Monday, February 26, 2007

Karen's Friday Night Skate

Adriaan and Karen have been roller-blading with this organisation called "Friday Night Skate", only they skate on Sundays (go figure!). Anyway, Adriaan found some photos of Kaddy on her last skate on the organisation's website. Go to to check out the other ones but these are the two best ones! That's her in the red top.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tourism Monopoly Style

Friday and my mid term holiday week comes to an end (why is it that holiday weeks go faster than working weeks?). I spent the day with Ben doing some London touristy things. The original plan was to cross off as many Monopoly places as we could but since we'd heard that there is an official Monopoly board pub crawl sometime during the year (and who wouldn't want to do that instead?) we changed our plans.

First stop was Westminster. We had originally planned to meet at Temple Walkabout but since Ben got thrown out of there the night before we thought it best not to tempt the big, beefed up bouncers a second time. Walked past Westminster Abbey on our way to Buckingham Palace. I did an extensive tour of the Abbey last time I was in the UK so we decided to see the changing of the guard at the palace instead. Seems all of the American and Japanese tourists in England decided the same thing.
The crowd was about 10 deep and as fun as standing up on a railing & holding onto a traffic light was, we left and walked down past St James' Park and through to Big Ben. Again it was grey and overcast and drizzly but for the most part the clouds stayed dry and we managed to get a few of the obligatory "Ben with Ben" photos.

Next stop was the London Eye via a McDonald's pit stop and then onto walking to the Tower of London. I didn't realise it at the time but walking from St James' Park to Tower Hill is a very long way and now explains why Ben kept whinging that he has never walked so far in his life. There are weaving pathways down the Thames and so without the benefit of street signs you don't realise exactly where you are. Eventually, after stopping at the Tate Modern on the way, we were spat out at the end of the walkways near Tower Bridge and we climbed the stairs to walk across it.

I'm not sure what I expected of the Tower of London, only it wasn't what I saw. The crown jewels were spectacular and very sparkly but I walked straight past the Koh-i-noor diamond not even realising what it was and that was the thing I wanted to see the most. I'm not picky or greedy. I don't have to have one of the big jewels, but it would be nice just t have one of the gems that adorn the scepters, swords and crowns. Some are so big that they look like costume jewellery.

Am very glad not to be living in the middle ages and having to wear the chain and armour that they had back then. I am also happy to report that there was armour for the horses though. That always concerned me when we were learning about the Crusades back in school, "What about the poor horses?"

Our day came to a close at the pub across from the Tower where a beggar came right up to our table and asked for the food that we were still eating. It would have been sad the first time but when he came back three times it started to get off putting. It did, however, give us something to talk about with the group of guys sitting across from us who we then joined with to have a drink and chat.

Karen and I joined up with Davina and her mates to see the Cat Empire play at Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre. They are an amazing live band and the atmosphere is electric. Especially when they sing their song "Hello, Hello".

Have decided that there must be a sign on me that says "Hit/Run into/Push me. I like it." Every where we go, shops, pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, people are always bumping into me. They will go around other people and seek me out, I swear. Must say a huge thanks to Mark, Nick, Stu, Karen and Davina for creating my mini-fortress last night at the Shepherd's Bush Walkabout! For ten minutes I was bruise free!


I can now successfully cross off number 22 on my "Must Do in London" list, I went to Oxford and bought an Oxford University sweatshirt on Thursday. The train ride took longer than it did to get to Brighton but that might have something to do with the fact that it stopped at every station in between London Paddington and Oxford Station.

As is typical of the English weather, it was raining when I arrived in Oxford. Instead of doing the logical and well thought of approach to travel and asking for directions, I did the Bubble approach and just walked in one direction. But, in the end it turned out to be a blessing because I stumbled upon some markets where the elderly gentlemen who were tending the stalls were very chatty and happy to point out a few of the less touristy places worth visiting. One day really isn't enough time to spend in Oxford so I am going to have to go back again for the weekend sometime soon.

After talking with the Market people I wandered down into what they assured me was the right way into town. They are very proud of their Inspector Morse association and I had to take note of the Eagle and Child pub (also known as the Bird and Babe) as I walked past. Not sure if you get it where you are, but there is a new series starting here called "Lewis" in which Morse's Sergeant has been promoted and has his own Sergeant. Followers of the series will know that Morse died in the last episode (sorry to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it) and the market people were debating the merits of the new series.

There is something very appealing about Oxford. It has this homey small town feel, but you are instantly reminded of all of the history that surrounds the town and buildings every time you turn a corner. I liked it very much and could definitely see myself returning to teach there in the future. I loved the small cobblestone walkways, bicycles that lined the streets and the smell of academia as you pass each of the College buildings (and it's not just the smelly students).

Once I eventually found a Tourist Information Centre they directed me to the Bodliean Library which is the foremost library in Oxford. You can not borrow books from the library, only reference them and their oldest book dates back to the 14th Century which you can use still to this day. They also have manuscripts dating back before AD. It is amazing. The first part of the tour starts in the Divinity School which is the university's first examination room and where professors used to quiz their students in the 1600s on philosophy and astronomy. If you failed the professor's quizzes you were cast out of the course. The ceiling is the most interesting part where it has 455 different coat of arms for each person who worked on or were associated with the building of the room as well as the seals of the architects and stone masons. For those who have seen a Harry Potter film, this is where they film a lot of the Hogwarts scenes. Unfortunately you can't take any pictures of the library itself, only the Divinity School. There are over 7.5 million books in the library and more than 190kms of shelving. Imagine the poor person in charge of stock take and cataloguing each year. I helped my Aunty Lorraine at her school library once when I was 17 and that was enough for me. And I bet you can't use an electronic bar code swipey pen on these books!
After the Library tour I headed over the the University church, St Mary the Virgin. I've seen grander and more exciting churches in my time to be honest. But you can't knock the inviting nature of the main alcove. Inside was one of the university orchestra's practicing for their weekend performance. The whole orchestra playing beautifully but the string section was beautiful. People were coming in off the streets and sitting in the pews to listen to the impromptu performance.

It doesn't sound like I managed to do much in Oxford, and in all honesty I probably didn't, but my day flew past. Definitely scheduling another trip in the near future.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Look Mum!

This photo is for my Mum!

It proves two things...

1) I actually cooked something! And it didn't get burnt/dropped/set on fire/undercooked! That's a world first!

2) I am actually eating proper food over here and not just Marks & Spencer ready meals.

This second photo is to prove that other people actually ate the food I cooked and didn't die. That's Adriaan and Karen doing the washing up!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Shower Caps

A huge thank you to all of those who answered the call to arms about my shower cap dilemma.

I am now the proud owner of 26 shower caps.

You are all champions. However... I think I have enough now.



Brighton Pier

It's half term at the moment and I went to Brighton yesterday. Karen had to go there for work so I tagged along. The first thing I noticed when I got off the train was that I could hear seagulls. Funny how something so small reminds you of so much. You hear seagulls all the time at home but they are such a foreign concept here. Plus these seagulls were HUGE! They must be eating twice as many chips as Aussie seagulls.

I walked down to the beach and stood on the pebbles and if you closed your eyes, and ignored the freezing wind, you could imagine standing at Mona Vale beach eating lunch with the fire crew on a Sunday afternoon. I'm not a fan of the whole sand thing but pebbles just seems so wrong for the beach. I did manage to find some sand though. Pity it was a beach volleyball court and it was separated from the water by pebbles and a walkway.

The famous Brighton pier juts out a fair way into the ocean and houses amusement arcades and rides. I popped a few 10p coins into the slots and play a few of the games but didn't win anything. They have a roped off section which houses poker machines for the adults in the same room as the rest of the games for children. The old fogies sit in the poker machine area while their grandkids play the video games not 3m away.

Along the walkway are tiny booths where shops have been for many many years. You can imagine children in the early part of the 1900s running down the wooden planks towards the old lolly shop that stocks every kind of boiled lolly known to man and then some. Plus you can see their mothers following them slowly carrying parisols and wearing long dresses with corsets and bustles and their leather boots tapping along the same planks I walked on (although to be fair some planks were newer than others).

The weather was very overcast and foggy and you couldn't see very far but I overheard a lady saying that there was an old pier futrher around the boardwalk that had fallen into the ocean, so I set off in the direction that she pointed. About ten minutes later I saw the pier emerge from the shrouds of fog and instantly felt sad for it. It must have been a wonderful sight in it's day and now it stands looking charred and black alone in the sea. The bridge that once joined it to the mainland has long since collapsed into the sea. As you walk up to the old pier you are met by the sight of rows of small boats that are pulled up high on the shore for the winter. Hooligans have attacked the fences and pulled them down and there is rubbish and debris all over the place. It just adds to the whole sad atmosphere of the old pier and is a stark contrast to the fun and games of the new pier.

I also managed to get lost in the labyrinth of small "lanes" that accomodate the small shops of Brighton. It was fabulous to wander through the mix of old antique and jeweller's stores and the newer trendy card and arty shops. All the streets in this area are cobblestoned and you couldn't fit a truck down any of them. In fact I think you would be hard pressed to fit a car down most.

I hope to go back to Brighton during the summer to see the difference between the sleepy village atmosphere in Winter and the vibrant festival town in Summer.

We had another snow day a week and a half ago. This time there was lots more snow and I saw heaps of snowmen popping up on my way to work. The school I taught at looked so peaceful and white when I got there. Pity it didn't stay that way.

Off to Oxford on Thursday and then touring London via the Monopoly board on Friday.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi

Courntey, Karen, Lousie, Rebecca and I went to Shepherd's Bush stadium on Tuesday night to help cheer on the Socceroos against Denmark. Didn't help though, we lost 3-1. Frankly, we suck at soccer. But the atmosphere was well worth it, even if the game wasn't.

There were more Australians there than in Australia I reckon. I have never seen so many people wearing green and gold. Big surprise of the evening was when I was walking out of Starbucks and I heard "Oh my God, Alex?" and I turned around to see Anthony standing in the line. Anthony is a friend from home that I met through the St Ives High guys.

The night was fantatsic but it was very, very, very cold. The Aussie supporters took up more than 3/4 of the stadium and the poor Denmark supporters were all squished up to one end. We were sitting in the stand behind a huge steel poles. Every time the play came up towards our end our vision was blocked by the pole. Then the people around us would all yell out "Damn pole!" in unison. Made you laugh even though you couldn't see what was happening. My other favourite part of the game was when the referee disallowed 2 goals from Australia and the crowd all started yelling out "Bullshit" over and over again in unison. You've got to love Aussies when they think they are being hard done by, especially when we are all living away from home. It seems to magnify the injustice 150%. I am bit a worried about the guys sitting behind us though. They spent thirty minutes debating whether Princess Mary would be cheering for Australia or Denmark.

Karen and I were very spoilt. We got a lift home with Anthony and Matthew in Matthew's Volkswagon. Given that it was 0 degrees we were rapt!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Brussels, Belgium

I spent the weekend in Brussels and wasn't sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed and "country" like the city was. Brussels doesn't have any of the grandeur of Paris or Rome, but you can feel the history creeping out of the buildings and cobble stoned streets. As you walk along the main streets you are struck by how crisp and clean the lines are, but more so, the way that each building is very old, yet still individual. Almost as if they are pieces of a different puzzle that fit together anyway. Plus the smell of waffles the eminates from the street vendors doesn't hurt your senses either!

I was really glad to get out of London and was equally excited about the prospect of travelling on the EuroStar. I can't believe how fast and comfortable the journey was. It was Vic the Man's birthday and we spent the weekend with two of her teacher friends, Tracey and Megan. Because of the time difference (1hr ahead) we didn't have dinner until 12am but we didn't have to worry because we found a nice restaurant that was still open. Apparently people eat later in the evening in Belgium and restaurants don't shut until 5am. Ordering was not as easy and I ended up with a tomato, lettuce, olive and mozzarella salad. I thought I had ordered a pizza!

Saturday was a very crisp 4 degrees but that didn't stop us walking to the main square. It was really interesting to look at all the different architechural designs of the buildings. At the town hall a couple had just gotten married and were celebrating by playing music very loudly out of their red Volkswagon. There was also a group of Scouts (much to Vic's delight - she is a Rover) playing games as part of their weekend camp. My favouraite building was the Town Hall because it has small statues lined up high along the main wall overlooking the square almost as if they are protecting it. I loved the statue of the fat King who looked like he had eaten too much and that he might fall over at any moment.

We also visited the Mannekin-Pis which is a statue of a small boy weeing into a fountain. Legend has it that in the 1600s a nobleman lost his 5 year old son for 2 days. The boy was eventually found weeing into the town fountain. In his joy of finding his son, the nobleman had the fountain built in his honour. The statue has over 600 different little outfits which are changed each day. The day I visited him he was wearing a tuxedo and top hat although on Sunday he was having a break and was not clothed at all. Some countries even donate clothes for him to wear on special occasions. To Brussels, he is their Leaning Tower of Pisa, their Eiffel Tower.

I couldn't go to Brussels without eating a Belgian waffle. The waffles were HUGE and it was impossible to eat the entire thing, but it was extremely delicious! Also went and saw the only museum worth visiting - the Museum of Chocolate - and learnt about how the chocolatier mixes the blends of chocolate and creates the designs and constructs the actual moulds etc. Got to sample the merchandise too! Even though eating the chocolate was good, I thought the best part was looking at the dresses made of chocolate for a fashion show. I still don't know how they didn't melt when the models wore them.

For dinner on Saturday we headed out to the Atomium. It is a grand structure that represents the atom. At night it lights up. Inside however, it is full of...barbie dolls! It was built in 1958 for the World Fair. Can't say I was overly impressed by it's importance, but it was very pretty as it flashed it's fairy lights.

Sunday was even colder than Saturday but you didn't mind it after a while (Thanks to Holly G for the scarf to keep my neck warm, it worked really well!). We walked a quite a way out of town to the antique markets. I had a lovely time searching through the stalls asking "How much?" in my broken and very rusty French. Vic was doing really well with her own version of Italian. Why Italian? We weren't sure either! :)

The main thing I noticed about Brussels is that it doesn't seem to care about what anyone else thinks. It might be the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe, but I think it tries to forget that. It doesn't really care. It has a small town feel even though it is a big city. The people are an ecclectic mix of races, nationailties and speak a variety of languages, yet you still feel like it is one giant friendly neighbourhood. I don't know how else to describe it.

Back to this alternate reality in London now. There are only 2 more weeks to half term and I have a week off then which will be nice. Not sure what to do yet. A few ideas are jostling about in my mind including Copenhagen, New York or Barcelona.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A bit of a sad on really...

I'm having a bit of a sad on at the moment. Had a particularly bad day on Tuesday. I have caught a very ugly snozzle bug coupled with a tummy bug and a dash of fever. Plus when you add that with Kinga changing her mind at the last minute and leaving us high & dry, not being paid for the work I have done over the past 3 weeks and being told that I have to work even though I can't stand up without having a coughing fit because I committed to it, it was not a good day. Oh and the dodgy landlord still hasn't collected his stuff or given us permission to throw it out. It tell you, only in LONDON!
Have figured out that if you want something done you have to yell, scream, jump up and down, stalk and repeatedly email. Then, if you are lucky, the person you are doing all this to might get annoyed and do what you asked them to do just to get rid of you. So far, apart from my friends and family here, the only nice people I have met are the pharmacist with cough medicine and a taxi driver who helped me with the shopping bags to our front door.
Luckily I am leaving London for the weekend to visit Brussels and go to the Museum of Chocolate so hopefully when I get back things will look better.
I did discover something really shouldn't go grocery shopping at Sainsbury's when you are high on cough medicine, ibuprofen and panadol. If you do, you might just end up finding out you came home with 6 packets of hot chocolate mixture and 3 bottles of honey, like I did!