San José

I ended up in Costa Rica after meeting a Costa Rican guy on a course I attended in Fribourg Switzerland last year. The conversation pretty much went “you should come to Costa Rica”; “okay, that seems like a good idea”; and here we are.

Anyway, the guy in question is called Guillermo, and he lives in San José. The Dutchie and I had floated the idea of leaving a bunch of our stuff with him prior to heading down the Carribbean coast, and so we planned to catch up with him in San José in the evening. As it turns out, it was a holiday in San José and he had the day off work, so I wanted to head down earlier; also as it turns out, Anouk lost her phone, so there was no point in her sticking around in La Fortuna to make her WhatsApp date.  As such, we had our clothes laundered (sorely, *sorely* needed), then caught the bus out of La Fortuna for San José at 12:45.

I’m ahead of myself, though: I haven’t actually spoken about La Fortuna as a town.  I liked it, it had a good feeling to it, and lots of cute little nooks and things to explore. It was definitely a bit of a tourist town, but not in the same was as Tamarindo was: for one, where Tamarindo was an American enclave, La Fortuna was more European (many Dutchies and Germans); for two, La Fortuna was less trashy, and generally had way more chill.

In the morning before catching our coach (no apologies for the non-chromonological order of this post), we went for breakfast at a reggae bar called something along the lines of ‘Lava Lounge’, which fundraised to take care of stray local dogs.  We had some delicious huevos rancheros–and the waiter, Max, was hilarious.  At no apparent prompt, he tapped me on one shoulder while walking off in the other direction, and I started giggling hysterically.  It was so ridiculously unexpected.

Leapfrogging ahead in time once more, our bus to San José took quite a while–some 4.5-5 hours–though glady I managed to get some sleep for around an hour of that.  Upon arrival, we found a really nice hostel: Van Gogh hostel, near Terminal Mepe.  It was clean, spacious, quiet, and the owner was a lovely guy.  We’re going back there this upcoming Sunday.

Our next movement was to try and find somewhere to buy the Dutchie a new phone, because she is a legit addict.  The hostel owner suggested we catch an Uber to Walmart, which we did.  We then failed at finding anything at all we were looking for: Anouk found a phone she liked, but neither that store nor any other had the actual item for sale.  Then we couldn’t find an appropriate daypack for the Dutchie either, and we couldn’t find a needle and thread for me (as my pack has lost a strap).  Also, our blood sugar was getting pretty low, so things were getting somewhat silly.

At this point Guillermo came to our rescue, picking us up, and taking us to an Irish pub for dinner. We then went to a cool little bar, Casa, where I had some delicious sangria.  Anouk was also in heaven, as both the Irish pub (the Craic) and Casa had huge beer lists.  There really seems to be a cool craft beer/indie-type bar scene going on in San José.

Today, the phone/pack mission continued.  We headed to a nearby mall, failing to find a new phone for Anouk or a needle for me.  We did get some thread, though, so that was halfway there.  We also stopped by a bookstore, so that I could get some more books with which to practice my Spanish reading comprehension :).  The Dutchie, meanwhile, found herself a travel neck-pillow, which folds up to be a soft toy elephant.

I asked lots of people in the mall, and eventually someone suggested that we go to the central market in town to get a needle.  We were starting to run a little short of time, so caught a taxi, and not only found a needle almost immediately, but had time to continue the phone mission!  A lady who assisted with my Costa Rican phone number recharge gave us a place to head towards, and we started ducking into each and every phone store on the way, finding the phone the Dutchei wanted, and comparing prices.  And finally, success!!

San José I think has a bit of a bad rep.  It’s not really tauted as a travel destination, but our feeling is that you have to dig below the surface a little.   Yes, it’s gritty–my ‘danger danger!’ signals were going off in the areas around the bus stop, for example–but there’s a lot of life around, and a lot to discover.

We also saw reflected what the Tico from our ex-Tamarindo bus had been talking about, with many immigrants and a lot of economic disparity.  This is something our hostel guy expounded upon at breakfast time, too.  He’s an interesting guy who has travelled a lot and lived in quite a few places, and he sees the same trends occurring in Costa Rica as in the seemingly rest of the world at the moment.  He said that there were huge issues with refugees and irrendentism, pointing at Nicaragua taking land from Colombia, for example, and making a play at Guanacaste in the north of Costa Rica (where Liberia is located).  There’s a wall that has gone up between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to assist with issues, and he said that there are similarly hot borders across Central and South America, narcotrafficking, money laundering (he said this was 90% of Panama’s national income, for example), and deeply antagonistic relationships.  Coutnries such as Costa Rica and Colombia are pointed at as debauched capitalist societies, against the interests of countries such as Nicaragua (which, as you can tell, came up a lot).  There’s a lot of xenophobic scape-goating taking place in Costa Rica and Nicaragua alike, and these sentiments are mobilised by politicians and media for instrumental purposes.  The Costa Rican middle class has its taxes raised to pay for the poor, while the rich get richer. Diatribes in the region take an economic left/right slant rather than the more conservative/liberal slant you see in left/right arguments in Europe, for example: but the issues are the same.  Our poor hostelier couldn’t see any future that wasn’t bleak, that didn’t result in war in the next 15 years, in the region or more generally: with lack of education, inequality, corruption, exploitation, and mobilised xenophobia, he sees it as a powder keg.

The Dutchie and I are now on a bus to Puerto Viejo, on the south-eastern coastline of Costa Rica.  We’ve ditched a lot of our stuff at our San José hostel, partly beacuse there’s been a rise in dangerous drug trafficking-type people in the area, and partly because why would be schlepp it around?!  We actually only managed to get one seated ticket for this bus, so we’re together in the baggage/disabled area, which I honestly don’t mind.  We have WAY more room than in the seats,a can get up and stretch etc, and I can whip out my keyboard and type out our adventures of the past few days.  3.25 hours down; one or two to go.

It was not air conditioned.

No Dill

(13-Jul-15)

Well here I am, back in vertical Germany, and finally starting to catch up on my Russia posts.  Needless to say, they’re completely out of order—but what are you going to do about it?!

Staying with Naz reminded me of all the little details about life in Russia.  She and her Belorussian bf live in an old Soviet apartment, in the Primorskiy District—partly developed, but still quite old.  There’s this ubiquitous grime covering everything, as though you’re seeing the world through a faint coffee stain.  There are the little old ladies selling flowers, the stalls with baked goods at the start of the day, the fruits and vegetables being hawked, and people wearing loudspeakers which broadcast ads at you, while their wearers bear indifferent faces.

After walking past the crying sounds of a harmonica one day, we got on the marshrutka (bus) to head into town—only to be greeted with a mouth full of gold teeth.  Not that the driver was smiling.  I think his teeth were just uncomfortable, meaning his mouth had to be propped open.  He then took us on quite the adventure—I’ve never been on a bus which did a u-turn in the middle of the street before!

It’s always quite interesting to have Naz’s South African perspective to be honest.  She describes Russia, even the cities (themselves a world away from the rest of the country), as being like the undeveloped parts of South Africa, or akin to the more dilapidated and uncared-for cities.  We started talking about different countries’ equivalents of bogans, about the trashy clothes, the bad hair, the grab and run attitude that you can’t go a day without seeing in Russia.  Incidentally, at this point I think I have to establish some kind of bogan scale, because nobody ever knows what the hell I’m talking about.  Basically, ‘bogan’ is Australian for a non-violent, opinionated person of typically low education or socio-economic status.  But I’m an idiot and didn’t make this graph 3d in order to incorporate opinions:

On a very much related note, someone peed in the lift to Naz’s flat.  The only way into the building, and someone decided it would serve better as a urinal.  And not even once, but multiple times in the week!  Eventually someone cracked and wrote “НЕ ПИСАЙТЕ В ЛИФТЕ!”, “don’t piss in the lift!”.  The next day, someone had rubbed out the не/don’t.  Next step in the battle was someone rewriting in the не, and also adding the same text in bright red on the other wall of the lift.  Who the fuck has a piss-battle over a lift?!

Anyhoo.  One of the few inconveniences associated with living in Russia is the fact that the water gets turned off in summer.  Usually just the hot water, though it could go either way.  And we’re not talking about an especially balmy country here—there are no palm fronds in sight.  Of course, the most inconvenient part is the fact that you’re not told when the water will be turned off, nor how long it will be turned off for.  Usually it’s a few weeks to just over a month, but it could really be any time.  And we don’t understand why—it’s not like other far-northern countries do this, though the Russian explanation seems to be something to do with checking the pipes.  How and what and why?!  Either way, it led to our  spending a couple of hours each day heating pots of water on the (ineffective) stove, then sploshing around in the bath scooping water over ourselves.

On one occasion Naz and I decided to go in search of a hairdresser, because washing your hair takes a fair bit of water, and doing it with freezing cold water isn’t that much fun.  After rather a number of hairdressers, we eventually found one that would wash our hair for under 1000 rubles (total rip-off), and who would let us go into the street with wet hair (though they thought we were crazy).  They were lovely, though Naz’s hairdresser was apparently pretty fond of booze, and smelled it.  Professionalism ftw!

I’m going to skip talking about dill and my hatred of it for the nth time, because it can really be summarised with (a) I hate dill (b) I always request ‘no dill’ (c) food always arrives with goddamn dill.  DILL IS DISGUSTING.

As mentioned in my post ‘Вернуться‘, I bumped into one of the managers of the brilliant Eclectic Translations in a book-store in Piter.  Eclectic is the company that did the English subtitles for Leviathan, the Yolki films, and a bazillion more—they’re brilliant.  Anyway I went to ‘Trannie’ (Translator) Tuesdays at their in-house bar a couple of times while in St Petersburg and had a fairly brilliant time drinking far too much wine.  The first time I went, I got rather unplannedly tipsy, and pretty much announced as much when walking in the door at Naz’s apartment.  She’d been expecting me, so had had water heating up on the stove for my bath.  I therefore found myself, post-vodka, sitting in an old rusty Soviet bath, washing myself in an inch or so of water, and happy as Larry.  Really all I needed was a rubber duck to complete the scene.  Naz then proceeded to take the piss out of everything, to my hysterical reaction.  My favourite line was “Fuck Zurich; I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I don’t think I like it.  Zurich poo-rich”.  Yup; much maturity was had.

I did learn one thing of particular interest, in relation to Russian border security.  One of Naz’s friends was due to come in on a cruise ship, and generally customers on a cruise apparently don’t need visas, as they are under the ‘captain’s cloak’ (ie the captain’s authority).  Not for Russia, though.  Recently the country decided to withdraw that privilege, in a fairly unprecedented (from what I gather) fashion.  So now there was a big ship full of people stuck in port.  However, in Russia there’s always a way, always a rule to be broken, always a way around.  In this case, passengers were told that as long as they booked a particular tour with a particular company (at an exorbitant price, no less), they could enter St Petersburg.  You couldn’t pay directly, though—you had to pay in euro, to a bank account in Norway.  Not sketchy.  Not sketchy at all.  (Russia never is.)

Ирония Судьбы Revisited

Arguably the most famous Russian film is Ironiya Sud’by, “The Irony of Fate”.  It’s tradition to watch it every New Year’s Eve—those who’ve been reading for a few years may recall that I watched it on NYE when I was living here.  It’s a very, very Russian story.  Basically, it’s set during Communist times, when everybody lived in the same type of flat, with the same type of furniture, on look-alike streets.  So this chap Zhenya Lukashin gets drunk at the banya with his buddies one night in Moscow, passes out, winds up on a plane thanks to some would-be helpful friends, and the next thing you know, he’s in Leningrad (St P).  He eventually wakes up in a state of confusion, and drunkenly catches a taxi, giving his home address.  That address also happens to exist in Leningrad, and the block of flats looks exactly the same, so wonders on in to ‘his’ home, where disasters abound.  It’s just the most Russian.

Anyway, one of my friends did something vaguely akin to this on Saturday night.  We had planned to go out, but instead he found himself inebriated and booking a train to St Petersburg.  By the time he realised (ie when I texted him asking when and where to meet him), it was too late—he was already well on his way.  But don’t you worry, I still arranged myself a thoroughly random Moscow night out.

I’m getting ahead of myself though, so quick recap—Saturday morning I took the free walking tour, as it had been a couple of years since I’d been to Moscow, and I wanted to reorient myself.  I then went for some food and a browse through a bookstore on Tverskaya, but wasn’t actually feeling very well, so went back to the hostel for some drugs and naps.  It was shortly after waking up that I discovered out that my friend Hoos had pulled a Zhenya.

Anyway, Hoos offered to get his friends to take me out, but they were… remarkably unresponsive (as it turned out, the guy in question’s phone battery ran out).  So I went for Japanese at Dve Palochki (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—Japanese food in Russia is so good!!!) and considered my options.

Naturally, my first step was to turn to Reddit.  I posted to the Moscow sub, asking what I should do with my evening.  However, the sub didn’t seem that active, and I’d heard that Couchsurfing (CS) was pretty big in Moscow, so I decided to check it out.  I’d never actually used Couchsurfing before other than to advertise a room (when I was living in St P) and to give other people references.  Nonetheless I eventually figured my way around (phone in one hand, chop-sticks in the other), and saw some guy had posted on the Moscow group asking if anyone was keen for a night out.  Perfect!

This guy, who we’re going to call Jensen (partly because I didn’t ask permission to use his name, and partly because he looks remarkably like the actor Jensen Ackles—side note, I realised on the train to St P that I actually spent all weekend with incredibly good-looking and intelligent men), was a Finnish guy in town for work.  I sent him a message via CS with my Russian number, and heard from him pretty quickly.  Then—to adventures!

Jensen told me he’d meet me at the exit to Kitay Gorod metro station, which was near where I was staying.  He arrived and said that he was near a ‘coffee house’ and a church.  Now, for those who don’t know, these are probably the two most common things in Russia.  Also, as it turns out, there are about a zillion exits to K-G.  So I checked all of them.  Eventually I found him by the statue of Cyril and Methodius, the monks who decided the Cyrillic alphabet was a good idea (I agree), and he was a thoroughly normal human being—see?  Internet strangers aren’t so scary :p.

Anyway, this just so happened to have been the start of the walking tour, and so we went for a stroll, me recounting some of the tour highlights as we went.  We walked up to and through Red Square, stopping by the front of the history museum (my favourite night-time Moscow sight to date), and seeing some kind of amazing fairy-tale show projected onto Moscow Manege.  From there we walked for a few more blocks, finding ourselves on Arbat Street.  And we hadn’t found a bar yet (apparently we’re blind).

We went walking up Arbat, and eventually found an Irish pub.  So yes, an Australian and a Finn went to an Irish pub in Russia.  Why not?  We ordered cocktails, and were eyed off (one eye only) by half a moose head.  We wondered where the other half was.

P1160871

Next we went in search of another bar, but are apparently just awful at finding them.  So we checked out my Reddit thread, as by this time, a few Muscovites had written suggestions for bars and clubs.  We looked at the various locations and settled on one, enticingly called ‘Hidden Bar’.  We’d done enough walking, so jumped in a taxi with an extremely friendly Georgian man.  I was in the back seat, and I remember at one point he was telling Jensen how there are ‘so many beautiful women’ in Moscow, but you have to be very, very rich ‘to get a good one’.

We made it to Hidden Bar, which was one of the least hidden bars I’ve ever encountered.  Other than the random address, that is.  I mean, there were seriously big signs and arrows all saying ‘Hidden Bar’ and pointing straight at it!  So we went on in, had another cocktail, and I completely failed at communicating in any way thanks to the music volume.  I tried though.  I tried my little heart out.

Finally we headed just down the street to Cuba Libre, which had extraordinarily loud music inside, but had an outdoors section where we could actually sit and chat.  Ha maybe it sounds a bit weird, but it was so nice to have a normal conversation with a normal guy around my age.  Most of the people at school are in their early twenties, which is fine of course, but it does make a difference.  Actually, this is something Jensen mentioned—he was saying how he’d often dated older women, and how one time when he was 22, he was turned down by one.  Apparently he was quite offended, as there was obviously nothing wrong with him—but now, looking back, he can see how much he’s grown, and how different he is now to the person he was then.  I’m trying to be delicate in my phrasing here, so I guess it’s kind of like your face—as you get older you lose the fat from your face and it becomes more defined.  The same kind of happens to your character.  (Is that PC?  Did I achieve tact?  If so, it’ll be a first.)

Anyway, it was 3:30 and starting to get light (featured image), so we called it a night.  He disappeared into a taxi, and I (after taking a photo of a map on his phone) wandered off into the night.  I stopped and asked directions a couple of times, but wasn’t actually that far from my hostel, so was back by 4am.  With the, worst, blisters.  Haha my shoes are full of blood, it’s pretty impressive.  But that’s fine—and what’s more, when I got back, I discovered that I had the room to myself!  I exclaimed as much to the lady on the desk, and she said that she was going to check a guy into my room, but then she saw I had it all to myself, so figured she’d leave me like that.  Best logic ever??  But yes, that was my internet-led night.  I’m calling it a win.

http://www.sebeetles.com/images/herbie_empi_original_front.jpg

Herbie’s Big Adventure

Friday morning I managed 45 minutes of my French class before leaving sick.  The only obvious cure was to spend the weekend going out in Brussels.  Naturally, things didn’t go to plan.

Friday evening started off well enough, taking a stroll through my suburb then heading to an Irish pub at around 22:00.  One of the guys from uni was celebrating his birthday, so there were quite a few of us there.  I spent a lot of time talking to people whose names I still can’t remember (seriously—I’ve been at the school for two months now.  I think it’s reaching the point where it’s too late to ‘fess up and I’ll just have to stop talking to people).  Eventually though, things were dying down, and a cohort of us decided to head into the city.  I was dying for a night out (read: dancing, drinks, poor judgment) so despite my sobriety, obviously joined in.

There were two taxi-loads of us, and so I jumped in with an Italian guy, an American, and a girl called Oz (not to be confused with Hugh Jackman:)

http://www.beyondtherainbow2oz.com/bfo41a.gif

The American guy, who gave me permission to use his real name but who I am instead calling ‘Herbie’, was very fucking wasted.  And so, being in the passenger seat, he instigated a conversation with the Rwandan taxi driver, asking questions such as “how long have you been in Belgium?” (1997) and “so why did you leave Rwanda?” (Oz, barely holding back a face-palm: “think about it, Herbie”).  Italy meanwhile wasn’t holding back on the face-palming whatsoever.

Soon enough we got to De Brouckere station, where we would meet up with the guys from the second taxi.  Herbie meanwhile needed to go to the bathroom.  He said he was going to go and see if there was one in the metro station, so sent himself off down the stairs.  I’m chatting with Oz and Italy and we’re starting to wonder if Herbie is still alive.  Oz walks over to the top of the stairs to see if she can aspy him, when suddenly there’s the sound of glass hitting the ground and Herbie running up the escalator yelling that he’s been mugged and to call the police.

The story as Herbie tells it is that he wandered down the stairs looking for a toilet, when some homeless guys ask him not to go there in the station because that’s where they’re sleeping.  (Herbie meanwhile keeps asking for a ‘restroom’, which is a word nobody here knows.  I’m sure that helped!)  Anyway he wanders onward, fails to find a bathroom, and so turns to come back to where we’re waiting for him.  At this point, he’s grabbed from behind around the throat by a big homeless dude.  Herbie says, in a thick Southern accent, “je n’ai pas parle de francais, parlez anglais?” (which is wildly incorrect, but given I heard him say it at least twenty times Friday night, am 100% sure it’s what he was saying).  The homeless guy says “of course” (I like to imagine he was eloquent while saying it, and possibly wearing a bow tie) and asks for money.  Herbie gives the guy 10 euro, the homeless guy says he must have more; Herbie gives the guy his 9-euro phone.  At this point the homeless guy releases him and so Herbie runs away, and seeing his quarry escaping, the homeless guy throws a wine bottle after him.  The bottle hits Herbie on the left side, on his back above his hip, and crashes to the ground.

Anyhoo while Oz and Italy tried to calm Herbie and find out what had happened, I called the police (an adventure in and of itself).  Italy and I help lift Herbie up onto a park bench, because he’s in a lot of pain from where the bottle hit him.

Soon enough the police arrive, with so many guns (Belgium), and a not-particularly-friendly dog.  They check out the scene of the crime as it were, and Oz accompanies one of them down into the station to point out the culprit.  Once that’s sorted and the guy’s being arrested, the police call an ambulance and Herbie reluctantly gets stashed into it.  Meanwhile, Oz or Italy were going to have to go to the station to give a statement, and I was sober so volunteered to also go with them.  So Oz and I pile into the back of a police car with two incredibly model-esque police officers (one guy, one girl with a gun of such epic proportions that I later found it gives her back ache) and whoosh!  Sirens on, screaming through the city to the hospital!  Excitement!!  (And yes, yes I giggled inappropriately.)

The next few hours saw Herbie, Oz, myself and the two police officers waiting in his hospital room for an x-ray, while Herbie desperately asked every medical staff member he saw for the wi-fi password.  Haha in between swearing loudly every three minutes just about on the dot, and telling us how he broke his thumb playing football.  He has five screws in it!  (/s)

Oz was meanwhile hearing from the guys from the second cab, and as it turned out, they’d followed us to the hospital and were in the waiting room.  Poor guys!  I was hoping they were out drinking twice as hard on our behalf.

Anyway eventually Herbie had his x-ray and it was just soft tissue damage; I let him use my phone to email his parents; and we then spent more quality time in the police station.  It was a grim little room, full of low plastic seats, a one-way mirror, and caging over the window.  Herbie was walking relatively well by this point, and his parents called my phone to check he was all good.  I can’t hand-write cos of my gimpy wrist, but the other two filled in statements.  However the police were still trying to find some way to recover Herbie’s phone—the homeless guy had told them the name of the person he’d given it to—so told us to wait some more.  Oz lived just around the corner so was finally free to go home, but I said I’d wait with Herbie until he was on his way home (I was updating his housemate on his whereabouts in case of further misadventure/disaster).  Finally—finally—our police came back and said it was a lost cause at this point, and we were free to go.

Sweet freedom!!  It was well after 4am by this point and there were obviously no buses, so I saw Herbie into a cab and then summoned myself an uber (please use my discount code, kids: uberexplaura) and was home to eat chocolate cake and crash before 5am.  Result.

Saturday night was also epic, though happily of the completely opposite kind.  But that’ll have to wait—the girl has places to be!

 

A mountain do-over

Last time I was in Switzerland, I ended up leaving a ski slope on a stretcher and an ambulance, before being given the all-clear (but still not being able to walk for a few days).  This time I avoided both stretchers and ambulances (result!), but not mountains.  Funnily enough, given it’s a country known for its mountains.

I was off to Zurich to visit Sebastian, who I’d met 18 months previously in Colombia.  We’ve stayed in contact since, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t weird as hell to actually see him again in real life.  Anyhoo, after an event the preceding night and a grand total of 2.5 hours’ sleep, I got up at a thoroughly ungodly hour and caught the train from Brussels.  On said train, I naturally met a few ‘characters’.  One kid just kept coming and standing in the aisle and staring at me, for really really long periods of time.  Then he got tired of standing up, so sat sideways on the chairs next to mine so that he could continue to stare at me unblinkingly.  Wtf?  This went on for about half an hour, with the average stare being a few minutes long.  Pretty weird kid.  Then at one point I had a cute older Swiss lady sitting next to me, who just straight-up wouldn’t believe I don’t speak German.  Man, she just did not give up!  Though my personal highlight from the train trip (other than being able to see myself moving over countries via Google Maps) was the guard, who in German would wish everyone a ‘good day and bye’, but in English would tell us all to have a ‘nice and funny day’.  How cute is that?!

Coming into Zurich, I realised that it was the first blue sky I’d seen since arriving in Belgium (the clichés are true!), and it was freaking fantastic.  After I disembarked the train I went for a walk up to the uni, which had a view over the city, then sat and read my book in the sunshine.  No jumper required!  Absolutely glorious.

Later that day, after he’d finished work, I met up with Seb, and we went for a stroll through the city.  It really is a very pretty little place—from above, it looks more like a model city than a real one.  It reminded me in a lot of ways of Hobart, but with snowier mountains and more vivid colours.

The initial plan for the Saturday was to go for a hike, but the weather wasn’t particularly amenable to this idea.  Instead we headed out to Technorama, a science museum.  Now, I love science museums.  I remember going to SciTech in Perth Australia when I was 5 years old, and it’s there that the obsession began.  Technorama was a bit different to the science museums I’m used to—its exhibits were clearly arranged and described, and useful for actually teaching.  It was different to say, Questacon in Canberra, or Camera Obscura in Edinburgh: it was focused on learning about science, more than being about the magic of it all (and then figuring things out for yourself).  Haha it begs for the application of national/Germanic stereotypes, to be honest :p.  After a few hours we were pretty much over it, so decided to head home.  Oh god, the traffic.  We ended up in a traffic jam for what felt like (and I’m pretty sure actually was) a couple of hours.  I was dying of exhaustion, but the threat of being continuously poked put any notion of a nap to rest!  Finally, finally we got home, whereupon S cooked some most epic Vietnamese soup.  Nom nom nom.  (Nom nom ‘nam??)

Sunday.  Oh, Sunday.  I woke up feeling the worst I’ve felt in actual years.  What a freaking disaster, and what horrible timing!  I was thereby rendered the world’s most useless house guest, but what can you do.  We headed off to Basel, to theoretically catch the 4am start of Fasnacht.  We had lunch at Seb’s friends’ house (well, eventually—someone forgot to turn the oven on :D), before later on heading to the nearby town of Liestal.  For some at-the-time unknown reason, people were carrying big torches and bonfires through the city, with the fires gradually increasing in size until the flames were reaching a good fifteen metres into the air.  Google has told me it’s a Fasnacht tradition called Chienbäse, and apparently nobody has any idea why the hell it happens.  (Official website; photos on Flickr.)

zurich (2 of 3)

That night I was supposed to be staying in Basel and going out, while Seb headed back to Zurich to go be a good working boy.  However I was still barely holding it together, and therefore being the most boring and quiet person in the entire world.  Eugh.  Thus despite the loveliness of everybody and their willingness to speak English for me (haha as far as German goes, I can pick out proper nouns and inbetweeny conjunctiony/prepositiony type words—this does not for understanding make!), I went back to Zurich too.

After a lazy start on Monday, and despite the desperate mizzle outside, I decided I’d go for a bit of a hike.  The target was the Uetliberg, a hill out the back of Seb’s place.  And so I did, traipsing up the slippery snow in the rain, umbrella firmly in hand, and variously singing and conducting my way through the forest.  (Hey, who can not conduct to Bach’s Fugue in G Minor?)  Soon enough I reached the train station at the top, took a few photos, and headed back down to town.

When I got there, I went to the supermarket.  Haha I’ve just realised that I talk about supermarkets enough to justify them becoming a tag on my blog.  Yup, that’s happened.  Anyway, while I haven’t yet written about it, supermarkets here in Belgium make absolutely no sense.  I simply cannot get my head around Francophonic organisational logic (or lack thereof).  And I’m blaming Francophones, because apparently keeping pine-nuts in the fridge makes perfect sense to both French Belgians and actual French people.  Not German Switzerland, though.  Everything was so organised and easy to find!  It made me really outrageously happy.  Though I’ve discovered one can’t buy icing sugar in Belgium, nor self-raising flour in Switzerland.  Obviously, baking is becoming an international activity.

Anyhoo, after my inspirationally logical supermarket adventure, it was time to bake cookies while studying, before making dinner.  Procrastination skills: 10/10.  Of course, at about this time Seb informed me that the photos I’d taken from the ‘top’ of Uetliberg weren’t actually from the top at all—somehow I didn’t notice the fact that I hadn’t actually finished walking up the hill.  What the hell?!  Fail, Laura.  Fail.

Tuesday was travelling-back-to-Belgium day, but I had Unfinished Business.  Namely that goddamn ‘mountain’.  Was I going to let another Swiss mountain beat me?  I thought not!  So, being a little short on time, I caught the train up to the not-top, and made it to the actual top:

zurich (3 of 3)

Result!  Of course, it turned out that the preceding day’s rain had turned everything to sheet ice, so my plan to walk back down the hill would have quickly resulted in broken bones.  As such, I caught the train back down (:() then quickly threw everything into my bag before heading to Zurich HB.  I was to catch the train back to Basel, from whence I was flying to Brussels.  However, while on the train I looked at the airport bus timetable S had printed out for me, only to be wildly confused.  I mean firstly, I had no idea that the airport was technically in France, so that was a bit of a surprise.  Secondly, the timetable said that the stops were “EuroAirport Cargo, EuroAirport Abflug CH, AuroAirport Verwaltung, EuroAirport Ankunft CH”—which the hell was I getting off at?!  Obviously not ‘cargo’, but as to the rest?

Scratching my head, I tried to rouse my poor sleep-deprived brain.  Then suddenly I remembered seeing a sign in a store which had lollies ‘Ab’ 1CHF, which in the context obviously meant ‘from’.  Then I recalled seeing ‘flug’ both in Dusseldorf airport the other month and in the train station in Zurich, where it clearly meant ‘flight’ or something close enough.  Boom!  Abflug=departures!!  Hmm I probably could have just asked somebody, but let’s not get too crazy.

Soon enough I was in the airport then back in Brussels (and might I note that I have now crossed several European state borders, and never had my passport checked?!), where I escorted some poor lost Frenchman into the city to his hotel, then thankfully home to bed.

In other news, I’ve written another guest review for The Piece of Shit Book Club.  And in other other news, I’ve just found out that my book Pickles and Ponies is a finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards.  How crazy!  (So basically I’m saying you should all buy it, and thereby fund my adventuring career ;)).