Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Buenos Dias

I've taken it upon myself to try and learn Spanish. I don't expect to be fluent or even capable anytime in the next year or two, but having come back from Mexico I still have a desire to be able to speak it. Most holidays you go on, if you're like me, you'll pick up a few words and the basics like hello, goodbye, thanks, please, and a few numbers but never get much further. By the time you've got that it's time to come back home and you won't need them again unless you visit somewhere else that speaks the language (or make friends out there).

French I really don't get on with - teachers had a go at secondary school, I wasn't bothered and gave it up as soon as I could. I still remember some just 'cos it was a few years worth, but I'd be hopeless in France. German I've never even touched. I might know 1-3, 'no' (everyone knows that), and er... ok that's all that comes to mind. Italian I picked up a few words while on hols there a few years ago although it was a typical package holiday so we didn't try much. But Mexico was great, one of the best holidays I've ever had and (ok the lovely ladies make it even more tempting) I would really be interested to speak a little more. I picked up more there than I have done on any other holiday and I've heard it said that it's quite an easy language to learn. I'm quite a logical person - I studied Latin at GCSE and always thought that has come in handy on the odd occasion.

Book-and-audio-tape/CD courses seem like a good way for now. I can study whenever I want and do as much as I like each time. I've found a Spanish Sky Digital channel (TVEi, channel no.835 at the moment) which should be great just to have on in the background and try to pick out words / hear the pronounciation and accents. I did look up some courses and have one (quite cheap - £46 per 11 1.5hr lessons) very locally but I've missed the start of term and don't know whether I could still enrol. That's the most expensive but probably the best way to learn (apart from knowing someone Spanish willing to help). Jon knows a bit as he's got friends he writes to in (Latin American) Spanish sometimes but it's more written than spoken. Anyone who can speak/write it fancy chatting?


Vocabulary... How big is yours?

I was chatting to Jon the other day on Skype (free Voice over IP software), and he's decided to try and expanding his vocabulary by learning new words regularly. While reading his current Iain Banks book, he'd come across quite a few words he didn't know from the subject matter and wondered if I knew them. Turns out it was a lot to do with sailing and boats. I used to sail quite a lot with my dad when I was younger so knew all these terms like gunwhale (pronounced 'gunnal'), fore/aft, starboard/port and which way round they all are. A lot of them I recognised and maybe had a feeling but didn't really know what they were.

We all grew up differently (well, maybe twins didn't - at a guess :-) so most of us have some words or phrases we know that most other people don't. How about taking time to ask your friends for an uncommon word they think is outside your vocabulary? Is that a good way to learn more?

Skype (free VoIP)

Ever wanted to chat to someone online using your real voice rather than text (eg. email, SMS, Instant-messaging, or even real snail-mail letters)? I've always had an eye out for any application that will do this without requiring an expensive subscription. It's technically known as Voice-over-IP, or VoIP.

Well, I've found one. Well, my mate Jon did. It's called Skype and once you've downloaded it, installed it and signed up, you can chat for free to anyone else using skype using just a microphone and speaker plugged into your PC. I'm not sure about bandwidth requirements, as I'm on ADSL 512kbps so slower connections may not be so great. You still ought to be able to handle a reasonably decent quality conversation. It's secure and encrypted so noone can listen to you uninvited, they appear to support conferences although only the Windows version of the software can host them at present, and it's better than mobile or (just about) normal landline clarity. We did notice a tendency to go metallic or jerky a bit when you suddenly start doing other things online although 512kbps should be plenty for any type of half-decently compressed audio at all, but it's pretty cool otherwise. You can also chat/instant-message people if you're not in the mood or not set up for audio.

They also mention "SkypeOut", a way of calling plain non-internet phones all over the world (yep, this is where they try and make their money) with a pre-pay charging scheme. It seems real cheap though - 1.1p-ish per minute for most countries they support.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Pier, Harwich (Essex, UK)

Nice restaurant. The menu is mainly fish based but they also do a few other options in case you're not a seafood fan. It has a view out over the water too. We had a meal there last weekend for my brother's wedding celebrations - for everyone who couldn't make it to Mexico, but most of the UK side of the wedding party was there plus the bride's father. Next door they have a function room/bar we used for the rest of the time.

Fitting with the sea theme to the place, as you go in to the restaurant there is a ship's wheel and one of those levers used to indicate the speed/direction required (from full ahead to full reverse).

If you have enough people to book it all, not everyone can see everyone else as the room is a 'U' shape around the entrance area and the two top ends of the U are slightly raised up on a platform. Recommended for the food and good service, they were ever so helpful to the happy couple with putting out their supplied flowers, candles and other decorations.

"Quadra Drive"

Jeep, come on... Try a little harder with your names, pleeease...

Saw a Jeep SUV V8-engined type thing on the way back from my dentist appointment today parked in town, and it had the above name on the back. Obviously their name for their development of 4-wheel drive, but doesn't it sound crap!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Holiday Diary (long)

This entry's more for me than everyone else but here's what I did on holiday. So it may be a little boring in places.

Wednesday 8th September

  1. Dave gave me a lift to Gatwick in the morning with my luggage, met the rest of my family soon after arriving by chance and checked in. Main suitcase was 20.3kg, but not a problem (limit is 20kg).
  2. Sat around a lot, had some proper breakfast/lunch and waited for the flight to Toronto. The bride and groom took a slightly later flight.
  3. Enjoyed the rush of acceleration as we were whisked off in a fairly northerly direction before heading out over the Atlantic. It's a 7hr flight.
  4. Of course, 5hrs time difference westwards means we get there shortly after we left and the tiring flight hasn't helped (although Raising Helen was worth watching and it was nice seeing the lay of the land by air).
  5. Collapse into bed and hope our body clocks sort themselves a bit.

Thursday - visit and explore downtown Toronto, mainly the Eaton shopping centre - has a massive Sears there (department store). All browsing, as it was easier to pick stuff up on the stop-over there on the way back home than carry it around the rest of the hols.

Friday - CN Tower

  1. Took loads of photos, had dinner in the revolving restaurant up the top - expensive but if you choose a main meal item you don't need to pay for the elevator ride up the tower. This has a constant view outside all the way up due to a window running the entire height of the tower's base and glass doors to the lift, so you'd better be ok with that if you ever go. One rotation every 72mins so by the time you've had dinner you should have seen every direction at least once.
  2. Also popped down to the observation deck where you can walk round the outside with wire mesh and concrete obscuring your view. Or you can look down through some glass panels in the floor further inside and see all the way down from 350-odd metres up. Good for "aagh I'm about to fall" joke photos.
  3. Shoot more photos after coming down from it.

Saturday - Niagara Falls (100 miles away)

  1. Meet Lindsey's friends Shelley at hotel, share car space on the hour drive to Niagara.
  2. Try out the "Maid of the Mist" boat trip - well worth it, I don't think you can really say you've 'done' the falls until you've been on it. Takes you right up close and being at the bottom rather than the top makes them all the more impressive. Definitely better to view them from the Canadian side than the USA side.
  3. Take loads of photos again - some really nice ones too.
  4. On the way home we stopped off at a canal which my dad was particularly interested in, think it's one of the longest in the world that'll fit commercial shipping down it. Used to be used to carry important ores or wood or something from the East down to Toronto. Lots and lots of gates too, as there's a fair old climb from one end to the other. We saw one ship going through just as we got there. I took a few pics.

Sunday - last minute look/shop (ie more film!), fly to Mexico

  1. Meet up with the groom's "Best Lady" (the best man being unable to attend) at Toronto airport for the package flight/holiday to the hotel near Tulum (south of Cancun on the coast), Mexico.
  2. Dad has fun trying to take his film through customs without it being X-rayed at all. We all sit and wait, while trying to make use of a Tim Horton's eaterie with varying eastern-origin accented staff, the Canadian mix-in didn't help.
  3. It's only a 4hr flight so the fact that the food/snacks/coffee gets worse each flight with Air Transat isn't of major importance.
  4. We land in Cancun early evening and by the time we get to the hotel it's dark so we can't see how nice it is. The bus transfer trip is uneventful and we pass the monotonous palm/coconut forestation that pervades almost the entire area without much comment. Lindsey's family have been there a day already (and are leaving a day before us), we happen to see them at check-in and are instantly lifted in spirit by their mood (after a drink or two it has to be said...). Lovely reception area, instantly get the feeling that I'm going to love this holiday and the chilled-out attitudes despite knowing very little about it.
  5. I just had to join them for free drinks - it's all inclusive, meeting Laurel (Lindsey's sister) and her other half Ethan. By the end of this evening I knew I was going to love the holiday.

Monday - Hurrah! Mexico

  1. The best bit of the holiday begins.
  2. Wake up, take a look outside, and feel even better instantly.
  3. Explore the hotel, walk round the 3 pools, down to the sea (ooo... about a minute's walk from my room), and the hotel lobby/facilities.

The rest of the time was spent on various outings that I will write about (maybe as an extension to this entry) to Chichen Itza and Tulum's Mayan ruins, sunning myself, drinking pina colada's/other cocktails and beers (not together!), playing in the pool or the sea. Plus there was the wedding of course! The only bad bit was suffering from bad pool water or something towards the end of the week and overdoing the sun on the last day without any suncream on (in the sea, snorkelling... so easy - but worth it). Made the trip carrying my luggage back from Gatwick far less fun. It's horrible enough with suitcases on the underground anyway without sore shoulders.

That trip from Gatwick back home actually ended up costing not all that much less than a taxi would have been! £12 for the Gatwick Express back into London, £2 tube to Waterloo then £10.10 single back to Farnham. Doesn't it annoy you how return tickets are only a little more expensive than singles? Well, the £10.10's return version was £10.80. 70p more! I seriously considered buying a return, just on the off-chance! It was never going to be used, but when it's only 70p more on a tenner, what difference does it make?!

Interesting stories - you'll have to check out other entries... I could mention the group of entirely leather (quite fetish) clad gentlemen and Transvestites I passed on the way out of the hotel one evening; there's the madness on the way back after getting off the Mexican flight back to Toronto; there's the talented spray-paint or glass artists demonstrating and selling their wares around the shop/bar part of the hotel, the time I got hit on in the club, mention of some lovely Mexican ladies I unfortunately never got any further than flirty conversation with,....

Some holiday photos online

Some of (just the one colour film I took on the day) my brother's wedding photos from Mexico are now online in their own portfolio. More will be there as I get them developed/scanned in.