Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Festive season

English hospitality and castle tours

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

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


The answer? No. No we can’t.

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

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

‘Do you want anything? Tea? Coffee?’

‘No thanks, I’m fine.’

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

‘No, no, seriously, I’m good.’

‘You don’t want anything? Nothing!?’

‘Nope.’

“Okay then …’

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

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

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

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

“Let me innnn!”: Scaling the portcullis.

Luckily we managed to get into Warkworth.


We also visited the cute little village of Alnmouth.

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

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

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

Luke

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Schortsch ramblings

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

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

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

 

Photo by Jodie Gough.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some things that happened in london

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

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

They know how to pack them in.

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

Later, Luke.


Impressions of the emerald isle

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

Winter in the land of Santa Claus

 

View from my window

So, it’s been 10 days since I arrived in Turku, Finland, in what people say the most snowy and coldest winter ever after a very long time. I was actually coming late and missed the Orientation as well as all the first week of study because of visa problem, so beside adapting to the new place I also have to catch up with the study. But I guess at least I didn’t encounter the shock of leaving your family behind and going to a strange country by yourself, thanks to the fact that in Australia I was already an international student.

But other than that, it is still hard. The cold winter hasn’t hit me yet (I heard February is always the coldest month of the year), but the slippery ice has. Actually, I hit it, and the pain was as much as the embarrassment.

However, the hardest part is taking care of things in a country where you don’t speak the language. Some of the important matters, like schooling or banking, you can find people speaking English or websites in English, but things like ordering a meal in Hesburger (Finand’s largest fast food chain, based in Turku) can be problematic if you don’t speak Finnish. Same thing with buying groceries, most of the time I just buy food by looking at the content hoping it is what I think it is, because they can have names in 8 different languages but it is possible that none of them is English. And the most tricky part is finding your way around. Beside Google Translate, Google Maps also happens to be my best friend. But this friend might be deceptive sometimes. I had been having headaches for days wondering why it is so hard to find the way in Finland, because not only the street signs are incredibly small, but they appear to have different names on different maps as well as on different parts of the same map. Only until yesterday I found the answer, that since Finnish and Swedish are both official languages in Finland (especially in Turku, the “Swedish part of Finland”), most streets are displayed in 2 names, also Finns are big fans of suffixes, different suffixes in street names indicate different things. For example, Aurasilta, Aurakatu, Auragatan are all the different names of the same street, ‘silta’ indicates the part of that street that is a bridge, ‘katu’ and ‘gatan’ are suffixes meaning street in Finnish and Swedish accordingly.

The thing I notice about Finland is it’s so industrialised and machine-based that sometimes things become incredibly complicated. You need heaps of “identifiers” altogether to be able to do your online banking, need a radio-controlled key to use school printers, you need to order your student card online, and you need to book the turn to do your laundry, then when actually do it you have to use your mobile phone to call a number to activate the washing machine. And it wouldn’t be so hard if only the machines gave you instructions in English. But, the thing I love about this is you can do almost every transaction online, like topping up pre-paid phone or paying the rent, with immediate effect and no fee.

 

One interesting thing that I found is most (female) Finns, regardless of age, have some kind of a "reflector" like this attached to their coats, in different shapes and colours. Maybe to get some more light in the dark winter?

I’ve been here for only more than a week but I already went to this thing called “Cottage Weekend” organised for exchanged students in Turku, where apart from games and parties we got to try traditional Finnish food and the important Finnish “ritual”: sauna. And I loved the sauna. Here at the place I live there is free sauna every Wednesday for 2 hours, so my goal is going there every week during my stay here. Another goal is one day ordering Hesburger in Finnish, even if I don’t understand I will also have to say it in Finnish. Let’s see.

Sledging at Cottage Weekend

On Tuesday I also went to this Info Market where exchange students representing their home universities and countries to give information to Finnish students considering going on exchange. I was so glad I brought the Murdoch T-shirt with me, and it was nice sharing my experiences in Australia to Finnish students.

Small stones "sprinkled" on snow to make it less slippery always make me think of choc-chip icecream


Manchester United

I spent Christmas with relatives from my dad’s side of the family in England. On Boxing Day I was lucky enough to have my dad’s cousin Dave take me to see the greatest football team in the world, Manchester United, play (and win) at their home ground, Old Trafford.

It was an absolutely incredible experience! Even if you’re not a football fan, or a sports fan in general, I think you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself. There’s so much atmosphere and so much energy, it’s contagious. I had a brilliant time, even though by the end of the match I was frozen to the seat.

One of the things that most struck me though is the intensity of the rivalry between Manchester City and Manchester United. Having a father who was born and bred in Manchester and has been a United support since he was 5 years old, I’ve always understood that they were rivals, but seeing it unfold in front of you is completely different. The hatred between the two teams is so intense that even when they’re not playing each other, United fans are still singing songs like “knick knack paddy-whack give a dog a bone, why don’t City f**k off home!” I saw United play Sunderland on the day that I went, but that little rhyme was sung loudly and proudly many, many times.

It’s something I really think we don’t have in Australia. We love sport, but this is on a whole new level. My 85-year-old great aunt has a framed picture of Eric Cantona hanging in her hallway next to pictures of her great-grandchildren, that’s how much this matters to people. I don’t know anyone back in Oz who not only loves their team that much, but who hates their local rival that much as well!


Seasons greetings wherever you are

Hi, and merry Christmas!

I hope those of you far away had a chance to experience the holiday season as it is celebrated in your host country (which might be New Year rather than Christmas, thinking of Japan and Korea). If, regrettably, you weren’t able to do so with new friends or if you found yourself alone or, even with company, found you really missed family, this is one of the downsides of travelling, and those celebration moments are always the times we feel most isolated – even if enjoying a white Christmas or a different form of hospitality. So hang in.

For those of you about to head overseas, Christmas might have been specially sweet this year. Enjoy the last of the heat before you head off and let us know how it all goes.

Not wanting to wish the end of your sojourn on you, but we are also looking forward to getting those first ‘hey, I’m back!’ posts sometime in the New Year. But in the meantime, enjoy your travels, and keep safe.

To you all, all the best for 2011.

Jan