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.
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:
Me being sick and Til still being jetlagged, we retired early and missed out on a crazy night:
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
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).
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I have been in the Netherlands for over three months now, and I haven’t really been shocked by anything. Sure, their commitment to riding their bicycles in the rain, snow and hail is mystifying. But until the lead up to December, I was pretty cool, calm and collected. But then I began to notice some odd decorations in the windows of shops. Namely, colourfully dressed black dolls similar to ‘Golliwoggs’. I was quite shocked, because the Netherlands has a reputation for being a free-thinking liberal minded country, and these dolls would be completely unacceptable in Australia.
Apparently, the decorations were for the Dutch Christmas, called Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is celebrated on December 5th, and involves a Santa type figure arriving on a ship from Spain to give presents to children. However, he is not aided by elves, but by black slaves called the Zwarte Piet.
So every shop in Utrecht has pictures and dolls of Zwarte Piet. However, the Dutch claim that the tradition is not racist. They argue that Zwarte Piet isn’t an African slave, but is only black because of soot from coming down the chimney. But then how are their clothes perfectly clean?
I couldn’t believe it, so I went shopping and took photos of every example of what I perceived to be blatant racism. But I was absolutely floored when I saw people actually dress up as Zwarte Piet and paint their face black. Seriously. I do not think that you could get away with that in Australia.
Coming from Sydney, I first though Wollongong campus was quite green, nothing compared with the Bath campus though!
This is a photo I took yesterday of the Rynek Główny, Kraków’s Main Square, yesterday. At the moment, there are lots of workmen around the Sukienniece, which is the awesome 14th century building you can see at the back of the picture, assembling little wooden carts for the famed Christmas Market and putting up decorations befitting the season.
I really don’t think I have EVER been this excited about Christmas before, even when I was young. My friends here, who are all from Europe and America, don’t quite understand why I’m looking forward to it so much. My idea of Christmas is radically different to theirs – it usually involves sitting in shorts and a t-shirt drinking beer in a relative’s backyard, eating salad because it’s too hot for anything else and repeating this the next day while watching the Boxing Day Test. As much as I love Christmas at home with my family and my friends, it feels like this Christmas season is going to be my first real Christmas, the first Christmas where the ideas and traditions match the reality of the event. The food and drinks, the Christmas carols, the typical images of Christmas we’re bombarded with… this year, I’m actually going to see that unfolding in front of me instead of noting the absurdity of my aunty humming ‘Let it Snow’ when it’s 30+ degrees and humid outside.
And, honestly, I can hardly contain my excitement about the prospect of mulled wine, Christmas markets and making snow angels during the silly season. Does anyone else who is on exchange in Europe feel this way too?