Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

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‘Cool story, hansel’

– Olaf, Zoolander

The train trip from Prague to Berlin was nowhere near as long as Norwich to Prague, but it was both uncomfortable and turbulent. The good weather from Prague was continuing and the train had little or no air-conditioning, so it was BOILING (33 degrees is now intolerable for our acclimatised thermoreceptors) and it seemed, despite our best efforts, that we couldn’t help sitting in seats that had been reserved, so people kept boarding and telling us we had to move. We later discovered it may’ve been some kind of German holiday, which could explain the remarkable density of passengers on the train. But it was so irritating that there was no way of telling which seats were reserved and which weren’t, because both times we had to move we’d picked seats that didn’t say they were reserved. I thought the Germans were supposed to be efficient! Must’ve been the Czechs’ doing …

After a couple of relocations, the conductor told us to go to first class, where we were allowed to remain undisturbed until we reached our destination, and where the passengers provided some amusement. In our first couple of hours in Germany we witnessed no less than three heated exchanges, the first one being on the train.

 ‘They’re breakdance fighting!’

An older couple were sitting across the aisle from one another in what were ostensibly available seats when a younger woman, probably in her early thirties, boarded and informed the gentleman that she had reserved his seat. Instead of leaping up apologetically as we had done, the gentleman asked her something in German. I couldn’t believe the exchange that ensued. In my world it would’ve been, ‘Oh, excuse me, sorry, but I think you’re in my seat.’

‘Oh, am I? Are you sure?’

‘Yeah, I think so. I’m pretty sure it says on my ticket. Hold on, I’ll just check … Yep, it does.’

‘Oh, so sorry! One second.’

‘No, don’t worry about it!’

But instead, after he asked if she was sure, she got all pissed off and rifled through her bag with exaggerated motions, unfolding a piece of paper and reading it out triumphantly like a petty child saying, ‘Mum said you have to give me a turn.’

The gentleman conceded and she sat down. Soon she was asleep without a care for the man probably thirty years her senior who had to stand for the remainder of the journey. Of course if you’ve paid for and reserved a seat in first class you’re entitled to use it; it was just the way she did it.

There was also an old Australian guy talking really loudly to someone about the percentage of Australian land classified as semi-arid. We never saw or heard his interlocutor say a word, which made us wonder if the Australian was just overenthusiastically chewing the ear off some poor mild-mannered European too polite to stop the one-sided conversation.

Our hostel, the Amstel House, was adequate – nothing terrible, but nothing spectacular. It was overrun for the duration of our stay with sixteen-year-olds who we speculated must’ve been on a school trip. Talking to one of them in the elevator, or ‘Schindler’s Lift’ as we called it, we learned that he and his class were Year Ten students, reportedly the senior year of German high school, on a final, celebratory school trip.

It was so strange to see them drinking and smoking, which is legal at their age in Germany. They looked like children, little boys with hands too small for the oversized Berliner Pilsener bottles they were drinking from. Of course Australian sixteen-year-olds drink and smoke, but you don’t see them doing it so conspicuously, and certainly not while talking to their teachers. Even eighteen-year-olds weren’t allowed to drink on our Year Twelve trips and functions.

When we first arrived the only other person in the room was this guy napping in his underwear. Or at least we thought it was just a nap. Every time after that we came into the room he was sleeping. We got up at ten one morning and when we came back that night he was STILL in bed. Human koala or what.

Customarily we took a New Europe free walking tour on our first day in Berlin. Apparently they had unusually large numbers that day and we had to wait around for ages while they found another guide.

 

Amusing ourselves while we waited.

 

 Kept spotting these contraptions around everywhere.

Looking over the potential guides like cattle, Til somewhat superficially expressed a desire not to end up with the ‘albino loser.’ To be fair, he did look like a bit of a loser, even though that sounds really harsh. It was in the mid-thirties and we’d all been standing in the sun too long, but he was bright red and sweating profusely. Of course, we did end up being assigned to him, and he ended up being very cool and hilarious. So despite all the fascinating things about Berlin’s history we learned on the tour, you could say the most valuable lesson of all was that sometimes, people who look uncool are actually just Irish.

And just to ram the lesson home, he was actually probably the best guide we’ve had so far. The guys who maybe were a bit more traditionally ‘cool’ in Amsterdam and London sometimes seemed like they were only being friendly because they had to, but this Berlin guide was really genuine.

The city itself kind of echoes the adage about books and covers in that it is not a beautiful city, but it is SO INTERESTING AND COOL. ‘Poor but sexy,’,as the city’s mayor is supposed to have said, unintentionally coining its unofficial motto (the other great quote of his we heard was his statement just before an election: ‘Yeah I’m gay, who gives a fuck?’). The city is supposed to be in a massive amount of debt, hence its relative ugliness, but this I think is also what has made it ‘Europe’s coolest city’ – the shabby-chic quality.

  ‘I give you … DERELICTE’

And what other city in the world has been literally bisected for any amount of time, let alone nearly thirty years? In one century it was the capital of a nation that instigated two world wars. It saw a federal monarchy, a totalitarian dictatorship, a socialist republic, and two separate federal parliamentary republics, and swung radically between the poles of the political spectrum. That’s the kind of turmoil that isn’t recovered from quickly or easily, but it’s also the kind that, once over, yields great works of art as its people try to work through the emotional damage.

Some of the most interesting things we saw on the tour were the unique and controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; the deceptively unremarkable carpark occupying the space above the bunker where Hitler committed suicide; the remnants of the Berlin wall, which was, somewhat ironically, fenced-off; the uninspiring Checkpoint Charlie and, perhaps most importantly of all, the balcony over the edge of which Michael Jackson infamously dangled his baby.

Our guide telling us about the memorial.

  The Hitler carpark.

 The cheesy ‘last American soldier’ sign looking into East Berlin.

 

The notorious balcony.

Berlin’s second rate rip-off of ‘Iamsterdam’: ‘be Berlinternational.’ Next it’ll be ‘London’t ever leave’ and ‘Belgood Belgrade’ or something.

  Building extension by the same guy who did the Louvre’s glass pyramid.

 

 Some cool statues.

After the tour we went for drinks with the guide and some others from the tour, which was fun. Some of us went on to have dinner as well, at this cool little noodle house where I was able to find a dinner without any vegetables, thus avoiding E coli and consequent death. Subway next door had stopped serving tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber altogether.

Once we were done we were faced with the task of working out how the hell to get back to our hostel from where we’d ended up. To further complicate matters, I hadn’t brought the DSLR case with me, the better to quickly take the amazing shots you see displayed throughout this blog, and it began POURING in such a way as we haven’t seen since we left Australia – they only get pissy rain in England. We got soaked, but with characteristic quick wits, I resourcefully acquired a Subway bag in which to store the baby.

Huh … Two faux-arrogant jokes in one paragraph, there … Good one.

Drowned rat.

Totally artistic picture of Til from inside the Subway bag.

On our second day we planned to visit Sachsenhausen, the site of a former Nazi concentration camp and then a NKVD special camp but we had no idea how to get there. Not eager to repeat the Versailles incident, we realised we needed to access the internet to get directions.

The directions are IN the computer!?

However, exhibiting a travelling trait we’ve only recently discovered in ourselves, hostel patron’s reluctance (HPR), we spent the entire morning looking for an internet cafe rather than just going back to the hostel where we knew there was free wireless. Whether HPR arises from a deep-seeded subconscious loathing for the poor-to-average accommodation the sufferer occupies, or sheer illogical laziness, we don’t know. We do know that it affects millions of people every year, and you can make a difference …

Travelling has made me mourn the decline, so soon after its swift rise to prominence, of the internet cafe. I’m sure everyone who opened one of these grimy little nerdhavens thought they’d grow rich and corpulent out of the enterprise, so forward thinking was it. It combined the ancient appeal of the cafe with the futuristic concept of the internet – the cafe of tomorrow! But they didn’t foresee the meddlesome intervention of wireless, with the additional blow of the smartphone, which rendered them so obsolete. Travel, however, has proven that they aren’t obsolete, through the innumerable times I’ve needed to search all over a city to find one in which to access and print off an online boarding pass or some such. I really think that, if not provided by the private sector, local governments should ensure points of public internet access are available. Our society is so dependent on the internet and all our gadgetry that public, possibly local-government funded kiosks providing internet access terminals and recharge stations for phones and stuff shouldn’t be an outlandish idea.

It literally took us hours to find an internet cafe, with many mirages along the way. People gave us directions to cafes with wireless, mistaking our meaning, and one sign must’ve been referring to one of the (lamentably) many closed-down internet cafes.

Finally though, we got our directions to the camp and made our way there, in spite of the directions’ cutting off once you reach the right train station and very helpfully telling you to ‘follow the tourists.’

As is to be expected, it was disturbing, depressing, and fascinating. It was sobering to realise, as I roamed around the site, how physically exhausting and uncomfortable it is simply to live, let alone to live as a prisoner under the Nazis or GDR. I was constantly thirsty, hot, and tired; all I wanted to do was sit, and that discomfort was only a millionth of everything the former inhabitants of the camp had to go through. What was also interesting was contemplating and observing how Germany has dealt with its history in the forms of these camps and memorials. Usually when historical sites are advertised elsewhere, it’s with invitations to fascinating historical insight, or appeal to patriotism, or even with a degree of insouciance permitted because of the historico-temporal distance of the event, as with a medieval torture museum or something, but for obvious reasons none of these options are available for German history of the twentieth century. The Sachsenhausen website, accordingly, is threadbare. It simply calls the memorial ‘an uncomfortable reminder of the past.’

 ‘Work sets you free.’

 

Reconstruction of the death strip.

I remember when I found out one of my best friends Jenny was of German descent in Year Four, I was like, internally, ‘But they were the bad guys … Awkward!’ I had to ask my parents if Germany was still bad now. But in my adolt (adolescent+adult) life I’ve always observed in Germans a profound, sincere graveness when it comes to their own recent history. When my sisters’ class had to write a speech on an influential historical figure/hero and someone wanted to be a smartass so they did Hitler, the class’s German exchange students reacted by asking how they could joke about something like that, which is unusually mature for an average sixteen-year-old. In Germany, we learned, it is illegal to do a Nazi salute, and a Canadian who did it outside the Reichstag as a joke for a photo a few months ago is still in jail for it.

All of this, I think, shows the world that Germany is serious about this issue. And it’s comforting that in a world where nothing’s sacred, something can be treated with such near-universal reverence by a nation. I’m glad it’s not like what I’ve heard the British history curriculum is like (from my friend Kim), awkwardly skipping over the fact that the British Empire screwed up the world wherever it went, or like in Australia where we learn about what we did to Aborigines (up until more recently than World War II, might I add, and to a lesser extent in continuation), but it’s not really treated with any reverence, perhaps because we learn SO MUCH about it that we’re kind of desensitised.

And that’s something that was interesting about the Jewish memorial saw on the tour. It wasn’t didactic. It actively discourages desensitisation through its subtlety – it doesn’t proclaim itself even to be a memorial. It is something to be happened upon and wondered over and investigated at leisure. Like all good art, it invites the viewer to wonder what it is saying and thereby think about the issue. It doesn’t smack you over the head with numbers that are so tragically large as to be incomprehensible. It also cleverly sidesteps the debates and issues surrounding the holocaust – namely who that term refers to, whether or not its victims deserve more attention and memorials than other victims, and (it’s sad that this is even debated, but) whether or not it actually happened. It simply cuts to the issue.

 

 

And yet, in another way, it is desensitising. It encourages you to just incorporate this blight in history into your everyday life, perhaps without even thinking about it. It looks almost like a gigantic playground, labyrinthine, the kind of place kids would want to run around and play hide ‘n’ seek in, the kind of place you would want to lie down in the sun with a book. ‘Oh, I’m just taking the kids down to the holocaust memorial for a picnic; I want to finish my book and the kids love it down there,’ you might say. It seems this was the artist’s intention, but the authorities have since imposed restrictions that contravene it. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It works as art, but does it work as a memorial if it encourages laughter and games and, indeed the removal of emotion from the equation? But then I think, there are plenty of normal memorials. Why not let this one be different as it was intended? Why let the artist go ahead with his design and then change your mind and make ‘no laughing’ rules?

After a day or two, we came to realise the suburb we were staying in was kinda crappy, and we wanted to see the famed trendy, artistic side of Berlin we’d heard so much about.

The front window of a sports betting place in the suburb we stayed in. How homoerotic is it? I think it’s something to do with the fact that they’re all so close together whilst kneeling. And where the guy is holding the other guy in the front.

We found out that the art culture of the city was concentrated in the area of Mitte, so we headed there. Of course the trendy, artistic part of town is always accompanied by hipsters, so when we weren’t sure whether we had reached Mitte or not, we started looking out for signs of hipsterism. First we saw a girl wearing a flanno, then a guy wearing a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. All of a sudden there were art installations in the street and we knew we were there. Funny how reliable the hipster indicator can be.

As a result of this, we drawled as we walked around, our own version of The Bedroom Philosopher’s ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’ featuring lyrics such as ‘Riding around on the U-Bahn. So hungover. Gonna go down to Friedrichstrasse, do some graffiti.’

In Mitte we visited Tacheles, a block of buildings where artists have been squatting since 1990, selling their work and constantly fending off eviction notices. It was pretty grungy but cool.

We had dinner down the road from Tacheles and watched the prostitutes stroll by. We weren’t ready to go home afterwards though, so we went looking for a cool bar to have a few drinks in. It came to us in the form of X-Terrain. It was an old coal cellar which the owner restored and renovated himself over four years, furnishing it with artwork he’d made himself. It had an amazing ambience, but was strangely empty. Probably just ’cause it was a weeknight or something.

 As soon as I’d walked into the seating area, a Canadian woman in her fifties pounced and began a conversation with me. She was there with her husband and I got the impression they’d been sitting there in silence and she was desperate for a conversation. They were a really nice couple, though, and we probably ended up talking for about an hour.

The next day we’d arranged to meet Tilly’s UEA flatmate Carina, a Berliner, to hang out and go around town. It was cold and rainy, unfortunately, but we didn’t mind. After all,

‘moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty …’

First we visited the Berlin Wall Eastside Gallery, an open-air series of murals painted on the Berlin Wall, in the rain, then went through some cool courtyard shops, including the appelman one, the store devoted entirely to the distinctive East Berlin traffic light man. We also came across this guy making massive bubbles and regressed to our respective childhoods in wonder.

 

 

The next day we left Berlin by train for Amsterdam. We had a breakfast of fruit salad and yoghurt in cups on the train, which we’d bought from the station from a woman who assured us there were spoons in the bag. BUT THERE WEREN’T. I bet she’s some bitter old witch of a woman whose only comfort in life is telling people their spoons are in their bags when really they aren’t and going home to cackle to herself about the thought of their predicament when they are left yoghurtful and spoonless on the train. I know you’re out there, old crone, laughing at me.

Laughing and lying and laughing!


Bohemian rhapsody

Luke from UEA in the UK here with a post about mine and Tilly’s trip to Prague!

The bus trip from Norwich to Prague was our longest yet: TWENTY-FIVE HOURS.

Trepidatious anticipation at the journey’s beginning. We were gonna get a disheveled ‘after’ shot as well, but couldn’t be bothered by that point.

But it actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It was fine except for when the coach had to stop for whatever reason and the air-conditioning would stop too. We had excellent weather during the trip, in the thirties and sunny every day.

However long the journey was, it was worth it to be in Prague. It’s an incredibly beautiful city, simply a nice place to be. We did a lot of that thing tourists are s’posed to do where you just walk around not doing much but absorbing the atmosphere.

 

  

 


 

 It was the perfect place to visit to augment my nascent, Grand Designs–inspired interest in architecture; the styles to be seen are multifarious: medieval, neo-classical, cubist, art nouveau, Modernist, postmodern, everything!


Prague Opera House.


The one on the right looks like it’s made of bubble-wrap, or … you know … glass bricks …

 
 A glimpse of art nouveau.
Cubism: they look like snub noses.

Thought this looked like a grand design abroad in progress.

And there are just nice touches everywhere. As with so many European cities, Prague is a testament to its people’s value of the nonessential. The bare functionalism of so many elements of society, of so many minds in Australia has been brought into contrast for me by my trip to Europe. I’ve been made to feel really defensive about my appreciation of art and my choice to do an arts degree by the attitude at home, so now whenever I’ve been coming across relevant quotes I’ve been writing them down, like these:

‘The fact is, while we’re on the subject of cheese, and it’s a bit like wine, and it’s a bit like love: there are things in the world that are not necessary for survival. And it is one of the paradoxes of being alive that it is only the extras that make you want to keep on living. We don’t really embrace the world because there is water and warmth. They are the necessities without which we cannot live. But actually, what we can’t live without are the extras; wine and cheese.’ – Stephen Fry

‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.’ – Dead Poets Society

People in Australia are always talking about the uselessness of art and arts degrees, but you find less of that attitude over here, and their attitude shows up in the extra, nonessential details of their cities, like the legs of public benches, the lampposts, the gates, the fountains everywhere, which I can never help myself walking up to and taking a photo of – I’m obsessed with water (features)! I’m beginning to wonder if the human race has evolved to find water beautiful and therefore want to live near it, because all the people who thought it was ugly wandered off into the desert and died.

 
Oh and also, they have COLD-WATER PUBLIC BUBBLERS.
 They’re YEARS ahead of us!

We found our way to the St Christopher’s hostel without a travel mishap or disaster to be seen. The hostel was really swanky, perhaps the best we’ve stayed in. We wondered if maybe the St Christopher’s chain spends the same amount on every one of its hostels, and they just got more for their money in the Czech Republic, which I should say was refreshingly cheap. The hostel was really environmentally friendly as well, which I thought was fantastic. It runs on 100% renewable energy sources, recycles shower water for use in toilets, extracting heat from that water beforehand and putting it to use, and it has automatic lights to conserve energy. If they can do it, why can’t everyone?

We didn’t know when we arranged to come to Prague, but fortuitously our stay coincided with the last four days of the Prague Fringe Festival, so there was plenty for us to do. The lady who told us about it recommended some events to us, two of which we attended on our first night. Funnily enough, both performers were Australian, as well. The first one was a musical comedian named Merry-May Gill, the conceit of her show being that, along with the timid local librarian (who bore a remarkable resemblance to UOW Creative Writing lecturer Chrissy Howe), she was on a quest to learn what she could from the cultural hubs of Europe so that she could turn the rural NSW town of Moree into the cultural capital of the world. The show was pretty funny, but most of the humour was based on poking fun at Australia and Moree which, while different and new to the Europeans in the audience, was nothing we hadn’t heard before. She had an astonishing voice, though. Incredible.

The next event we attended was an intimate show with Australian songstress Phebe Starr, another incredible voice. She had a charmingly sincere dialogue with the audience, and Til and I and two Canadians we’d met (the dudes in the foreground of the above photo) had a chat to her after the show. The Canadians’ names were Matt and Luke, which was funny  (Til’s family often calls her ‘Mat’) because they said the other people they’d met on their travels and gone around with were also named Matt and Luke.

Next morning we went on yet another New Europe free walking tour with the Canadians, eh. Highlights included seeing the Kafka monument and the stories about the Czechs’ subjugation by the Soviets.

Looks like something out of a story my friend Sean would write.
Our guide telling us the (New Europe Free Walking Tour–compulsory) final story of citizen uprising when the people of Prague gathered in the central square dangling their keys to demand democracy.

 

In addition to the Chrissy lookalike from the night before was this guy who reminded me of (another lecturer) Joshua Lobb, pictured here with his friends desperately trying to answer the tourguide’s question.

 

Pick me, teacher, I’m ever so smart.

(picture from blog.chinesepod.com)

 

And after the tour we had a beeeeautiful, cheap-as-chips gourmet, al fresco lunch at this place around the corner.

Like I said, we spent a lot of time just wandering around. One afternoon we wandered our way to the super-cool Lennon wall.

Someone hilariously profaned the Lennon wall with Rebecca Black lyrics.

 

We also came across another one of those lock-bridges we saw in Paris.

 

Stalky stalky stalky.

 

And an art gallery with these anti-consumerist statements crawling around outside.

 

David Černý’s Babies.

Reflected in an artwork.

 

That night we went to another two Fringe events. The first was called ‘Glue’, a spoken word event by British poet Annie Moir. It was nice, but bizarre. It was in the tiniest room imaginable (the kind you walk into and instantly realise there is no escape from, causing you to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into), with a small audience mostly comprised, I’m fairly certain, of the poet’s friends. She was a grey, steatopygious woman who mostly read poetry about … y’know, love and children and getting old and housework and twee things like that, with a healthy helping of cliché in between. There was the usual discomfort of a spoken word performance, where you don’t know whether what you’re hearing is just the poet addressing you, or if it is supposed to be a part of the performance. But it went to a whole new level of weird when, to accompany her poetry, Moir drew different objects, images and toys out of a box onstage and arranged them on a table or stuck them on a big board like some kind of Play School presenter – there was a definite sense of the pantomime about her. Furthermore, in each transition between poems, her husband standing at the back of the room (about thirty centimetres away from the front) would play twenty seconds of some tenuously relevant song, to which the poet would halfheartedly and awkwardly dance.

 

But I mean, it’s a fringe festival – what else do you expect. It was weird, but her poetry had moments of poignancy and beauty, and I think sometimes that’s what art and poetry are about. Even though the style may not be your preference, you actively experience it, you hurl your intellect up against and into an artefact, a performance, a text, and see what you come up with, see what it makes you think about. I didn’t regret going at all; she was a lovely, warm woman of some talent who I was glad to support with my presence and entry fee.

In between the poetry performance and the next event Til and I had another delicious dinner and I discovered how AMAZING Pilsener Urquelle is. No wonder the whole city is obsessed with it – it’s to Prague what Bintang is to Bali. Possibly it’s so good because the Czechs, apparently, INVENTED lager, and have the highest beer consumption rate in the world per capita. So if you’re in Prague and you go to a Pilsener restaurant bar and have the Urquelle in the proper glass at the proper temperature (12 degrees), you won’t be disappointed. Even Tilly liked it and she hates beer!

 

Hesitant initial sampling.

 

The next performance was this highly recommended (by Matt and Luke) play called 7th Circle about these magician charlatans that accidentally summon a demon and have to complete three tasks or the world will end. With hilarious results. It was funny, but it felt a bit like a band three or four HSC Drama group performance to me. I think the Canadians might’ve been more easily impressed than us, or perhaps had lower expectations beforehand. Either way, I personally enjoyed the subtle equation of charlatan magic with religious practice.

 

Onstage antics.

 

The second challenge was a dance-off against Michael Jackson.

 

Til and I stayed in different dorms throughout the trip, because it was cheaper that way. My dorm was supposed to be mixed, but I swear it was eighty per cent annoying American girls. That night, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, two of them came in and started YELLING to each other. I couldn’t BELIEVE it. SO RUDE. I feel bad judging Americans on these girls; I know all nations have their idiots, but the incidence seems to be higher in Americans in my experience of hostel life. At first it was like, ‘Oh my Gahd! Where’d you go!? Did you go to the big club? We were so wurrayed’ and then it turned into a half-hour discussion of the top ten most inane topics in the world. And then, just when you think it’s over and they’re finally going to sleep:

 

‘Oh, I forgaht to aask you if you like guacamole.’

 

‘Whut?’

 ‘D’you like guacamole?’

 ‘Why, do you have guacamole with you?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘Well why’re you aasking me that?’

 ‘It’s from Step Brothers.’

 ‘Oh, raight.’

 ‘Have you seen it?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘What? Why naht?’

 ‘I have started, I just never finished it.’

 ‘Gahd, get with the times.’

 ‘I’ve seen most of it, I just never saw the whole thing!’

 And it’s like oh my God SHUT UP! Learn to express more than one single unit of meaning in each utterance. Every notion of your speech does not have to be given the maximum dramatic space and effect! Your conversations just devolve into these long, vapid exchanges of nothing, that way. No wonder the world hates America.

 

On our last full day in Prague Til and I went to look around the grounds of Prague castle, from where there are great views of the city. We had lunch up there with one of these views, then came back down to go to one last Fringe event. But alas, we could not find it in time and gave up (something that happened frequently on the trip). We did, however, find a Gloria Jean’s, whose iced coffees I’ve been missing desperately. That was a treat. One of the (few?) positives of multinational corporations.

 


 

The inviting entrance to Prague castle.


A view of the castle at night.

 

Joy!

We rounded out our exploration of Prague with another stroll, a venture down to the water’s edge, a stint in the Kafka museum shop where I bought a copy of The Metamorphosis, and then a mouth-watering pizza dinner.

 

 

That night was the last of the Fringe Festival, with Belushi’s, the bars on the ground floors of all St Christopher’s hostels, hosting the final party, so we hung out in there, me enjoying my last Czech Pilsener Urquelle.

 

Next day we departed Prague for Berlin by train. Here’s hoping we don’t catch E coli and die in Germany!

Cheers,

Luke

PS. All these blog posts and I still haven’t worked out the formatting … No idea why the font changes halfway through, or why there’s such big paragraph gaps sometimes and other times no gaps, but sorry about that.


Wow … such lies

Hey. Luke Bagnall from UEA in the UK here, and if you read my last post about Amsterdam, you’ll know why I’m so pissed off about the blatant lies told by O’Reilly in the video above. Everyone knows those North-Western/Scandanavian progressive, secular, liberal, expensive welfare-state European countries have the highest standards of living and the lowest crime rates anywhere in the world. So how can he get away with just lying like that? Now I’ve experienced for myself what I’ve always heard about Fox.


I am sterdam (and nothing’s gonna colour me)

As far as I’m concerned, Amsterdam is THE greatest place on Earth. That I’ve been to, anyway.

 

It’s difficult to explain how instantly I fell in love with the Netherlands. Every time I encountered something new, discovered another fact about it, talked to another person, I was only convinced more of its utopia. Wherever we went I was clutching onto my idyllic conception, just waiting to come upon some rude local, some druggo, something that would make the city sink, even an inch, in my estimation. But it never happened.

 

Tilly was asleep when we crossed the border from Belgium on the bus, and I didn’t pay much attention. The next time I looked up from my book I instantly saw two people on bikes and knew we were there. I love the fact that they all ride bikes. It’s so romantic and environmentally friendly, as well as preventative of judgement of those that don’t drive (haha). I love how they ride them, as well, with such good posture. And I love how every road has like, seven lanes for traffic, trams, bikes and pedestrians.

So … many … bikes.

I loved the scenery as we drove towards the city – flat green fields divided by irrigation canals and dotted with windmills, the old ones beautifully nostalgic, the new ones proudly green. I loved how beautiful the city was – the canals and the old leaning buildings.

 

Beautiful Amsterdam.

I loved the weather, and the afternoon sun dappling through trees that shed millions of seed pods, which fall to the ground like snow, gathering in the gutters like piles of Cornflakes or woodchips. Tragically, the DSLR was out of commission for most of the visit, but hopefully that won’t show up too much in the photos.

 

Seed pod storm.

Seed pod fun.

Til dejected after coming under seed pod attack.

 

 

I love that every ten metres is another sculpture, the mark, I think, of an advanced, cultured society (I can’t believe the prevalence of the view in Australia that art and arts degrees are ‘useless’ – utilitarianism of this kind is for cavemen). In the same way, I love that even their corporate buildings are architecturally fascinating. I love that, in a world I’ve only recently realised is almost completely authoritarian right (in other words, evil) they’re so libertarian left. And that’s without even having mentioned the people themselves yet!

 

It was such a change to be in a place so welcoming after Paris. I think the Dutch have the best attitude to tourists – they have the perfect mix of retention of their own language and culture but being open to anglophonic tourists. So many times during our trip we would just be standing somewhere and a local would go out of their way to approach us and ask if we needed help. While Til was waiting for me outside the toilet, someone showed her the information desk in case she needed it. Later on the tram a guy nearly forced us to take his seat for our massive bags. And again, when we were a bit lost, a guy came up to us and asked if he could help.

And trams! We don’t have them in Sydney, obviously, and I never really liked the idea of them before. But now I realise they’re the perfect mix of the above-ground, light-filled, visible accessibility of buses and the fixed-track, reliabile predictability of trains.

I think one of the things that makes the city so good is that it has a small population for a world city, despite the fact that the Netherlands is the most populous country in the world for its size. They must just be more evenly spread, or something, because Amsterdam only has somewhere around 700,000 people, where Sydney has around 4 million. I don’t think people should live in huge numbers – it makes them callous. There’s simply not enough time to be courteous to everyone; friendliness is impractical. Too many people are vying for too little resources. Like the song goes, ‘Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.’

There was only really one place left to stay in Amsterdam by time we booked – The Van Gogh Hostel. Presumably this was because of its low ratings on hostelworld, but after some investigation you could see that the low ratings were only because it is brand new, a fact that shows in its facilities. It felt almost like a cross between a hotel and a hostel – the room was as nice as a decent modern hotel room and each room had its own beautiful bathroom, the only difference being that there were six to eight beds in the room.

 

When we first arrived we found in the room some luggage and three pairs of Crocs. From this, Til deduced that we were either staying with Asians or people middle-aged or older. We went back out and when we returned once more it proved to be the former. We walked in on three Asian girls huddled around a chair.

‘Hi,’ I chirped.

They looked up, seemingly stunned. They said hi back, then burst into giggles and turned back to the chair, where I pretended not to see them removing some wet pairs of underwear they had just been laying out. Later I found out they had been told it was a girls only room, hence their surprise.
We had dinner that night in a really cool restaurant where we were serverd by a guy so friendly it almost made me cringe. AND we got free bread and garlic butter. I LOVE free stuff – how did they know!?

Free bread!

So in case you hadn’t deduced, the title of this post is a modified version of a Grates song that I kept getting in my head because ‘Iamsterdam’ is Amsterdam’s tourism slogan.

 

The much-photographed ‘Iamsterdam’ sign from a different angle, wearing a crown for Queen’s Day.

And it turns out I was being ironic when I included the lyric ‘nothing’s gonna colour me’, because something did colour us. That colour was orange, and that something was QUEEN’S DAY! Queen’s Day is like the Netherlands’ Australia Day, except instead of laconic barbeques, picnics, beach expeditions and Sam Kekovich ads, they have a MASSIVE street party in honour of their royal family, the house of (ta da!) Orange. Wearing orange is a requisite of Queen’s Day celebrations. The entire city turns orange. It’s not a very common colour; I’ve never seen so much in my life!

It’s interesting to see how much the Dutch love their royals compared with the Brits.

 

 

 

 

 

We started out at the markets in Vondelpark, where there were lots of talented children dancing and playing instruments for money, games involving throwing eggs at people, and junk to buy.

There was also zorbing for kids! Jealous!

After that we ventured to a supermarket for alcohol. Our plan was to get a large quantity of potent, delicious, refreshing, alcoholic, orange drink that the two of us could drink in the park with some nibblies, and we ended up concocting a mixture of rosé and juice which fit the bill perfectly and got us nicely, mildly inebriated.

 

 Magic nectar.

 

 

 

 

 After that we had a wander into the center of town.

  On the way.

 

 Love  the sign.

 

 Street market.

Inner city Maccas devastation.

In town we found some more alcohol and a few dance parties to join in, lunch, a little park in which to laze full of lizard statues which we conjectured might be to discourage birds from eating the bulbs planted there, and then a pretty little canal to sit by.

A man dancing effeminately outside the lizard park, attracting quite a crowd.

 

 

 From the side this guy’s helmet looked like a gigantic splodge of toothpaste.

We also found a toilet for Til, the use of which she had to wait for for like half an hour. It was easy enough for me, ’cause they had these additional open-air urinals everywhere.

 

They were extremely convenient, but it was a bit weird being so in the open, and they STANK. It seems to be the attitude over there, though – they have permanent versions of these around where you stand in like a giant metallic coil, but only the mid-section from your shoulders to knees is screened and you have a view of the outside. The first time I saw a guy using one I thought he was a homeless guy pissing in a phone booth or something.

 

Later, on the free tour we took of the city, our guide pointed out the devices below, which are apparently installed solely to stop people pissing on buildings. If you try to, you find it splatters back considerably. After telling us about them our guide jokingly told us to touch it and I did just to shock everyone. He said he’d remember me as the only person ever to take him up on the suggestion haha. I reasoned that as a piss-deflector it was probably actually the safest place to touch, but he assured me their main victims are drunk people in the dark. Whatever, urine is sterile haha.

 

After sitting by the canal and drinking another litre of rosé-juice concoction, we were feeling the drawbacks of wine – it works fast but makes you sleepy, so we reasoned that if we headed back to the hostel for a nap we would be reenergised to party on that night. Unfortunately, as Amsterdam newbs, we didn’t realise that the Queen’s Day celebrations commence on Queen’s Night, the evening before Queen’s Day, and continue on through the night, meaning that by the end of Queen’s Day the party is dead. We headed back out and couldn’t work out where everyone was. We missed the end of Queen’s Day!

Sunday we visited Anne Frank’s house, a really moving and depressing experience. Even so, it was a shame because it was so busy that you felt like you had to press on through to the next room to let the next people in. It was surreal, but I couldn’t really reconcile the information I was reading in the pamphlet, that I was hearing from the TV displays, with the fact that I was actually standing where it all happened. I saw the posters she put up on her wall, but while reading about it I couldn’t appreciate that fact. There was a room at the end of the tour outside the house which was devoted to Anne Frank’s older sister Margot, which I thought was so beautiful and touching. They had a video of one of her school friends saying what a beautiful, intelligent, kind young woman she had been, and how the friend felt a bit bitter that it hadn’t been Margot’s diary that was found, that it was Anne who got all the fame. I thought the room was a nice gesture towards redressing that disparity.
After that we really needed to cheer up – it was so thoroughly disturbing. We got ourselves some frozen yoghurt and consoled ourselves with the beauty of sitting on a canal. The frozen yoghurt, by the way, was a thousand times better than Snog!

 

The aftermath of Queen’s Day – a broken dinner table in the canal.

 

We were further consoled by coming across Lijnbaansgracht, the most beautiful street in Amsterdam, and where we will write our novels when we’re rich. Take a look and tell us if you hink it’s worth $800 a week (for a crappy apartment) or $2800 a week (for a nice one), as we discovered later on a real estate site:

 

Ducklings in the adjacent canal.

 

The residents of Lijnbaansgracht dancing on their boats. I’d be dancing too if I lived there.

The next day we did yet another free New Europe tour. At first I was hesitant about our guide because he had such an annoying American accent, and when I overheard another guide ask him for his email address I heard him spell it out with a ‘to the’ between each letter (eg ‘L to the U to the K to the E, etc) and I didn’t think it was ironic. In retrospect it must’ve been, because he turned out to be pretty cool and funny. And the accent was just a result of having gone to an International school.

The tour went through the Red Light District, which was surreal. I can’t believe those girls just stand there in the window until someone comes along and picks them up haha. He stopped us at one point to show us the artwork below that just appeared overnight in the street which the council considered vandalism and removed until the locals complained and it was reinstated. Thought that was cool.

 

Our tourguide telling us about the most famous ‘coffee shop’ in the world.

More nonsensical Queen’s Day aftermath: a ski boot?

He also explained to us why all the houses along the canals lean so drastically. The ones which lean sideways, he said, were accidents due to the fact that most of the Netherlands is reclaimed land and the foundations have sunk, but the ones that lean forward are by design. Apparently, in order to fit the highest number possible of merchants into the city, there were restrictions on the widths of houses, meaning they were all really tall instead. But with such narrow, tall houses, the staircases were too tiny and winding to transport goods to any of the higher floors, so they would winch them up to the top floor using a pulley system hanging off a pole at the top of every house. Because Amsterdam is quite windy, though, this could get dangerous when hauling up heavy loads that could blow around and damage the property. To remedy this problem, houses were built with a forward lean so that the goods could be hauled up and be far enough away from the house not to bash into it. Our guide did tell us, though, that they later realised they could just build a longer pole at the top and get the same effect.

On our way from the end of the tour into town for lunch we came across a super cool novelty shop where we thought we might find some good souvenirs for people, but we could only find ones that would be good for us, like coffee bean-shaped ice cube trays that you’re s’posed to fill with coffee-water to put in your iced coffee so it doesn’t get watered down as the ice melts. Ingenius! I also came across a card I consider to be very relevant since I managed to get upgraded to business class on the flight over here, and am hoping for the same on the way back:


After that we had the most serendipitous, delicious, inexpensive lunch at this place called Broodje Bert.

Blew this picture up because of the unfortunate woman in the bottom-right corner that I managed to catch at the wrong moment.

 

 

Our good friend Gilly, of ‘A vindication of the rights of sloth’, ‘Winchester II: return to gilly’s’, ‘Winchester III: darrel’s revenge’ and ‘University of east anglia: a crytoscopophiliac’s dream’, formerly lived in Amsterdam, and gave us a lot of advice about where to go and what to do. She was the one who told us about Queen’s Day in the first place. She said one must-see in Amsterdam was this old-style cinema called the Tuschinski. It was really beautiful. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t take any photos in the lobby, and we were seeing True Grit, which had come out quite a while ago, and consequently wasn’t in the main cinema, which was the only old style one. Still worth it, though. Good movie, too.

The next day, all too quickly, we had to leave and embark upon a massive coach journey back to Norwich. Amsterdam, though, is without a doubt our favourite place that we’ve visited so far, and we’re resolved to go back very shortly and have a long weekend with Gilly and our other UOW friend on exchange in Spain, Elisa, and do everything we didn’t get a chance to do on our first visit. It’s gonna be awesooooome!

 

Cheers,

 

Luke


Au francais day! Camus! Calais!

“‘Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.”

Greetings, reader. Luke from UEA in the UK here, writing about mine and Tilly’s trip to Paris.

I mentioned parts of our journey from London to Paris in ‘Three wollongongers do London: the longest post ever part one’ so I won’t say much about it here, except that despite its being eight hours long, it was surprisingly pleasant. I slept the first two hours, in the middle was a scenic ferry trip from Dover, and the last two hours were spent watching the beautiful French countryside at sunset.

 The White Cliffs of Dover.

 

 Calais, my favourite place, onomastically speaking.

 Compiegne, where Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians in 1430 (HSC Exthistory major project knowledge YAYUH!)

… And a statue of Joan we came across later in Paris.

One of the highlights of the journey was Til pulling the face below and looking exactly like her brother Riley:

 

Family resemblance.

We stayed in Paris for a week, on one of the St Christopher’s Hostels one-week deal things. The hostel was pretty awesome. It was purpose-built, so the rooms weren’t cramped or anything, everyone had massive storage lockers, and each bed had a curtain around it. The staff were really friendly, too. We had these two English roomates who’d cycled from Dover to Paris. We were talking and when I mentioned I was doing this blog they wanted to know if they’d get a mention in it and I was like, ‘You might need to make more of an impression.’ And then they kept trying to think of ways to get in, including making Til sit through this weird video they’d taken on their phone the night before. Hey guys, if you’re out there!

Obviously one of the best things about Paris was the food culture. We pretty much had baguettes at every meal, and camembert, and cherry tomatoes, and this AMAZING JUICE that I drank litres of at a time, and wine, and also Pringles, which I’d taken to calling ‘Pwong-glaze’ in an exaggerated French accent. They sure take their bread and dairy seriously over there, which results in incredible food. One supermarket we went to had TWO AISLES of yoghurt. We thought this one was funny, though:

Til getting Japanese with some Flanby because it sounds like a Pokémon.

‘Flanby Flannn.’

(an amalgam of images from http://www.proxilivre.fr and ‘http://fc06.deviantart.net)

Every night there were groups of picnickers lined up all the way along the Seine, and this community of Jews would congregate around this one street corner. It was so cool:

 Our accommodation on the left (not the huge one).

 

Sounds like something out of the first line of an American short story: ‘When I was a boy growing up in Paris, all the Jewish men in the community would congregate on the corner of [something something] and Rue [something] on Saturday nights, dressed in black and white, while the wives and mothers [something something]. Me and my cousin Schlomo would always [something something something] …’ Obviously I don’t have the actual knowledge to furnish the story, but you get the idea.

After the events I think Tilly might be planning to write about in a blog post of her own involving a lost passport, we went for a relieved walk along the canal and got  some snaps. The next day was Easter, and I was desperate for some Cadbury, but it seemed they don’t have it over there. We decided to spend the day doing another one of those free New Europe tours, which was great, but perhaps not as good as the London one. Where it started up there was this group of exhibitionist Brazilian dancers, and this little white-as French kid was trying to join in:

The tour took us all over Paris, to heaps of great spots. Our guide Jenny told us about the bizzare Metro entrance signs. Apparently they were done in the Art-Nouveau style at the turn of the twentieth century, and they used to have big glass cases as well which scared the people of the time, new to underground trains, because they looked like giant monsters (which I think is understandable):

   A special commemorative Metro entrance.

We also saw on the tour a bridge that Jenny calls the world’s first Facebook photo album because it’s covered in sculptures of the drunken attendants of a royal party. Apparently the king had his sketch artist walking around taking comical likenesses at the bridge’s opening party to be sent to the guests, but he then decided to have them turned into sculptures and displayed on the bridge for all to see instead, hence, Facebook.

The other cool bridge was the Ponts des Arts, or the Arts Bridge, which crosses the Seine between the Louvre and the Académie française, and which is one of those places where lovers attach locks and throw away keys. I awkwardly asked Jenny if she had one on there and she said she did, but it was gone now and so was the boy … Overstepped the bounds of tourist-tourguide familiarity, I think.

Jenny telling us about the Académie française in the background. I’m abivalent about the concept. I like that they value their language enough to defend it so militantly, but I also don’t think language should be regulated in such a way. Pretty funny though, that when something new is invented they have to decide whether it’s feminine or masculine in French. Apparently it took ages for them to decide about the iPod.

A guy painting on the Arts Bridge. He’s ACTUALLY WEARING A BERET!

I love the way the French value art. At one point we stumbled upon an orchestral group just performing in public, just for no reason. There were so many people just sitting playing instruments and singing in the streets or along the Seine in the evenings, without anything to put money in. They were just doing it for the love of it. Amazing:

 By the end of the tour we were once again weary, worn and dusty.

Dusty feet while listening to the last story of the tour – the Parisian resistance in World War II.

We wandered lackadaisically into Parisian suburbia in search of food and stumbled upon what was to become our favourite French bakery, the Boulangerie/Patisserie Julien. They sold pre-filled baguettes which … words fail … They were PHENOMENAL haha. BEST EVER. We went there like, three times over the week, sometimes crossing the entire city just to get there.

The next day we set out needing to purchase deodorant, thongs, and shorts for me, and supportive shoes and some other crap for Til. Typically I had all my stuff within the first hour or two, but it was more difficult for Til. I bought a pair of ten euro thongs from Marc Jacobs, where shorts cost 700 euro, then got to walk around with the bag all day pretending I was rich. What we really needed was a shopping centre, but not knowing where any where, we stupidly ended up on Champs-Elysees and, as we know,

‘The Champs-Elysees is a busy street’

and not the best if you want supportive girl’s shoes and not high heels, haha. It was a bit of an ordeal, so we eventually had to go and have a Julien-aided laze in a nearby park, which resulted in my first of three park siestas during our trip.

 

You know you’re near Champs-Elysees when …

We had another picnic that night on the canal.

On Tuesday we visited the Musée d’Orsay, the foremost French Impressionist art museum. It was really great. The line to get in was astonishingly intestinal. We actually couldn’t find the end because it had coiled out beyond the rope barriers. We found what we thought was the end but was actually just a bend and I left Tilly there while I went to see if I could find the end anywhere else.

Where, where, where, where’s Tilly (wah-a-wah-a-wah-a-where’s Tilly?)

By the time I came back she’d been osmosed into the queue and we’d accidentally cheated the system, but we weren’t complaining.

Wednesday was a biggun. We went to look at the Eiffel tower in the morning, then went on a tour of Monmartre in the afternoon.

Graffiti near the tower. For some reason it’s hilarious to me that French gangs do this too. Oh yeah, Villejuif boys. You’re real hardcore.

Start of the Monmartre tour.

 

 Van Gogh’s apartment block.

 

Sacre Coeur.

 

 An amazing street performer.

 

The cafe from Amelie.

We went to the Louvre that night, which was obviously fantastic. Although, to be honest, we were a bit museumed and galleried out. We’s seen the National Gallery, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Musée d’Orsay all in the space of a week. Although I know there’s not really any alternative, I really believe that the amassing and displaying of art in huge collections is not the best way for it to be experienced. It’s the same principle as a single person’s death being more affecting than thousands – too much and it’s an overload, we can’t appreciate it. I think the only way you could fully appreciate these great galleries would be to live locally and explore them bit by bit over a series of visits.

The Victory of Samothrace, one of my favourites.

 

 The obligatory, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Eugène Delacroix’s beautiful La Liberté guidant le peuple, or Liberty Leading the People.

 

Me with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII in Reims Cathedral

Pierre-Narcisse Guérin’s The Murder of Agamemnon.

Til enjoying her favourite, with a title as long as the painting is big, Jacques Luis-David’s Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804.

 

 Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s The Education of Achilles by the Centaur Chiron

Aphrodite of Milos, or the Venus de Milo

 

Athena’s all like, ‘Whatever, Zeus.’

‘This is for Works and Days, Hesiod!’

Homer.

Nip in the bud.

 

 Tearin up the D-floor with the Louvre statuary.

For our last day in Paris, we planned to take a picnic to the Palace of Versailles.  Unfortunately it was a disaster. It’d been remarkably clement up till this point, blazing everyday, and we’d been wasting it inside at the museums. We really should’ve saved one of the museums for a rainy day and taken advantage of the sun while it was there. We didn’t really know how to get to Versailles, and we kind of got lost. We were on a train we thought was taking us there, but then there was an announcement in French and it stopped and everyone got off and I was wearing shorts and thongs and FREEZING so we just decided to turn back.

We ended up eating our picnic on the train back. Because we’d been picnicking almost every meal, we were forever in need of cutlery. There was this one supermarket up the road which had a torn open packet of plastic knives in it, so I kept stealing them out of there. We ended up calling them Subtle Knives because of the subtle manner in which I’d taken them.

The Subtle Knife.

(an amalgam of images from http://writerspet.files.wordpress.com and http://www.acepackagingsupplies.co.uk)

Unfortunately, the Subtle Knife shattered on the journey back from halfway-to-Versailles whilst dealing  with some particularly stubborn butter:

 The scene of the accident.

 

The extent of the damage.

But the Subtle Knife will live on forever in our heavy hearts and our buttery, buttery hands, and also in the epilogue to the His Dark Materials trilogy that Phillip Pullman is sure to write, Shards of a Broken Knife:

(an amalgam of images from http://www.webstaurantstore.com and http://www.amazon.com)

And so our trip to Paris ended in failure and tragedy, but that couldn’t tarnish the amazing, though somewhat travel hungover from our previous escapades in London, time we’d had. Vive la France!

 

Cheers,

 

Luke


Three wollongongers do london: the longest post ever part two

Luke here, continuing on from my last post.

The last thing I said was about how we kind of poorly timed our trip because we missed the Royal Wedding, but one way it wasn’t poorly timed was meteorologically. The weather was spectacular. Last time we were in London it was grey, bleak, positively Russian, but it couldn’t have been better this time. Compare the pair:

December

 

April

Actually, those two pictures probably don’t really demonstrate the difference that much. Except for the leaves. That was just the only thing I took a picture of twice. 

After the tour, lunch and Snog we returned to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery (yet another free attraction – although we did donate), but first we saw the performers outside:



That second guy was such a wanker. There’s pumping the crowd up and then there’s gratuitously wringing them for all they’re worth. I swear he took half an hour just to get through that stupid tennis racquet. It’s not even impressive; you’re just skinny …

The National Gallery was good, but we weren’t really up to it after the walking tour and all. Our feet were killing us so we ended up surrendering and going for cider and wine in St James’s Park. I love that you can drink in public here! They’re not, however, very big on screwtop lids, so getting to our precious liquid required some ingenuity:


Kirb using Til’s fake plastic key; I favoured my metallic phone case.

After that it was more predrinks in a bar and then back to Jamie’s Italian for a delicious, inexpensive dinner.

 Predrinks at Verve.


 Til being counselled by our (pleasantly) surprisingly knowledgeable waiter.

 

Til’s truffle tagliatelle


 My lemon curd.


Kirb’s raspberry chocolate brownie


 Til’s walnut slice.


What looks to be an authentic Crapper’s toilet!

The next morning we visited Westminster Abbey. Of course, the first thing I did when I got inside was get the baby (DSLR) out to get  a photo of the amazing stained glass windows. Before I’d even gotten the lens cap off, this waspish old bag in an absurd green cloak had blustered over to me and snapped, ‘There’s no photography in here!’

‘Oh, sorry’, I said, immediately repentant. I was a little embarrassed. ‘Really?’ I asked, suddenly finding it astonishing that you wouldn’t be allowed to take photos of such an iconic attraction.

‘Well there’s notices everywhere!’ she snarled, as if I’d just whipped it out and started pissing on Chaucer’s grave or something.

I looked around, genuinely looking for a single one. ‘Well I don’t see any, and that’s a really nice way to speak to someone, isn’t it? Very Christian. Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbour and all that.’

Except by the time I’d turned back from looking around she’d already stormed off, probably luckily, or I really would’ve said that to her and then gotten kicked out of the church. But what a bitch. It was just the way she spoke to me, and the fact that we were in a church and that she was presumably Christian. Sorry if I was so distracted by the magnificent historical splendour around me that I didn’t notice one tiny green sign prohibiting photography. As if I’d walk in and blatantly take a photo right in front of her if I’d seen the sign. Besides violating her Christian beliefs, she was also not living up to her job description which, according to the Westminster Abbey website, includes ‘[h]elping visitors to feel comfortable in the Abbey and not to be daunted by the building.’

Now, I’ve been to a lot of churches and abbeys and cathedrals since I’ve come to Europe, and at first I did feel a bit guilty taking photos in a place of worship. It felt disrespectful somehow. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that it’s not me turning them into a tourist attraction – it’s them. They’re the ones charging a seventeen pound entrance fee, hawking cheap religious merchandise, trying to elicit a few more pounds out of you by deliberatley funnelling you past the coffee stand which, I might add, is sitting ON TOP OF PEOPLE’S GRAVES. But oh no, we wouldn’t want to defile the sanctity of the church by cheapening it into a mere tourist attraction with our photos. I’m sorry, but if you’re selling it like a tourist attraction, the tourists should be allowed to take photos of it. Also, you can’t forcibly dominate one and a half thousand years of human history without surrendering some privileges; it’s part of the bargain. When a culture or institution gains a certain amount of supremacy in the world, it relinquishes control of the institutions and constructs it previously commanded and enforced so that, today, many of the irreligious celebrate Christmas, and Christian relics such as abbeys are of as much, if not more historical importance than spiritual.

But anyway, I am glad I didn’t get kicked out, ’cause the church was really cool. The audioguide was narrated by Jeremy Irons! I was having inappropriate Lolita flashbacks. Saw the graves of lots of famous people. Sure wish I had some photos. Haha. We saw one grave of some guy named something like ‘Baganoll’, and we were going to get a cheeky picture, but then we remembered a fact from Dave’s tour: that Britons are the most watched people in the world, with some ridiculous amount of the planet’s surveillance cameras situated there. So we thought maybe not. Also we’d had the fear of the ‘greencloaks’, as I’d taken to calling them, struck into our souls.

 ‘No photos!’

We did get a few photos in the cloisters, which I later discovered you were allowed to do anyway, but whatever.



In the cloisters was the coffee shop I mentioned above, and the delicious pastry fragrance wafting from it wasn’t helping the fact that I was starving. I refused, however, to give any more of my money to this evil institution (haha), so we finished up in the abbey and since I LOVE them and Kirbie hadn’t tried one yet, went in search of pasties. Usually it’s not that difficult: there’s a Cornish Pasty Co every five seconds in this country but, like Starbucks, you can never actually find one when you want one. 

Next up was the British Museum (free once again!) which was, ironically, having an Australian exhibit that we, needless to say, didn’t see. There I got to see a lot of old friends from Ancient History, plus some other cool stuff.


 Cool roof.


 

 Me with the Rosetta Stone.

 Only mention of Hatshepsut I could find.


 Lindow Man.



Once again, after the museum our feet were dying. Kirb went back to her hostel to get ready for the pub crawl that night while Til and I dropped dead in the nearest cafe to be replenished by some surprisingly good (by European standards) iced mochas. 

Known for their restorative properties.

After a minor travel mishap which involved me running all over London looking for an internet cafe, we were reunited with Kirbie for a speedy Maccas dinner and the pub crawl. I was neg-vibing on it a bit at first, due to exhaustion, but it turned out great.  There was one crazy Western Australian guy who must‘ve been on drugs, and a Swedish girl who challenged us and a Canadian guy list ten famous people from our countries, only to list brands when we turned the tables on her.


Crazy guy



It kind of became evident as the night went on that the pub crawl was more of a singles-fest than anything else. By the end of the night it was kind of just the guys passing around the girls, which was funny and gross to watch, but we left around that point.

The next day was Kirbie’s last in London, and I had high expectations. We were going to the Tower of London and to see Lion King, two things which I’d really been looking for. And as always, ‘when a man get something he wants badly he doesn’t like it’ (VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street). I did like them both, I just had such high expectations that I was slightly disappointed.

That’s one major lesson I’ve learned from my exchange experience so far. It’s been a fair while since I’ve made new friends – everyone I’m close to at home has known me at least since the startof uni. So having this intense experience of becoming close to people in a period of six months has been a kind of checkup on what I’m like as a person right now. Everyone else I know has preconceived notions of me, but the people I’ve met overseas have nothing to go on but what they’ve discovered for themselves in the last few months. In a way, their opinion of me will be the most unbiased account of who I am, perhaps not wholly, but currently. And it’s interesting because two of the people I’ve grown closest to over here, Sam and Kim, have both said I’m a very cynical person – which is something I don’t know many of my friends at home would call me.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and learned from it. I think the best way to be, in this respect, is to have the acuity to be able to perceive things as they are with all their faults; the disposition to not be bothered by those faults; and the social awareness not to come across to people as a critical asshole who can’t be pleased by anything. I think I had the first two to begin with, but I was never aware of the need for the third until now.

I think I have a higher tolerance for faults than other people. Yes, I can pick holes in something and point to the parts of it that I didn’t like, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it otherwise. That doesn’t mean I dislike it all together. I have an exacting standard of perfection, but not an exacting standard of enjoyment. So yes, I can be disappointed by a whole lot of things in Lion King: the fact that the lines were rushed and said without conviction, that the additions to the show weren’t of the same quality as those from the original, that Simba’s accent was far too posh, that Nala kept making the same ridiculous gesture with her body and so on and so forth, but still come away from the show having loved it.

I love language, and think it’s our best medium for communication, but even so, it’s so inadequate. There is no way to economically modulate it enough to accurately convey the middleground, the liminal, the grey , the inbetween of human experience, and you can see this in the way we think. It’s difficult to list the faults of something without it seeming like you didn’t enjoy it because language forces us to make assertions in relative polaritie, with only clumsy adjectives and things as modifiers. That’s why you get all these people saying in their Facebook ‘About Me’s that they’re ‘a walking bundle of contradictions’ and ‘so random’, because when called upon to give an account of themselves in words, they find it difficult to reconcile any words which contradict one another, they are ‘unable to hold in their minds … two contradictory ideas’ (Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance – you can tell I’ve just been studying for a Postcolonialism exam, can’t you?). They go to write that they’re quiet, but then they remember that, when they’re with a certain group of friends they’re really boisterous. But what? Quiet AND boisterous? No! God, I’m just sooooo random! 

You’ll notice how long and dense (and boring?) all my posts are, and how full of relative pronouns (which etc) they are. This is because I’m trying to accurately represent my experience, and that requires modulation. But people don’t like picky people (everyone hates professional critics), and it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to control how I represent myself. I think sometimes I’ve got to just hold my tongue and say I liked something instead of saying I liked it, except for all these things, but I still liked it. Lesson learned.


 Insecure, much, Henry VIII?



After the Tower of London, we went to this really bizarre restaurant. It wasn’t overtly weird, it just kind of built up in strangeness so that by the end, I was convinced it had been started by this family who had everything except the chef, and they finally found one to work for them, but he was like, ‘All right, but we’re gonna do things MY way’, and from then on the family lived in terror of displeasing the chef by violating any of his punctilious rules. First, they didn’t have eftpos. Then they wouldn’t take our order until Til had gone to the ATM which they said sometimes didn’t work, they wouldn’t let Kirbie have two toasted sandwiches instead of one (without getting two entire meals), and they gave us paper coffee cups for our Coke. They had a whole page of restrictions on the front page of their menu, essentially saying things like ‘no alterations’ and ‘too bad if your food comes out at different times’. Do you see what I mean? How it was all so self-oriented instead of customer-oriented. Like, NO we don’t have EFTPOS even though it would be really easy for us to get it because we’re in the middle of the city next to a gigantic tourist attraction; NO we won’t take your order yet because we don’t want to be inconvenienced if the ATM doesn’t work; NO alterations, NO food out at the same time, NO proper glasses because we don’t want to wash them up! It’s like, it’s called the hospitality industry for a reason …

 Coke in a coffee cup.

The bill said service wasn’t included, but there was no way we were tipping, so we just left the exact money and sketattled.

Sadly that night Kirbie left. It’d been so good having her there; we probably wouldn’t have done half the things we’d done if she hadn’t been there to energise and motivate us – we were leaving the hostel at nine in the morning and not coming back till eleven, twelve, or one every night. She really made our visit.


Kirb being swallowed by a sea of tube commuters.

After Kirbie left, Til and I walked around Covent garden and watched an amazing busker for a while before heading home.


Our last day in London turned out to be a return to all our favourite places without us meaning it to. We started out at the National Gallery, this time in the Portrait Gallery, where we saw some very cool familiar faces:


 Anne Boleyn

Charles Darwin.

Charlotte Bronte.


Ted Hughes.


And guess who else we saw? That’s right, Mandalf!:

‘JUST, KIDDING’.

It was this guy:


(image from http://www.life.com)

After that it was a return to St James’s Park and Snog:

 BAMF once more.



And then finally we revisited Covent Garden, my personal favourite, for some chorizo and chicken rolls which were AMAZING. It was the perfect way to  end our stay in London.

Cheers,

Luke Bagnall


Three wollongongers* do london: the longest post ever part one

*I think ‘Wollongoners’ is the most suitable demonym for Wollongong. Better than Wollongongian or Wollongongite or any other suffix combination, anyway.

This is Luke Bagnall from UEA again, writing on our trip to London.

As I’m writing this, which will probably be a long time before it’ll go online, Til and I are lounging in the indoor deck of the Pride of Kent, crossing the English channel to Calais.

I love that word. Calais. If it didn’t sound so much like a wankified version of ‘Kelly’ (à la Ja’mie from Jamie), I’d want to name my future daughter Calais. Sounds kind of Elven.


‘Illué alloay Arwen. Callathee allathar cathai calais.

We’re sitting next to a depressingly nuclear American family who talk (in especially annoying accents, no less) to each other like they’re from 7th Heaven or something. It’s all très bourgeois (getting my French on), so I’m distracting myself from their twee blather with what will probably be an epic blog post.


Where do you go when the world won’t treat you right? The answer is Calais, evidently.

We arrived in London from Norwich last Sunday, and stayed in what looked like the fairly posh suburb of Pimlico, judging from the beautiful olden-day apartments and the concomitant rows of Audis, Mercs, BMWs and Alfa Romeos parked outside them.



Our hostel itself wasn’t so posh, offering what a website tactfully describes as an ‘iconic view’ of the hideous Battersea Power Station. We had to stay in separate male/female dorms ’cause everything else was booked out, and that wasn’t fun because the types of people to deliberately book all-male dorms can easily be the creepy fifty-year-old kind who stand eerily in the corner of the room over the sleeping body of another guy for hours on end (this only happened once, but that was enough). 

And I’m not even just exaggerating to fit this picture into this vague LOTR motif – the dude really kinda looked like Gollum.

The showers would be more adequately described as dribblers (not that showers ‘show’), and there was a fifteen minute walk to the nearest tube station. But on the upside, it was very cheap, the service was friendly, which is rare in England, the pub downstairs was cool and played good music, the fifteen-minute walk kept us out all day and burning calories and, best of all, despite the first being low quality and the second being of the Pepsi-not-Coke variety, we got free breakfast as well as free softdrinks whenever we wanted.


My cousin Kirbie was also in London at the time after attending some scientific conference or seminar or workshop or something in Dublin a few days before, so we made plans to meet up at Jamie’s Italian on our first night. Amazingly, it wasn’t outside the restaurant that we met, but in one of five or six elevators at the tube station – we just happened to get in the same one at exactly the same moment. Things like that keep happening, I’ve found. Like Jean-Paul, the only other person on our Topdeck tour to Les Deux Alpes, happened to be staying in Kirbie’s hostel as well, and we ran into him there one morning.

We postponed Jamie’s Italian in favour of something less busy,  which ended up being Spanish restaurant La Tasca, where we supped upon delicious (and expensive) sangria and incredible paella.


 


During our stay we came to feel like regular Londoners, spending almost a hundred pounds a day, passing iconic places like Pall Mall, The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Coventry Street, Piccadilly and so forth on a quotidian basis (but unfortunately not passing ‘go’ and not collecting $200) and expertly swiping our Oyster cards with the utmost nonchalance on public transport of at least two kinds. Sydney really needs to get something like that. So much more efficient than stupid prepaid bus tickets and weekly/monthly/yearly Shityrail passes.



I started out loving the tube because you can just go down there at any time, wait three minutes at most, and a train will arrive. But a couple of travel disasters later I was over it. I don’t understand how people use that thing every day, in BUSINESS SUITS. It must be awful in summer. They should really be air-conditioned.

The first thing we did on our first full day was the free walking tour where you just tip what you think your tourguide is worth. It’s clever, because knowing you don’t have to pay makes you want to pay more, provided you had a good guide, which we did. And it encourages the guides to make an effort too, I’m sure. Ours was a pretty cool guy named Dave, a musician.

I love the kind of stories they tell you on these tours – anecdotal, urban legendary. It’s rooted in historical fact but not always accurate, and it doesn’t need to be. I think it harks back to that primal act of oral storytelling or something.

Anyway, we started out in Hyde Park Corner, where we heard about Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, apparently an arrogant, elitist, sexist war hero. His mansion was right across from the park (at the awesome address of ‘1 London’) and he had a mounted statue of himself erected there, reportedly so he could see it from his windows whenever he wanted. This not being enough, he built his own Arc de Triomphe in the park as well, after he defeated Napoleon, with another statue of himself on top. Apparently Queen Victoria hated the statue so much she replaced it with another one as soon as he died.



Next stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. It was madness. I think London was just brimming for the impending royal wedding, so there were so. Many. People. Dave said he’d never seen it like that.




Outside the palace, Dave told us some pretty hilarious stories about people who broke into the palace. One did so wearing a Batman costume and stood on the balcony for hours; others, German tourists, wanted to go camping in Hyde Park, saw the trees over the walls of the palace and assumed they’d found it. They jumped the fence, set up camp, and were only discovered the next morning when they asked a guard how to get out. There was a standout about a drunken homeless Irishman, but it was different to the account I found online. The gist of it was that he ended up on the end of the queen’s bed in the middle of the night, chatting to her for about ten minutes after having consumed half a bottle of her wine. And afterwards, some quirk in the legal system meant he couldn’t be charged for trespassing on public property, so he was just charged for stealing the wine!

Next we walked up Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, where we saw the hideous Olympic countdown clock and the monument to Nelson.


Here Dave told us about the legend that the term ‘stiff drink’ comes from when sailors preserved the body of Nelson in a barrel of brandy during the three-week journey back to England, but once they had exhausted the ship’s alcohol supply, they proceeded to drink some of the brandy with the body inside (stiff = corpse, therefore ‘stiff drink’). He also told us how they reduced the number of pigeons living in Trafalgar Square – by putting birth control chemicals in the pigeon feed. Just as he finished the story, a lone pigeon swooped JUST over our heads, as if to say, ‘Yeah, but we’re still here!’ and I caught it on camera.


 

We were then led to the Admiralty Arch.


Til and I had seen it on our previous London visit, but we hadn’t noticed its nose, which sits embedded in the wall for no known reason.



The tour ended at the Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower (which we now know is only called ‘Big Ben’ metonymically for the bell within). It was really worthwhile hearing all the little stories you’d never know about otherwise. I always think it’s interesting the way you learn the geography of a city – Sydney, Norwich, London. You start out knowing enclosed individual areas, but not how to get from one to the other, and as you wander around you’re always surprised when two areas separated in your mind link up. I think it’s the same way with knowledge, in this case of history. I know separate historical facts about the history of Britain’s royalty, but it was great having them unified by the stories on the tour – learning that so and so was whatsisname’s grandson, etc.

Tilly had heard before coming to London that frozen yoghurt was the latest craze. 

  The frogurt is also cursed.

 So we headed to the place she’d heard about, ‘Snog’, which was admittedly pretty cool. I didn’t think the yoghurt itself was that great, but the décor was interesting. And the concept is clever. And the lighting was sensational! (Just kidding. But seriously, it was).





Our timing of this London-Paris-Amsterdam trip was a bit out, really – we probably should’ve made sure we were actually in Britain for the royal wedding. 


Okay, so this one was a bit contrived.

But seriously, it would’ve been great to go to an ironic student party, or play The Royal Wedding Drinking Game. As it turns out we’re in the Netherlands instead, for a different (better) royal event – 


 Sorry, couldn’t resist!

(Picture from http://www.squizzas.com)

I actually meant Queen’s Day – but more on that later. So while we won’t be in London for the party, we did get our fill of tacky wedding merchandise. It was in every shop window! Walls and walls of poorly Photoshopped, terrible photos on tea towels and plates and keyrings and such.


Who buys this stuff!?


Everyone’s trying to cash in. Glad someone called it. 

Due to its unwieldy mass, this post will continue above.


Winchester III: darrell’s revenge

LUKE: I’ve already written two posts about Winchester. How can I possibly come up with another title?
TILLY: What were the other ones?
LUKE: ‘A vindication of the rights of sloth’ and ‘Winchester II: return to gilly’s’.
TILLY: How about … ‘Winchester 3: darrell’s revenge’?
*LAUGHTER*
LUKE: I’m so calling it that!
And there ends the significance of the title of this post. In no way did my friend Gilly’s husband Darrell exact any revenge during our stay in with them in Winchester … that I’m aware of …
Anyway, the reason for this, my third return to Winchester and the abode of the Grundys, was for Gilly Grundy’s G-Themed Fortieth Birthday Costume Party!
This party was during the first weekend after classes finished at uni, so we didn’t have very long to put together G-themed costumes. We were brainstorming and I said we could go as Graham Gooch, which made Tilly think of going as goon! This would be significant because, while she was a foreign student at UOW, we younguns introduced Gilly to all sorts of awful cheap goon drinks by which she was continually disgusted.
 
 Apparently only one cognitive leap away.
It was then simply a matter of deciding which form of goon would be best: Fruity Lexia or Berri Estates box? Goon Sunrise? Should we attempt to drink a goonsack every night until the party and wear a suit made of blown-up goonsacks? Goon Commandos with goon box helmets? We decided going as giant goon sacks would have the maximum effect for the minimum effort and price. We went around Norwich searching for electrical tape, thermal shock blankets and something suitable for nozzles, and were serenaded on our way by two buskers, one of whom was naked to the underwear, who sang something about us looking like lumberjacks as we passed because we were both wearing flannos. This is why I love this city.
Typically, we were still finishing our costumes thirty minutes before the party, on the train and in Winchester train station, where we attracted all sorts of looks and questions.
Plastic wine tumbler/goon nozzle stickers on her eyes.
Hasty assembly.
But the final result was worth it:
Goon sack costumes.
The party was awesome. Our costumes were a conversation starter, since the English don’t use the word ‘goon’ and therefore our costumes’ ‘G’ connection (sounds rude?) had to be repeatedly explained. People kept telling us they could hear us coming, ’cause the thermal blankets rustled so much – we also had to spend most of the night outside to prevent overheating; those things retain ninety per cent body heat!
There were some really terrific costumes, among the best of which were Gilly’s parents’, Galadriel and Gandalf, and Gilly and Darrell themselves, Lady Godiva and the Grinch.
They made the costumes themselves if you can believe it.
  Nipple repairs.
‘Goons. Hired goons.’
Hired goons?’
After the party we stayed a couple of days. Sunday was a beauty, and we went for a walk to G&D’s allotment, and then to the Black Boy for some drinks.
 
 Til being cooperative.

Like something out of an Angus & Julia Stone film clip.
 A bumble bee on a wet-the-bed before the massacre, which left flower blood on our hands for days (had to pull them all out by hand). Out, damned spot!
BAMF.
While we were sitting outside at The Black Boy, two people started looking up at the sky. Til worked out that it was just a parachuter, but a couple more people started looking so I started taking photos and pointing and saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ until there was a line of six or seven people all trying to see what it was.
The Black Boy was the really cool English pub I said I should’ve taken photos of in ‘Winchester II: return to gilly’s’. So have some now as a redress:

There was a game where you had to swing a ring on a chain onto a hook. I was too impatient for it, but Til got it.
 Hours of fun.
‘I’m really into this cup and ball now.’
Once again we balanced out our lazy, movie-watching days with day trips to Oxford and around Wiltshire. We made a special stop to see the shark house on the way into Oxford, which was everything I always dreamed and MORE!
 The house across the road is called ‘Sharkview’.
We had lunch in the White Horse again, and oh my God the food. I’m instituting a rule from now on that if something on a menu says ‘Chicken, mushroom and white wine sauce’ I MUST eat it. Also the cheesecake was the best I’ve ever had. I have this theory that the measure of a dairy product is how much it can be compared with another kind of dairy product. ‘This milk is so good it’s like cream!’ ‘This butter is so good it’s like cheese!’ ‘This cream is so good it’s like yoghurt!’ and so on. This cheesecake was so good it was like icecream.
My favourite place of the day was the shop that Elisa and Gilly found when they visited previously. It was like heaven. What is it about that certain kind of product, that stationeryish, leather-bound, handmade, old-timey kind of crap that appeals so much to us writers!? I never wanted to leave!

 
Our other daytrip, through Wiltshire, organised by amazing trip planner Gilly, took us to Stonehenge, Lacock, Salisbury and the New Forest. Stonehenge was Stonehenge. Pretty damn cool for a bunch of rocks in a field.

‘Oh, we can’t touch it, dad! It’s behind a velvet rope!’

‘The veeelvet roooope.’
Lacock is an entire village owned by the National Trust which hasn’t had any new buildings in two hundred years, so it’s constantly being used for TV shows and movies – it was Meryton in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and the abbey was used for parts of Hogwarts.
 Gilly reenacts Lydia’s admiration of a fabric in P&P.
The whole town was obsessed with the word ‘quintessential’. Every book I picked up in the giftshop used it – ‘Jane Austen, the quintessential English writer’, ‘Tea, the quintessential English tradition’ – and there was even a shop in an old house called ‘Quintessentially’:
Looking through Quintessentially’s secondhand book collection was pretty amusing – it featured Anne, The Princess Royal – A Princess for Our Times (1973), and Our Princesses and their Dogs (1937).
 In the abbey.

After Lacock the camera ran out of batteries and we sang our way in the car from Alanis Morissette to The Eagles in Gilly’s iPod until we got to Salisbury, only to find that the award-winning fish ’n chip shop we’d come for had closed down. But we found another, and also FINALLY some nice crusty fresh bread, of which I bought two loaves.
From Salisbury it was Enya to Howie Day and we were in the New Forest, so called because William the Conqueror declared it his new hunting ground in 1079, where horses, ponies, cows, pigs and donkeys roam free. We drove around and went to a pub before heading back, by which time we’d come back to Miss Morissette, presumably much to Tilly’s dismay.
The next morning we were off, after probably my favourite Winchester visit yet! Fear, all you travellers, the wrathful, grinchy revenge of Darrell!
Cheers,
Luke

More on english politeness

Luke from UEA in the UK here, sharing some amusing instances of English politeness.

Linguistically speaking, politeness is marked by lower lexical density (spreading the same message over more words), like the difference between ‘Go away’ and ‘Excuse me, but if it would be amenable to you, would you be so kind as to please consider moving in a direction that is oriented away from my current situation?’

Well, I’ve found signs and packaging to be interesting markers of this kind of politeness in English society. From this:

to the ‘lightly salted tortilla-flavoured Mexican-style maize crisps’ that we would call ‘corn chips’, to this:

or this:

or the email I got from UEA Accommodation the other day:

‘we politely remind you that taps are turned off by turning them clockwise.’
Then, of course, there are the times when they aren’t so polite:
Cheers,
Luke

‘The last refuge of the unimaginative …’

– Oscar Wilde on conversations about the weather.

Luke here again, with a quick post concerning meteorology.

The English and their weather. In the presentation we had on our orientation day, they gave us some tips on integrating into English society, one of which was not to introduce ourselves to strangers by name straight off but to talk about the weather. This instruction became kind of notorious among incredulous exchange students and local students alike. I think they miscommunicated their idea there – they should’ve  specified this was for strangers at the bus stop. Don’t stride up in your cowboy boots and rhinestone belt and say, ‘Hi, my name’s Bill. Pudder there, pal.’ I don’t think the advice was meant for use with class- or flatmates.
It’s funny – I’ve noticed that really prevalent among the English is this attitude that ‘people just aren’t meant to live’ places. Anywhere hot or cold, anywhere that storms, anywhere with poisonous animals or floods or ice or humidity or mountains – basically anywhere outside of the hundred or so square miles that comprise the United Kingdom of Great Britain: people just shouldn’t live there. They simply aren’t meant to. I’m sure this is due to the fact that Britons happen to inhabit the only place on Earth where literally nothing can hurt you, where the most dangerous animal is the semi-poisonous, at best, adder, and the wildest meteorological swing is between lukewarm and temperate. As if we can all find somewhere as mild and sterilised as Britain to live. And a lot of British, especially older ones, are happy to look at Asia and Africa and say people aren’t supposed to live there, but they certainly don’t want any more Asians or Africans around (a lot of racist grandmas and grandpas around).
You hear a lot of moaning about English weather, but honestly it hasn’t bothered me, and I’ve been here through winter, since December, although I did miss most of the snow. And now that it’s spring there’ve been quite a few nice days. It was funny at first – 16 degrees and everyone drops what they’re doing to go outside and just be out. They appreciate it more. The field outside my kitchen window looked like a beach on the warm days we’ve had lately.
Luke Bagnall

A gallicised st patrick’s day and other culinary events

Luke Bagnall from UEA, UK here, writing about all the feasts the ethnic diversity of study abroad has resulted in!
Just before Tilly and I left for France, we went with our American friend Sam to a party in the flat of one of our fellow UOW exchangees, Bettina, where we met Caroline, a USYD student (who we’d actually met before at Barbara’s games night, but not properly). Exchange is complicated, isn’t it?
Anyway, Sam, Til, Caroline and I all left the party at the same time and ended up standing outside Bettina’s flat so long talking and trying to say goodbye that we just ended up going upstairs to Caroline’s kitchen and talking until about four in the morning, despite the fact that we were supposed to be on an early train the next morning.
Caroline is a French speaker, and has family there, and when she heard we were in Grenoble she asked us to bring back some French mixture of Champagne and cider that she had enjoyed in the region. We then decided to have a French party upon our return where we would try the mixture and sup upon cheese and fruit and crackers and the like.
When we planned to have this meeting on Thursday night, we didn’t realise that Thursday was actually St Patrick’s Day, so we ended up celebrating the Irish day in a very French way.
I wasn’t expecting St Patrick’s Day to be as big a deal here as it was. I guess the festivity increases with proximity to Ireland. The Square at uni literally reeked of beer – you could smell it from miles away. It was really fun. I think society should have more days of celebration, like the Romans. I loved the fact that everyone was wearing green. I loved the thought that everyone who was wearing green had made that little effort when they were getting dressed that morning, in concert. There’s something cool about it.
Before the French celebrations began, we went down to the Blue Bar to watch the UEA Take Me Out that Caroline had signed herself up for. The English LOVE this trashy show, so the turnout was incredible. The bar was packed. We joked that if the same thing was done at UOW about four people would’ve signed themselves up and it would’ve been an awkward DIY affair at the unibar with minimal viewers. This is what UEA’s version looked like:
 The crowd.
This dude’s ‘skill’ – knocking a cup off his friend’s head with a football.
Then it was time for ze food. Apparently the drink wasn’t as tasty as it was supposed to be because the only one we could get was ‘brut’ or ‘strong’, which doesn’t taste as good.
Tilly showing us how it’s done with her waitress skillz.
Caroline uncorking her first bottle of Champagne.
Only a week later, we attended a curry night at English friend Kim’s house, where her housemate Avani whipped up a curry storm! It was amazing in scale and taste:


The curry was followed by games, including Pictionary and Scrabble. I’d like to brag that I lead ‘my’ team, ‘Luke Lucas and the Couch Potatoes’ to glorious victory!
I then retired while the expert Scrabblers showed off. It was an amazing display of wordmanship, as can be seen below. And yes, parquet can be used as a present tense verb!
Soon after curry night was a Vietnamese night hosted by some of Caroline’s friends, where more incredible food was thrown before us and another good night was had by all.
We tried out some wines on special that were somehow Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc/Semillon and Pinot Noir/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot all in one? They were SUPER WINES!
Tilly models the super wine.
Finally, the other night Caroline, Barbara, Dave, Megan and Bianca were having a vegetarian pasta night to plan their Morocco trip, and Sam, Til and I decided to crash it and join them (because Sam and Bianca are opposite-gender equivalents of one another and had to meet).
More cuisine than anyone can handle!
Luke Bagnall

Travel disaster the fourth

Luke Bagnall here once again, realising, having written this post already, that it probably won’t be as interesting to anyone as it is to us, but it feels like it needs to be told, dammit! I give you

the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.

The first leg of this journey went smoothly, the worst part being when we had to move from one bus to another and I’d been asleep. It really went sour when we arrived at Stansted Airport with only two British pounds between us. That’s fine, we thought. We’ll just get some cash out at the airport. Oh wait, no, Luke lost his wallet in Ireland and now has no cards, and Tilly has no money in the account she can access with her card.
That’s okay, we think again, they have internet at airports. We’ll just get on and Til can transfer money from one of her accounts to the account she can access and then we’ll be fine. So we spend one of our two pounds on ten minutes internet access. But for some reason the computer WILL NOT LOAD Til’s internet banking page.
We decide to explain the situation to one of the people behind airport help desk in the hopes that they will lend us their computers for thirty seconds to transfer the money. But of course they don’t. They tell us to go and try another internet access point run by the same company. Obviously those computers didn’t work either, so we went back to the desk a second time and asked again, thinking this time surely they would show some human compassion and let us use their computers for a SECOND. But no, British customer service proves itself once again to be shocking. They couldn’t really have cared less, despite the fact that their stupid advice had left us stranded in the airport, bereft of our last two pounds. Instead of helping us they directed us down to the nearby swanky Radisson Blu hotel to ask them for help. Great work there, Stansted Customer Service.
Thank God for the rich. They could afford to let us use their lobby internet access point despite the fact that we weren’t staying there.
That night we stayed at the Days Hotel Stansted, resting and recovering for the next leg of our journey. The plan was simple. Tilly would leave at six in the morning so she could catch the Stansted Express and the tube to get across London to the ski shop to return her gear, then meet me back at Victoria Coach Station for our one o’clock bus. I left a couple of hours later, catching the Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street, from where I was supposed to catch the tube to Victoria Station. Seemingly a simple task, but no.
Liverpool Street accesses three London lines: the Metropolitan Line, the Circle Line, and the Hammersmith & City Line. Trains for the last two lines both leave from the same platform. I knew this as I rushed down to the platform, but I was so ahead of time that I thought I may as well just get on the train sitting there – if it was the wrong one I could always just catch the train back.
I sat in my seat, anxiously looking out the window. If the next station was Aldgate, I was on the right train. If it was Aldgate East, I was on the Hammersmith & City Line and going the wrong way. It was the latter.
So attempt two. I get back to Liverpool Street and arrive on the same platform once again. Usually you can tell where the next train to arrive is going by the electronic signs that hang above you. But they only tell you the ultimate destination of the train, not the intervening stations, so if you have no knowledge of London trainlines, you need a map, of which there were none around AT ALL. The next train arrives and I stick my head in to hear the ‘next stop’ announcement; there isn’t one. I’d noticed on my way back from Aldgate East that trains have the same coloured railings inside as the lines on which they travel. Clever, I think. This train has yellow railings, the colour of the Circle Line. Good. This one should take me to Aldgate.
Nope. Aldgate East again. SO FRUSTRATING. HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE THE TRAIN IS GOING!?
At this point it’s a choice between going back to Liverpool Street again and chancing whatsoever the next train may be, or just taking the District Line from Aldgate East, which also goes to Victoria, but which takes a lot longer and will probably make me late.
I go with District Line because if I end back up at Aldgate East again I might just go mad.
I emerge from Victoria Station, FINALLY, having followed a sign that said ‘Exit’ and ‘Victoria Coach Station’, which I think is convenient. On the surface I search further for a sign directing me to VCS, but to no avail. How can they guide me so cossetingly to the surface only to abandon me like this? I find a map which has VCS on it, but of course, there’s no street signs around to tell me which street I’m on and the map is consequently pretty useless.
Til calls me, very annoyed because she had apparently been trying to call me the whole time I was in the tube and because she had JUST missed the bus to Norwich herself (THANK GOD – I would’ve been in so much trouble if we both hadn’t have missed it) due to a couple of travel disasters of her own, including the Stansted Express taking half an hour later than it should’ve, the ski shop being closed until nine, several tube lines being cancelled, and a typically overenthusiastic British set of directions from a policeman.
After hanging up, I decide the only way to get to the coach station is to circumnavigate the train station and see what streets surround it. As soon as I get to the other side, though, I find signs directing me to it anyway. So misleading! Why on EARTH would that sign clearly reading ‘Victoria Coach Station’ have lead me to an exit on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE TRAIN STATION TO THE COACH STATION!?
Long story short we have to buy new tickets to Norwich and wait an hour or two. This means that we will not make it to uni in time to hand in our Creative Writing assignments at three, and probably not before the submissions close for the day at five, meaning we’ll have to hand them in the next day and incur a 10% penalty instead of just 5%.
When we do arrive at uni, though, we find that we still have fifteen minutes to get it in. We rush to the library to print them and do so, but for SOME RIDICULOUS REASON the printer just prints out ten BLANK PAGES instead of my assignment and has the audacity to CHARGE ME FOR IT! AHHHH! HOW do these absurd travel disasters keep happening!? HOW does everything manage to go wrong all at once!?
With five minutes to spare, Til prints hers and I go back to a computer to print mine again. Til got hers in literally at the last minute and I missed out. Luckily I explained the whole situation to the illustrious Trezza Azzopardi and she granted me an extension.
Thus concludeth travel disaster #4, the most recent and hopefully LAST travel disaster of our exchange trip!
Luke Bagnall

Boulangerieboulangerieboulangerieboulangerie

Luke Bagnall writing on me and my girlfriend Tilly’s snowboarding trip to the French Alps during Reading Week.
More bludgey degrees the world over appear to have at least one thing in common – a week off from classes in the middle of semester for no determinable reason, usually called something vaguely suggesting productivity (‘Reading Week’, ‘Study Week’, ‘Postgraduate Week’) but never actually living up to that suggestion. Kind of like the Patriot Act. Anyway, in the UK, this week is especially superfluous due to the miniscule amount of contact hours we have, so Til and I decided to put our Reading Week to good use by spending it snowboarding in France.
We had a massive journey through London to ski shops and such before we left, and I found the train advertisement below pretty amusing:
I like how the Australian expression is the big one in the centre.
Les Deux Alpes featured on the board in the English snow shop.
From Grenoble airport we had a massive trip in a pre-booked taxi which for some reason left its meter on the whole time, causing us occasionally to pass nervous glances at each other as it crept towards 280 euro, hoping the driver wasn’t going to try and make us pay when we arrived.
That first afternoon we met our roommate Jean-Paul, another Aussie, then went for a ‘splore.
 
 Surrounded by les boulangeries!
 Cool roof snow
Random fox! Babelfish says: Hey!!! Made as me … Smile!!! But our French-speaking friend Caroline says: Hey!!! Do what I do … Smile!!!
We were feeling pretty French by this point. Every time I heard someone speaking it I’d get one of the four to five French songs I know (‘Champs-Elysees’, ‘Ta Douleur’, ‘Radio Song’, etc.) stuck in my head. Like how I almost racistly think of that Just Car Insurance ad voiceover that goes ‘Jhia, ru’ or something when I hear Asian languages. Also at this stage we were hungry, so we decided to have a French feast. It was amazing! The bread! The cheese! The BUTTER!


That night we were s’posed to meet the rest of the people doing the package and our guide person thingy in the bar. We headed down to the hotel bar looking for a rowdy pack of Australians, but they were nowhere to be seen. Then this Canadian girl said hi unexpectedly, and I confusedly said it back, to which she replied ‘I don’t know you but I can see you’re from Australia from your jumper (I was wearing my uni hoodie). Are you on the Topdeck tour?’ Ten seconds later I caught up:
‘Oh! Yes!’
Turns out she was the guide person thing, Chrissy. For some reason this awkward exchange repeated itself like, four times over the week, each time for different reasons. She spotted us from a chairlift and waved one day, but was all geared up and far away, so that took a good thirty seconds (who else could it possibly have been, Luke? You’re in the middle of the French Alps, for Christ’s sake), and then we ran into her in the bar and she had her hair down for the first time, so I didn’t recognise her again!
Chrissy was sitting with Jean-Paul, and informed us that we three comprised the entirety of the tour group. Three people! Apparently she often gets numbers as big as forty, but we had three! We were a bit surprised, but it turned out to be good ’cause we could go places we couldn’t have if there were more of us, and Chrissy and Jean-Paul were really cool.
We made plans to meet up again later for some guided exploration and went upstairs to have dinner. All our meals were included in the package, which could’ve sucked, but thankfully the foooood wassss incredibllllle. Different stuff every day, but always delicious, always baguettes and icecream. I cannot communicate in words the awesomeness of three French-cooked buffet meals a day. I ate so much that despite all the snowboarding and the cold weather and such, I stayed the exact same weight. The food in general in Les Deux Alpes was really good. There was the incredible lolly shop where we accidentally spent 15 euro, and Crepes a Go Go, where Tilly and I devoured caramel- and cheese-drizzled crepes respectively.

Also, they drink cider from bowls!
Til and Jean-Paul being led by Chrissy
Our accommodation.
 
 The Polar Bear – an English pub.
Getting foggy.
Then there was the actual snowboarding. So good. It’s going to be pretty crap going back to Perisher after that. I improved substantially while I was there. Finally got the proper motion down, under the keen tutelage of our instructor Nancy, who had to keep translating her instructions solely for our benefit, and who could never remember the word ‘above’. But even Tilly learned some stuff from her (Til’s gone to the snow every year since high school started).




We were a bit worried at one point that Nancy was spending so long explaining things to the French people in our group, and then kind of just talking for thirty seconds to us, but Chrissy explained that it just takes longer to say things in French, as evidenced by these signs:
=
And while we’re on the subject, we found this display pretty funny:
Franglish?
On the Tuesday night, Til, Jean-Paul, Chrissy, her friend Owen and I all went out for a big one. Got a bit messy, learned some good drinking games, danced, and played with the camera:
‘Fingers in the middle!’
 
 Til and I with Jean-Paul and Owen.

At one point some green face paint emerged from somewhere, and I narrowly averted having it forced upon me. For some reason I’ve always had some irrational aversion to face paint, even when I had my Lion King fifth birthday party and Mum made me an awesome Simba costume – she convinced me to let her paint my face like a lion and I could wash it off if I wanted afterwards (thinking I’d be convinced by how awesome it was) but I insisted I wash it off. Tilly wasn’t so prudish, but she paid for it the next day when she couldn’t get it out of her eyebrows and she was wearing orange so she looked like an Oompa Loompa, moreso than this picture reveals:
‘What do you get when you guzzle down sweets? Eating as much as an elephant eats …’
That’s okay though, ’cause judging from the picture further above I looked like a giant smurf in camo on the slopes.
While we were out I kept noticing things different about the drinking culture in France. All the bar people drink while working, but they’re all just generally more … responsible? Maybe that’s why we have such strict laws in Oz. At one point I saw the bar girl filling up this keg with beer – it was kind of like a gigantic transparent tube with a tap, and I thought ‘here we go’. But no, the gentlemen who bought it simply kept it next to them, refilling their glasses politely and drinking it in a responsible amount of time. I was floored. In Australia, the sole purpose of such a contraption would be to pass it around drinking it as fast as possible and sculling it beer-bong style. Later that night I saw some guy buying a massive bottle of Champagne at the bar, which wasn’t weird until I saw him taking it back to his table. It was four young guys with Champagne glasses, taking photos of themselves. Not allowed in an Australian bar, haha. The men also all kiss each other hello. Often on the lips. So different!
On the subject of diverging cultural conceptions of acceptable masculine behaviour (haha): they’re really into their foosball over here, apparently instead of pool? Can you imagine four beer-bellied, tattooed, shearing singlet-sporting Aussie blokes crowded around a foosball table in a pub? VBs in one hand, handles in the other? We were just sitting next to a foosball table and these three French guys asked us if we wanted to play. Jean-Paul, being a more experienced European traveller than I, immediately declined. I was on the verge of accepting when another one turned up, making their number an even four – and lucky for me ‘cause they have CRAZY skillz. It would’ve been pretty embarrassing.
I think it has something to do with passion – that’s why the Europeans love soccer so much. We’re too cool; laconic. Emotive displays make us cringe. We’re embarrassed by the idea of a sport where scoring is so rare that it necessitates explosive outbursts of joy, a sport that encourages you play-up your injuries – it’s just not cricket (hardee har har). Aussie men need a pub game where they can stoically stand back, an approproate distance from one another, drinking their beers, taking stock, and casually sauntering up and knocking a ball into a hole with a big stick, not the intensity of  foosball, squeezed in around a table yelling. Maybe it’s all the pulling and spinning and gyrating of those little knobs that doesn’t appeal to us, I don’t know.
Their clubs reflect this kind of thing as well. Obviously there’s all the Dance RNB Hip-Hop Pop stuff we get in Western clubs, but there’s also this weird kind of ballady folkie empowering anthem type-stuff that’s sung in some European language which gets a reaction out of them that the other stuff doesn’t. They all stand around in a circle swaying and singing along and waving a pointed finger around in the air for emphasis. It’s kind of cool and kind of cringey, I think because it’s related to something that was in fashion for the rest of the world in the nineties, which originated in Europe but never died out there. I got some footage of this on my iPod, but once again this site doesn’t allow mp4 uploads.
I think the clubs we went to were more fun/nostalgia-oriented and less cool-oriented. Let’s just say I thought I’d danced my last Macarena when I stopped going to school discos, and I had no idea I remembered all the words to ‘Mambo No. 5’.
The morning after our big night, I slept in, but Til’s been too ingrained with the Australian Snowtrip mantra of ‘Must … make the most … of this ridiculously priced venture. Must … get up at six … and come home at six.’ I decided to take it a bit easier, ’cause the only two times I’d been to the snow before, I’d had trouble with my knee and leg cramps, and the longest of those was three days. I lasted fine, but Til burned herself out a bit and had to ease off towards the end. Anyway, that morning while we were all floating around in the half-consciousness of hangovers, still in bed, a girl appeared at our window (two storeys up, but there’s a roof between it and the next building) and started talking in French. We were like, ‘Sorry … Anglais?’ and then she just jumped through our window and out our door. It was pretty surreal, but she did it again a few mornings later. We figured she was from next door and went out onto the roof to smoke and got locked out by her friends, but I guess we’ll never really know … *wist*
The window (doubling as a fridge).
At some point we went to a trivia night held in French, which was challenging, but we came in like third or fourth place with the help of Chrissy’s translations. Apparently the hotel decides based on the turnout at the trivia night whether or not all the ski and snowboard instructors put on a sketch show, and since it was so packed, they did. It was mostly really physical humour that we didn’t need to speak French to get, so it was great. There was one sketch, though, where a guy walked out onto the stage with a rope trailing behind him. He turned around and began talking offstage, as if he had an animal tied to it. The animal turned out to be a dead, skinned hare which he proceeded to swing around the stage by the rope, occasionally hurling it out towards the audience, chunks of gristle flying everywhere. French humour.
Awkward but entertaining audience participation.
Another night Chrissy arranged for us to get discounts going night time snowmobiling. I decided I wasn’t going to tell this story here … for the shame. But I guess I am, so oh well. We walked up to these skimobiles and this French friend of Chrissy’s, named some Gallicised version of David like Davide or something, who runs the skimobile thing told us how to make it go and how to make it stop and to lean when  we’re turning and that was about it. He asked if any of us had any experience with quadbikes, which I had, and said that we should be the ones driving up the mountain ’cause it’s more difficult, and our partners should drive back down.
So off we went. About five minutes in, mine and Til’s skimobile went right off track. I couldn’t see a thing because I didn’t realise there were two layers of visor on the helmet and I had both down, one being a sun shade, and also we were at the back of the convoy getting everyone else’s dust. So the French dude came down and set us back on course.
The track wound up the mountain Mt Ousley-style, and we’d been driving for about twenty or thirty minutes and still hadn’t reached snow – there were sparks flying off the bottom of our skimobiles. At each of the bends in the run one of the leaders would stop and wave us past to make sure we didn’t go careering off the mountain. So when we came to yet another turn in the anfractuous track and the French dude had stopped, I just assumed that’s what he was doing. It then became apparent he was telling me to stop, which I did. He stormed over and told me off a bit for not listening and then started telling us about how dangerous the next part was. He made it sound so dangerous that we started to wonder whether we should be doing it at all. When I said I had quadbike experience I meant in a field or a bush track, five years ago, not a fricking mountain! A mountain with no snow on it, no less.
We did end up just going back down. Pretty embarrassing. Chrissy said she’d never had anyone not be able to do it before. I didn’t think I was that hopeless, so I wondered if it had something to do with driving a skimobile for the first time without any snow, and Chrissy confirmed that the snow had never been as dried up as it was at the moment and usually the whole track was covered in it, so that could’ve contributed. Anyway, I’d rather be embarrassed than dead so there you go, haha.
On our last day in Les Deux Alpes, we were going up for one last snowboard. We were waiting for the bus when I looked down and noticed a gaping hole in the snowpants I’d borrowed from Rob Perry, a friend from UEA. It was right in the crotch, and all the insulation was exposed. There was no way I could snowboard like that, so my last day was ruined by a wardrobe malfunction. I felt really bad ruining Rob’s pants, so I went around Les Deux Alpes asking various ski shop employees if they did repairs and if they could fix it. I kept having to ask sheepishly ‘… Pardon, Anglais?’ to which they would reluctantly reply ‘Oui’ or ‘A little’ before spreading their hands and shaking their heads in reply to my question. Finally I thought to ask if they had any idea where I could get it fixed and they said to ask at the tourist centre. By some amazing stroke of luck, the woman at the counter was a seamstress herself, and said she’d fix it for five euro and I could pick it up at four. So that was lucky, but it still meant I had to sit around waiting instead of snowboarding on my last day in the French Alps. But at least the bus back to the airport had a window ledge!
And so ended our very productive study week. I hope everyone else got as much reading done as we did!
Luke Bagnall

Further irish adventures

Luke again, this time posting about my return to Cork for my friend’s birthday.
If the first travel disaster of the trip was Tilly’s flight being delayed so that she arrived on Christmas Day, when there happens, absurdly, to be no public transport in London (even Wollongong has Christmas Day public transport) so that she had to pay seventy pounds for a cab to where we were staying (see ‘Some things that happened in london); and the second was when our train from Edinburgh to Newcastle was about to depart and we couldn’t find the place to print our tickets so we had to buy more on the train (see ‘English hospitality and castle tours’), then my journey to Ireland for my best friend Charlene’s birthday was certainly the third, and the worst yet.
Let me set the scene. It’s Wednesday and I have an assessment due at three in the afternoon and a train to London at three-thirty. Naughtily, I skip my class in the morning in order to finish the assignment and hand it in with plenty of time to print it out, submit it, pack for Ireland, print out my Ryanair boarding pass, and pick up my train tickets which I’d had delivered to the university for my convenience. I finish my assignment and go to print it out, but the university printer network is temporarily down. That’s okay, I think, I have so much else to do that I can come back in two hours when it’s back up again. I ask the guy at the front desk in the library if he knows anything about when they will be back up, and he replies that I’ll have to go and see the IT Helpdesk; he knows nothing abouti t. That’s RIDICULOUS. The line for the IT Helpdesk is twenty-people long. As IF the Helpdesk wouldn’t be in communication with the MAIN RECEPTION so they could answer that question.
Anyway, then I head to the post room, where I’ve never been before. I give the man my student card and ask if there’s any mail for me. There isn’t. Huh, I think … Odd. They should’ve arrived like, yesterday. Then I remember that we paid for the tickets on Tilly’s credit card, so they might have been delivered under her name but to my address, because I definitely put my address on there. I call Tilly because they probably won’t give something addressed to her to me. She doesn’t answer. I call her a further twenty-eight times. She doesn’t answer. Since there’s nothing else to be done, I head back home to pack my bag and write a plaintive status update, which Tilly sees and calls me.
We meet back up again at the mail room and she sees if she has any mail under my address. She doesn’t. I decide to call the train company and tell them my tickets haven’t been delivered, but I’m in the middle of uni with none of my details or reference numbers so the guy isn’t very helpful, and I end up running out of credit halfway through anyway. I buy more credit and call from my room. He insists that they have been delivered. I return to the mail room once again with Tilly and this time we try her address and her name, in case they saw her name addressed to the wrong flat and put the mail in what they thought was the right one. There’s no mail for her at her address either. By this time they’ve seen me three times in like, two hours, and I just decide to explain the whole situation. Then he informs me that for registered mail it’s my responsibility to check a separate list. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!?
Anyway, the tickets are there but it’s now quarter to three and my assignment still isn’t printed. We go to the computer labs in case the printers are working there, but they’re not. I decide it’s best to just go to the English Lit office and ask them what to do, since no one else must be able to print their assignments either. On the way I call a taxi to arrive at three to take me to the train station, but the lady on the phone says I’ll want it now if I’m going to make it through traffic by three-thirty. This means I have to bolt to the office because the taxi is on its way. When I get there, the receptionist tells me the library has been taking down people’s details and saving their documents to be printed and collected later, with notes explaining why they’re late. But this doesn’t help me because I have to leave NOW. As a sign that the universe still loves me, my lecturer for that subject somehow happened to be outside the office photocopying things at that exact moment, and I flustered at her until she agreed to accept my assignment by email, thank GOD.
I then RUSH to the place I’d arranged for the taxi to come to, and despite all that, I miss my train by a minute. I thought I was screwed but I hadn’t counted on the politeness of the English. I explained my situation and the lady at the desk gave me a free ticket. Bizarre. That would never happen in Australia. If you miss your train you miss your train. Harden up. Drink some concrete. Rub some dirt in it.
Anyway, from here on out things settled down and started working out for me. Little did I know my good luck wasn’t to continue, but more on that later.
The only thing I was really worried about at this point was that I hadn’t printed my Ryanair boarding pass, an offense for which they make you a pay forty pound fee. I somehow needed to find a place when I got to London where I could access the internet and print it out – but at six o’clock at night? I couldn’t even do that in Sydney, let alone a city I had no idea about. My first objective was to find a cafe that had free wireless, which was surprisingly difficult. A calm had fallen over me, however, because of the way everything had worked out with the previous disaster. I felt at one with the universe (haha), and was enjoying the experience of being alone in London on an adventure.
When I emerged from the Underground, there was a man standing there with a megaphone saying things like, ‘Do not ask questions like “Who created God?” Leave these to the theologians … Please carry on towards your next material purchase’ etc. It was really entertaining and he had a bit of a crowd around him. I recorded some footage on my iPod but I don’t think this site lets you upload mp4s.
I eventually found a Pret cafe (which I really love: they’re really quirky and they’re either genuine or canny in their environmentally friendly marketing) that had free internet, and googled ‘printing internet access London’. I found a nearby internet cafe and navigated my way to it slowly. I think it was called the Galaxy Internet Cafe or something, and there was some pretty cool street art around:
 
On the way back I came across these kind of art exhibition things and nearly went past, but then I made myself go in and have a look and start a conversation with someone. I did it, but once again I didn’t account for the differeing national character. Where the English politeness had helped me before, I now ran afoul of Londoner standoffishness. Pretty sure if someone who was obviously a backpacker came up and started to have a conversation  with someone in Australia they’d be up for it, but they seemed kind of weird about being approached. Still glad I made myself do it though.
 I stayed that night in Stansted because my flight the next morning was really early – like, five or something.  Somehow, because I’d been staying up so late recently, I thought it would be a good idea to stay up all night because it’d be easier than making myself go to sleep early. This was a plan doomed from its outset. I ended up having an hour of sleep and desperately wanting more.
And now, the sad conclusion of my bad luck: I arrived in Cork, met Charlene at the airport and instantly began talking the way we do. While doing so I wandered around taking photos haplessly, not realising what I’d done. I’d lost my wallet.
Appreciating a dew-covered statue of a hurler during those last moments of innocent joy …
Obviously I went all around the airport talking to people but to no avail. And I got really pissed off because of the dismissive way the staff on the whole treated me. It just wouldn’t happen in Australia. They wouldn’t just say ‘Sorry, nothing’s been reported’ – they’d suggest what you should do next, who you should talk to, where you could leave your phone number. So frustrating! Service is so bad on this side of the world!
Anyway, that was a really crap way to start my trip in Cork. But I got over it eventually. It was the credit cards I was most worried about, and they’re all sorted now. I lost about a hundred Euro, but that was the worst of it. In those last minutes before I realised I’d lost my wallet I took the picture below of a crow sitting on a sign, but as I took it, it flew off, which augured my bad luck ‘flying off’ because after that I was all good.
Losing my wallet though, did force a temporary stop to my travelling giving campaign. Right before I left I watched an interview with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, where he talked about his aim to change the culture of giving so that donation was an ordinary thing – something which you would expect any decent person to do. You could meet people, conceivably, and casually say, ‘Oh, so who do you donate to?’ I really like this idea, but if I’m going to donate to one organisation I want to do my research and work out which cause suits me, which one I really want to give my money to, and I haven’t done that yet. I can’t really explain it, I suspect because it doesn’t make sense, but I feel a kind of guilt being in someone else’s country and being better off than them. Here I am, a visitor, a traveller in London and there’s a homeless man whose country this is, and I’m better off than him. I just made a promise to myself that, while travelling, I would give something to everyone who asked it of me – even if it’s just always the smallest coin in my pocket (although I think giving single pennies away is more insulting than anything else). I know it’s irrational, but I don’t think giving can really be a bad thing, so I’m happy to keep doing it. It’s either homeless people, charity workers, or buskers, so the money’s never going somewhere it shouldn’t.
Anyway, onto actual Cork. This was my second visit, and Charlz and I basically fell into our old habit of waking up late, wandering around the city, going somewhere for breakfast, then spending the day until dinner in a cafe somewhere drinking coffees and hot chocolates. I’ve really missed our seven-hour conversation marathons in Gloria Jean’s back home, so we had to take advantage of the time we had. It’s hard spending so much time in cafes, though, because they don’t really have the flat white over here, and back home it’s the standard staple caffeinated drink. Without my flat whites I don’t know what to order. Lattes are pretty close, but they come in big effeminate glasses and I feel like an idiot. And cappuccinos? Eh, I don’t really like froth. Luckily, I think the flat white is starting to take hold. I’ve seen it on a few menus with a ‘New!’ sticker next to it, such as at Eat in London. They had it in the Cork Costa, but it was obviously really new and they were trying to fan the flame of its success. They had a deal where you could try it and if you didn’t like it you could have your regular coffee free, but they wouldn’t let you have it in any greater quantity than a small because of the risk, haha.
 Cafe dwelling.
  Beautiful Cork.

This time I made a point of taking a photo of Mr Connolly’s bookshop. Lonely Planet has named him as an integral part of Cork’s culture, and he’s a very interesting man. He resents being turned into a tourist attraction, and while I was talking to him (because Charlene knows him) he told someone off for trying to take a photo of him without his permission. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about taking this photo, in case he thought that’s what I was doing, but I got away without getting in trouble.

 
 That’s James Joyce out the front, there.
On Charlene’s actual birthday we followed much the same routine as usual, going to cafes and stuff.
 
 
 Entertaining nonsensical tryhard sachets.
A disappointing iced coffee – the Europeans just don’t get it.

We also went out to dinner at Charlene’s favourite restaurant, Scoozi’s, where I gave a brief speech in an attempt to embarrass her.

 
 Antics.

Anyway, I think this post’s gone on long enough!

Luke


University of east anglia: a crytoscopophiliac’s dream

Luke Bagnall from UEA, Norwich, UK here, writing about mine and my girlfriend Tilly’s experience of everyday English university life.
You know what’s not the most encouraging thing to hear every time you mention the name of the place you’ve elected to study abroad for six months of your life? ‘Norwich, eh? That’s – that’s really … out of the way. Why would you want to go to Norwich?’ For months, I heard this from everyone – from family in Newcastle to the attendant at the ticket gate in London. Thankfully, their comments were misguided. Norwich is great.
And how could it not be? It comes with the Stephen Fry seal of approval. Apparently he’s obssessed with Norwich. Here’s what he has to say about it:
‘Norwich is a fine city. None finer. If there is another city in the United Kingdom with a school of painters named after it, a matchless modern art gallery, a university with a reputation for literary excellence which can boast Booker Prize-winning alumni, one of the grandest Romanesque cathedrals in the world, and an extraordinary new state-of-the-art library then I have yet to hear of it.’
And I’m pretty impressed with the University of East Anglia as well.
Our first night, we arrived and almost immediately wanted to just settle into our respective rooms, which I speculate is the result of a month of itineracy.
My room, with all the documentation required to go on exchange.

I’m on the top floor of Norfolk Terrace B Block, and Til’s across the field from me on the bottom floor of Suffolk Terrace B Block. It’s kind of cool – I can see into her kitchen from mine because UEA is made exclusively of windows and concrete. The windows are pretty; the concrete notsomuch, but apparently all the buildings have been listed and they’re not allowed to change them.  I think that’s okay, though, because the buildings are so distinctive. Norfolk Terrace was just used on the cover of the new Streets album:

The windows come in handy – I can climb through Til’s when I want to visit. That admittedly isn’t very often because Til lives with four other girls and about seven guys, all of whom are around eighteen, so her kitchen is generally pretty hilariously filthy, meaning we cook and eat at mine a lot more.

Told you they come in handy.
The first couple of days we were a bit too cool for any of the orientation activities. Don’t know why. I guess we thought buying essentials like soap and towels and food in town was more important than a scavenger hunt after six hours of orientation speeches from every official in the damn bureaucracy of the university (not a slight against UEA in particular; I imagine all unis do it). We did however go to Zest that first night, which is kind of like a UEA equivalent to Fuel Silo (which I hear is now just called ‘Fuel’ – ridiculous). They have three or four ready-made meal options every day which are usually pretty good quality, and you can get a drink and a soup or dessert for five pounds. In fact, we’re going there tonight. As well as the scavenger hunt, we missed the guided tour of the university, which bit me in the butt later when I had no idea where any of my classes were. But we’ve taken the initiative to explore it a few times ourselves:
These excursions were necessitated by the beauty of the campus, as you can see above (I think it’s quite similar to UOW’s – lots of space and fields; apparently it was once a golf course), but also by the absurd timetabling system instituted by the uni this semester, which everyone seems to be up in arms about. No classes have stable rooms, but have to move around the campus to different rooms every week. Everyone hates it, but as a visiting student it does give me more of a chance to see the uni.
Every Friday morning there’s a fire alarm test, which is usually really rough ’cause I have a four-day weekend that starts Thursday and I’m usually still asleep. The first week it happened we didn’t know what was going on, and Barbara, another exchange student, and I had a hesitant conversation in the hallway about whether we were supposed to evacuate or not. No one else seemed to be emerging from their rooms, so we gathered this was normal and I went back to bed. Then there’s also our lovely cleaner Debbie who comes in every morning to collect my bin. She really likes our flat and doesn’t report us when our kitchen is messy, I think because they endeared themselves to her last semester with the help of a clean-freak Australian who was on exchange but has since left. She’s really funny and, as my flatmates say, ‘proper Norfolk’, which means I sometimes can’t understand her. She also mops the carpet because the vaccuum (‘hoover’) doesn’t reach down the end of the hallway, which I find hysterical.
In the first half of semester I think I was drinking nearly every day … Everybody always wanted to go to the pub, and there were flat parties every night, and lots of clubs to try out in town. For a while our nights would follow a general pattern of going to the  campus bar or someone’s apartment for predrinks, then going to the trashy on-campus club, the ‘LCR’ (no idea what that stands for) or a flat party and meeting someone who would invite a small group of people back to their flat to continue partying. Once this resulted in being in some guy’s room with four or five other people next to a gigantic pile of prescription drugs. That was weird. I think we were partying so much at first because only international students and first years really live on campus at UEA, and both of those groups are prone to drink quite a lot. Unfortunately though, Suffolk terrace, ‘the party block’ got banned from having any parties this semester, just after we’d been told how legendary the parties of Tilly’s flat were.

At LCR (photo by Kelia Bergin)
And as testament to the trashiness of the LCR, there’s this Facebook group called ‘Get a Room‘, where people take photos of themselves with other people hooking up in the background. We contributed some ourselves:
 The LCR has themed nights every week, and on Commando night our local Creative Writing friends introduced us to ‘death punch’, a radioactive-green poison comprised of great quantities of vodka, energy drink and mixers, that makes you pretty hypo. Luckily I only sampled – my friends Rob, Sam and George on the other hand, had a pretty messy night:

Another time, post-LCR, we went MATTRESS SURFING on the apartment stairs, which is obviously SO FUN:
(Picture by Kate Crowell)
But while they love their death punch over here, they don’t drink goon … Thankfully there’s one brand of cheap cask wine stocked in the UFO (Union Food Outlet), although it’s a paltry three litres as opposed to the mighty five-litre juggernaut that is Berri Estates Fruity White. My American friend Sam and I brought a box to our other, English friend Kim’s house and she actually tried to pierce the sack with a knife because she was so unfamiliar with the concept. What do impoverished students drink if not a good old goon sunrise!?
We’ve been going to Kim’s a lot to watch Dollhouse and Diehard and, on Pancake Day, eat pancakes, which has been great. We’ve also been to see her boyfriend’s band, Late Arrivals Club, play a few gigs, and seen her reading poetry one night too.

(Photo by Kim Sherwood)

Walking those pretty Norwich streets.

 Late Arrivals Club at the Cinema City Bar.
Scrabble before the Late Arrivals Club gig at the Bicycle Shop.
Finding a wizard at Frank’s Bar.
The three ghosts of Checked Church (when Sam, Nick and I realised we were coincidentally all wearing the same pattern).
Kim’s poetry reading at the Norwich Arts Centre.
I met Kim one day after class when she, Sam and I happened to be the last three people in the room and got to talking about Joss Whedon, after which she invited us over to watch the abovementioned Dollhouse. The three of us, sometimes on our own and sometimes with other creative writers, frequently have discussions that go until ridiculous hours of the morning, solving all of the world’s ills through debate. It’s very satisfying. The other night we stayed till six in the morning, despite having class at eleven.
All this socialising has resulted in my perfection of my hangover breakfast – freezing cold iced mocha, freezing cold apple juice, and bacon, egg, cheese, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, butter, and freshly ground salt and pepper on chewy white rolls. Oh God.

I’ve been fairly disappointed with the food in Britain so far. I didn’t know it was renowned for bad food until recently, but it certainly does live up to that reputation. It’s not TERRIBLE, it’s just of a noticeably different standard to home. I think I might’ve expected it to be better than ours due to that inferiority complex of Australia’s I mentioned in my earlier post, ‘Impressions of the emerald isle’. I have had one amazing meal, though, on Valentine’s Day in the Library Bar and Restaurant. GOD, that was good!:

Another exception to the crap food rule was the amazing ‘Sunday roast’ we had the other night at my friend Rob’s house. I guess it doesn’t apply to home cooked food. I also have to mention Norfolk Apple Juice, of which I drank over a litre in fifteen minutes the other night because it is SO GOOD. But other than my own hangover breakfasts (and even their bacon is weird and spongey), the Library, the apple juice and also pasties, which are amazing, there’s little to get excited about culinarily – at least not in my experience. Even the water here tastes all awful and thin (Wikipedia suggests this may be due to lower levels of fluoridation here) Service in restaurants and shops is really bad as well. I miss the friendly Australian waiters who come over just to check if everything’s all right and if you want more water or anything. I’m REALLY missing Asian bakeries; the English just do not know how to make good bread, or even seem to want to. Barbara hates it as well, and when her boyfriend visited from Austria, she got him to bring some proper bread from home, and we had a little celebration in the kitchen:
As for UK life in general, outside of food, I’m generally loving it. I love that everyone reminds me of characters from Skins or The Inbetweeners. I love the words they use for parts of their houses that we don’t (loft, larder, landing, conservatory). I’m really going to miss never being hot, never having to worry that the bit of blanket brushing your leg in the middle of the night is a deadly spider (many times I’ve flinched, then thought ‘Oh wait, it’s England, nothing can kill you here’), and not having to seal or Gladwrap any food to keep it from cockroaches.
This is the worst I’ve seen so far – no harm from this guy.
Some observations on the British character:
  • Everything you’ve heard about tea consumption and politeness is true.
  • They’re AWFUL at giving directions. Literally every single person we’ve asked has given us a massive spiel detailing every possible route with any additional information they can think of. I’ve never seen a trait so present in every member of any society. And the way they do it is by mentioning landmarks along the way that are just confusing because you don’t know the area anyway: ‘You’ll come up on the fish and chip shop, keep going past that until you get to the paper shop and turn right, then look out for the post office on the right etc etc’.
  • They say things like ‘To be fair’ and ‘In fairness’ on the front of all their sentences, regardless of whether or not it makes sense, and Til and I have found ourselves picking up this and other habits of British emphasis and rhythm in speech.
  • They’re a bit morbid in weird ways. One really strange example is calling ‘op shops’ ‘hospice shops’. Why would you want to make explicit the link between the secondhand clothes you’re buying and the recently dead person who used to own them? Just weird …

  • It’s really strange to me how they don’t have a way. You know how in Australia there’s a way you walk when someone is coming towards you, i.e. left. You always keep left. You drive on the left and walk on the left and if you’re on the right you’re wrong and you have to move left to let the person coming towards you past. Well here they don’t have a way. They drive on the left, but all their tube signs say keep right, but in everyday life they just go whichever way. Apparently, my friend Gilly tells me, this has given rise to a cheesy joke of a man saying, ‘Shall we dance?’ when that awkward thing happens where you both move the same way to let each other past.
  • And finally, they really love their trashy crap. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their general taste in music and TV. They’re definitely not yet over the boy band or the gameshow. I’m starting to think they don’t have any good quality television. Their favourite programs consist entirely of those trashy shows that you guiltily enjoy but only permit yourself to watch one of because otherwise your brain will euthanise itself. These include such stunning televisual works of genius as X Factor, which is almost universally talked about; Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, where rowdy teenagers are sent on vacation and voyeuristically spied upon by their parents; My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (what else is there to say?); Take Me Out, which only ran for about six weeks in Australia before being kicked to afternoon TV, The Weakest Link, which finished, what, TEN YEARS AGO, back home?; and, of course, Hollyoaks and Neighbours.
The untaxing timetable at UEA has allowed us to do work, socialise, be tourists, and yet still have our share of indulgent lazy days, most notably the time we bought a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and added chocolate bits and Nutella. The internet is also irresistably fast over here, which means I’m now up to season 14 of Survivor. I went without internet access in my room for about a month when I first arrived because the instructions explicitly stated to plug the cable into the ‘data’ socket, not the ‘voice’ socket, and it took me that long to just try the latter, which, of course, worked immediately. Luckily there’s some mysterious wireless network called ‘Bryan’s Guest network’ which we’re not supposed to be able to access but which we can from our kitchen because our flat somehow has the password.

But back to the lax timetable (eight hours a week). It’s really different academically here. That four-day weekend I mentioned has done wonders for my sleeping pattern, NOT, but that might make life easier transitioning to the late-night lifestyle of Europe, when we go over there, and then also with jetlag when we come home. The quality of teaching here, I think, is largely on par with UOW, but the style of teaching I’m less keen on. It’s really self-directed, and there’s this attitude of, ‘By third year, we’ve taught you all we can and now it’s up to you’, which I find laughable because there’s ALWAYS something more to be taught. And you know, you pay a lot of money to get taught at uni, not to just do your own independent work. I also have to say I was expecting a higher quality of writing from my third-year Creative Writing class, just because of the university’s reputation in Literature and Creative Writing, but it’s largely no better, if not worse, than the standard at home. I think it’s because they don’t have a full degree in Writing here like they do at home, so they necessarily can’t devote as much time to honing the craft as you can at UOW. I think the Masters program is the one that might deserve its reputation. Sadly I see UOW has just overhauled its Creative Arts degree and almost halved the number of Creative Writing subjects on offer, making the model more similar to UEA’s and possibly diminishing the quality of future students’ experience.

But if the quality of writing coming out of the undergraduate program isn’t extremely high, the attitude to the arts and study is much better here. There’s a real culture of appreciating literature and art that just doesn’t exist back home, where you often feel embarrassed saying you’re studying Arts or Creative Arts. Never in my life have I met so many impassioned people, had so many amazing philosophical/religious/political conversations with truly intellectual people. I think at home we cringe if we talk too much about that stuff, or we worry people will think we’re wankers.

Early on in the semester we got a visit from Gilly and Elisa, the latter of whom is also posting on this blog, which was great fun. It was our first real exploration of Norwich, and we got totally lost despite Brian Blessed’s GPS contributions. I’m still not quite sure what went wrong, but I think it came down to not taking note of which carpark in which shopping centre we parked in. The visit was cut short, though, by Gilly’s need to renovate her house and by Elisa’s thinking that her flight was two days earlier than it actually was, which you can read about below in her own account of that weekend.

That about sums up my experience of living on campus in the UK so far. I thought I’d leave you with this striking image of me on an aptly named street in Norwich:

Winchester II: return to gilly’s

Luke Bagnall again, writing from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom about mine and my girlfriend Matilda’s visit to our friend Gilly’s and our daytrip to Oxford. It was a while ago, so I can’t actually really remember the order in which we did a lot of things, so I’m just gonna spew them out.
Typically (since I love food so much) I remember having a lot of good dinners – a massive roast and some spaghetti bolognese in particular. So good!
We also went around town on a pub crawl where Gilly’s frequent proclamation of the superiority of English pubs to Australian pubs was finally and resoundingly proven to us. The first thing about English pubs: there are so many of them. Every tiny little town has them. A couple of posts ago, I mentioned Alnmouth, a tiiiny one-road village on a tiiiiny peninsula. Even it had at least three.
Winchester has so many that Gilly has a different pub for every mood. Another thing is that a lot of them have charming, vaguely racist names that I assume must be relics from an earlier time, like the Saracen’s/Arab’s Head or, the best one we went to, the Black Boy. It was absolutely crazy in there – junk everywhere. In retrospect, we should’ve taken some photos. And the third English pub fact is that they’re really tolerant of dogs. Welcoming, even. We saw at least two or three, and the Bishop on the Bridge (I think) even had snacks for them.
Another night we went to see The King’s Speech at the cool Winchester cinema, which is an old barn or church or something. Obviously the movie was fantastic, and it had sold out the previous night, apparently due to the posh Winchester viewing public (the conservative old folk behind us took indignant exception to the lesbian scenes in the preview of Black Swan).
We also did a day trip to Oxford with Gilly as our fearless guide. First stop was Alice’s shop, a shop where the supposed real-life inspiration for Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland bought sweets.
We then continued on to the Church of St Mary the Virgin to go up its tower and see Oxford from above. Having just seen The King’s Speech, we were obliged to practice our royal waves as well.
 
We also had lunch in The White Horse pub where we were entrusted with a talkative Englishman’s electronic goods, and spent a bit too long in a cavernous bookshop.

One of the things I’m loving about England is the historical/architectural/artistic sites just scattered casually about the cities:
 
The Bodleian Library was one of the highlights of the day. We went there early on and went to a free exhibition about the Shelley family featuring information, letters, first editions and diaries relating to Percy and Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, which was fascinating. We came back later for a short tour.
The other two places we visited were the museum, where I saw a couple of familiar faces from my days of Year 12 Ancient History:
 and Magdalen college with its mythical statues which supposedly inspired the stone garden scene in CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
 
Tilly and I were so jealous of the students riding around the city on their bikes. We felt like we were missing out on something – this community of academic supremacy and aristocratic wealth that we were sitting outside of. Gilly wasn’t jealous, though, she said it would probably be so snobbish, which is probably true. At one point we saw this couple walking down the street and the street and they just looked SO RICH. And aryan. They were blonde and brown and dressed from head to toe in cashmere haha.
During our stay at Gilly’s we had been watching episodes of Gilly’s favourite, the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. On the  night before we left, she and I stayed up to some ridiculous hour watching all of them, despite having to travel to uni the next day. Worked out for the best though, ’cause I was to study P&P this semester and I hadn’t read it by the first week when we were discussing it, so I at least had the adaptation to fall back on.
That’s all for now. My next posts will be about university life in Norwich this semester, and then a detailing of my further adventures in Ireland!
Luke Bagnall

Hey all, Luke Bagnall here, recording mine and my girlfriend Matilda’s travels through Europe during our exchange trip to the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom. Here’s my account of our trip to Bath.
Somehow the eleven-hour car/bus/train trip to Bath from Grandpa’s in Newcastle wasn’t too bad. I dunno. The coach probably had a window ledge. Or it could’ve had something to do with the rest at Grandpa’s and the FEAST they gave us to take on the road.
You know that moment on a plane or a bus when it stops and you’re waiting to get off. And you’re standing there, and standing, and standing, and you’re like, ‘What could POSSIBLY be taking the people in front of me this long!?’ or ‘How hard is it for them to just open the doors and let us off now!?’ I hate that moment. But when we were getting off the coach in London to get the train to Bath it was ridiculous. I joked about going out the fire exit, which was right next to us, and it turned out that we had to ’cause the bus driver couldn’t get the door open.
Bath was the worst backpackers yet, I’d say. It smelled really bad, I got bitten by bedbugs, and it was full of weirdos – the dude on the bunk below me was like, obsessive about his space and he would throw my blanket back up onto my bed if it dangled off the edge a little. But on the upside, it incentivised us to stay out all day seeing the sights of Bath. The first day we went to Bath Abbey (below), which was free except for a ‘suggested donation’ of two pounds that they guilt you into paying (good old fashioned Catholic guilt; they also give you a pamphlet masquerading as information about the abbey, but it’s really just religious propaganda).
The Roman Baths cost a whopping eleven pounds, so we wrung it out for all it was worth. I swear we must’ve listened to ninety per cent of the audio tour items, including the special guest items recorded by famous travel writer Bill Bryson.
I thought this (below) was cool, how they have the extant parts of the famous Bath relief on display and project onto it what it would’ve looked like if it was still intact, and then what it would look like with colour:
Our diligence in listening to everything ended up paying off because you come to the main Roman Bath last, and we came to it at exactly the right time of day. It looked spectacular in the twilight:
Stalagmites forming like fried eggs
The next day we’d planned to go on a tour to nearby Stonehenge, but we’d used up all our travel diligence the day before and left it too late to book. So what did we do instead? That’s right, sat in Starbucks for about five hours catching up on the internet. Rousing.
We did end up going to this really nice, expensive restaurant that night though, called the Hole in the Wall because it’s kind of … subterranean? And has a tiny little door in a wall.
Neither our wallets nor our palates being robust enough for the desserts in the Hole in the Wall, and wanting to delay our return to the stinky Bath Backpackers by any means, we went out in search of a (cheap) ‘clean, well-lighted place’ where we could stay long into the night in the shadow of the leaves, annoying young waiters and omitting adjectives from our speech (I’m referencing a really good Hemingway story here, for those of you who don’t do Creative Writing). Til was hesitant about wandering the streets at this time of night due to the murder of that girl in nearby Bristol (it turned out later that they arrested a guy in connection with the case and he worked in Bath), but we eventually found the Cafe Rouge and were safe. There we had a delicious brownie sundae or something and fiddled with the DSLR:

I can’t wait till Summer when we’re backpacking through Spain, France, Italy etc and we can find real clean, well-lighted places to go and have coffee in at three in the morning.
We had a brief stop at the Jane Austen museum, which was interesting, and I nearly bought an ‘I heart Darcy’ sticker to send to my friend Clancy back home, who we joke has a bit bromance with another friend named Darcy. Should’ve at least taken a photo, but oh well. On our last day we also had breakfast in the oldest house in Bath, Sally Lunn’s (below), makers of the famous Sally Lunn Bun, the recipe of which has a very romantic story of being brought from France and hidden in a secret cupboard and discovered after her death. Just tasted like a regular bun to me, but the British have crappy bread standards.
We had a great time in Bath, although it was strange because it’d been built up so much in our minds that it still managed to be the tiniest bit disappointing. The whole trip up till Bath when we were travelling we would tell people where we were planning to go and they’d always be like, ‘Oh, you’ll love Bath. Bath’s gorgeous. You’ll have an amazing time in Bath.’ Which we did, but, you know, it wasn’t SPECTACULAR. Our Europe on a Shoestring book said if you’re only doing one city outside of London in England it should be Bath. Don’t know if I’d agree with that. The old bits are amazing but the new bits in the heart of town are all exactly the same and really … labyrinthine. But then there were some charming little alleys as well (below), as well as some great shops (especially for chocolates and doorknobs).
Luke Bagnall

English hospitality and castle tours

Mine and Matilda’s trip to my Grandpa’s in Newcastle had somewhat of an inauspicious start in our conveyance from Edinburgh. We spent a little too long saying goodbye to everyone from the Hogmanay tour and ended up having to RUN through the city to the sprawling train station where we were supposed to print out our tickets. With three minutes till our train left, we still had no idea where the hell we could print them, and just had to board without them. We then began stressing about the laws regarding such things in the UK. Surely, we thought, they’re too polite here to fine you. Turns out we just had to buy more tickets from the inspector when he came around.

Our folly was punctuated by a sign we saw upon our arrival in Newcastle:


The answer? No. No we can’t.

We met Grandpa at the train station and he took us back to his house, which has a name instead of a number – an English custom I think is really cool! Besides that, it’s the most English-sounding address ever: Turnberry Fairway Rise, Hartford Hall Estate, Bedlington, Northumberland. It has just about every quaint English suffix you can think of.

A little while after we arrived, a whole clan of my extended family arrived to meet me. We were treated to a strange kind of hospitality, whereby the host expresses incredulity to the point of derision if you decline anything:

‘Do you want anything? Tea? Coffee?’

‘No thanks, I’m fine.’

‘Are you sure? Water? I think we’ve got some juice in here somewhere …’

‘No, no, seriously, I’m good.’

‘You don’t want anything? Nothing!?’

‘Nope.’

“Okay then …’

In this fashion I was guilted into Budweiser after Budweiser. It’s like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t want to consume something. I think it has something to do with the British propensity to have tea every five seconds. At any change in circumstance or situation they must be comforted by the consumption of tea. Also possibly an Australian sense of ‘roughing it’ – we drink when we’re thirsty, not when we turn the TV on or arrive home or go out or get up or move rooms.

But the food and the party were great. Towards the end we began fascinating my family with Australian coins and notes and licenses and passports. They couldn’t quite get over the waterproof money, and had to run it under a tap to appreciate its awesome power. I told them it was so we can go surfing with just a note in the pocket of our boardshorts.

That night, a couple of hours after I went to bed, I had my third spew of the trip (the Budweisers mixed with a lunch/dinner of party food and the chips, chocolate and softdrink we’d had to have for breakfast on the train were probably not a good idea).

We spent the following days eating out for lunch and dinner and visiting various castles, although we had perpetual bad luck in this, with Alnwick and Tynemouth being closed.

“Let me innnn!”: Scaling the portcullis.

Luckily we managed to get into Warkworth.


We also visited the cute little village of Alnmouth.

Grandpa and Christine seemed to have a personal cab driver who they’d always call to convey them to dinner if they wanted to drink. His name was Hippie, and he was a proper rough-looking Northerner – a Jordy, I think they might be called? Anyway he had a really low voice and a bikie-style ponytail. So you can imagine our surprise when his phone started ringing and his ringtone was ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA. He didn’t even seem embarrassed. Good on him, haha.

Our time at Grandpa’s was spent in absolute luxury, especially compared with the hostel life we’d become accustomed to. The bed was so comfy I never wanted to get out of it:

We had bacon sandwiches cooked for us every morning, and had lunch and dinner shouted for us every day and night. We lazed and napped and watched bad British television. It was just what we needed to recover in time for our next hostel venture.

Luke


Schortsch ramblings

Some advice for anyone considering taking the Macbackpackers Hogmanay Highland tour package: 1. DO IT, 2. Ask for Ruthie, and 3. Don’t be sick or jetlagged.
The conditions mentioned in step three rendered our journey to Scotland an ordeal. It was about five hours by train, but I could NOT sleep because of the lack of something I’m beginning to miss increasingly from home, the humble public-transport window ledge:
It may seem small, but this slight protrusion at the base of the window is in fact the single greatest invention in the history of comfort, allowing weary travellers the world over to lean and sleep in luxury. Yes, throughout the protracted period of my total dependence on public transport, from the shabby Railcorp trains to the austere trackwork coaches, I’ve come to depend on this marvel of human ingenuity greatly, and yet, in this country I find it almost completely absent. Truly lamentable.
Anyway, once we actually got there, we had to traverse the most ridiculous set of stairs in the world, that just kept GOING, and of course, the freezing cold of Edinburgh. You see, the medieval builders of Edinburgh putatively reasoned that, if they built their streets like enormous wind tunnels, the frequent subzero gusts screaming through them would carry the plague out of the city into the sea. Needless to say, this didn’t work, and they were left with the coldest city in the worldoutside of Russia.
By the time we found our lodgings, I was ready to crash. Which I did. Fully clothed. On top of the blankets. Face down. The next day we had to be on a bus by eight.
Thus commenced our fantastic Scottish Highlands tour. We were introduced to our tour guide and driver, Scottish pocket rocket Ruthie, pictured below frolicking through a highland glen or some such:
Picture stolen from Jodie Gough.
Ruthie was incredible; she absolutely made the tour. She was a great storyteller, narrating to us from behind the wheel the epics of Scottish mythology (mostly pertaining to beautiful Scottish maidens abandoned by their Irish lovers), history (mostly pertaining to struggles against the hated English), and even some of her own entertaining personal reminiscences (mostly pertaining to ‘wee jobbies’ – I’ll let you Urban Dictionary that one).
I think my favourite story was her explanation of the tale behind the famous Scottish ditty:
Oi’ll teek the haigh rrroad ‘n’ ye’ll teek the lough rrroad
And oi’ll reach Schortland befoooooore ye
Fer me ‘n’ mai treu luff’ll never meet agen
By the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Looooomond
Which for many years was, in my mind:
You take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll slaughter countless sheep before ye …
due to some secondhand cultural knowledge via Catdog. But anyway, it’s supposedly the story of two Scottish rebels taken prisoner by the English, one old and one young. The ‘low road’ is the road back home from battle, and the high is the spiritual road that the dead take. Wanting to taunt the imprisoned Scots, the English guards tell them that the next day one of them will be hanged, and the other set free, and they must decide which is which. They argue well into the night over the issue, each insisting that they be the one to die. They eventually fall asleep, the matter unresolved, but when the young soldier awakes he finds a note from the old soldier which reads:
‘I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road
And I’ll reach Scotland before ye
For me and my true love will never meet again
By the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond.’
When she told the story we all got shivers down our spines; it was really touching.
On the first day of the tour we visited the gateway village of Dunkeld (the ancient capital of Scotland, left), the pass of Killiecrankie (where a fierce battle was fought against the invading English, above), Ruthven Barracks (the site of the shooting of the last British wolf, below), Avie Moor (a modern, purpose-built ski village where we ate the best soup in the world), the Culloden battlefield where the last battle fought on British soil was held, and finally we stopped at Inverness.
There Ruthie had a surprise for us – a shot of whiskey each. I took mine and instantly knew I was going to throw up. My stomach can’t handle shots at the best of times, let alone just after it’s been destroyed by the dodgy Indian curry I mentioned below in ‘Some things that happened in London’, and, in lieu of a nearby toilet, I just vomited into my mouth and ran ludicrously out the front door, pretending in response to people’s questions that I was all right, that I was looking for something I’d dropped. Unfortunately this didn’t really fool anyone.
Our tour bus was literally divided right down the middle. For some reason, perhaps a Western cultural perception that the back of the bus is cooler, all the Asians were sitting at the front. Attempts to bridge the gap proved fruitless, but the cultural differences were interesting. They all seemed to really love taking photos and footage. The pair in front of us filmed the foggy fens we were driving through for forty minutes at a time which, while majestic, they are NEVER going to watch!
So that night the Australians and Kiwis on the tour headed into town for dinner and drinks, where there were a few ‘Inverness Invershnecky Monsters’ – the cougars of Scotland – to be seen.
Next day we went to Loch Ness at dawn and took the DSLR, or ‘the baby’ as we’re calling it, to great effect:
We also visited Eilean Donan castle, and Portree and Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye, the latter of which being our destination for the night.
Eilean Donan Castle

On the way to our accommodation, Ruthie stopped the bus and told us one of the abovementioned stories of a Scottish warrior princess who was abandoned by her Irish lover and showed us a river apparently formed of her tears. It is said that those that dip their faces in will be afforded eternal youth and beauty so, of course, we were obliged to try:

The place we stayed in Kyleakin was called ‘Saucy Mary’s’, after the medieval owner of a nearby castle who allegedly used to have a great iron chain wound across the river, and if you wanted to pass you had to pay her toll, and if you paid a little extra she’d flash you from her tower.

 

Photo by Jodie Gough.

Me being sick and Til still being jetlagged, we retired early and missed out on a crazy night:

But despite retiring at like, ten, I was still kept up till two by the noise of the craziness.
By the next day I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, as Anastasia would say, so I resolved to institute my ‘three litres of water a day till better’ rule. This is a surefire cure for flu and colds – it works for me every time; it’s just that usually I’m doing it at home, not on a tour bus winding through the Scottish highlands. Every time we stopped I had to find somewhere to go for a sneaky wee, like up a mountain in Glen Coe, where the traitorous Campbell clan committed their infamous slaughter of their hosts:
Going up the mountain for a pee.
But these stops were a bit scarce, and at one point I had to get Ruthie to pull over and let me out especially. Out I traipsed into knee-high sleet to calls of ‘yellow snow’ from my companions. But it was pure water passing through me.

It wasn’t all just urination, though. At Glencoe Russell, one of the other people on the tour, got a standard jumping pic of some of us:

Til, me, Courtney, Lisa, Emma, Jodie, and Narelle

The last place we stopped on the tour was Stirling, at the Wallace monument, where we saw the most amazing sunset ever:
That night when we returned we all decided to go to the amazing Edinburgh Hogmanay torchlight procession. After wending our way through the city for some time, I moved literally ten steps in front of Tilly and was lost. We could not find each other. I stood there for forty five minutes looking for her before I gave up and went all the way back to the hostel. That was pretty crap.
Then there was New Year’s Eve itself. We started off the night with a good old game of kings which culminated in this:
Another one pilfered from Jodie Gough.
Then we headed out to the street party pretty tipsy and causing havoc. I introduced the group to ‘the lost emu’, a tactic introduced to us by our friend Marielle at Splendour in the Grass to find people. It goes a little something like this:
By Jodie.
Basically we danced and sang to the music and laughed at fellow tour participant Courtney’s antics, which involved going up to strangers and dancing with them.
Half the group had tickets to go see Biffy Clyro, so at some point we diverged with plans to meet up again at quarter to twelve to be together at New Year. This did not pan out. We made our way to the rendezvous point, but couldn’t find them. It was five to twelve and we were in a crap spot where we wouldn’t be able to see the fireworks or hear any music countdown, and we were absolutely sardined by everyone around us. We decided to make our way back to where we had been, but then midnight was upon us and we celebrated while squished between thousands of other revellers. And to our disappointment, no one sang Auld Lang Syne! We started it up a couple of times on the way back to the hostel, though, and were joined by some people who actually knew the words, not just vague approximations of sounds put to the melody.
The crowd behind us.

New Year’s Day was our last full day in Scotland, so we spent it seeing the obligatory sights of Edinburgh – the castle, the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first couple of Harry Potter books and the nearby graveyard where she got ideas for character names, and we started but didn’t finish a free ghost tour. Thus ended our experience of Edinburgh, the SECOND MOST HAUNTED CITY IN EUROPE, as the ghost tour sign proclaimed (verified by the International Haunting Index).


Some things that happened in london

I’m on exchange in the UK with my girlfriend Matilda, and she was supposed to arrive in Europe (where I’d already been for about a month) a few days before Christmas. Of course, her flight was delayed so that she arrived on Christmas Day. As a result, our London stay was significantly shortened, and I’m going to have to wring and squeeze it just to evince a few measly drops for your ravenous, quavering mouths. Here they are in dot-point form, as is befitting of their moietic length and significance:
  • I met a squirrel.
  • I spent at least an hour when I checked in being lectured by a particularly loquacious Burmese man with whom I was supposed to cohabitate for the night. Seriously, I slipped my keycard into the door the wrong way, and in the time it took me to remove it and turn it around the right way, he must’ve leapt from wherever in the room he was languishing, just waiting for someone to enter so he could sermonise at them, pulled open the door and started talking, and did. Not. Stop. I can’t for the life of me remember what he was babbling about. At one point, perhaps forty-five minutes in, I found myself wishing I could commit his ramblings to memory so that I could use them for a character in a story. It then occurred to me that I could record him on my iPod, and then transcribe a portion here for everyone’s enjoyment, but unfortunately I didn’t press the button right. He mentioned Thatcher, Obama, ‘the soldiers’, coming through the back door, the Chinese women in the room who didn’t speak good English, and so, so much more. I later met some people in the common room and mentioned that I was afraid to go back to my room because there was a crazy Burmese guy in there and they all exploded with laughter, saying some among them had encountered him. After their horror stories, I made sure Til and I got different room.
  • We saw all the touristy things.
  • Christmas night, Til and I went to this crappy little diner that was the only place open and I paid 4 pounds for a gross slice of pizza.
  • The same night there was a car accident right outside our hostel.

  • We had dinner with Til’s friend Iris, whose exchange trip was just finishing, and her boyfriend Brenton at this Indian joint with two-storey booths, and I got sick and threw up from the chicken tikka masala.

They know how to pack them in.

  • Our Russian or possibly Brazilian roomates gave us a suspiciously transparent (vodka-like) bottle of white wine.
  • We went to the Boxing Day sales, which were MADNESS. You couldn’t move in Topshop.
  • We bought a DSLR, for photos that’re automatically cool, so no more of the crap  that you see in this blog post! Although it came at great cost, health-wise, not fiscally – the reason we got it was that it was, bafflingly, about three hundred dollars cheaper here than in Australia. The dodgy Indian had done some serious damage to my stomach and, surprise surprise, wandering the frosty streets of London in search of a Jessops with my 25 kilo bag on my back wasn’t the most salubrious of enterprises!

Later, Luke.


Impressions of the emerald isle

The ubiquitous and omniscient Lonely Planet has seen fit, in a series of annual lists which has also featured Australia’s Newcastle, to name Cork, Ireland, one of the top ten cities to visit in the world. That’s a pretty big call, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, having just spent about nine days there. It’s probably a case of expectations being different to reality, mostly.
Australia is usually a pretty humble country, if not in its anthems and policies and slogans, then at least in the attitudes of its individual people. And I think we’re inculcated somehow with this idea that we’re the ass-end of the world, that Australia’s a good place to live, but that’s it’s culturally, architecturally, technologically, culinarily deficient and isolated and that, by contrast, all the countries in western Europe, including Ireland, are ‘better’ than us in those areas. The thing is that Ireland isn’t, really.
Before Ireland I was in England, and I mistakenly believed that Ireland was going to be very similar – a tiny but densely populated country. It’s not. Its population is only about four million, which puts things in perspective. Here I was expecting culture and technology and a golden promised land from Ireland, but even some Irish people I met said they thought they were kind of backwards. They don’t have hot running water like we do – they have to switch on a boost or something which provides a certain amount of it. They have about four public TV stations which are absolute crap, and they have to pay for even those with ‘TV licenses’ (and they still have ads, as well). In fact, you have to pay for everything in Ireland: TV, garbage collection, public toilets, and outrageously priced public transport. It suggests to me some extreme right wing politics, maybe? Because it’s like it’s been over-privatised; the anti-welfare state, so to speak. Or it could just be the recession. I tried to talk politics a couple of times, but not very fruitfully.
But by no means was it all doom and gloom. I had a fantastic time, really. All of the above just added to the beautiful and at times hilarious experience. On the plane in I thought the air hostess was speaking Gaelic and was about to translate into English, but it turned out it was just the accent. The weather was also a great novelty for me – so much snow!
At one point I imagined to convince an entire room of Irish people that my uncle was a ‘poker’, meaning his job was to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge every morning at 4am using a forty foot pole to ‘poke’ the Koalas off it into giant nets. I laughed halfway through the story and thought  the jig was up, only to find that they were still captivated by my tale, so I elaborated that I’d done work experience with him in year ten.
I was staying with my friend Charlene, and when I met some of her friends, one of them actually told me I was ‘so tanned!’, something I would never qualify for by Australian standards. They also told me they had a tradition of taking ‘beating’ (pronounced ‘baiting’) photos of one another, a tradition in which I shone:
I think the message for the trip was this, though:
– Luke

A vindication of the rights of sloth

One day during my stay in Winchester with my friend Gilly, we indulged in the oft-maligned practice of the lazy day, and we definitely felt guilty. I don’t mean like, relaxing in the sun or whatever when you’re in Thailand; I mean wilfully shunning the sights and sounds of the barely explored outside world in order to watch The Breakfast Club and From Dusk Till Dawn on a projector screen in the dark while gormandising pizza, popcorn, wedges, chicken strips, sandwiches, Twixes, and hearty servings of chips, cheese and gravy.

I know, I know: I should’ve been out ogling the London Eye or frolicking in the verdant fields saying things like ‘Oh golly, would you look at that, top drawer!’ But we just didn’t feel like it, okay? No more, this ridiculous sense of guilt. In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of hedonism. It’s like at Splendour – I enjoyed myself ten times as much once I stopped worrying about going to see every single band just to get my money’s worth. Some of my best memories of that weekend are chilling out in the coconut hut or on the hill next to the pavilion where the John Steel Singers were playing. That kind of thing leaves you well-rested for the things you really want to see, and makes your activity more exciting by contrast. That’s one lesson learned for this trip. I want to see plenty of tourist attractions and monuments, but I’m not dragging myself to them out of a sense of duty, or out of a need to manufacture memories in front of them, that’s for sure.

We tried to make up for our indolence the next day by going to the New Forest and Durdle Door, but a car accident prevented that, so we went shopping instead. I got me an English coat!

We were more successful the next day when we went to this amazing open-air museum where they preserve houses and buildings from the twelfth century onwards.

On the way there we giggled over silly English town names, imagining how they could be made more hilarious by common English town name additions like ‘Little’, ‘Great’, and ‘-ton’ = (Little) Didling(ton) and (Great) Cocking (upon Sea).

'Cocking' about

So very, very mature.

They also had a duckpond which was frozen over, and a merry time was had by all when I chased the ducks onto the surface in order to watch them skid as they landed. Perhaps less fun was had by the ducks, I don’t know.

The lazy day has slothfully reared its lugubrious head a couple of times since then, and when it casts those doleful, docile eyes upon you, all you can do is bask in its gaze and try to enjoy indulging in some good old fashioned European ennui.

 

Luke


Mr bagnall, darling of the universe

Hey, Luke Bagnall here, writing from the University of East Anglia in England, UK. This is my first post (about three months late); but I’ve been keeping a travel journal and have plenty of experiences saved up to share!

It only took thirty seconds in England before I never wanted to leave (but don’t worry, Nan, I promise I will). Of course, my ebullience probably had something to do with the fact that I’d just been cosseted for twenty hours on my two (count them, two) business class flights instead of being slowly withered into a jetlagged wretch by cattle class. I should probably explain: my Dad worked for Qantas for a loooong time, so I got to fly standby staff travel, and somehow got upgraded to business class after only paying $400 for my ticket! Amazing!

Business class, baby!

I had no idea what to say the first time the stewardess asked me if I wanted anything, Mr Bagnall. But I soon got the hang of it. Beer, wine, juice, coffee, hot chocolate, nuts, Lindt chocolate, cheese and crackers, three-course meals, croissants, toast, bacon, eggs. Yes. Just, yes.

Being on a plane is such a bizarre experience when you think about it. Like turbulence. It’s such a familiar, comforting sensation, almost exactly the same as a car trembling over the road late at night when your parents are driving and you get to relax and go to sleep as a kid. But then you realise that you’re about seven hundred thousand kilometres in the air and there’s no road, and it becomes a little more disturbing. Same thing with lightning – I love when it storms and you’re at home inside all warm, but seeing the flashes outside your window when you’re actually in the sky is a bit different.

Anyway, I got there, zipped through customs and all that without any trouble, and got picked up by my friend Gilly at six in the morning – it felt like six at night. Everyone always talks about how early it gets dark in Europe in winter, but you don’t hear so much about how late it gets light. It was still dark at eight. Gilly lives in what were once the servant’s quarters of an old (obviously listed) house in Winchester, and I stayed with her there for a couple of days. I went to the main street (or ‘the high street’ as they call it) most days since I arrived and saw cafes, the university, the markets, and the cathedral.

Everything was amazing. It was all so cool and old. Wollongong has about three cool cafes; here every second cafe is an old converted townhouse with four levels and a blackened spiral staircase spining through it. And English pubs are so cool. Much cooler than the ale, which is as warm as I’ve always heard. But surprisingly delicious.

It’s like I was so amazed by everything because it’s a Western culture – it’s so close to ours, but so different.

Rexona = Suremen?

I had to keep reminding myself at first that I’m the one with the accent. I couldn’t believe those accents were completely normal for all those people, that they didn’t bat an eyelid at the architecture all around them, or the canal, or the statue of King Alfred, or anything. They even play that cardgame my friends always play where you have three face-down cards and three on top of those facing up and three in your hand, except they call it ‘shithead’ and the loser has to wear underwear (or ‘pants’, as they call them) on their heads and with a few other alterations. I played with Gilly’s family at her parents’ house because we stayed there a night for her mum’s birthday and their early Christmas celebrations, which was great. Of course, being the universe’s golden child at the moment, I had amazing luck in both games, twos and tens and aces practically throwing themselves at me so that I won the first game and came second or third in the next.

I’ll post again with some more details of my trip so far soon!

Luke