Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Review

As the year is closing to an end, it is only natural that I make my own revision of the time that passed. Overall it was a very good year with more ups than downs. In the top 3 highlights of the year I’d say the following in chronological order: I got a new position at my current job in August; we went to see the London 2012 Paralympics in September and the trip to South Africa (part 1, part 2 & part 3) in November.

Apart from that, we had lovely holidays this summer in Sardinia, a road trip to Devon on the Jubilee bank holiday weekend and my various trips to Greece during the year. Maybe my memory isn’t that great and it only goes back to summer and I can’t remember much that happened beforehand. Or maybe the beginning of the year was generally quieter than the second half.

In numbers:

  • I turned 31 in 2012. I currently weight 79 kilos and my BMI is slightly over 25. I need to work on that.
  • I blogged 77 times in 2012, almost the half times compared to 2011 and less than half than 2010. I fear life gets in the way...
  • I celebrated 3 years with JJ, one year living with him
  • I’ve been in my current company for 1 year and 5 months
  • I read 16 books according to my kindle without counting some printed books and lots of graphic novels. The ones to remember are ‘Dance with Dragons’, ’Dracula’ and the 4 first instalments of the Malazan book of the fallen decalogy(?). 
  • I mostly played Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 on my computer. I’ve also enjoyed Dishonoured, X-COM and Torchlight 2.
  • I had 3 very different long stay noticeable guests with the first in March being by far the most difficult one

Has this year made me a wiser or better person? Don’t really know, hopefully. There is no way to measure that, is there? I hope I’m turning into a more stable, comfortable in my own skin person. I also hope I’m building better foundations for my / our future, while making experiences and memories that will last. I’m learning there is no really need to worry about ‘what ifs’ and ‘would haves’. Try to accept some things that can’t be changed as they are. As a friend of mine used to say: ‘life’s too short to be anything but happy’.

That's me at a very young age. We still have that blanket... :-)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Post Christmas

I had a really lovely Christmas holiday. I spent it with JJ, just the two of us. Thankfully, he isn’t working this whole week, so we stayed mostly at home together and avoided the very bad weather, exchanged presents, ate a lot, watched television and played Wii Sports. Since there is absolutely no public transport on Christmas day and there was a tube strike on Boxing Day we stayed locally. We had the lights of our Christmas tree on and candles lit throughout these days. It was nice, peaceful and relaxing. We cooked a lot as per custom. We had stuffed chicken since we prefer it to turkey. There were just the two of us, so there was no need for a massive big bird anyway. What was excessive though was the quantity and number of the side dishes. Oh well… We’re still consuming the left overs.

It was so tranquil that I had troubles getting up the following morning to go to work. The heavy rain wasn’t helping either. I am however in a good mood. The streets of the City were empty and the traffic noise was kept to a minimum. People at work were mostly in good mood and no major crisis occurred, i.e. I wasn’t that productive. In addition lots of people are away on holiday and the office was mostly empty.

I generally like this time of the year, right before New Year’s, because there is a sense of anticipation and of new opportunities. I’m not talking about silly New Year’s resolutions that last probably for a week or two. I’m talking about considering the good and bad of 2012 and planning a bit ahead for 2013.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you're having a nice day today no matter what you believe or don't believe in. I hope you're spending it with your loved ones. 
I'm in London with JJ. The weather outside is really abysmal with heavy rain and hail during the night. I hope there aren't major disasters or floods.
I have loud happy music on, while I'm playing the happy sous chef. We're preparing huge amounts of food. I don't know how much of that we'll manage to consume. I expect the afternoon to be lethargic on the sofa watching movies or competing on some silly game in Wii.  

Merry Christmas - Καλα Χριστούγεννα!!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Becoming paranoid or cautious?

The world is supposed to end this Friday, which kind of sucks, since we’ll be missing the weekend. Why couldn’t the world end on the following Monday? Although to be honest, that Monday is Christmas Eve and it’s only half a day at work, which means that everybody will be in holiday spirit and not much work will be done. Apart from very emergency issues, the rest of the day will be spent chatting, gossiping and mindlessly browsing the internet. I think there will be a Christmas party for the employees’ children in the mess room, but I’ll try to stay far away from that one. Then it’s Christmas. Can the world end at the end of next week?

To be honest, I don’t think the world will end. Maybe, I’m being too selfish believing that I will not die this Friday, or maybe too optimistic. In any case, I have planned to do my Christmas food shopping late this Friday to try to avoid the weekend hordes of panicking consumers. My local big supermarket is open till midnight, which is very convenient. I’ll go home, have dinner and later that night, we’ll get ready and instead of going to a bar, we’ll go food shopping. On Christmas day, it’s going to be the two of us, so food shopping will be somewhat easy, even if we will stuff ourselves with food, as expected.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about is ‘prepping’. According to the Google dictionary, prepping is ‘preparing oneself for an event’. During these modern times, prepping has a new meaning and it concerns people getting ready for an apocalyptic event, i.e. the end of the world. There are some people really serious / fanatical about it. They believe that a disaster of that proportion will soon happen, whether it is a zombie attack or a civil outbreak or a spreading killing virus, and they have made preparations. They have escape routes from their houses, evacuation packed bags with necessities, a destination where they believe they can isolate and support themselves for weeks, even months, and they train themselves in first aid, hunting and various other similar self-preservation skills.

My self-preservation skills are almost non-existent. Even in the most user friendly forest, I wouldn’t know how to survive. OK, maybe I would try to find a water source and some shelter for the night. But that’s it. I was never a boy scout and I don’t think I would be able to light a fire without a lighter. If the zombies came, I would be one of the first to go. To be frank about it, that wouldn’t be a very bad thing though. Who wants to live in a post-apocalyptic world anyway? Have you read the ‘World War Z’?

However, some recent events made me thinking. Without taking the situation too far, wouldn’t be a good idea to be somewhat prepared? I’m not talking about the zombies or aliens coming. I’m talking about more real everyday stuff. For example, if a natural disaster occurred, like hurricane Sandy that left so many people without electricity for days, do I have the proper equipment at home to sustain myself for these days? Do you?

So, I made a mental list of things needed. In case the electrical supply was down, the supermarkets remained closed for some days and we got stranded at home for a few days. It would be good to have some candles or source of light, lighters, some lasting cans of food, water and a small bottled gas cooker like the one my grandmother used to use to make Greek coffee. Am I taking this too far? Is this just the beginning of me turning into a crazy prepper? OK, that’s not a proper word, but anyway, you know what I mean... Will I start looking into conspiracy theories and wait for the dead to rise?

Friday, 14 December 2012

The most hated word in the industry

Working in the IT industry, I know that there is something whispered on the higher floors of a company, that the low level minions should not hear. And that thing is ‘outsourcing’. By that term I don’t mean only hiring one or more contractors to finish a project or help someone’s job. I’m talking about the phenomenon of uprooting a whole team or department and replacing them with cheaper labour in a distant country.  

This trend is not of course something new. I can remember from my early school years, living in the northern part of Greece, small industries moving to the other side of the borders, to Bulgaria, saving millions of that old forgotten (?) currency. I heard conversations after conversations about the bloody taxes imposed by the government that pushed small companies away to a country just a few kilometres away, where labour was cheaper and taxes were lower.

The company I work for at the moment has its headquarters in the UK. There are of course local offices in various corners of the Earth, including the South and South East Asia, which are popular destinations for outsourced IT departments. There are minor helpdesk departments in these offices, but till now they weren’t responsible for anything major. However, there is a new discussion going on in London, about how the non-profitable IT department should improve effectiveness but cut costs at the same time! I really love it when managers and directors become all poetic like that and announce these major ideas!

Anyway, there is a storm brewing. A colleague of mine has already been sent to investigate how and if the company can set up an office of developers somewhere at the Indochinese Peninsula to save some money from hiring developers in the UK. This prospect is scary, since lots of the people I work with will no longer be needed and their cheaper replacements will be easily found. I’m not sure if my position is threatened. I’d like to believe that ‘not yet’. I’m not a full time developer per say. I work in a special division, close to the decision makers of the company here. So, hopefully, I’ll be alright for a year or two? However, there is that can of worms that now opened and the future is unpredictable.

I’m not going to leave you on a pessimistic tone though. It’s Friday after all and I’d like to change the subject and the tone of this post. A few days ago, I had my anniversary with my beloved boyfriend!!! We’ve celebrated three years of happily being together and a bit more of a year of living together! I can’t believe it’s been three years already! Time flies when you’re having fun. He’s my partner in crime, my rock in the storm and best friend. Love you so much ‘JJ’.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Back from South Africa Part 3...

The last part of our journey was back in Cape Town, for the last few days of our holidays, before travelling back to London. We were a bit tired from all the miles we had done and ‘JJ’ wasn’t feeling amazingly well, so we decided to take it a bit slow(er). He either got a virus somewhere along the way, or something bit him causing him to feel unwell. We visited a doctor the following morning, just to be safe. He prescribed some heavy antibiotics that generally did the job. So, we were ready to go again.

I found it so strange posing with Christmas decoration 
while wearing shorts and t-shirts

That same day, JJ’s parents had their wedding anniversary. So, we decided to spend parts of the day together. We got onto one of those ‘hop on/ hop off’ buses that travel you around the city with an automated guided tour. I believe this to be a very nice and not tiring way to visit a town, perfect for his parents and a slightly sick JJ. We didn’t have to worry about traffic nor parking. We simply sat down; listened to the guide and saw the sights of the city. Later on, we had lunch in the amazing V&A Waterfront, where we did some shopping as well. That day ended with us, JJ’s brother and parents having dinner, in a local, very nice fish restaurant.

At a local market in central Cape Town 

Clifton Beach 

The following day was dedicated to visiting Stellenbosch and Frankshoek. These are villages right outside Cape Town, famous for their wine. There are massive wine yards and farms where a visitor can taste amazing good quality wine with local deli products. We had lunch at a farm in Frankshoek with some of ‘JJ’s old friends from school. The quality of the food there was amazing and the wine outstanding. We stayed in the farm for almost 4 hours for ‘lunch’. We had a three course meal and a number of bottles of their wine. We had to taste varieties and different years of production, just to make sure their wine is as good as they claim!

Enjoying gourmet food.

A weaver at work making amazing pieces of art

The last day we spent it mostly with JJ’s family, packing and some last minute shopping at the local mall. Saying goodbye to them was emotional, difficult and touching. They invited both of us back to visit soon. I was touched at the way they said it. We invited them both to London as well. We even suggested arranging a trip to other European destinations, like Paris, or even a trip to Greece.

The waterfront

Overall, I had an amazing time in South Africa. It’s such a beautiful and diverse destination. The rough sea, the big mountains, the breath taking valleys, the beauty of the garden route, the number of stars in the sky and the sound of wild animals are among the things I will never forget.


There are of course problems in the country. To put it mildly there is ‘some’ corruption in the government, high unemployment rates, lots of uneducated people, crime and vast deprived areas around every village or city. Visible from the main roads are areas where people live in abysmal conditions in shacks with no running water or amenities. As a precaution we always had our doors locked while inside the car and never left stuff in open view inside the vehicle. We didn’t have any problems, but we avoided certain areas of Cape Town. The people we met though in almost every shop or petrol station were very polite, joyful and friendly. The whole trip was an unforgettable experience and South Africa is a destination I highly recommend. Apart from the flight tickets, food and accommodation is very reasonable as well. We stayed at really nice places and had amazing food with wine while in SA.

 Sadly the end of our journey

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Spo Meme

The good Dr. Spo over at Spo-Reflections created a meme and invited others to play along. Here goes!

……..… is jolly good fun ! (fill in the blank) — riding a bicycle
Tea, wine, or champagne? — Since it’s really cold outside, at the moment I’d prefer some tea
How left handed are you? Not much. But I think that my left arm is stronger and I carry more things like bags using it.
The loudest item of clothing I have ………….. I don't usualy go for loud clothes. I might have to go with a pink jumper I have for this one.
The Best Friend: who is s/he? —  If I can’t say my partner, then it’s my ex housemate
I’d rather eat rats in Tewkesbury than…… —  huh?
How many of these have you done?:
1. Been to an opera — Many, I can’t really put a number to it. My brother’s best friend used to work on Opera productions and we used to get tickets, almost for free. So, we used to go quite frequently.
2. Read a novel by Dickens — I don’t think so. But I have 1 in my kindle, the ‘Tale of two cities’ on my ‘to read’ list
3. Drank Bourbon — No, I don’t think so.
4. Been to Key West — No
5. Visited The Stratford Festival of Canada — No
6. Spiders give you the heebie-jeebies. —  Not really. I actually like them.
7. Been to Michigan — No
8. Rolled down a grass hill. —  No
9. Ate Synder Pretzels — I had pretzels, but I don’t know Synder Pretzels. Is that a flavour or an origin?
10. Used the word ‘rubbish” in the past 30 days. —  I don’t think I have…
11. Worn a bow tie – Nope, never
12. Have a set of Viking horns — No, but I’d love some.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Back from South Africa Part 2...

The road trip that followed was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Overall, during our stay in South Africa, we did around 2,200 kilometres, most of which of course were done during that road trip. We had to travel to the Addo Elephant Park, which is very close to Port Elizabeth, but far from Cape Town, so far that we had to book hotels on the way there and back. That wasn’t really a problem, but part of an adventure. We spent quite a few hours in the car almost daily, but the scenery was great.

Between the Western and the Eastern Cape, I don’t know about the rest of the country, there are some massive mountains following the coast line. These mountains block lots of clouds from passing through inland. So, there is more rainfall in one side than the other. That means that the side closer to the beach is green and is called the ‘Garden Route’. Driving through there is like driving through Austria. There are lakes, forests and breath taking canyons through that route. It’s really beautiful. The other side of the mountains is drier, less green, with vast areas covered only in very low grass or bushes.  Since we were driving to Addo and back, we decided to take both routes. We drove easterly from the north and westerly from the Garden Route. It was so interesting to see the difference.

On the way to the Addo Elephant Park we stayed in two places, Oudtshoorn and Knysna. The first as a town wasn’t that amazing, but it hosts some amazing cave formations (Cango Caves) and a very interesting Animal Park, but the second is a very picturesque town by a lagoon next to the sea. In Oudtshoorn’s Animal Park we spent the greater part of a morning looking at beautiful animals, serpents and birds. This is where for a small fee I met and petted a cheetah. The experience was really nice.

Cango Caves

The animals were brought up in captivity since pups and they were used to people. So, guests were able to pet them. Being pure felines, during the heat of the day, they were simply dozing under a shadow. They liked being treated and petted, so they were simply happily pouring. I was instructed not to touch them on their paws, tail and face, especially to block their eyesight. But I could happily caress them on the back of their head, back and belly, which I happily did. The cheetah was happily dozing off while being treated to such attention.

When we finally arrived in Addo Elephant Park, we found out it was definitely worth the drive. We had booked a chalet for two nights, a sunset game drive (between 6pm and 8pm) and a sunrise game drive (between 6am and 8am). We didn’t know exactly what to expect. We hoped to see some animals, but we didn’t really want to be disappointed, so we hadn’t had our hopes high. Thankfully, we were wrong. Even upon our arrival to the chalet, when we walked on the veranda, in the front of the house, in about 30 meters away, there was an elephant munching happily on the surrounding bushes. We were so surprised we wanted to scream, but we didn’t, so that not to scare the poor creature!

So happy to see the elephant outside our door

In front of the chalet, 2 meters away there were the electric fences to keep the animals away, but after that the vast area of the Park stretched. There were over 25,000 hectares of wilderness with a variety of small and big creatures for us to discover! It was something I will never forget. The next two days after our arrival, during the guided game tours and during our own driven tours, we saw a variety or animals, mammals, insects and birds. We saw kudus, elands, bushbucks, elephants, dung beetles, eagles, cranes, jackals, buffalos, zebras and even lions!!!!

An amazing picture JJ took

Especially during our own drives through the well-marked roads of the park, we had the time of our lives. The map we had with us marked the various waterholes where the animals gather, so we tried to visit all of them. In-between we were slowly driving around and checking movements between the bushes and photographing animals. Randomly running into an elephant in the middle of the road eating from a nearby bush or galloping zebras is not something you easily forget. The excitement we were feeling exploring the area and discovering its beauties was great.

So cute...

A random encounter while we were driving in the Park

A very close encounter. He was hungry, we were waiting... 


A kudu...

On the way back, we stayed in village called Wilderness where we put our feet in the Indian Ocean. It was so warm but we didn’t go any further. The waves were massive and we didn’t know what we’ll find deeper. We did enjoy a very nice stroll on the coast. The road trip ended with some whale watching in Hermanus! Unfortunately, JJ wasn’t feeling that well and just to be on the safe side, I went on that boat trip on my own. Since it was so late in November, most of the whales were gone. After they give birth in that area, they travel thousands of kilometres southbound to feed. We managed to find some though. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get very good pictures. The sea was a bit rough and I was concentrating more on staying upright on the boat. Looking at whales though is something very exciting nevertheless…