It has been a big, big month.  There have been a lot of ups and downs—realising someone very important to me is very sick; finding out I got a scholarship for my course; meeting my uncle for the first time since I was 8; getting good book reviews; getting bad book reviews; letting go of one big friendship; travelling all around the place; saying a thousand freaking goodbyes to people, the majority of whom I won’t see again; finishing work; continuing to meet new people (that’s the problem with goodbyes—they lead to more hellos!), the list goes on.  And I am done.  No more emotion for Laura.  Haha luckily (?) I have done this a lot of times before, and have all of the best maladaptive psychological methods for dealing with it :p

Seriously though, it’s getting really hard to keep uprooting all of my life to start all over again.  This is the longest I’ve been in one job (technically I was at the law firm longer, but I took leave without pay in the middle to go spend a couple of months in Eastern Europe), and it’s by far the longest I’ve lived in one place.  Even where I’ve lived in the same city before, I’ve moved from house to house as leases expired etc, and so this is the most stable my life has ever been.  I’ve met some amazing people this year, done some crazy things, had an awesome flatmate and been on a zillion adventures (dragging poor JFord along to most of them).  But now it’s suddenly all over again, and it’s time to start from scratch.  In a new country.  Again.

It really is all too much and too overwhelming, so I’m pretty much pushing it all to the back of my mind and focusing on getting through things one step at a time.  Today JFord and I are going to the beach and I’m farewelling my housemate; tomorrow I’m going to another beach (expect a blog post about that one, it’s going to be quite an ‘experience’); Wednesday I fly out.  Thursday morning I get to Düsseldorf, then hang out for around eight hours before flying to Manchester.  Tilly is going to pick me up and drive me back to Liverpool, where I’ll spend the rest of the day with her and her family.  Boxing Day apparently we’re going drinking, then at some point I’m headed to Cardiff to go and catch Nastya, who had a baby last week.  (Haha I’m not going to give explanation of who these people are, as if you’ve been reading my blog a while, you’ve already ‘met’ them all!)  On New Year’s Eve I’m catching a train from London to Bourg-St-Maurice in the French Alps, where Wicklund will pick me up at 9pm at night.  Commence the drinking.  Then I will go riding for a few days before heading up to Brussels.  Incidentally, my snowboard has led to potentially debilitatingly expensive excess luggage… :/

What else?  Well, I need to find somewhere to live of course.  I should probably revise my French at some point, too (not going to lie, I’m going to be completely fucked at first).  My orientation week starts 12 January, then the course itself starts 19 January—less than a freaking month from now!  That weekend I should be catching up with a guy I met in Colombia, and then, no plans.  Well, apart from a few visits to/from people.  I definitely need to get onto that—I’m unfortunately the kind of person who needs things to look forward to, so they don’t have to think about everything they’ve just left behind!

Oh well, at the end of the day, at least I won’t be in Russia.

Clean Hands

I am extremely in Germany right now, and I have so many questions.  For example, what does ‘oder’ mean?  Secondly, there is a gigantic Ronald McDonald plastic monstrosity sitting on the chair behind me which keeps creeping me out, yet people keep coming to have their photo taken with it.  Why?  Why?!  I am too tired for creepy yellow clowns.  Then again, I think I probably always am.

I don’t really understand how I ever actually manage to make any of my flights.  It’s just ridiculous.  I mean this time, I thought I was ready–I really thought I was ready–but here I was, 25 minutes after I was supposed to leave for the train, still throwing stuff out and putting random assortments of things in bags.  I ended up just scooping the remaining items into a bag I had handy, and booking it for the train station.

This time I’d looked at my flight time the night before, so at least I knew what time I was leaving.  I didn’t bother checking when I needed to be there though, because I am an idiot.  So I was having a look at this while on the train into the city, therefore not realising I’d actually reached Central until the “next stop, Town Hall, followed by Wynyard, then all stations to, North Sydney, then all stations to, Chatswood, then all stations to, Hornsby” announcement came on.  This led to my quickly jumping out with my vast array of gear, breaking a nail in the process and also dropping my stress ball onto the train lines.  Now, this stress ball was bright yellow with a big smiley face on it, and my tax driver to the airport in Bogota gave it to me after I knew the local word for ‘awesome’.  So if anyone happens to see it at the southern end of Central platform 16 over the next few days, feel free to break the law and grab it for me 😉

Making it to the airport, it was time to weigh things and continue repacking.  I figured I had to be around 15kg over.  But what do you know?–the scales were broken.  Given that I was now tight on time, I decided just to check in and ask them how much I had to throw out.  Happily, thanks to Etihad being awesome, and moreover the lady on check-in being my hero, they let me travel with all of it 😀  (In the end, it was only 8–9kg over).

There was a really nice guy going through security, who had a look at my coat (breaking news–yet another group of people has stopped to have a photo with el creepo McDonaldso!  And now some lady is trying to sell me Christmas goodies, and does not seem overly convinced that I am not in fact German and do not in fact understand the bulk of what she’s saying to me.).  He laughed at how massive it was and asked whether I was going to “Russia or the North Pole?”.  Little did he know that I had meta-coat going on, stuffing one inside the other so that I could smuggle them through in carry-on.  My baggage allowance was out, and coats are heavy, okay?!

The flight itself was fairly uneventful: Sydney to Abu Dhabi (gosh I’ve spent a lot of time at that airport), then Abu Dhabi to Düsseldorf, where I’m sitting at the moment.  I did however get a bit overly experimental with the game of “what goes in Laura’s mouth?” on the way over: there was an extremely mysterious package in the food bag thing.  I opened it carefully and it smelled really good.  I figured ‘oh, hey, hand sanitiser’ and poured some onto my hands.  Then it smelled so good that I started to figure that maybe it was dressing or vinaigrette or something instead.  Coming to this conclusion, I carefully put some in my mouth to check.  Nope, it was definitely hand sanitiser.  And in case anyone’s wondering, it does not, repeat does not, taste good.

So now here I am, (oh shit, I can see a police officer on a segueway whats-it called machine, and it looks freaking ridiculous!) waiting to check in to my flight to Manchester, where Tilly will pick me up to take me back to Liverpool.

Man do I need a nap.

Douche Душ Dusche

Sometimes English is weird.  There is, of course, the example of ‘pineapple’, which manages to be called ‘ananas’ in all the other languages: informs me that the word ‘pineapple’ comes from ‘pine’ + ‘apple’ (really helpful there), which still makes about zero sense.  I’ve just done a similar search for ‘shower’ (because isn’t etymology fun?!) after realising that the German word for ‘shower’ is Dusche.  Much as it’s douche in French, and душ (‘dush’) in Russian.  Why don’t we have the same word as the French or German?  Interestingly, I found that ‘shower’ comes from the proto-Germanic skuraz/later German Schauer, being like a rain shower.  I can see how this would fit with the English mentality of having one’s own personal rain-cloud following one around :p

I’m now in the UK, and as usual, refusing to believe in jet lag.  This is the seventh time I’ve moved hemispheres (Australia-UK-Australia-UK-Australia-Russia-Australia-Europe), and I’ve travelled between the two more than that of course.  I’ve left the UK on a Saturday and been at work in Australia on the Monday several times now, and done the same the other way around as well.  I even have a vague recollection of going straight from the international airport in Aus to work.  Apparently refusing to believe in jet lag works out for me, and I blame it all on my system flying over.  I generally fly Etihad, so it’s all about staying awake for the first 10 or so hours of the flight then having a 3 or 4-hour nap; cleaning your teeth, washing your face and changing your socks in Abu Dhabi to feel human again; then sleeping immediately once you get on the plane for the last  8-10 hours.  That’s pretty much what I did this time, apologising to my poor body as I took a sleeping pill once on the plane in the UAE.  And hey, it’s worked: I stayed awake all day in Germany, went to bed at 19:45 that night in the UK, slept through until 6 the next morning, then stayed awake with two micro-naps until nearly 23:00.  Haha in saying that, I was pretty seriously confused for the first few hours yesterday, and I woke up just now needing to throw up.  My poor body doesn’t know what’s hit it!

After my bonding experience with creepy Ronald in Düsseldorf airport, I went on a mission to check in for my flight.  I’d managed to get a business class ticket for only 15 euro extra, and as if it wasn’t totally worth it to spend the day chilling in the lounge!  Now, if my prior ridiculous behaviour in Russia, Finland, the UK and Greece didn’t give it away, I don’t take airports very seriously.  At least this time it was airline staff rather than border security I was taking the piss with: I went to check in and the guy said “I need to see a passport”.  I replied with “just any passport, or did you want to see mine?”  He laughed then looked at me disbelievingly and asked “why, how many passports do you have with you?”  “Obviously a bagful,” I replied.  Haha asking ‘concept checking questions’/CCQs unfortunately comes with the English teaching territory I’m afraid—if you say something ambiguous, or use the wrong word, I’m 100% going to fuck with you.  I’m sure it’s never annoying..!

Little else entertaining happened in the airport—one guy asked me rather indignantly why I didn’t speak German, which made me laugh; I had silly conversations with a lot of randoms; and then I wound up in the lounge.  Sadly (!) the business class lounge was closed for the day, given it was xmas, so I had to put up with the first class lounge.  Lame, am I right?!  So I ate lots of delicious food and had a shower in a gorgeous bathroom (hence the pre-occupation with the word for ‘shower’), and generally had a good time.

I flew into Manchester later that day and waited for my friend Tilly for an hour or so, then she picked me up and took me back to Liverpool, where I am now.  So far it’s been very chilled—yesterday we pretty much hung out, ate chocolate, watched Netflix, and watched snow fall on the skylight.  What’s a bit weird is that I can’t stand how early it gets dark in the northern UK: when I lived in Manchester it used to really get to me, and it was dark well before 4pm here yesterday.  Yet when I was in Russia it was night all day, and I kind of loved it.  There’s just a different feeling about it here.

One last burst of entertainment, because I’m well aware I’m absolutely waffling right now.  One of my friends and I were talking about going out, and they said that they couldn’t, because “actually I’m out on bail at the moment”.  I pause, as I know they’re staying with their parents at the mo.  So I go “out on bail?  You mean, from your parents?  From your friends?”.  My friend pauses.  “Well I was arrested.”  Hahahahahahahahahaha.  Actual bail.  Bail from the police.  For partying-related offences.  Hilarious!

Apart from that, i’d forgotten how hard it is to understand scouse accents.  It was only slightly more difficult to understand people speaking German, so a completely different language, than it is to understand people here.  The different words and slang don’t help, but the accent is just insane.  Priceless.

Grand Re-Entrance

It is good to be back! I have been a very busy girl, and am already falling behind on blog posts – terrible, I know. I made the notes for this particular post while sitting in Pret a Manger, after talking to a particularly beautiful Slovak man. I was in the cafe waiting for Craig, who I would shortly meet up with. It occurs to me that this might be Craig’s debut mention in the blog (welcome!). He’s a Kiwi lad I met in around May, after an introduction from Nastya. Like me, he’s a traveller, professional sort, writer – and as I discovered when at dinner with Nastya and Stephen in Cardiff the other night, apparently they were hoping romance would spark. Lol. Long-distance match-making – face-palm! They were a little disappointed to discover they’d failed in their endeavours.

I was beyond stoked to spend as much time as I did with Nastya. When I was arranging to come down to Cardiff, she said she’d have time for lunch or something, so I didn’t expect much – then I ended up having dinner with the two of them (and meeting their adorable 2-week-old baby Charles), and spending most of the next day with Nastya and their kid. I swear, you would not believe that Nastya had a baby a couple of weeks ago – she looks totally normal. Not to mention the fact she was on facebook three and a half hours after giving birth – Russians are a different breed!

After breakfasting with an Argentine girl from my Cardiff hostel, I went for a wander and found myself in the castle in the centre of town. It was a pretty cool castle tbh, and the weather was perfect: nice and cool, but with warm, penetrating sunshine. I verged on throwing a mini-tanty however: I really am sick of doing this all by myself. But it was nice, and then I headed back to the hostel to meet up with Nastya and Charles.

We spent the next few hours walking around the town centre, eating Welsh cakes and having a solid catch-up. Who’d have thunk, 18 months ago when we last hung out, that the next time we saw each other I’d be moving to Belgium and she’d be married with a kid? Bizarre. Haha at one point I said how the guys in Cardiff were much better-looking/better-groomed etc than what I’m used to in the UK (certainly Up North), and Nastya laughed. “And compared to Russian men?” Eugh. Monobrows and mullets. I said as much, and Nastya responded saying how to a Russian man, taking care of his appearance means that he’s ‘gay’. “Sure,” I replied – “because making yourself look better so that you can have more sex with women is *totally* gay.”

In the evening I headed off to London, where I would be crashing at my friend Tom’s house. The thing is though, I’ve got rather a lot of stuff – not just my normal mega-suitcase, but my snowboard and all associated gear. Between that and my back, I really can’t take on stairs. Somewhat inconveniently, London’s public transport system doesn’t really believe in lifts, so I had no idea how I was going to *get* to Tom’s place.

Happily, I had wireless on the train from Cardiff, so I was using the Transport for London website to try and figure out a step-free way to get to Tom’s via public transport. It honestly wasn’t looking great. So I had a look at the taxi fare, and it said it would be around 50 pounds. FIFTY FREAKING POUNDS! I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do, when suddenly Uber popped into my head. I’ve been aware of the service for quite a while, as they were offering free rides at a couple of the Vice parties I’ve been to. I’d never actually used them, but I looked into it and downloaded the app. However, I decided it wasn’t feasible, as I needed to have internet access wherever I was actually being picked up from – and the middle of Paddington Station was hardly a road.

Arriving at the station, I wandered over to the entrance to the Tube, looked at the stairs, and just about cried. “No, no, no,” was pretty much my response, and I decided to head out into night-time London and figure it all out. So here I am, phone in hand, wandering determinedly down the street with all of my gear, looking for someone’s wi-fi to use. Finally, I managed to log on outside a McDonald’s, and summoned an uber driver. It was freaking *magical*!!! It arrived super quickly, and the guy took me the whole way to Tom’s (>30 minutes) – and thanks to the 10 pounds’ credit I had applied when signing up, the whole trip only cost me 11 pounds. How ridiculous is that?! Ridiculously *awesome* is what. Haha and if I’ve sold the service to you and you want to sign up, download the app and please apply my referral code (uberexplaura) – you’ll get ten pounds/twenty dollars’ credit, and so will I. So you’ll be funding my travels, and I will love you forever.

My gosh though. It’s so, so good to be back home in Europe.

(Written 31/12 and backdated… because you wouldn’t want two posts on the same day, now would you?)

Gallic Saints

After making the notes for yesterday’s post, I went and met up with Kiwi Craig. I really wanted to go to my favourite pasta place in London – I went and had an amazing pumpkin ravioli with walnut sauce before getting my tattoo last year, and keep trying to go back. I say ‘trying’, because whenever I make it there, either that pasta’s run out, or they’re closed. Sadly the latter was again the case on this particular occasion, but being in the mood for pasta, the quest continued.

In the end we had lunch in a trattoria, before I sprang my latest quest/adventure on Craig.  You see, I went to Oz Comic Con this year dressed as Wanda from Where’s Wally/Where’s Waldo, and it was all to a purpose: I wanted the outfit in order to do a real life ‘Where’s Wally’ all around Europe, and this was the start of my mission! Craig was keen to help out, so we went to a couple of the tourist destinations in London, whereupon I’d quickly rip off my coat and he’d take photos before I froze. (It was only around 0, so it wasn’t actually that bad.) The reactions of people going past were pretty hilarious – quite a few people asked if I was Wally, and others would cast their eyes at me then laugh to themselves. It was pretty great! I did of course have a couple of “found you!”s. Imagine if I had the *full* costume on, given that just the hat and top were enough for this!

Craig then went off to meet with one of his other friends, and I went shopping. Because clearly I don’t have enough baggage to take around with me (!?!). I ended up in dire need of a break, and ended up in McDonalds after I failed to find anything reasonable close enough. So I sat down with my icecream (I don’t understand weather) and my phone, and abused the wireless. I must have been having a great hair day yesterday or something, because a *lot*, repeat *lot* of guys were coming up to me. I ended up chatting with a nice guy from Mauritius for quite some time, who as it turned out, had lived in St Petersburg. What are the odds, right?

I then went back to Tom’s (he wasn’t actually staying there that night, somewhat hilariously) and had a good chat with his housemate Kayleigh before hitting the sack.

This morning I ran a few errands – easy enough given Tom’s is 25 minutes from his door to Tottenham Court Road station – then whooshed back to the apartment in order to procure myself another ride with uber ;). The car was supposedly arriving in 15 minutes so I thought I had heaps of time – four minutes later it was there! Fastest I’ve ever packed in my life, I swear.

Getting to and on the Eurostar was fairly easy – apart from my near-swooning at the beautiful French men that I found myself speaking to – and the trip to Paris Gare du Nord was uneventful. It was only when I actually arrived that things got Laura’d.

To continue my journey to Bourg St-Maurice, I now had to change from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. Oh god. Oh my god. I had one hour and one minute to make it, which is fairly reasonable if you know what you’re doing. I, on the other hand, did not have any *idea* what I was doing!

I disembarked and headed for where I could see an information booth. I asked the guy if he spoke English and he said no, so I broke out some “comment aller au…”. He gave me a subway map, said downstairs, and four-something. Figuring that this would mean the metro, I thought I might need cash for a ticket, so I lined up for a cash machine. That line was just *outrageously* long, but I got some euros, so result.

I next headed downstairs. The escalator was broken so it was thunk-thunk-thunk the whole way down. I found a ticket machine and it let me use English, though I had no freaking idea which ticket I was supposed to choose, so mulled over that for a while. I eventually bought one and tried to figure out where the hell to go next – there were so many different forms of public transport, numbers and colours everywhere, and I had not a clue what was going on. I was walking briskly around, looking for someone who looked like they worked there, and finally found a security guard who told me platform 44 downstairs. Downstairs I went, a little concerned that I was going to have to go upstairs at some point later on (dramatic foreshadowing?).

I found the platform and saw that, sure enough, there was a train in ten minutes. Did I mention it was now 15:18 and my train was leaving de Lyon at 15:48? No? I had no idea how far it was, so was really hoping for the best.

The train got into Gare du Nord at 15:28 and it was a freaking *struggle*. Really – it was a heaving mass of poeple. I was actually pretty appalled at the overcrowding, given it’s a developed country. Wtf, France? Some nice gentleman helped me with one of my bags (happily I’ve had at least one nice gentleman/lady at every single point so far, from Sydney Airport to trains to cabs to the various metros and trains of the world). It was honestly freaking ridiculous though.

One stop down, and then we were drawing into the next station, which was Gare de Lyon – but I couldn’t get off the fucking train!! There were so many people piling on and pushing me over and piling off that I couldn’t make headway. My “s’il vous plait”s and “excusez-moi”s were completely ignored. In the end I went ‘to hell with this’ and just started reversing toward the door, dragging my stuff with me, and to hell with anybody that got in my way.

Phew, so I was at de Lyon – but now where?! I was still in the subway! I chose an arbitrary direction, noting as I did so that it was 15:37. Eleven minutes to make it. Merde. I could see a sign for ‘other lines’, so opted for that and hoped for the best. Then disaster struck (again!). I couldn’t get my freaking baggage through the baggage hatch, and it was jammed halfway in and halfway out of the subway gates! A nice Frenchman in his late 30s saw me sitting there heaving and swearing volubly to myself in Russian (my brain went ‘ooh, other language spoken here’ and started producing Russian rather than French). He came on over and started heaving right along with me, talking at me in French, and me just going “aaaaaagh боже мой, je ne comprends pas!!!”. In the end it just wasn’t going, so he used his pass to go back to the other side so that he was pushing and I was pulling. No dice, so he pulled my bag out and took it through the ordinary gates. He asked if I was Russian – points for knowing what language I was ranting to myself in, right?

I knew that I could now only have 5-6 minutes to make the train, and had no idea where I was going. So I looked at him, looked pathetic, and offered him my train ticket. Yup. I pulled a full ‘maiden in distress’. He looked at my ticket, looked at the time on my ticket, looked at his watch, and his face blanched. He then grabbed my snowboard bag and told me to go with him, and we both started near-running through the station. Holy shit. What an absolute hero!!! We made it up to the platform and to my train with one minute to spare. He handed my bag over to me and all I could do was clutch my heart and say merci. I even got the ‘very much’ part wrong – I need some serious freaking revision.

Seriously though. I think my adrenalin is still going, half an hour later. Happily I don’t have to change trains after this though, as the one I’m on now takes me the whole way through to Bourg St-Maurice, where Wicklund is picking me up from the station before a night out for New Year’s Eve. Man, (head in hand), it has been a *big* year.