Monday, December 31, 2012

Buses and Amsterdam, Day 1

I left for the bus station early-ish on Saturday morning, and noticed for the first time the canal and lock not two minutes walk from my hostel. It was a lock exactly like Amélie skips stoned over in Amélie, but there was no time to stop as I wanted to get to the bus station and have time left over for grocery shopping, because I wasn't sure if the Netherlands would be like many other European countries and have no shops open on Sundays. It took a while to find the bus station, though, and then two queues (one unnecessary) and some frustrated moments later it was time to get on the bus and no sign of a grocery store. They really need more signs - I could read the ones in French, and they still didn't help me much.

In any case, soon we were speeding along the French motorways and on into Belgium. We stopped for a bit in the shiny-building district of Brussels, which wasn't very inspiring apart from some very long curved park benches (I'm sure Brussels is very lovely in other parts), and then continued into the Netherlands and to Amsterdam. I managed to catch a tram to my hostel where the One Who Speaks Russian was waiting, and collapsed into bed. It's funny how travelling can make you tired.

This morning we had a few objectives: sleep in, get Dutch fries and go on the free walking tour of Amsterdam. The first objective obtained, we followed the tram tracks to the centre of town and found ourselves some frites at a Dutch fast food chain where most of the food comes out of pseudo-vending machines. There's a bank of them along one wall that keep getting refilled, and you put your money in, open the door and take your cheeseburger/sausage etc. etc. The frites didn't come in the vending machine boxes, unfortunately, but they were still good with the special Dutch mayonnaise that is much, much better than ordinary mayonnaise.

We found the tour guide and were finally accepted onto the tour (apparently tour guides get arrested if there are more than 40 people in their group, and they had way more people than expected), and started on our grand tour around Amsterdam. Old Amsterdam is very walkable, and cars are definitely not the main mode of transport. You're much, much more likely to get hit by a bike (they're everywhere, and going pretty fast) than anything else, and there were a few near misses.

The main square in Amsterdam has the Royal Palace along one side, though the palace is royal in name only and the royals were never allowed to live there (Amsterdammers are very independent people and wouldn't allow the royal family in). Amsterdam is one of the youngest cities in Europe, with people coming together to live here less than a thousand years ago, drawing their city out of the marshes and almost encircling it with canals over the centuries. There are lots of pretty views along the canals from the bridges, and I love the narrow houses with their pulley systems for hauling goods up into attics. The narrow houses come from placing a tax on house width, because if you have narrower houses you can fit more along the canals, and so have more merchants living in your city.

We walked through the red light district, where there are actual red lights along all its little alleys and workers in full-length windows. One wasn't paying that much attention to the people walking past - she was texting. In the middle of the red light district is the oldest church in Amsterdam, where sailors would come to say confession after their night's activities, or sometimes before if time was short (this cost more). Apparently it got so there was a price list at the confessional, and then the Reformation came down hard. For a while Catholicism was banned in the city, which meant that attic churches sprang up where Catholics could go to pray. This is where the Amsterdam 'looking through the fingers' policy came into play - people knew these churches were there but they were tolerated because they were quiet, weren't hurting anyone, and it was good for business to have more people (i.e. Catholics) in town.

We visited the headquarters of the Dutch East India Trading Company, where modern capitalism started, and saw the former Jewish quarter. Amsterdam's Jews were not lucky in escaping the Holocaust, and during the harsh winter of 1944 the main Jewish street was stripped of wood for fires (staircases, wooden foundations) because the rumours of concentration camps had filtered through and the Amsterdammerrs knew the former residents probably wouldn't come back. The street was rebuilt in the 1950's-60's, designed by architecture students, and is now known as the Lego street because of its colourful, blocky design. We also saw the highest point in Amsterdam: 1.3m above sea level.

We ended at the Anne Frank Huis and went for dinner at a nice restaurant where I had a traditional Dutch dish of mashed potato, onion and carrot with a meatball on top. Then. returned to the hostel for a quiet night in preparation for tomorrow: the last day of the year.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

La Tour Eiffel à Nôtre Dame et deloins, avec Haiku

I'm not sure of the French word for beyond, so I have used deloins, which I am not sure is an actual French word. Hopefully if it is it's not a rude one.

It was about this time last year that I presented you with Haiku of the French Riviera, and this post will be the sequel: Haiku of Paris. I'll start with one about the roads:

Cobblestones, Smart Cars,
No road markings to speak of.
Perpetual gridlock.

It's not actually as bad as that in most places, but it's true they have no lane markings. There are giant roundabouts where the road is wide enough for four, maybe five cars, and it's a free-for-all get-a-space-where-you-can. I'm glad I'm not driving in Paris.

I left at 9.40 this morning for le Mètro, ten minutes after I was planning to be at the Eiffel Tower. My late start was partly due to realising that I'd locked up my valuables with a non-refundable 2€ coin and forgotten to take out my umbrella or camera. These are important on a rainy day in Paris, and I had to sacrifice another 2€ to get them out and lock the remaining valuables up again. It didn't actually rain, but it would have done if I hadn't had an umbrella.

I got off le Mètro at École Militaire, which is very close to the Champs de Mars and gives you a good view of the Tower as you walk the length of the park. I began to take photos of the Eiffel Tower. This would become a habit throughout the day - me with the Eiffel Tower whenever it was visible.

Coming from the Champs de Mars is actually a good way to get to the Tower, because the queue on that side of the tower is shorter (at least when I was there). There are two types of queue: those that want to take the lift up, and those who want to walk and get a cheaper ticket (3€50 vs. 8€). I joined the walking queue and we shuffled slowly but surely towards the ticket office. I'm glad I got there earlyish, because the queues only grew while I was up in the tower, and had to have been at least an hour long by lunch time.

You can get to the first and second levels by stairs, but you have to pay extra for a lift to the very top, and the top was obscured by cloud today anyway. The second level is about 130m up, and I went as far as you could go. The views are amazing - much of Paris looks white from a distance, with splashes of gold here and there and the river winding through.

I'm quite glad I walked, because I got to see a lot more of the tower and savour the views on the way. You go up inside one of the legs/pylons, curling ever closer to the middle until you hit the first level. Here you get to see a piece of the original spiral stair linking levels one and two, which looks extremely scary and was too steep for public use. They're doing construction on this level, so some of it wasn't open, but I went around as far as you could and stared in the four directions over Paris. The second level has shops and a restaurant in the middle, and the lifts to the very top, and is probably where some people start to get vertigo. I admit I made sure my hands were completely free coming down from there - no camera - and tried not to look down too much.

Temporary tour.
Ha! One hundred and twenty-
Three years and counting.

See how I changed languages to get the syllables to fit? That's skill, that is.

I walked along the Seine, through a Christmas market and across the bridge to la Place de Concorde with its Egyptian obelisk and ferris wheel, then through the Tuileries gardens while eating a chocolate and banana crêpe. There are lots of statues in the gardens, and grass that you're not allowed to sit on, and at the end of the Tuileries is the Louvre, which I hadn't realised. I'd decided not to go the the Louvre or any museums this time around, because I would have been running at full speed round its eight miles of galleries, trying to get everything in before I had to move on to the next spot on my itinerary: the Shakespeare bookshop.

This is a little English language bookshop near Nôtre Dame that is as bookshops should be: books crammed right up to the ceiling, with nooks and crannies everywhere and barely enough space to pass people. I crossed the Seine by the Ponts des Arts, which is completely covered in padlocks signifying love: the idea is you write your names on it and throw the key into the river to show that your love will never be broken. There are quite a few combination locks on there too - I wonder if that still signifies the same thing? Because as long as you remember the code, you can go and unlock it any time you want.

After the bookshop I joined the snaking queue for Nôtre Dame. The cathedral will be 850 years old next year, and the statues and carvings and windows are incredible. The colours of the stained glass are beautifully vivid and the ceiling soars high above. I spent a while staring up and realised that the arches in the nave are not quite at right angles to the walls, and then wondered if this was on purpose or not. It seems incredible that they could build something like this so long ago.

Last on my itinerary was Montmartre. I got le Mètro there and climbed the hill to see the Sacré Cœur Cathedral and the panorama of Paris. There were a lot of people up here, and a Christmas market where I got some kind of chocolate covered marshmallow thing and took pictures. You weren't allowed to take pictures in the Sacré Cœur, but it's beautiful inside, with round arches and lots of mosaics.

I got back to the hostel just as it was getting dark, and decided to treat myself to dinner in a bar-brasserie on a cobblestoned corner that reminded me of a movie. I had filet mignon (pork, I think. I was expecting beef) with lovely sautéed potatoes and salad, and a red wine, this being Paris where wine is cheaper than soft drink, and sat in a wicker chair by the window watching people go by. There were two fluffy dogs in a car outside that were keeping close watch on the street and kept staring challengingly at me, which was extremely cute.

Now I'm looking forward to sleep... Time for one last haiku.

Wide white boulevards
Every building stately, calm.
The river flows through.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Farewell to the Emerald Isle and Paris in the Spring Time

Yes, it is spring. We are past the midwinter solstice, so I am classing late December as spring.

I had a lovely Christmas in Northern Ireland with lots of wee bairns running/crawling around (hmm. Bairns is Scottish, isn't it.) and wonderful traditional Christmas dinner. There were brussels sprouts (apparently these are essential), turkey with cranberry sauce, potatoes, roast carrots and parsnips, ham, soup, warm avocado-bacon-mushroom salad and Christmas pudding for dessert. Literally a feast.

But all things must come to an end and now I am in Paris! I have much planned for tomorrow, which will be my only full day before moving on to Amsterdam. Well, much planned meaning many ideas and not much thought as to how it might all work out. I shall report back, probably in a few days when I've had time to write it all down on my bus trip to Amsterdam.

French passport control was probably the quickest I've ever been through passport control - as I remember, it went 'bonjour', 'bonjour', 'merci'. I did not even get a stamp (where was my stamp?). Doormen have looked at my ID for longer. This incredibly quick customs was offset, however, by the interminable wait for the luggage to come through. Finally, all set with everything, I found a bus that might take me into the city and smugly paid my 5.70€, knowing it cost 17€ on the cushy buses.

This non-direct bus did take an awfully long time struggling through the choked streets of Paris, though, with honking horns and every intersection filled with stopped cars. It was like one of those puzzle games where you have to move the cars and trucks around until you can get off the board. We passed warehouses and what looked to be another airport, business parks, residential tower blocks, and then tall white buildings with French doors. Finally it stopped at Place de la Chapelle, and the driver said something that included 'Gare de l'Est' (our destination) and everyone got off. You could tell the non-French speaked by their looks of confusion. I managed to figure out what the bus driver was saying (he was going no further, and to get the 35) and followed everyone else onto the number 65, which turned out to be going much closer to my hostel anyway, which worked out well.

I'm settling in for the night and trying to figure out what time I can face getting up - 6.30 is probably pushing it, considering I'm still on Ireland time and it will be 5.30 for me. I'm already a bit tired - I've been telling people ’danke' instead of 'merci' so I should probably get an early night...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Travelling to Ireland after the End of the World

We're still alive! Hooray!

And I'm on a train in the Lake District, coming into the same station as last time where I did not see any lakes. This time I've seen quite a lot of lakes, but they tend to be lakes in the middle of fields that aren't really supposed to be lakes (there's been a lot of rain and some train lines are down because of it. Fingers crossed, the trains I am taking today will not be affected).

I am somewhat worried, however, that my train will not make it into Glasgow in time for me to connect with my next train to Ayr, from where I will take a bus to Cairnryan and then a ferry to Belfast. By the time you read this post, all will have been revealed, and you shall see whether I needed to use my travel insurance...

I got to the train station in London in reasonable time and stood with the hordes of other people with suitcases, staring up at the boards where they tell you what platform your train is on, approximately eight minutes before it's due to leave (is this done for some reason other than stressing people out? Why can they organise platforms nicely in Germany and Austria and tell you weeks in advance, whereas in London we get eight minutes?). The train to Glasgow was late. Other trains kept leaving. It got to our departure time, and they still hadn't told us, though the announcements did advise that the train would be delayed.

Finally the platform came up. Number 3! It turned out that pretty much every person standing in the packed station hall was going to Glasgow, and there was a mad rush for Platform 3, suitcases sliding and banging behind. I must admit that, once on the platform, I ran - my ticket doesn't have reserved seats, which meant that if I didn't get in first I'd be obliged to stand.

I found a likely-looking carriage and got in, staring at all the reservation screens and trying to find one that was available. Unfortunately I was not in one of the two separate carriages set aside for the unreserved passengers (and they were being pretty unreserved, too, what with a five hour journey with no seat at stake).

I got out and ran for the right car, but by the time I got there there was barely standing room. One lady had to get off the train because of claustrophobia and I was one of the last to squeeze on. Then we stood for a while before a conductor asked if anyone would mind taking a later train, because they couldn't really have so many people on board (safety and that sort of thing. Not good when you can't move for suitcases and scrunched-up people).

I set myself up with my four bags (suitcase, backpack, food bag, other food bag), finding that there are actually far more places to stuff things when you're sitting in the aisle on your suitcase. I had one food bag to my left, my backpack to my right, and my other food bag above. Two and a bit hours later, enough people left the train that I got myself a seat, all to myself, and celebrated with lunch.

Awwwww! The driver just came on and told us they are organising ahead! I am doing a sail-rail ticket and I wasn't sure how officially connected-up it was, but it turns out that they have organised for us to take a later train (yes, I will miss the train I'm supposed to get) and then THE BUS WILL WAIT FOR US. Awww. Thanks Virgin Trains.

I have apple pie and mandarins for dinner. I'm looking forward to it, and trying to convince myself that 2.10 pm is in no way dinner time when you've just had lunch.

2.24: I have scored myself a window seat! Ha! And eaten most of my mange tout. We will get into Glasgow in a little over an hour, ten minutes before sunset.

3.07: Going past Scottish lowland mountains with black vegetation across their smooth, rounded sides and a spattering of snow in patches on top. Low clouds drift fingers along their ridges. I have the theme from Skyfall stuck in my head (if you've seen the movie, you should know why).

6.40: I am checked in at the ferry! All gone well so far, with train and bus and ferry matching up nicely.

7.28: leaving port! I like ferries. They're like huge coffee shops that move. Well, this one is. I have myself a high-backed chair with a view into the black out the port hole. About to start my apple pie :)


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Austria Take Two: Ice Skating and Flying Home

Friday was our last full day in Austria. I wanted to go and find the elusive ice rink, so we ventured out after lunch (when it had warmed up from minus sixteen) armed with a map. We'd almost found it our first day in St Johann, when we went to look at the chair lift, but we hadn't walked quite far enough around the bend in the road.

One solitary boy was skating around the rink holding onto a large plastic penguin for balance. There was a little cottage beside the ice rink, but it looked like a normal house and the hut where I thought you might get skates was all shut up. I tried to ask a man when the rink might open, but he was extremely busy with some kind of flashing-light panel, and refused to talk to me. Luckily a woman with two kids turned up a few minutes later, and when I asked about skates she said 'in der haus'. It turned out the cottage wasn't a private house after all, and when you opened the door you walked through the little foyer and into a changing room, complete with a man at a window ready to exchange skates for 5€. I got some grey skates the wrong size first of all, and had to say 'kleine' and get some bigger, much prettier ones in white and purple. If I ever get any of my own, I think they will look like these.

The rink is outside, with mountains all around. The sun was on the ice and very bright. I hadn't skated in a few years, and was a bit wobbly at first and glad there was only one other person on the ice. I managed to stay upright, though, and The One Who Speaks Russian took some good photos and sat in the sun with her book. It wasn't long before the after-school crowd came onto the ice, but by then I was reasonably confident and even skating backwards some of the time.

There were some very good skaters, and some beginners. There was one boy dressed all in orange who fell over, at speed, almost every time I saw him. I wondered if his parents had dressed him in orange as a warning to other skaters.

At indoor ice rinks I've been to, they have a large lumbering vehicle called a Zamboni that sweeps the ice and makes it smooth again. At this smaller outdoor rink, they had a live Zamboni instead, a boy who looked to be about eight and pushed a scraper broom thing around. I think the broom changed hands a few times, and the kids looked like they were having fun.

The sun began to sink behind the mountains so I surrendered my beautiful skates and walked back through the town to the hotel, passing through the little Christmas market on the way.

There was one goal I had not yet reached for the week: building a snowman. I found lots of good untouched snow in the park next to the hotel, so I storked to a good spot and started.

Only I didn't really want to build a traditional snowman. I didn't have a carrot, for one, and snowmen always look a bit gauche. So I made a snow maiden instead. Unfortunately snow upon snow doesn't tend to make a good picture, but here are my best photoshopped efforts anyway.

She didn't come out exactly as I'd imagined her (and when I had the bright idea of taking off my gloves to get more definition and intricacy and such things as hands, it didn't turn out to be such a bright idea. More a very cold idea) but I was still pleased with her.

We got up early the next morning and prepared for minus sixteen on our way to the train station, but it didn't actually turn out to be that cold. I drunk in the mountains for the last time on our way into Salzburg, found the trolley bus to the airport and were on our way home.

One thing I really liked about Salzburg airport was passport control. Salzburg airport has only 9 gates, and passport control consisted of a smiley man at a little window sitting right next to the woman taking our boarding passes at the gate before we walked out onto the runway (into the first rain we'd seen - it really was warming up). Passport control at the UK border was not nearly so nice, but then it's generally not the most enjoyable of experiences.

One more week of work, and then Christmas!

Where did the year go?


Friday, December 14, 2012

Austria Take Two: Salzburg

Today was our Salzburg day. Our town is about an hour from Salzburg on the train, so we dragged ourselves away from our books and down to the train station in the freezing air. The sky was an incredible blue, the sun touching the mountains as we caught a nice regional train and began to wend our way out of the mountains.

This is an impressive journey, and worth doing by train I think. The road weaves back and forth and goes through tunnels, but the train spends most of the time right by the river with mountains towering on both sides, white peaks with slashes of black cliff face and dark snow-dusted forests hugging the slopes. We went past a castle on an outcropping of rock, and lots of little villages with colourful wooden houses covered in snow. Everything looks so clean and bright and untouched, with white expanses that I guess are fields in summer.

Salzburg itself is still pretty much surrounded by mountains, though there's more valley space. We took a tour of the old town with a nice guide who showed us the squares and the statues and took us inside the Dom cathedral, through a graveyard with beautiful wrought iron grave markers and past a very old bakery that is still baking bread.

He explained that one side of town is known as the Old Town, and the other the New Town because it was only settled in 15 AD. That's not a typo. The Dom has five organs (Salzburg has a proud history of music, of course), but before there were organs, singers and instrumentalists performed from balconies near the ceiling. The sound would have floated down from above and all around, which would have been an amazing experience.

The buildings are tall and close together, because there isn't much room to build, the streets narrow, and wherever you are in the city you can look up to the castle on the rock with the town surrounding it. We ended at Mozart's birthplace, then decided it was time for lunch and made for NordSee, which you see everywhere in Austria and apparently Germany. I had a very nice meal of fish, potatoes and buttered vegetables and, suitably warmed, we ventured back out to inspect the chocolate shops and the Christmas market.

Mozart ducks. Obviously.
This was my first proper Christmas market this year - in Vienna there were too many people to really see much of it. I got a glüwein (I think that's how you spell it - mulled wine) and wandered around warming my hands and looking at the stalls of decorations and jewellery and food. The market spills over into multiple squares and around the boarded-up fountains (protected from frost) beside the Dom.

Many of the buildings are inspired by Italian architecture, because Salzburg was a main trading point for people from Italy and Germany, especially when the salt mine was still open (Salzburg = Salt Mountain).

By four o'clock we were getting tired and cold, so we caught a train back to St Johann im Pongau and curled up with our books.


St Johann im Pongau: Days 3 and 4

We've been having a nice relaxing week in our little Alpine town, the One Who Speaks Russian and I. The hotel has a spa and a swimming pool, and there is a supermarket across the road with a good supply of chocolate. We have books (lots of books) and a few movies, and a beautiful view of snowy mountains out the sliding door. Also, have I mentioned,


It's not a wet cold like you get in London. This is a crisp cold, hovering around minus ten Celsius and diving to minus eighteen at dawn, before the sun has had a chance to warm everything up again. On Tuesday we went out to find the McDonalds (wifi), and had a bit of an adventure trying to find a way across town and the river that was open to pedestrians. They only clear some of the footpaths of snow, and I'm sure in some places the roads are supposed to be higher speed so don't actually have footpaths, but eventually we saw the sign and slogged towards it through pristine white snow or grey mush, depending on whether we were following an actual path or not. The snow in some places is as deep as my knee.

Our internet at the hotel came with a five hour limit on it, so it was nice to be able to sit and check emails and things without worrying about the time. As we were walking back up the hill, a little old lady called us back and insisted on giving us lollies, which was very nice of her. When we got back to the hotel we sat in the spa for a while, and then retreated to our room for dinner.

Our little bar fridge doesn't have quite enough room for my sparkly red bowl of salad, but I've found a better solution: leave it just outside the sliding door in the day time, and it's perfectly crisp in the evening - not actually frozen. So I've been calling the balcony the fridge.

On Wednesday I spent most of the day determined to finish a book, and went out to see the local church just after the sun had dropped behind the mountains. The slopes were luminous, and the Christmas lights strung all around town were sparkling in the dusk. I didn't actually get in to see the church, but I had a nice walk anyway, taking pictures and watching the chairlift take people up the mountain. TOWSR and I had considered skiing, but neither of us has had much practice, and thought the expense and likelihood of broken bones probably wasn't worth it. Especially as my foot has only just healed. I'm keen to try skating on Friday, though, if the rink is open...


Monday, December 10, 2012

Austria Take 2 - Days 2 & 3: St Johann im Pongau

When we woke up on Sunday morning, the sky was a brilliant blue. I opened the curtains and caught my breath at the vista above and all around. St Johann im Pongau is in a valley between mountains, and from our window you can see across the valley to the white expanses of mountainside, the firs with their dusting of snow and the sloping roofed Austrian houses dotted across the mountain. It looks exactly like a postcard.

There was a bit of excitement when we realised we couldn't find the room key or my hat and gloves, but eventually they reappeared and we stopped with the conspiracy theories about people breaking into our room while we were sleeping. We weren't exactly sure how cold it was, but we ventured out into the crisp air with lots of layers and scarves and had a wander around the deserted town. It was Sunday, and nothing is open on Sunday, so we hardly met anyone on our exploration of the Hauptstrasse (High Street), a little snowy garden over a cliff edge, the bottom of the chair lift and around the Dom church.

When we got too cold we went back to the hotel and noticed the weather for the day had a temperature of -10. Which we'd just been walking around in.

A soak in the hot tub warmed us up, and then we went for dinner at one of the hotel restaurants where TOWSR got a special gluten free pizza and I got one with spinach, bacon and ewe's cheese (big enough for breakfast and lunch the next day). With sorbet, icecream and fruit with chocolate sauce to follow, we thought overall it was a pretty good dinner.

Monday morning we woke up to snow that TOWSR called semi-blizzard snow. We could not see the mountains. We could not see the buildings across the road. We could almost see the edge of our deck. So we spent the morning with books, and ventured out into the knee-deep snow around lunchtime to see how far we could get.

The snow ploughs had been around clearing the roads and footpaths, and we went down into the valley to see all the buildings with their blankets of snow, wandered around and retreated to the bookstore and supermarket. There really were a lot more people around than on Sunday, and it didn't feel so much like we were two of the last vestiges of humanity clinging to life in a dead world. The snow had stopped falling, and when we got back to our room I began to make a snowman on our deck, but stopped when I couldn't feel my hands anymore. A few hours later the snow began again, and we huddled happily inside as it rose higher and higher and covered up the sad beginnings of my snowman.


Austria Take Two - Day One: Snow (Action)

Hello all! I am once again jet-setting around Europe, and back in Austria, this time among the Alps. It was snowing when I arrived, and we had to walk across the runway to the terminal as snowflakes spun down and clung to our coats.

Thankfully I didn't have to leave the house this morning at a quarter to seven to get to the airport, as I originally thought - it turns out that Stansted Airport is much closer to my house than my brain was telling me, and I didn't have to go all the way into Victoria and back out again. There are 5/6 London airports, depending on who you talk to, and though I know Heathrow and City and where they are (City is, strangely, near the City) I always get confused about which other airports are which. I pulled up outside Stansted this morning and thought 'Oh! This one!', because I have actually been here multiple times. For future reference, Stansted is the one closest to Stratford, and is big and square and white and tent-like in construction.

I'll probably forget that.

Non-EU citizens have to get their passports checked at the bag drop (just because non-EU people can't be trusted. Well, I guess they check our visas?) so I did that, had some very early lunch and stood staring at the display boards until they put up my gate number. Then, I joined everyone else in a brisk walk towards our gate, none of us actually running, but everyone sliding looks at each other to make sure no one else was breaking into a trot. First person to the gate is first person on the plane, and the person who gets the pick of the seats.

I ended up about twentieth in the queue, and bagged myself a nice window seat behind the wing (I can never remember - which part of the plane is most likely to end in your fiery death in a crash?). There appeared to be no seat pockets in which to put my iPad and book, so I laid them on my lap and stuffed my coat, jacket and jersey under the seat in front, and we took off.

As we were flying over the Channel and coming in over the low countries, I saw a huge area that was sort of a hazy chalky colour. I was horrified. What kind of industrial waste was this? What had they done to their city?

It was a while before I saw others patches just like it, and realised it was snow.

As we flew eastwards, the snow patches got larger until they all joined together into a great white snow plain, and then the clouds came in and you couldn't see anything.

It was -4 Celsius and snowing when we landed in Salzburg. We had to walk across the runway to get to the terminal, so I bundled up in all my clothes and braved the snowy cold with my ugg boots. From there it was a matter of getting the trolley bus to the main station where I met The One Who Speaks Russian, and we caught a train that we really hoped would take us to the little Alpine village (look! Literally alpine!) where we would spend the next week.

The conductor didn't tell us we were on the wrong train when he checked our tickets, so we assumed we were on the right one, but we didn't know how long we had until we had to get off. At last the speaker informed us the next station was St Johann im Pongau, so we grabbed our bags and got off into the snow.

We didn't get too lost on the way to the hotel, though we did wander through a small Christmas market twice, and very soon we were in our nice hotel room with our snowy balcony and beautifully painted Austrian TV cabinet.

It was dark, so we couldn't see out the windows very well, but we had a nice evening of books and movies and cake for dinner.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Losing things on the Underground and general breaking of other things

Would you like to know what happens if you drop something down the gap between the train and the platform in an Underground station? I shall tell you.

Luckily it was not me who dropped something (though I almost did once), but I got onto the platform just as a train was leaving. I sighed and stopped hop-skipping (my foot, although castless, is still sore), then noticed as the train pulled away that there were more Transport for London (tfl) employees on the platform than normal. One of them was standing right on the platform edge, feet either side of the yellow line, and pointing a red torch down the tunnel.

We waited for the next train. As it came around the corner of the tunnel, it slowed down and stopped just where the tfl woman was standing with her red torch. The driver came out of his driver cabin to see what was happening. Another tfl employee with one of those long grabber things reached down into the trench beside the platform and retrieved a man's phone, and then the torch lady turned her torch to green, the driver went back to drive the train, and everything went back to normal.

Now I kind of want to drop something down there to see it all again. I won't though, I promise.

Speaking of dropping things, a very sad thing happened to my iPad last Wednesday. It slid off a table and I caught it on my feet, but then it slid off my feet and onto the floor. It only dropped about ten centimetres onto a hard surface (my feet are not that hard) and I thought it would be fine, but apparently Gorilla Glass is not as durable as one might think. A spider of cracks is all along one corner, which I stupidly poked at to brush the glass off and got a splinter in my finger.

I checked my bag to see if I had any sellotape to cover it with until I could get it to an Apple shop and see what could be done with it, but no luck. I was having dinner before a meetup, so thought I'd ask the cafe if they had some. They didn't. They did have a first-aid kit, however, so now I have a big sticking plaster across one corner. Very anthropomorphic.

Unfortunately they can't very easily replace screens on iPad 2s (something to do with the screen being attached with glue) so you have to get a replacement iPad which is rather a lot of money. So for the moment I'm keeping with my sticking plaster solution.

I thought about nail-polish, though most internet people say it's not a good idea, what with the primary liquid stage of nail-polish and the electronics etc. etc. Then I started thinking about exactly which colour might look the best, and whether it should be sparkly.

I may have to restrain myself...