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: