Merkel confirmed as German Chancellor

Today Germany held its general elections, the Bundestagswahl 2009, which confirmed Chancellor Angela Merkel for another four year term in office!

The Big Coalition formed by Germany's two biggest parties that governed the country for 4 years is now history. Instead, Germans voted for a "Black-Yellow" coalition of CDU (Christian Democratic Union - Black) and FDP (Liberals - Yellow). Merkel's leading party, the CDU got 33,8 % of the votes, with the FDP (led by Guido Westerwelle) getting their best-to-date election-outcome with 14,6 %. A majority, that Social Democrats together with the left wing party and the Green Party could not have beat.

The loser in this general election is the SPD (Social Democrats), which only got 22,9 % - 11,3 percentage points less than they had in the last election. The SPD was also the governing party, when Gerhard Schröder was Chancellor. It's their worst ever outcome, and out of 222 mandate seats they had in parliament, they will only have 147 left. SPD Chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the outcome of this Bundestagswahl a "bitter defeat".

The real winners were the Liberals, though. During the last election, they got 9,8 % of the votes and 61 seats in parliament. From now on, the FDP will have 93 seats.
However, only 71,7 % out of the 62 million Germans registered to vote did so today, which is the worst ever voter participation in the history of the Federal Republic. This may also have to do with many, formerly loyal SPD voters denying to vote for the party.

Tibet closed to travellers

As the Chinese National Day approaches, it is reported that China once again closed off Tibet to independent travellers. News agencies in China and Tibet reported, that a blanket travel ban came into effect on 24th September, which is believed to be lifted again on 10th October.

The National Day on 1st October marks the 60th anniversary of Mao Zedong's declaration of the Peoples Republic of China and rule over the Tibet region.

It is reported, that the ban will only affect independent foreign travellers, and travellers already in Tibet will be allowed to stay. A spokesperson with the Tibet Tourist Association stated that the ban was due to high demand, instead of the National Day celebrations.

Overlanding tours already in the area will not be affected, and their itineraries might only have to be changed slightly, if at all. The tour operaters are saddened by the new ban and the uncertainty in Tibet, but they hope that the situation is temporary.

Chinese authorities are keen to avoid any anti-China protests, like the ones that happened in Tibet in March 2008 and the Xinjiang region in July this year.

Tibet has been closed off three times over the past two years. Following the March 2008 riots, before and during the Olympic Summer Games 2008 and in February this year, on the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising. The bans have seriously affected tourist numbers to the region, dropping to 2,2 million in 2008 which is half the visitor numbers they had in 2007.

"Smoking" on flights reintroduced

The low-cost airline Ryanair is going to reintroduce in-flight smoking. However, non-smokers will not have to worry about smoke-filled cabins or nicotine smell.

Instead, the airline is promoting "smokeless" cigarettes, which look like real cigarettes but are made of plastic. When inhaled, they deliver a small amount of nicotine. These cigarettes will be available in packs of ten for 6GBP.

These cigarettes will cause no discomfort for non-smoking passengers, and Ryanair hopes that passengers who didn't want to fly before because they couldn't "light up", will now be more likely to travel with them as their need for nicotine can now be met without upsetting fellow travellers.

The voice of the students

For the last few weeks, my boyfriend and I have been working on this idea: A new, independent student newspaper for the University of Cumbria. Why? Because the newspaper we've got, "The Informer", only comes out every 6 - 8 weeks which means that everything we write is old news by then. Also, Informer is the uni's official student newspaper, which means we can't really voice our opinions about the university - that would be considered anti-establishment.

So the idea of "Student Voice" was born. An independent, fortnightly newspaper/newsletter which covers all aspects of student life at UoC and is not afraid to put the students' real views and opinions across. The way I see it, all students have a right to know what is going on at their uni - after all they're paying good money to be there.

We're still working on layout at the moment, and need to find some stories. The paper will be an A4 paper, printed on both sides and folded in half, so that we'll have four A5 pages to work with. Though the launch edition will be free, I fear I might have to introduce a price of 5p or 10p per copy - just to cover the printing costs. That's the downside of being independent, I guess.

There will also be a website , which I am creating at the moment. The intention is to also offer classifieds on the website, for people looking for housemates, second-hand stuff or models for their final projects. Students will also be able to advertise their exhibitions, plays, record release parties and any other event, to get an even bigger audience. The site will be able to feature pictures and video, so people interested in broadcast are also welcome!

I want Student Voice to be a paper made by students for students. Filling the gap that Informer leaves after being published, and not just covering Student Union stuff like The Scene.

Please feel free to email any suggestions for stories, pictures, freshers' week anecdotes, etc. to me at

I am still looking for people who want to see their name in print as well, so feel free to drop me a line!

Dusted off and moved around

You probably know the feeling. You get back home after a period away, and everything seems so normal. Whenever I travel between my two homes (one in Germany, one in England), I always make sure I tidy up before I leave, arrange it in the way I needed things last - then I get back and have to rearrange everything, because it doesn't look right anymore.

I usually leave the furniture where it is, but all the bric-a-brac that's collecting dust on the shelves, the books, CDs, DVDs - everything has to be sorted. Stuff I thought was worth keeping goes into the bin within seconds.

I'm in one of these phases right now, as I've just returned to my student room in a shared house in Carlisle after 5 months away. The mess unpacking creates always gives me an excuse to just continue and move stuff about (after all, all my luggage has to go somewhere) but for a day or two I create a bigger mess than I started with. When I went shopping for essentials on Sunday just after getting back, one of the things I bought was a massive bin bag.

At the moment I'm considering a backyard sale during Freshers' Fortnight, to sell all the surplus. There are things I won't wear anymore, books I won't read anymore and DVDs that I don't like too much but sounded great to start with. Since I always play my CDs on my computer anyway, I might as well sell my stereo...

At least, this time I have a week to settle back in and get everything organised (my life, uni and my room, that is) instead of going straight back to uni or work the next days. My room always looks full, although I don't really have a lot of stuff. The room is just very small, and everything that doesn't fit on the IKEA "Billy" shelf, the small shelf on the wall or inside the chest of drawers has to go on or underneath the desk or under the bed... all those hiding places your mum always checked first when you were a kid and told to tidy up!

The joys of IKEA

My boyfriend and I have been to that Swedish furniture store that is IKEA yesterday, looking for bookcases and bedframes. However, as those who have been to IKEA before will know, there is so much tempting stuff there, that you can easily forget what you wanted to buy in the first place!

You can try everything, sit on the sofas, fold the sleeping couches and try them for comfort and so on! But the most important thing is all the bric-a-brac they sell, the small things like lamps, mirrors, blankets, vases and more or less useful decorative items. I am proud I managed to get out of there without buying anything (mainly, though, because I had all my luggage with me and couldn't fit anything else into the suitcase, even if I tried.

We eventually found a bookcase that will do the trick for my boyfriend's living room /bed room. We never actually looked at bedframes, because he'll have to order online and get the things delivered anyway (there is just no way you can fit a box for a 175cm x 60cm shelf in the back of a Mini...

The last time I went to IKEA in Germany, I ended up buying a much needed sofa-bed. It's funny that this furniture chain is one of the biggest in the world - Does anyone exist who does not have at least one item from them? - and yet, people are still making fun of their "Build it yourself" style. "Immer Karton erst auspacken" or "Ich krieg' einen Anfall" come to mind as synonyms, but I don't think they're too bad! Half the furniture in my flat in Germany is from IKEA and none of it broke yet, while the stuff I didn't get from IKEA is falling apart.

I might rent a car at some point though or take the train and go to the store in Newcastle.... Saw a few little things that might just make my room look more like my room...

Jag älskar Sverige!

Not too mild and not too spicy

Many people think that all Indian food is spiced solely with curry. After all, it’s probably the most famous Indian spice. But Indian cuisine can be very versatile, as Bombay Brasseries chef Sanjay Singh is able to prove.

For his signature dish King Prawns Tikka Ginger, he uses ginger, coriander and a herb sauce he made himself. One can actually taste the freshness of the spices used, as Sanjay grinds all the spices he needs himself, and all his meals benefit from this rather unusual effort.

For starters, he serves up crabs in a coconut sauce, spicy lamb pieces and some very tender and mildly spiced chicken in a cheese-herb sauce. Although the main course lamb was a bit too spicy for my liking, the pompret fish, covered in a lemon sauce was excellent. However, the chicken dish, which came in a kind of sweet and sour sauce, was something you would rather expect in a Chinese or Thai restaurant than at an Indian restaurant.

All in all, the combination of spices is excellent, making the meals not too mild or too hot, but giving you a little bit of everything. The chef is also able to recommend whether the meal goes best with rice or bread, so you’re in for a great Indian food experience whichever meal you choose!

Flight booking charges about to change

Booking your flight ticket online is fast, but not at all stress-free. Often, forms are confusing, and passengers end up inserting their first name in the surname field or writing their dates of birth the wrong way round (especially on American websites). However, when they do realise their mistake, it is usually too late to change it for free, and they end up having to pay hefty charges or book new tickets.

The Air Transport Users' Council has now called on all airlines to provide a 24 hour "cooling-off" period, in which their passengers can make changes to their bookings free of charge. Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Jet2, bmibaby and EasyJet among others have already introduced this window of opportunity. The AUC wants more airlines to follow suit, however, as there are increasing complaints concerning online bookings and how the airlines then handles the issue.

This will give passengers more confidence to book online, in the knowledge that they have 24 hours to spot and correct mistakes.


What do you do when owning a Mini is not enough for you? If you live in the UK, you go to a Mini Owners Club meeting! My boyfriend owns a 1983 Mini Mayfair, so I have to be careful what I say here, but if your idea of fun is having a drink at a pub you drove to in your Mini (which means that legally, you can't really drink anyway, so why they meet at pubs is a mystery to me) and talk about your car and the spares you bought for it for a couple of hours every week, then the Mini meeting is for you!
Granted, these meetings come in handy when you do have car trouble. Someone there is bound to have a solution, or might be able to point you in the right direction. The same goes for spare parts.
I think it's great that this iconic British car doesn't really cope with Britain that well.... It will throw a tantrum when going up hills or pushing it to 68 mph and it can't stand the rain (unless you have an endless supply of WD40 on hand or alternatively tinfoil behind your grill - though you might want to hang on to the WD40 just in case). They don't have airbags, you can't stretch on long drives and you can't really fit a lot of luggage in the boot. It is still cool driving around in one, though.
I guess Mini meetings are fine when you know a thing or two about cars (Minis in particular) and you have friends there. I have been a tagalong for the last couple of weeks and got an occasional word in, but that's it. I own a rare-ish car myself, a Nissan 100NX, but I've never been to a meeting for Nissan owners... it never even crossed my mind. But then again, I guess you just have to give up this one night a week if your boyfriend's a petrolhead!

Ban on Speedos

Favourite UK theme park Alton Towers is enforcing a pretty unusual ban. Men who want to use the water park are not allowed to wear skimpy speedos anymore. Instead, they are expected to don shorts. "Our team has witnessed an increase in men wearing tight trunk style swimwear", says Morwenna Angove, the marketing director of the Resort.

Alton Tower's management feels that speedos should not be worn at a family venue, and are therefore advising male guests to wear more protective swimwear. They are also looking into offering complimentary male waxing to ensure they preserve the dignity of all guests.

Postcard from York

If you ever get the chance to experience the city of York, jump at it! The medieval heart of the city, dominated by the famous York Minster, is well worth a visit - just don't wear high heels!

It's amazing, really, to see how many medieval houses, some dating back well and truly to the Dark Ages, have been preserved! The streets are mostly cobblestone and somehow you expect a horse and carriage to dash around the next corner. Probably the most famous street in York, is The Shambles. Most of the houses are timber-framed and centuries old and lean into the street. It is said that it brings you one year of luck when you walk down it hand in hand with the one you love.

On a nice day, Yorkers and visitors alike flock to the Museum Gardens to sit on the grass and enjoy the sunshine (or read a book...) or they spend their time on the shore of, and on, the river Ouse. River cruises take you 30 minutes up and down the river through the core of the city, past the National Railway Museum and various old pubs. It's worth it just for the little breeze you get on the river!

If you're looking for somewhere to have lunch, try Oscar's. The restaurant recently moved to a bigger venue, and even the starters can fill you up. If you don't want to sit down, have a sip of fruit beer or ale at the bar. Be sure to also try a pint of the locally brewed ales from the York Brewery.

York is one of only a few walled cities in Britain with most of their medieval walls still intact. So if you're feeling up for a stroll but don't fancy the hustle and bustle of the market, why not walk along the wall and it's gate houses? One entire circuit should take you roughly one hour, and you get to see a backyard idyll few others take time to see.

And although I am told that York's nightlife is pretty good, I do have an alternative for you! Be at the King's Arms pub (next to Ledal Bridge, on the shore of the Ouse) at 8pm sharp and join the Ghost Walk! You'll be taken round York's hotspots for activity (at least it is claimed that there have been ghosts), old buildings like the Jorwick Centre, Clifford's Tower and the Shambles and you get to enjoy several ghost stories on the way! There are several walks starting from all over town, so there's plenty of choice!

On the run

If you are a traveller and want to keep fit while exploring the British capital, you just got a new way of doing so. London Sightseeing Runs offer group and one-to-one running tours across London and past various sights with a qualified fitness trainer.

There are five different routes altogether. Riverview Run leads you from the Houses of Parliament to the Tower of London; Royal Parks takes in Kensington Palace, The Mall and parks in West London; Maritime Greenwich includes the Royal Observatory and the Millenium Dome; London Canals explores the canal ways in some of the most exclusive neighbourhoods and the Historic East End Run takes you around Jack the Ripper's hunting ground and to the alternative arts scene at Spitalfield's Market. Each run takes about an hour to complete and start at 7am, 10am, 3pm and 7pm every day. The guides are also able to provide interesting historical facts, along with fitness tips.

Isn't university great?

Well, mine definitely is not! The University of Cumbria in Carlisle will be relocating the Brampton Road library. Apparently, the books taken out the most will go to the library at Fusehill Street, while all the rest of the books will go into storage at Milbourne Street.

The library at Milbourne Street was purpose-built for the University of Central Lancashire, whos Business School campus in Carlisle has been integrated into UoC. However, once they closed the Business campus and transferred the students to Fusehill Street, they closed the library. Now they are closing the second. Students at Fusehill Street enjoy a wide-range of medical, teaching and sports books, but everyone else will have problems getting set text books or writing their dissertations.

Brampton Road library has to go because the Graphic Design department wants to expand, although they have quite a few big rooms to themselves. Journalism really only has the newsroom, which is too small to hold all the students in three years at once, and a broadcasting studio.

They should keep the library and just not take on more students than they can accommodate. The money should rather be spend on updating their catalogue, as some of the books date back to the 90s and students get marks taken off for referencing out-of-date books...

Dissertation Questions

I will be starting my third and final year at the University of Cumbria is two weeks' time. Since the end of Year Two, I have been wondering what I could write my dissertation about. I knew I wanted to write about travel journalism, after all, I'm doing a B.A. degree in the subject, but I couldn't come up with a decent question.

When I had to write a Research Proposal at the end of Year Two, my question was this: "Are travel blogs replacing guidebooks as the main source of travel information?" However, I am not really interested in online journalism and didn't particularly like the qustion. I mean, after all, when you write your bachelor thesis about a topic, you should be interested in it, and not bored before you even start writing.

My new question will be: "In what ways does travel writing in the United Kingdom differ from journalistic convention in Germany?" The good thing is, I can use most of the books I already reviewed and I can write about the differences in journalism that I witness everytime I go home and work at my local paper in Germany.

Published again

My curry-judging article made it onto the Champion's website!
Read it here!

Solinger Zöppkesmarkt this weekend

The German city of Solingen is going completely bonkers again this weekend, as the 41st "Zöppkesmarkt" is on. The Zöppkesmarkt is a massive flea-market in the city centre, with some groups putting up stalls and performances all weekend long. These groups, including the "Aul Baseloemker", "Flecken Lecker" and Dreitausender" are now attractions in their own right! Zöppkesmarkt is now one of the largest flea-markets in Northrhine-Westphalia, with many people coming from all over the state to bag some bargains.

A "Zöppken" is the name the City of Blades gave its small kitchen knives. Of course, these Solingen specialties are sold as well. Though the market is getting more and more commercial every year, there are still some great bargains and rare items to be found. Old phones that still have a proper dial and work? - No problem! Vinyl records? - Sure thing! There is a lot of bric-a-brac for sale, but if you're creative and a DIY kind of person, you might just find everything you need to turn your flat into a place straight out of the 70s.

Solingen's Miss Zöpfchen (voted for having the nicest plaits) is voted before the market and her proclamation is the official start of the Zöppkesmarkt. She'll go around, give awards for the most original stalls and represent Solingen in the year to come.
The Zöppkesmarkt is one of Solingen's biggest annual events and well worth a visit. Be prepared to haggle, have a laugh and maybe you'll find those bowls that go so nicely with the plates you've already got...

Warning: Sandgrounder Beer Festival!

The 10th Sandgrounder Beer Festival takes place in Southport this weekend. Organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), many beers from Lancashire and Yorkshire are there for you to try. These include Lagers, Bitters, Milds, Stouts and Specialty Beers from across the region.

The set-up, although housed in the Southport Arts Centre, is a little un-imaginative to say the least. One wall holds kegs of all the beers, stacked up to the ceiling, to the right they've got the same set-up for perries and ciders and on the left there's a tombola, in which you can win The Good Beer Guide or bottles of beer. There are only a handful of tables and seats, so most visitors will have to stand.
Admission for CAMRA members is free, and you get a half-pint glass and GBP 8 worth of beer tokens to enjoy. Non-members pay GBP 3, get a glass as well (which is refundable if undamaged) and GBP 5 in beer tokens.
However, be careful what beer you try! The first two beers I had were not the nicest I'd ever tasted (one tasted like cough syrup with alcohol), but the third was by far the worst of the lot! I tried Redscar Sands, and it tasted rank. I was actually looking for a toilet to put that beer where it belongs! I don't know whether it was a bad keg or not, but I know for sure that I'll never drink that one voluntarily again!

My boyfriend let me have a sip of a beer he tried, which was an Anglo-Dutch one called Tabatha and was quite sweet but really nice. That must have been the best beer the two of us tried all night. So, if you go along to the festival, get them to give you a taster first, before you order the half pint and pay for it! That way, you can actually sample more, and know which ones to avoid!

An alle Jung-Journalisten: Duden Open

Alle, die gerne die Bundestagswahl in der Politikredaktion von N24 begleiten wollen, beim "heute journal" helfen wollen oder eigene Artikel in der taz lesen möchten, sollten sich zur Duden Open 2009 anmelden!

Gesucht werden junge Journalisten, die mit Praktika in diesen renommierten Redaktionen ihrem Traumberuf Journalismus ein wenig näher kommen wollen.

Die erste Runde besteht aus einem 15-Fragen Allgemeinwissen-Test auf, der wie die Aufnahmeprüfung von Journalistenschulen aufgebaut ist. Wer sich in der ertsen Runde (bis 31. Oktober) qualifiziert muss in der zweiten Runde einen Artikel zu einem vorgegebenen Thema verfassen. Die besten 300 bekommen hochwertige Präsente und der/die Beste natürlich die Chance ein Praktikum zu absolvieren!

Left or right?

The Pacific island state of Samoa spent all day yesterday and today changing around. They went from driving on the right-hand side of the road to the left and adopted the British and Australian system. This switch-over is the first since Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria switched sides in the 1970s and it's unusual as everyone else normally changes from left-hand traffic to the right.

Two thirds of the world population drive on the right-hand side of the road, even though historically, many used to move on the left. This had to do with Roman chariots being steered with the right hand while they'd hold the whip in their left hand and didn't want to whip anyone coming the opposite way. Knights also had to do battle with their good hand (which most-commonly is the right), and it's easier to mount and dismount horses on the left as well, so many stuck to that side. The U.K., Australia, New Zealand and India are among the few westernised countries that still drive on the left.

However, Henry Ford introduced right-hand cars to the US in 1908. It would be easier to get out of the car directly onto the curb, "Especially when there is a lady to be considered."

The reason why Samoa is changing sides this month is simple, if also a little sad. This way, they can buy cheap, used cars from Australia and New Zealand and don't have to worry about the side of the road they're on, as driving a right-hand-steering car in right-hand traffic can be confusing.

Many Samoans are furious about the governments' decision. It will create chaos on the streets and will definitely cause some serious accidents. Yesterday and today are national holidays in Samoa, so people can get used to the new system. But as they say: "In the beginning it will be hard, but we'll learn - we're not stupid!"

Samba on the street!

Being a hippie at heart, my favourite way to travel is on roadtrips. And the iconic method of transport that comes to mind is a 1962 Volkswagen T1 Samba. I don't know what it is about this car, but I really want to own one some day.

They're so spacious that you could move house in one of these mini vans. Or, you could do what I'm planning to do once I've got one, and get the back all comfy and equipped for roadtrips. There's so much space, you could even stretch out and sleep in this car, instead of getting soaked in a tent!

This is the car people droved to Woodstock in! I don't think any car defined a generation as much as the Samba (or Caravelle Type 1, as it's called on this island). Many replaced the VW emblem with the peace sign during the sixties and painted the car in all kinds of colours. Even today, there's something special about them, don't you think? They're good on all kinds of roads, and with 25 windows, they really do let the sun shine in (did I mention there's a sunroof as well?).

I imagine it to be brilliant. Take this car with you wherever you go and you have a home away from home on wheels! Pure roadtrip bliss!

The third dimension?

Right, I was watching Final Destination in 3D at the movies last night and I kept wondering why people can't stick to 2D - after all, everything else at the movies and on TV is in 2D as well.

I know it's all supposed to look more real, but really, it doesn't. Most of the 3D effects are just that: effects.

And having to wear an extra set of glasses is not a great solution either. Especially not when you have to wear glasses to start with. Wearing two glasses on top of each other, one is always gonna slide down. Also I found that around the edges of the glasses, the picture became smudged - not dirty, but hard on the eye which gave me a headache. So I keep asking: Why do people even bother putting movies in 3D?

Apparently, Southport cinema is new to the whole idea... everywhere else in the world has already tried it, and it can't have been such a great success or all the movies coming out would be in 3D by now.

Judging Curry

Sanjay Singh, a chef at Burscough restaurant Bombay Brasseries, is excited about having qualified for the British National Curry Award, in which chefs from all over the country will take part. The award is designed to give Indian chefs recognition for their skills. On Monday, Sanjay prepared his favourite dish King Prawn Tikka Ginger for a jury of organiser Adnam Mallick, Amy Salters from The Advertiser newspaper, a work experience student at The Advertiser and myself, sent by the Champion newspapers, to qualify.

“He has been recommended by so many customers that I had to come and try it for myself”, says organiser Adnam Mallick. Sanjay, who used to work at ITC Maurya Sheraton in India before settling in the UK eight years ago already cooked for Bill Clinton and his family during a stay in New Delhi. “Chelsea Clinton liked the King Prawns so much that the meal was renamed ‘Chelsea Platter’ in her honour”, Sanjay explains. One year ago, Sanjay moved to Burscough. "I'm interested in serving good food and giving good service. It doesn't matter where I am to do that", he explains.

Out of 200 qualifying chefs, the best 20 will go to London to prepare their signature dish in front of judges and TV cameras. “I’ve prepared this dish thousands of times. My bigger worry are the TV cameras”, Sanjay laughs. "I've never been on TV before!"

“The meals have to be as authentic as possible, and we also judge the spices and raw materials used, as well as hygiene in the kitchen, food preparation and service. In every round of the competition, the chefs have to prepare a different dish”, Adnam Mallick explains the judging procedure. Sanjay's strength is his use of spices. "I don't buy ready packed spices. I buy them fresh and grind them myself. I only prepare as much as I need per day!" The freshness can even be tasted in his meals.

Only three chefs in Lancashire had been recommended by their customers. Getting the best feedback from his customers, Sanjay was chosen to participate. “Winning the award would really put Burscough on the culinary map”, adds Mallick. His colleagues at Bombay Brasseries wish the father-of-one good luck for the next round.

No trains on Sunday

Because the London Midland train firm relies on train drivers to volunteer working on Sundays, travellers were faced with both staff and train shortages today!

London Midland had an agreement with drivers, who got double their normal wage for the Sunday shifts. However, this agreement ended last week, and not enough drivers came forward to take over this week's shift.

This is likely to go on, so don't travel on London Midland on Sunday unless you absolutely have to!

All drivers are morons!!

That was one of the first things my driving instructor Greg taught me while I made my first attempts of driving cars in New Zealand. "All drivers are morons and should be treated accordingly!" And he is right.

On Saturday, my boyfriend and I were taking his Mini around the Lake District. Trying to find a parking space so we could have breakfast, we were driving around Hawkshead. Stopping at a junction to let traffic through, we didn't really pay much attention to a delivery van parked with it's front to the curb next to our car. Well, we paid attention to him after a little while. Still standing there at the junction and waiting to go, this guy puts his van in reverse and hits our passenger side!! And he didn't stop after the impact, he tried to keep going! All I could see were his rear lights coming towards me and I was scared! Luckily, he didn't go at any great speed, so he only twisted the passenger side mirror and dented the door a little! He only stopped reversing after my boyfriend honked his horn, the guy didn't even notice that we were behind him!! There was nothing we could have done anyway. We couldn't go forward into traffic and couldn't reverse as the van driver would have followed us and reversed into the front of the Mini. Needless to say that my boyfriend told the guy a thing or two about how careless he is and how stupid he is for not checking behind the car before reversing out into a street!!! I couldn't open my door (as the van was still parked up against my window), but the guy didn't even check whether we were alright... I mean, you've just backed into a Mini's passenger side... wouldn't you make sure the passenger was alright? Luckily, all that happened was that I bumped my ellbow against the door handle.

We never actually made it to breakfast, being just a little shaken up with what had just happened. Luckily we weren't injured.

Later that day, on our way back from Cumbria to Merseyside, we were on a dual carriageway somewhere outside barrow. We could see this Ford Mondeo on the on-ramp, not looking, not indicating and definitely not slowing down. So we slowed down and then changed into the outside lane to give the Mondeo driver a bit of space. Keep in mind that this is a 70 mph speed-limit road! What the guy did next was nothing but outrageous! Instead of staying in the left-hand land, he didn't indicate, didn't slow down or speed up, but went right across into our lane right in front of us and kept going at an estimated 25 mph! In the fast lane! All my boyfriend could do was hit the brakes hard and pray that the Mini wouldn't have one of its "Not Today!" moments!! The guy in front of us didn't care and kept his speed and then started indicating right. That idiot doesn't belong on the road!!! He's endangering everyone!

I'm glad we could slow down just in time, but there were only a couple of feet (if that) distance from our bumper to his. The Mini doesn't have headrests, and if we'd actually hit the car, we could have been seriously injured or even killed. Since the dashboard isn't that deep, we both would have ended up crashing our heads into the windscreen. My boyfriend would have slammed into the steering wheel, while I most likely would have broken my knees on the dashboard edge. Whiplash, thanks to low seats and no headrests, could have left us with spinal injuries or worse!!! Oh yeah, and there aren't any airbags either! Fortunately the seatbelts worked!

I can't understand why people have to go and drive so carelessly! As I said, all drivers are morons... but some are just greater morons than others! They should be fined and taken off the road for good! Maybe use idiot drivers instead of dummies in crash tests, so they can see what it's like!

Camping in the rain

Going on a camping trip together is what my boyfriend and I had been talking about since March. Thursday night, we finally gave it a go.

Driving up to Caton near Lancaster, we stayed at a friend's house over night and had a couple of pints and a decent meal in the village pub. Early on Friday morning, we then set off towards our destination: The Lake District! I normally live in the only city in Cumbria (Carlisle), which is just north of the Lakes. Since I'd never been to the South Lakes before (Keswick and the North Lakes are just easier to reach from Carlisle), we decided to camp on the shore of Lake Windermere, taking the car ferry across to Hawkshead. The campsite we wanted to pitch our tent at was in Low Wray, just across the lake from Ambleside, and owned by the National Trust. We got there just before 10am and all we wanted was to put up the tent and then go and explore a little. Except we couldn't. "We can't book you in right now. Come back at 12." Erm... helloho?! We're here, and all we want is a bit of grass to put a tent over. It's not like you have to clean the room, put new sheets on the bed and refill the mini-bar! After all, it's just a FIELD you're offering!!

Anyway, we went for breakfast in Coniston and enjoyed views of a cloud-covered Old Man of Coniston (a fell - or hill, for all non-Cumbrians) just outside town. When we wanted to make our way back to the campsite (trying to get there early to get a good spot), we took the Mini back up the hilly, curvy, bumpy road. Or at least halfway up. All of a sudden, in the middle of the Lake District, we hit traffic. Turns out, the local bus service got stuck in a bend, because a holiday coach driver had taken his coach down the narrow road. Since each of them had a line of cars behind them, they couldn't reverse. The police had to be called and everyone had to turn around. That road is barely wide enough to let two Minis through tête-à-tête, let alone a bus and a coach. I think coaches should be banned from these country lanes. Park them in a village and take the local transport. Or hire a car and drive yourself instead of taking the coach....
Needless to say we got to the campsite an hour late.

Back at the camp, the good pitches were already taken. They offered us a pitch by the lake, in a forest, where it would be a bit more sheltered. However, taking the Mini over all the potholes on the not-so-well-maintained road (come on, National Trust can at least dish out some money for some gravel!) wasn't good for the car, and the suggested campsite was a swamp. The mud was inches deep and all the pitches either too close to other tents or on gradients... So we decided to ask them for a new pitch on "Vic's Meadow", because we just couldn't take the car up and down that road too often. We were told, there were two pitches left near the top of a hill. There were plenty of spaces left (as I said before: it's a FIELD!!!), but we weren't allowed to pitch on the flat bit. Instead, we finally pitched on muddy grass on a slope. Luckily, we had a ground sheet that was large enough to cover the entire tent, as it was raining yet again.

We spent the rest of the day in Bowness, sitting at the lake, eating ice cream and trying the local Bitter, before heading towards Ambleside to get some chips and sausages to take away. Sitting next to our tent on camping chairs we bought for the trip, most of our neighbouring campers were quite jealous of the fact that we'd drven 15 minutes and got ourselves hot meals. Later, we sat at the shore of the river, feeding a duck and watching Ambleside in the distance.
The night however, was not so great.
I have been camping before, in fact, I spent two months out of my gap year camping, but that was easily the worst night I spent in a tent so far. Because we were on a slope, I kept sliding down to the bottom of the tent and then had to crawl back up to my pillow - and this happened every five minutes. Furthermore, we were in the middle of a downpour, the walls of the tent got damp and then soaking wet, even though we had the ground sheet and the wind was flapping the sheet up and down. It wasn't as cold as I'd expected it to be, though. I can usually sleep through the noises. My real problem was the hard ground. I've got a bad back, and I usually remember to bring an air matress along, but I didn't this time. By the time I stopped tossing and turning to find a comfy position to sleep in, it was light outside again.

By that point, both my boyfriend and I had pretty much enough of the Cumbrian weather, and decided to head back home a day early. The plan was to stay another night, pack up in the morning at leave, but we decided we might as well just carry on home. After an eventful morning (more in a later post), we made our way to Haverthwaite at the bottom of Lake Windermere, to take the Steam Railway to Lakeside. From there, we went on a cruise, all the way to Ambleside. Half the people on the boat were part of a scout group and the North Fylde Rotary Club - once again coach tours that block the country roads. Stopping in Bowness, we finally managed to find nice seats indoors. On our way across the lake, we passed a few swimmers, who took part in a Windermere swimming race, swimming 15 miles from the bottom to the top in 14°C....

After a lovely meal in Ambleside, and a pint we both desperatly needed, we got back on the boat to continue our romantic cruise. Except that there were no dry seats anywhere, and we ended up standing on deck for 30 minutes. In Bowness, we once again found seats, when the scouts boarded again. One of the group's leaders came up to us, asking whether we'd mind having scouts sitting next to us. Replying that yes, we would mind, he left. 10 minutes later, he was back, commenting that the seats next to us were still free and whether he could put two scouts there. Once again, we said no. 10 minutes after that, he and another leader came back and just sat down. Maybe, instead of teaching boys how to pitch tents, they should teach their group leaders some manners! We told them we didn't want them to sit there, and after telling them no twice, they really should have gotten the message. One of the guys then suggested by making it better and wanted to bribe us with tea. My boyfriend turned around and told them that they could have the seats and we'd rather not sit with them since they are rude...I wouldn't have been that friendly! I hate it, when people don't respect the wishes of others!!! There were plenty of seats available, both inside and outside and there was no need to harass us and ruin a romantic day out! The two of us ended up sitting back out in the cold for another 30 minutes, while two old and ill-mannered scout leaders got to sit in a nice, dry and warm place. Which I don't think is fair. Especially, since we were the only ones they asked for seats... there were plenty of couples occupying tables... and they would have been closer to their age as well!

Glad to finally get away from Cumbria, we made our way back down to Southport. Luckily, the Mini's brakes work quite well, as we could well be dead by now. But more about that in a later post.

I loved the idea of going on a romantic camping trip in the Lake District with my boyfriend! He really made an effort, just to have it ruined by Cumbrian drivers, Cumbrian weather, and - judging from their behaviour - Cumbrian scout leaders!!!

Greyhound launches in UK

Famous American bus company Greyhound starts its first ever British journey on 14th September! The first UK routes will take travellers from London Victoria to Portsmouth and Southampton for as little as GBP 1.50 each way!

Equipped with leather seats, free Wi-Fi and newspapers, Greyhound can get you to the southern coast in less than 2 hours from the capital. More destinations will be added in 2010.

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Tickets for a Greyhound journey in the UK can be booked on

Win a travel photography scholarship

World Nomads and National Geographic offer budding travel photographers the chance to win a scholarship to Antarctica.

You will be accompanying National Geographic on-assignment photographer Jason Edwards for a 11-day photo shoot on board M/S Expedition around the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula from 22nd November until 2nd December 2009. Competition ends 4th October.

This competition is open to all non-professional photogarphers from all over the world and you need to submit a maximum of 5 shots telling a story about a place.

For more information, visit the WorldNomads website! Good luck, everyone!

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