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Michael’s Travel Diary

Monday, 24 Dec 2007

Location: Isle of Wight, England


In ten minutes, that is what I will be. Not necessarily by choice, but certainly not something I couldn't have avoided if I desired too... and had a bit more notice!

In 10 minutes, at 1945 on Christmas Eve, the last hi-speed passenger ferry will leave Cowes for the evening, much earlier than the regular 2315 on a Monday night. The car ferry, which usually runs throughout the night, albeit from the other side of the island, made its last sailing at 1900, and is due into Southampton in the next 20 minutes.

So, when the last hi-speed ferry leaves, I will be stuck on this island until the first ferry runs again at 915 on the 26th of December. This is giving me a new experience of claustrophobia that I hadn't previously felt; not that I am fearing the asylum walls breaking down and every man fending for themselves until the ferry's run again, nor am I worried about not being able to get to a hospital or find a supply of food (though, with EVERYTHING shutting down for Christmas and Boxing Day there is the distinct possibility of starving). It is just uncomfortable not having the choice of heading to the mainland if I wanted to... and I do want to.

None of this would cause any grief if I was still only 3 hours away from the London airports like I am any other time of the year. But given that the ferry service starts late on Boxing Day, the trains aren't running at all so I need to take a 4 hour bus ride, and there is 1.5 hours to kill between the ferry and the bus - that is just plain frustrating. But in any case, I have booked my trip, and will be spending all the time between Christmas and New Year's trying to get from the island to London, and back again. Oh, and there'll be some time spent in Budapest in between these two journeys.

In trying to decide where to go, my room looked more like the floor of a stock exchange than a bedroom. Travel guides sprawled everywhere, calendars hung on the wall in front of the computer, the map of Europe moved closer to the computer for easy access, and most importantly, god only knows how many windows open with flight times, bus times ferry times, and accommodation prices. There were more numbers than the NYSE, just as many scrap pieces of paper thrown around the room as the Merc Trading Floor in Manhattan, and almost as much yelling going on - except I was the only one in the room.

At the early stage, less than a week ago, it looked certain that I'd be flying to Lithuania and exploring the former Soviet region of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Then it suddenly turned to a stint through Romania. And Romania looked the goods till this morning when I realised getting to the airport in time for the flights and then back to the island for the last ferry on New Year's Eve (yeah, they finish early then too) would be more difficult than getting out of the MCG car park after a Carlton vs. Collingwood within an hour of the final siren.

Next on the list of choices was Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. That was ruled out as I would arrive until 5 minutes after midnight on the 28th, a good two days wasted. Next up to bat, Tallinn. The price of that one meant that Tallinn went down looking. Finally, a stroke of inspiration, and I started looking at Reykjavik. One of the problems I faced in finding a destination was looking for a country I hadn't been to (Iceland definitely registers there) and one that isn't going to block me off from other countries at a later date. For example, going to Latvia would make it less financially viable to get to Estonia and Lithuania as the only way from one to the other is to cut back through Latvia again. Iceland certainly didn't fall into that category, in fact, it scored a perfect ten.

Don't get me wrong, everything was doubled - the cost of the flights, accommodation, transfers, food, drinks, night club entry - except the daylight hours, they were halved. I looked so far into it at one stage I think I had the tidal charts up on my screen. There are a million and one reasons to go to Iceland - see the Northern Lights (which claimed positions 1-5 on the list) going out in what is supposed to be the most hedonistic night life in Europe (claiming positions 6-10 most likely), swimming in thermal waters in the middle of winter, riding high power snow-doo's, ice fishing - but the grand total is about the same - a million and one pounds. In the end, the 4 hours of daylight a day seemed to scare me off, and looking at flight prices in summer, I could get there for half the price as it would cost me to fly on Wednesday, and Iceland, like a breaking glacier, went sliding off the edge.

It got to the point where it looked like I was going to spend Xmas Eve, and Christmas Day, locked in the confines of the Walkabout, crashing on the couches in the common room and getting "abso-f--kin-lutely smashed" on Christmas Day, just so I was on the mainland and could fight my way to the airport before the sun came up on the 26th. Whilst this does have some upsides (free beer and food, and admittedly damn comfy couches to sleep on), it had my spidey-senses tingling; something I took to presume as a bad idea rather than a good one.

Finally, with less than an hour before the last ferry headed for the mainland, I managed to make all of the numbers work, and realised that the only financially viable option, and the one that best make use of my time off, would be to head to Budapest. Thankfully I managed to head into town today, somewhere in the 6 hours of cursing at the computer screen, and cursing the Isle of Wight in general, and picked myself up some thermals. Turns of the temperature on Friday is forecast to be a high of -5 and a low of -8 degrees; about 8 degrees lower than Iceland...

As I finish writing this, the last ferry is pulling into Southampton, and I sit here, with a hard earned thirst, drinking a super chilled Fosters from the freezer, protecting my hand using the Albany, WA stubby holder I found in the house when I moved in. Certainly not an Aussie Christmas, and I am missing it all, but doing my best to keep myself occupied!

So, I hope you all have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and a most HAPPY NEW YEAR. The story from Slovenia will be up in the next 24 hours as well, so stay tuned for that. The laptop is coming with me to Hungary, so I will be updating regularly over the 5/6 days that I am there... stay tuned, and enjoy the holidays!

Love to you all