Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Grey days

Back in London, rapidly running out of money.

Stayed an extra night in Luton for lack of anywhere else to be. It's a text-book classic example of the ugly English town. No-one does depressing brick quite like the Brits. The hostel was really weird - basically a couple of bunk beds shoved in someone's spare room, but the owner friendly enough. I fell asleep not too long after arriving on my first night (maybe 10.30 pm) and some time later was awoken by the room's only other inhabitant coming home. Drifting in and out of sleep as she got undressed etc., I made the mistake of rolling over at one point, which gave her just the opening she needed to launch in: "Do you snore?"... I had to ask her to repeat the question about three times, seeing that I was, technically speaking, asleep. Then I wanted to say "I WAS sleeping, why don't you tell me" but managed a grunt in reply. "Because there was this boy in here last night, and he snored and I couldn't sleep, and..." YOU couldn't sleep?? God, shut up! I'm also quite disturbed that she was apparently watching me for signs of life, ready to launch her conversation bomb at the first flicker of movement. The next day, spent moping about Luton town centre, was equally grim.

Sunday I was down to London, it was boiling hot (as the runners in the London Marathon could no doubt tell you) so after checking in at my hostel I just retired to the conveniently-located cemetery with the Sunday paper. Faithful readers will note that I've visited cemeteries in Edinburgh and Moscow, and no less than three times in Prague, so it was good times for Gwan. They run cemetery tours, which I was greatly tempted by, but restrained from by budgetary concerns. Dire budgetary concerns.

That night was marked by very little sleep - the 'Luton snorer' appears to have made his way to London - for me and for the unfortunate gentleman in the bunk bed below me, who was (presumably) awoken at one point in the night by my dropping a bottle of water on him (sorry!). Then in the morning, I went and visited the Imperial War Museum - normally the sort of place I'd avoid, as full of guns and planes and boring stuff, but I'd heard good things and I must say it was pretty good. Checked out the Holocaust section, wimp as I am it made me all teary. Gotta toughen up before Auschwitz...

So, still no word on France or anything. Am looking around desperately for temp jobs, but nothing so far. I guess I should go back and book another night in the hostel. If you have a roof over your head and money coming in, be thankful!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Last night in Praha

Scott, Laurie and Sonja at Akvarium

Scott, me and Laur

So it's 1 am and I've just arrived back 'home' from my last night in Prague. Unfortunately I didn't get to hang out with everyone today, but I had drinks with Carolyn, Laurie, Scott & Sonja and I saw Greg earlier today, so that's almost everyone on my Prague list.

One of the weird things of being back here is being able to see how things have changed, maybe better than the people who have stayed here all along. One of the major things I've observed is that my old CELTA friends hang out together, particularly in big groups, much less often than before. I get the impression that they all see each other less frequently, and it tends to be in ones or twos, rather than all going out together in a group like before I left. Friday nights at Radost, for example, was a bit of an institution when I was here, but I think that really doesn't happen so much any more. I suppose it's natural - everyone has made new friends from work, flatmates, and just randomly, and of course for them they've just settled into the routines of everyday life, rather than being on holiday 'let's go drinking every night' mode like I've been while I've been here. I'm quite pleased that a couple of people have said to me that it's been good my being here because I've encouraged a few people to come out and catch up not only with me, but with the rest of the old gang.

Can't help but wonder what things would have been like if I'd stayed. I'm perpetually trying to figure out whether I wound up with a less-than-ideal teaching job or whether it was just that I couldn't hack it. From talking to my Prague mates, I suppose it seems to be a little bit of both. The consensus seems to be that teaching one on one (like most of my Prague friends do) is a bit easier than teaching classes (which I was doing exclusively) - but I still can't shake the feeling that everyone else has coped a bit better than me in pretty well equally trying situations. Teaching English is neither easy nor (definitely) spectacularly remunerative - not in Europe, at any rate.

So, what have I been doing with myself in the past few days? Not a lot, really. I did come over with some grand plans to see a bit of the countryside surrounding Prague, but it really hasn't materialised. The whole point of coming here and my focus while I've been here has been catching up with my friends, not doing the whole tourist thing, and to that end it's been mostly late nights and sleep-ins, and not much time (or, indeed, much motivation) for doing the typical tourist sights in the day. I've pretty much seen it all (well, the major spots) in Prague, in any case. I do feel that I've been able to spend a good amount of time catching up with most people, but on the other hand, the time has just flown by and I can't believe it's time to go home again tomorrow.

When I was planning the trip, 10 days seemed such a long time - after all, most 'city breaks' are maybe 3 days, and something like a week in a place seems like an eternity. But these past few days have just vanished so quickly, and I'm really sad to be leaving again so soon. All my friends here are like 'stay in Prague!' and I reallly wish I could. Of all the places I've been since I've been in Europe, it's definitely here that I feel most at home, that I've been most happy, and that I've made the most friends. I love that I can just walk around any area of central Prague without ever needing to look at a map, that people can refer to obscure little bars or parks off the tourist map, and I'll know what they're talking about. Prague is really a place that I've got to know so much better than your average stag party weekender, and I miss it a lot.

Today Greg and I were up at Prague Castle, and I walked through Mala Strana (one of my favourite Prague suburbs) and on to Charles Bridge on the way home. On Charles Bridge I touched the statue of Jan Nepomuk, which is meant to ensure that you come back to Prague one day. It's rubbed shiny with the wishes of millions of people, and I hope it works for me. After all, it did last time...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Drunken fun (is there any other kind?)

Warning, some of the following photos are alcohol-induced. And no, there's not really anything going on between me & the Scott, it's all just photo fun! And it was ALL SCOTTY'S IDEA!

Scotty & I have a moment

A good time had by all

I think I might be kneeling on a chair here? Or is Scotty really that much taller than me?

Scotty gets a spanking - not that he's complaining

And returns the favour

Oskar & me. Going...


Gone! (well, close enough anyway)

The explanation for the photos above... Couldn't do a photoshoot with them undrunken, probably would have dropped tham all!

I try to line up with the shadow man (not all that successfully)

Greg, me & Carolyn

We went to Petrin Park, not Letna, which was sunny and relaxing and nice.
Later on that night (Saturday) I met Laurie for dinner at a Mexican place. Unfortunately she wasn't feeling too well and had to go home without even touching her meal. What to do? Well, naturally, call up Greg 'the cleaner'! One quick phone call and twenty minutes later, he turns up and proceeds to not only eat all of Laurie's meal, but to request a doggy bag and go home with my leftovers! The waiters looked a bit bemused as to what was going on, but Greg got a free meal and I got a replacement dining companion, so everyone was happy (well, except Laurie). By the time all this dinner-time shuffling had finished, it was around 11 pm before we made it across town to meet Carolyn & one of her work friends Adam, for drinks. I was thinking it would be a bit of a quiet night, but (with the addition of Scotty and his friend Oskar not long after Greg & I arrived at the bar) we ended up having quite a night of it. Greg went home pretty early, and Scotty hit the hay at about 3.30, but Carolyn, Adam, Oskar and I rocked on until (in mine and Carolyn's case) 7 am. Highlights of the evening included my Kamikaze cocktail, which turned up as a row of seven shots, and the fun photo shoot me and Scotty had...

Sunday morning was, funnily enough, reserved for sleeping. I hadn't got really pissed the night before, so no hangover, but pretty tired! In the afternoon, Scotty, Oskar and I went shopping down in Wenceslas Square, then at night me and Scotty met up with Laurie (feeling much better) for a movie - Notes on a Scandal, which was pretty intense and not quite what I was expecting from the broad plot summary I'd been given. Great acting, as you'd expect.

Don't know what I'll do today - Prague tends to shut down on Mondays... I've also been spending my money a wee bit faster than I should... Damn cocktails! The thing is though, unlike NZ and (I think) Britain, cocktails are only very slightly more expensive than just a vodka and sprite most of the time, so I tend to think why not?
On Sunday, as you can see, I had some photos done - more below in the posts 'Happy Easter' (last weekend's Boat Race and some general London snaps), 'Seaside Holiday' (trip to Brighton) and 'Catch up' (way back in January, it covers the second lot of St Petersburg photos and my photos from when my parents were in England).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Prague Spring

An uncomfortable-looking sculpture at Troja Palace

Scotty sits on the Troja staircase

The staircase minus Scotty (its loss)

The garden-side facade of Troja

I make friends with a statue (by the way, sitting on the contorted stone lap of a statue ain't comfy)

The other side of Troja

Laurie, Scott, Alasdair, me & Kim at Radost

The Skoda ad which now graces the centre of Old Town Square

Spring has (half) arrived at the National Museum

The stomach-churning tinned sausages you can partake of in Prague. Note the drool (?) dripping from his eager mouth. Ewwww!

My secret trip to Prague is now well underway! For those of you not in the know, it was unannounced on the blog so that I could surprise all of my Prague friends (except Scotty, who is kindly giving me a couch to sleep on, so naturally had to be let in to the secret). The basic rationale behind the trip was - no job, no home, why not? I got here Wednesday evening and it's been great catching up with my 'homebase in Europe' and seeing (some of) my friends. They've proved a slippery bunch to get hold of in secret, so this morning we had to 'fess up to Sonja in order to drag her out of bed.

Anyway, so what have I been up to? Wednesday night Scotty and I popped out and caught up with Laurie in a restaurant - classic mid-sentence "oh my god!" reaction when she saw me. Thursday I spent just walking around Prague, visiting some of my old haunts. It is gloriously sunny and typically cloudless Prague weather and HOT, lovely! On the downside, this has brought about the return of the tourist hordes in Old Town. Old Town Square is so choked with tents and booths and people that you can't even see how beautiful it is. And they've covered up the Jan Hus statue in the middle with a Skoda ad (this is while it's under restoration, but still, it's pretty tacky). On Thursday night it was back to Radost 'home of Prague's beautiful people'. Unfortunately, it was hosting a Maxim party that evening and we just weren't quite beautiful enough. But we managed to squeeze into the tiny portion of the restaurant that was open, and I got to spring my surprise presence on Greg (confused-gradually-becoming-enlightened stare) and Alasdair (nonchalant 'oh hey').

Yesterday Scotty and I went out to Troja Palace, in what appears to be Prague's wealthy 'burbs - they have real houses instead of flats and even gardens, wow! Troja Palace was home to some old-style gardens - meticulously laid-out hedges, which are all very well in their way, but they lack the flashy flowers that today's discerning generation clamour out for - and a fine collection of portraits of dogs and horses (mmm interesting...). It also had really nice painted walls and ceilings, which eventually gave Scotty and me a crick in the neck, but were very pretty for all that. We spent about two hours sitting out in the sun and about an hour in the palace, so shows where our priorities are.

Last night we were meant to be heading out for destinations unknown, but wound up just getting pissed at Scotty's with a few friends, which is agreeably cheaper and pretty much as fun. I was sad not to make it to Lucerna, everyone's favourite 80s disco (which was one of the ideas floated), but hey. I was also pissed that Laurie asked if I was tone deaf. Hey, thanks buddy! I'm not that bad of a singer, am I? Let's blame it on the booze, okay?

Today Prague once again looks glorious (or as much of it as I can see from Scotty's window, & the internet tells me it's 20 degrees), so the plan is to rustle up some of our mates and take a picnic to Letna Park (if that's in fact what it's called) for some fine conversation and sunshine. Hooray!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy Easter

Jess, Kate & Mark at a club
Me, Jess & Kate

Me & Jess at the pub after the Boat Race

My stellar viewing window at the Boat Race

Jess 'climbs' a tree in front of an appreciative crowd

And she's up! Number One!

Tower Bridge, as seen from my walking route from the flat to the tube

Tower Bridge, as seen from the banks of the Thames

The spiral staircase in the Monument. I have a photo exactly like this from my last trip, but hey.

The view of Tower Bridge from the Monument (very popular subject for photography, that bridge)

The Tower as it appears on my daily walk

Passageway next to the docks on the way to the Tube. I just thought it looked cool with the light and shadow

Lacking reliable internet access at the mo, so let's catch everyone up on my various doings. Nothing much exciting to report really though. Went to the Museum of London - it's pretty lame and the section from the Great Fire up to the present day is closed until 2009, so don't make a special trip over to research the recent history of London, k?
On Sat went to see the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, along with a couple of Jess's friends. I'd heard of this before, but had no idea it was such a big deal - an estimated quarter of a million people turn out along the banks of the Thames to see it, and if they're anything like me, they get about a 5 second glimpse through the ranks of other people's heads. Jess fared slightly better after being shoved up a tree for a good view. Cambridge won apparently, but we were right at the start, so it took a few hours to ascertain that fact. Basically, it was an excuse for a bit of a picnic and a few drinkies, which ended up turning into a lot of drinkies and a late night. Started off at about 2 in the afternoon (fairly warm and fairly sunny, although unfortunately not as nice as it was for the rest of the weekend - lovely!) and wound up crashing out at Jess's about 12 hours later, so it was a particularly good effort that I was only feeling a tad fragile the next morning.
On Monday, I went to the Tower of London, since as a 'local resident' I could get in for a pound, hurrah! This is especially grand when you note the horrendous normal price of £16!! I could buy ummm something substantial for that kind of money. But for one squid it was a good offer, even though I've been before and didn't bother with the huge queue for the crown jewels.
And that's about all of interest. So now you know the rest of the story.
Oh, and no Easter eggs for me, bums.