Thursday, August 31, 2006

My new home in Prague

Clock in the Old Town Square

View from my bedroom window

My bedroom - bed in the near corner

In the last thrilling installment I left my loyal readers wondering whether I would manage to hook up with the mysterious Steve. Happily, yes - after about 15 mins mooching about the bar on my own, occasionally peering in the direction of a young gentleman who was possibly my unknown friend, he came over and it emerged it was in fact Steve. (I had thought he wasn't looking around nearly enough for someone expecting to meet a total stranger - turns out he was attempting to look nonchalant - and he couldn't quite see the small polka dots on my top.) But anyway, we managed it in the end and had a nice evening chatting and having a few drinks in a couple of bars. I stayed out far too late, getting to bed about 12 am, which did not make it at all pleasant to get up 4 hours later to catch the airport bus, feeling a bit seedy from lack of sleep and too many vodkas with Steve. But c'est la vie, I felt a bit better as the morning wore on.

Then it was off to Prague. Some difficulties meeting up with the taxi driver - I hung about the arrivals gate for about half an hour and then gave up and went to find a phone to ring the school. Just after I had asked at the info desk and was making my way to the phone, I finally came across him so we were off. The conversation in the cab was rather limited (driver: "metro" (pointing), me: "ah"; driver: 'skola' (school), me: "oh") but I did enjoy that there was a czech version of 'I don't know how to love him' from 'Jesus Christ Superstar' on the radio heh heh.

My new home is on the 13th floor of a block of flats out in the 'burbs, about a minute's walk from the school and 5 mins from the metro, where there are various shops and a supermarket (excellente). The lift up to the flat is rather dodgy - it basically has a door on it like a cupboard door and it's really slow and kinda scary, so it's the stairs unless I really can't be bothered. The flat itself is pretty cool - 3 bedrooms, kitchen/dining room, hallway, toilet and bathroom and my room is absolutely freaking huge! I have a bed, desk, armchair and chest of drawers and still a ton of floor space. There's a decent view out of the windows although nothing fantastic since we're just in a normal residential area. It's reasonably noisy since we're by a relatively main road - traffic and construction noise in the day (seems to be a lot of construction going on in Prague) but not too bad.

My flatmate arrived home after lunch and another girl who is going to be on the course came back to the flat with her and the three of us went out in the afternoon to the city centre and wandered around - Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge etc. which was nice. It was good to be with people who had been here a few days and know their way around.

On the way back home we went to the supermarket. Shopping is a serious challenge when you don't know what things cost or even what they are in many cases! It probably took about twice as long, figuring out things like "is that washing powder for cold washes? warm washes? colours? whites? Is that full-fat or skim milk?" etc. etc. etc. And I'm definitely perfecting my blank stare when people ask me questions. I guess it would be easier to say "nerozumim" (I don't understand) but obviously that would out me as a tourist far faster than my look of terror when the checkout operator talks to me! It seems to be pretty cheap though - I just worked out that my grocery bill was about 500 czech crowns or $35 NZ and although I probably didn't get everything I'll need, that covered basics like mince, chicken, pasta, bread, milk, butter, eggs, veges etc. so heaps cheaper than England I'm sure. I think I spent way too much in the first couple of weeks, but now I'm living here I plan to be a lot more careful with how much I spend.

It's kinda sinking in now how much more difficult life is when you don't speak the language - even simple things take forever and you can't really ask people for help if you're lost or whatever (well, I could, but don't know that I'd understand the answer). But that's all part of the challenge, so we'll see how I get on. My sister is arriving tomorrow so I'll have to do some scoping out of the place in readiness for showing her around.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Edinburgh cont.

View from the castle

Nick and Briar in Princes gardens

Pipe band in front of the art gallery

Edinburgh Castle

Right, so yesterday after the museum I decided to wander down to Princes St, which is the main shopping drag and do a bit of silver charm finding. Easier said than done, believe me! The only charms on offer were tack as - mini shoes and handbags seem mysteriously popular. However, there was a (mini?) pipe band playing in the Princes Gardens on the way down, they were pretty cool. After that I had to skedaddle back to the hostel because I was meeting Briar (ex-workmate) and her boyfriend Nick for an early (5 pm) dinner.
Just before heading out, I gave Steve - the brother of a woman who works with my mum - a call, to arrange meeting up tonight for a drink. I was rather panicked finding coins for the payphone (managed to run out and hang up on him once) but I had to laugh - once we had arranged where and when we would meet, it occurred to me that we wouldn't be able to recognise each other. Me: "Um, god, I'm about 5"5, brunette, um..." Steve: (clearly thinking I was about to say something like, "does that turn you on baby?") "Ummm...... oh right, because we won't be able to... oh yeah, um I'll figure something out and email you" Me: "Oh, I know, I'll wear a polka-dot top". Sorted, I hope.
Anyway, Briar & Nick & I had dinner and then went to see the comedian Danny Bhoy, who, as Briar repeatedly pointed out, is quite nice-looking and pretty funny as well, so good time had by all.
After having a drink after the show, I got back to the hostel about 10, expecting to be the lamoid one in the dorm, but at least 3 people were already in bed sleeping, which made me feel better!
Today I was once again up early and, since I was too early for the Castle as planned, had a wee wander round St. Giles', which was nice but not superlatively so. Then up to the Castle which was pretty cool - absolutely fantastic views from the top - it's once again fine and sunny and virtually unlimited visibility, across the city and out to the Firth of Forth and I think you can even see Ben Lomond (well, so it said, but not sure if the distant peak was that or just a smaller, closer hill). I was, however, quite annoyed that I paid £3 for an audio guide, then you walk in and there's a free guided tour just kicking off! Anyway, the audio guide was informative (did you know Dunedin was the original name for Edinburgh before the English showed up?) the crown jewels - 'Scotland's Honours' - were nice (although according to an American tourist "the queen's are better") and there were various other items of interest. Plus you can't go to Edinburgh and not see the Castle, pricey as it may be.
So fingers crossed all goes well for the blind play-date (as I call it) tonight and getting up at 4 am to go to the airport grrrr....

Monday, August 28, 2006

Edinburgh at Festival time

Statue of Greyfriars Bobby

Street performers juggling flaming torches (one's on a unicycle) plus the back of someone's head

St Giles' cathedral in the middle of the fringe doings.

Had a quiet time catching up with Mikey and family in Woking and then a 6am start Sunday morning to catch flight to Edinburgh. Gatwick Airport is thoroughly awful I must say - huge single line for check-in, then it suddenly split into like 5 lines, so you had the agonizing experience of seeing people who probably turned up half an hour after you manage to get checked in quicker. Plus the check-in desk I was at broke right when I got there grrrr! I was two hours early and I needed every minute of it. Plus I got patted down at the security check - I didn't even set off the gate alarm! Plus I assumed when she said "hold out your arms" that the metal detector was coming, not the busy hands attack - I suggest they inform people in future! Can I start another sentence with 'plus'? No, time for 'however'. However, they didn't charge me for being 2 kgs overweight, excellente.

After hauling my large and heavy wheelie suitcase up Royal Mile through all the Fringe doings, I arrived at the hostel and then went straight back to see what I'd been missing the first time. Beautiful sunny day and lots of fun - basically just street performers everywhere, doing everything from singing opera to escaping from straightjackets. The performers also seemed to have a penchant for stripping down to their undies - or to pink tutus concealed beneath their clothes. I wasn't complaining meh heh heh.

That was lots of fun then in the evening after having a pint of cider in a pub all by my lonesome :( I went to a production of Moliere's The Hypochondriac which was reasonably dire! It was in a teensy tiny little theatre (six rows deep), but they hammed it up as if they were in a Victorian music hall - the exaggerated gestures, the wacky facial expressions, the shouting of every line - dear me! Luckily it was only an hour or so long and I trotted back to the hostel by 10 pm and promptly went to bed (I did get up at 6, remember).

Today I was up bright and early, picked up my clean laundry at the hostel reception (£2.50, damn you Irish laundrette extortionists!) and availed myself of the unisex shower, which I'm not a huge fan of, but there are doors, thankfully. Then I thought I'd wander up to the Scottish Museum. Amazingly, I got there half an hour before it opened, so I had a wee walk around Greyfriar's churchyard, with the obligatory stop at Greyfriar's Bobby's grave. I went on a tour around the museum, which was quite interesting. View from the top was great - it's another lovely day today and then had another wee mosey about. Don't know how much I learned, but a fine way to pass the morning. At home I would likely still be in bed by now!

PS You know you can use the 'comments' section to tell me if I'm being boring or if you're madly jealous or what have you... always nice to know who (if anyone) is reading and what they think

Friday, August 25, 2006


Gorgeous day in London town today - sunny, blue skies, the whole nine yards. Lovely day for a tube ride to St Pauls followed by a walk across the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern. St. Pauls I have seen already, but I was interested this time by the scaffolding on the river-facing facade. Scaffolding, whilst obviously necessary, is the bane of the historical-building-seeking tourist, and it's everywhere. What they have done at St. Pauls is cover this scaffolding with a huge canvas, on which is a drawing of the facade - very clever! Up close it looks a bit silly, but it has quite a trompe l'oeil effect when viewed from afar - photo to follow at some stage.
Anyway, enough on scaffolding. The Kandinsky exhibit, as many of you know, has been eagerly anticipated by moi and it was lovely. It was basically themed around showing the evolution in his style from representative to abstract, then moving from more lyrical compositions to a more sparse and angular style. Thankfully it didn't go as far as his later works, such as 'Squares with Concentric Circles' which seem to be beloved by many, but which don't do it for me at all. It even had 'Lyrical' (aka 'Lyrisches') which is one of the two big framed prints which used to hang proudly in the lounge of the Onehunga house and now are consigned to ignominy downstairs at my parents'. Love that painting. Love Kandinsky in general.
I then had a very quick whip around the rest of Tate Modern - not my most favouritist of galleries, I prefer the Pompidou (ah, pretentiousness, thy name is Gwan) but still a decent selection. It had some covers of 'USSR under construction' a Soviet-propaganda rag published in various languages and graced by the likes of Rodchenko. Curiously, one of the covers featured a moustachioed man passionately kissing a Red Army soldier. What the? I doubt the Soviet Union was noted for its homo-friendliness, so who knows what that was meant to symbolize! Very cool it was though, I must say. Soviet propaganda art is a wee penchant of mine, as my erstwhile library colleagues will know - actually the Pompidou has a great selection...
Anyway, this arvo I'm off to Woking to meet up with my very good friend Mike and see his lovely parents, so until we meet again kiddies, farewell!

The Emerald Isle p. 2

Baby boars!

Makes sense...

Quin Abbey

Cliffs of Moher

Ancient stone fort up on the Burren

Heather with a donkey friend.

Right, well Heather and I spent Monday to Thursday roadtripping around rural county Clare - not the sort of thing I would have picked myself, being an unreconstructed city girl, but very pleasant as it happened.
We were staying in a nice, quiet B&B for the first two nights, on the edge of 'The Burren' - a spacey rocky hilly area which may look dead but, as we found out on a very informative walk, is actually full of rare plants and the like: We had an hilarious and very knowledgeable Irish farmer as our guide on our four hour walk up Blackhead Mountain. What an accent! I thought he was describing some exotic species of burren-only plant when he was talking about 'ellum', until he said, 'like Dutch Ellum Disease'. He also had some great stories, like the time an American woman called to ask him to look for her memory card up on the mountain (like asking someone to look for it amongst the scoria on Tongariro or Ngarahoe - whichever has the scoria) 'Oh, I had great fun with her. Asking "how big is it?" and "what colour is it" then I said "you're fecking mad, woman!" - I don't think she was expecting that.' Ha ha. Most of my clothes were at the launderette (getting cleaned for the princely sum of 11 euro) and I had no suitable duds for climbing up a mountain anyway so I was woefully attired and luckily he lent me a jacket because it was very cold and windy and sometimes rainy up there... Lesson learned? Not likely.
That was about it for Tuesday, Wednesday we had a busy day, driving out to Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic tomb, then to the Cliffs of Moher where the weather was again shite (as the Irish would say - I myself would never use such a filthy word) but you could see the cliffs a bit, which were very pretty, then to the town of Ennis, where we wandered around a ruined friary and had some lunch, then we took in Quin Abbey (likewise ruined, and quite a spooky place), then to a castle whose name I have already forgotten but I'm sure Heather knows, as it was built by one of her illustrious ancestors. On the way to Quin, we took one of the back roads, which was barely wide enough for one car and actually had grass growing down the middle of it - very glad we didn't meet anyone coming the other way! As it was, most of the reasonably main roads were a tight squeeze for two cars, and there were plenty of occasions where we had to duck into a driveway or practically dive into the hedge to avoid trucks and buses coming in the other direction. Finally we wound up in Sixmilebridge, where our hostel was, for some dinner in the hostel kitchen and a few cold ciders down at the pub.
On Thursday morning we went out to Craggaunowen, which is like a reconstruction of a Bronze age settlement, based around an old castle (a tiny old castle, I should say) which was quite interesting. My favourite part was the 'wild boar compound' which featured two big boars and some very sweet little baby boars (boarlets?) which scampered about the compound with reckless abandon. Then it was off to Shannon airport, quite a bit of waiting around, and finally back to London and dinner with my sister.

The Emerald Isle p. 1

Okay, so we have a view of the river Liffey, my new haircut (surprise!), ranch being mysteriously sexy with a quote at the Guinness factory, me pondering life's problems in 'Arthur Guinness's chair' (or a random chair, I really don't know), and finally ranch the happy train driver, also at the Guinness factory.

I turned up to the airport on Fri so early that they stuck me on a flight an hour earlier than booked - then we were delayed on the tarmac for 2 hours following some sort of a 'security breach' (don't know what). That was lucky as it happened, because I walked out of the gate at Dublin and was surprised to be the recipient of a hug from ranch (Francesca) who had told me she was flying back from London that evening and couldn't meet me, but was obviously telling porkies to surprise me. That night we stayed in and watched the UK Big Brother final (sigh!) then Saturday visited the Guinness factory which was semi-dull but enlivened by our taking crazy photos posing with various Guinness-related ephemera and basically making idiots of ourselves. I did have a wee sip of Guinness, but I'm afraid I then used my free drink token for a sprite (so did ranch) so we had to pretend to be pregnant (ranch) and recovering alcoholic (me) to cover the shame. This consisted of ranch clutching her belly and me looking wistfully at glasses of Guinness. Quite why a recovering alcoholic would choose to tour the Guinness factory, I don't know.
We then got roundly drenched on the way out (lovely Irish summer weather), went shopping, went to the pub (Irish music and dancing) then spent Sunday basically walking for hours around the city. We went outside Christ Church Cathedral, but Ranch refused to go inside a Protestant cathedral (nutter) and we couldn't find St. Pat's, so that was that.
Monday I caught a very crowded train all the way across Ireland to Athenry (south-westish) where I was met by Heather and the Irish ROADTRIP could begin. I'll have to update you all on that at some other point, I think we're paying through the nose for this internet... Anyway, we're here until Thursday, then back to London again briefly.

To London

Flight to London was long and tiring as you may expect. Air con not working very well most of the time, so also v. hot and unpleasant. But whatever, it's over never mind. Got picked up at Heathrow by a taxi (thanks to my sis) and shuttled into the lovely Holland Park district where she lives. Her flat is lovely, everything's very nice. Haven't even seen any homeless folk or what not about, but plenty of coppers on the beat. Yesterday was pretty out of it as you can imagine, so didn't get up to much. Jess and I had a wee stroll around Holland Park (as in the actual park), Notting Hill, Portobello Road and so on - not much doing on a Thursday though. Then we got a DVD and afterwards went to the pub for dinner, where I was the subject of a dare from my big sis and found myself eating FROGS LEGS - which were actually not bad. Cliche, I know, but tastes like chicken. After a pint and a half of cider, which was more than enough in my jetlagged state, it was off home to bed.
Didn't sleep too badly and then up at 7 (I can hear my Mum now - "Why don't you try to keep getting up at 7?"... yes mother.)

Went out this morning to Southwark Cathedral as planned, to pay homage to that medieval man-about-town - you all know who I'm talking about - Mr. John Gower. Lovely tomb he has too. Took a ton of photos, so when I get things sorted I'm sure I can bore everyone with them. That brings us up nicely to the present moment so I must dash back to the flat and ready myself for the airport to fly to Dublin (back to Heathrow, alas, but hand luggage allowed thankfully).

Can't work out how to caption photos properly - but that's Gower's tomb; a ceiling spandrel (if that's the word) reading 'veritas' - that's one for the girls who went to school with me (it's the school motto of the lovely St. Dominics College); a creepy stone effigy on someone's tomb and a view of the cathedral from outside (nice sunny day as you can see).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hello all

It's a T minus (almost) 7 days until lift-off, so time to set up the travelblog. I haven't worked out yet what proportion of communicating will be done via email to the chosen few, and what proportion will be put on the net for all to enjoy, but we'll figure it out together (how sweet).

And now, so you can chart my progress with little coloured pins on a map of the world, is my itinerary:

Wed 16th August
Dep. Auckland

Thurs 17th August
Arrive London - very tired

Fri 18th August
London - Dublin

Sat 19th – Mon 21st August
Dublin with Ranchez

Mon 21st August
Dublin - County Clare

Mon 21st – Thurs 24th August
County Clare Roadtrip with H

Thurs 24th August
Shannon - London

Fri 25th August
London - Woking

Sat 26th August
Woking - London

Sun 27th August
London - Edinburgh

Sun 27th – Wed 30th August

Wed 30th August
Edinburgh - Prague

Fri 1st September - Sun 3rd September
Jess visiting Prague

Wed 30th August – Sat 30th September (?)

After Sat 30th September

Hope there's not enough detail there for the random stalkers which plague me to pick up my trail...

How excitement! And only 16 hours left at the library, at least 1 of which is taken up with a part-ay in my honour, sweet. Aiight catch you when I'm on my way.