Sunday, December 27, 2009

Travels in London - Days 13-15: Heading vaguely towards London.

Christmas was lovely. We went to the morning service at Inverness catherdral, then came back to the hostel to open presents. I got a bar of crispy chocolate from some friends of Lexi's, and Lexi gave me a small kit of space origami designs, which was awesome, but paled in comparison to the fact that she also bought me a FREAKING ROBOT!!!!!!

It's about the size of my thumb and it can't do more than walk around avoiding obstacles and following things, but it's mine, it's a robot, and it's my robot. Therefore it is awesome.

I got Lexi a copy of Maus (amazing graphic novel about the holocaust) and Nation (the first non-discworld novel from Terry Pratchett in a very long time). She was happy, so yay.

That evening we decided to treat ourselves and went out to the Royal Highland Hotel restaurant for a fancy dinner. So fancy, in fact, that the garlic bread did not taste or resemble garlic bread in any way shape or form. Now that IS fancy. For dinner I had venison, which as Lexi kindly pointed out meant I was basically eating Rudolph, and thanks to an unfortunately placed cherry tomato, it looked like they had given me the nose as well.

The next day was rather exciting for me, as we were heading out for a tour of Loch Ness. Loch Ness was two things. Amazing, and cold. Fortunately the boat had a heated indoor area so after taking photos of the mist rolling across the waters and ruined castles, we hid inside for the remainder of the trip. After going crazy in the gift shop, we headed back to the hostel, where I spent an hour or so updating photos and carefully drawing the Loch Ness Monster on one of them using MS paint for that authentic look.

Today we left early and trudged away through a strengthening snow storm to the train station for our early train to Edinburgh. We pushed on and made it on the train just in time to be told that the train had been cancelled and that we had to get off.

Over a few cups of tea we found out that there had been problems with the Edinburgh line overnight and all trains direct to Edinburgh had been cancelled. Fortunately we discovered that our tickets were good for going the long way round to Aberdeen so at 12:30 we hopped on the train and headed off. On the whole it wasn't that bad that the train had been cancelled, as it was packed to the brim when we had got on, and the Aberdeen train by contract was dead quiet so got to luxuriate in our first class seats and enjoy the view, the leg room, and the complimentary coffee. Life is good.

Then I decided to update my blog, so I opened my laptop, connected to the internet, and started typing. After some typing I had finished my blog, so I decided to end it abru-

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Travels in London - Days 9-12: Still not in London

Our stay in Caernarfon started on slightly tenuous grounds when we couldn't find the bus. We eventually decided to take a taxi from Bangor (where the train got in) to Caernarfon, which set us back about 20 pounds, but had the major advantage of being a form of transport that was actually running.

We then ran into some further difficulty when the bus driver could not find the hostel. After driving us around the entire town twice (it's a small town), we eventually decided to get out and have a look ourselves, rather than tying up the taxi driver (and, indeed, his fare meter). After the help of a map and some locals, we tracked down the hostel on the other side of town.

Our difficulties were then somewhat magnified further when the owner of the Hostel couldn't find our booking, as it turned out he didn't get internet bookings for about 48 hours and we had only booked the day before. But it all worked out ok and he very kindly rearranged some visiting family so we could get a room on the 3rd floor. This would turn out to be the best place to stay yet. It was basically a very, very large house that the owners had converted into a hostel, and was run by Bob and his wife who were a charmingly friendly and eccentric couple.

Caernarfon was a wonderful place to stay, a seaside town that was quiet and had the added bonus of having a sodding great castle in it. We spent the first day taking it easy and taking various walks around town to try and find cafes that would do us an afternoon tea after the monstrously late hour of 3:00pm. We also took the opportunity to replenish some of our diminishing supplies.

The day after we went to visit the castle, which was simply magnificient. Built in the 1300s to crush those rebellious Welsh chaps, it was steeped in history and fallen masonry. Apparently Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales in that very castle. Makes you think, dunnit.

The castle, combined with the small town feel, combined with the fact that people were conversing in Welsh in the streets made Caernarfon feel greatly different to London and Birmingham, but also very relaxing and peaceful.

The train from Caernarfon to Inverness, or should I say the five trains from Caernarfon to Inverness were the complete opposite of relaxing and peaceful, and proved to be the first time in the whole holiday that I was to feel stressed and frustrated.

Train 1 was fine.

Train 2 was also fine.

Train 3 was 45 minutes late, had no spare seats or luggage space, and stopped for 45 minutes about 10 minutes from our destination.

Train 4 was a 15 minute walk from one station to the next, and was 30 minutes late.

Train 5 was full of spare seats and luggage space, comfortable and clean, quiet and speedy, and more importantly WAS WAITING FOR OUR LATE ARRIVAL. Scot Rail is amazing that way.

We finally trooped into Inverness Youth Hostel (through 3 inch snow, yay!) at 10:00pm, when they'd just about given up hope of us turning up at all.

After a (long) sleep, we were off into Inverness, merrily wading through the thick snow down to the shopping complex to eat breakfast and do some shopping, including most importantly a small grown your own crystal christmas tree (it being Christmas Eve) which we set up back at the hostel.

We visited a Christingle (Carols and oranges, yes I know it's as strange as it sounds) service at Inverness Catherdral, but heavy snowfall talked us out of visiting the midnight mass, as we weren't entirely convinced we would be able to get home again.

That brings us to now. I would like to wish everyone reading a Merry Christmas, I hope your day is wonderful. I will update again in a few days, the next could of days are going to be quiet so not much to report, though we should hopefully be going on a cruise of Loch Ness on boxing day.

Until then.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Travels in London - Days 7-8: Not Actually in London

A lot of time and distance has passes since the last entry. When last I spoke, I was in Birmingham, having just arrived off the train. I am now in Caernarfon, a castle town on the coast of North West Wales, and am at the end of our second day here.

To step back in time, on our second day in Birmingham we decided to visit Cadbury World, at the Cadbury factory out in Bournville. For those of you who has visited the Cadbury factory in Tasmania, Australia, you might remember an factory tour involving hair nets and machinery. Oddly enough for the Bournville tour we spent surprisingly little time in the factory.

It began with the history of chocolate and a walk through the jungle to the ancient aztec city, where a tiny hologramatic Cortez explained the history of chocolate, managing to both acknowledge and at the same time gloss over the slaughter and destruction of the Aztec civilization, which I spose is actually rather a feat. From there we got to hear of the history of Cadbury, where some more holograms and projections talked about the factory and shop they set up in Birmingham. Then we went to a "motion experience ride" which explained the manufacture of chocolate while the seats did occasionally bizarre things like shake or blow steam for no readily apparent reason.

After that we went on the "Cadabra" ride, which reminds me of A Clockwork orange in it's sensory assault, in that small children ride in one end and come out glassy eyed repeating the mantra "I love Cadbury. I love Cadbury." It was full of dancing cocoa beans, songs, music, and a camera, which took a picture of us I now have on a fridge magnet. I feel fortunate to have escaped with my life.

Afterwards we went through a small hall showcasing many of the Cadbury advertisements that have appeared over the years, which largely were weird (except for the gorillia playing Phil Collins music on the drums. That was awesome. Then we were in the shop! A chocolate shop is an incredibly dangerous place to be, as it is full of chocolate that can be purchased, and later, eaten. I bought what I assumed was a hugely excessive amount of chocolate, but it only cost me six pounds ($12). Hmm.

Then dinner and awesome mexican food with some friends of Lexi's, and back to the hotel. In the morning we went to a service at the Birmingham Cathedral, before talking a walk around in the SNOW!!!!! that had fallen the night before. We went and visited the reservoir, and the tower that one of the Two Towers is based on, and Lexi's old apartment, before heading to the Train Station for our train to Wales.

It's time for dinner, so this post ends here. But days 9-10 will be uploaded after dinner.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Travels in London - Days 4-6: Puppets and Revolutions, Bealtes and Bowie, and Snow and Chinese Food.

Wednesday was a good day. An early start as we went off to see our friend Kate and have breakfast in an "Australian Cuisine" Cafe, a concept which I find a little amusing. The last time I had seen Kate was for her X-Factor party on Sunday night, but as I had been awake for some insanely long amount of time I hadn't exactly been the most participatory in the event, so it was good to see her when I was, you know, concious.

After that we popped ourselves onto a bus tour around London, and checked out the local landmarks and took various photographs. The plan was only to ride it for a few stops but given it was freakishly cold we (completely unrelatedly of course) decided to stay on the bus instead.

But this was ok, because IT SNOWED!!!!!

I realise that I may be getting ridiculously over-excited by this but I was and am incredibly excited by the snow. It is simply something you don't get in Melbourne, so it was rather a new experience. I spent literally an hour staring out the window and watching it fall. Amazing.

After the bus tour we had italian for lunch and then headed over to something I had been looking forward to ever since I had gotten to London, "Les Miserables."

I have loved Les Miserables ever since my friend played the song "Stars" for me, nearly 10 years ago, and I've been hooked ever since, listening to the complete symphonic recording so many times I could now sing most of the musical by heart. So you can understand I was a little excited.

Overall the production was quite solid, suffering from a couple of bizarre line changes and a few poor child actors, but it was impressive to see it staged out, and the amount of turntable work they used was very interesting. In particuliar the trek through the sewers was very well done, showing time passing in quite a unique way thanks to lighting and liberal turntable use.

After Les Miserables, we were still in a thoroughly musical mood, and so on a whim checked out the half price tickets and secured two rather good seats for Avenue Q. I had never seen Avenue Q before, being a little turned off by my brother's mention of "the puppet sex scene", but had also heard many, many good reports. On the whole I'm very glad I saw it, as it was genuinely hilarious for most of the show (the puppet sex was, indeed, a bit much).


Ahem. Sorry.

Thursday started with a trip to the natural history musuem, which sadly we didn't see very much of, as the museum had to be evacuated.


We took that as a sign that we weren't wanted, and so instead visited the Victorian and Albert, checking out some historical pieces before heading off to a pub lunch. On the whole one of the nice things about visiting Britian is I can be all exotic and try the local cuisine, because the local cuisine is sausages, pies, and other such things, meaning I thoroughly enjoy myself.

After lunch Lexi and I went our separate ways for an hour or so to do our christmas shopping for each other. I got her a present I hope she'll like, but she reads this blog so I'm not telling you what it was. Hi Alexis. Just keep walking.

Then we checked out the photo gallery where there was an exhibition of 1960's celebrity photography, includes the Beatles, David Bowie, and the like, before heading back to the Hostel for our final night in London. There was snow on top of the cars outside the Hostel. Yay!

We packed up and left the Hostel this morning and headed down to the train station to board our train to Birmingham. I must confess I love train travel, so was rather excited. London looked much the same out the train window, but the big surprise was to come when we left the outskirts of London and found the fields blanketed as far as the eye could see with snow. It was simply beautiful, and an amazing site to see. The snow didn't last too long before it returned to fields of green but I kept my camera out for as long as I could.

Birmingham is nice, like London but newer and smaller, so after checking in to our hotel we went to visit a friend of Lexi's for a drink, and then chinese food for dinner at one of those wonderful restaurants that you only know is there if you've been there before, so was free of tourists or crowds.

Anyway I'd best leave off here as Have I Got News For You is about to start. More blogging once more has happened.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Travels in London - Days 2-3: Now with added consciousness

Days 2-3 were really were the exploration of London town began in earnest, as this time I had slept enough to actually take in a lot of what was going on. I have been reliably informed that I was asleep "in three breaths" on the first night, so it appears that after not sleeping for 2 days I may have needed some sleep. Who would have thought?

After a late breakfast on Monday we headed out to Camden Town market, which also had the Camden Town Lock. Locks are pretty neat and are basically away of enabling boats to sail uphill and downhill safely. This one is more of a museum piece than an actual commercial use lock but it was pretty nifty. Nonetheless. The market itself was full of those odd tiny specialty shops, and was housed in an old stable. In it I found two important things. The first was a bowler hat which I am now the happy owner of, a style of hat that is sadly not seen much these days (Thompson and Thomson from Tintin wore them). The second was salt and pepper chicken and noodles.

On our way back to the station we had a cup of hot apple and cinnamon, which tasted almost exactly like drinking jam.

From there we headed down to the British Science museum. We only had about 20 minutes there before it shut, but managed to check out an exhibit on regency period inventions (King George III era), which were from a time when ornateness still had a place in design rather than pure functionality (nobody would think of putting figurines on a microscope today, for example.)

Then we walked home and got merrily lost on the way.

Day 3 started early with a walking tour to watch the changing of the Buckingham Palace guard, which was both interesting and served as a reminder that I was well and truly not in Melbourne anymore, Toto.

We have nothing that compares to the changing of the guard in Melbourne, nothing steeped in 300 years of history, or indeed ever have to say to ourselves "Now I must get to work before the changing of the guard, or the street will be closed and I'll be late." Trying to get to work before the grandfinal parade doesn't come close, sorry.

Then we hopped on a double decker bus (!) and had a merry tour around London, seeing the disturbingly huge Hyde Park, and the hustle and bustle of Oxford St, which made me very glad I was in a bus and not wading through it Then we got off the bus and again got merrily lost before we tracked down a pub that Lexi was quite fond of and had cider and pub sandwiches for lunch. (Bloody Mary tomato sauce is amazing, as is mustard and ham)

The evening was a comedy of errors of sorts as Lexi went off to find some internet friends at a Starbucks at Kings Cross Station, while I went back to the hostel to do a bit of writing and then head out to meet her. Our plans were largely hampered by the fact that there isn't a Starbucks at King's Cross. So Lexi wandered around trying to find it before giving up and heading back to the Hostel. Meanwhile I left and went to King's Cross, wandered around trying to find Lexi, before giving up and heading back home as well. This may have gone better if either of us had remembered to charge our phones.

Off to dinner now, Angus Steak and Stilton pie for dinner, followed by syrup pastry pudding. It's a hard life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Travels in London - Day 1: Hey, look, I'm in London.

This blog was originally going to posted yesterday, however I decided to wait until this morning on account that yesterday I was too tired to actually finish my sentences coherently, or at least, more coherently than usual.

To explain why I was so very tired, let's jump back in time to where I last left off, boarding the plane from Bangkok to London.

My luck with seats did not play out so well this time, and instead of an empty row to myself with loads of legroom and a personal tv, I instead had a crowded row with absolutely no legroom and a group tv somewhere in the distance in front of me that they never bothered to turn on until the last hour and a half anyway. So this could probably be considered a step backwards. So, sadly, was Dinner 3 (yes, they just kept coming), which after the rather tasty first two dinners was sadly rather dry and tasteless (my grandmother would be proud, as this is how she would describe all of her cooking. Nothing could be further from the truth), though the omelette for Breakfast was a lot better, though by that stage I was just glad I could eat it without dropping it all.

My plan, you see, was to stay awake as long as possibly could on the first flight and some of the second (until about 6am Melbourne time), and then I would have no problem falling asleep and would awake pretty much perfectly after 10 hours sleep to a London morning, thus getting a good head start on the whole jetlag thing.

Things did not go as planned.

Instead of sleeping 10 hours, I slept a grand total of 0, largely unfortunately to my back and airport chairs disagreeing with each other. I had taken some ibuprofien for this purpose but sadly it appears stronger measures will be needed for the flight back. So I lay in my chair, listening to Bill Bryson and Les Miserables, making regular trips to the bathroom for glasses of water, not out of any desire of water per se but more that I felt weird just getting up and walking around for a bit and then returning to my seat. Ocasionally the stewards would wander by and offer water or juice to the poor saps still awake in a sea (or, a plane) of sleeping people, presumably because they also felt weird just walking around a bit.

So my flight got in 6 am London time (5pm Melbourne time) on the 13th. After navigating through immigration and customs I collected my bags and hopped onto a london undeground train (!!!!!) and headed out to the hostel.

Customs was suspsiciously easy so I am still not convinced that it wasn't a ploy to lull me into a false sense of security and that MI5 may at any moment leap through the window and arrest me for smuggling a chupa chup into the country. I even went through the "declare" door because I wanted to be safer than sorry and got asked the incredibly taxing question "Do you have any gifts?" I answered no. Alright! Customs over.

At this point, I still hadn't fully twigged that I was in another country, and in fact on the complete opposite side of the world. Bangkok airport was just that an airport, it could have been an Australian airport, so didn't feel like overseas. True, there was signs in Thai everywhere and the food court had this giant pagoda thingy, but maybe they were just feeling a bit international that day.

In Heathrow too, not a whole lot to indicate that I was in another continent, an airport is an airport. No my first real indication was when the train came out of a tunnel, and suddenly this blanket of fog and chimney tops greeted me.

Then the doors opened and a voice said "Mind the gap" and the implications of my travel hit me.

I was in London!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The train arrived after a 40 minute jaunt (and only 7 stations) in Earl's Court, and I hopped off the train and out the doors and into London proper for the first time. Because I as in London. My short walk to the hostel was compounded by two details. First, it was really hard to find the street signs. The area I was in did not employ the melbourne style "Bob St" signs that we all know, but rather large and floury plaques that state "the royal burrough of kensington and chelsea BOLTON GARDENS" which look more like it's inviting me to a party than telling me what the street is.

Secondly, surrounding Bolton gardens there are about 5 other streets that start in B and end in Gardens. To my credit though, I only went down one wrong st.

Arriving at the hostel was hindered by the fact that I coudln't remember if my friend Lexicon had booked the hostel under her name or mine, and when that became an issue I realised I couldn't remember her phone number either. Fortuantely they found the booking and I happily wandered through a literal maze of doors to find my room, It was a nice room, furnished with a bed, a desk, some cupboards and a sink. Most importantly, it also had a Lexicon in it.

Alexis and i hadn't seen each other in a year and a half, so we had loads to chat about, and at this point in the next morning we haven't really stopped, apart from that whole sleep thing. I didn't stay in the room for too long though, Lexi bundled us out the door straight away to head to the 11:15 service at Westminster abbey, a place that is just huge. Like, it's HUGE!!!!! And old. The oldest buildings an australia are a couple of hundred years, but Westminster was built in 960 AD. Eep. It really put the awe into the service we saw.

Later I saw a puppy, and that really put the awe in Awwwwww.

After the service we went for a walk down to the Thames, past Big Ben (!) and wandered down the river. Eventually decided that food was awesome and we should have one, we found the nearest train station and caught the tube (because I'm in London) back to Earls Court for tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches.

That evening we headed out to see my friends Kate and Tim (Hi Kate and Tim!) who I hadn't seen in about three years, and joined them for there X-Factor Christmas Party (X-Factor = Australian Idol). Unfortuantely by this point the 47 hours without sleep was starting to take its toll so I spent most of the time sitting quietly in the back and doing my humble best to stay awake, but it was still a really nice time. We only stayed a few hours before heading back to Earl's Court and having an early night (10pm our time, 9am yours), or in other words exactly 48 hours since I had last slept.

10 hours later, I awoke, must refreshed.

We're off shortly to do some sightseeing, I'll blog about it once it's happened, because while I could blog about it before seeing it, it would be a bit dishonest and lead to comments like "I didn't know London had Polar Bears" because I was never one for extensive fact checking.

Because I'm in London.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Everybody deserves a chance to Fly

As I write this I'm sitting in a a quaint little Thai cafe at Bangkok international airport (those who think Bangkok sounds a bit rude can go Phuket instead, but that's probably just as bad) eating authentic Thai cuisine, which in this case is chicken and chips. Those not already outraged at my culinary blasphemy should consider that before coming to this cafe I enjoyed a coffee at Starbucks.

The first leg of the journey to the UK is over, a paltry 9 hour flight (the final flight is a mere 13 hours. eep.), which wasn't too bad to manage as I used to fly to Darwin a lot back in the day, and so a 9 hour flight isn't a huge jump over a 7 hour flight. (It's 3am as far as my brain is concerned, though it's a balmy 11pm in Bangkok, so I apologise for stating the obvious more than usual).

Overall I rather enjoyed my flight. I had the front row in economy which did worry me simply because I thought I would have to share a TV which for my nonconfrontational self basically meant I would not be using the TV for the duration. As it happened though I had the entire row to myself (though somebody stole one of the seats later on) and in any case there were personal tv screens tucked under the seat anyway, so it ended up being pretty much the best seat I could get, cause I had loads of leg room (though the flight staff did keep tripping over my feet. Oops). The only drawback was that there was no seat in front of me to tuck my bag under, so my DS, my kindle and my ipod were all safely tucked away for the duration, leaving movies as my sole form of entertainment.

Movies I watched:

Ed Wood by Tim Burton. Rather amusing biopic of "the worst film maker of all time", meaning we spend most of our time cheering on a bumbling fool, but that's nothing new (I cheer myself on all the time). Worth it for seeing Johnny Depp not play a pirate.

Moon by... someone. Strange horror film that keeps threatening to rip off 2001 but always escaping at the last moment. Sam Rockwell actually acts well for one. Isolationist horror drama with two people in space. Sam Rockwell plays both of them. And Kevin Spacey plays an emoticon (I am not kidding). Best movie of the 3 that I watched.

Public Enemies by... someone else. Johnny Depp is a gangster. He robs banks. Yet another noble gangster movie about the harshness of life and the strong arm of the law, but the cast was good. Not sure what I thought about the ending, mainly because I didn't see the ending.

Also, the food on international flights? Actually pretty damn good. Dinner 1 (we had 2 dinners, leaving me feeling rather like a hobbit) was seafood pasta, and Dinner 2 was chicken and noodles. Both were great, and cheesecake for dessert.

Also, on the map of australia on the tv screen, all the big town were shown as we fly near them. Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Geelong, Moe... wait, what?

There is a small town south east of Melbourne called Moe. I've never heard of it before but evidently it's important enough to have on a map. So whenever I looked at the map, it kindly let me know how far away I was from Moe.

Landed in one piece, and here we are!

Anyway, must be off and go be parnaoid and get to boarding early. Another blog once I get to the UK.