Friday, March 28, 2008

Home sweet...

I've been meaning to get round to a valedictory address for a while now. I'm back home, in one piece, and have relocated to Wellington for university (Master of Library and Information Studies). Which is somewhat dull but not too bad. And I like being a library assistant, so the giddy heights of librarian should be even better. I live in a flat with 5 others, mix of students and not, all in their 20s. Pretty good atmosphere, there's usually someone around to distract me from studying, which is a mission admittedly ha ha. Wellington is a nice place, much more compact than Auckland (not hard), don't know if the atmos is particularly cultured as people would have you believe, but there does seem to be a fair bit on at any given time, which is nice. I'm working in the library of a certain institute which shall remain nameless, I like my job, pay's pretty good and my colleagues are nice, so thumbs up all round.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Istanbul pics

Many more Istanbul pics to follow once I get my photos off the camera back in NZ...

The Blue Mosque

I try to look pious in an attempt to be let behind the praying section of the mosque. Not sure what the weird shadow under me eye is about though

Inside the Blue Mosque - my photos really don't do it justice, I'm sure better are out on the net somewhere, but you really gotta be there

Ceiling in the Blue Mosque

If the aim of the headscarf is to frumpify its wearer, it sure works on me

The Hagia Sophia - right across the road from the Blue Mosque

Me with the Blue Mosque in the background

Hagia Sophia from the outside - see what I mean about squat?

Another Jesus mosaic in Hagia Sophia

Mosaic of Jesus and friends

Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia - I still can't work out if it's blurry cause I can't take a photo or cause it's a mosaic

Andy in Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

A fine job done in covering up a cross in Hagia Sophia

In Hagia Sophia

In Hagia Sophia

A tale of two continents, and one city

I've just arrived back from my very last (!!!) adventure in Europe before heading back to NZ. I still can't quite believe that this time tomorrow I'll be well on my way back home... Just sustaining myself in the belief that it's only a temporary sojourn in the southern hemisphere before returning topside.

Anyway, Istanbul was absolutely fab, I loved it. Exiting the miles-away-from-the-city Sabiha Gochen airport was somewhat traumatic. It began by queuing in the near-dark of the airport at an empty visa booth - a small man with a briefcase came bustling up after about 10 minutes of general confusion. Contrary to expectations, no-one spoke a word of English and I don't speak any Turkish, so it was quite a mission trying to find the right bus. Communicating with the bus driver consisted of him rubbing his two index fingers together in a way which was presumably meant to be meaningful, but really did nothing for me, so I was a tad concerned I would be stranded at the airport forever. 45 minutes in, however, the bus going my way finally appeared and from then on it was plain sailing.

Plain sailing right past one of those little tableaux which make you glad to be a traveller. Think of the coolest thing you could ever see on a motorway... If you imagined a guy selling bread arguing with a guy selling about 8 large child-sized inflatable spidermen with a traffic jam swirling past them, then you and I are on the same spiritual plane. Seriously, this just about beats rollercops for the COOLEST SIGHT EVER!!! Later on there was a dude selling bagels looped around a stick - I like to speculate that perhaps he was entertaining passing vehicles by catching lobbed bagels for their amusement.

Anyway, I met up with Andy with no problems, and after a late dinner (mmm... Turkish food... although it was actually no better than what you'd get in NZ, and the hummus - which I only saw featured on one menu - was worse, very sesame-oily and funnily-textured...) it was to bed for a very tired moi.

In the morning, it was up and at them to Hagia Sophia, an ancient Greek-Orthodox-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. This was reckoned to be a spectacular sight, but I would rate it probably as okay. Well, actually, it was pretty rateable in its own right, and as the first stop on our itinerary, but it was blown away by some of the other sights still to come in Istanbul. It was huge, unfortunately marred by scaffolding inside, and featured a few lovely old Greek mosaics. From the outside, it's squat and quite unlovely.

Next up was the Blue Mosque, which is also called something else but I can't remember what. I was fooled by the signs into donning a headscarf - allegedly compulsory, but I swear I was the only western woman to sport one, and all the genuine mosque-goers brought their own, so I felt like a real twat. Twattishness was worth it, however, because it was simply amazing. Every inch was tiled exquisitly. The only grumble was that we couldn't enter the fenced-off zone, which appeared to be 'muslim only' although I must say that at least 50% of those wandering inside it seemed to have taking photos much further up the agenda than praying.

After lunch, we headed for the Grand Bazaar, which was actually not at all what I expected. I'd pictured a real old-school marketplace, with little stalls and people crying their wares to passers-by. Instead, it was filled with little booths - essentially just tiny shops, more like a mall than something out of the 17th century or what have you. They were also... not rude exactly... but quite put out if you didn't respond to initial attempts to get you to stop and examine their wares. In the Bazaar, at least, they didn't bother chasing after you, but if you ignored them, they would call out things like "no thankyou" or "funny people" to let you know that, in their eyes, you'd been rude.

This low-level hassling was endemic to Istanbul. In one of the most annoying features, taxi drivers (driving their bright yellow, unmistakable cabs) would invariably beep when passing you by, slow down and shout 'taxi!' - as though you would never have seen them otherwise. Restaurants and shops would try and pull you in off the street - often featuring phrases such as 'your money please' (subtle) and, while on my own, I did get followed quite a way by a guy trying to sell me (undoubtedly fake) 'Carcharel' and 'DKNY' perfume - the price of which dropped astoundingly rapidly when I just said 'no thanks' and kept walking. But, you know, it wasn't that bad and I wouldn't let it put you off going. I didn't really have the confidence to start haggling and try to buy something - there was nothing I particularly wanted, for starters. Some of the pottery available was stunning, but I was too concerned about transporting it back to NZ in one piece to really go there, and carpets and so on wouldn't fit in my luggage anyway. In any case, I'm absolutely horrible at any sort of financial negotiation - even saying no to a hard sell when I'm totally not interested is hard for me, so I think I did quite well in avoiding unwanted buying let alone getting a good deal!

We also called by the Egyptian/Spice market, which seemed more like the image I had in my head of a Turkish market - very bustling, noisy and crowded, with lots of Turkish people in situ and colourful stalls overflowing with spices as well as souvenirs. In fact, the Turkish lads I had lunch with - of which more later - announced that they had called past the Egyptian market on the way to lunch and picked up some Turkish Delight for dessert. In fact, one of them made the other one show me proof positive of this excursion, bless. This little encounter - fun with the locals! - reinforced that this is somewhere that actual Turkish people go - and that they really eat Turkish Delight! (bleeugh)

We rounded out the day with a ferry ride to the Asian side - first ferry trip between continents, woohoo! The ferry was very fast and, for 1.30 lira (about 60p), excellent value for money. If you just want to take a spin on the sea and don't much care where you go, just hop on a ferry, wander about a bit and come back. Tourist boat trips are, in my experience, unbearably dull, and are bound to be overpriced. Our plan was to find the Bosphorus bridge and walk from Asia to Europe - with suitable photo ops on the way. Sadly, this was not to be, as, after 45 minutes of walking, we passed under the bridge but couldn't find where to actually get on it, as it soared high above us. By this time it was well and truly dark, and so we called it a day without ever standing in two continents at once (boo!).

Once again, it was early to bed for me - after a dinner that lingered on until midnight, that is. I think I probably disappointed Andy a tad by not heading out to sample Istanbul's nightlife on a Saturday night, but I was just so tired. Plus we needed to be up at a reasonable hour - well, half past ten in my case - to check out Topkapi Palace on the morrow.

Topkapi was well worth a visit, and you should definitely pay the extra charge to see the harem as well. The audio guide, on the other hand, mostly stated the obvious - 'we are in the bath room, this room was used as a bath for the sultans...' and so forth, so maybe give that a miss. Again, fabulous decor - Islamic tiling really is to die for - and the grounds were lovely as well. It featured the most wonderful views out across the Bosphorus and/or Sea of Marmara (geographical detail fails me...) In the warm winter's sun (freezing in the shade...) you could really imagine strolling the terraces in the days of the sultans, looking out over a view that has undoubtedly changed hugely in terms of built architecture, but remains the same as far as the wonderful water and coastline goes. It also included a fabulous treasury of the Sultans, featuring huge diamonds, fantastic jewelled Koran covers, scabbards, 400-year-old carpets and garments as well as the interesting collection of relics. Want to see an imprint of Mohammed's footprint? Abraham's cooking pot? Joseph's turban? Mohammed's beard? Moses's staff? Well of course you can see them all in Istanbul. Far be it from me to hint that not all of these might be the geniune article...

After lunch, we took in the Basilica Cistern, a Roman-built water tank from I think about 400 AD. I should note that, as far as I can tell, all attractions in Istanbul command a flat entry fee of 10 lira. This is great value for Topkapi or the Chora church. For the Basilica, not so much. The old Roman columns stretching up out of illuminated pools are impressive, certainly, and the silent grandeur of the place is awe-inspiring - but really, a brief look and a few snaps are enough here. We spent a bit longer, seeking our 10 lira's worth, but there's not really a lot in 'added value' to be had there.

For our evening's entertainment, we walked across the bridge from Sultanahmet to... whatever the other side is called... up through Taksim - which seemed to be a major shopping district, mostly populated by locals, and all the way to Galatasaray's stadium to watch the football. This was the most intimidating scene of our Istanbul trip - thousands of het up fans, and I was one of the very few women. In the queue for tickets (and 'queue' is a vast, vast overstatement) we witnessed much aggressive pushing and shoving, Andy - as he discovered shortly thereafter - had his camera pickpocketed, and I had my ass grabbed several times before deciding to get myself out of there and let him deal with it. The game itself was akin to attending some sort of cult gathering - okay, special chants and songs are common to all football matches, but it's not nicknamed 'Hell' stadium for nothing. Most creepy was when a drumbeat and eerie 'ohmmmm'-like chant fired up, in response to which the fans held their scarves aloft and actually bowed down rhymically in a Wayne's World-esque "We're not worthy" gesture before their team. I wouldn't have minded, but Galatasaray - even though they won - were pretty crap! I swear they and their opponents spent the majority of the match writhing about on the ground in mock pain after every tackle. On the plus side, I did learn that Turkish for 'boo!' is a very bovine 'yooooou'. Sounds like a noise Paul would make, frankly.

Andy left at about the time I was getting myself out of bed for the day on Monday morning, leaving me to explore the city for the last day on my own. Yeah, I was a little nervous about checking out the city on my own, but actually, with the exception of the above-mentioned perfume seller, I didn't get hassled at all. I don't know whether this is because I headed out to the 'burbs to check out a hard-to-find church or whether I look Turkish enough to pass when on my own, but whatever, it was good. Said church was Chora - an early 14th century edifice filled with amazing frescoes and mosaics, many more than in the Hagia Sophia and well worth the trek, especially since there were few fellow tourists there to spoil the experience. The guard at the gate also made me giggle by telling me, a couple of minutes in, that I must have slept in a bag of sugar 'cause I was so sweet.

Okay, I can see that some people might write this sort of thing off as sexual harrassment, and I can admit that I have been given the hard sell in clubs by Turkish men in the past - the dating equivalent of 'come buy my carpet', perhaps - but I found it kind of sweet and cheesily inoffensive. Certainly a step up from the standard Western guy's "nice tits" - well, if he's filled with drunken overconfidence, that is. I didn't really sense any disrespect from it either. Maybe there is a cultural perception that Western women are up for it, I don't know, but it just seemed as if they enjoyed complimenting women, and who am I to argue with that?

This leads me to the two guys who rescued me from the perfume seller - apparently his magic bottles just contain water, who'da thunk it? - and invited me to lunch. I judged that a cafe in broad daylight was perfectly acceptable and passed a pleasant lunch chatting with them, with a few compliments thrown in, although nothing too full-on. It was interesting getting their insights into Turkish culture - they weren't from Istanbul originally, and in their opinion, the city was far too money-orientated. In the east, so they said, people were disinterestedly friendly and hospitable, and I certainly found these two to be that - we had a lovely lunch and there was no mention of carpet shops or anything else that would suggest they had an ulterior motive in dining with me. I did, nonetheless, feel it was prudent to decline their offer to take tea in their apartment. I'm sure they were perfectly straight up guys, but a girl's gotta look after herself.

Finally, then, it was a (thankfully hassle-free) shuttle bus back to the airport and away from Istanbul, and I was very sorry to leave. Andy and I discussed whether we could ever live there - he thought no, based on the street-side hassling, but I held out for the idea that things would be different from a local perspective, and I think my solo wanderings proved me right - no-one bothered me out of the tourist districts, and people were friendly and welcoming without trying to sell me anything. I'd love to go back, not just to Istanbul, but to the rest of Turkey.

Chamonix photos

The final crop of Chamonix photos - final days...

Rocking the gayrage after the xmas do: rep whose name I forget, me, Andrew, Josh, Fi and Emer

Andrew and Fi looking a bit merry post xmas party

At the office xmas party

Sweet 25th with Bethan and Verity

Me and Jim have a cuddle

Verity, Emer, Sarah and me, with Jim bringing up the front in his usual comical fashion

Mmmm delicious snails

Me and Bethan out for Jim's birthday

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

We ended up going out on Saturday night after all, first with the Polish receptionist and two Australian fellow guests to what could charitably be called a dive. If I weren't being charitable, I would call it a boiling hot, sweat-soaked Polish pit, although it did have the additional charm of a Polish girl who managed to kiss me on the cheeks 6 times in the roughly 2 minutes we were in the club. We made our excuses, accordingly, and went to a club in the Old Town where the boys had been the night before. It was average, but there was alcohol involved so we had an okay time. I did, however, get stomach-fondled by some guy at the bar - and he simultaneously put his head on my shoulder, creepy! Stomach fondling is NEVER cool, but particularly not when all your victim has done to invite it is to stand next to you and say "I don't speak Polish sorry".

Woke up the next morning feeling a bit the worse for wear, and with no idea where my handbag was. Thanks to the hostel's CCTV, we managed to determine that I did indeed come in with it (at 3.05 am and not wearing my coat in Polish winter weather - well, pretty mild winter weather to be fair), and after a bit of hunting, happily I tracked it down. Being robbed twice in the same weekend woulda been a bit much. The hostel let us check out late - full marks there - so we left at 1 for our train, having decided the night train again would be a bit much - especially for Carolyn who had to teach today.

The trains were a bit of a pain - we had to change twice, I got yelled at in Polish for not paying the requisite 1.5 zlotys to use the toilet (I literally had no zlotys and I had to go... what was a girl to do? I just pretended not to know what the problem was until he gave up and went back into his toilet-enforcement-cave), and then we had to change seats multiple times and pay an extra 200 koruny after it emerged that our last connection was a special train that required compulsory seat reservations.

Finally we got into Prague at 10.30 pm, arriving at Carolyn's around 11. I was absolutely shattered and very pleased at the prospect of a bed for the evening. Today I did blissfully nothing - the sights of Prague are a bit old hat, so my only priority was a mission to I. P. Pavlova for my beloved gyros for lunch and a cheese satecek for a snack mmmmm.

This evening we went out to dinner with a few of Carolyn's fellow teachers, which was nice. It was a Czech restaurant, which meant the food was slightly dodgy but okay. Adam tried joking with the waitress in Czech and accidentally ordered hermelin for everyone at the table (or as the English menu had it, 'wheels of joy'). This meant an entire round of brie-like cheese, cut in half with onion in the middle, pickled in some sort of super oily, spicy sauce. Hmmm... the only thing I can say about it is that it's not actually as bad as it sounds! If it wasn't for the oil bath, maybe even okay - but I wouldn't order it again! My main course was potato-coated chicken, not bad although a bit salty, as usual for Czech stuff - I could only eat half of it though, owing to the cheese overdose earlier. However, my fav item on the menu (which was full of bizarre translations, including a dish called 'Pregnant Marge') was sausage served with mustard and horseradish. Its appetizing name? 'Waiter's Member'... Poor waiter.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Death in the afternoon

The train tracks at Birkenau. There were about 5 of us waiting forever for those dicks to get off the train tracks, but my patience ran out before their desire to stand in everyone's way did...

Endless rows of barracks at Birkenau

Me in front of the famous Auschwitz gates

'Arbeit Macht Frei'

The last remaining gas chamber/crematorium

Barracks behind barbed wire

The 'wall of death' where prisoners were executed

Today we were up at a reasonable hour to get ready for our 10 am departure to Auschwitz and to tuck into an - I presume - traditional Polish breakfast laid on by the hotel - heavy on the sausages. Yum.

The trip to Auschwitz took about 1 hr 20, during which we watched a film about the liberation of Auschwitz, which was interesting. I never knew before that much of the film footage of the survivors' living conditions was actually re-enacted with survivors a few months after liberation, once they were strong enough to do it.

Upon arrival, the main thought was that it wasn't what I expected. Everything about Auschwitz that I read talks about the different atmosphere within the camp - nothing grows, people say, birds don't sing, it's colder in there. Perhaps they just say what they think they should say, because I thought the camp had a reasonably pleasant atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it would have been a pleasant place to be in WWII, by any means, but it didn't feel like a horrible place to me now. It was a beautiful sunny day, warm for winter, and there was the occasional tweet of birds. The barracks themselves were pretty well-built, and it looked like what it originally was - a Polish military camp. There were plenty of spots inside Auschwitz where you couldn't really see the electric fences and barbed wire.

That's not to say that the exhibitions and the guided tour weren't chilling. Particularly moving were the rooms filled with items found that were confiscated from the victims upon arrivals - piles and piles of shoes, clothes, a tangled mess of eyeglasses, suitcases with names (I spotted a Kafka and a Pasternak amongst many others) and dates of birth daubed on them, and worst of all, a huge case filled with human hair shorn from the inmates, along with a roll of surprisingly normal-looking cloth manufactured from said hair. The crematorium also had a particularly depressing air, as you'd expect. It was freezing cold in there, and the sight of the ovens was unforgettable. The 'punishment cells', too, were very moving - 'dark cells' where the prisoners were deprived of light and fresh air, 'standing cells' where they were crammed 4 at a time into a 1 m sq cell, and the 'starvation cells' where prisoners were sentenced to die.

The tour was okay, although as usual with these things we didn't see everything. I think it was still better to go with the tour option though - entry is free, but the museum wasn't really information-heavy, preferring large photos and small amounts of text, and the original documents etc. on display were untranslated, so it was helpful to have things put into context.

After Auschwitz, we took a shuttle bus to Birkenau - this is the one that really looks like a concentration camp 'should' look. Purpose-built by the Nazis, it's much bigger than Auschwitz, and just consisted of block after block of wooden barracks, set in a giant and very muddy field. Birkenau is also the one where the railway tracks run right into the yard, and you can't help thinking of what it would have been like coming in on what really was a road to nowhere. We didn't spend long in Birkenau, and it felt like a more depressing place than Auschwitz. There weren't any exhibits or anything there - it was just the camp as it had been - the Nazis, however, destroyed the gas chambers and crematoria before liberation to try and destroy the evidence of their crimes.

It's definitely a moving experience, and something I've wanted to see for a long time, and am glad I did. Funnily enough, I've felt more moved at other Holocaust memorials - the Pinkas synagogue in Prague and the war museum in London come to mind. But there's nothing like seeing the real place to really understand what it was like.

We got back to Krakow about 4 pm, very tired again, and had some delicious goulash and more pierogi for dinner. Yeah, Auschwitz didn't dent our appetites, though in our defence, we hadn't had any lunch amongst the dead of Auschwitz. We were planning to go out tonight, but we took an afternoon nap and Carolyn's still in bed (at 21.20) so who knows what'll happen there. Tomorrow it's back to Prague, not on the night train, thankfully, although with another 8 hour trip, we'll probably end up falling asleep, so will have to work out a better way of guarding our valuables!

Walking tour of Krakow

Me at Wawel

Looking down on the Vistula from Wawel

At Wawel castle

Inside St Mary's

Fountain outside St Mary's Church, Krakow

The cloth hall, Krakow

We arrived at our hostel, then, at about 7 am on Friday morning - very tired after our night on the train. Luckily enough, it came highly and justifiably recommended and has a 24 hour reception, so they very kindly let us into our rooms straight away for a much-needed few hours' sleep before heading out to explore Krakow.

Basically, this consisted of walking all day - through the market square, which is apparently the largest in Europe, about 200 metres long, and holds lots of cool market stalls inside what I think is the Cloth Hall (arggh shades of Ypres just saying that!) - mostly jewellery although unfortunately nothing that I could imagine on my charm bracelet :( . Also in the square is St Mary's Church, which is gorgeously over-decorated inside, with a great altar screen. I got busted taking photos and had to pay an extra 5 zlotys for the privilege. This is manifestly unfair because, while I would gladly try to get away with such things on many occasions, this time I genuinely hadn't seen any 'photography permits required' signs, so wasn't even TRYING to be sneaky about it. Other highlights included lunch at a Polish restaurant, consisting of borsch (no sour cream though, grrr) and pierogi - Polish versions of pelmenni, and if you don't know those either, then they're along the lines of ravioli or tortellini, 'dumplings' filled with (in the versions we had) meat, cheese and potato, or cheese and spinach - yum!

After wandering through a suprisingly big and seemingly authentically Polishy market, we took a bit of a wrong turn on the way to the Old Town and ended up walking for miles in slightly the wrong direction. By the time we got to Wawel - the castle / cathedral complex up on a hill, it was starting to get dark and you could no longer buy tickets to tour the exhibits inside the castle. However, the layout and basic idea is like Prague - it's more a complex of buildings surrounded by ramparts than the castlelley castles you might be thinking of, so you can go inside the walls and walk around the complex for free - some nice views of Krakow from up there.

After that, we went down the hill to the old Jewish quarter, an area which we had been promised was full of bustling student life. Hmmm, not so. After a couple of drinks in a bar whose main attraction was starey old Polish men and strangely-compelling ski-jumping on the TV, we found another pretty much empty restaurant - an 'Argentinian grill', oddly enough - for dinner, and then just headed back to the hostel, exhausted, thereafter.

Basic theme of the day is that Krakow is pretty, but at least on Fridays in January, there's not a whole lot going on. That said, I'm putting it on my list of places I would quite like to live.

The Great Train Robbery

Thursday was a looong day, starting at 7.30 am (hey it's super early for me!) in order to catch the 9 am train from Reading, via London, to Stansted Airport. I arrived at Stansted well early, as is my way, and was all checked in and through security with two hours to spare. Oddly enough, no-one but the check-in agent checked my passport until arriving in Prague, but whatever. I arrived in Prague about 4.30 local time, then at Carolyn's at about 6 pm, after the epic bus/metro/tram journey which is required to get across the city. Lucky I know what I'm doing as far as Prague is concerned.

Our Prague-Krakow night train was at 9.20, so that left us a few hours to kill at hers before setting out. First we debated our plan of attack for the 8 hours of overnight travel. My suggestion - pills comma sleeping, hers booze comma vodka. A combination of the two was briefly considered, before we decided that this may cause too much trouble for the authorities of the countries concerned in deciding which side of the Czech/Polish border we'd died on. So booze was selected as the more fun option of the two.

Prague hl. n. train station has been considerably jazzed up since the last time I had the misfortune to transit through it, although it's probably only moved up to a slightly cushier circle of hell. The same goes for the trains. While the overnighter from Moscow to St Petersburg was pretty luxurious - fold-down bunks with mattresses, sheets and blankets, and secure bins under your beds to stow your stuff - the Prague - Krakow variety just had the standard hard vinyl-covered bench seats as on any Czech train, with only unsecure overhead storage and no sheets or blankets. Upon boarding the train, we were immediately accosted by a girl who apparently spoke only Czech (I tried asking her if she could speak English, French, or Russian [check me out!] but no, no, and only a tiny bit). After inititally thinking she was telling us we couldn't stay in the compartments, we eventually clicked that she was asking if she could share a compartment with us. The conclusion was that, as a woman travelling alone, she probably felt safer along with us, although as we shall see, we now have our doubts...

The boozing proceeded well, while Czech girl just sat in the corner and read a book and dozed. Somewhere around 1 or 2 am we started to crash out by mutual consent. I asked the Czech if I could turn the light off - no problem, and stretched out on my bench (she was on Carolyn's side). Shortly thereafter, we pulled into a station and she left. We both settled down to sleep with our heads on our handbags, only to wake up about 5.30 am, with only about an hours' journey left.

It wasn't until I got my wallet out to pay for the taxi ride to the hostel that the penny started to drop. I was certain that I'd put 30 zloty in my wallet for that very purpose - but I had nothing. At the hostel itself, I remembered that I'd had change from buying sandwiches at the station - very glad I was to have it, too, because I'm always running out of change to buy metro tickets in Prague. Carolyn looked in her wallet - yep, empty too.

The weird thing was that they took all the cash and coins - well, they actually left 50 hellers in my wallet, further proof that 50 hellers are the world's most useless unit of currency, seriously you can't buy anything with them - but left all the cards intact. I'm very glad that most of my cash was in my travel wallety thing in my other bag (which I was also sleeping on top of) and that they didn't take my phone, camera or iPod, which I would have been very pissed off to lose. I probably only lost in the region of 10 pounds. Still, it's a seriously creepy thought that people came into our compartment when we were asleep and somehow rifled through the handbags under our heads. I'm mystified as to how they managed it - it inevitably takes me at least 5 minutes to locate my wallet in my own bag, and sometimes I have to empty out all the myriad contents to do so. Probably the girl who was sitting with us was entirely innocent and got off the train, but we can't help wondering if she perhaps sat next to us, saw us getting drunker as the night progressed and then left as soon as we showed signs of falling asleep to alert the rest of the gang...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Carnforth - Leeds - Newcastle

Esther and Anna in front of the Millenium Bridge, Newcastle

The 'Robin Hood Tree'

I come marauding over Hadrian's Wall...

...and am triumphant

Looking suitably upset at being in the Hexham gaol stocks

Clearly there's no fun like snow fun

Ben, me and Helen out in Leeds

Alice, me and Helen

Me and Liss on NYE

Just a super quick note to say Happy New Year and acquaint my eager fans to what I am up. The 31st saw me jet (well train) from good old Carnforth to Leeds to spend New Years with my good old chateau pal Alice. Much fun was had by all, including a pretty quiet but all good pub night on the 31st, a rocking 80s disco (oh yeah!) and an overnight stay by fellow chateau-ites Ben and Helen.

Currently I'm staying in Hexham, near Newcastle, where the joys have included a morning SLEDGING yeah! rambles around various country towns, an epic walk across the hills to Hadrian's Wall and a tree featured in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (I hope Alice is sufficiently jealous if she's reading this) and a trip to church (woo).

Must run cause am being anti-social. Catch you all back in Carnforth perhaps. xx