It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated on this blog. When I first got to America I would read over and over all of the things everyone had to say about it getting better and making friends and all that jazz. Now that I’ve finally made all of my friends, fit in with an amazing bunch of people and started to feel at home, I am beginning to see that I just couldn’t imagine leaving this place just yet… no matter how much I miss my family.
A word of warning to anyone contemplating going overseas for a year – think long and hard before leaving your family, especially if you’re like me and are really close to each and every one of the (eek!) 15 members of your family (small, I know).
The greatest thing about being in America… the US of A… is the ability to get anywhere you want to go… no matter how small of a town you live in (I live in a college-dedicated town), you are able to travel the country, relatively cheaply, at the drop of a hat. Let me explain…
Since I’ve been here – I arrived in January – I have been to the following places:
– Whitewater (my hometown in Wisconsin).
Whitewater is a teeny tiny little town with no public transport and no craziness. I thought it would be an issue at first, but I’ve really come to love it and be proud to call it home. This place is the most school-spirited and community based town i have ever had the pleasure and blessing of stepping into. I can’t wait for it to snow again and I can’t wait to go back to Whitewater and start my second semester!
– Sterling, Illinois (my summer home, the house of Americans that adopted me for the year).
A little place in Illinois that I have the pleasure to call my home for the summer. This place is filled with a family that has no problems helping everyone and anyone that needs anything. The people that fill this house have welcomed me into their home for three months, not allowing me to give them any money, simply because their daughter is my best friend here. I am sad to leave this place after summer, but I am even sadder to leave these people at the end of my exchange. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to have had to honour of getting to know and love.
– Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin.
Milwaukee was my first adventure out of Whitewater. Another Australian that was attending my school joined me on our couch-surfing trip to Milwaukee where we were at last free to explore sights other than our tiny town. This opened the door for our travel bugs to itch us constantly until we got out and enjoyed this country. Milwaukee was beautiful and snow-packed and just great, a perfect first adventure in America.
– Chicago, Illinois.
Chicago is amazing, one of the greatest cities I was able to see. My first experience in Chicago was a concert for the band Cake with the family I’m staying with over the summer. We went to this outback steakhouse where they served things like a dessert named “Chocolate thunder from down under” which sounded quite peculiar to me!
– Hollywood, LA, California (my first trip – SPRING BREAK).
Hollywood was a mind blowing experience, the most surreal one I’ve ever had. Walking the walk of fame and knowing all of the celebrities had been exactly where I’d been was a crazy feeling. We of course did all of the touristy stuff like Hollywood Blvd, The Sunset Strip, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Lot and all of that. All of it was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back there – and maybe even take some of my family along.
– Las Vegas, Nevada.
This is a really amazing amazing place. The lights, the people on the street, the WALKING, it’s all crazy in general but definitely an experience I’m glad I didn’t miss.
– New York City, NY.
– Niagara Falls, CA.
Niagara Falls is my favourite place on earth. That is all.
– Toronto, CA.
Toronto was our last stop before we went back to Milwaukee and Chicago – two places I’ve been multiple times. It was great coming back and settling back in. I love traveling, but I love my own bed.
So now, in two weeks I’m headed home. But not before I go to Disney. On Monday at 4.45pm I will be on a plane to (freakin’ hot) Florida for Disney World for 7 days. Staying on the property and having tons of fun. After the holiday it’s 3 days at home and then back onto a 27hr flight home. FUN. Even though I was meant to stay until the end of the year, I have no regrets and am excited to be seeing my family again.
So to all the people getting ready to jet off to a magical new place for 6 months or a year, make sure you have skype ready and your family willing to get on camera (my Mum isn’t willing and it made things veeerrrryyy difficult).
Some ‘Engrish’ I have noticed that I thought you all might find funny (especially if headed to the USA):
+ Next year may mean next school year. Every time one of my friends says next year she means next semester and I think she’s talking about 2012!
+ Sucker = Lollipop (they only say lollipop to young kids… they called it juvenile)
+ Peppers = Capsicum (and if you tell them you want capsicum their jaw will hit the ground in confusion)
+ You will notice that we shorten many words and add a ‘y’ or ‘ies’ to the end.
– Breaky (Breakfast).
+ Truck = 4WD.
+ Truck = Ute.
These are just some to warn you guys. Be prepared to be looked at really strangely for majority of your visit. I’ve been here 8 months and it’s still happening. You WILL get sick of being the new shiny toy, I promise.
2 more weeks and I’m home. What a bittersweet ending to the journey I’ve been waiting for for years and years.
– 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.
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!
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 …
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.
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.
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.
(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.
Someone hilariously profaned the Lennon wall with Rebecca Black lyrics.
We also came across another one of those lock-bridges we saw in Paris.
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.
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.’
‘D’you like guacamole?’
‘Why, do you have guacamole with you?’
‘Well why’re you aasking me that?’
‘It’s from Step Brothers.’
‘Have you seen it?’
‘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.
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!
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.
I am in europe for 3 months till i go back to Victoria for fall semester, i have started using another blog site:
I almost made it the 530km by hitch hiking but unfortunately when my last driver was going to drop me off it was pouring down with rain! so i asked her to take me to the train station. The stupid ticket machine didnt work so i got on without a ticket, then the conductor came and i was able to buy one without a problem apart from the fact he charged me the adult price not the child price (12-25) i barely look 20 let alone 25! my last driver was quite strange it was a mix of english and french, so i didnt understand everything she said an she told me all about her problems, her sickness, her friends dieing; it was very depressing it felt like i was at work at the hospital again! ahs she never stopped talking. she had a kitten in the car too, she was so cute, only 6 weeks old. My host in Bordeaux was sooo nice and really easy to talk to we go along really well.
I visited the Dunes Du Pyla with é other CSers it was so cool! really bizzare it looks so out of place. The french guy that i went with kept on flirting with me, pushing me over and poking me and stuff. he said : what are those on your swimmers, what are they for; (pointing to the frilly bit) i said i dont know to look pretty; he said you dont need frills to look pretty. i am sorry but every pick up line or flirt thing like that just sounds sleazy from a french guy. We went to arcachon too and had an icecream so good.
In Bordeaux some of the window spaces have been covered do the new windows are smaller than the actual stone frame. this is because in the old days the people used to have to pay taxed for the size/amount of windows that they had so people would make there windows smaller or get ride of the all together!! crazy. the city is a world heratige site so everything new must fit in to the old and the cobble stones streets must get recobbled not tared, also the city had a massive re-vamp about è years ago which cleaned all of the stone walls and turned most of the city centre into walking streets only. this made the city clean and very well preserved as it was untouched by the wars. My host qnd i went inside a church and he sqid oh you dont want to go in there this is ugly. it was a beautiful old cathederal, man if this is the ugly one i want to see how amazing the nice one is! The river in bordeaux is usually flat but at certain times when the tide changes quickly there is a wave which you can surf on and it goes for kilometers!!!!
The wine in bordeaux is amazing, it is sweet because around the ti,e that the grapes are picked there is a thick fog on the ground which allows this fungus to grow on the grapes. this fungus sucks the water from the grape which increases the concentration of the sugar. I love couch surfing and hitch hiking you learn so many great things!!! also the guy that just drove me to toulouse did a study and sun screen actually harms the corals so he has developed a new sun screen that will not harm the coral! so cool
“‘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:
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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:
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!
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 the email I got from UEA Accommodation the other day:
Actually this isn’t about Eurovision – except my friend from the US has no idea what it is. Me and some British exchange students are going to educate her tomorrow night.
I have about two and a half months left in Germany and I thought I should list some differences. This will probably sound like a rant but really, nothing much bothers me about this country. If it does I’ll say.
There is a main topic that I’ve been following in Australia and that is about the R18 ratings for games. I like how Germany has done their’s here, a photo from Saturn, kinda like JB HiFi but bigger with fridges etc.
You can easily tell which games are for what age group. No little kids getting their mittens on the other games. Downside – in Germany they are really touchy about violence and such, so sometimes games are edited or not allowed to be displayed or advertised in the store. That is really stupid as some times the games are altered to not give a realistic example of what happens if you shoot someone.
Despite the price of the tickets, DB is worth it, especially if its group travel. They have many excellent deals. The Bayern ticket is quite awesome. With it you can take all local public transport in Bavaria, for up to five people. And weekend travellers can get a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket for all local transport all over Germany for 5 people or for parents and their unlimited children under 14.
On all the major stations one can get one of these 50 cent cups of tea/coffee/hot chocolate/soup. It’s an excellent idea, especially if you are on a platform, wet, freezing in -1 degree celsius on your way home from a concert at 11pm. But then again, all of DB makes sense, its relatively clean, on time (in the day time) and I think you get what you pay for.
Here in Bayern they have only just changed the laws so there is no smoking in bars. It’s weird to watch people leave their handbags on their tables with their beers to go outside to smoke. So many people smoke. There are smoking vending machines for crying out loud! One in my building (don’t know if it works) and two within a 3 minute walk. They don’t sell lighters unfortunately. That would be funner.
I find it very safe walking around Erlangen in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t walk from the other dorm building a block away to here in the middle of the night back home. God, I’d be afraid of being attacked going for a walk around my block. It might be because people are friendlier or I don’t know. It seems that the Franconian’s are willing to help you if you ask for it. Otherwise they just ignore you.
One thing I especially love is the amount of bicycles and that they have right of way. The thing I love more so is my bike Hercules, and that I don’t have to wear a stupid helmet. Might’ve mentioned that before. But it is seriously the best thing. I rode 12 kms the other day. I better be fit by the time I fly out in the last week of July.
The shops are not allowed to open on Sundays in Bayern so that means you have to have all your food organised by 8pm Saturdays. After working in Woolworths on Sundays I understand from that point of view, but when I run out of something I’m craving, or my milk goes off I really don’t like it. And it’s a major trek to the petrol stations and they cost so much.
Here in Germany you can get an Austrian delicacy of the scnapps kind. It’s called Ficken, the PartyScnhaps and it rocks. It tastes like Ribena but alcoholic and you can only get it from the local “Adult” store or a supermarket 1.5km ride away. For 11euro its pretty damned awesome. I’m going to have to find a way to import it.
Yeah, don’t say Ficken around many native German speakers. It’s kinda rude. I love the attitude to alcohol in this country. Actually the attitude to many things is “If you’re an idiot you pay the price”. No nanny-state here, except getting your license and the violence censorship thing. It’s a lot nicer. Everyone seems to get drunk here, yet I’ve seen one almost fight. In all that drinking you’d think there’d be more. I think it’s because people are taught to drink properly, like one with dinner and whatnot. Not like home where it’s like “you must not drink, you will die!” except when you are 18, then everyone goes nuts. The legal age for beer and wine here is 16, depending on the situation eg not in certain bars. That’s what is annoying. Germany has made me realise that there is too many safety nets for morons at home. I say, let them kill themselves.
Easter and spring here are pretty big. For instance, every shop had hares or eggs. Some still have hares. The major shopping mall had real bunnies.
So yeah. That’s all I can think of at the moment. I’ll be back later.
I read this post in Australians Abroad, probably written by an Aussie in Sweden. It was really true, and I can really relate myself to it very much. Haha, if you want to more about Sweden, this is a cool stuff to read! As the writer said, the list is bottomless, I’m just listing some of the interesting ones here, and you can view the whole post via this link:
YOU KNOW YOU’VE BEEN IN SWEDEN TOO LONG WHEN…
3. The first thing you do upon entering a bank/post office/chemist etc. is to look for the queue number machine.
4. You accept that you will have to queue to take a queue number.
5. When a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume: a: he is drunk; b: he is insane; c: he’s an American
10. Silence is fun.
13. You pass a supermarket and think “Wow, it is open, I had better go in and buy something!”
15. Your native language has seriously deteriorated, now you begin to “eat medicine”, “open the television”, “close the lights off”, “take a beer”, “look upon everything” and tell someone to “follow with me” or “you needn’t to!” You start to say “for 2 years ago” and expressions like “Don’t panic” creep into your everyday language.
20. Sundays no longer seem dull with all the shops closed, and begin to feel restful instead.
21. “No comment” becomes a conversation strategy.
22. You have only two facial expressions – smiling or blank. Also your arms are just hanging down when you chat with other people.
25. Hugging is reserved for sexual foreplay.
27. You refuse to wear a hat, even in minus 20 degree weather.
32. You no longer look at sports pants as casual wear, but recognise them as semi-formal wear.
41. You just love Jaffa.
46. You know that more than three channels means cable.
49. You eat jam with savoury dishes.
56. You have conversations with people outside when it is –10C.
80. When a stranger asks you a question in the streets, you think it’s normal to just keep walking, saying nothing.
84. You lose any artistic talent whatsoever.
104. You start to differentiate between types of snow.
141. “It’s 5 degrees outside” does not necessarily mean PLUS 5, it could mean minus 5.
143. You know that “Extrapris” goods are cheaper, even though your English mind translates the word as “extra price”
144. You will squeeze past somebody rather than say excuse me.
169. You don’t even get surprised when the doctor, not only can’t help you, he/she can’t even diagnose you.
175. You start talking to yourself in Swedish.
180. You think an hour and a half cycle on your washing machine is a “quick wash”.
195. You think that people who wear other colours apart from black, grey, white or blue are exhibitionists.
205. You find that you can’t spell in English anymore. You now replace C with K. Like panik, automatik, seasik, arithmetik…. and you try to remember does papper/paper have one or two p’s in English?
206. You no longer make appointments, but instead you book times.
207. You read text instead of sub-titles.
216. It seems normal to you that you’ve been bleeding in the emergency room at the hospital for four and a half hours when the three doctors walk by on their third coffee break since you got there.
242. You refer to weeks by their number.
248. England, Scotland and Wales can all be called England.
249. You’ve come to accept that customer service departments don’t do anything to help customers.
263. It’s normal to have an entire pizza just for yourself.
276. You no longer feel it’s unbearable inside an over-heated shop wearing full winter gear.
277. You no longer look for toilets marked specifically male or female
279. It is your birthday YOU have to make the cake.
284. The most interesting report on the news is the weather.
286. When you say good bye to someone you depart by saying ‘Have it so good’
294. ICA is not I.C.A – it’s eeka.
295. The wash cottage is not a holiday resort but a very competitive environment, where the rules should never be broken and in particular never go over your time by even a minute or you risk a lot of sucking and muttering from the next in line.
[hell yea people line up and wait for 30 minutes on tht spot to use the machine, and everyone just staring at you when you come to collect your clothes..]]
314. You get excited when you hear someone speaking English.
315. You travel north on vacation instead of south.
320. You no longer eat yoghurt, you drink it.
327. Three for the price of two is the deal of a lifetime, regardless of what it is. Even 3 for the price of 2 1/2 surprises you.
348. When you stop converting Swedish crowns into your native currency.
352. You get used to seeing dogs tied up outside of supermarkets and you stop to pat them.
355. And paying $800,000 for a 3 room (living room, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen) house in a suburb of Stockholm seems cheap.
356. You accept that you pay bills at the post office, pick up packages from the grocery store, and you have to drive 5 miles to find a postbox to put your outgoing mail in.
357. You enjoy that postcards are the means of communication.
361. When you see that the time is 3.30 and you say it’s “half TO four” (halv fyra)
363. You think there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
364. The only thing in your quick memory is “Hej” and “Hej Hej”
365. You think Sweden is big (because you always compare it to Finland, Norway or Iceland)
375. Your house is starting to look like the showcase to IKEA.
399. You start thinking about the weekend on Wednesday morning.
407. You know that twenty hundred is a year, not an hour.
– Oscar Wilde on conversations about the weather.
Luke here again, with a quick post concerning meteorology.
I have been spending my semester abroad studying in the city of Thessaloniki in the north of Greece.
My first impressions upon arriving in Saloniki were of disappointment. The sky was grey and overcast, the weather barely 10 degrees and the buildings seemed dirty and un appealing. Nothing seemed to work as it should, or as it does back in Australia. Nothing can be achieved in one day, for instance if you want to post a letter home it will take a few days as you need to go and buy and envelope one day, and then try the post office a few times until its open to send the letter. It can be frustrating and exhausting as you try to push past this to make life work the way you think it should. This view was soon overturned as I made friends, the weather improved and I began to really appreciate the beauty of the city.
The streets are lined with citrus trees which means that there is constantly a faint citrus scent wafting down the streets. You see past the graffiti and the ugliness of the buildings and instead begin to appreciate the undercurrent of the Greek culture which pulses through the city. The art of taking a coffee with friends and family for hours every single day. The sharing of dishes at meal times, which also last for several hours, the Greek version of siesta which means most of the shops close in the afternoon every day. You begin to adapt to the lack of urgency which surrounds everything, and it no longer bothers you that it can take days to fulfill a simple daily task, as that’s part of the charm of Greece.
At first I was overwhelmed with the daily life of living in Saloniki, but now I know im going to find it really hard to adjust to being back home in Australia, where it is rude to be more than 10 minutes late to meet a friend, a coffee takes 30 minutes to drink at most. You also can’t leave everything to do tomorrow like here. Whilst today you don’t have anything specific to do, your too busy having a coffee and enjoying life to do it today so you will do it tomorrow instead.
the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.
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.
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.
Anyway, I think this post’s gone on long enough!
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.
(Photo by Kim Sherwood)
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!:
- 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.
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.
Grocery shopping in a foreign country even if that country is America, is a unique and confusing experience. Apart from the obvious problems with locating familiar brands at a grocery store, there’s also that feeling you get when you realise you aren’t going to find what you’re looking for, because it doesn’t exist.
Like Doritos for example.
Doritos Australia market a total of four Doritos products to their consumers; Cheese Supreme, Nacho Cheese, Original and Mexicana. The U.S market for Doritos has a remarkable 19 different flavours (remarkable to me perhaps) among them; Jalapeno, Fiery Buffalo, Spicy Nacho, Pizza Supreme and even Cheeseburger.
To my disappointment, this list of 19 doesn’t include one of Australia’s most commercially successful (and incidentally my favourite) Doritos flavour; Nacho Cheese. The yellow packaged Doritos (Nacho Cheese is actually packaged red in the United States and tastes completely different, just to be confusing). The experience of not being able to find Nacho Cheese is not the most impressive cultural slap across the face, but it’s still pretty mind-blowing. People tend to think of Australian consumers in much the same way as American consumers, and to be fair we are reasonably comparable; we eat fast food, we watch Hollywood films and listen to American produced music. But geographical and cultural influence still drives the market for some things, and I find that many of the goods available here in the States, would probably not enjoy a successful launch in Australia. Due to the Mexican influence here in California, the market for spicy foods is very wide. The standard flavour is almost always some variety of seasoned chilli, and as a white person with very limited tolerance to spicy food, I’ve suffered at the hands of Mexican cuisine. But of course, Americans love it. Spicy food in every form; sweet, savoury, cold-serve, warm-serve is available in excessive abundance.
Fortunately for me, Australia’s limited knowledge of Mexico and the wide variety of spices found there, means that we will remain with a single spicy version of Doritos, (which I didn’t know existed until I sought help from Google), and that’s okay by me since I can’t obtain any benefit from heterogeneity in spicy corn chips anyway.
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!?’
“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.
- 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.
- 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!
“VICTORIA (CUP) – Every Wednesday at 4:20 p.m., dozens of University of Victoria students gather near the campus fountain to show support for sick people who struggle to treat their conditions with medicinal marijuana.
While nearly all the students are healthy, the university’s Hempology 101 club attracts attention by supporting the use of illegal drugs. During meetings, members of the Cannabis Buyers’ Club provide updates on current events involving medicinal marijuana while dozens of students pass joints around a circle.” here is the full story: http://media.www.thestrand.ca/media/storage/paper404/news/2004/10/20/News/Uvic-Pot.Trial.Delayed-778710.shtml
So I got out of class today and happened to walk past the front of the library (It was at 4:20 on wednesday) and there is a big circle of students with a guy with a mic in the middle talking about pot. I have heard about this time and this day being pot time but i had no idea it was this big, i just thought it would be some sneaky swapping of pot and cash. Pretty much everyone has smoking and passing a joint, IN PUBLIC!! and in the middle of the day! Then they had a BONG COMPETITION of who had the best looking bong; there was: ‘puff the magic dragon’ ‘willy bonka’ ‘alfonzo’. I am not used to seeing them in pubic let alone a contest at a uni in the day…. crazyyyy. Next week is a joint rolling competition, BYO hash… I really wanted a newsletter (yes they even have a news letter!) to send it to my friends, so i went up at the end to get one but everyone was coming to the middle so i couldn’t it so i stood back and they all huddled together and put their hands in the centre and said “The 4:20 CLUB!!” – it felt a bit like a cult… There were about…100 people there? but i am bad a guestimating. And there was a guy filming it all aswell, i am trying to find it to show you.
So that was an interesting afternoon! I am so ignorant to these things, and i know that they are popular in BC especially as i can smell it walking around the campus (i now know what it smells like). But seeing it openly displayed with heaps of people around blew my mind!
“The UVSS Hempology 101 Club and the International Hempology 101 Society will be hosting its 11th Annual Cannabis Convention Sunday February 28, 2010 at the University of Victoria.”
a facebook page says this:
“Does anyone care about the UVSS elections?
Are you sick of self-righteous students trying to change the world?
Tired of college-level election ‘parties’ competing with each other with identical platforms?
Do you see any benefit to voting for one person as opposed to the other?
Are you of the opinion that the UVic 4:20 Club holds more political sway than the UVSS student society, and has higher attendance?
THEN: THIS GROUP IS FOR YOU”
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!
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.
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!