Saturday, June 25, 2011

Canal boating and college viewing in Oxford

I still haven't seen a squirrel. I am advised they are crepuscular (love that word) so maybe I should keep watch around the hours of 10pm and 4am. Then again, maybe not.

On Wednesday I took the Oxford Tube to Oxford with two of my lovely relatives who are in the UK for a birthday and a wedding (G & J). Despite its name, the Oxford Tube is a bus that runs from London to Oxford every fifteen minutes or so. We were to meet at 9.30, but I made a series of wrong decisions about which tube line to catch and where to change, and then ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction when I finally got to the correct station, so I think I was about 45 minutes late.

After a bit of a traffic jam on the outskirts of Oxford, we drew into the bus station and met the Lady of Oxford and Canal, who took us for coffee and then back to her canal boat a few miles from Oxford. Canal boats are long and narrow and very well thought out. This one had a bath and a wood fire, and room for four people to sleep if you converted the dining table into a bed. The Lady of Oxford and Canal lives on hers all year round, and she says it's especially warm in winter (even with the snow!) because it's such a small space to heat.

We had a wonderful lunch and I sampled fennel tea, and then took the bus back into Oxford to have a look around.

There's a real sense of atmosphere in Oxford: the multitude of ancient buildings, the busy students, some having just finished exams and wearing robes, the cobblestones, the bicycles on the roads and chained to any available street railing, the colleges with cloisters where hundreds of thousands of students have lived over the past 800 years. The Lady of Oxford and Canal is an Oxford alumna, so was able to get us in to see a few of the buildings: Magdalen College (pronounced 'maudlin') with its own deer park and moat, Hertford College with its twisty tower in the Old Quad, and the Bodleian Library. One of the rooms in the Bodleian Library was used as the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies. Though we didn't get to go in, we saw the Radcliffe Camera (a huge round library building built in the 18th centrury, and nothing to do with a camera that I know of).

We'd done a fair bit of walking, so it was good to get back on the bus and be carried back to London. We had dinner at McDonalds (which does not count as going to the McDonalds I live next to, so I have now survived for a week without going to that McDonalds!), I said goodbye to G & J and took a more direct route home than that on which I'd come in the morning...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lessons I have Learned in London

  • 1.       I am ineligible to work for MI-5.
Though the lady seemed interested in me until I confessed I was not a UK citizen. I am also reasonably sure one of the MI-5 representatives was picked to entice potential employees because of his resemblance to Daniel Craig.
  • 2.       There is a good service running on all Underground lines, not a goods service.
That’s why I haven’t seen any tube trains loaded with mail or pallets of Coca-Cola.
  • 3.       A garret is specifically an attic, not any form of accommodation suited to French Bohemian poets.
See my Sydney posts. I learnt this fact at the Geffrye Museum, where they have living rooms set up for different eras from the 1630s up to the present day. It was funny to go through from the beginning, and then start to recognise styles from rooms you’ve known yourself (1870s: very flowery and overdressed, 1900: some colonial houses, 1930s: a bit like a traditional NZ bach).
  • 4.       Proper frozen stir-fry vegetables do not exist in the UK, or are at least hard to find.
I will have to buy real vegetables and cut them up. I guess it will be good for me...
  • 5.       Take an umbrella everywhere you go.
It’s nice not to be wet.
  • 6.       I do not like Mars Bar ice-creams.
  • 7.       If you want to get somewhere at a specific time, you are best on the tube. If you don’t care when you get somewhere or have semi-unlimited time, take the bus.
  • 8.       Books arrive in bookstores at much the same time as they do in New Zealand – at least, the ones I want aren’t there in the first few days after publication.
I had hoped that, seeing as I’m in a country where many books are printed, books might be on shelves on their publication dates. A futile dream, it seems, unless I want something like Harry Potter or Twilight.
  • 9.       Bank cards take an age to get.
First you get your address updated in the system (24 hours). Then you have an interview with a banking manager. Then you receive your card in the mail a few days later, and sign it. Then you receive your pin in the mail a few days after that. Then you shred all evidence of your pin. Then you change your pin, just to make sure. In NZ: go into bank. Get given card. Type in pin (twice). Sign card. Leave bank. (Experiences may differ from the above).
  • 10.   Escalators can be really, really long.
I went up and down the escalators in Angel tube station today. You get vertigo.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Flats and the British Museum

They put coriander in packaged salads here.

I've just spent the last ten minutes going through the bag and picking it all out. Luckily there wasn't that much.

In other news... I have a flat! It's very nice and warm, has two supermarkets within walking distance, a bus stop right outside and is ten minutes walk to the tube station. It is also right next to a McDonalds.

I have not yet had McDonalds.

It is actually sunny, currently, and the sun is coming through my window, which is a nice change from the downpours of the last few days. I went out to get groceries yesterday in a drizzle, and forgot to get an umbrella. That will be on the list for today. I looked for Vogel's, which I know to be available in the UK, but had to make do with generic wholemeal bread. I must go on a search, I think.

I'm also planning how to make my room my own. There's not a lot of stuff you can bring with you when you're only allowed 30kg, but I have big plans for photos and Middle-Eastern Tiffany lamps, when I can be surer of money coming in.

Last week I went to the British Museum, which was amazing. I started at the north end (after studying a map and concluding, wrongly, that was the main entrance) and saw the mummy rooms, which were packed to bursting with mummies and sarcophagi and school children (the last outside the cases, of course). They all began to blend into one another after a while, with the exception of a few Roman-style ones, some very ancient ones, and the animal mummies. I think I need to know more about them to appreciate them properly - or go with a guide who can point out all the differences and meanings behind things.

I wandered for a bit, then entered the Enlightenment gallery. This gallery is done up like an 18th century private library/museum, with glass cases and very old books along the walls. Everything is jumbled up a bit higgledy-piggledy, but this gave it a sort of charm and interest. There are loose themes in the different quarters of the gallery, and statues and display tables set about the room.

I passed through the North American exhibits and back into the grand atrium (which is extremely impressive, with a modern faceted glass roof), looked at a few maps and figured out where the Rosetta stone was: hidden behind a crowd of people in the entrance to the Greek and Roman galleries. By this time it was getting on towards 5pm, so I went straight for the Elgin marbles (from the Parthenon) and admired them. It would have been amazing to see them before people took a dislike to them and started hacking them apart, but they are still beautiful, and poignant because of what they have lost and how far they have travelled.

I think I'd like a Greek statue for my room. A real one.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Durham and Camden Markets

Soooo... Still haven't seen a squirrel. I've been told I should go and stand in a park with a handful of nuts. I might try that, when I really get desperate. I would love a pet squirrel, though apparently they're not very trainable. At the moment I suppose I can settle for an acrobatic hamster that hides under floorboards.

My lovely hostess was driving up to Durham on Monday to retrieve Indiana Jane, and I was invited along. In four hours we were most of the way to Scotland, and drawing into Durham (which is much smaller than I thought, with most of the population being students).

Durham has an amazing castle and cathedral together on a hill above the river, and most of the streets are winding and cobbled with no cars allowed. We took a walk into town and crossed a stone bridge built in 1160, then made our way up to the Norman cathedral (1080). Indiana Jane mentioned that the side aisles had been used as backdrops for the Harry Potter movies, and I took another look at them. Yes, the carvings did look very Harry Potter-ish. You can look right up into the echoing bell tower, and the ropes for the bells were hanging right there in the corner. I must admit I thought about pulling them...

Indiana Jane was great, being very knowledgable about the cathedral and other such archaeological/historical things. Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, the cathedral was covered in incredible painting, bright colours and gold leaf splashed across the walls, and icons in the alcoves. It must have looked absolutely incredible (not that it isn't incredible even now). Most of the paint and sculptures were scraped away from the stone and destroyed, which explains the gouges in the interior walls, but there's one wall below the bishop's seat that was only whitewashed. The whitewash has been stripped away, and you can see the most amazing colours and detail beneath. So much work by so many people so long ago.

We had a few minutes before the castle tour started, so Indiana Jane took me into the cloisters. She didn't warn me that these also had been used as sets in Harry Potter, so I stood stunned in the doorway for a few seconds before following her. Years ago, I'm pretty sure I spent hours flying a broomstick around this space in a Playstation game, and it was surreal to actually be there.

The castle tour was just about to start, so we went back across the green and through the castle gate. The castle is currently being used as student accomodation (imagine living there!) so we passed lots of people enjoying their freedom after exams. As we went past the great hall, there was an orchestra in it playing themes from Star Trek. Again, surreal. We saw the kitchens with the original Norman fireplaces, ancient treasure chests and horse saddles, and climbed up the Black Stairs. These were originally a flying staircase, which means that they were supported only by the tower wall inside which they spiral, but they started to sag and supports had to be added. The stairs still sag towards the middle, which makes walking up them a bit scary. I kept thinking they'd collapse beneath me.

We finished the tour in the Norman Chapel, which was dark and atmospheric and happened to contain the earliest portrayal of a mermaid in Britain.

It's incredible to think of generations of people coming through these places, sitting in services and staring about them in awe. So many memories, so many lives lived that we'll never know about.

I had a great time in Durham. This post is getting rather long. I also want to talk about the Camden markets, so hang in there.

I got the tube and was a bit worried to hear the PA system advising everyone to get out of Camden station as quickly as possible - was there a bomb? a fire? No, there were just so many people that they had to get out pretty quick so the next load of tube-crawlers could fit into the station. The escalators had all been commandeered for up-duty, and if you were leaving Camden you had to take the spiral stairs down to the platform.

I'd been expecting a market. There were multiple. Each with so many stalls you got lost wandering through them, and food everywhere and bricks and hidey-holes and soo many people. At every corner I saw something I wanted, or I wanted to get for someone else. Dresses and bags and leather-bound books and hats and t-shirts and coats and everything was so pretty or wry or just eye-popping. I am so doing my Christmas shopping here.

There seems to be a theme of giant statues. I saw giant Native Americans, giant dragons, giant robots (awesome awesome shop with flashing lights and UV and dancers on balconies) and some kind of jetfighter half-buried in a building. I'd forgotten to take my camera, but I got few shots on my phone. I am definitely coming back here, and I hope the stalls I've earmarked don't change position too much in the time I'm gone.

I got a skewer of strawberries dipped in chocolate and covered in almonds, which made passersby stop and say 'yum, did you see that?!', and watched a canal boat from the bridge over the canal. Some guys on bicycles went past, dressed in berets and white face paint and striped jerseys. Their accents were English, but one of them said 'bonjour' to a girl going past, and she said 'ohh, they're French' as if that explained everything.

I will have you know that this post is under a thousand words. Have a good week!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Organising :)

Ha ha! I have renamed all the travel posts so that you can actually see what happened on each of the days and whether you'd like to read it :)

Sydney Day 5: Sydney Tower and the move north

Aaah!!! I never posted this! Here it is incredibly late :)

My goal today was the Sydney Tower and shopping. I thought I’d do the Tower in the morning, and then have the rest of the day for window shopping.

Funny how things never go to plan.

I wanted to buy a ticket for something on Tuesday (come back on Tuesday to see what it is mwa ha), took the bus into town, then the train to Wynyard St. Still didn’t see any Matrix subway stations. The subway here is interesting – it’s mostly underground, but comes out high above ground in random places, like Circular Quay. I guess this is possible because the CBD is on a hill.

I got my ticket, walked to Circular Quay and tried to figure out how to get to Sydney Tower. I guessed the approximate station might be Central, so I caught a train there, decided I was way too far south, caught another train to Town Hall and then couldn’t figure out where the thing was. You would think it would be easier to find a giant pointy thing, but no.

By this time I was hungry, so I had lunch. I’m ashamed to say I went to Hungry Jack’s, just to see what it’s like and because it seemed very Australian. It is Burger King, with the same branding and logo as NZ-ten-years-ago, but it’s called Hungry Jack’s. The default meal size is small, which I didn’t realise, but that was fine because the burger was HUGE. I now understand why it’s called a Whopper – it never really made sense to me before.

Finally I located the Tower, on top of a very upmarket mall with such stores as Gucci and Zara. There was a motion-master ride through Australia, which was incredibly jarring but which I quite enjoyed, and then we had to go through a metal-detector before we were allowed up the tower.

The trunk of the tower is a lot smaller than Auckland’s Sky Tower, and the lifts are triangular (imagine the pieces in trivial pursuit). There aren’t any windows in the lift, which is probably good considering I got a bit of vertigo last time I went up the Sky Tower.

The observation deck has the most incredible views out to the eastern beaches, Botany Bay, the Blue Mountains, the north shore and the harbour as well as the city itself. I took a picture out every single window, which took ages because people were sitting in some of them and I wanted to do them in order.

The Angel rang at about 3pm to say she was home, and would I be able to come back as I had the key? No time for shopping then, so I missed a bus by ten seconds, waited another ten minutes for the next one and spent an interminably long time getting back to Leichhardt. Then we collected our stuff and joined a real Sydney traffic jam over the Harbour Bridge to the north shore.

At this moment there is a cat called Nelson curled up beside me who is missing his usual people but seems happy enough to adopt me. I’m happy enough to let him. The house we’re house-sitting is a great little place two minutes walk from the beach, so I’m looking forward to some good days ahead.

After I go window shopping, of course.

London days: flats, jobs and squirrels (or the lack of them)

It's difficult to figure out what order I should do things in. Flat (apartment) first, or job first? I've decided on both at the same time, because I figure it will be hard to get either so I should start as early as possible.

It's been a beautiful day here - blue skies and warm, with a little breeze. I took a long walk to drop off application forms and check in with employment agencies, got an iced coffee on the way and really enjoyed it. Aeroplanes were making patterns of jet trails across the sky (in London and its surrounds, there's always at least one jet trail in the sky), flowers were out and leaves were green. I love walking past the little old terraced houses with their tiny gardens, the shops nestled into hundred-year old buildings and the cars parked every which way. There was a bakery selling meringues so large you could use them as footballs. I must go back and get one some day. I've been looking out for squirrels (I love squirrels and haven't seen one in at least ten years), but no luck so far.

I feel I've had quite a productive day, with internet chores and real-world chores done. I'm having trouble remembering my new phone number (I memorised it wrong in the first place) so I have translated it into do-re-mi notation and I will see if I remember it better that way...