Sunday, May 29, 2011

First week London: walk along the Thames and the National Gallery. Placename dropping :)

So I’ve been in London about a week now :) It’s windy, which is surprising both to me and to the locals, and mostly cool. There was a day last week when I could wear just a t-shirt, but otherwise it’s jerseys all the way. I’m amused by the weather forecast – they don’t show cloud cover like they do in NZ, they just show rain cover. I guess if they showed cloud cover you wouldn’t be able to see the map most of the time.

I’ve finally got over jetlag – 8 hours to jump isn’t as bad as 12, but it’s still quite a bit. I have kind of figured out where north is, and now I’m into scouring the internet and the area for flats and jobs. I managed to get a simcard last week so I can phone and text people, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how to get the internet to work.

I’ve had two main expeditions into London – on the first I got off the bus at Victoria, walked along past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and across the Thames. Obama was doing things at Westminster, so there were huge numbers of police and lots of people with cameras trying to catch a glimpse. I walked right along the South Bank (though I had to detour a bit because of construction) and passed the Globe Theatre (so want to go to something there...), then cross back over at Tower Bridge. My feet were a bit sore after that.

My second expedition was down Regent St to Piccadilly Circus, and from there to Trafalgar Square where I spent a few hours in the National Gallery. I looked around the Medieval wing and saw a sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci, but I’d forgotten my glasses so everything was a bit blurry... After that I went to see the Impressionists, because I figured you didn’t need glasses for them. Disneyland Tax Girl we need to go again when you’re here and this time I will remember my glasses!!! It’s strange coming into a room and seeing paintings, the real original ones, just hanging on the wall in front of you.

There are so many things to do in London. I’ve got to get a job and a bit of money coming in so I can spend on extras... :D

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tokyo Day 3 (Saturday yes I'm slack): Malls, towers in Shinjuku, dinner & Pirates in Shibuya

We went out for breakfast at a local cafe, then took the train into Shinjuku and watched hundreds of people (I want to say thousands. There might have been thousands) cross at one of the crossings. There was a huge Pirates of the Caribbean poster along a wall of the station, so we posed in front of that and then ventured out into the crowds.

You get used to huge numbers of people. You stop being amazed and start trying to figure out where is the best part of the pavement to walk (where you’ll bump into the fewest people). Circus Girl took me to the most amazing mall that just kept going up and up and up. When I win Lotto, I’m coming back here. Many of the shop girls were dressed up as if they were on a catwalk, with huge long nails and professionally-styled hair, and they were insistently helpful. Shoe shops and clothes shops (one of which was called Sheep Dip...) and sock shops (many of these) and jewellery shops... Each seemed to have their own individual style, and I didn’t see any big chains that I knew from elsewhere.

I wanted to go up the government towers, so we left earlier than I would have liked and trekked over to the towers. Until recently they were the tallest buildings in Tokyo, and it’s free to get up to the observation deck. Halfway there I remembered about earthquakes and such and had to convince myself that the chances of a large earthquake occurring while I was in a skyscraper were minimal, and in any case Japan has very good seismic standards. When we got there, though, it seemed the tower was closed – there were signs out and the lobby was dark, and people better able to read signs than us were turning away. We took some pictures of the building from the ground and some statues instead, and walked back towards the centre to go to another karaoke place :)

We found a nice place in Shibuya for dinner, and then met Circus Girl’s friend at the cinema. The cinema is very slick and white and huge and crowded. It looked quite futuristic. We saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (in 3D and with Japanese subtitles) which I really enjoyed, and then took the train back home. It was a good night.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tokyo Day 4 (Sunday): Harajuku

I’m trying to decide if I should post things while they’re still fresh, or wait until I’m not jetlagged and can write better. I have a feeling it will be a bit of both. Sunday now, Saturday later. Just to be completely backwards.

I woke at 7.06 to an earthquake (5.5) that went on for about 30s-minute. Circus Girl's house is pretty bouncy (it bounces when trucks go past) so we bounced around for a bit and then it stopped. Breakfast was some Japanese pastries, including a sweet potato roll and some healthy healthy Japanese tea. I took a bit longer packing than I thought I would (I guess that always happens), dragged my bags through to Nippori Station and stashed them in a locker there. I didn’t have any cash left so we went on a mission to find an ATM that would take my card, which turned out to be extremely difficult.

Our aim today was to see some cosplay outfits in Harajuku. Circus Girl took me to the bridge where they normally stand, but there weren’t any there. Maybe they were scared away by the rain forecast. I found a good ATM so I could actually have money, and we found a shop that sold the most amazing cosplay outfits: anything from anime-style dresses and sparkly Las Vegas dancer get-ups to traditional kimonos and Victorian suits.

After a bit (I’m sorry!) we went to McDonalds where I got a Teriyaki McBurger and a Coke glass that was the main reason I’d wanted to go to this particular fast-food place. The burger was quite good, if a little strange, and the McDonalds was packed even at 3pm. We saw some cosplay girls there, dressed in short dresses with lots of petticoats and their hair beautifully arranged. It didn’t seem the right place for a photo though...

By the time we left the restaurant it was pouring. Circus Girl and I huddled together and joined the sea of floating umbrellas in the road. There were some impressive puddles, so we still got pretty wet. We took refuge in a few shops and made our way back to the train station, took my last Tokyo internal train back to Nippori, and said good-bye.

So that was Tokyo. I think I would have liked more time to see everything and some lotto money to shop with...

Monday, May 23, 2011


I'm here! Still no idea what time it should be, but I'm determined to stay up until at least 9 - that's when Glee finishes.

I've had two coffees and a coke so far, only an hour and a half to go so should make it...

Will write more tomorrow.

Tokyo Day 2: Senso-ji temple, Tokyo National Museum, dinner and karaoke in Shibuya

(written Saturday)

Yesterday morning I took the train and the subway to Asakusa, grabbing a red bean bun with a panda printed on it on the way. Asakusa is home to the Senso-ji temple. You enter through a huge gate on the um... one of the sides (my sense of direction doesn’t work in the northern hemisphere) and walk down a long avenue lined with stalls and filled with people. From the gate you can see the temple and the five-storey pagoda beside it, which is pretty impressive.

Lots of people were giving offerings and lighting candles to put in cabinets, and lots of people were taking photographs so I didn’t feel too out of place. I couldn’t resist a pair of chopsticks from a stall, and some kind of foodstuff that I still don’t know the name of, but it had Japanese peach paste inside.

From Asakusa I took the subway back to Ueno, which is famous for its gardens and museums. The gardens are beautiful, with vistas aching for photos. I took many. There’s a statue of a man walking his dog, more temples and shrines, and hundreds of cherry blossom trees, though the cherry blossom season is well past.

There are many museums in the park, but I went to the Tokyo National Museum (I think. It’s now Monday and I can’t be sure. It was a National Museum, anyway), which has five buildings of different ages and architectural styles. I visited the main one, where the exhibits are all Japanese cultural artefacts, and spent a good few hours standing in awe before ancient statues, 8th century samurai swords, beaten metal mirrors, calligraphy, silk paintings, samurai armour, kimono and pottery. They had a station set up where you could stamp your own samurai picture with different coloured stamps, layering them into a complete picture, so I did one of those.

I was meeting Circus Girl in Shibuya later, so I caught a train just before rush hour and stared out the window at all the buildings. So, so many buildings. I’d thought Tokyo would be all high-rise apartments, but most of the buildings you see are two-storey detached houses, squeezed in together with less than a metre between them. In the old days, fire used to break out periodically in Tokyo (formerly Edo), and these were called the Flowers of Edo. Tokyo’s built upon the ashes of all those fires. Hopefully nothing catches hold nowadays...

We roved the streets of Shibuya looking for good restaurants and karaoke places. Normally Shibuya is ablaze with neon lights, but they’re saving power because of the earthquake and subsequent troubles, so at least half of them were off. It was still a pretty impressive sight.

The restaurant we chose in the end had no non-smoking area, but it did have little screened booths, you could order by wireless touch screen and everything was 270 yen (about NZ$4). So many people smoke here, and as Circus Girl pointed out, mostly the best seats in restaurants are in the smoking areas. Our booth wasn’t too smoky, however, so it was fine in the end.

There were seven of us, and we each ordered some things and shared them. I had sake, which actually wasn’t too strong, and teriyaki chicken, octopus balls (balls with octopus in them), edamame (soy beans), sprouts, pizza (I didn’t order that, I swear), crispy chicken cartilage (better than it sounds) and raw fish. Yum.

Then we retreated to karaoke, Japan style, where you sit in a room with your friends and use a remote to pick songs. We only had an hour and half there, which wasn’t really enough, but we had to go to catch the last train. The train was a sardine train, with people running at the doors and pushing their way in even when you thought no-one else could make it. I wonder why they don’t run trains all night...

Abu Dhabi: The Stopover

Haha! An airport that does free internet, rather than just free wireless!!! I am in Abu Dhabi, and it is 4.30 in the morning. I’m sitting by Gate 32 (my gate is Gate 29, but I went exploring and then stopped when I realised all the travelators were going away from my gate and it was going to take a while to get back) in the strong air conditioning and wondering whether I ought to sleep or not.

The flight was good – I got a window seat, though there wasn’t much to see, and watched I am Number Four. I couldn’t get a window seat on the Abu Dhabi to London leg, but it’s okay because THEY HAVE A PLANE NOSE CAMERA. Why have they never thought of this before? (Maybe they have, and I’ve just never been on a plane with one.) There is a highly limited supply of window seats on big planes, and if you don’t get one you have to sit and imagine the views going past below. But with a nose cam, you can see AND you can sit in an aisle seat where you can get out easily! Genius!

As we came in I saw some misty lights crossing in the darkness below, and my immediate thought was camels with lanterns, passing in the night (has anyone read that story about camels with traffic lights around their necks?). I guess they were cars, though.

I’m also happy because I guessed where north was, checked Google Earth to see if I was correct and I was, within about 20 degrees. And it’s dark, so no help from the sun. Maybe my sense of direction will come back to me.

There were no air bridges, so we got a bus to the terminal, standing room only. At 3am it was 29 degrees and humid, which I was glad of because the plane was very dry. I followed the crowd into the terminal and along for a while, following the signs (I thought) but after about ten minutes of walking I realised we were going to Terminal 1, and my gate is at Terminal 3. So I had to backtrack. I’m allowed a few mistakes at 3.30am. Or 11.30pm. Or 9.30am.

I really have no idea what time it is.

More Tokyo stuff soon – I’ve got to write it first :D

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tokyo Day 1 (second half): Imperial Gardens and mall

...I lugged my suitcase onto the train and sat in a corner (which probably wasn’t the best thing to do, considering the number of people that later got on), nearly missed my stop but rushed out just in time. They play happy music to tell you how long the doors will be open for – I guess it gets a bit annoying after a while.

After an iced tea and a muffin I had to ask for scissors to get out of its packaging, I shoved my suitcase in a locker and wandered out of the station with no real direction in mind. Within ten minutes I had avoided a camera crew, gone into a bamboo shop and been presented with a free pen and small chipmunk toy, and bought a dangly phone thing. I hurried back to the station, scared that if I went into any more shops my supply of money would rapidly decline along with the space in my suitcase.

I took a train into Tokyo Station and walked the streets. It’s incredibly quiet for a city, with no buzzers or songs for the lights, just the low hum of traffic. At one point I heard a bird chirping, but it may have been a traffic signal. I walked around the walls of the Imperial Palace for a while taking pictures, and then ventured into the East Gardens of the Palace. Amazing old walls and guard houses and beautiful trees. I bought the most highly-packaged ice-cream I have ever seen (which was actually quite good) and went in search of a department store near Tokyo Station.

I found Daimaru (I think...), which is absolutely gigantic and has the entire ground floor devoted to specialty food items: the largest array of incredibly coloured and presented food I’ve ever seen. I took the escalators up and up and up and found the kimono department, and the sparkly stickers-on-things department, and the beautiful boxes department. One of the boxes was made of paua.

I met my friend Circus Girl at the station where I’d left my suitcase, and we hauled my bags down little alleys to her house. The entire suburb seems to be made of little alleys. We went to dinner at a restaurant near the station, and ordered karaage chicken, Caesar salad, tofu and shrimp rolls, red beans and green tea ice-cream. They also came out with free appetisers in little dishes, which were very nice.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tokyo Day 1 (half of): flight and train to Tokyo

Tokyo! I haven’t seen much of it yet because the airport is 60km from the city and I’m now waiting at an underground station for the cheap slow train (I figure I’ll be able to see more anyway if I go slow). I managed to snatch bits of sleep on the plane, in between eating teriyaki chicken and scrambled eggs and melon and watching Tangled in short gasps (enjoyable) and taking pictures of the sun as it rose at 4.30am. I think I’ve had enough sleep, though I really can’t be sure.

There weren’t many people on the plane – about one to every three seats – so I was able to spread out a bit and have two pillows. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of turbulence (e.g. 280km/hr cross-winds) so I couldn’t really take my seatbelt off. I was on the side of the plane that saw the sunrise (even if the wing was in the way of the actual sun), but didn’t get to see Tokyo or Mt Fuji as we flew in.

It seems warm here – hooray after Sydney being cold. I’m determined to use the few Japanese phrases I know as much as possible, and I’m enjoying listening to the Japanese announcements. I can’t figure out how to use the internet at the airport, so this will be sent later...

It’s now later and I did more today, but I shall tell you about it tomorrow :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sydney Days 8, 9, 10 and 11 (Sun, Mon, Tues, Wed): Palm Beach, Darling Harbour, Writer's Festival, ferries and pancakes

Back again.... I’m in the airport waiting for my flight to Tokyo, so I have a bit of time to write. Whew...
I’ll try and do a quick rundown of my life since Saturday. It may not be as quick as I’m hoping... as you may guess.

Sunday morning we had a great brunch at a cafe on the waterfront, then went back to the bach and lay in the garden in the sun and read most of the day. We had been planning to go for a walk around the headland, but didn’t get around to that because our books were too interesting.... and the sun was too beautiful to pass up reading in the garden. After a few hours I worried I’d be sunburnt, but the sun’s not too harsh and I was fine.
We had pizza for dinner from a place that’s set up a bit like Subway – you order your pizza, and then they assemble it in front of you. We got Mediterranean lamb and vegetables. I guess you could probably have a do-it-yourself one by pointing out what you want. It was good – probably one of the healthier pizzas I’ve eaten.

On Monday we drove up to Palm Beach, where they film Home and Away, and took lots of photos of the beach and the pier and the “Summer Bay Surf Life-Saving Club”. We wandered past some people doing a professional photo shoot, and thought it might be promotion photos for Home and Away. More French people at the kiosk where we got ice-creams... they’re everywhere!!!

I didn’t remember about togs/swimsuit until we were almost at the beach, and it was probably a bit cold for swimming anyway. Instead we lay on the sand and read in the sun, but there was a good breeze coming off the sea and in the end we retreated to the car, shivering.

I met my friend Girl Who Knows Her Chocolate Shops (name will become clear) for dinner. We found a place on Darling Harbour that was good, and sat on the balcony near the water and watched the lights twinkle. I hadn’t been to Darling Harbour before (I think. The Hopeful Gardener may correct me), so we took a stroll around the edge and admired everything. Later we got hot chocolates at a cafe, which were beautiful, and GWKHCS recommended some other chocolate boutiques.

Tuesday! Wow, I’m powering through this. On Tuesday I caught the bus into town early and went to the Secondary Schools Day at the Sydney Writer’s Festival :D I’d booked tickets last week, and was assured that you didn’t have to be a secondary student to attend, but I went in high school camouflage anyway and didn’t mention my age to anyone.

There were four speakers, who were all very entertaining: Michael Pryor, who spoke of the public park near his house that is infested with knights in shining armour and ninjas in trees, Belinda Jeffrey, who spoke of floods and giving birth and Albert Einstein, Cassandra Clare, who spoke of driving people around in the boot of her car, and Bernard Beckett, who spoke of burning down schools and free will. Their books were all set up in a lovely display in the foyer, and I really felt the 700g left in my suitcase before it becomes excess baggage. I didn’t buy any, but I’m going to see if they have e-books. Or real books in the UK...

I got some Cassandra Clare books signed for The Angel’s friend, snuck my notebook in to be signed as well and got a picture with her too! Be jealous, those who know who I’m talking about :D

I still hadn’t taken a ferry anywhere, so I picked a wharf at random and took the first ferry that came. It dropped me off at Garden Island, where they first tried to grow crops for ships in 1788, and which is now a naval base. There’s a rock where some people carved their initials in 1788 (the oldest evidence of European presence in Australia), and a huge tank I thought was a water reservoir, but actually turned out to be filled with oil!

I had time to venture into the Sydney Apple Store before heading home – it’s all very slick, and I love the staircase, which is a shaft with spotlights at the bottom and a sheet of light at the top, and two flights of frosted glass stairs. I went back and took a picture today, so I might post it later.

Dinner was a $10 steak special at a cafe on the beach front, which was very, very good. I took some long exposure shots of the waves and the moon above and wished I wasn’t leaving so soon...

Now for Wednesday. I tried to meet Fifties Film Star at Pancakes on the Rocks, but Google Maps is at times terrible and sent me to the wrong side of the Harbour Bridge. I did a lot of aimless, frantic wandering (yes, I’m sure those words can go together), stared at the cafe that was number 8, the brick wall extending into the distance beside it, and wondered where number 4 could possibly be. A man at Sydney Theatre pointed me in the right direction, and I was only 20 minutes late... and rather tired from running up steps.

My Bavarian apple pancakes were great, and too much to eat. We walked through the city and took a look at Myers department store, which has at least seven floors, and browsed a few shops. Then I had to bus back to Dee Why Beach, which involved a spot of bus surfing because there were so many people on the bus, and get my suitcase to drive out to the airport.

The Angel got us there with no help from the GPS. She took us through the Harbour Tunnel (which I was very excited about) and craftily drove a back way to the international airport. She really is an Angel :D

The lady at the check-in desk scared me when she asked if I had a visa for Japan, but I don’t need one if I’m staying for less than 90 days. Whew. I went through customs and security, was asked if I was Swedish, and now I’m sitting in a comfy chair with free wifi listening to the bing-bongs of final calls.

I really hope I can sleep on the plane. Next stop, Tokyo!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sydney Day 7 (Saturday): Night out in Manly

Hello everybody! I thought I’d post the rest of Saturday now (so you know I’m still alive :P ). Sunday's post will be coming... I have to catch a bus into town soon, and I don’t know how long it will take at this time of day (by the way the buses are mostly amazing, coming pretty regularly and going up to 40km away – all of which I can get to on my $41/week bus ticket).

We went out to Manly Saturday night and had a great night dancing, after standing for an hour and a half in the freezing cold waiting for a taxi (we had, quite understandably, assumed that if we combined the street number on the gate and the street sign at the corner of the road, we would get our address. We were wrong). We happened across a club where Dragon was playing, and caught the last of their act including Are You Old Enough. We didn’t get to hear April Sun in Cuba though, which would have been awesome. I practised my Aussie accent, and heard a few more French people. They’re everywhere! As are the Kiwis...

Our taxi driver home was very nice and played Indian dance music all the way (with our permission).

My shortest post yet!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sydney Day 6: The Rocks Museum, Paddy's Markets and sunrise

I’m sitting in the sun in a bach near the beach with a cat. Ahhhhh.

Though the cat’s kind of needy. Follows you EVERYWHERE.

I caught the bus into town yesterday, which involved picking a random bus stop and asking the lovely old lady sitting there if this was the bus stop into town. She said no, I had to change buses at the main road. At the main road, unfortunately, there was a looong line for the bus (at 10am too!) so I didn’t get the first bus even though it was a long bendy one. That was all right, though, because I got a seat on the next one and was able to see out the window.

We had to wait for a drawbridge to let two boats through, which was exciting even though I couldn’t see that much, and then I got into town.

I’d been meaning to go to the Rocks markets, so I walked up through them. They were mostly food markets yesterday and they smelled amazing, with meatballs and Turkish somethings and sushi and cupcakes. I ventured on to the Rocks Discovery Museum and spent a good few hours looking at all the old things and reading the history. The curator gave a talk on the history of the police in the Rocks, which was very interesting – when the police first started, the only people they had to recruit were convicts so the police were convicts themselves.

The food stalls were still there and still smelled amazing when I emerged.

I ate my lettuce and cheese sandwich.

And then I bought a Mini Monet cookies and cream cupcake, which was very cute with pointy icing. I should have taken a photo.

Next stop on my itinerary were Paddy’s Markets at Haymarket. I took the train and walked into the huge building, with its hundreds of stalls and the largest fans I’ve ever seen turning slowly above. I have to say I’m terrible at shopping – I spend an age staring at everything, trying to decide if I should get anything and, if so, which thing I should get. I needed sunglasses, though, so I got a nice pair of those, and pondered whether I should get a necklace watch or not, but none of them were exactly right (ooh! Ooh! I should make one!!!! Hmmm how would I do that...).

A lot of the stuff you can get in virtually any market in any large city in the world. That depressed me a bit. I’d quite like to get something uniquely Australian, but I don’t want a boomerang or a didgeridoo (I have one of each already) or an obvious Sydney/Australia T-shirt (would I actually wear it? Being Australian and all... :P). Still looking to find the perfect souvenir...

The sun was moving through the sky way too fast. I moved on to the PINK jewellery shop, which is entirely pink if you hadn’t guessed, and quite shocking when you go past in the bus. There I spent and interminable time looking at all the jewellery before deciding on a pretty bird necklace. Maybe you need souvenirs to remind you of particular memories – not generic stuff. That’s what the word souvenir means, anyway – to remember.

Which brings me to another thing: half the people in Sydney are speaking French! Maybe there’s a French cruise ship in or something, but it confuses me. Why are there so many French people? I also heard a guy speaking Hebrew on the bus, and lots of what I think is Italian and Chinese, but I didn’t know there was a large French population.

No time for anything else (even though I wanted to trawl the malls), so I set out on expedition to find the bus. I’m determined not to use a map, so I got a bit lost but found my stop in the end. Then it was just a long bus trip and a short walk back here, where we had insanely expensive fish and chips and tried to get the DVD player to work.

No luck. We were tired anyway.

And now.... this morning! (One and a half posts in one!) I dragged The Angel up to watch the sun rise from the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Then I talked to the One Who Speaks Russian on Skype (she deigned to speak English, thank goodness). Otherwise, not much happening so far :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sydney Day 4: Bondi to Coogee walk + pics

Last night was my last night at The Angel’s actual house, because we are house-sitting today on the North Shore. It’s a bit sad, really – I quite like her suburb, Leichhart. It has a strong Italian community, with lots of Italian shops and restaurants. Even going to the supermarket is an experience, with all the speciality Italian food. I love the houses, which are small and cute and set close together with their own little gardens, and I have a sneaking feeling that this suburb is where Looking for Alibrandi is set.

The bus trip into town goes past lots and lots of bridal shops. And I mean lots. I think I’ve decided on my wedding dress – it will be beaded in an asymmetrical pattern and corseted. It will have a flowing skirt and be in ivory or cream with black, gold, pink or blue accents. There’s a hot pink dress I quite like, but I think that might be a bit much.

Yesterday (after going past a street where every second car was a Porsche – literally – there were at least 5 of them) I got off at the Town Hall and descended underground to the trains (yay!). I haven’t been on an Underground for at least 8 years (possibly 12), so I was quite excited to go down the stairs through the layers of trains to my platform. I was just in time for a train, so I got on and sat in the top of the double-decker train.

Once in a subway train, there’s not much to see. I considered taking a picture of the black tunnel out the window, but thought it would be a bit pointless and mark me out as a tourist. Then I remembered that The Matrix was filmed in Sydney, so spent the rest of the trip staring into the stations in the hope I’d see a set I recognised. No such luck.

I got off at Bondi Junction and switched to a bus to Bondi Beach. Main Bondi (which has a huge mall I didn’t venture into) is actually quite a way from the Beach, and I was glad I’d decided not to walk it. It was a cold day, and I was wearing two t-shirts and my beanie and my hoodie and my winter rain jacket, but luckily it didn’t rain.

I got some churros (Spanish doughnuts) and a mocha at a cafe called San Churro. Amazingly, I’d come on free-coffee Wednesday, so I only had to pay for the churros. I sat outside and watched the surfers while I dipped my churros in melted dark chocolate and drank my mocha. I have to say that the mocha was the best mocha I’ve ever had (even though after the first mouthful I couldn’t really taste the coffee). For a good mocha, find a place where they put real chocolate in it.

There were three very long churros. By the time I’d finished them I felt a bit sick, so I went in search of mandarins and took lots of pictures of the awesome mosaic benches. Once mandarinned, I started the 6km walk from Bondi to Coogee.

The cliffs along the walk are spectacular, with the waves pounding at their bases, water seeping from above and shapes hollowed by erosion. I took lots and lots of pictures until my camera started flashing the red low battery symbol and I decided to use it more sparingly. Girl of 1000 pics/day, you would be proud of me (you know who you are!!!).

Highlights of the walk were when a bird called me a liar and flew off, watching the surfers and the swells breaking on the shore and going out onto the rocks when the barrier allowed you to (it did that a lot).

Something that amazed me (in a good way) was the number of houses and buildings – all over Sydney really. I come from a country about the size of the UK, but with only four million people. You can get out to wilderness pretty quickly from the city, and I guess that’s what draws the tourists. Here was six kilometres of wilderness with houses all the way along, and (mostly) proper barriers and signs and steps carved into rock, and people walking and running all the way along it. Some of the houses have been there a hundred years, some were being constructed as I walked past.
The beaches are a bit dangerous....

I tried to take the bus back to town, but misjudged the stop and ended up going through town and out over the Anzac Bridge. That was fine though – I took pictures. I bussed back and wandered through some of the underground malls (marking them out for an expedition today), then took the bus back to Leichhart. I could barely keep my eyes open to see the wedding dresses.

Sooo tired. Went to bed at 9.30, didn’t get up until 8. My goal of leaving before 9 is not looking good.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sydney Day um... 3? Museum of Contemporary Art

Had a bit of a down-day yesterday, by which I mean I spent quite a bit of time at the public library catching up on internet stuff (the library has swastika tiling at the main door. Probably from before swastikas had negative connotations...), then had a vegemite sandwich and blackberry straps on Circular Quay, then went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, then cooked dinner and watched The King’s Speech and Love and Other Drugs (both very good movies). I feel I should have done more, but it’s probably good to have a down-day. I woke at 6.20 this morning to make up for it :D

There was an exhibition by NZ artist Michael Stevenson on the first two floors of the museum, which was based on the twin events of the 1987 stock market collapse and the artist Jorg Immendorf’s visit to NZ. There was a broken wall of gold bricks, an aquatic apparatus meant to show financial flows, and amazing charcoal renderings of newspapers and photos. The entire exhibition gave a general sense of impermanence and shakiness, and the fact that you never know what will happen tomorrow.

A masterful part of this was making you take the stairs to the second floor, then the freight lift back to a hidden area of the first floor. The freight lift was gigantic, with 5 metre tall doors and a 3m x 8m space inside. I spent an age waiting for it, hearing it banging and clanking its way towards me, and when the doors shuddered open I stood staring at it. The attendant had to come over and assure me it was perfectly safe, and you were supposed to use it.

So I got in. The doors closed. I stood in the corner at an angle so I could see as much of the space as possible, and hugged my backpack to me. The lift jerked and crashed a bit, and then I was moving very smoothly down. You feel cut off from everything, with no way to know what’s happening outside or when you’ll get to the bottom, and the space is so huge it makes you feel pretty insignificant (another Everything-in-Sydney-is-Huge example!!). Then the lift banged again and shuddered a bit, and the doors took waaay too long to open.

When I’d been round the bottom part of the exhibition, I had to go back up in it.

The third floor was closed for renovations, but the fourth floor was open. My favourite piece there was a set of cars made from melted-down crayon. They’d been driven all over this track and onto the wall, and they left crayon tracks behind them. There were also some beautiful organza hangings with embroidery, and a set of neon lights with matching paintings. I should probably have noted down the artists’ names...

Some American tourists asked me to take a picture of them on Circular Quay, and then I caught the bus back and cooked cottage pie.

Ah ha! Under500words.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sydney Day 2: Ballet at the Sydney Opera House and pictures

I’m sitting in Sydney’s Custom House Library (which seems more like an architectural feature than a library – they have fewer young adult books than Auckland’s main library – horror! But it’s a nice architectural feature) hoping the free internet will work and that I’ll be able to post this. If you’re reading this, I must have figured out how to use it.

Our plan yesterday was to go out to Bondi, but we didn’t actually make it. The Angel has been trying to switch her NZ driver’s licence for an Aussie one, but was having difficulty with a lack of instructions and silly desk people at the transport authority, and has to go back some time this week. While she was doing that, I walked to the Opera House and booked some tickets for the Australian Ballet (yay!!!!!). I had a voucher, but the voucher was only useful in November, but it was okay because we got under-27 prices anyway. I had another voucher for buy-one-get-one-free burritos, so we had those for a very late lunch. They were interesting.

The ballet was a trio billed as ‘British Liaisons’, and included Checkmate from 1937, Concerto from 1966 (?) and After the Rain from 2005. After lunch we bussed back home to get ready, took lots of photos and went back into town in our finery. I had trouble finding finery because I haven’t got that much in my suitcase, and I didn’t think Sydney would be cold (IT IS COLD!), but with a bit of creativity I was both well-dressed AND warm.

The classic image of the Opera House is the outside – I never really thought much about the fact that they have concerts there too. They do – over 2500 performances a year, which I thought a rather fantastic number until I realised they have the Concert Hall and the Opera Theatre and some other theatres as well, which makes sense considering the number of shells. We were early, so we stood in the foyer admiring the architecture and drinking Semillon which I’d ordered in a combination French-Australian accent. My accent is going screwy.

We should probably have had dinner before leaving, but we weren’t sure how to fit it in, so we took a box of Maltesers in with us. We had great seats on the balcony and there weren’t any tall people in front of us. The orchestra was in a pit that went all the way under the stage, which I thought was a great idea because they weren’t all squashed in, and the conductor was a woman. I think she’s the first female orchestra conductor I’ve seen. You can see the shape of the shell from inside the theatre, and it’s a lovely space.

Checkmate was first. It tells the story of a chess board, red against black. One of the red knights falls in love with the Black Queen, and hesitates to kill her at a vital move. She then takes his sword, kills him, and goes for the old Red King (she was entirely evil). Wonderful dancing, gorgeous thirties-style costumes and great music. The Castles came on carrying dumbbells, which garnered some titters from the audience. We were a bit confused by the Knights’ Heil-Hitler salutes near the beginning, but possibly that was seen as a loyal, Knight-worthy thing to do when the ballet was choreographed in 1937. The Angel pronounced Checkmate her favourite.

Next was After the Rain, which started with three pairs of dancers doing pas de deux (I think) in grey costumes, which was followed by a lone pair. It was absolutely beautiful and was my favourite of the three. At times it seemed as if the woman was floating through the air, and the movements were all so fluid yet controlled. The dancers got loud applause.

Concerto was the final piece, and I think it involved the entire company. The women were dressed in short, brightly coloured dresses and white tights, which I thought was very sixties, and the men in matching skin-tight leotard/tight things. Lots of movement in concert, and quite a bit of humour in the choreography.

We’d both like to go again, but I’m not sure my budget stretches that far...

And... finally... PICTURES!

Sydney Opera House at sunset

St Mary's Cathedral

An example of the Everything-In-Sydney-Is-Huge phenomenon. Note the size of the basins vs. the window.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sydney, Day 1: St Mary's, Art Gallery, Botanic Gardens, Opera House, Pizza in The Rocks

Woke at 8am Sydney time. Hurrah! The Angel works Tuesday-Saturday so today is like her Sunday, therefore waking at 8am is acceptable. Anyway...

I had an awesome day yesterday. First we went for brunch at a nice cafe: I was attracted by the ricotta hotcakes, but in the end decided on the steak sandwich. Though the food took a while to come, it was very good when it did come, especially The Angel’s risotto.

Next we took the bus into the city and wandered down some streets in the general direction of the Botanic Gardens. I was struck by the scale of everything; I felt a bit like I’d been shrunk when crossing the roads or walking beneath the shop verandas or looking up at the buildings. We were distracted on the way, first by the ANZAC memorial, then by St Mary’s Cathedral and then by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

St Mary’s is magnificent, with beautiful stained glass windows and stone carvings, soaring wooden beams and well-worked paintings. The light glowed gold from high amber windows. There were windows into a dark passageway above the main church, and I wondered what it would be like up there, and who would use it.

I very much enjoyed the art gallery. In an inner foyer a violin/guitar/voice trio was playing These Boots are Made for Walking in French while two little kids drew as fast as they could on easels – they had until the end of the song to finish their drawings, and then the next volunteers would have a turn. We went into the wing with oil paintings from the 15th-19th centuries and spent at least an hour admiring the works. There was a beautiful one of a woman in a dark salon rethinking her fit of pique, and I was particularly struck by the play of firelight across her dress. I can’t remember the name of it, or the painter, but I might go back and check (it’s FREE!).

Next we went into the wing of 20th century Australian art, which I think was spoiled by going into the 15th-19th century wing first. Many of the painters in this wing were trying to make statements and (in our uneducated opinions) might have been trying out different techniques just to be different. Art critics shoot me now. We liked the more modern, fully abstract artworks better. A set of rooms had found-object and audio-visual works, which were interesting: one involved Ken in a finned American car with his hair blown back by a fan, and a video showing (live) classic film shots of Ken and the car. The tv on another looked like it showed the view out a plane window (random aside as I write: I can hear a FROG!), but it was actually the wing off a toy aeroplane, with a disc of crinkly plastic turning in behind. Quite cool.

And then, just as the sun was drawing towards the horizon, we got to the Botanic Gardens. Lots of beautiful trees and lots and lots of bats – in places it smelt a bit like a zoo. We came out by the harbour and The Angel pointed out a fort on an island that was too small to be used, because if you fired a cannon it rolled back so forcefully that only a few people could be on the island, and they had to be at the other end of it.

We walked around the harbour to the Opera House, and I took lots and lots of photos. As we got to the Opera House the sun was going down, so I took some photos on Sunset Mode (I wonder what settings Sunset Mode uses?). There are lots of nice (expensive) shops along Circular Quay, including a Guylian restaurant where they serve $8 hot chocolate.

We were aiming for the hotel where my Arty Aunty is staying, and walked through a bit of the Rocks and under the Harbour Bridge to get there. I decided I would take no more photos because I had lots and it was getting dark, but kept seeing things that needed to be recorded for posterity. So I recorded them.

We felt a bit underdressed in the hotel foyer, but Arty Aunty came to save us and took us out to dinner at a proper Italian pizzeria in the Rocks. It was lovely to see her, and put off the goodbye hug just a bit longer. The pizza was great, the conversation scintillating (I really just wanted to use that word) and my rich Italian hot chocolate amazing. Was sad to say goodbye.

I was thinking of limiting my posts to 500 words. I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Have a great day everyone!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sydney, Day 0.5: flight to Sydney and settling in

Aaand... I am in Sydney!

It’s amazing how you can go through a (mostly generic) airport waiting area, get on a plane, come out through a (mostly generic) airport waiting area, and be in a completely different place. It didn’t really hit me that I had changed cities until I was walking towards customs and there was the Sydney skyline through the window, looking like a postcard but REAL. And then there was the bus trip into the city (no trains because of track work, but the buses were therefore FREE) and staring out the window (trying not to look too much like a tourist even though, yes, I am on an airport bus) at the cute buildings that I shall call garrets because that’s the word that springs to mind. Little terraces with awesome wrought iron balconies. And going past Mt Carmel and being reminded of Looking for Alibrandi (is Mt Carmel in there? Can’t remember) and all the streets and people and old heritage buildings (i.e. those that are more than one hundred years old) and then the towers and EVERYTHING.

Right. Breathe. I’ll try to go in chronological order.  I apologise for long sentences , capital letters and parentheses. Yes, I know this will be long. I won’t come after you with a pitchfork if you don’t read all of it :)

Lots of my family came to see me off at the airport, including my four-year-old cousin who had to leave early to play his FIRST EVER GAME OF SOCCER (awww). Thank you all for coming, and for all the texts and calls! I’ll miss you! You must come over and visit me :D   I did the electronic passport control, where it reads your passport, face-recognises you and takes a picture when you go through the gate. Very Minority Report.

I was in the back row of the plane, and my TV was showing The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest when I sat down (I think the flight attendant was watching it). No window seat, unfortunately, and even the windows closest to me were curtained off for the flight attendants. There was a nice German girl sitting next to me, however, so we talked while we waited to take off and I tried not to watch the movie (I hadn’t seen it and it was halfway through).

In the end I did watch the last half of it and the first quarter (in that order – it’s okay, I’ve read the book) mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to use the remote properly until halfway through the flight. We had fish for lunch, and then (it seemed like just a few minutes later) we’d touched down in Sydney. My phone welcomed me to Oz when I turned it on, and I winced as text messages came through. I can’t remember how much it costs when I receive them, but most were (hopefully free ones) from Vodafone, so I don’t think my credit has gone down that much.

I met my friend The Angel at Central Station. My suitcase-I-found-on-the-side-of-the-road is holding up okay, though I think the dragging handle may not last much longer. I bought a weekly public transport ticket and we bussed back to The Angel’s house (with more garrets! Possibly the same ones... I have no idea where we were). So good to be free of the suitcase... The Angel found out I hadn’t seen Despicable Me, so we got that out of the video store, had beef and vege noodles for dinner and then watched movies and ate mussels and chips. Yum. We also saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Punk Lawyer Girl must watch it if she hasn’t already, also possibly Disneyland Tax Girl though you may think it’s weird. But it is awesome).

Despite my attempt to adjust immediately to the time difference, I woke at 5.55am Sydney time. I will try harder tomorrow.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dawn.... Why am I awake at dawn?

It's a quarter to seven. I've been awake since six, so in total I've had five and a half hours sleep.
Possible reasons for inability to get back to sleep: there's a tui chortling away outside in the mistaken belief that it's full morning, or the cat also believes it's morning, or maybe it's because I leave NZ in six hours and counting... (aahhh!!!).

I was going to have all my packing done by Thursday, but that didn't happen. I came back last night after a lovely dinner with my family (thank you!) to a bed with detritus piled on top of it, a suitcase with a mystery weight (our scales have decided to stop working consistently) and various open boxes. As of 6.55am, I am pretty much packed, though I don't think my parents will be fans of my packing of boxes to be left behind. I'm hoping to have three boxes sent over by ship - it started out one box but has increased to three-and-various-extra-bags-that-will-have-to-fit-in-thank-you-Mum. This is mainly because I decided to take the vast majority of my books, after previously deciding I will live entirely off my e-reader (next job this morning: take out some books so other things fit...).

I had Punk Lawyer Girl and The One who Speaks Russian on Skype as I packed last night, which was awesome and saved my sanity, and Brother Ecl hovered and asked for work while I waved my arms and jumped up and down (tell me if you want your codenames changed!!! I shall be using codenames :D).

At 12.15am someone decided to let off fireworks for an unknown reason. Dad and I went out onto the deck to watch them. They were professional ones with starbursts and everything, and pretty through the trees.

I should get up and have breakfast and repack boxes.

I do hope tornado weather is over and there won't be any surprises at the airport...

One Day To Go... + itinerary

I feel a bit like I'm clawing at every last day. Every morning this week I've woken up and double-checked the date: Wednesday (two whole days in NZ to go), Thursday (one whole day in NZ to go), Friday (this is it omg I still have soooo much to do and probably shouldn't spend time blogging...). I am currently waiting for an ID photo to print, so I have a few seconds.

My itinerary (more detail is available for those who ask!!!)

Leave NZ Saturday 7 May
Arrive Sydney 7 May
Leave Sydney 18 May
Arrive Tokyo 19 May
Leave Tokyo 22 May
Arrive London 23 May