A place of many names

(18/10/13)

A couple of trains and a bus or so after leaving Mannheim, I arrived in Selva val Gardena, aka Wolkenstein.  It’s in an area of northern Italy which used to be part of Germany (?), but was reapportioned following WW2 (another ??).  As such, residents speak Italian, German, and a weird local dialect which is a mix of both and more.  It’s a beautiful little ski town at the foot of the Dolomites, but unfortunately it was cold enough that my SD card froze and I have no photos.  Yes, that’s literally froze: I think at one point riding, with wind chill, it was something like -40.  It was great, I had the slopes to myself!  I should also mention that, much like this introduction, the order’s a bit all over the place: too much snow and too much awesomeness in too short a space of time means that I’m not totally sure what happened when.

http://goo.gl/pcaS5H
http://goo.gl/pcaS5H

So why Selva?  My friend Wicklund was doing the season there and so I had a place to stay = yay (plus I wanted to catch up, of course—I’m not actually an arsehole).  And oh my god was it amazing: aggghhhhhhh (imagine my face melting as I’m remembering how good it was).  It’s a place I definitely want to go riding again, despite the problems I had with skiers (I was one of the only snowboarders on the mountain, and skiers literally walked up to me in lines and pushed me over.  They really hate snowboarders… where is the love?  I swing both ways!)

Wicklund met me at the bus stop and we headed back to his for some drinks, and I met some more of the crew, who were all snowily great.  At some point though, the travel caught up to me and I fell asleep on my designated couch.  Hours later, I woke up to find that I didn’t have the couch to myself: and while granted, I don’t like sleeping alone, I infinitely prefer that to sharing with random dudes.  I’m also not very polite at whatever o’clock in the morning, and I kicked him out.  Poor guy had to walk home in the middle of the night in -18 or something ridiculous.  (Maybe I’m an arsehole after all!)

After some minor money-exchange dramas the next morning, I bought my ski pass and went to go and hire a board.  I was travelling with my outer-gear and my own boots as usual, but my baby just doesn’t fit in my baggage allowance.  The guys set me up with a Burton Feelgood, which I eyed dubiously, but took anyway.  I then gondala’d up to the top, at which point I realised that there was a screw or two missing from my bindings (which definitely weren’t dropped by me as I readjusting my base-plates..), and I had to head back down again.  Which I did.  Newly screwed, I headed back up the gondala and took the board out for its first spin.  And yuck.  It was so squiggly and short and gross.  I also just don’t get what the fuss is about Burton boards, I prefer the ski brand boards (I ride a K2, and my favourite hires have been Saloman and Rossignol).  So I returned to the ski hire place in town again, walked in, and said that we really needed to do better.  I may or may not have said that I needed something longer and harder… but really!  I was talking about the snowboard!

Third time lucky—this time, I set the board up while still in the shop, and when I got back to the top (I put way too many hours into that gondala), it was lovely.  Perfect stance, and a nice firm board, too: I like it steep and fast, and I don’t feel comfortable doing that on softer, wiggly boards.  Ohhhh it was so gooood.

I had my usual random conversations with strangers over the next few days, of course.  There were a few guys who wanted to go riding with me but couldn’t keep up; one Austrian dude who claimed to have gotten sick of snowboarding after becoming some kind of European champion, and now rides a monoski LOL; and my personal favourite, a bunch of Russians.  I was next to them on a lift, realised what language they were speaking, and butted in.  “You’re Russian?” I asked.  They sure were.  “I speak a little!” I announced, and with no further ado, they handed me a bottle of whisky.  Sounds about right!

http://goo.gl/ohNP2B
http://goo.gl/ohNP2B

Oh my god, you actually have to go riding this area if you’re into snow-sports at all: even though I didn’t have particularly awesome snow, I was more than delighted to have something like 1500km of trails to play with.  On my second day riding, I got to warm up on a 15 minute black run.  Fifteen minutes!!  In Aus or NZ, black runs are over in 90 seconds, 2 minutes tops.  Ohhhhhh (more face-melting).

The next day I decided to attempt the Sella Ronda for the first time, a 40km trail that circumnavigates the Dolomites.  Turns out, I did it the lame, non-steep way, but it wasn’t so bad.  Before heading off, I remember I was sitting in a café looking out at the falling snow and having breakfast spaghetti (that’s a thing.. right?), when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that I’m probably the luckiest girl in the whole world, and started crying in the café.  It wasn’t awkward at all.  Also that day (I think), I had my big dog adventure, which I’ve already included in another post (actually an email I sent back to my colleagues in Aus).

Some time around then, we went for a night out in Selva.  Drinking.  So much drinking.  After pre-drinking following an epic chalet meal, we went to a couple of different bars (I could totally be mooshing a few nights together here), making it to some kind of salsa class at 11pm in a packed, sticky bar.  Needless to say, everyone was wasted, and I’m not sure how much salsa anyone really managed.  I do distinctly remember being somehow cut off from the group I was with by some Italian guys, and backing away from them until I literally had my back against the wall (where the ‘wall’ in this case is a big stone column).  They’re kind of aggressive.  I also remember terrifying amounts of jäger (much like with the barkeep at my concert in Germany, I ended up inverted alcohol/mixer quantities, having around 1/3 can of red bull and nearly half a bottle of jäger in my cup).  I couldn’t get through it, funnily enough, and passed it off to poor Rex, who just about died.  Finally, I somehow managed to cut myself quite badly on the plastic cup, and asked the bartender for a band-aid.  By the time I was sorted out, I turned around to find out that everybody I was with had left.  I sent a rather enjoyably irritated text ranting at Wicklund, then trekked off into the snow and figured my way back home.  Using wind direction.  Like all good drunken sailors.

On my final proper day of riding, I did the Sella Ronda again, but in the reverse direction.  It was much better: steeper, faster, longer, superb.  I was trying for the girl speed-record, but got lost for quite a while in the middle, and made the rookie (safety) errors of both paying attention to signs, and unstrapping when I was supposed to.  Next time!  Because there will be a next time.

On Friday night we went to go and see the local team play ice hockey against their nearby rivals.  It was my first ice hockey game (loved it), and also my first mulled wine experience (ditto).  It’s nothing on the Russian ice hockey experience of course, but on the upside, there was ample entertainment to be found in the opposing team’s supporters’ enthusiasm and rage; not to mention one of the player’s surnames:

Италия (2 of 3) Италия (1 of 3)

After a quick ride the next morning, I headed off to Prague to start my CELTA.  I, awesomely, managed to get off in Prague at the wrong stop (the penultimate, rather than final, stop).  I got on the next train to the city, and had my first functional Russian conversation, explaining the situation to the lovely train conductor.  She let me get on with no ticket :).  I was then greeted (‘gret’ should be a word.  So should ‘sprunt’ for sprinted and ‘meese’ for the plural of moose) by a taxi driver sent by the school, and we talked in broken Russian the whole way to where I was staying.  I was also somewhat flabbergasted to hear what was recognisably ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ on the radio, but all in Czech!

I just have to stress one more time how much I loved my time in Selva, and give a massive shout-out to Wicklund, Rex, and Kim in particular.  Thanks so much for your unbelievable awesomeness and hospitality!!!  😀

Concept Czeching

(19/10/13)

So, why on earth was I in Prague in the middle of winter?  I’d booked a flight to Europe about six months beforehand, with the intention of going to the Ukraine to work for a year.  One visa problem after another, this had morphed into going to Russia, for which I had even more visa problems, meaning I couldn’t leave when I meant to.  I needed to up-qualify, I already had a flight, and it was more expensive to do my CELTA in Sydney than it was to go to Prague and spend a month travelling in Eastern Europe.  Work even agreed to give me two months off.  So, why not?

The CELTA is Cambridge’s ‘Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults’, and my goodness was it hard work.  It’s the hardest academic thing I’ve ever done by far: a lot of information, and a lot of work.  Naturally, that wasn’t helped by my perfectionism, and anything less than a Pass A (which <2% of people get) wouldn’t be good enough.  Nothing by halves.  So the usual day would entail getting up at 4am to start coursework, leaving the house at 8am for class, getting back at around 6pm, working til midnight, and doing it all over again.  I didn’t do myself any favours by initially failing two assignments by massively overthinking them, but in the end pulled it all together and got my A.  Despite being an incredibly naughty student and driving the teachers nuts.

I’ve already talked about Czech food adventures elsewhere, but should also mention Zdenek, the chef in the school‘s cafeteria.  What a strange, hyperactive, talented guy.  He was forever announcing that he was a helicopter (I think it’s just because he likes that word in English?), but my goodness was he a good chef.  Every single day he’d have a vegetarian option, and in the entire time he’s been at the school, he’s never ever cooked the same thing twice.  His wife would cook amazing cakes every day as well.  It was actually during this time that I went back to vegie, after being sick every time I ate meat, so I was pretty stoked to have so much awesome food being cooked for me!

Haha I think the only thing I really can talk about from this time was food, thanks to the constant studying. I’ll never forget emerging from my room at 3 in the morning to find Robert cooking pancakes (my first maple syrup experience), or talking with Robert, Jack and Katherine around the dinner table at ‘family meal time’.  I loved those kids, even when they drove me crazy (Rob).  Then there was class with other Laura, Diana from Lebanon, Peter (“Peter doesn’t care!”), Paul’s zillions of languages and inspiration to take on the Czech letter ř, and mucking about miming offensive gestures at each other in class with Katerina.  The students were great as well of course, and I’ll never forget Leta being aghast at my clothes every day and saying that “Laura, you are always summer wearing”.  <3

Source: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lkfsluvovm1qbwnb9o1_500.jpg

Letters home

Good morning guys!!!  Happy Monday!!!

I’m procrastinating my socks off—something, might I add, I’ve done remarkably well all weekend—I have 2 assignments and 2 lesson plans to do, so obviously sleeping has becoming an amazingly good time.  Tanya asked for a proper email last week, so congratulations, this has become my new form of procrastination!

I’ve been having a lot of very peculiar adventures, and a rather alarming number of them are based around supermarkets.  Where we are in Prague (by ‘we’ I mean both my CELTA school and me and my 3 flatmates), nobody really speaks English.  People over about 30yo speak some Russian on account of how it was required by the Soviets, and quite a few of the people in my class speak a bit of it – we’re having Russian night from this week so that we can all practice!.  However, people below that age usually speak just Czech, or maybe a touch of English.

Needless to say, in supermarkets everything’s in Czech.  And Czech people eat very differently to Australians (funnily enough), not to mention organising supermarkets differently!  Basically everything is bread, cured meat, and cheese.  On Friday about 8 of us went out to dinner, and I kid you not, my meal came with an entire block (wheel?) of Brie on top of it.  On the other hand, for starters I shared “devil toast” with one of the others on my course—from recollection, it was toast with tomato sauce, soy sauce, chilli, ham and cheese plus a few other random things—and that was bizarrely incredible.

ANYWAY my housemates and I have divided up cooking so that the others can get schoolwork done.  Last Monday was my first night doing it, and in a meal that usually consists of onion, capsicum, chorizo, tomato and butter beans, I had to swap the chorizo for a similar salami and butter beans for kidney beans.  So I was doing pretty well.  My housemates performed similarly well over the following days.  Today I was having a think about what I could do for dinner tonight and I figured it’s -15 outside, cured meat is easily available as is root vegetables—so I’ll do bangers and mash, that’ll be easy and I won’t have to do any weird food replacements.   WRONG.  It all started to go wrong in the supermarket, when I was trying to figure out how on earth to make gravy sans gravy powder (you can tell I don’t normally eat Brit food/food w gravy!).  In fact, I didn’t even know if there was gravy powder but peculiarly labelled, or in a different place, or if they even have gravy on stuff in the Czech Republic.  I was in the spices kind of aisle for nearly half an hour, trying to figure out whether I was looking at stock powders or not, when finally in desperation I accosted a Czech person saying “omg pleeeeeeeeeeeeease tell me you speak English!!!”.  It turns out she did, and so after a lot of miming and explaining we managed to come up with the closest thing possible.

Most of the meats, meanwhile, are in the deli, but the line was epic so I grabbed a packet of sausages – easy right?

I get home from the supermarket and open the sausages and actually don’t know if they’re already cooked or not.  I find my housemate Katherine and we’re trying to figure out whether what I have is in fact sausages, if they’ve already been pre-cooked, and oh—what’s this?  Are they individually wrapped in plastic??

We end up running a “controlled experiment”, boiling a couple, frying a couple, and decide that the weird plastic wrapping isn’t something that’s going to melt off.  Soooooo Katherine says that “I’ll help you finish peeling the sausages and then go and do my assignment”, and so we do.  Peel the sausages.  Wtf right?

Incredibly long story slightly-shorter-than-it-could-have-been, I’m presently eating mashed potato (that bit worked haha, phew!) with kind-of-sausages in watery-stock.  It’s pretty exotic.  I have a lot more empathy for immigrants to Australia—while I usually find going to foreign-language supermarkets really fun, when the language is different enough from your own (or even from Russian) that you can’t figure out what something is, it takes a loooooooooooong time to go shopping, is incredibly stressful, and you end up w funky food.

Haha okay so the above story is half what my assignment should be, so clearly I’m doing well.  So here’s another epic story for you:

For the 5ish days until Sunday last week, I was in Selva Val Gardena in Italy snowboarding.  Omg it was incredible.  500km of runs (I explored only a fraction, it was crazy!), partying w my friends, and I went to my debut game of ice hockey (at which I had my first mulled wine—incidentally, the first phrase I’ve learnt in Czech is “give me mulled wine please”.  Clearly a very useful phrase!).

I’m basically the worst snowboarder ever, because rather than being all “gangsta”, I talk about it like it’s some kind of far-gone hippy meditation-based cult, and furthermore go around the mountain being a little do-gooder (helping people with their stuff when they fall over, helping little kids in ski school get up again—habit!!).  This one day, I’d gone up the mountain still somewhat inebriated from the previous night (I didn’t notice the fact until that night, when I couldn’t remember getting ready in the morning or how I got up the hill!!) and so chilled out in one of the restaurants, eating epic Italian pasta and watching the snow.  Once I decided I’d recovered sufficiently, I went outside to discover a BIG F-OFF DOG outside.  (I googled “big f-off dog” and came up with this image—the dog in the pic could have been this one’s twin http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lkfsluvovm1qbwnb9o1_500.jpg).  It was so big that I decided not to go and pat it, because it looked like it would devour me whole.

I was milling around the same restaurant a few hours later as it was in the middle of a traverse, when I noticed that a little girl (~11yo) was by the dog, trying to get her glove out of its mouth.  I watched for a sec and then asked if she was okay.  She said no, so I ditched my board and went over to help.

So I grab the big f-off dog (seriously, only way to describe it) by the collar and get it to let go of the glove.  Then what does it do but twist its head around and the next thing you know, my entire forearm is in its mouth.  So my hand was just out one side of its mouth and just past my elbow was out the other side (massive, massive dog).  I’m a bit like…. ooooh shit (partially because I was concerned for my arm, partially because I was concerned for my snowboarding jacket) and then the dog jumps up on me, and the wretched thing is farrrr taller and heavier than I am.  So I’m trying to stay balanced with this huge dog against me and my arm up in the air in its mouth, and somehow wrestle myself free.  Then what does the dog do but run after the little girl and knocks her to the ground, so she’s fully under it.

After the experience I’d just had I was feeling somewhat ambivalent about going near the dog again, it was really scary.  Then I realised that I probably wasn’t going to let a little girl get mauled, so I went and grabbed the dog again, asking bystanders for some help (everybody could see what was going on and was giving us a 15-20 metre berth, despite our being in the middle of where they’d have to go) to absolutely no avail.  The little girl manages to walk away while I’ve got the dog, then I don’t even know how, I managed to get it off me and to stay still while I walked back to my board and got the hell out of there.  I can’t help but wonder where the girl’s parents were, not to mention the dog’s owner!!

So that was my scary dog story, and now I realise that I’ve probably taken up 15 minutes of your morning on two long-winded stories (so nothing unusual there then haha!), so I will get back to my assignment (which, to be fair, I could have finished by now) and update you on some other stuff some other time!!!

🙂 L

Bones, clocks and cream

(22/10/13)

After four of the most intensive weeks of my life (was it really only four weeks?!), the CELTA course was finally over, and we were free.  Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

For reals?!
For reals?!

I was completely branaddled (‘brain addled’, for those who don’t speak Laura), but I only had accommodation for another couple of nights, so got straight on with it.  The day after finishing the course was spent wandering around central Prague.  Of course, I say ‘the day’, but what I really mean is ‘well after midday’.  I met Robert and Katherine for lunch at this incredible Afghan restaurant (their daal was the first I’d ever tried, and it blew my mind.  Or what was left of it, anyway), then walked up toward the old town.  Later on, I headed down toward the astrological clock like a good little tourist; and that’s pretty much all I did with my day, other than buy a gorgeous illustrated copy of some of Pushkin’s works in Russian.

Prague | Прага:

My mission for the next day was to head out to Kutna Hora, where one can find the Sedlec Ossuary.  I said farewell to my housemates, though I’d be seeing R the next day in Vienna.  Even now, 18 months later, I’m still looking forward to our next catch up: all we did was argue, but there was a lot of (fraternal!) love in there as well.  I’ll never forget leaving everyone on a night out to catch the last metro home, and him asking if I’d be alright before interrupting himself with “of course you will, you’re Australian!”.  That was a lovely wander actually: there’s few things I love so much as being in the middle of a foreign, unknown city in the middle of the night, with no idea where I am, no knowledge of the language, and a plan: it’s like complete freedom.  So I wandered through the other-world of midnight Prague, and eventually bumped into a German guy who spoke Russian and could give me directions home.

—annnnd we’re back.  Sedlec Ossuary is an absolute must-see if you’re in the Czech Republic, though Kutna Hora is also well worth the visit.  The Ossuary is, as the name suggests, a sort of underground bone cemetery.  The story goes that during the Crusades, someone brought back some holy soil from Mecca to Kutna Hora.  People wanted to be buried near the holy earth in order to increase their chances of going to heaven etc (or just covering their bases, given that they were presumably Christians), and the cemetery surrounding the church quickly started to overflow.  The bones were then all collected together, and later on, a purportedly blind monk uncovered them, cleaned them, and started to build things out of them.  Hm.  But imagine I said that in a way that wasn’t creepy.

After visiting the Ossuary and having adventures in a nearby café, I went for a wander around the rest of the town.  There’s a lot of very old churches and a cathedral to check out, and the centre of town is quite lovely as well: full of cobblestones and pastel houses as in Prague.  I also went to a ‘traditional’ Czech pub (Pivnice Dacicky), which was the freaking best thing ever.  Though I had just gone back to vegetarian, I couldn’t resist trying the specialty dish, svickova: my curiosity won out.  It’s tender beef, slow-roasted in cream, served with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whipped cream.  Freaking amazing.  (I later asked Zdenek, the chef from my CELTA course, to send me the recipe—it’s definitely on the to-do list!).

Kutna Hora | Кутна Хора:

That’s pretty much it for my month in the Czech Republic: next it was off to Vienna, to spend a couple of days with Robert and Paul.  Because that totally happened.