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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Tallinn to Glasgow Roadtrip part 3....THE END

Day 4

So we bought some brake fluid, after coming off the boat at 7.30am, which didn’t work at all, and a policeman showed us to a garage who could maybe fix our brakes.  The garage guy muttered something like 'sheizer' in German and shook his head and sent us on our way. And strangely the policeman, who knew we had no brakes, smiled nervously and wished us a safe journey on the ‘no speed limit’ autobahn.
The middle of Sweden, the other day

This is probably the most dangerous part of the trip, as Latvian juggernauts roar down on us on the autobahn. I already had to pull quickly into the hard shoulder as a vodka riddled slav blasted his horn because he was about to ram us and couldn’t slow down in time. 
We’re crawling along now though and sadly have to miss breakfast with my pal in Hamburg, since we’ll be struggling to catch the ferry checkin at Amsterdam at 4pm.

About 11.20pm 80km from Bremen, something pops and we have to go onto the hard shoulder for real. It’s the axle wheel bearing.  Luckily there’s a service station a mile up the road so we limp in there and the guy suggests to us the ‘yellow angels’. On the phone the angel says its free for him to come out (strange?)  But anyway, I’m waiting for them as I write this, with 4 and a half hours to get to Amsterdam for checkin.

…..And its gone….The German ‘Yellow Angels are towing us to a garage in Oldenberg, as its probably too dangerous to go on with the wheel bearing broken as it is. We’re going to try to blag it for free here, as my brother is a member of Green Flag, so lets see how it goes. If they can fix it today, we can change the ferry time and have the weekend in Amsterdam. If not…well….lets see what Oldenburg is like at the weekend….!

Birthplace of The Hoff

The end of the road...Scheesel, a small village in Germany

Some time later......

These ‘angels’ towed us to a rip off garage in Rotenburg, who are connected to them. 320 Euros later (Green Flag didn’t bother answering the phone and our membership of the local place didn’t cover transit plates, they say)

Rather than get fleeced for 500 Euros for a 50 Euro fixing job, we went to the normal locals garage across the road, who had the parts we needed, but after 2 hours decided that the van was too rusty to put on their ramp so just gave us the parts and sent us on our way to find another place in Bremen, which hopefully will make our van roadworthy. They kindly gave us the exact wrong directions however, and our wheel bearing finally snapped off (luckily) outside a garage in a small village somewhere not near Bremen at all.

And so it sits there to this day, full of furniture, and with a wheel half hanging off, until Monday, when I’ll rent a van to take the furniture to storage and scrap the van.

The lesson of this, dear friends is – Don’t expect a 600 Euro van to get you 1000km a day for 3 days solid. This is not big and not clever. That being said, we had a great adventure, now I get to stay in Hamburg for a few days (which has a whole load of Caspar David Fredriech paintings on show, I can't wait!) Also i found out last night that old ladies do striptease in the Reiperbahn but more of that later....

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Driving from Tallinn-Glasgow (part 2)

Day 2

So since the registration etc is a bit dodgy, and we plan to leave the country never to return today, we opt for the ‘transit plates’. The vans engine is sound but basically nothing else. We need to leave the passenger window open in order to get in and and out, otherwise we have a flex tied to a chain connected to the passenger door that you open from the back door of the van.

After getting all the papers right (surprisingly, the sale docs related to the drunk were correct and not a scam), my friend gets us a good deal on the 6pm ferry to Stockholm (missing out all the dodgy countries like Latvia, Lithuania and Poland where a van full of junk and no locks will deffinately be stolen.) We race to put roadworthy tyres on the van, and try in vain to get someone to fix the brakes , then fill the van up with my worldly belongings and make it just in time to the boat for check-in. Also spending nights on boats helps on the security front.

The boat is fine. Of course the wifi doesn’t work so we can’t book our onward ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle (that’s the plan at least) but maybe we won’t make it alive so we’re saving money this way.

The plan is to hook up with some friends in Lund, Sweden and Hamburg, Germany that I haven’t seen for a while, so we have a motivation to not crash (having no brakes is not really a recipe for not crashing mind you, but if you put your foot right to the floor they do slow you down a bit at least)

I can say I’m absolutely exhausted after todays efforts, but bravo and thanks for the help, Andrew and Karin so far….

Our door opening 'system'

Day 3

Our plan initially was to drive to Hamburg, but then after some time we realized that since we can’t go faster than 80km an hour, so wouldn’t get there until 4am. So now we’ll drive to Lund and meet Frida for dinner, and get the 10pm boat to somewhere beside Lubeck, which is beside Hamburg, which is beside my other friend Kristin, who we can hopefully see tomorrow instead of waking her up at 4am.

The brake issue is more prevalent in the cities but luckily we’re on a motorway and we’re the slowest vehicle in town, so no one is in front of us. It’s entirely possible our brakes not working will be quite ok for today. The other good thing is that if we get this boat (its not guaranteed at all as we don’t have a ticket) we miss out all of Denmark. It’s not that I don’t like Denmark. I have some good pals in Copenhagen, and an ex who I think probably still hates me after I locked her out of the house once.

We’ll also miss out Lolland, which actually would be interesting to drive through. I was there about 18 years ago to see a girl I met in Spain. What a place (Nakskov) basically there is nothing to do except get drunk and sleep around, so everyone in the whole town seems to have children with everyone else. Also I believe they have a lot of pig farms. Great. Anyway Sanne Poulsen from all those years ago, I hope you got out of there and did something better with your life.

Actually what happened is that we were so slow, we couldn’t stop for dinner (sorry Frida) and barely made the boat. Towards the end of the day our brakes stop working 100% so we used the reverse gear for brakes. (Actually we only worked this out after I careered into the air pump in a petrol station forecourt)

The options now are really to either arrange some kind of emergency pickup service, or fix the van.

Fortunately there is a great sauna on the boat (and even a cinema!) and a distinct lack of cheesiness that you get on the Tallinn-Stockholm Kareoke-fest.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Stupid Things You Shouldn't do no. 322 - Driving from Tallinn - Glasgow in 3 days with a Transit Van Full of Furniture

People say alcohol fuddles your brain. I say curry does. It was over a curry last week my brother decided that, since his wife is about to have a second child, his days of getting anywhere further than 20km from our home are going to be limited for the next 15 years.

And so he suggested we fly to Tallinn, buy a cheap van, and drive it back to Scotland full of the furniture I’ve had in storage there for the last 4 years.

Well I considered this. High chance of breakdown/robbery? Low chance of success? Dangerous adventure with death by car pile-up possible? Of course I’m in ! So here is what happened (or actually, as I write this...what is happening....)

DISCLAIMER – Anything illegal/shady described below is 100% fictional and any mention of real people are totally coincidental- really, it wasn't them.

Day 1

So I came a day early and rented a car in my brothers name with his credit card, no problem, and picked him up at Tallinn airport. Nice! There is a great advantage in not signing your credit cards after all.

After some lunch we went through all the various vans for sale under 1500 Euros, in Tallinn, which totalled….2, and balanced the pros and cons.

Of course no one spoke English, so luckily Karin,  our intrepid Viking friend who speaks Estonian arrived from Valhalla (or at least Helsinki) to help. Finally, after some conversations purely in Estonian, we went to view them all.

The first van was 500 Euros, rusted to hell, and tiny. Most likely wouldn’t get us out of the parking lot. So, thinking he didn't speak english told him our thoughts on that and quickly left the scene.

The second looked most promising – High enough to fit in my grand piano and, like most of my girlfriends, only 18 years old. The photos looked good, but we only had this day, and there were no other choices nearer than Rakvere so, although since it was way out in Rapla (40mins away) we’d pretty much have to take it. As we called for directions, the owner broke the news that the doors didn’t lock, and it hadn’t been used for a while. Oh, and the speedo and all the dials didn’t work. Ok, we thought, lets see it anyway, and get them to reduce the price. An hour later, we also found the seats didn’t move, the oil was leaking badly and it would struggle to take us on any voyage, never mind an epic one across Europe.  So what to do? Well since our choices were limited and we were leaving the next day (ideally with a roadworthy van full of stuff)  so we offered 600 (half the asking price)  and they flatly turned us down, still wanting 1000 Euros for a deathtrap of a van which barely worked. Rollnock (Estonian Redneck) negotiation, great.

We decided to remove to the famous Rapla pub (by the way, gents, Rapla is a small town famous for having the highest number of women to men in Estonia, which is the country in the world with the highest woman to man ratio in the world, so if you're pretty ugly and are struggling to get a girlfriend, this is probably the place you want to be.)

Anyway, we went back to the internet, had some soup, and lo and behold….a new advert had appeared. An angel from heaven – 600 Euros, Ford Transit Van, a lovely lithe 22 years old….amazing. Going to view it, now at 10pm, of course the seller spoke no English, so Karin was able to ascertain that the doors didn’t work (a common issue with 600 euro vans) the brakes are at best iffy, and that he wasn’t actually the owner. The owner was some random drunk old guy on the other side of the city. Who couldn't be contacted.
My new 22 year old love, warts and all. And my little brother.

Given zero other choices, we made the deal, signed over some docs, that had the old drunks signature on them, and drove off in a rusty old deathbucket, ready to rumble....all the 3000km way to Glasgow!!

Tomorrow we’re going to have to register it in our name if we can, buy insurance, and get roadside recovery in the 100% guaranteed event that it breaks down. We also have to work a way to get to Scotland within 3 days otherwise my brother will be beaten up by his wife.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Las Vegas, Part 1 - Card Counting in Las Vegas

So my Blackjack 'Card counting' career has finally lulled to close after 20 glorious years. Yesterday morning, the Mirage casinos gaming floor boss kindly took me aside and asked me not to vary my bets in the blackjack tables - This is casino talk for i.e. ' We notice that you are card counting and likely to win, and we don't like that so, please can you play so that you lose money in this casino, or not play at all.'

Ho hum, at least thats a new approach, and at least it was polite. The Mirage was basically my last place in Vegas where I thought I could quietly play the $25 (dealer stands on soft 17) good penetration double deck game and pay for my holidays therever after. When all the other 'M' group hotels politely would 'Ask me not to play blackjack in this casino' I felt safe in this little haven of mediocrity, counting away and making some steady dough.

Anyway, so now i think i'll shed some light on this subject, since i'm not allowed to actually play anywhere anymore....


First thing I must say though to budding card counters (Card counting is a system of playing blackjack that uses reasonably simple statistics to win at blackjack, as hordes of MIT students will testify) Its not easy, its boring, and eventually, your career will be over and your name blacklisted in every casino in Christendom.

BUT if you're still keen to make steady and good money at least for a while, from just...well using your brain and some discipline, then read on....

The first thing to do is learn to card count. This i think took me 3 years, but its not really so difficult, just difficult to do PERFECTLY, and it must be done so. THIS link will show you how.


Single Deck games are only available in Las Vegas. But they are pretty awful rules, and have low penetration. Double Deck is therefor the game of choice for card counters (6 deck is also fine, it's just obviously less predictable)

You'll need a bankroll of 400 odd hands - which for a $100 min. bet table is $40,000. The higher the limit, the better the rules generally. However, there are some places in downtown Vegas have good double deck for $25-50 minimum bet - Binions for example, and Golden Nugget.

El Cortez does have this too, but their owner, one very pleasant man called Alan once happened to be watching me play and took me for lunch (telling me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't to ever set foot in his casino again) But he knew card counting well and gave me some great advice on avoiding 'heat'.

On the strip - the $25 double deck game I was thrown off of is just outside the high roller room, at the back of the casino. The $100 minimum in the high roller is the same, and shares its good rules with Bellagio, Aria, Mandalay Bay and the other high limit rooms in Mirage Group Casinos.

Luxor has a $50 minimum high limit room which is good, but they seem to be pretty 'on it' when it comes to throwing you off the table.


Well, I've always just done it on my own, but that causes a lot of problems with disguises, getting caught etc. So i'd say in general a 'one man wolf-pack' isn't such a good idea.

If you work in a group then one person can do the counting, while others can roll in when the deck becomes 'hot', and roll out again soon after, ideally even without even handing over ID.

Just watch/read 'Bringin Down the House' or the movie '21' to see how they do it, its actually not far off the mark. To get in with a team of card counters, you'll need to get involved in some of the blackjack forums online, but really, i have the (paranoid) feeling that the casino detectives are in on this too, so make sure who you speak to is genuine.

The most important thing you must know, especially if you get some trouble from the Casino, is that CARD COUNTING IS NOT CHEATING. It is also not illegal, its just simply good play. A card counter even successfully took Atlantic City Casinos to court, (which is why you won't find double deck blackjack there anymore as far as I know)

Here are a couple of interesting stories re Atlantic City Blackjack....

From this link -

'Atlantic City casinos in the State of New Jersey are forbidden from barring card counters as a result of a New Jersey Supreme Courtdecision. In 1979 Ken Uston, a Blackjack Hall of Fame inductee, filed a lawsuit against an Atlantic City casino, claiming that casinos did not have the right to bar skilled players. (Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc., 445 A.2d 370 N.J. 1982).[18] The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed, ruling that "the state's control of Atlantic City's casinos is so complete that only the New Jersey Casino Control Commission has the power to make rules to exclude skillful players." As of 2011, New Jersey Casino Control Commission has not promulgated a regulation to the contrary. According, Atlantic City casinos are not allowed to bar card counters. In response to Uston's legal victory, Atlantic City casinos began adding decks, moving up shuffle points, and introducing other player-unfriendly rules to further decrease a skilled player's potential advantage.[19]'

Ok guys, keep it quiet, and...Good Luck!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Ok so heres a guest post from my lovely friend Juliana (who's Birthday it is today!)


Go to the Corn Islands if you want the best Corn.


The Corn Islands are two (little and big) islands in the caribbean, off the coast of Nicaragua. They're pretty isolated, but perfect if you want to see beautiful beaches, get dive certified, and
relax to the max. There is as much connection to Corn as Greenland has connection to Greens (or America has with being free)


Diving. If you stay at Elsas place you get a pretty
good deal. 

Here, and here are links giving a basic rundown of the Islands...looks pretty good fun


Before you run off and pack your are the downsides, thanks to Juliana.....

'Pretty small island with not much adventure wise unless you are dive
certified or are going to get dive certified...( it is a really cheap
place to do it!) 

I wish that I spent less time on the island just due to the lack of adventures. It was
nice to lay on the beach and read as well as experience the Creole
culture though. We were there for 7 days, and I would've ideally
stayed 3-4. It is pretty touristy, and kind of expensive. 

You have to make sure you get cash out before heading to the island as there are
no ATM machines, although some of the restaurants do take cards. 

We stayed in an awesome cabin on the beach for $20.00 a night called
Elsa's place (link above). It was very minimalist---but nice location. There is
awesome snorkeling (which is what I did while Duncan was in his dive
class) You can walk the whole island quite easily, the food is pretty
good too, and the people are wonderful :)..

...sooo there you have it! (photos to follow!)

Sunday, 8 July 2012

More Evidence on Coldplay (Not that its needed)

 It's nothing to do with travel but, really, one of the funniest scenes for quite a while....

yes its the 'You know how i know you're gay? You listen to Coldpay' scene ;o)