Back to Blighty

(8/4/13)

 

One of my favourite parts about arriving to a new country by plane is that first moment when you step outside, and pass from the recycled, air-conditioned, over-used air into air with entirely different smells and flavours.  Every time I get back to the UK, it just smells like home to me: it was, after all, home for a couple of years, and I didn’t ever actually have the intention of leaving. While I’m sitting on the plane, still waiting to disembark, I’m excited to return to the smells and flavours that I recognise.

Of course, I’m also excited to see friends, and in this case my friend Tom met me with chocolate minstrels in hand.  Way to my heart!  I stayed with him and his parents (who somehow remembered the ‘crazy Australian girl’ from several years prior) for the next few days, in their house an hour out of London.

I got in quite late in the afternoon, so pretty much headed straight to bed: it had also been a crazy few weeks (as ever) at the firm, so I was ruined.  Besides, the next day I had a meeting in the city at 10am.  Oh, planning.

Before my meeting, I took a wander and started experimenting with my new camera (the one I still use btw, it’s just a little compact).  I saw a big, slightly terrifying-looking English school, and couldn’t resist taking a photo:

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The reason I was taking this trip was basically because I already had a one-way flight to Europe, but was having pretty serious visa issues with the Ukraine/Russia.  I’d booked the flight in August of 2011, shortly after I’d started learning Russian, and probably should have realised that it would take me longer than 6 months to sort out a visa etc.  Either way, I asked work for two months off, asked my travel agent to book me a flight back to Australia from ‘somewhere east (and the later in the year it is, the further east it should be)’, and went.  So at the point I was in London, I already knew that I’d be teaching English sometime in the upcoming year.

I also saw an interesting chap hanging out at a stall nearby (again, I was experimenting with the camera, hence the sepia):

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It’s clearly not just Russia with its quirks.  Speaking of Russia, I was just near the Imperial War Museum, and spotted a monument to Russia’s WW2 soldiers:

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I also enjoyed this, outside the front entrance:

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I spent the rest of the day wandering around down-town, drinking coffee.  I got in trouble in Topshop for taking this photo of their display:

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This was only a few months before the London 2012 games, and there were these fantastic red cranes just looming over the sky-line:

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Of course, by this point I was almost dropping from exhaustion, so headed home.  And now… it’s time to get ready for work.

Boots and tours

(16/05/2013)

My second day back in the UK was spent looking for boots.  Having size 43 feet is rather a challenge at times, and in fact all day, I found just three pairs of boots in my size.  Two were hideous, and the other cost $600.  But oh my god were they lovely.  Until I realised that that’s a new snowboard and bindings, and I couldn’t really justify the expense.

I met Tom for dinner after he finished class for the day, and then we trotted on home.  Well, tried to, anyway.  In the evening, the train back out to his house only runs every hour, and we just missed one, so had to wait an hour in the tube station.  We then started playing on the escalators (as all reasonable adults do) and, you guessed it, missed the next train.  Good form.  Man did I sleep well that night.

Near where we went for dinner :)
Near where we went for dinner 🙂

I spent the next day mainly in the area near Tom’s parents’ place, in Ware-Herts.

It was very pigeony!
It was very pigeony!

The following day was Australia Day, and my lovely friend Tilly came down from Liverpool for the day.  While waiting, I even got to listen to Triple J’s Hottest 100!  As it turns out, this was Tilly’s first trip to London.  Ever.  In her whole life.  Despite living less than 300km away!  So I gave her a tour 🙂

I was actually leaving for Amsterdam that night, on the overnight ferry.  So, naturally, I decided to put washing on that morning, and cart my wet things around with me.  Mm, mould—nom nom!

I met Tilly at the station (eventually—we couldn’t find each other for ever!) and dumped my wet things (and baggage) at a laundry before heading straight for one of my favourite places in London: the British Museum.  I’m pretty solid on my ancient and classical history, so gave Tilly a tour of the ground floor.  I love it!  Next we went for a bit of a walk.

So British!
So British!
A familiar sight?
A familiar sight?

Tilly and the Queen.  The real one, of course.
Tilly and the Queen. The real one, of course.
The Queen and I.
The Queen and I in front of Westminster.

Westminster Cathedral:

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Sadly, Tilly had to go back to Scouseland, and I had to head off to Harwich to catch the ferry.  It’s my preferred way of getting to Europe from the UK: it’s cheap, super-comfortable, and how awesome is waking up in a different country?  Also, boats.

http://www.sostav.ru/publication/angry-birds-poluchat-sobstvennyj-telekanal-1891.html

A Finnish Phenomenon

Last Wednesday, I went with the rest of the summer camp into Joensuu, to go on adventures and do some shopping. At the end of the day, we went to the biggest store I think I’ve ever seen, and I set off to buy a range of peculiar items.  But every single place in the store I went, I found Angry Birds paraphernalia.  There was clothing of course; lollies; drinks; bike reflectors; tools; speakers; toys; headphones; games—anything.  At one point I found a whole set of AB kitchen-ware, from coasters to saucepans, and pretty much lost it.  I was standing there, baffledly holding a saucepan, asking it “why?!  WHY!?!” when some of my students found me.  I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing that they weren’t even surprised at my apparent psychotic break.  Either way, I saw so much Angry Birds stuff in Finland that I’m now slightly obsessed.  I’d make a great brain-washing subject.

My couple of days in Helsinki were really rather cool.  On the Friday night after my arrival I just went for a brief walk down to the ocean to go hang out with the boats and seagulls.  The Saturday started off with my leaving the hostel with no clear plan in mind—other than coffee, that is.  For some reason it’s nigh on impossible to find ‘real’ (espresso) coffee in Finland: everything’s filtered coffee.  Eugh.

Anyway, as I was walking toward the city I was distracted by a sign announcing a ‘pop-up cafe’ 25 metres away.  I was intrigued: I’d heard that this ‘pop-up’ phenomenon was becoming quite a thing in Finland: basically you go to someone’s house and have a coffee, or lunch, or what-have-you.

I walked up to the apparent venue, stuck my nose in the door, and was greeted by a man in Finnish.  I asked him “you have coffee?”, and after his affirmative nod, was somehow upsold to a rather lovely breakfast.  It included not just the filtered coffee, but blood orange juice and a fresh home-made roll.  I got talking to the lady at my table, as you do, and learned rather a few interesting things.  I’d been shamelessly eavesdropping on the Finnish conversation around me, and interrupted to ask what language family it was part of.  As it turns out, it’s not Slavic (of course), but nor is it related to its Scandinavian linguistic neighbours.  Actually, its closest language relative is Hungarian, of all things!

I later started talking to the owners of the house/cafe, and they told me that this ‘pop-up’ phenomenon has only started happening the last few years thanks to some loosened regulations.  It’s only their second year doing it, and they only have it on weekends in the summer.  The venue itself was rather sweet, with the walls covered in art and a tap-dancing stage in the corner.  (Here is its facebook page with address and details).

The cafe/art gallery/home-owners
The cafe/art gallery/home-owners
The tap-dancing stage (of course)
The tap-dancing stage (of course)
The sign outside the 'pop-up' cafe
The sign outside the ‘pop-up’ cafe

Fuelled up, I walked further toward the city, and became rather delightfully distracted by the botanical gardens, some markets and the cathedral:

When I got back to my hostel that afternoon, I was greeted by a police barricade and an anarchist demonstration/’punk squat’.  Because I can’t go anywhere and not encounter police haha.  This photo was taken from my hostel room.  The demonstration wasn’t big as such, just obtrusive!

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On Sunday, I went on a walking tour.  It was very interesting, though to be fair a lot of Finnish history is kind of Russian, so mainly I learned about relations between the two countries.  I was rather enjoying walking around being completely anti-social and not having to talk.  Then a French guy came up and insisted on engaging me in conversation, and I somehow was forced to start acting like a normal human being once more haha.  He works as a chemist creating paints and things, so that was something a bit different.

A statue of some of the characters from the Kalevala, an epic Finnish poem incorporating creation myths and basically everything else.
A statue of some of the characters from the Kalevala, an epic Finnish poem incorporating creation myths and basically everything else.
Love locks are put on bridges in Finland, just like in Russia.  This is part of the official 'bridge of love' for 2008.
Love locks are put on bridges in Finland, just like in Russia. This is part of the official ‘bridge of love’ for 2008.

After my day’s walking (something for which my fitness level was not prepared!), I headed back to the hostel for an unashamed sleep in the common area before heading off to the airport.  Despite some ‘interesting’ conversations with the Finnish and then later the UK  immigration officials, I made it through to London—hurrah!  (I’m having more and more trouble with immigration.  I guess they see the number of countries I go to and start to think I’m doing something dodgy.  After all, whose life actually includes this much travel?)

I’m beyond stoked to be back in the UK.  When I lived here, I never had the intention of leaving—it really is like home to me.  More so than Australia is.  I’m considering whether I can move back here somehow.  I was so happy walking around today that I felt my heart would explode!

Today’s missions just included re-opening a UK bank account, shopping (two strange moments—I ended up doing some admin work for a stranger, and I saw a woman in full hijab with her husband coming out of the super-hardcore section of Ann Summers), and checking out a tattoo parlour.  Because tomorrow, I’m getting my first tattoo.  I’m not sure if I’m more excited or scared!  Naturally I’ll post photos.

http://rinian.deviantart.com/art/The-Little-Prince-358731292

Decorated

Well, ‘tattoo day’ arrived.  Yesterday, the lady had told me to make sure I got a good night’s sleep and had a good meal beforehand, both of which I did with relish.  After eleven hours of well-deserved rest, I headed off to Soho for a meal.  There’s a plenitude of venues there, from cafes to pubs to restaurants.  As it was, I chose an Italian place, and my gosh am I glad I did.  I had this amazing pumpkin ravioli, with sage and butter sauce.  It was the best thing I’ve eaten in just about as long as I can remember.  If you’re in London, I definitely recommend checking it out (&Pasta).  Serious nom factor!

I then went to the tattoo place (Frith Street Tattoo), and was told that I could have it done at 3pm.  So I left my deposit and came back a bit over an hour later.  I signed the bits of paper, and the guy who’d be doing it came up to me with some text he’d designed.  I told him he had very pretty hand-writing (just what every alternative-looking guy covered in tattoos wants to hear).  Of course, I was then a huge pain in the arse, asking whether the cross-bar on the ‘t’s could be lowered a smidgeon, as they looked too much like capital letters, and I have this absurd dislike for capital letters.  I also asked whether the lines of text should be further apart, but he told me he’d tried that and this look better.  I said I trusted him—he’s the artist, after all!

Then it was onto the chair.  He (I didn’t know his name at the time, but my appointment card says he’s called Sento) cleaned my skin before transferring the design onto it, just like a temporary tattoo.  I had a look in the mirror and the placement looked a bit stupid, so he had to clean it off and re-place it.  Because I have quite a few freckles on my back thanks to sailing (I presume), possible locations were limited, but we found a good one.

Then, back to the chair.  I was stupid kinds of nervous: when I woke up in the morning, I was so nervous I felt like I’d be sick.  I told him that I was a bit freaked out, and he said that he’d do just one little line to start with to make sure it was okay.  I’m not really given to backing out of things though, so I was going to proceed regardless.

So, what was it like?  Look, it did hurt a bit.  Less than a bee sting, but more than being scratched.  It was kind of like really hot wire being put on my skin then removed again quickly.  I just tried to put my mind away, and after a while the sensation of the needle sort of blended into the metal coming through the speakers, and I started to zone out.  I even started struggling to stay awake!

Next thing I knew, it was all over and done—it didn’t take long at all.  I was super sleepy though, so headed back to the hostel.

I’ve just taken off the dressing and washed the tattoo, and it’s a bit red and swollen-looking at the moment (hence why I’ve done the photo in black and white), but I think it’s going to look really awesome when it’s settled down a bit.

With no further ado:

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The quote’s from The Little Prince (note that the older editions are translated by a different lady and are much better).  Basically he’s in love with a flower who’s living on the asteroid he’s from, and all he has to do to be happy is to look at the stars and know that the flower he loves is out there somewhere.  I think it’s a really sweet message of hope.

http://www.stanford.edu/group/ccr/ccrblog/2010/03/polar_bears_in_sweden.html

Lucky

Well, it’s been an interesting few days.  Wednesday involved a blend of laziness and wandering around London, before meeting up with a guy called John that evening.  I went to high school with John, and hadn’t seen him since we were both 18 (so around ten years ago!).  He sent me a message on facebook in response to one of my “I’m going to be in London” posts a few months back, saying that we should meet up while I was here.  I said ‘yes’, not really thinking anything would come of it, and was quite surprised when he then followed up.

It was such a fun night.  It was weird in some ways: for one, obviously, we’ve both aged in the last ten years, and that was super-interesting.  For two, I guess we both have some preconceptions about who the other is, based on the person we used to know: but we’re now completely different people.  We went for drinks then dinner (though I’d had an epic lunch and actually couldn’t manage more than some miso soup!), and it really was a great time.  It’s always a pleasure to speak with someone else who travels.

The next day, I headed down to Portsmouth to meet up with my friend Paddy, who I worked with as a sailing instructor in 2007.  We’ve kept in touch ever since, though obviously rarely see one another.  I’m only in the UK on average probably every 18 months!  We went for drinks, then dinner at one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, then some more drinks (and some more, and some more).  It was really fun.

It got me thinking: how lucky am I to have spent two evenings in a row with two such amazing people?  I feel so privileged to have such intelligent, gorgeous, fun people in my life.  And I suppose that’s one of my favourite things about travelling: it forces you to meet exponentially more people, and among those people you find a few which just blow your mind.  I feel like thanks to travelling, I’ve found a disproportionate number of ‘diamonds in the rough’ as it were.  Sometimes it does suck that I can’t have all of the people I care about in the same place—it’s definitely something you suffer from when you first start travelling, that no matter where you are, you’re always missing somebody.  In part, that’s what my tattoo’s about—being happy because they’re out there somewhere, rather than being sad because they’re not with you.

On a completely different note, yesterday I woke up thinking about polar bears, so here’s another short picture book.  It even has a guest appearance by Charlie the Hedgehog!  Enjoy.

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The ‘Charlie the Hedgehog’ post is here.