I just have terrible luck with travelling. My holidays never seem to work out like they do in the brochures: white beaches, turquoise water, soft, fluffy beach towels. Still, at least I have had experiences. I’d rather live in frightful conditions where law is not enforced and the main mode of survival seems to be violence against your fellows than stay in a four-star hotel any day. It’s more authentic. When I travel, I’m not a mere tourist. Whenever I go somewhere I want to get the real experience – live like the locals, do what they do. Of course, this is a little tricky when you catch the wrong bus and end up in the middle of the Islamic State.
The Islamic State boasts a vast dominion over the cradle of civilisation, stretching between the Tigres River and the Euphrates. The territory is changing quickly, however, so remember to keep your passport handy. I don’t mean to be controversial, but I don’t think the Islamic State is the ideal holiday destination. That’s not to say there aren’t positives, of course. Ever since I arrived in Ar-Raqqah, most people have been very friendly, with the common catch-cry being: “Musn’t grumble, could be worse.” In many ways I wonder why it gets such bad press – maybe it’s due to a lack of journalists here. Still, in spite of some nice things I’d probably have to sum up my time here as “Sheer brutal horror” and “Help me help me get me the fuck out of here.” I will not be leaving a good TripAdvisor review.
It’s a shame that the holiday didn’t turn out – I was hoping to get a bit of R&R after my exchange programme to Kiev University. While it all started well, things got a bit hairy in December. At first I thought it was some sort of apocalypse-themed Christmas parade, so I joined in by throwing bricks at the police dressed as Santa. However, as this dragged on into February I started to realise the truth and immediately tried to clean the blood stains out of my woolly beard. Not knowing much about Ukrainian politics I didn’t want to pick a side. In the end I joined a group of pro-Maltese separatists as a compromise. We shot down any sparrow that looked either pro-Russian or pro-Ukraine and managed to capture a large chunk of Vinnytsia in the name of Valletta before we got distracted by the Eurovision Song Contest.
But neither of those trips compare to the disaster that was my gap year. For some reason all my mates thought it’d be a great idea to spend a some time in the Somme during 1916. I only went along to impress Michelle Artois by showing that I could fight Germans like a man. Unfortunately, we ended up landing in the wrong side of the trenches and I found myself gunning down half the 14th French regiment. While I was out earning the Iron Cross (which, I’ll admit, looks quite good on a resume), Gilbert Finch was in the bunker with Michelle and the others smoking cheap weed and saying things like “Wow, this is such an eye-opening experience” and “These people have nothing -apart from, like, the instruments of industrial warfare- but they’re so kind” and “When I graduate I’m going to come back here and help build a school for these poor soldiers.” In the end being overrun by the British at the Battle of Ancre came almost as a relief. At least it got Gilbert away from Michelle.
Of course, all of this pales into insignificance compared to my summer holiday 2009, when I went to Brisbane.