

The game here however was a lot better than that at Semliki. You’ll see from the photos, we saw more or less everything; lions, elephants, buffalow, hippopotamus, wart hog and dozens of different types of bird. We met up with Hrishi again here (he didn’t come to Semliki because he was working), and drove back to Kakira on the Thursday ready for our flight home early Friday morning.

All in all a splendid holiday/visit. Uganda isn’t for people who want sun, sea, sand and sangria, go to Spain for that. But if you want something a little different, something more adventurous, and if you don’t mind hours of driving over bumpy potholed roads in a 4 wheel drive, then I would recommend it to you. It cost me around £1,500 including pre-holiday vaccinations and Malaria prescriptions (£2.30 a tablet!), but please bear in mind that I had a free week for the first week, so it may well cost you more if you want to go for the same amount of time.