Sunday, January 10, 2010

Travels in London - Day 25: Now With Bonus Extra Day!

Of course, it was not that simple.

Getting to the airport a couple of hours before my flight, I wandered the shops for awhile, was tempted by some blu-ray and PS3 games, but decided if I were flying out I would behave and not purchase anything. The minutes ticked closer and I eagerly awaited the announcement that the plane would begin boarding.

8:35 came and went. After a few minutes the board was updated. "Delayed until 22:30. Gate will open at 21:30".

So I waited. Again I was tempted to go blu-ray shopping, but again I resisted.

21:30 came and went. 22:00 came and went. Eventually the board updated again.

"Delayed until 22:30. Gate will open at 17:00."

This struck me as a little odd.

I decided someone was playing silly buggers and went to the information desk to see if they had any information, and found a very large group of people demanding to know what was going on, so I decided I was probably in the right place, though feeling a little too well behaved for the situation at hand. We were advised to head down to baggage collection (not to collect our bags, which were locked in the plane). What they neglected to mention is that between us and baggage collection was passport control. Me and a few other non british or europeans looked despondantly at the "All Other Passports" line which stretched most of the warehouse sized room.

The British/EU people had a single small straight line to walk. They responded to this by yelling, grumbling how they weren't going to stand for this, and eventually, storming customs. In response to this they especially set up a special line for our cancelled flight, which I took advantage of. Down in baggage hall they loaded us to on buses and took us to various hotels around London. I ended up at the Thistle Hotel, which was quite flash indeed. After feeding us breakfast and lunch, and after Lexi very kindly coming to visit and bringing me a toothbrush and some deodorant, they bundled us back on a bus and took us to the aiport. This was about 4:30, and our flight was at 9:35 that evening.

This time I decided I darn well was going to buy myself something and got a couple of blu-rays in a 2 for 1 deal.

The flight was an hour late to take off but actually took off so I counted that as a win. Bangkok flight was on time to depart and was actually early to land. Customs was, much like my arrival into the UK, bafflingly easy. "Anything to declare?"
"Um, some tea."
"Is there fruit in it?"
"Um, maybe?"
"Ok, off you go!"

This strikes me as a slightly lax approach to customs, but perhaps I'm missing some of the hidden steps and anyway it got me out of the airport quickly so I'm not complaining.

Just outside customs was MY DAD!!!!! whom I hadn't seen in a while, and would have been more visibly excited if I wasn't nearly asleep from jet lag.

I had successfully made it out of the UK.

I was in Australia again.

But holiday wasn't over yet!

Travels in London - Days 22-24 The final three days

While waiting to be able to check in to our hostel in Earl's Court (the first hostel we stayed in when I got to London), we went and checked out the Natural History museum, something we had been trying to do ever since we first got to London, but were continually prevented by lack of time, or a fire alarm, or a second fire alarm, so it was with no small amount of tension that we entered the museum. They didn't immediately evacuate, so I assumed we were safe to proceed.

There were dinosaurs. They were awesome, and therefore they were dinosaurs that were awesome. Including a giant animatronic t-rex that frightened small children. There was also a giant blue whale but it was closed for cleaning. (Um. Ew.)

That evening we waited in the hostel for our friend Jana to arrive. Jana was a German exchange student I met back in year 12 but hadn't seen since, tho' Lexi had seen her a few times overseas (though only once in Germany, oddly enough). She was flying over to spend a couple of days with us before my return, and after a fun evening getting caught in delayed trains (something I can relate to), she finally tromped in at about 12:30. We celebrated by immediately falling asleep.

The next day we hopped on a bus and went out to Stonehenge!!! Stonehenge was awesome, all big and stone and hengey. Standing in the snow, clutching an audio guide to our ear, we slowly circled the monument, taking in all it's splendour and it-looks-smaller-in-real-lifeyness. As it turns out this is partially due to design, the way it is placed makes it appear to tower over you as you walk up the hill towards it, and was possibly used to add a sense of power to those who approached it (although the giant calculator and alien theories were there too).

The next day was my last planned day in London. We started out by finding a twinings shop for Jana so she could bring some goodies back to her family, then said our farewells as she headed out to her (hopefully not snowed in) flight back to Germany.

After that we went shopping! Our venue of choice was Foyles, the one time largest bookshop in the world. Naturally this was a very dangerous place for me to be, and I proved it by stocking up on books and graphic novels for the flight home.

After tea in a little cafe, we headed back through the steadily building snow to the hostel, got my bags, and went to the train station, where I said my goodbyes to Lexi. I owe her a huge debt for the organisation (and decision making skills) she did for my holiday, it was a great success and this was largely down to her planning.

From there it would be fairly straightforward. A flight to Bangkok, a short 6 hour stay in a hotel room, before catching a flight to Perth, getting me in the next morning...

Travels in the UK - Days 19-21 - All you need is a large, weird looking Cathedral (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!)

We got in to Liverpool shortly after lunch and, after checking in to our large (and as we found that evening, not sound proofed) hostel, went to check out the two Liverpudlian Cathedrals.

Liverpool has two giant 20th century cathedrals, and they are opposite as two giant 20th century cathedrals can be. The first we saw was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King (say that three times fast backwards in Spanish with a lisp), and it was built and designed in the 1960's, which probably says as much about the look of the building as you need to know. It is large, circular, and honestly just a little bit weird. The inside is full of a set of chairs surrounding an alter, and around the walls were four confessionals, a number of little exhibits, and the stages of the cross. There's also a crypt, but if the church was anything to go by it probably had a disco ball in it, and in any case it was closed.

The second catherdral was the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool, and looks much more like a Cathedral in the traditional sense. What makes it stand out is it. is. huge. All the other cathedrals I'd seen would probably fit comfortably inside it and you'd still have room to hold an actual service. There are bridges inside, for goodness sake! The fact that it's only the 5th largest Cathedral in the world frightens me a little. It also looks very old as only a cathedral can do, which is odd, because it's actually one of the youngest Cathedrals in the world, starting construction in 1904 but not finishing until 1978. So it's actually younger than the cool and funky Metropolitan Cathedral.

That evening we went and checked out the Tate gallery in Liverpool which was full of, well, art. Including a glass of water that had been turned into an oak tree. It's actually just a glass of water, but the artist had managed turn himself into a "git." However, the following story amuses me to no end, and says a lot about Australians.

The Oak Tree (as the glass of water is referred to), is by Michael Craig-Martin, and he has staunchly insisted it is an oak tree in every way, it just happens to look like a glass of water.

So, when he entered Australia, it was promptly quarantined and barred from entering the country, under laws that prohibit bringing plant matter into the country.

It wasn't allowed into the country until he explained that it was actually a glass of water.

It turns out that the version we saw wasn't the original oak tree, as I've just found it the original was bought by the National Gallery of Australia in 1977. But it's ok. The artist made a copy.

As in he filled up another glass of water.

This is one of the reasons I am a little disparaging of post modern art.

The next day we went to visit the Beatles Story, the world's only permanent Beatles exhibition apparently, (although I can't exactly recall a stampede of non permanent exhibitions either but there you go)

The Beatles fan that I am I enjoyed it greatly, most immediately because it got us out of the screaming rain and hail that had been battering us for half an hour before we got there, but after I dried out I enjoyed purely on its own merits. I may have gone a little mad in the gift shop.

After the exhibition we caught the train in Cambridge.

The next day we walked over to see some extended relatives of Lexi's, and they very kindly offered us lunch and a tour of the colleges that hadn't closed for the winter. The colleges are rather beautiful and in many ways it's a shame that studying there isn't really an option, but mostly they were just nice to look at.

The next morning we were on our way back to London.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Travels in the UK – Days 16-18: Now With Updated Title. (Also: Edinburgh and York)

Edinburgh was a big place, and slippery as hell, though that probably had more to do with the snow than Edinburgh itself.

After settling in at the hostel, (which was HUGE) we ventured out into the cold and went to see Edinburgh Castle, which was about as different from Castle Caernarfon as you could get while still being a castle. For starters, it was massive, occupying a whole hill top, and full of its own buildings and towers that held a half dozen different exhibits, which also unfortunately meant that it was littered with large plastic “Did you know?” signs, which didn’t look like they were part of the original castle design (although you never know). So while it definitely had more to see, it felt more like a tourist spot than Castle Caernarfon did. But it was awesome nonetheless. We spent a good few hours wandering through the exhibits and walls until 1:00pm, when it was time to watch them fire the 1:00 gun, something they’d be doing for several hundred years to tell ships docked nearby what the time was so they could reset their chronometers.

The audience gathered as the soldier entered the courtyard, carrying a shell in his arm.

The audience tensed as he loaded the shell into the artillery cannon and prepared the mechanism.

The audience held its breath as the solider glanced at his watch and swung down the trigger.

The audience waited while nothing happened.

The audience started to snigger as the soldier frantically tried to unjam the gun before unloading the shell and headed back inside.

It turned out that the gun had frozen overnight and wouldn’t be able to fire, and of course it either fires on time or not at all, so there was no firing that day, which left me feeling sorry for the solider more than disappointed. So we went and had a cup of tea instead, which wasn’t a bit a spectacle but did have the advantage of being a cup of tea.

Lexi roasted a ham for dinner that evening which was a bit of a luxury.

The next day we headed out to Calton Hill which was, well it was a big hill, but it gave a fantastic view of the surrounding city, and looked rather wonderful covered in snow. Going up the hill was a bit tough in the snow, but quite doable.

Going down was a slow and treacherous descent of holding desperately onto railings  and trying to find the less slippery patches of snow, and getting the vague feeling that Lexi was quietly rather amused by the whole thing, or at least would be if she wasn’t holding on for dear life herself.

That evening we popped down to the cinema to see “Sherlock Holmes” which turned out to be a rollicking good action film with everyone in top form.

The next morning we left early and headed down to the train station, and had the supreme pleasure of catching a train that was on time and empty, so there was space for our luggages, and a table seat available for us to claim. Luxury.

We got into York late on Day 17 (30th of December for reference), and aside from a rather lengthy wrong turning got to our hotel without much issue. York. Is. Amazing. I’ve remarked before how old London felt. York feels older. The fact that it’s smaller probably contributes, but this kind of heightened the feeling of the weight of history of seeing yet another 800 year old building every time you turned a corner. Every block has at least something ancient on it, and the town is littered with small modest plaques saying things like “on this spot in 1292...”

What dominates the town is Yorkminster, a giant abbey that could probably give Westminster a run for it’s money, looking all the more imposing because there’s no other building in the town that even comes close to matching its size. We went to evening prayer, which was held in a small side chapel. Earlier in the day we went to the Castle Museum, and the National Rail Museum.

There isn’t actually a Castle in York anymore, so the assumption is that the museum is where the castle used to be. This is heightened by the fact that there isn’t really any mention of castles in the museum. There were some very good history sections, including one wall exhibits about the history of vacuum cleaners or funerals etc, which were actually very interesting because most museums I’ve been to seem to think that this kind of thing would be beneath them, which is a shame because I learnt more from these walls than any giant dinosaur skeleton. Not that dinosaurs are not awesome, you understand. They are.

The National Rail Museum turned me into a 5 year old, and I merrily wandered between the engines, marvelling and the size and feeling again the romance of train travel, torn between two thoughts, one half of me wishing I lived in an era when steam trains still ruled and I could become a train driver, and the other half reminding my first half that being a train driver was a downright terrible job.

There was also a Thomas shop, but they didn’t have the complete collection of Rev Awdry stories, so I didn’t bother buying anything from there.

After all the museums we headed out for a bar and grill dinner then back to the hotel, for it was now only a few hours to the new year. Shipping our champagne and orange juice (from a can, no less), we watched the clock tick down to midnight, shouted “hooray,” went outside to watch the fireworks for a bit and then went to bed.

This morning we are on the train to Liverpool, where I intend to find something to do with the Beatles.

Interlude: An Intimate Interview With 2009

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
Went overseas; stayed up for 48 hours; made a career change decision; MC'd a wedding, participated in a group photo shoot; had my email account hacked; the list goes on.

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any resolutions this year, or at least I've forgotten them. Hopefully one of them wasn't "Improve my memory."

For 2010 I resolve to make something of my writing and do something with it, to always have a story to write and a project to work on. To clear up my finances and settle into part time work.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My cousin became a father, but they've in another state, so maybe not literally close.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My friend's poodle passed away, I've known the poodle as long as I've known them. Otherwise, fortunately no.

5. What countries did you visit?
England, Scotland, Wales.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
More writing.

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
October 12th. Stepped down from being a Team Ldear, and took my first step towards my new work plans.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Realising what I wanted to do, and that it was more important than stability.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Taking as long as I did to realise the above.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A few colds here and there, fortunately nothing worse.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The ticket to the UK. Also a playstation 3.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
So many. The friend who has basically planned and executed my holiday. The friend who involves me in their creative projects and inspires me to work harder in my own. All the friends who have been there for me in one way or another.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
The men I know who tried to take advantage of the women I know.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Travel, and random splurging on treats for me.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Foreigner. The new TSO album. The Beatles. Going to the UK. The Alice Shoot. My new plans.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Don't Stop Believin' by Journey (Glee version, and original)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i) Happier or sadder? Happier!
ii) Thinner or fatter? Thinner!
iii) Richer or poorer? Poorer, but I've spent it better.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Writing, time with friends.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Random spending.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Went to Inverness Cathedral for a morning church service, then a quiet afternoon with presents, then fancy dinner out in the evening.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
I wouldn't feel confident to go as far as love. But possibly.

23. How many one-night stands?
None. How many next year? None. How many for ever? None.

24. What was your favourite TV program?
Castle was a late challenger, but I'd have to say Cowboy Bebop.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Not hate. But I have extreme dislike for the men in question 13.

26. What was the best book you read?
Nation by Terry Pratchett.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Beatles. Foreigner.

28. What did you want and get?
A wonderful holiday. A goal.

29. What did you want and not get?
As much saved as I'd like, writing opportunities.

30. What was your favourite film of this year?
Sherlock Holmes was pretty darn good, but possibly Up as the favourite.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 25. I had friends over and we had pancakes. It was good.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
In the long run it was completely satisfying. I just kind of wish I had worked things out sooner.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
2008, back for one more year.

34. What kept you sane?
My friends, my iPod, my sense of purpose.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I didn't. Sorry.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Swine Flu. Not political but it was the ONLY issue I got stirred up about. Stupid panic.

37. Who did you miss?
My family, and in alphabetical order, Bec, Cat, Debbie, Jen, Jules, Lexi, Thomas.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Mostly it was the old friends that mattered most this year.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007:
You're only human. You can't do everything. But you can do a lot.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
Don't stop believing, hold on to that feeling.;