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taowhotravels
Reading my last blog, I realize that I never officially announced the day that featured most of the Hell Train and the House of Terror was Day 27, but – it was! When I last mentioned Day 27, I promised, on my life, that I would nap.

WELL DID I EVER.

DIDN'T WE EVER.

We had ambitions, you guys. We had hopes and dreams, of a dinner out and then a free pub crawl.

Instead we had a three hour nap and woke up at 9pm.

WHOOPS.

Well, at least we could still have dinner. We went to this place called Fatal, recommended by my dear friend Vikki. We found it in the heart of a tourist district we didn't even know existed. Which we walked to. By this time of the day, when it was 28 degrees out, it was actually pleasant to walk. Made me sad that we didn't have more time with less hot weather.

Fatal – and I really wonder whether that's intended to be pronounced/has the same meaning as it does in English – was an outdoor restaurant with semi-pricey food. Their menu was huge, and all of us were kind of at a loss for what to eat, so I asked the server for suggestions, and he was really helpful. I ordered Pork and so did Gal, Nicole ordered Chicken, and Wolf ordered a farmer's platter, which was basically a frying pan full of sausages.

While we waited we got drinks, and here I'll take some time out to talk about how Eastern Europe beats everywhere else at Lemonade. None of the BS cutting the lemon juice with sugar, here. They use unsweetened orange juice. And it is so good and sour and exactly what I want from Lemonade, and if they don't have it in Berlin I will be upset.

When the food arrived, the reaction was more or less: OH MY GOD THESE PORTIONS. The Southern US would be impressed, is how big these portions were. It was probably three days' worth of food on one plate, in terms of sheer calories. It was all so tasty, which made the portion sizes even more cruel, because there was no way you could finish. Well, unless you're me, and you're willing to make a horrible mistake and eat it all. Not recommended.

Then we headed back to the hotel, and given that we were all so exhausted, decided that maybe missing the pub crawl that night hadn't been the worst fate. But we were determined to make it out to one on...

Day 28! Which is, so far, my favourite day of the trip.

We slept in until like 9 o'clock in the morning, with a bunch of ambitious plans on the docket.

First order of business was to be a ride on the Funicular, then a tour of Fisherman's Bastion (which was not at all as I'd pictured it, from the name, but we'll get to that), then down to the Gellert Baths for a true Budapest experience, dinner, and then, of course, the pub crawl. Yeah. It was a full day.

We took the Metro down to the area closest to the Funicular. The public transit in Budapest is pretty impressive, by the way. It was really easy to get anywhere we wanted to go, and we never had to wait long. Which was a relief, when it's so hot out.

At the Metro station, Gal, Nicole and I sampled pastries that Gal literally picked out at random from a shop. They were all good, although being surprised by a pork pastry is an unpleasant experience after eating coconut flavoured things and subsequently expecting something sweet. As we did this, Wolf got the lay of the land. She remembered that particular part of Budapest being hilly, but couldn't see any hills, so we decided we'd skip the funicular and go straight to Fisherman's Bastion.

I mean, in retrospect, clearly, the fact that there was a funicular involved in this situation meant that there had to be an incredibly steep hill, but I think the heat cooked that logic out of my brain.

Thus, we had to climb like 200 steps. It was full on San Francisco style urban climbing, in 38 degree weather. I was tempted to melt. We eventually made it to the top, although by now all my muscles were screaming, I was becoming painfully aware of how dehydrated I was, and I just wanted breakfast and drinks as fast as possible.

Fisherman's Bastion did delay breakfast a little. Because – I knew it was landlocked, but somehow I had pictured an old dock or something. You know – something that would be logically associated with fishermen. But no, it was... almost a faux castle, on the top of a hill, overlooking the whole city. What an incredible view. It was crowded with tourists, all taking a bunch of pictures, and even had a pair of falconers trying to encourage people to hold their awesome birds of prey and charging for the privilege. That sounds like kind of scummy behaviour when I put it that way, but were I already not anticipating a very expensive day, I WOULD HAVE HELD THAT GIANT FALCON IN A HEARTBEAT. Birds of prey are so cool.

Once we'd done about 45 minutes of exploration and photo taking, we searched for food that might be suitable. We'd heard about a cake shop from Axcot (another friend!) so we were hunting for it, but it was nowhere to be found. But Wolf's guide mentioned that the oldest cafe in Budapest was just a few blocks over, and served great cakes, so we figured it was worth checking out. I still think it might be the one he was talking about.

I ordered a lemonade (this is a theme, it's almost as pervasive as Australian hot chocolates) and a cream cake, which was basically like a deconstructed cream puff. There was a flat layer of puff pastry on the top and bottom of it, and the middle was just a solid block of cream filling. It was sooooo good, and the breakfast of champions, and probably terrible for me, but this is what vacation is for, right?

Feeling refreshed, we left, I mailed yet another postcard to the boyfriend unit, and we went into a nearby craft market so Nicole and I could hunt for Christmas ornaments. There were very few choices, and even fewer that had the word Budapest on them. In fact, the only ones I could find were glass ones, which breaks the rules because of how horrible they would be if they shattered in my bag.

Wandering the whole market, I was starting to feel like I wouldn't find a good Budapest ornament, and then I stumbled across this... Horseshoe, with a horse face in it, and the word Budapest across it.

Now, this didn't make any sense to me. So far as I knew, Budapest had nothing to do with horses at all. But... okay? It was on the short list. So I wandered the whole place twice over. The weirdest thing in the whole market were these nesting dolls with prominent politicians on them. There were a couple of questions on them.

1) There was a nesting doll with Jon Kerry, George Bush Jr., Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., and a nearly unrecognizable Reagan on it. ...See where I'm going with this? Why was Kerry on that thing? He's the only one there who was never president of the US. One of these things is not like the other...

2) Why the heck would Hungary, after all of the things I learned at the House of Terror, sell so many Stalin nesting dolls? Lenin, Stalin, Gorbichev, somebody I don't even know, and then Putin. And I was thinking to myself – what would somebody from Hungary even think of a person who bought one of these things?? Would it get you put on a watch list? Yeesh.

Anyway, the whole market toured, I returned to get the inexplicable horse ornament. And I was like “Excuse me, shopkeep, but – why is there a horse on this? Do you know?” and she just stared at me for a while and then shrugged. “I don't know, it's just a horse!”

Oh. Well then.

From then, we walked to the Palace (past the Funicular), and down the hill, where we caught a tram to the Gellert Baths because IT WAS TOO DAMN HOT TO WALK. The Tram wasn't air conditioned, though, so other than the speed, it wasn't much of a relief. By the time we got to the baths, we were wiped out.

The entry to the baths blew the budget for me a little, but I couldn't help but want to go in. Besides, when you go $25 over budget and get a 40 minute massage for it, after 4 and a half weeks of solid walking, that's probably worth it. They were kind of frustratingly expensive, though, and any time you would want something you'd have to return to your locker to get cash, seeing as you were running around in a bathing suit.

Speaking of the lockers, I should explain the keys they gave us to this place. They looked like the terrible watches you'd get in the lesser fast food places' Happy Meal equivalents, like Dairy Queen, when they had that weird Captain Planet ripoff crew going, or maybe even Wendy's. You strapped it onto your wrist, and it became your key to everything. It let you in, it checked you in for your massage appointment, it opened and locked your locker... if they were smart, they'd attach it to your credit card, so you'd impulse-purchase beverages on a scaldingly hot day. But – probably luckily for me, they didn't do that.

We started out, after we changed into our swimsuits, by going into the wave pool. Well, I started in the wave pool, anyway. The girls had gone back to put things away in their lockers, so I ventured into the pool.

THIS WAVE POOL WAS NO JOKE. In the shallows, you were thrown around, got your feet knocked out from under you, and if you were in the wrong spot, you could actually feel a rip tide trying to drag you further into the pool. I've never really grasped the concept of how the front end of a tsunami could be so much more powerful than it is out at sea, but standing on the edge of that pool I sure good.

So after getting tossed around and completely soaked by this wave pool, they turned the waves off, and I was just sitting there, stunned, when I saw the others come back out of the changerooms.

When they rejoined me, I brought up the fact that it was a wave pool, but the waves were off for so long that Gal started to doubt it – at least jokingly. “I don't think this is really a wave pool.” she said. “I think you made it up.”

My massage was coming up, but I was pretty determined to stick around until Gal could realize exactly how serious this wave pool was.

The experience did not disappoint. There was a lot of shouting of “OH MY GOD” and falling in to strangers and getting thrown around the pool, and afterwards there was general agreements that the wave pool does not mess around.

My massage time approached, so I left the group and found my way to the massage room – 15 minutes too early, because I had left myself so much time. So to kill the time, I took a quick cool shower, then hopped into a nearby sauna to warm up. By the time I got to my massage appointment, I was already pretty certain the baths were the best place on Earth. I think maybe the oppressive heat outside had made me feel so not human (not human, only warmth exists) that being in the baths was a complete and total relief.

The massage was really soothing and completely necessary after so many days, just like I'd expected. I got a good idea of the muscles that will be killing me when this is all said and done, that's for sure. I'm pretty sure my masseuse hates tourists, though. All she said through the whole experience was “come with me”, “is it too warm in here?” and “Okay, the end!” and after the last, she just walked out of the room, which left me bemused.

By the time I got back out of the baths, Wolf had been abandoned by Gal and Nicole, who had their own massages to attend. She taught me that if you go out in the middle of the wave pool, it's not nearly so intense, so we lasted through another session of the waves, and then I briefly took some photos of the place before I got into the Thermal baths to see how soothing they were. They were just like a warm bath, in my opinion, but they had some excellent jacuzzi jets in them to give you a full back massage, which was great.

Then Gal and Nicole returned to us, and we came to the sad conclusion it was time to leave. If we'd been here a week, I would have gone back AGAIN AND AGAIN. The baths are so great.

We got out of the baths at like 7 o'clock, and then Wolf informed us that pub crawl signup started by 8pm. So it was a bit of a rush back to the hotel to drop off our stuff, grab some food from the local food truck fair (called Karavan) and then go to the pub crawl meetup point.

Alas, I don't remember the name of the female guide (I called her “the cute one” all night) but the male guide was called Balthasar, or Bali, and that guy was the most surprising pub crawl guide. He was tiny, soft spoken, extremely polite and sweet. I did not expect him to fit in with the party crowd. He held his own, though.

Our first stop was the outdoor bar where we met, where we had one beer. Then we all went and rejoined the group, and kind of loitered outside this bar, where a giant ad was set up for Coca Cola. Apparently they've just recently introduced that “Have a coke with ____” campaign here, so there was a giant bottle in the middle of the square that would show random people kissing, and then the “Have a coke with _____” thing would come up with random Hungarian names.

We were reading them out loud, because they were really bizarre in some cases.

“Bernadett – oh that's pretty normal.”
“Evita”
“Dumas – that'd be unfortunate if you pronounced it wrong.”
“Gokiraly!?”
“Szivtipor. Are you kidding me?”

And then

Out of nowhere

MY NAME APPEARED

MY NAME EXACTLY

N O E M I

WITH THE ACCENT

Listen, people with common names back home, like – Adam, or Matthew, or Nicole, or Cynthia, or Ashley, or any other number of names. You can not possibly know how this thrilled me. This was the FIRST time that I had ever seen my name written out for any reason but to address me specifically. I don't know why that feels special when it's in fact the absolute opposite of that, but HOLY COW DID IT BLOW MY MIND.

I basically haven't stopped talking about it since.

And once I saw it... I had a mission.

I needed to find a coke bottle with my name.

But that could wait, because the pub crawl was moving on.

The first bar we went to was Wreck. It was dirt cheap and had decent beer and basic cocktails. It's the place they bring you to play beer pong and flip cup.

“What the hell even is flip cup”, I asked, which meant that of course I ended up playing it as soon as possible.

While we were waiting in line to get drinks to play flip cup with, because of course it's a drinking game, there were some Australians talking to a girl from Montreal ahead of us. Montreal girl was trying to explain to them what Quebec was. Apparently they didn't know. They (erroneously) came to the conclusion that it was basically Chinatown for French people – where all the new French immigrants settled in Canada. And then I cut into the conversation and confused the hell out of them by introducing myself as French Canadian. They didn't think I counted, because I didn't have the accent, and concluded firmly that Quebec was definitely French Chinatown. Quebecois girl ahead of us switched to French and started talking with me about how they'll never understand, so we may as well give up. And then we laughed at them. Oh Australians. The ones of you who travel don't represent your tribe well.

To the overly warm and stuffed with humans basement we went, where I joined a team featuring Matteo from Brazil and some dude from Austin so I could learn the ropes of flip cup. Basically, you chug a small drink from your plastic cup, then set the cup on the edge of the table, and try to flip it so it lands lip-down on the table. Once you succeed, the next player on your team can go, and so on. You try to race the other team so your team finishes first.

Wolf is a damn flip-cup savant. It was basically a sure thing that once it got to her, she'd be making that flip. Maybe 4 times out of 5, she'd get it on the first try. The bros were thoroughly impressed. And also frequently defeated. But I beat her at least once! So I count that as all the victory I need, as a beginner.

Then we went upstairs and talked for like 30 minutes or so before we left for the next bar. This one was even hotter than the last one, had extremely inefficient bar service (to the point that I just gave up on getting a drink) and had a giant papier mache whale on the ceiling. We escaped the interior of this bar as fast as possible and sat out on the patio, smokers be damned. More talking happened, as did witnessing the most half-assed broken glass cleanup I've ever seen a bar participate in. Scoop up about 3/4 of it, then brush the rest of the shards off to the side and walk away. JOB DONE.

Not much more to say about this bar, other than the fact that the music was all from the late 00's and early 10's (of our current century, ya sass) and the people there were the most awkard dancers. #whitepeopledancing

From there, we moved on to the humid pit of depravity which was the Techno dance club. I got a mojito there, mourning the loss of the cheap drinks of Wreck (at the very least, we got a free shot at every place) and sat in the seating area in the back, sweating so much that literally all of the furniture around us became slippery with our collective sweat.

I know, gross.

This was when the evening got properly eventful. There was a couple making out so aggressively (for like half an hour) that I just marveled at the fact that they didn't seem to find it necessary to go get a room, because clearly they were in the mood to.

I also met Ginny Weasley, which is what I'll call her because she shouted us just as she left “I'M GINNY WEASLEY! TELL THEM THAT! BECAUSE I HAVE RED HAIR!”

My conversation with Ginny Weasley started when she leaned heavily against me, and then started up a conversation, which went a little like this:

“HELLO!”
“Hi!”
“Where are you from?”
“Vancouver, in Canada.”
“Canada! I love Canadians! Australians love Canadians! We love all the Canadians!”
“Oh, that's cool. What part of Australia are you from?”
“Melbourne!”
“Cool, I have friends there.”
“Oh so cool! I live south of there, not in the City! Do they live in the City?”
“Not exactly, but pretty close.”
“Coooooool!”
“Yep!”
“It's so cold at home right now!”
“...I've been in Australia in the Winter before. What is it, like 15?”
“9! So cold!”
“At home it gets to -9, but we're still the least cold part of Canada.”
“WHAT!?”
“Yeah, in Winnipeg, in the prairies, it's like -50 sometimes.”
“That's not real.”
“Sure is.”
“Wowwww.”
“Yup.”
“...Do you like boys?”
“I'm straight, yes.”
(Pointing at Wolf & Gal) “They don't!”
(Amused) “Mmm-hm?”
“They're dating?”
“Yeah.”
“That's nice.”
“Did you see that couple making out over there earlier?”
“Yeah, it made me horny, I'm not gonna lie!”
(I just start laughing)
“I'm jealous I don't have a bloke here to make out with! But one of the Brazilian guys grabbed me and kissed me earlier! Can you believe it?”
“Really? Was it Matteo?”
“I don't know who it was! ...Where did you meet your friends?”
“Online, when we were like 13.”
“Oh! ...Where?”
“A Harry Potter message board, actually.”
“Whaaaaaaaaaaat?”
“I know!”
“I love Harry Potter!”

And then her friends tried to drag her away, and she shouted the Ginny Weasley thing.

Wolf maintains she was trying to pick me up. But forever may she live on in our hearts, the Australian Ginny Weasley.

Then we escaped the terrible heat bar to go stand outside, gave some Dutch guys directions, and eventually got found by Balthasar and told that the pub crawl already left, and we should go to the Church to meet them. He pointed in a direction, but we couldn't see a church, so we just kind of wandered aimlessly, confused, noticing that many of our fellow pub crawlers were doing the same.

Eventually we were led the right way. Wolf will tell you she was trying to direct us the right way the whole time. She's technically correct, but don't let her feel superior about it.

The last bar we got to was called Impact. I can't tell you much about it, because after we got our free shots, me and Nicole bailed, because it was 2am and we had boyfriends to call and packing and showering to do. Wolf and Gal seemed to think it was the best place of the night, though, so I'm kind of sad I missed it.

Nicole and I walked back to the hotel, grabbing Gyros on the way so our tipsy brains would have something to subsist on overnight, and then skyped our boyfriends until Wolf & Gal got home at like 3:40. Then we all went to bed.

Nicole and I also requested a late checkout, because we are goddamn heroes.

DAY 29.

We woke up at 10, because our belated checkout wasn't until noon. We packed up, got ready for the day, and headed out into the heat once more.

Our first stop was the Tranzit Cafe, which is an art-based coffee/sandwich place way down in Buda, but – after spending an hour to travel there, it turns out it's closed for renovations! Thanks for not putting that on your website, guys!

We trammed back to Pest, and caught the metro up to a place that Wolf says is known for their burgers. The burgers were pretty good, I guess, but the star of the meal to me was the Ginger Lemonade. I want some RIGHT NOW. You guys, I will be so bummed if Hungary was the end of my lemonade hurrahs.

Oh, I should mention that all throughout this morning, I was stopping in convenience stores to search all their coke bottles for my name. No luck.

We took the tram the rest of the way up to this big park near Heroes' Square, which is this big (scaldingly hot) public square full of monuments to Hungarian heroes, I guess. But our goal was the park behind it. Basically, we just wanted a place to chill out for a while, so we were going to sit on the grass somewhere.

We were sitting on the grass for maybe 10 minutes before Gal came to the realization that there were bugs everywhere, and then we had to bail. We decided to head for the castle in the park, considering that that seemed like a safer place from bugs.

---- IMPORTANT MESSAGE -----

While I was in the middle of writing this part of the blog, SOME SHIT WENT DOWN. I'll bring it up during that part of the blog, but it felt important to note when this happened.

----- REGULAR PROGRAMMING RESUMES ----

So we went into the castle, and bought some popsicles from a weird old man. We noticed a really pretty wedding was happening at the church in the castle, and we were like “awww” - and then went to sit on the steps nearby.

After a while, the bride and groom came out, and everybody clapped for them – and then the clapping kept changing and people kept bowing to them and I didn't quite understand what was going on. And then the party dispersed, so the bride and groom could take pictures, and some music started up that I figured was a space filler for the wedding.

We were hanging out on the stairs, reading, checking out budgets, or whatever... and the music was persisting, despite the wedding party wandering off. So I got up to investigate.

And found a man with a wooden puppet that he was having pretend to play a tune, while his boom box blasted classical music. The puppet shared the stage with a fancy pigeon, which was dancing along.

This was easily the most weird busker I have ever seen in my life. I gave that guy some cash so I could justify taking his picture in good conscience, because my dear God what even was that.

This is also where a grand moment happened. While we were in the park, I decided to do a quick hunt through the refreshment sellers' wares to check for a coke with my name.

LO AND BEHOLD

I have now shared a coke with myself, and by doing so have invited all others to do the same.

When I bought it, I was like “This is my name! I've never even met anybody else with my name, and here it's on a coke bottle!” and the shop keeper was like “Wow! You've never met anybody with that name? How do you say it in your country?” and I said my name, and he was like “wow, that's the English way to say it?” and I said “Well, French-Canadian” and he said “Oh, well!” and then told me the cost of the coke in French. And then the umbrella over his stand collapsed on both of us and spoiled our mutual enthusiasm for my moment brought on by a corporate ad campaign.

Shortly after that, even though we figured we had another hour to waste in the park, I looked up and saw dark clouds rolling in, with a thunder rumbling in the distance.

“...We should probably start heading back” I suggested.

So we did, noting as we headed back that not only was another bride & groom coming out of the church and being clapped for, but we could actually see another couple in the wings. Wh- what the heck, Hungary? What's with the marriage factory?

On our way back we picked up some cheese, meat and bread from the grocery store so we could have it as dinner on the train. Then we got back to the hotel and sat around for a while checking the internet before it was time to leave.

10 minutes before...

RRRRR-UUUUMBLE...

And then the sky opened up and hail, torrential rain, and huge sweeping winds kicked up, drenching the street in seconds.

...We were very lucky it cleared up quickly. If we had to walk through that I might have cried.

Off we went to the train station. We got there without a problem (except for my suitcase being a pain), found our train, I ate a gyro I got with my leftover Hungarian Forints, and we found our compartment.

Here's the thing. After an experience like the hell train, you start worrying you'll encounter another problem like the hell train again.

Well here was what promised us this experience might be better:

a) There was just no chance, from the start, it was going to be as warm outside as it was in Poland/Budapest. Even Budapest's freak heatwave was going to end overnight. Maybe because it was rained out.

b) The compartment was like twice as large.

c) The compartment had outlets.

d) We trust Germans to be able to run trains on time.

So we got on board, we ate our dinner of cheese, meat and bread, we watched the Power Rangers movie because that's the only movie Wolf has with her, which I find absolutely hilarious. That movie did not age well. That CG. That acting. Oh lord. I guess the acting was always a thing, but kids have low standards and the last time I saw that thing I was like 8. Turns out I only remember the first 30 minutes of it anyway!

Then everyone else settled in to bed, I settled in to write this blog, and it seemed that all would continue on uneventful.

AND THEN THAT THING I MENTIONED HAPPENED.

That thing I mentioned being us pulling into a station, and the station being full of police, armed security, and other official looking people. And me thinking “...huh.”

And then they came on the train. And I could hear them walking around, and knocking on doors.

And then I put away my laptop, because I figured this might be important.

So yeah, the Czech Border, you guys. It ain't no joke. They knocked on the door, demanded our passports, woke everyone else up, and then left shortly after looking through our documents. Wolf and Nicole are both extensive travelers and have never had this happen, and it seemed really weird to me too. From what I could tell, they took 7 or 8 people off the train for questioning, and we carried on without them. IT WAS KIND OF DISTURBING.

Anyway, when they were all woken up, I got sass for being awake, and as you can tell, that was a little while ago now. So I guess I should sleep. Then future self can update you with details re: Berlin, which will happen after sleeping (hopefully), which means it would make this...

DAY 30. Take it away, future self.

Well, I managed to get some sleep on this train. It wasn't unpleasantly hot or anything. The bed wasn't the most comfortable, though, so it was a bit of a struggle.

However, the biggest thing to struggle with was when

SLAM. Somebody tried to open the door, at 7 in the morning.

We open the curtains.

Oh great. The police are back.

We open the door, and he looks at us as if somehow he's surprised to see us there. And he says “4 person cabin, yes?”

And we're like “yes?”

“Where are you going?”
“Berlin.”
“Okay. Next stop.”

And he walked away.

We were in Dresden. Berlin was 2 HOURS AWAY.

So rude a policeman. So confusing.

So we were all awake by now. We got brought terrible coffee and pastries by our conductor, which we all barely consumed.

Then we pulled in to Berlin!

So we got off the train! Because that policeman had said “next stop”, right?

NOT OUR STOP.

Which we realized, as our train pulled away.

WELL GREAT.

So then we took ANOTHER train to Berlin's main station, and then we tried to figure out our way to the metro, which was a lot harder than anticipated. But we did, and we got on it, and we made our way here to our hostel, and nobody was injured in the process except maybe an old lady who I hit with my suitcase. I'M SORRY LIL' OL' LADY.

Now we're here! This place is pretty cool. We can't check in to our place until 3pm.

WALKING TOUR TIME WOOOOO.

It's so much less warm here. Everything is great.
 
 
Current Location: Berlin
Current Mood: curiouscurious
 
 
taowhotravels
So it was Day 24 last time I wrote. Lemme catch you up on that real quick.

I left for the airport! Yet another one of my suitcase wheels died, and the trip was hampered by one of the now two duct tape wheels starting to misbehave. The trip was uneventful, and so was the whole process of making it through the airport. Where literally nobody, at any time, checked any piece of my ID. That was very weird. But it did make airport security dumb-efficient!

I also checked myself onto the flight, which was, again, really weird. Got into my seat, which was located next to two very nice but very large passengers, that made it so I couldn't watch in flight entertainment or call the stewardess, because they made it so I couldn't access the armrest. It was sad. I played Pokemon Shuffle instead.

9:30 pm, we land in Krakow, walk out onto the tarmac, and are transported by shuttle to literally the most depressing looking airport I have ever seen. It was literally an airplane hangar with a single conveyor belt for luggage and, so far as I could see, no employees present. I got my bag by 9:45 and was out to catch a Taxi, which grossly overcharged me but got me into the city by like 10:15, which was glorious. At home if I landed at 9:30 I wouldn't be out of customs until that point!

Nobody was in the room when I arrived, because they were all out drinking 8 vodka shots, so I showered and started sorting photos as I waited. Oh boy, was entertainment coming.

The first time I saw them they were drunk from lack of sleep, and now they were just straight up drunk. There was so much more inappropriate laughter and flopping over and giggling – it was just delightful.

We did have to get started bright and early the next day, though, so there weren't too many shenanigans.

Day 25 – A day to ponder humanity, is what I'll call it.

We started the day with a hunt for breakfast which involved me, Gal and Nicole wandering out into the Krakovian landscape to track down some baked goods. We found bagel-pretzel things and danishes and an entire loaf of Challah and returned to the hostel with this in tow, so we could eat it as fast as possible before our tour started. We bought the danishes from an adorable old Polish Lady who was confused by our English and kept muttering to herself. She was pretty endearing.

At 9:15, we came down to meet our driver, who we called Angry Joe, because Polish makes everyone sound angry, and he kept taking frustrated phone calls on his bluetooth headset, which would always startle me if he just said “Hallo?” and then started shouting out of nowhere. Angry Joe drove us on a grand adventure which I can't really call fun, despite that being the default word for most adventures.

For on this day, we went to Auschwitz-Burkinau.

I don't think I need to elaborate too much on the content that we heard while we were there. To be honest, I had heard most of it before. And I will say that Auschwitz – which was built to house like 10,000 prisoners – didn't really have me feeling anything particularly intense. It felt very much like another high school history lesson to me, except for a couple of really striking moments.

First, there's a room that you walk in to that only features one exhibit. Human hair, cut from the victims of the camp. It is not a small room. It is two tons of hair. Two tons out of seven, as I recall. That was one of the first moments where it didn't just feel like a bunch of numbers and descriptions, and I started to think about the people.

Second, all of the recovered stuff that the Nazis plundered from these people. There were pots, and pans, and shaving brushes, and of course the shoes – I feel like everyone's seen pictures of the shoes.

It still didn't really feel real, though. Until we got to the second camp.

The second camp was built for 100,000. And just walking out onto the grounds, and thinking “this place was built because they liked where the first place was going” - and just – not being able to see the end of the camp from where we stood on the train tracks in the centre... yeah, that was intense. Following in the footsteps of the people who died in the gas chambers, equally intense.

It's worth noting that it was unbelievably warm and sunny that day, and I could feel my skin searing, and picturing people being forced to work in that heat without enough food or water, it wasn't hard to imagine dying just from exhaustion and thirst.

So yeah. It's a thing we needed to do as human beings, going there, but I wouldn't say it was pleasant.

After that, our driver took us to a restaurant where they served pierogies and kielbasa and all such necessary foodstuffs. It was all pretty good.

Then it was on to the Salt Mines! TBH I had no idea what I was getting into with the salt mines, so this was a real treat.

Dorothy, our tour guide, looked like an awesome anime villain. She had a jacket all buttoned up and a sharp haircut. But she was actually really nice and had a great sense of humour.

Having said that, when she told us we were about to walk down 380 steps, I was like “Uhhhh please tell me we don't have to climb back up.”

Luckily we didn't – you'll hear about the lift later. But the tour started with a walk down 54 flights of 6 stairs each. If you've played Final Fantasy 7, picture the Shinra Stairs, but going down. I actually got motion sickness from watching my feet and had to learn to look straight ahead.

Of course, that wasn't the lowest we went, but first we had to wander around 250 feet below the surface, see some carvings, learn about salt, and why it's important, and why it used to be even more important, and how they mined it, and how they strengthen the mines so that they don't all collapse under the tourist's feet.

And then we climbed more steps down. And we saw more carvings. And an underground lake saltier than the dead sea. And some people licked the walls but I didn't, I just tasted the water. Surprise: it was EXTREMELY SALTY. Like- think worse than the ocean. Blegh! Apparently they have to pump water out of the mine every day so it doesn't flood.

Then Dorothy took us through the chapels underground, because if I didn't mention it already (I didn't), wow, Polish is sure catholic. So the miners wanted a place to pray before they did incredibly life-threatening work. These chapels are SO NEEDLESSLY ELABORATE, especially a particular one that I am quite sure you will find pictures of if you Google the Salt Mines. I don't have any because you have to purchase permission to take a photo in that particular chapel.

The funniest part in the mines is the fact that you exit through a gift shop, a restaurant, and a prospective wedding reception area. The gift shop was particularly amusing. I bought a postcard 400 feet below the Earth. That doesn't seem like it should be a thing. But it is. Humanity, you are strange and wonderful.

Then there was the elevator. There was a lineup for it, which wasn't surprising. But what was surprising is that when it arrived, they expected 9 people to fit in it. It is what I would describe as a very small elevator. With open sides. Open sides to an elevator shaft of solid rock. So we all stuffed right in there, with the attendant, with barely enough room to breathe. They told us it would be a 45 second trip.

45 seconds in an open car through a dark mine shaft, rattling your way up 400 feet, is... terror. At least for me. I had my eyes closed the whole ride. Oh God.

We got back into Angry Joe's car after that, and for once on this leg of the trip we didn't all fall asleep – because every other time we'd been riding around, we had. So we got to appreciate the true glory of the fact that Polish Radio seems to be stuck in the 1980's. He was flipping around, but it was all Cindy Lauper and Dirty Dancing and equally magnificent music choices.

Then we got back to the hostel, with ambitions of a pub crawl and pierogi dinner, and we just... kinda collapsed instead. Gal and Nicole were struggling with the laundry, so they had their stuff in the communal drier for two hours, but it barely dried it, because as we discovered, European laundry machines are some nonsense. And when they brought it back up, aiming to use our fan, heated towel rack, and heated floors to dry it – the power suddenly turned off.

Cue the summoning of the poor guy from the front desk. He had no idea where our fuse box was, and the conclusion that it could be literally anywhere in the building. We let him search for about 45 minutes before we just decided to go out for dinner and leave him to it.

Thus the trip to the 24 hour pierogi place! You guys, this is my kind of country.

We ate pierogs. They were DELICIOUS. Superior pierogs indeed.

Then Wolf, Gal, and Nicole went for a walk, and I went back to the hotel for a shower and to pack.

Eventually they returned, we all did two shots of honey vodka, and retired to bed.

DAY 26!

We woke up at 9, because we had to check out by 11, and besides, we had a walking tour to get to. We had leftover challah for breakfast and then headed to the City Centre for walking tour funtimes.

Well, as soon as we left the hotel we reconsidered how smart it was to go on a walking tour. My dear God it was hot today. By the time we were standing in the City Centre, and our delightful tour guide, Ania, was telling us it would be a two and a half hour tour, we were... reconsidering.

Luckily, we ended up bearing it. Ania took us on a tour of the Jewish quarter, which apparently became quite a disgusting/dangerous place after the war (given that out of 68,000 Jewish people in the City, only 3,000 survived, a less savoury element moved in to replace them). It was only after Schindler's List came out that people wanted to come to Krakow as tourists, and it resulted in a complete revitalization of the area. ...Good job, Steven Spielberg, I guess?

We walked all around – saw old synagogues and new, and the current Jewish Community Centre, where Ania talked about how so many people come to the centre who until very recently had no idea they had any Jewish roots, because when the communists came in they spread a ton of anti-Semitic propaganda, so thousands of people hid their roots from their kids. Oh geez. Ania thought it was really cool how many people were connecting in now, though, and I guess I admit she has a point. Although it's still depressing.

We also walked to the old Jewish Ghetto, where I was struck again by how gross the Nazis were – I mean – I know, we all know that, but WOW the level of thought that went into all of these horrific acts is exactly what makes them so notable. Like... I don't even understand.

From there, we walked to Schindler's Factory, which is where the tour ended, and where I found out that Schindler was a drunken, abusive asshole who only bailed out with his factory and saved Jewish people because he realized the Nazis were going to lose and he didn't want to have done nothing for the winning side?

Ania was like “Yes, now we judge and know he's horrible, but he's still responsible for saving 1,100 of the 3,000 Jews from Krakow that survived the Nazis” and... again, I reluctantly admit she had a point? But still, wow, what an ass.

We took a cab to the Jewish quarter again, because it was way too hot to walk back, and had lunch there. At a fancier Kosher restaurant than any of us were anticipating. Fancy and DELICIOUS. Also cheap. Because hot damn, Poland, you are so cheap.

From there, we split up to do respective shopping. Nicole and I wanted Christmas Ornaments, so we went to Cloth Hall while Wolf & Gal went to the mall hoping for clothes. Nicole and I both bought pottery bells from this old lady, which we hope will survive the journey home. Nicole also went to a Ceramics store to buy her graduation gift from her mom, which was basically all the traditional, hand-painted ceramic kitchenware that she could afford to buy and ship with a specific amount of money. As it turns out: A LOT. She bought really nice stuff, too. My mother would be jealous.

From there, we made a quick stop at a post office so I could mail the Boyfriend Unit his usual postcard, and then... thought about going to St. Mary's church, realized it cost money, and bailed for the (AIR CONDITIONED) cafe where we were meeting Wolf & Gal.

This place specializes in chocolate, but I bought a strawberry lemonade and a fruit milkshake there because damn it, it's too hot and I've been missing fruit. I also tried an apple cake, which is apparently a very traditional dessert in Poland.

Then Wolf and Gal arrived, we had drinks and sat around and chatted, and then wandered the chocolate store for a while. The chocolate store had a couple of notable items on display: 1) Huge chocolate dicks, which does not seem like something that would fly at home in a family-friendly store, and 2) Unattractive caricatures of Vladimir Putin in chocolate form, and 3) attractive statuettes of Lenin in chocolate form. I might have bought a Lenin if I thought for a moment it'd survive the heat.

Speaking of the heat, we ventured back out into it. We went to see the University in Krakow where Nicole studied for 4 months, then Gal went off to buy her family souvenirs, and when she returned we all had drinks at a pub in the City Centre. I had one that came with a full watermelon slice in it. I was pleased.

Then it was on to the train! We gathered up our suitcase/backpacks, I discovered my wheel had basically melted in the heat, and thus dragged my suitcase backwards the whole way to the train station. Then we figured out which train was ours (the time had changed slightly) and waited for it, while I fixed my suitcase, Nicole got water/snacks “just in case”, and Wolf bought a Polish flag, for that's her and Gal's souvenir thing.

...Then we got on this train. Where I have written the majority of this entry. FUCK THIS TRAIN. I have been trying not to swear too much in these blogs but it is 35 degrees, this train is full of people, and has no air conditioning and no food or water. Thank God Nicole grabbed some.

I am more or less acclimated to the heat, but it is still awful. Budapest is supposed to be like 37. After this train ride, anything else may feel like a relief.

Now I am going to drink water, and sleep. And I will complete this blog on the other side.

How's Budapest, future self?

Hot as hell, past self, but more pleasant than that train ride. Good lord.

Full train story: I got NO sleep. Sleep was impossible for me. Everyone else seemed to, but between the wind shoving around the curtains, the door to the compartment banging open, the constantly changing temperature (from uncomfortable to warmth to where-is-my-blanket-it's-so-breezy) and the noise of people moving around, the train rolling on, and announcements at the stations we stopped at... yeah I was too distracted for sleep.

The weird part was that we pulled in to one station, and just... stayed there. I am the only one who's aware of this. For some reason in the Czech Republic we just stopped at the station and were there for two hours. It was so quiet (and relatively cold) in the cab I could hear everyone snoring/breathing. In between announcements in Czech/Polish/English letting me know what the time was and what trains were arriving every 10 minutes.

This is probably why I was the only one who wasn't really surprised when our train was like an hour and a half late getting in to Budapest. But oh well!

Also, Gal broke her glasses. Gal is basically blind so this is a minor tragedy. We're having a spare pair sent out for her ASAP.

Today in Budapest we decided to depress ourselves. After making it to the lobby of our hotel (which impressed us with how swanky it is) and just... sitting there for a while, lamenting the fact we couldn't check in, we decided to go for an authentic Hungarian Lunch.

Gal and Nicole and I all had some variation on Paprika Chicken, and Wolf had Goulash. It was very tasty but more filling than I had anticipated.

From there, we dragged ourselves through the heat – it's 37 degrees out here – to the House of Terror, which is a museum about Hungary's history during the Nazi/Soviet Occupations.

Uh- so – I had never heard about any of this? LORD, Europe, no wonder you're so messed up, your history is full of recent horrors. Like seriously, nothing in North American history has compared properly since we systemically killed a bunch of First Nations people. Gross.

Basically, Hungary was occupied by the Nazis, but not until late in the war. Predictably, it still didn't go well for them and nobody was happy. But like- immediately after that, the Soviets rolled in and would jail and torture people for basically colluding against the government, whether or not that was in fact a thing they were doing. And this museum was all about that.

Unfortunately a bunch of the exhibits were in Hungarian so we couldn't understand any of it, but they did give out little sheets to tell you the history of what you were looking at. And by little sheets I mean 8x11. And- they were full of writing. And sometimes double sided. And in one case, two sheets double sided. And- there were like 30 of them. I have a small book about the Hungarian occupations in the 20th century now, is what I'm saying.

Also, that was not the best museum to go to when DEAD TIRED. Although it was very interesting and the sheets were actually extremely well-written? I'm bringing them home to share so if you want to know all about how Hungarians were brutalized, you gimme a call.

Then we got back to our hotel and got let in. Our room is sooooo cool. It's a loft apartment, basically, and me and Nicole are on the top floor, and Wolf and Gal are down sharing a bed on the bottom floor. I'll be sure to get pictures. It's one of the most unique places I've ever stayed.

And the place in Krakow was pretty amazing, so that's actually pretty impressive.

Soon we will go to dinner! But first – I nap. I swear I will this time.
 
 
Current Mood: tiredtired
 
 
taowhotravels
20 July 2015 @ 07:53 am
Godmorning, as Google tells me is the way to say Good Morning in Danish! Despite the fact that it is decidedly the afternoon.

My adventure here started on Day 22 – I mean, technically on Day 21, but as promised I ate my (MOST EXPENSIVE) snacks and crashed out at like 8pm on said day, so – it was kind of a loss.

Day 22 began with me sleeping in, wandering out of my hotel at like- noon, and then wandering into town. I had ambitions of joining a free walking tour at 3pm, but until then I had time to kill.

I am proud to say that even before being taught how to walk around the City properly, I only broke two traffic laws – accidentally walked in a bike lane, and crossed the street against the light. My defence for the first is that it was quite easily the least identifiable bike lane in this whole city. For the second – well, I was just in the UK, learning how to boldly cross against the light. And also the street was blocked off, so waiting for the light seemed insane. But if you cross against the light here, it's a 1000 Kroner fine! Yipes.

I honestly wandered around for quite a while before I ate. I was super nervous about the idea of ordering food in another language, especially one that I can't pronounce whatsoever. I settled on a burger place, because I figured at the very least I could point at the pictures.

The burger place really quickly taught me that everybody here speaks perfect English, because if the teenager working a summer job at the burger place can speak perfect English, so can most people.

The second thing I learned is that even terrible food is expensive here, because I was served up cold fries and a burger that literally spouted mayonnaise, and it was amongst the worst things I have ever consumed.

After that I wandered the way of the free tour – we met up in the big public square, so showing up half an hour early gave me plenty of time to people watch. The public square is actually kind of ugly, so it's the people that give it any interest. That and the hot dog stands.

When the tour guide arrived, it turned out he was Australian! That was weird. He sent us along to purchase beverages before the tour left (smart) and then we began our three hours of walking. We saw city hall, colourful buildings, canals, the former royal palace, the current royal palace, statues that at one point were bronze and now are a delightful oxidized green, Nyhavn (Google it, you'll recognize it), the old opera house, and – lots more. It was a long tour. Our tour guide was named Jarod, and he was really cool. He made so many jokes about the Swedish. THE RIVALRY I'VE HEARD RUMOURS ABOUT IS REAL. Although it was funny, because it was like he'd inherited the feud, because he moved here only 5 years ago. I'm like “Sir, are you just excited because you're Australian and you want a group to be prejudiced towards?” Sorry, Australia, but that's a thing you do.

I mean Canadians do it too, but about the weather. Or Toronto.

After the tour I took a wander back through the areas we'd seen and decided to get myself a hot dog as the tour guide had recommended. Bonus: they're hella cheap. Which my slim budget was in need of.

Well, I got my hot dog, and then tragically, as I sat down to eat it, the wind caught the pickles on the dog and they went sailing away in tragic fashion. :'( I shall never know how that complete hot dog would have tasted.

Then I came back to the hotel, posted the first wave of pictures you can now see on my Facebook, watched some anime and Archer on Netflix while I did it, and then slept.

The morning of Day 23, I was woken by my alarm, checked my phone, saw I didn't have to be anywhere until noon, and fell asleep again.

When I finally did get awake and escaped my room, the first stop on my journey was the post office. Mailing things here proves just as expensive as anything else, because sending a single post card cost like 6 dollars. Dear God. After that I was meant to go to meet Wolf, Gal & Nicole at a restaurant for lunch (their layover from Reykjavik put them in Copenhagen for 8 hours) but I was still too early, so I wandered into a park nearby and watched some ducks.

Okay lemme just say there are some scary ducks here. They're black with white bills, and they were acting like tiny assassins. They would spot some bird wandering into their turf – either because somebody was dropping food there, or just because – and then they would let out this horrible shrill warning cry and then flap across the water like a bat out of hell, grab the other bird by the back of the neck, and force them under the water to DROWN them. I saw a couple of birds narrowly escape this by flailing like crazy. Then they'd stay under the water and swim as far away as they could, but as soon as they'd resurface the murder ducks would come right back at them!

So that's my horrifying nature story for the trip.

Finally, it was time for lunch, so I went to this place called Ol & Brod (those o's are meant to have the weird slashes thru them) which literally means Beer and Bread. It was one of those places that serves those open-faced sandwiches. I waited for a while before the others arrived, and when they arrived they were hilariously tired. I mean so tired that they probably qualified as drunk. That kind of tired. We ordered wee tiny sandwiches and I got to watch them burst into laughter for reasons that absolutely did not deserve laughter like three times. It was very, very funny.

The tiny sandwiches were delicious, but would also be considered half a serving at home. And also cost like... 22 dollars each. CURSE YOUR HIGH QUALITY OF LIFE, DENMARK.

I walked the girls to get their train back to the airport, because somebody needed to make sure they weren't struck by traffic by sleepy accident, and then, considering it was right next door, I went to Tivoli Gardens!

Tivoli is a theme park, which means it is totally wasted on me. Not only because there are very few rides that don't make me instantly sick, but also because my goal was to spend 0 dollars at Tivoli. Half that place is restaurants, so it was pretty agonizing to walk around and smell all the fair food and other deliciousness. I did end up paying a bit of money to go into the aquarium, because they were about to have a fish feeding. Mostly it was just delightful to have a Danish lady tell me all about the Clownfish and “Fahn-deen Nehmo”.

My biggest observation about Tivoli is that it clearly inspired both Disneyland and The Prisoner, because hot damn that place frequently reminded me of the set that is The Island.

After about three laps around the park, each time seeing new things I hadn't seen before (the architecture is so cool, and the rides are so old-timey, and watching the Koi and Seagulls literally fight each other over food was fun times) I headed out of Tivoli with the aim of finding some dinner.

I had a goal in mind, which was a food truck food court that the tour guide had shown us the day before. This food truck food court includes a truck run by Rene from Aqua. ...I'm not even kidding, he was actually there. But I didn't get food from his stand, I opted for a pork sandwich instead, which was tasty but incredibly unwieldy. Then – also following the suggestion of my guide, I headed for a famous cheesecake bakery. The bakery was tremendously understaffed because two people apparently called in sick, so the people who worked there were having pretty much the worst day. They had a lineup out the door and could barely keep up, and one of them was supposed to be off-shift already. I really wanted to put on an apron and start helping them wash dishes, honestly. Alas, work regulations would frown on that.

The cheesecake was really tasty though. I wasn't brave enough to risk the Key Lime Pie that our guide had recommended, but I did end up with a bright green cheesecake after all – a pistachio cheesecake! It was really good. Very light, for a cheesecake, which I appreciated.

Then I wandered back to the hotel, because despite the sun still being up, it was like 7pm. And it was time to upload more photos. Which I did! Have you seen them all yet?

Day 24 – That's today! Do you know how refreshing it is to be caught up on these blogs?

Anyway, today I packed up and checked out for 11, but my plane to Krakow doesn't leave until 8pm (currently it's approaching 5pm) so I wandered into the City, had a mini pepperoni pizza for lunch while I made use of the tourist information centre's free wi-fi, and decided that I would wander up to Torvehallerne, the food market, which as it turned out reminded me a lot of Granville Island. The food there is actually reasonably priced! I made notes of several foods I would want to pick up later, looked at all the meat and fish counters (I do not recognize half the fish here) and drooled over the pastries – and then walked back into town.

I'd been debating a few activities for the day, but I decided to go on a Canal tour, because I always like a good boat tour. Of note: holy cow you travel through some low/narrow bridges on that tour, that was kind of freaky sometimes. Even though I was clearly safe because the boat was making it through, it still seemed like I was going to hit the ceiling! Also of note: The Eclipse, the world's second-largest yacht, was docked in the harbour. Yet again this is coming up: Capitalism is messed up. It has two (TWO) helicopter pads, two swimming pools, a dance hall, two movie theatres, and a GOD DAMN SUBMARINE. Also, I just looked at its Wikipedia article, and it turns out it says that it's available for charter, but that's bullshit and the listing is only available because charter boats aren't subject to tax HAHAHA oh my God I'm so angry.

Anyway – Copenhagen has lots of canals! And cute neighbourhoods! And a semi-independent district that was founded by hippies? Wow. These things and more, I learned on the boat tour. OH I forgot the most important part – the guy who was narrating the tour narrated it in THREE LANGUAGES. He would say the same thing in English, then Spanish, then Danish, as if it was nothing. I can't fairly judge his other two accents, but they seemed perfectly understandable, just like his English. I was kind of in shock. Everyone gave him a round of applause afterwards, and I think that was half the reason.

After the tour I just wandered downtown for a while, returned to the food market, had another open-face sandwich thing, and bought the hugest pain au chocolat I'd ever seen in my life. I should have suspected it wouldn't be very good if just because of how cheap it was (haha, 5 dollars counts as cheap to me now, what has this country done to me) but I guess my guard was down. It was not very good. The sandwich was, though!

Then I returned to my hotel, figuring I could knock out a blog before it was time to leave – and I was right! So here you are. That was Copenhagen.

Now I fly to Krakow, where things will be cheaper, and I will join the ladies from Boston so this European tour can start in earnest.

#Idon'trunbutIcrosscountries
 
 
Current Location: Copenhagen
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
 
 
taowhotravels
17 July 2015 @ 10:42 am
Day 13 – the day when incompetent negotiations ruined everything.

Okay actually it was a pretty good day. But Tube strikes are the worrrrst.

We had a perfectly reasonable start time out of Brighton, so we went down for breakfast at our hotel and WOW it was impressive. There were like 8 options that all sounded really good. Being on shaky ground due to lingering effects of THE SICKNESS, I just opted for a bagel and scrambled eggs, which was tasty but I could barely eat. Mom had a breakfast burrito she seemed to be a big fan of, as well.

Then we went off to the station and got on our train with very minimal fuss. It took barely 50 minutes for us to get in to town, which we did at about 12:15. Adam (the boyfriend unit) was performing a concert at 2 near Tower Hill, which we intended to go to, so we headed for a bus.

The lineup to get a bus was OUTRAGEOUS. It was so huge that we couldn't even walk to the back of it because everyone was blocking the queue – when we did get to the back of it, it just ended in the middle of the street for lack of any other option. Somehow this line dissipated with only 3 busses, although by the time we got on the bus was so full that mom had to stand by the luggage rack and hold the suitcases in place.

By the time we got on it was 12:45, which made me hopeful we'd make it to the hotel and leave for the tower in time to catch the very end of the concert. But it took almost an hour and a half to make it as far as King's Cross. By the time we got to our hotel, the concert was already almost over.

I'd hoped to join Adam's tour group in the Tower of London, but there was no hope of that either. It quickly became clear that even trying to go anywhere via transport was a fool's errand. So, with a morose text to inform Adam of what was happening, mumsy and I went to investigate a museum we'd heard about on our awful tour bus: the Wellcome Collection.

No joke, this place was definitely weird. Classic paintings were displayed next to historical medical implements like forceps and bone saws. Ancient erotica collected by a madman was on display. There was a video of 19 year olds, made 10 years after films of them at 9 years old, and that was really cool. Some people have faces that really don't change. It's so weird.

Once that was explored, we had a quick snack and then waited for Adam and his parents and uncle to make their way to a restaurant nearby so we could all have dinner together. I know, I know, meeting the parents, gaaaaaaasp~ I expect they might read this someday, so I wouldn't be brave enough to say something bad about them anyway, but luckily I don't have to.

We had dinner at a Thai place I'd gone to four years ago, a weird place where you go down into the basement to eat. The food was still really lovely, though. They have the best coconut rice. I think Adam's parents were more nervous to meet me than I was to meet them, which is silly. They're very sweet, and quiet. I'm far more loud and obnoxious, if anybody's making a bad first impression, it's me. But I think we all liked each other pretty well. I admit that me and Adam were pretty terrible at being social during the whole meal because we were so excited to be near each other again. There was cuddling and hand-holding and hair-ruffling and general shameless affection going on. SORRY NOT SORRY, OTHER HUMANS.

After that lovely meal, it was back to the hotel, for in the morning Adam and I had breakfast plans and then we were off to Hyde Park with mumsy.

Day 14! Adam and I had a couple of hours of alone time, featuring a farmer's market type thing at King's Cross with the tastiest donuts I have ever had. It gave us some time to work the obnoxious PDA out of our system. Then we returned to the hotel to meet my mother so we could head out to Hyde Park.

Mumsy really wanted to see Hyde Park because she'd heard rumours there were many horses there. Indeed, there are horses, but it took us literal hours to find them. That park is HUGE, and it was incredibly hot out. We were double-time walking from shady patch to shady patch, sweating buckets the whole way. It's pretty, but needs more shaded benches, because we couldn't find a place to sit. We did watch geese and ducks and swans be jerks to each other at a pond, as they are wont to do.

I don't really know what to say about a park, you guys, but I have photos.

We laid in the shade to decide what to do next, and what to do next ended up being drinking. Google to the rescue! This is when I discovered that “Victorian Boozer” is apparently a category of pub here, so we walked to a nearby one that was well reviewed, and indeed it was well tasty. I had rabbit tagliatelle and Adam had gnocchi which was the best Gnocchi I'd ever tasted but I still don't understand gnocchi's appeal. Mom had something else, irrelevant, MOVING ON.

We left the boozer, for Adam wanted to go on The London Eye, which meant it was time for a trip on the Tube. Emerging at Waterloo, we made our way to the Eye, and discovered that The London Eye is not The London Eye but Coca-Cola Presents The London Eye and that is dumb. Let's just say – this is a weird landmark to be so commercialized. Capitalism, you make me so deeply uncomfortable. Also, they put stickers over the bottom of the bubbles and obstructed the view so that they could make their advertising appear in all the photos, and just – it's gross. Why was this allowed to happen. Stupid money, you ruin everything.

Anyway, this is apparently the point in our relationship that Adam found out that I'm afraid of heights, and he was kindly very worried about me, but I frequently do alright with heights despite them being scary. I mean, I climbed the stairs at Tintagel, that stuff is no joke. We went around the eye and got THE BEST SOUVENIR PHOTO I don't care how good you think yours is, ours has the best contrast between people who look incredibly bored, mom looking confused, me and Adam looking super enthusiastic, and two kids posing with cool sunglasses like little intimidating jerks.

From there, we headed back to near Kings Cross... for yet more drinking! We found a pub that was again, a Victorian Boozer, and again, well reviewed. I reaffirmed the fact that beer is really disgusting to me and stuck with Pimms from there on, but mom and Adam dug in to the beer list with enthusiasm. We sat and talked and drank for many hours. Then mom left to try and get groceries (alas they were already closed) and Adam and I took a walk to try and avoid saying goodbye for a bit longer.

Eventually it was time for us to say goodbye again and it was SO DIFFICULT UGH. As somebody who is fairly immune to homesickness (although I love all of you at home) I am kind of surprised by how unpleasant being far from Adam is. I feel a mix of guilt for being away and disappointment that I can't share everything with him. In general, based on how challenging it was to say goodbye for a month and some, these blogs will likely involve updates from the two of us in the future.

With Adam gone, it was time to give in to the glory of sleep yet again – for tomorrow was a latter day.

So – yeah, we went to see Book of Mormon on Day 15.

After a nice long sleep, we got up to head to the Saturday Matinee, all dressed up. But not before we went to breakfast, which involved walking to a place called The Breakfast Club, seeing an hour's wait worth of people at the door, and then walking back towards the theatre, where we found a place that had a weird name (that I therefore can't remember) which seemed to serve tasty foodstuffs.

We each ordered eggs benedict, and mom got herself a coffee which turned out to be so amazing she's not even sure that she could find one that good in Vancouver. That was a promising start, so we figured the eggs would be delicious too.

Which they were, actually, but – uh...

Listen, I couldn't tell you what was wrong with the english muffins they served those eggs on, but I do know that after we ate the first one, both of us asked for steak knives after causing hand spasms by trying to cut through the damn things. It might have been because we'd already injured our hands, but even with the steak knives, the muffin was still really difficult to cut through. Somehow it wasn't difficult to eat once you cut it, though, and it was, for reals, REALLY TASTY which thank God because otherwise we would have given up eating eggs benedict out of pure physical exertion and that'd just be sad.

So then it was on to The Book of Mormon, a musical that I have tried to attend multiple times but was always sold out in NYC, so I went in London instead! If you're unfamiliar, it's a musical about two Mormon missionaries carrying out their first mission. It's written by the guys who write South Park, and it SHOWS. Way more than it did on Team America, I think. The play felt like one long, musical episode of South Park. That's a good and bad thing for me because I'm not really in agreement with Trey and Matt's argument that humour is sacrosanct, but it was funny for the most part and the music/songs were REALLY well-written and composed. I'm always impressed with their comedy timing in songs.

Right as the curtains were about to open, we got a text from Hayley saying that Louise was interested in having dinner with us, so after the musical was over and we left humming “Hello”, we set about trying to get in contact with Louise. This proved kind of challenging, so between phone calls and texts we walked from the theatre down to Green Park and... I want to say St. James park. We wandered the park and all the way down to Buckingham Palace and watched some squirrels spar with swans and geese over some peanuts a guy was handing out.

Brief side-track talk to say: damn it, being a responsible person is annoying sometimes. I wanted to hand-feed the squirrels too! But is that adviseable and/or good for them? No. So I didn't. But what do I get out of it? Squirrel jealousy! Oh God, they're so cute.

We eventually did get in touch with Louise, so we hopped on a tube and down to the Pimlico station, near where she was staying. Her hotel had a much fancier exterior than ours, but we got to see her room later on and discovered it was about as fancy as ours – which is to say, not very much. And also, tiny.

We went to an Italian place near her hotel, where our waitress spoke very little English, which meant that we were extra confused when we asked for water and she brought us a big basket of bread and asked if we wanted some. Turns out this was separate to the request for water. One thing that's weird here is that they frequently charge for olives and bread and all of those other starter meal items, which as a spoiled North American feels super weird. Especially when they bring it to your table and you actively have to refuse it to avoid being charged. Seems like a trap to me.

The dinner was nice because Louise was finally feeling better and we got to gossip all about the wedding, and everything we'd heard and seen, which honestly is half the reason to go to a wedding. They seem to spawn gossip. Maybe because people frequently drink a lot at weddings.

By the time we got back from dinner, it was late – and given that Tom was arriving the next day, we decided to take advantage of our last chance to sleep in.

By 1pm on Day 16, when Tom texted me to tell me he was about a half hour outside of London, mumsy and I hadn't even gone for breakfast. We ate at a restaurant around the corner that had caught my eye earlier. They had green walls inside the place, which were really pretty and atmospheric but also seemed to be causing some pretty unpleasant water damage. Green architecture: it can be a problem.

We also had the world's most inattentive waiter. As we were waiting to be shown to a table, we were greeted by two people (not waiters) and both of them tried to get our waiter's attention – failing, apparently, because he was too caught up in a conversation he was having with the cooking staff. Too bad for waiter guy, because his boss was sitting at the front counter running figures on a laptop, and kept snapping his fingers and waving at the guy, and then pointing at us – to no avail. It took like three minutes for him to come over and seat us. I then made the mistake of not deciding what I wanted to eat right away, because it took him 10 minutes to come back to us. Then it took 20 minutes to get the bill. Frustrating!

The fun part of the meal was watching the kitchen work, though. Whoa was that a well-oiled machine. For the most part we could only see the guy up at the pass who was ordering others around in terms of timing and adding all the garnishes to the plates. He worked with precision and so fast! I could never work in a restaurant, so it always impresses me when I see people who do it perfectly.

The food was good too, although I made the mistake of ordering pancakes, forgetting that the definition of pancake at home is not something I've ever found the equivalent for here. They were weird flat bread-egg things. Which SOUNDS kind of like a pancake, and LOOKS kind of like a pancake, but is no pancake of mine.

We returned to the hotel and found Mr. Thomas Williams waiting for us, so we prepared to head out, with kind of ill-formed plans. I suggested the Tower of London, so we headed that way.

I made a questionable choice, in retrospect. See, when you call something “the tower” I expect there to be a single tower – not like – eight, all filled with their own exhibits. Tom knew about this, but assumed that we weren't just ignorant Canadians and had been aware that there was a ton to see. Alas! But honestly, I think we saw what I most wanted to see – which is just the inside of the fort in general, the Crown Jewels, and the torture stuff.

On the subject of the torturey stuff – considering how much it's talked up, that section is pretty bare. It's very reassuring to know that Britain never really engaged in torture as a matter of principle, but as somebody who's always heard stories about the torture chambers at the Tower of London, I can't help thinking that reputation is way overstated.

Also, man, fine jewelry is wasted on me. The Crown Jewels looked straight up ugly. Maybe it's because I'm too used to things like that being costume jewelry, but other than the fact that I KNEW those things were worth 20 times more than I'd earn in a lifetime, I'd never think it.

P.S. Extreme wealth is weird and when you see a giant punch bowl made of solid gold you can't help but wonder if the priorities of humanity aren't severely misplaced.

Shortly after we saw the Crown Jewels, we were kicked out into the POURING RAIN. The English weather had finally arrived. After weeks of sun and warm weather, we were being soaked through! It was refreshing and also gross. Luckily mom and I were carrying umbrellas, and Tom had a waterproof hat.

We went back to the hotel and went our separate ways for dinner. Given that it was Sunday, mumsy and I decided to give another shot to seeking a Sunday Roast, this time at a pub just a few blocks away. We were lucky to get a table as it turns out – the place packed full, and what wasn't full was reserved. But a table full of people left just as we arrived and granted us their table, thus allowing us to eat.

The roast was SO GOOD. Perfectly roasted or steamed vegetables of several types, a wine jus gravy, roast beef, and a Yorkshire pudding. Much to my dismay, the Yorkshire Pudding was actually the worst part of the meal. It was just a touch overcooked, which is death to such a baked good. Alas. Literally one of my favourite foods. What a shame. The rest of the roast made up for it, though!

We watched an episode of Top Gear with Tom when we got back, and agreed that the next day we'd go to the Natural History Museum. Tom wanted us to head out at 10, but mumsy and I haggled down to 11, for we are weak people who love to sleep in, and even being ready for 11 counts as early rising for me when it's not a work day!

Day 17 – We were actually out of the hotel by 10:15, but by the time breakfast was consumed it was 11 o'clock after all. We took a humid tube ride (oh my God the tube is the worst when it's been raining out and is still cold) to the Natural History Museum, and discovered a huuuuge line to get in. Unsurprising, given the “inclement” weather as they call it here, that everyone else decided it was a museum day, but – damn it, human beings, stop being so inconvenient.

The line actually went pretty quickly, and gave us time to admire the building that houses the museum, because it is BEAUTIFUL. There are sculptures of animals all across the building (extinct on one side, still living on the other) and lots of little details to look at. It kept us entertained until we got inside.

Inside, we discovered what happens when you put a ton of human beings in a stone building with no ventilation or air conditioning. It was surprisingly not-smelly but agonizingly warm. We were fine as we checked out the fossil and mineral sections, although jackets came off pretty fast, but, appropriately, it was when we made it to the section on Volcanoes that it became unbearably warm. We walked through the whole Earth Science section, where they had an Earthquake simulator which felt extremely poignant, given that nightmarish article about what's going to happen when the Cascadia earthquake finally hits. Although when the fake Japanese shop was done shaking, a little girl shouted “AGAIN, AGAIN, LET'S GO AGAIN”, so I'm not sure they're passing on the right message.

Escaping that section was a real relief, so that might have been partly what drove me into the human biology section next, as it was thankfully uncrowded. Not surprising, really, because it was comically out of date. The most interesting exhibit in the whole section was a film from the early 80's about how the way that kids learn means that kids at more advanced learning stages can take longer to complete certain tasks because of pre-existing ideas that they're holding on to.

Also, I give the cisgender-biased section about how to tell the difference between boys and girls about 5 years before it's updated to reflect the concept of something beyond a gender binary defined by one's genitals.

Leaving the human biology section, we noticed the line up for the dinosaurs had died down and decided to visit the fossils.

HUGE MISTAKE. OH GOD. THE WARMTH.

The dinosaur section starts out with a walk across a very narrow walkway, suspended above the rest of the exhibit, and was packed full of people. All of the heat had risen to the level of the walkway, and it was sweltering to the point that I felt like I could barely breathe through the humidity created by evaporated sweat. I know, GROSS. We quickly lost interest in the fossils and began quickly making our way down the walkway so we could escape. It took quite a lot of time because people were three abreast and the people on either side were stopped to look at fossils. We sloowwwwly inched our way out, and as soon as there was clear space we rushed right out of the dinosaur section, feeling just about done with museums.

We had been told about an area where we could hold some specimens and were considering heading that way, but instead I suggested we go to the Darwin Centre, which we weren't far from, beforehand. We went to a section called the... Science Spirit section, or something? Which was basically a big empty room with displays of preserved animals in jars.

No joke, this was the best part of museum. Staring at jars full of pickled snakes, jellyfish, lizards, mice, various animal fetuses, and trying to identify them (and letting Google fill in the blanks when we couldn't) was an awful lot of fun. Scientists could gain access to the giant storeroom FULL of preserved animals in jars, and I am so jealous. Any biologists I know want to try and gain access to this place and take me with them, please? I needs to see more crazy animals.

Of course, that might have been the most fun part of the day because that section of the museum is brand spanking new, and thus had CIRCULATING AIR THANK GOD. Going back in to the heart of the museum to see the taxidermied mammals was pretty unpleasant. We never got in to the specimen touch lab, either – it closed at 4:30, almost an hour before the museum did, and we had no idea!

After 8 hours of museum, we were all pretty dead on our feet, and retreated to a burger place for dinner. I ordered a root beer to drink because I regrettably wasn't in the mood for a milkshake. It cost 3 pounds, which is pretty par for the course, but I was expecting a tasty, kind of unusual root beer and instead got an imported can of A&W, which just left me staring, in bewilderment that a soda that I could literally purchase for like 85 cents at home just cost me 7 dollars. PAR FOR THE COURSE, ENGLAND.

Rootbeer aside, holy hell this burger place was good. My burger was fairly straightforward, and mom's was even more so, so were kind of amazed that they were quite so good. I think they must have put seasoning into the beef, or something. We were all extremely happy about it.

Departing the burger place, we returned to our hotels, crashed out, and I wrote a blog. Maybe about Cornwall? Yeah, about Cornwall. Man, I sure have been behind on this blog. THAT STOPS NOW. ...At least until I meet up with Wolf, Gal and Nicole.

Where was I? Oh right – Day 18, the day of window shopping.

So I'm not sure how aware mom was about the existence of Harrods, but Tom wanted to check it out in hopes of there being a fossil shop (he'd read about it years before) and I wanted to see it again too, after so many years, because I skipped it last time I was here.

If you don't know, Harrods is basically a department store for the rich. The very, very, very rich. The watches-in-this-store-start-at-8000-pounds rich. The the-most-expensive-watch-is-250,000-pounds-oh-my-god-who-can-buy-this-I'm-honestly-startled-by-this-situation rich. It's housed in an extremely beautiful and elaborate building, because how could it not be, and other than in the food section, where there are some affordable treats, I saw only a single person do any actual shopping. She showed up in jeans, a t-shirt, and moccasins, so I did not expect her to pick up one of the alarmingly expensive watches, but there she is.

I mean, I don't know what to say about Harrods, it is a place that has to be witnessed to be believed. The architecture in the place is really interesting to look at, the food is incredibly tasty (I bought a hot dog in a croissant, the most non-fancy food possible, and the croissant was the best I've ever had) and the toy shop makes me really, really jealous of rich children because man there are some cool toys out there.

However, what I somehow missed last time – or at the very least have no recollection of, and I THINK I WOULD REMEMBER THIS, is the shrine in the basement to Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed. See, Harrods used to be owned by Mohammed Al-Fayed, who apparently was extremely upset about the death of his son (who died in the car crash with Diana) and was really certain it was a conspiracy. So in the basement of Harrods, there is a statue of the two of them with the words INNOCENT VICTIMS at the base of it, as well as a shrine with their pictures and a crystalized hourglass, and a book of condolences for people to sign. It is... uncomfortable, to say the least. I feel like having a lot of money does weird things to your sense of what constitutes normal behaviour, so throw grief on top of that and you have a recipe for full on nutso crazy. Poor repellantly wealthy dude.

After Harrods window-shopping, we went to Camden, because Tom was hoping to find himself a hat, and Camden seemed like a decent place to find a cheap hat. As it turns out, it's a cheap place to find a mass-produced hat, but if you don't want the particular hats that are on display, that's too bad, because literally every single store offers the same ones. Tom nearly bought a cowboy-style hat, but didn't end up doing it. I think that's for the best, because we saw the same hat, in a different colour, being sold as a One Piece cosplay a few days later, and that would have been awkward if he'd been wearing it at the time.

Camden is crowded and full of cool stuff to look at, but again is kind of a difficult place to sum up in writing. You see goth lolitas and punks and lots of cool hand-made stuff, but also a ton of cheezy souvenirs and mass-manufactured junk. Also, stolen art. I saw quite a few pieces from various artists I'm aware of just printed out and put up on posters, which is so not cool! Damn you, art thieves.

We sat down in a coffee shop after that, because yet again we were left exhausted, and talked for a couple of hours. Then Tom went off on his own shopping excursion to a few local Japanese shops, and mom and I went back to the hotel to drop off our stuff before we met with our family friend David Rogers for dinner.

We met David at a restaurant in Chinatown where everything was really tasty. It was also a good atmosphere for just sitting and talking together, so we talked for a few hours. David is a councillor for a local burough, so we got all the inside scoop about how politics in the area works (similar and yet different from our own system) and what the political landscape has been looking like. We were pretty impressed with all the news about how London handles its homeless problem (although the Tories will do away with funding for those programs soon enough) and distressed by the news about how little local cities recycle. Although we had guessed that not much recycling went on, because there are NO recycling bins here. It's so weird, coming from Vancouver. Throwing plastic bottles into the trash makes me cringe, y'all.

After the dinner, we took a walk with David. At first we were intending to just loop around Chinatown and to the nearest tube station, but then it was like “Oh – have you seen Leicester square?” “Oh – have you seen Trafalgar Square?” “Oh – have you seen Buckingham Palace?” “Oh – have you seen Westminster?”

We walked for an hour or two, and David's former job as a tour guide was really obvious the whole time! That guy provided more information about the City than we'd gotten the whole time we'd been staying there, and made us feel like we had far, far too much to see. I guess I'll have to come back again! The entire walk was magical-feeling, because there was a slight drizzle coming down, the streets were almost empty, and everything was lit up bright and beautiful. And the Queen was in residence at Buckingham! For all I know, this is the closest I'll ever be to her.

We said our goodbyes at Westminster Station, which is like a futuristic industrial nightmare, and took the tube back to the hotel, because the next day was going to be another day chock-full of museum... the British Museum, the monument to colonialist appropriation!

The next morning we awakened, got ourselves some breakfast, and took off for the British Museum. This place is ginormous, it seems impossible to see it all in one go. I had the advantage of having been before, and also being the worst at appreciating history, so I just breeze through galleries and look at everything, and don't actually read the captions on the items and therefore learn nothing. I'm a terrible person. I wish they made interactive museums for adults.

We'd just looked around some ancient Egypt and Greek and Roman artifacts, and were heading in to look at the Americas section (where a woman called some wood masks carved by First Nations people “shrunken heads” and drew a “WTF” look from me) – when all of the sudden a loud alarm started going off.

“Attention please. This is an Emergency. Please proceed to the nearest exit.” Said a man's voice. So we all got up and headed for the nearest exit. Well- some people seemed to decide they had to go all the way around to the main exit instead of following the emergency door path but – whatever. Nobody was panicking. It was pretty impressive.

But then, the announcement changed.

“Attention please. Attention please. A fire alarm has been triggered in another area. Please stay where you are and await further announcements.”

So we stopped on the emergency exit stairs and waited. And waited. Confused people went up the stairs, confused people went down the stairs.

Finally, the announcement changed back to the original version, and with a sigh, we admitted we had to leave.

“Well, what now?” Was the general sentiment of everyone outside. For our part, the three of us decided to head to St. Paul's Cathedral, because we figured that'd be worth seeing.

We hopped on a train, made it all the way there, and... entry was 18 pounds. Unanimously, we all agreed that was far too much money, and retreated to Starbucks to reconsider our plans.

Tom has a guidebook of all British Museums and similar entertainment sources, and one of the locations on his to-visit list was Viktor Wynd's Museum of Curiosities. We decided that was the best way to conclude our somewhat interrupted day and caught a bus out in that direction. For some reason the bus stopped several stops early, meaning we needed to transfer onto the next one – momentarily extremely confusing. Then we were off again, driving through a part of town that looked highly suspicious, and finally arrived at Viktor Wynd's. Which, itself, looked highly suspicious. In fact we didn't notice it until we left, but there was a sign on it that informed people “THIS IS NOT A BROTHEL. THERE ARE NO PROSTITUTES HERE.” Which, you know, is helpful information.

Even more promising, I stepped into the place – which was a bar, and just hesitated in the doorway, unsure of what to do. The guy behind the counter was like “yeah, can I help you?” And I was like “Uhhh we're here to see the exhibits?” And he was like “The museum's downstairs, just pay on your way out”. The fee is 4 pounds, btw, and includes a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit. This place is... uh. How to describe it.

So – Viktor Wynd was clearly a bit nuts, but unlike Mr. Al-Fayad, he didn't have a whole lot of money. Rather than a lavish Egyptian-themed escalator, we climbed down a narrow spiral staircase into a basement filled with what I can only describe as “random crap”. This includes everything from fetal pigs to a “mummified fairy” to various body parts/fluids from celebrities, to erotic novels. Like, seriously, there were a lot of erotic novels. My personal favourite had to be “An Irish Farmer's guide to Sex”, which seems delightfully specific. Does it involve potatoes?

Having fully explored the madness of Viktor Wynd, we left the museum (choosing to pass on the tea and biscuits) and travelled to Forbidden Planet, where my mother stared cluelessly at nerdy merchandise while Tom and I wandered around and wished we had more money to our name. The only thing I bought was a little Ravenclaw-themed Oyster card holder.

Following that, we returned to the hotel, I very nearly fell fast asleep, and then dragged myself up again so we could go to dinner. Searching randomly for restaurants on Google continues to be a success – this time we were led to an Italian place, and my only complaint about it is that it was SO LOUD because it was so busy. We were lucky to get a table. Despite the fact we couldn't hear each other (I resorted to writing to Tom on my phone a few times) we had a great time. Tom's pizza was so good he said he was ruined for other pizza, which sounds like both a blessing and a curse. Mom and I both had really nice pasta, although I think that in retrospect we both wish we'd ordered a different type. Or a pizza, because dang did that look delicious.

I would describe bedtime that night as more of a collapse than anything.

Day 20 was the last day with Mumsy and Tom. We decided to return to the British Museum and hope that this time it didn't light on fire.

As it so happens, it didn't! We saw the mummies, old Greek and Roman things, old Anglo-Saxon things, and a really cool room full of clocks and watches. One of the clocks was set to go off on the hour, so we hurried over to watch it, but then it seemed like it just went ding one or two times and moved on. So we were discussing what else to do, and suddenly it started playing this music, out of nowhere. Why is there such a long gap? I don't even understand.

I at one point unwisely decided to find a bathroom, and discovered that 4 out of the 5 bathrooms were closed. You know when you play Sim Theme Park, and you don't have enough bathrooms, and the one you have gets so gross that people hate using it? Yeah. That situation was going on. Without going into details, I waited in a 50 person line to enter a stall I could only term a biohazard. Blegh!

By the time we were done at the museum it was already like 4pm, so Tom and I escorted the motherly unit to the tube so she could return to the hotel and we went off to Picadilly Circus to visit some Japanese shops (Tom had visited some of them the day before and was pretty insistent I had to come with). One of the shops made me very distressed because we don't have it at home. They offered so many varieties of plum wine, and sold tons of tasty onigiri options. These are things I want in my life. To not have them is distressing.

We also went to a bookstore and a toy store, which made me wish I had infinity money for artbooks and cool character figures, but – alas. To window shop is my curse. At least until I start earning money again.

Eventually we returned to the hotel and went on an ill-fated journey to try and find a place for dinner. We ended up deciding on the same pub in Kings Cross that mumsy and I had stumbled into on our very first day there. FULL CIRCLE.

After dinner we made our way back to the hotel, and mumsy and I packed as Tom showed us Mr. T's Be Somebody or Be Somebody's Fool, which – you're welcome. You're welcome for the information that this video exists, because you need to watch it and learn how to be somebody, lest you inadvertently become somebody's fool.

Day 21, we woke up at 4:30 in the damn morning, oh God. We stumbled around drunkenly, completing our packing rituals, and then woke up Tom (who had asked to be woken up, I know, he's crazy) and made the walk to the station. After hugs and farewells, Mumsy and I got on our train to Gatwick, where I very nearly fell asleep.

Without incident, we checked mumsy in (my flight left hours later, so I couldn't join her past the security gate) and then I spent time in a coffee shop, by the gate, and then on the plane writing this damn blog.

But here we are.

I am in Copenhagen, in a very weird hotel where the rooms are intended to resemble a cruise ship.

I am SO TIRED.

And now the blog is done.

I'm going to go get some distressingly expensive snacks, and then I am going to bed.

EUROTRIP 2015: PART 2 BEGINS NOW
 
 
Current Location: copenhagen
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
 
 
taowhotravels
13 July 2015 @ 04:40 pm
Last update, I told you about THE SICKNESS – a mysterious stomach malady that made eating deeply unpleasant if not impossible and left me in pain, exhausted and dehydrated.

Now imagine having THE SICKNESS on a 6 hour train journey (followed by an 80 minute break, followed by another two hour train journey) – because that's what I had to anticipate on Day 10, the day of the Worst Train.

We got up bright and early and I sent mumsy down ahead of me for breakfast, thinking that maybe I shouldn't eat, although when I joined her I found myself very hungry and decided that maybe toast and a poached egg and single slice of bacon wouldn't be too bad to get me started on a long day. I WAS VERY WRONG but that's beside the point.

After our breakfasts, we had to fill up the car with petrol (lookit me, using local nomenclature) and somehow mother ended up breaking more traffic laws taking that small trip than she had the rest of the trip combined. We filled up, drove to the station, dropped off the cars with the rental agency, and then sat in the station coffee shop for about an hour while we waited for our train. I spent most of the time hunched over the table, listening to podcasts and staring at the tea that did not seem safe to consume in my current condition.

Once on the train, we were prepared for a nice, smooth trip into Paddington Station. The train started out of the gate just fine, made it to the next stop, left, and... slowly came to a halt.

“Ladies and Gentlemen...” came the announcement.
“Ohhhhhhhh noooooooo” went the passengers.
“Oh, fuck me.” said a guy further down the train, in more emphatic rejection of this impending news.
“We have suffered a rear engine failure – the driver is going to inspect the engine and see if we can get it up and running again in short order.”

Cue every passenger around us beginning to share their train travel horror stories with their travel companions. Stories of 8 hour train delays, train transfers, bus connections, drifted through the train and filled us all with a fear. But then, the rear engine could clearly be heard starting up.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we've restarted the rear engine and it seems to be up and running, so we'll be off on our way in short order” came the announcement.
“Yaaaaaaaaay!” went the passengers.

We were delayed by 15 minutes.

The train continued on to the next station, where an engineer came on board to check it over and make sure it was in working order. He said it should work, but stayed on board just in case.

We were delayed by 30 minutes.

Two stations later, the engine failed again. They rebooted it.

We were delayed by 40 minutes. The train was running slowly.

One station later, the engine failed again. We all smelled burning brakes as we came to a stop. They apologetically got it running again.

We were delayed by 45 minutes.

Mom and I now had 35 minutes to get from Paddington to King's Cross and on to our next train. It was critical we not be delayed again. All of their estimates would have us in on time.

And then...

We caught up with a local service coming in to Reading and were delayed by another 10 minutes to let it travel ahead of us. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

We arrived in Paddington, 55 minutes late. We got in to Kings Cross literally 5 minutes after our train had left. It was a heartbreaking miss.

Luckily, we had a flexible ticket, meaning we could get on the very next train to Brighton, which left only 20 minutes after the train we'd been intending to take.

...Unluckily...

The train seemed to be moving very, very slowly. It had no air conditioning. It was ungodly hot. It had been an hour, and we hadn't gone even a quarter of the distance we were meant to. I was feeling deathly ill.

Then all of the sudden there was an announcement. Mom and I could not for the life of us understand what was being said, but everybody on the train got up, groaned, and left it. Mom leaned out of the train to ask a conductor what the heck was going on, and they said “If you're going to Brighton, stay on the train”.

Turns out that after an hour and a half, our train was so far behind schedule they'd made it an express.

MAN WHEN THEY MAKE A TRAIN AN EXPRESS YOU GET PLACES FAST.

All of 15 minutes later, we'd rushed through 5 stations and into Brighton, finally. It was 7 o'clock in the evening, meaning that given that we had left our hotel at 9 in the morning, it took longer to get from Truro to Brighton than it did to get from Vancouver to London. DEAR GOD.

But we were there! A cab to our hotel, and we collapsed in our hotel, emerging only for dinner (at a delicious barbecue place downstairs, you have no idea my regret at the fact that I could barely eat anything) and, in mumsy's case, to pick up some cash from the ATM, something which introduced her to the fact that Brighton is kind of a rough town at night – or just generally. I felt by far the least safe there than I have anywhere else in England.

Finally, the long day was over. ...and we were due to leave again at 11 in the morning.

Day 11 – up and out of the hotel for 11, neither of us having eaten breakfast, a cab pulled up in front of our hotel to pick us up so we could head to Alfriston, an idyllic town in the English countryside.

Joining us in the car was Louise (mumsy's best friend and the mother of the groom) and Jaime (her niece) – Louise informed us she had a sore throat, which really tragically developed into a quite nasty cold by that evening. I mean, I know I complain about THE SICKNESS but while that was unpleasant, it's not nearly so unfair as to be sick at your own son's wedding.

The cab ride was a bit nauseating, but that's par for the course out here. Wow, British people with motion sickness, my condolences. As a Canadian with motion sickness I have never been more grateful for straight roads. At the end of the road, though, was the wedding venue, which was called Deans Place, and was actually reserved through a Groupon. Did you know they did wedding bookings through Groupon? Neither did I. If this was any indication, we should all be having our weddings this way.

The hotel was really wonderful and by far the most comfortable place we stayed during the trip. It was decorated in an old style (probably quite new, for here, what do I know) and the beds were full sized and fluffy and the rooms were spacious, and we even had a bathtub. All of you North Americans who have never been over here probably think “...This just sounds like a hotel room” but you would not believe how small rooms are here, nevermind how damn rare a bathtub is.

Shortly after our arrival, the Ceremony was due to begin. For those of you not in the know, the inspiration for this whole trip was this wedding – Stuart and Hailey's wedding. Stuart's known me since I was born, but I'd never met Hailey, so literally the first impression I had of her was at her own wedding ceremony. Which was the CUTEST CEREMONY I HAVE EVER SEEN. The officiant kept saying “this is the most casual wedding I've ever been to” because Hailey and Stuart kept cracking jokes. They also kept saying very sweet things and making each other choke up and thus THERE WERE NO DRY EYES IN THE HOUSE and mom kept handing out kleenex and oh my God it was so cute and sweet and so them. Well, I can only attest that it was so true to Stuart, but I think I got a good idea of who Hailey is really fast. She isn't a shy person. She's pretty damn fabulous. Stuart, you did good.

After that there were drinks, photos out on the lawn (we all took photos all together, with the official photographers who were friends/family of the bride & groom) and a “breakfast” at 3pm which seemed suspiciously like a dinner, given that it involved three courses worth of food. Then there were speeches, and people bet on how long they would be. The woman who bet 42 minutes thought she'd won, but then they started up again because some things went forgotten, and she had to give the money back. The speeches were all really nice, although poor Stuart got teased for his!

After that we had a break where people just hung out (I napped) and then around 8 there was dancing, a buffet, and an art installation by Jaime which was gorgeous and photos of it shall of course be posted when I SOMEHOW HAVE TIME TO GET AROUND TO IT. Probably in Denmark.

THE SICKNESS being what it was, I didn't dance, ate some at the buffet, instantly regretted it, and then went to sleep.

DAY 12. I missed Breakfast. We packed up. We left Alfriston, and returned to our same hotel in Brighton – which is called The Granville Hotel, by the way, and was quite nice, right on the seaside and with comfortable but weirdly inconsistently decorated rooms in varying states of repair.

We spent our early afternoon picking up some groceries from the local shopping centre, and then hanging out in the barbecue restaurant attached to the hotel again, where I was finally able to eat something in relative comfort – a Brisket sandwich. It was alright, but I was hoping for less of a Jewish deli Brisket and more of a Texan BBQ brisket.

Once our bags were safely in the room, we decided I was well enough to Sea Life – which is basically the Brighton Aquarium. There we saw fishes of various sorts that I hadn't seen before. All of the rays were very hungry, because they were flapping around the edge of their tanks with their mouths in the air, waiting to be fed, which meant we could get close enough to see that they had eyelashes, which was pretty weird. Also, we saw a Nautilus, which has been a life goal of mine, which is entirely justified because they are SO COOL man the ocean is weird.

We went on a glass bottom boat which went out into one of the main tanks, where we saw Sea Turtles, Sharks, and another hungry ray (who had missed his feeding time and would be going hungry, poor guy) and had a discussion with a young (maybe 18 at the oldest) staff member who we talked to about how damn weird it is how little wildlife there is just hanging around in the UK compared to at home. She told us they have urban foxes in Brighton, which I would trade IN A HEARTBEAT, sorry raccoons and coyotes. I want foxes. They are way cooler than you guys. Well, raccoons are pretty cool. ...Not as pretty, though.

After Sea Life, we walked down the pier, which I thought was amazing, because it was both really pretty and incredibly tacky at the same time. It was basically a giant fair and set of casinos out on this really old, architecturally stunning pier. Mom was really horrified by the tacky casinos, though. She felt like it was sacrilege. Tacky casinos are literally my only association with seaside tourist towns, though, so I wasn't shocked by it in the least. Hurrah for being jaded!

Dinner was tapas at a place up the hill which came highly recommended by Google and, as it turned out, by the locals, because it was packed and we were warned we only had an hour and a half before our table was reserved. No problem there, though. We happily ate our tapas, which turned out to be far more food than anticipated, but was fresh and delicious. It also made me wish Vancouver still had a decent tapas place, damn it. Anybody know of one?

Finally, it was time to go back to the hotel and collapse. But not before I checked my phone to find out if the train strike on First Great Western was going to affect our trip.

“Oh, it's not.”

“...What do you mean there's a full 24 hour tube strike tomorrow?”

(Okay, I actually found this out the day before, but this makes a better cliffhanger.)

NEXT TIME: Eurotrip 2015, The Tube Strikes Back.
 
 
Current Mood: sicksick
 
 
 
taowhotravels
11 July 2015 @ 05:07 pm
Let's talk about Cornwall.

Day 6- When we last left our fearless heroes, they were about to get on a train to Truro. We packed up early and headed down into Bath, where we loitered in a coffee shop given that we had a while to wait before our train.

In this coffee shop was an old couple who were discussing what it's like in North America. Oh boy.

They were talking about RV camping, and wondering how in God's name people can drive something that large. They came to the conclusion it was because:

1) “The roads are so much straighter in America.” Okay – yes. This one is accurate, after three days of driving around down here. More on that later.

2) “There are no parking restrictions, so you could just park them on a street where ever.” ...No. Just no.

3) “Places like Alaska are just so easy to drive about.” ...Pretty sure Alaska has some of the highest road fatalities. Were you perhaps thinking of the prairies? Those are pretty straight and easy.

Then they went on to talk about how RVs are so well heated they can withstand the harsh winters (no) and all our roads are regularly salted and de-iced (some...of...them...?) and then they went on to talk about how great the Tories are, so I judged them even more harshly.

The trip down to Truro involved three train transfers. The first one was a 15 minute jump over to Bristol, which was unsurprisingly uneventful.

The second one brought us from Bristol to Plymouth. This one was slightly more exciting – in that we got on the train and discovered that every single baggage area was packed full. As a result, we and about 6 other people had to jam ourselves into the gap between compartments and stand there with our bags until there was room (30 minutes or so) and then we found our seats, which were facing backwards. Given that both me and mumsy have issues with motion sickness- this would not do. We sat sideways and ate salty chips for another 20 minutes until enough people cleared the train for us to grab forward-facing seats.

In Plymouth, we transfered onto a train that was obviously a local service. It was about 3 o'clock, so all these schoolkids got on in their various uniforms. The most startling train travelers were the boys who had clearly come from Handsome Male Model High. Seriously, these were MTV pretty teenagers, and I was like “what the hell are they feeding you, how are you all so stupidly pretty”. They were also straight up dumb, as teenage boys are, which I found kind of reassuring.

The weird train brought us to our destination: Truro, in Cornwall. Where I proposed, laughingly, that we walk to the hotel. “Will it be straight up a hill again?” asked my smart-ass mother. “...Maybe!” I replied.

...It was up a fucking hill. SIGH.

10 minutes of uphill later, we arrived at The Fieldings B&B, where we were greeted by Mike, who owns the place and is generally a cool guy who gives A+ directions. The B&B was very dated, though. Loose floorboards and weird carpeted bathrooms greeted us. But they had excellent quality wi-fi with a super high speed connection, which I can't say for anywhere else we've stayed so far.

After such a long journey (from 1 o'clock to about 6 o'clock) we were just in the mood for dinner, so we walked out to the County Arms – a hotel/pub like three blocks away. I had a steak and mom had fish & chips, which we determined to be the very definition of cheap and cheerful. Exactly what we needed.

Then we rolled back to the Fieldings, watched some TV, and slept. Because sleep is for champions.

Day 7! We awakened to what I can only call The Saddest Breakfast. It was stale cereal, toast, jams, and supermarket-bought croissants. Needless to say we skipped that breakfast from there on.

With breakfast done, we walked our way back to the train station – because it was time to pick up our car. Mumsy had bravely agreed to volunteer to drive the pair of us around, something that was apparently making her so anxious that on the walk down her eyesight started blurring. Yikes!

Luckily, it had cleared up by the time we got there. We bonded with the car rental people over how bad our travel agent was (seriously, she was the worst, which infuriates me, because I really like travel agents to help guide me around) and picked up our little Honda Jazz – which we named TJ.

I guided mother through the process of driving in the left lane from the station to the hotel,, which was already nerve wracking – and then we went inside, planned our route – and prepared to drive to Golant, nearly an hour away.

Mom's paternal grandmother (my great-grandmother) grew up in the town, so we were doing a pilgrimage to the homeland. The drive out was pretty easy – beside some “What lane are we supposed to be in?! What's happening!?” shouting at the roundabouts. Mom grew up in BC when there were a ton of tiny roads, so she's not too intimidated by the infamous hedgerow streets. A lot of them are extremely pretty, actually. Huge trees looming over the road. It's really cool.

When we got to Golant, we pulled in on a road beside an inlet, which had a sign on it that said “Caution: This road may flood at high tide”. Truly, there has never been a more reassuring sign. Luckily, the tide seemed to be out, so we felt safe leaving the car as we wandered. We walked around on the streets great-grandma must have wandered. Golant is really, really pretty. Rolling hills, ocean, and a neighbourhood dog that wanders around as he pleases! I enjoy all of these things. I'll post many pictures so you all can enjoy them too.

We went to a Michelin Star restaurant that is both inexplicably located in Golant and also inexplicably kind of awful. The food we had was over-salted and overwhelming. Which was too bad, because it had really delicious pasta and seafood involved in it, but it was just... blegh. Suddenly I feel very suspicious of Michelin rankings.

Putting the meal behind us, we went to more thoroughly wander the beach, because we'd been watching a guy troll the waters with a net, and that required further investigation.

Well, as it turns out the tide we'd seen early wasn't even close to being out – you could wander way, way out into the inlet now, and a bunch of people had showed up to take advantage of it. There was a surly man and his INCREDIBLY HAPPY labrador retriever, who was digging into the sand aggressively and chasing seagulls. There was also a Scottish family visiting their Cornish grandpa, who were down hunting for sand eels, cockles, and crabs, and had brought in a small haul. The aforementioned guy with the net was headed in as I made it out to the water's edge, so I was able to find out that he was “feeshing for shreemps”. For our part, we found a sea star, a struggling fish of some sort, and plenty of seashells indicative of a seagull's afternoon snack.

With Golant explored, we headed back to our B&B and then down into Truro for dinner. Truro mostly closes down at 5, so despite the fact that it was Friday it was pretty dead. We dropped into the Truro Cathedral, because mom was complaining she hadn't been to a church yet, despite my claims that half the tourist attractions in this country are churches. We lit some candles and checked out some gruesome images of Jesus, which is admittedly an odd thing to do before dinner – and then we wandered around until we found a restaurant that looked trustworthy, which is tougher than you'd think.

Actually, to be honest, given the weird collection of cultures represented on the menu, I wasn't so sure about the place we'd picked. But we did well. Mom had a Hungarian Goulash, and I had pan-fried lamb's liver. They were deeply satisfying, especially after such a mediocre meal that afternoon. I also introduced mom to the Espresso Martini, which she is surely grateful for.

After that, we walked up yet another ungodly tall hill back to the B&B and decided that the next day, we'd be sleeping in, damn it.

Day 8 – We slept in. And by slept in, I mean we slept until like 10. Which to my normal schedule, would still count as being hella early.

Our plans were to go meet my mother's distant relative who had been studying the family tree (and could therefore find how distant our relation was) in Perranporth, then visit the other towns where mom's great-grandmother (Cubert), great-grandfather (Perranzabuloe), and grandfather (Rejerrah) lived. But first, breakfast was acquired. We braved the enormous hill for the sake of picking up some proper Cornish Pasties. Mom bought two, because she wanted to try two flavours, and also because she is insane and did not realize that no human being can eat two pasties in one sitting. All one needs is a steak pastie. Meat, potato, carrot, turnip, with pepper, salt and gravy and life is good again. I love pasties a lot. Which only makes sense. IT'S IN MY BLOOD.

With pasties consumed, we took off in the car to visit “cousin” Roger and his wife Barbara, who turned out to be a pair of very sweet and hospitable but kind of depressing old people. Apparently a lot of people in their lives have died recently and most of them came up in casual conversation. “Oh, we had the greatest time a few years ago visiting this relative... but of course he unexpectedly had a heart attack...” They recently lost their daughter, and Barbara has cancer, so I kind of understand why that would be weighing on their minds, but my God they could be bleak. It was cool to talk about the family tree, though, and help Roger fill out some of the blanks he had for our branch of the family.

After that, we drove out of Perranporth (which seems beautiful, honestly it might have been nice to stay a while) and off to find Rejerrah, which everyone we'd met described as being “a lot of nothing”. Which – well, it turned out to be fairly accurate. There was a church, and like five houses, and two farms, and it was separated by the highway. It was one of the smallest places I've ever seen that actually had a name.

After that we went to Cubert, which was a bit further north off the road. Cubert was pretty gorgeous. It was about a 40 minute walk from the Sea, and on a very flat area so you could see the horizon beyond. It was extremely windy, which may be normal or just what we experienced, but while we were there we dropped into a convenience store and had THE BEST ice cream. Everything they tell you about Cornish ice cream is true. Mom and I are pretty obsessed with it.

From Cubert, I wanted to see the ocean, so we drove to Holywell, just up the road, and found the most beautiful beach. It was huge, and relatively uncrowded, and had super powerful tides. When the tide turned and started coming in, it just came rushing in. It climbed up 5 feet in like two minutes. It'd be an easy way to lose your stuff, leaving it lying around without realizing the tide had turned!

Shout out to the adorable pug trying to dig holes on the beach and snorfling from the effort due to the lack of breathing because of its terrible genetics. Cornwall had the cutest dogs.

We had dinner in Holywell at this pub on the beach which seemed to be family owned, because there was a girl in her early teens working there. The bathrooms were themed really weirdly – the ladies' room was themed with Young Brad Pitt and somebody else (I sadly forget) and the men's were James Bond and Churchill. Nobody you want to think about more while peeing than Churchill!

On the way back, we intended to go to Perranporth and literally drove through it without realizing we were anywhere near it. And I was like “Do you want to go back?” and mom was like “Ehhhhhhhh”. So we didn't. We just went back to the hotel, discovered that the master keys to the whole place had been left in our room, returned them, and then slept. Zzzzzz. (We also watched Gogglebox, the TV show about people watching TV. IT'S COMPELLING, GOD HELP ME)

Day 9 – We slept in a bit this day as well, for the plan was to visit Port Isaac and Tintagel: tourism capitals of Northern Cornwall.

For breakfast, we went to the County Arms, because that was the only place for which we didn't have to brave the hill (driving down the hill into town was a disturbing proposition). It was perfectly tasty, and then we took off to Port Isaac. Which, as it turns out, is relatively straightforward to get to. ...Until you miss a turn.

It's not that it necessarily gets harder to get there – you just have to turn off a little later and add 10 minutes to your trip. No, the complication is mostly the fact that when you turn down the wrong road, you end up between two narrow hedgerows, having to move aside for other cars – and then you have to drive through a creek. Not even joking, we turned a corner and suddenly there was just a creek in front of us, with a giant measuring stick next to it to indicate how deep the creek was.

Mom: “...What... what am I supposed to do?”
Me: “Drive through it?”
Mom: “...Will that be okay?”
Me: “...(Shrug)”

As it turns out, it was okay. But wow do we both regret not getting photos. A true shame.

The trouble was worth it, because Port Isaac is BEAUTIFUL. Fans of British TV would know it as Port Wenn, the town that Doc Martin takes place in, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a tourist favourite even before the show came out, because it is one of the single most stunning places I have ever been. A town on a cliffside over a bay – really incredible. There were anemones and crabs and other things out on the beach, and the town itself was really quaint. Very tourist-geared, though, and it made us feel bad for the people who had surely lived there once upon a time.

We went to a little cafe in a converted church, which was kind of funny. We had Cornish cream tea and scones with clotted cream, and that was super delicious. Dairy in Cornwall in general blows my mind. I don't even understand why it's so good.

We were in the town exploring the beach and the buildings (and getting yet more Cornish Ice Cream) for about three hours, and then we were off to Tintagel. Tintagel appears in all the tourism brochures as being King Arthur's Castle, but that's actually kind of nonsense – it's only a rumour, and some guy in the 1200's believed the rumour and thus set up his own stronghold in this highly-defensible, magnificent piece of property that literally held nothing of value. He apparently built it pretty well, because a lot of it is still standing.

He was apparently also a huge fan of stairs. Good God I am sick of stairs. Tintagel had a lot of extremely steep, tall stairs built directly in front of a cliff face. I am afraid of heights. This was unpleasant. But I survived by staring at my feet and moving like I was a toddler first learning how stairs worked.

I was rewarded by excellent views, and sheep. The sheep didn't seem to mind the heights, and were walking around keeping the grass at manageable levels, and also being adorable. I was very charmed by the sheep, but they didn't care for me and wouldn't let me near them to pet their faces.

When we tired of the sheep, we headed back to the car (via land rover, because damn it, we had walked enough) and drove back to our new hotel – because we'd had to switch over (the first place couldn't accommodate us that long) – the new hotel was much nicer than the last, but rather than having impressively good wi-fi, it had none at all. Which confuses me as a business decision, but – fine. I had data on my phone anyway!

Then we went to the County Arms, again, for the same reason – and also because they'd been advertising a Sunday Roast, but apparently people only do that for lunch, so ???

The good news, however, is that they had a PUB QUIZ going on that night! Even more exciting than a Sunday Roast. I got mom and I a question sheet and prepared for “Canadians Don't Do Pub Quizzes” to prepare for an embarrassing showing.

Impressively, we tied for fourth instead! Yeeeeeeeey. Except also WTF people, why don't you know your own current events and historical facts, because we knew no British things and scored like 30% and you should have beaten us. The guy running the quiz did say it was an unusually low scoring night, though.

On our walk back from the County Arms, I started feeling very, very, VERY unwell – and was promptly sick when we got back to the room, heralding the start of THE SICKNESS, a stomach bug that has plagued me off-and-on ever since, but seems to be getting better at an infuratingly slow pace. It's kept me from blogging, posting photos, and other important tasks for quite a while now, which sucks.

As a result of THE SICKNESS, I will be going to sleep now to prevent a relapse, despite only being at Day 9 out of the 15 days thus far (dear God) – but I will ensure that I return to the task once I am rested and relaxed.

For Day 10 begins – with the worst train journey known to man.
 
 
Current Mood: rushedrushed
 
 
taowhotravels
01 July 2015 @ 04:56 pm
Time to dust off this whole thing again! EUROTRIP 2015 IS GO.

The itinerary will take me across the southern UK, to Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France – and then back to the UK. This is going to be one hell of a couple of months.

This story begins, as most of them do, with an excessively long plane ride. We were flying Air Transat, which I overall would recommend pretty heartily. Nothing was amazing or anything – the food was just fine, the seats were just fine, the entertainment options were just fine. Nothing was horrendously bad, though, which is actually a difficult task with airlines.

I passed the time by watching Kingsman, Selma, and 101 Dalmatians, as well as making my way through a few podcasts. The weirdest thing was Kingsman, which was “edited for content” - but the only editing they did (except for removing the most iconic – albeit horribly violent – scene of the film, and leaving all the other horrible violence intact) was edit all the “fuck”s to “freak”s, “hell”s to “heck”s, as well as some other edits that left me honestly bewildered. Also, they left “tits up” in there, so... honestly, what the hell?

There were cute babies all over the plane, that provided some entertainment as well, and the father of one of the cute babies started a shouting match with a woman that made me wonder if a flight attendant was going to have to call the UK's TSA-equivalent on them. Which was honestly kind of an exciting thought.

No fun stories at customs this time- apparently Heathrow is way more bad-ass with that stuff than Gatwick. We made our way to our hotel no problem, weren't able to be checked in and had to truck our exhausted butts to a pub to eat pork loin sandwiches, and subsequently returned to our hotel, checked in, and noticed that our room was HOTTER THAN THE FIRES OF HELL. Oh my dear God. It was like 20 degrees outside and our room consistently made me think it was like 37. Other than that it was a delightful and weird room.

And then I watched a lot of Storage Hunters, because the weird UK TV I enjoyed here once upon a time seems to have been replaced by trashy US TV.

EXCEPT FOR LOVE ISLAND. Oh my God oh my God the UK did you guys find out about Temptation Island and Paradise Hotel like a decade late and decide that what they really needed to make themselves not incredibly terrible was to make a crossover of them? Well: spoiler alert, that didn't work, wow, what a terrible show you have made, UK, bravo.

Oh and also my suitcase's wheel disintegrated. On day 1. That was great. I've fixed it with cellotape for now, but we'll have to figure out something else for the long term!

We napped for a while, although the nap was kind of distracted by an extremely loud crowd of Buddhists down the street. I would not have called that it was Buddhists if I hadn't seen it. Not normally the people you hear shouting in the streets!

That night, we went to the pizza place near the hotel that I've gone to every single time I've visited this country. It's still delicious and pleasant and has boisterous Italian staff. We also grocery shopped at Tescos, something I'm sure my mother will remember forever. Her notes: booze is cheap, groceries aren't horrendously expensive, all's well.

Day 2 began with a bit of sleeping in, meaning we slept until like 9am which is when jetlagged bodies decided AWAKE WILL HAPPEN NOW so we obeyed them and went for breakfast. Breakfast was at a pub down the road that was “recommended” by the hotel staff at the time. I say “recommended” in quotes because he was like “...Well, I know they serve breakfast” rather than actually giving us a good place.

Breakfast place had an extremely cheerful and helpful server, but man the food was pretty lousy. I had the classic traditional English breakfast, and that was straightforward enough, but mom had an omelette, and to say this thing was inedible would be a bit of an understatement. Omelettes are not a thing you think of as crunchy. And yet – this was our experience.

We then wandered for a bit in hopes of finding a luggage store, which we did, but they weren't able to help us find a suitcase repair place. In fact, she seemed a bit bewildered by the idea. Do people just throw away a suitcase with a bum wheel? Such an easy fix. Sigh!

Our goal for the day was to be kind of unambitious and take a bus tour, which we did. Unfortunately it turns out the bus tour was pretty much equally unambitious. As those of you who follow this blog know, I take an awful lot of bus tours. I think about 12 or so by now. This one ranked among the bottom 3. I mean, it would take a lot for it to beat how bad Melbourne was, but Melbourne didn't seem like a City that had an awful lot to talk about. It's a city where people live more than it's a tourist hub. London has 20 MILLION TOURIST ATTRACTIONS. So how could a tour be this garbage?

The answer:

1) A prerecorded tour with filler music between voice clips. The filler music samples were only about 3 minutes long, and there were four of them. Safe to say that after 2 hours, we'd heard them enough times to drive us a bit crazy.

2) A lazy bus driver who clearly skipped parts of the routes but would just play all of the audio guide anyway, leaving us with a narrator describing a feature “on your left” but it not being there.

3) A bus driver who straight up just hits the landmark audio too early, and then just plays it again when we actually reach the landmark.

4) Just a straight up lack of interesting information. I don't feel like I learned anything, and that city is way too big and storied for that to be possible. For shame.

We then went and set up a mobile phone for me (the lady at Vodafone was adorable and DEAR GOD CELLPHONE PLANS ARE SO CHEAP HERE WHAT THE HECK) and as we were walking to the tube, I realized that I had been in that neighbourhood before.

...I had been there at a Korean restaurant with a creepy bathroom, and I NEEDED TO FIND THAT PLACE AGAIN.

The good news: It's still there. The bad news: They ripped out the ladies' washroom. The good news: the men's washroom is still there. The bad news: The ladies' washroom was STILL ripped out, so you had to use the men's, and the men's toilet literally had no toilet seat. Well it did, but it was on the floor. Upside down. ...Luckily I was in the bathroom to take pictures, and not actually to pee.

That was the end of that day, because the moment we got back to the hotel we both collapsed from sleepiness.

...and yet.

Day 3 – we woke up at 6am because damn it, our brains told us to. This turned out alright, because it meant we had time to take a 20 minute walk to breakfast, and I found a neighbourhood in London which reminds me a LOT of Astoria in Queens – which is to say, I think it's pretty much the greatest thing ever.

Appropriate to the comparison, the place we went to for breakfast was super hipstery, and they sold me a savoury french toast – it had avocados and bacon and maple syrup poured all over it. It was soooooooo tasty. As of then, the best thing I ate in this country. But that was soon to change.

For it was time to check out and head to Bath! Besides the unpleasant task of lugging a suitcase up and down stairs in the tube, the journey to Waterloo station was no big concern. We made it on to our train and whooshed on down the countryside. Mother was mesmerized by the scenery, and I have to admit: I remembered how beautiful England really was.

In Bath, we got off the train, and I had planned on walking to the hotel. It's a 15 minute walk, so I figured it would be nice and easy. Little did I know that I really need to look up the altitudes of the surrounding area before I make such plans, because it was all uphill. So much sweat. So much toil. Oh God, never again.

Watch this space for when I carry my suitcase a dumb far distance again. It'll be recorded in this blog for posterity, I'd think.

Our place to stay here is really gorgeous. It's a B&B owned by a couple called Blessing and Gibson. The real charmer of the place is their 4 and a half year old kid, though. I wish I'd seen more of him the past few days. He's a real cutie. Our room is the Ralph Allen room. Apparently Ralph Allen was a local hero who did something to do with the post office. History~

After a much needed rest and shower, after that walk up the hill, we headed in to the City to wander around. I did a quick walk and felt pretty much re-oriented after the two-hour sleep-deprived visit I'd made years ago. Turns out the southern half of Bath is basically a giant mall. It kind of shattered my illusion.

In order to find some food for dinner, I googled “dinner”, and it actually totally worked. We found a little gastropub which was completely empty, but wandered in, putting our faith in Google, and WHOA WAS IT GOOD. So good that we spent the whole meal talking about how good it was. So good that we bonded with the next people who came in by giving them menu suggestions because my God was it tasty. It's called Gascoyne Place. I have literally forgotten the name of it like 8 times since I first tried to remember it, so I think they need a better name so more people go there.

Then it was time to come back and sleep. It's been a busy few days, and it wasn't about to slow down yet.

Day 4, 7:30am. We wake up because Blessing makes breakfasts in the morning, so the latest we can be up and running is 9am. Besides, there was a free walking tour to go to, and you don't say no to free. We had a tasty fry-up and took off into town.

We met our walking tour by the Baths. Our guide was Audrey, an old lady who's lived in Bath since 1969 and almost made the whole way through the tour without tipping us off as to the fact that she is tragically racist. Word to the wise, Audrey: if you take the side of the British colonialists, you at the very least cannot claim the moral high ground.

She was extremely informative and an excellent tour guide in all other ways despite the blatant racism, though, and I kind of let her have a pass for being like 80 years old. I ain't gonna change that racist old lady. I'm just glad she's not doing a tour of any place that was colonized less than 500 years ago.

The walking tour pretty much broke my body, so we had a seat so I could try to look up a restaurant. It took forever. Bath – what's with your garbage mobile signal? Mom busied herself by making a new friend from the south of Wales, who was waiting around outside the abbey where her grandson was graduating.

Oh man I forgot to mention the graduates. I have seen LOTS OF PEOPLE IN ROBES. Turns out that Bath University students are all graduating this week, so we've been seeing them around ever since.

Anyway, we found an authentic pub to have food in. Mom ordered nachos, I ordered a boar burger. 1 guess as to whose food was better. No, I don't know what she was thinking ordering nachos. What country does she think this is? Honestly. Although they weren't terrible. They just had a really strong cheddar on them.

We wandered the city after that, but I was getting pretty exhausted (IT'S SO HOT HERE - more on that later) and was looking for an excuse to sit down. So when I saw that we could go on a boat tour, that was pretty much exactly what I wanted. We went down to the bank of the River Avon (1 of 9 River Avons!) and took a boat up it. That is one smelly river. Full of shopping carts. I would not have pegged it as a particularly healthy river but the FISH WERE EVERYWHERE. So many fish. And weird, neon blue dragonflies. And technically we had a guide, but mom and I were hiding downstairs in the covered area of the boat because the sun hates pale people, so we couldn't really understand him. He seemed friendly, and completely bored by his job. He was alright.

After that, we figured we'd done enough with our day and headed home to the B&B. We walked into our room, and... literally all our stuff had been moved. The room was set up as if nobody was staying there, except two suitcases were shoved neatly into a corner. All of our stuff had been put in drawers, and under the desk, and in the cupboard, and the bathroom storage – anywhere it had to go to look neat and tidy.

...If you know me, you probably know that this made me EXPLODE WITH ANXIETY. I do not like people touching my stuff! And I couldn't find it all! And AAAAAGHHH WHERE IS IT WHERE WHERE WHERE OH MY GOD ohthereitis WHY DID THEY PUT IT BEHIND THE CURTAIN.

And then Kat and her mother showed up, having driven all the way down from Port Talbot for dinner! They took us in to town, and after some wandering to a restaurant that had been recommended to us the night before (it was full, damn graduates) we got directed to a restaurant called The Chequers. Yet again it was SO SO GOOD. Bath is really impressing with the food. It was unbelievably generous of Kat and her mom to have us out for such a treat. The food was outstanding, and we ended up stuffed to the gills.

We wandered back to the B&B after that, and were pretty much straight into bed. Breakfast wakeups means nobody gets enough sleep.

Day 5 – awaken early, because – well, we knew how hot it was going to be.

Here's the update on today.

It was 35 degrees.

It was humid as hell. (I assume Hell has to be a wet heat, dry heats just aren't as bad)

Luckily, the heat didn't hit until after we'd already made it out and into the Roman Baths. The titular baths – they were pretty amazing. Nothing like engineering 2,000 years old still being fully functioning to make two people who work (or worked) in development consulting wonder how the hell there are so many structural flaws in buildings today. We learned all about old water from an oddly nervous tour guide and an irritating audio guides. Man do I hate audio guides.

At the end of the tour was a fountain where you could drink the water from the hot springs. I drank some, though mother didn't. Later, I tried to describe the taste to her, which resulted in this classic exchange:

“It was almost sour.”
“Could have been the Lyme.”

She wasn't even trying to make a pun.

After that, we left the baths, which were filled with 46 degree waters and yet were still INFINITELY LESS HOT THAN THE OUTDOORS.

WE WERE NOT PREPARED.

We ran some errands and then found a deli for lunch. I was hoping a sandwich and salad would be refreshing, but salad wilts in the heat. Somehow eating wilted greens just made me hotter. It was so hot, the guy who owned the shop told us he was normally so busy at lunch that people lined up out the door. Seemed like he would have to throw away a bunch of good food today. Pretty tragic.

After that, we went to the free art gallery. Because they had air conditioning. It was free, so I can't complain about much. But I still don't get art even one bit.

Then we came home to collapse and just – not be unbearably hot for a while. It was great. Then we went back out!

We went to a restaurant called SalaThai, which made me laugh because it was called the same thing as the boyfriend unit's favourite restaurant back home. Let me tell you, this one is not as good. The appetizers showed a Scottish bent. Which is to say – they were all deep fried. The main was pretty tasty, though. Can't help thinking if we had ordered a curry or something instead of the appetizer platter, it'd have been better. As it was: MEDIOCRE!

And then we went to the bus station, where we caught the 14, which the B&B's website says is a way to get back up here, but – it went clear in the other direction, and nowhere near here. LUCKILY ALL BUSSES HERE ARE ON A LOOP HAHA.

Seriously though I'm glad we didn't end up in Bristol.

45 minutes later, we were on track, back to the B&B.

Oh – and yes, they'd moved all our stuff again today. At least today I was emotionally prepared for it.

Now I am finally done this blog, and it's almost 1am. THIS IS WHAT I DO FOR MY ADORING FANS.

Which is to say: the dozen or so of you who care.

<3 U

Now I will sleep.

UNTIL NEXT TIME.

ONWARD TO CORNWALL.
 
 
Current Mood: busy
 
 
taowhotravels
19 July 2014 @ 05:07 am
Well, I missed a week of updates again, what a jerk. And it was the last week! Well, let me catch you up.

SATURDAY

11am, James wakes me up. "Wake up, Taobo. It is time for awakening." So I grumble. And he says "Also, Cammie's going to be here in 30 minutes."

Well! I pulled myself up out of bed so I could be showered and presentable when Cammie arrived. But I could not journey with them to pick up a new laptop, for I had a very important skype call to make for Joël's birthday! I sat in on his birthday dinner and when Cammie, James, and Mist returned we all watched him open his presents, which included such exciting items such as several jars of salsa and an umbrella. Also, my dad kept saying hello to James. Exclusively to James. Nevermind that there were 5 people on the webcam! But it's okay, because it was kind of hilarious.

When the Skype call was over, we packed up and went out for lunch to Cammie. We went to Nando's, which I guess is actually a thing over in Vancouver now (it wasn't last time I went) but I've still only had it in Australia. It was pretty delicious. And James explained to us all that his niece Sienna calls chips (as in fries, not potato chips aka crisps) "chippy nice". Thus I shall now call them "chippy nice" forever. You will too.

Back home, we say goodbye to Cammie after talking to her for a while, and then there is some gaming and loitering before we head out for our night of debauchery!

Our goal: the St. Kilda area, where there is a restaurant named Radio Mexico. Yes, another mexican restaurant. Bonus: this restaurant isn't Tex Mex. It's authentic Mexican. And damn, it was DELICIOUS. We met James' work buddies Dani and David Delfonso (I say his last name because James always referred to him by it) and Dani's boyfriend Jaoquin. The food was, again, SO DAMN DELICIOUS, but incredibly expensive. Partially because I also had a drink, and drinks were $20. Apparently that's not unusual here. Terrifying. How do you have a reputation as drunks, Australians? How can you AFFORD that? ...Is it because you travel to other places where the booze is cheaper and overdo it?

We spent most of the meal listening to tales from James' office (product of having 50% of the table work at the same place). It was fun to get the office gossip. We then continued on to a bar, where the drinks were again $20 (but super tasty) and played "spot the leopard print", because there were a ton of people in there with leopard print clothes on. At least 6, by my count. The winner of course was the guy in the suit that started dark blue at the bottom, went all the way up to a leopard print at the shoulders, and was worn with a toque coloured like a rocket popsicle. He looked RIDICULOUS.

Then it was back to home. We stayed up stupidly late again. It was fun times.

SUNDAY

Woke up! James made bagels with eggs and bacon and pickles again. It was delicious, and both Mist and I messed up and made our bagels wrong, so we ate two bagel tops at once and two bagel bottoms at once. Whoops.

Then, we totally slacked. Games, writing, music, hanging out. We went for burgers for dinner and it was grand. I got a cider. I dropped it and spilled it everywhere. My gloves now reek of booze. I have yet to wash them.

Then we got frozen yogurt and made friends with a delightful lady from Spain who was studying in Melbourne. She was the cutest lady, and wasn't quite sure how to end a conversation. But I liked her much. Mist and James now need to make friends with her.

MONDAY

Also a slack day. Spent all day talking to my friends online, like I would if I were at home. But damn it, I like talking to them. Then my friends came home, and we went for Chinese food for dinner. It was kind of weird because we walked in and there was no staff out front at all. We had to wait like 5 minutes for them to come out. And then the dishes came out one at a time, so we were almost done the first one by the time the next one came out, and so on. So when we got to the last dish we were all too full to eat much of it. We took it home.

Then we went to the grocery store to get ice cream bars. The grocery store smelled GOD AWFUL. But the ice cream bars were delicious. Well- the strawberry ones were.

TUESDAY

Up and at them! Today's goal was the art museum I'd skipped out on the week before. I was kind of glad I skipped out on it, the botanical gardens were way more impressive. Only one floor of the museum was open, and it contained the following:

a) Feathered, multi-coloured models of polar bears in various poses (wtf)
b) Some illustrations from a classic bible (pretty cool)
c) A hall of video screens of random objects making similar noises, because avant-garde modern video art why not (wtf)
d) a collection of Italian Masterpieces on loan from the Spanish Royal Family (cool. $26. cool.)

The nice part was that I arrived just in time to join a free tour of the Italian Masterpiece collection. It was run by this nice older lady who forgot she was mic'd when the tour started and started complaining to her coworker about her boss, prompting many of us to laugh. It turned out to be that kind of tour. If I'd paid for it I'd probably have been mad, because a lot of her explanations were kind of rambly and prefaced by "I might be wrong, but I did read this in a book" so she actively destroyed her credibility half the time.

But she'd already won me over by the time she started out the tour by explaining her biases; namely that she was raised in a branch of Christianity who didn't give a flying fuck about this kind of art and would probably find it sinful, and also that she was a feminist and the church are assholes to women, so she'd probably be pointing out instances of that which were immortalized in the art. A+ statement of purpose.

So we walked around, and she explained a lot of the paintings to us, though she mostly stuck to the paintings that involved dirty/scandalous stories. She was hilarious.

The exhibition actually wasn't very big, though, so I grabbed another hot chocolate at the museum café before heading back to the apartment to meet up with Mist so we could go BACK into the City and meet Foxy and his husband Rohan for dinner. We met up with them (Rohan is even taller than Foxy, dear God) and walked through creepy back alleys again to find an Italian restaurant, tucked away.

The food was soooo tasty, and we had a ton of fun talking about old times online, differences between Canada and Australia, and the Dragon Age tabletop RP Foxy is setting up. But he distracted me early on by pointing out that our waiter looked like an evil magician. It was horrible because he was right, and it was hard not to laugh every time the waiter showed up. And then he had a really thick mobster-style Italian accent, which only helped with that first impression. I'm sorry, waiter guy, for snickering every time you walked away. It's not your fault. Although seriously reconsider your facial hair.

Mist and I got a ride home to rejoin James, who had gone out for dinner and a movie on his own, and therefore sadly didn't join us! He reports that the new Planet of the Apes movie is an enjoyable monkey-war film.

WEDNESDAY

My last day. The saddest day!

Foxy had the day off, so while Mist and James were at work I headed down to his neighbourhood - close geographically, a goddamn lifetime away by tram. ...A slight exaggeration, it was an hour and a bit away. We walked into his neighbourhood to grab something to eat and ended up having meat pies and milkshakes at the local bakery. He told me all about his trip to the US and Mexico about 10 years ago, and when we were done we brought our plates and glasses in and the woman gave us cookies as a thank you gift. Except she called them 'bikkies'. What a sweetheart.

Then we went to the grocery store and picked up some Big Ms, which Foxy insisted I try. They're basically a chocolate milkshake in a box, so we doubled-down on the milkshakes. And then we went back to his place and I had a tour, met Theo and Beau (his two extremely cute, extremely nervous cats) and saw all of the awesome stuff he and Rohan have in their apartment. My God, they have the coolest stuff in their apartment. If I lived in Melbourne I would just be borrowing books and DVDs all the time.

When Rohan got home we all sat down and watched the pilot episode of The Strain together. It's an FX show based off of a series of books by Guillermo Del Toro that I've never even heard of, but Foxy is a huge fan and it seems like Rohan has been dragged into it along with him. They both seemed impressed by the first episode. I know I was. Makes me want to pick up the books, and I'll track down the TV show here, too.

After the show I had to run off, because I had to get back home for dinner with Mist and James! As soon as I got back we ran off to pancake parlour. I admit I was dubious about the idea of pancakes for dinner, but THERE WERE NO REGRETS. Mist and I both ordered the country chicken, which was a chicken cutlet stuffed with cheese and ham, on top of a pancake, served with fries and potato wedges. It was ONE OF THE MOST DELICIOUS THINGS I HAVE EVER EATEN. Truly worthy of a farewell meal.

Then we went back home, played Pandemic (and lost, horribly, on the easiest difficulty setting. Ouch.), watched Terminator 2, and when James went to bed Mist and I played the first bit of Shadow of the Colossus, because Tom had been talking about it with me, and it made me want to play it. And- wow, the controls really are clumsy. I didn't remember them being that bad. I still love so much about that game but defeating the first colossus was really difficult for me for some reason.

Then it was bedtime. For Mist. Because instead I stayed up and planted post-it notes with doodles all around her house (something I'd been doing since Monday, actually, and I'd planted a goodbye letter on Tuesday night) so they'd have things to remember me by after I left.

THURSDAY

INTERMINABLE THURSDAY

Mist and I woke up bright and early, got ready, I packed, and we drove the long, long drive to the airport in peak hour traffic. When we got there, Air New Zealand's computer systems were down, delaying us further. We'd hoped to have breakfast together but it didn't happen. 8( We said goodbye at the security gates and I headed out. Sads.

The plane flights were pretty uneventful. I watched more of the Carrie Diaries, and Divergent (what a stupid movie) and Rio 2, and played about 5 hours of Fire Emblem, and slept for the rest of the time. The food was decent, the seats were fairly comfortable. I'd totally recommend Air New Zealand, and it helps that they were by far my cheapest option for a flight.

Now I am home again. That's nice, because I missed everybody here. But I'm also sad, and now I have to do all those responsible things, like learn to drive a car and go to my credit union and rearrange all my accounts because they've changed all the account rules while I was away and are brutalizing me with fees. Jerks.

But I'll be back, Australia. Mark my words. ...Maybe I could be slightly less allergic to you next time, please? One thing that's nice about coming home: being able to breathe properly.
 
 
Current Mood: melancholymelancholy
 
 
taowhotravels
11 July 2014 @ 09:46 am
I want to capture an image of today before it gets too far out of mind, so let me tell you a thing about how cool today was. And by a thing, I mean numerous things.

FRIDAY

Day started off nice, woke up, downloaded all the podcasts I realized I'd been neglecting to download for about 3 weeks, listened to one of them while I microwaved up some leftover tasty pasta chicken I made the night before, and then rocked off to the art gallery, I was planning.

But then I was on the tram.

And it was beautiful out.

I mean it was REALLY gorgeous out.

And I was like "I CAN'T SPEND THE AFTERNOON INSIDE THIS GALLERY"

So I got off at the Botanical Gardens instead, because goddamn it, spontaneity.

To get to the gardens from the tram stop I was at you have to walk past this giant monolithic shrine of remembrance, because goddamn, Australia takes WW2 seriously like nobody I have ever seen, except for maybe America. Maybe. So I'm walking past this shrine, snapping some pics, because it's cool, and this tiny lady with a (fairly light) accent stops me.

"Excuse me, could you please take a picture of me?"

So I did. And then

"Would you like me to take a picture of you too?"
"Oh - uhm - yeah, sure! I travel alone a lot so I don't get a lot of pictures of myself."
"Oh, me too!"
"Where are you travelling from?"
"Thailand."
"Oh cool, I'm from Vancouver."
"OH MY GOD. Canada!? Canada!? You came so far! That's too far!"
"...Well it's not as if Thailand is next door."
"Only 9 hours! That's nothing!"
"...Well admittedly the flight is 20 hours but trust me we are both far away from home."

And then we bonded over the fact that she thought it was goddamn freezing whereas I didn't even have my coat done up, but we both agreed that I would probably die in Thailand at any time of year, and then we talked about how HOLY GOD AUSTRALIA IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE PLACE and even London was less expensive, and then she said she was going to be moving to Montreal, in fucking DECEMBER, and I was like "AND YOU THINK THIS IS COLD HAHAHAHA I AM SO SORRY." And we talked til we walked up to the botanical garden and she introduced herself as Ki, or maybe Qi, and I introduced myself by my name she probably couldn't pronounce either, and it was nice, because I had a nice interaction with a stranger I may well never meet again. Strangers~

So then I went through the botanic gardens. I don't know what all to say about them. They were large and contained a lot of cool looking plants that I wanted to touch but knew better than to. Unless they said specifically that they were from America and then I touched them, because I figured that'd probably be safer than anything Australian. Even though they were cacti for the most part. Hurr hurr. Australia.

Also, Melbourne, those birds that you have hanging around, that I've yet to actually see, but hang out by water and sound like the price check beep at the supermarket? Yeah those. I HATE THEM. They are the most annoying birds I have ever heard. I hate them a lot.

So yeah. I hung around, I listened to a mom yell at her kid for no reason and was disproportionately angry at her for her lack of listening to her kid's totally reasonable explanations. I was amused by the fact that the drinking fountains always seemed to be placed next to a cactus. I got kind of lost in the garden, checked my cellphone, realized it was 30 minutes later than I thought it was, and went "OH CRAP".

Cue a hurried exit from the garden and rushing downtown, because I had to meet Jess! Her dad is the national news director for a media company here in Australia and we arranged a tour for the radio station he's based out of, so I was super excited. I somehow got there right on time, too.

It was a really cool tour. I met a lot of reporters and watched the live on-air afternoon show (they had three producers running the booth, intense) and learned what kind of software they're using down here (generally a way more upgraded version of what we've got) and listened to live news breaking from the Brisbane news room. I had a discussion with one of the reporters about how radio hadn't been a dying medium, but maybe now it finally was, who knew how it was going to fall apart in the end, and he was like "...well! I'm retiring, at least I don't need to worry about that." I approve of that guy's attitude. Yeah bro, leave the mysterious future landscape to me. It made me laugh.

After the tour, Jess and I made our way to Emporium, where we were meeting everybody before we went to dinner. We decided to get into the line for custom Magnum ice cream bars at 5:25pm. I figured it was the perfect timing, considering I was anticipating people at 5:50pm. WELL THEY SHOWED UP AT 6:05pm AND THE TIMING WAS STILL PERFECT. And then we got ice cream and it was delicious and we were like "well that was the perfect thing to fill ourselves up on before we go for all you can eat dumplings HAHAHAno."

Thus Mist, James, Prof, and Jess and I took off for Shanghai Dumpling House, unfortunately leaving Foxy behind because of a family emergency! The only thing I knew about this place (from Foxy's description) was: a) the food is delicious, b) the service is GOD AWFUL, and c) no really, the service is the worst thing.

Surprisingly, the service wasn't that bad at all. Uhm. Well. Unless you count the absolute lack of communication. It went like so.

(Walk in door - gesture to person setting tables that we have 5 people)

(Person I gestured to walks away)

(Another person walks over, points us upstairs)

"Upstairs."

(Okay then! We go upstairs. They find us a table. We are handed an All You Can Eat/drinks menu)

(We wait, three of us decide we want beers)

(Waiter comes by)

"Could I get a beer?"
"One beer?" (Goes to leave immediately, taking the menu)
"Three please."
"Okay, two." (Holding up three fingers)
"...Did he just say two and hold up three fingers?"
"Wait. Did he just take the menu?"
"Oh, I think upstairs is All You Can Eat only."
"But how can we do this without ordering?"

(Beers are served)

"This beer tastes...strange."
"...Almost like metal? Heavy metal?"

(Label: Brewed in China)

"Welp, guess we don't need to eat Tuna for the next 9 years."

(Waitress shoves a plate of dumplings in front of James, muttering quietly of their contents)

"Uhm we didn't-"

(Waiter puts a pile of spring rolls in front of me)

"...Are they just bringing us everything on that menu?"

(Suddenly, Whitney Houston BLASTS into the room)

"AND IIIIIIIIIII-IIIIIIIIIIII-IIIIIIIIII WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOUUUUUUUUUUUU"
"JESUS FUCK THAT IS LOUD."

(Pile after pile after pile of food put in front of us)

"...I'm already getting full..."
"...Are...are they going to stop?"
"Only when we tell them to stop, I think."
"Uhm..."

(Somebody across the restaurant is discovered to be having a birthday. The music stops dead)

"Oh, they're having a birthday- are they going to sing for them?"

(Music starts up)

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOOOO YOUUUUU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOOOOOO YOUUUUU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOOOOOOOOOOO YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU"
"I THINK I'M DEAF"

(Michael Jackson plays on the stereo - still too loud)
(More food)
(Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" comes on)

"WHAT DECADE ARE WE IN"

(Applause from other side of the restaurant)

"What- is that woman having a birthday too?"
"Did they finish their endless piles of food?"
"...No, she's singing along."
"Is she... doing sign language?"
"IS SHE DOING A DRAMATIC RENDITION OF MY HEART WILL GO ON IN SIGN LANGUAGE"

(Her and her table-mate stand up on their chairs and do the standing-on-the-end-of-the-boat-pose as the music plays out)

(APPLAUSE FROM WHOLE RESTAURANT)

"Well that was magnificent."

(Other music starts up)

"Oh boy, what now!?"

(Other music cuts out)

"Oh, what- booo"
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOOOO YOUUUUU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOOOOOO YOUUUUU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOOOOOOOOOOO YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU"
"OW JESUS."

(Loud Michael Jackson)

"...Is it looping?"

(Celine Dion again)

"...I think it's looping."

(Meanwhile, piles more food happened, including delicious fried rice and completely incompetently consumed soup dumplings - why did you trust a bunch of white kids with those beautiful dumplings, they were wasted on us)

"So... full..."

(Waitress brings food, muttering of its contents once again)

"Oh, no thanks."

(Waitress takes food away)

"...WAIT HAVE THEY BEEN ASKING US WHETHER OR NOT WE WANTED THE FOOD THEY WERE BRINGING THIS WHOLE TIME? I THOUGHT THEY WERE JUST TELLING US WHAT IT WAS."

(Thus, we stopped eating food)

(Bill arrives, a handwritten scribble, with the price on the top and a breakdown underneath with no itemization)

"WELL THAT SEEMS PAR FOR THE COURSE"

And thus we exited that bizarre little dumpling house located in the sketchy back alley, thoroughly amused by our experience. Seriously I was laughing to the point of tears through half of it. And we were horrendously full. And then we didn't want to rush off, so:

"Want to go for a coffee or something?"
"Max Brenner!? Max Brenner!?" (That was Mist, in case you couldn't tell)

So, full of ice cream and dumplings, we went for hot chocolates. The best plan. As we walked, all of them huddled up, pulling their jackets closed, bundling their scarves tighter, complaining of the cold. And I was walking around with my jacket undone and scarf looped loosely and just held out my arms to let the wind catch my jacket and laughed mockingly. Hey- yes, I'm being a jerk, but I don't have many chances to brag about winters, coming from mild-winter land.

Turns out Max Brenner is incredibly busy at this time of year, so it was time to take advantage of their patio seating. Now- walking around, I was okay with the arctic wind, but sitting down, as much as I was still one of the most comfortable ones, I wasn't so smug. It was damn cold, and also windy. Still, we settled in out there, got our hot chocolates and other beverages and sipped them in incredibly windy conditions. The worst part was my hair kept almost getting in my chai tea. Gross.

Max Brenner done! TIME TO KILL TIME AT A GIANT DAISO. Running through the aisles, looking at all the random crap, inexplicable Engrish, and buying GIANT GLOW STICKS because why not. This is how I ended up dancing down the street with a huge green glow stick as we all walked to our various methods of transportation.

Then we split up, hugged Prof goodbye, and drove Jess to her car and followed her to her house, because she had cupcakes for us. And because we went there I got to see Alfie again, and his sister, Ruby! For those of you who don't know Alfie, he's Jess' dog. When I was staying with her, 6 whole years ago, she brought him home for the first time, so I have lots of memories of him as a wee fluffy puppy. He is much more chill now and less prone to peeing everywhere.

Then off we came home, to collapse. Or- more like - to stay up, drop dry ice into the kitchen sink, and then write this incredibly long journal until... is... is it 3 in the morning?

Uh oh.

Goodnight everybody!
 
 
Current Mood: gigglygiggly
 
 
taowhotravels
10 July 2014 @ 03:10 am
Well that's awkward. I didn't think it had been so long since I updated, but so it has been, so it has. Where were we...?

FRIDAY

We went over to Cammie and Joel's for hot dogs and pasta salad and potato salad and other delicious things. We also watched Team America. It has been a while since I last saw Team America. That movie remains as ridiculous as I remembered it. We then watched Dinosaurs, which I remembered absolutely frickin' hating as a kid, and it didn't blow me away with its greatness. I will say that I totally don't remember it being incredibly dark (it is) - I guess that part flew over my head when I was young.

When we returned to the house we hung out and Mist and I ended up staying up until like 2am again. We all anticipated sleeping in the next day, despite wanting to go to the zoo.

SATURDAY

We woke up at 10am, a perfectly reasonable hour. We were all vaguely confused as to why we were all awake. But, more to the point, the weather outside was super gross. We all glared out the window, and decided mutually that the zoo was a bad idea. We decided instead to go to the mall, for Mist was in need of new shoes, and exploring a strange mall is always funtimes.

Thus, we went to the mall! I got a frickin' delicious burrito, James got into an argument with a woman in line at KFC, Mist bought two new pairs of shoes for under $70, and I bought them a set of glasses to replace the glass I shattered dramatically (twice). Replacing one glass with 12, it turns out, is overkill. Having said that, these glasses are really cool. The bottom of them is coloured, which means everything you drink in them looks wrong. It is kind of hilarious, also makes me wonder "what were they even thinking when they made these". But James is fond of them, so JOB DONE. Woohoo!

Back home we came. We got mexican food! Again. I have had a lot of mexican food here. It's weird. You can see unappetizing pictures of the absolutely delicious mexican food on my Facebook.

WHAT A WASTE OF THE DAY

On to...

SUNDAY

Were we even lazier on Sunday? ...Yep. Yep. I can't remember us doing anything but going for brunch at Edna's Cafe (delicious, I got Shakshouka) and then hanging out playing video games and talking on our computers. THAT'S JUST WHAT WE LIKE TO DO, OKAY. And the weather was still gross.

MONDAY

Okay this day was BEAAAAAAAAAAAAUTIFUL. Like- wow, it went from absolute garbagiest of garbages Saturday and Sunday to a Monday so beautiful you could almost convince me it was summer here, except summer here is a never-ending parade of sunburns and suffering. Suffice to say: it was warm, it was sunny, I was very happy.

I'd been looking up tourist traps the night before, trying to decide where to go, and ended up coming across a place called Rippon Lea house. I was like "oh hey, Rippon Lea station is the next station over, I wonder if that's far" NOPE it was like 10 blocks away. So that made the decision easy. I slept in and walked over there in the afternoon.

The house itself was set up like an exhibition, all about wedding dresses. It wasn't particularly exciting, especially because most of the dresses weren't real dresses used in real weddings but ones built as costumes. Much less interesting, except that I learned that apparently Helena Bonham Carter is the TINIEST woman EVER, because man they had two dresses she wore and they were both very tiny.

But no. The thing you need to know about Rippon Lea house is that the gardens surrounding it are AMAZING. It wasn't even that there were amazing flowers or whatever, because it's winter, not a whole lot was in bloom, it wasn't very exciting on that front. But like- from the point of design, it was just incredible. There were little stone staircases everywhere and a ton of tiny paths to small clearings and long, looping paths to nowhere and bridges and a cave under a waterfall and little frog ponds around a corner you barely notice and some paths where you have to duck under branches and- yes. It is difficult to describe how it made me feel like a kid, wandering that garden. I seriously envy anybody who gets to go there as a kid because it feels like the perfect place to explore and play imaginary games or even just play tag or whatever. It was awesome. It even had a lookout tower, and a spooky old windmill!

In short, I spent about an hour and a half in the garden, went in the house for 20 minutes, and then was like "Forget this! I only have another hour to explore the garden some more!" and ran back outside. And it was warm, and delightful, and that garden is the coolest.

Then I came back to the house and we went to Red Rooster to get dinner, because I mentioned I hadn't had pineapple fritters before and James was like "WE SHALL RESOLVE THIS" and thus we did. And it was great. They are goddamn delicious. I am sure I've gained like 10 pounds on this trip.

TUESDAY

Tuesday was the last day in the forseeable weather forecast with nice weather, so you know what that means. ZOOO DAAAAY.

I think that my photos will probably illustrate zoo day better than a story, but here's a few things to say:

I admire the Melbourne zoo's willingness to have open enclosures for animals like the emus, lemurs, and kangaroos. I question how good of an idea they are, given the numerous kids I saw running full pelt at the animals to hug them or pet them, who were only narrowly saved from getting scratched up.

To the kid who was genuinely mournful that the animals on exhibit weren't taxidermy specimens: I fear you, and wish you good luck in your future career at the Melbourne Museum, because you're clearly destined for one.

To the kids who were discussing Pichu, Pikachu, and Raichu, in terms of real-world trade value based on a combination of statistical and aesthetic appeal: never change.

To the people in the butterfly house: IF YOU WANT THE BUTTERFLIES TO LAND ON YOU, HOLD STILL. CHASING THEM AND TRYING TO CATCH THEM OUT OF THE AIR WITH YOUR HANDS JUST MAKES YOU A JACKASS WHO'S PROBABLY GOING TO MURDER SOME RARE BUTTERFLIES. YOU SHOULD BE BANNED FROM EVERY GAME.

To the multiple people watching the Tapir swim: No, seriously, that's not a donkey. It's a goddamn tapir. Have you ever seen a donkey? Why do you not bother to read the sign in front of you?

To the mom in front of the echidna enclosure: Don't just tell your kids that's a hedgehog in the enclosure. That is clearly not a goddamn hedgehog. It's an echidna. Why is a Canadian telling you a bunch of facts about echidnas she learned about on PBS when she was a pre-teen. Learn about your country's awesome animals.

Dear kids in front of the mandrill enclosure: damn straight you should correct strangers who misidentify a mandrill as a spider monkey. They are way off. You perpetuate that knowledge, kids.

Dear Melbourne Zoo: It totally doesn't count as closing at 5pm if all the exhibits close at 4pm and you kick everyone out by 4:30. Closing time doesn't usually mean the time of the night that the staff gets to go home.

That's all my zoo notes, I think. It remains a pretty great zoo. Highlights as always: meerkats, those paranoid little sons of bitches, and also orangutans, who never want to stop putting things on their heads, and throw temper tantrums which mean they swing all the way across their enclosure, get a drink of water, swing all the way back, and spit it at their keepers. That was - the best. You go, orangutans. Fuck those guys.

Then we went for vietnamese food with Jess. It was DELICIOUSSSSS.

WEDNESDAY

Wednesday was not beautiful. Monday and Tuesday had set me up with false expectations. The outdoors was all rainy and gross again. It was lame. But, luckily, I had anticipated this turn of events! I decided to take the one suggestion the bus tour I took made that didn't sound like the worst idea ever. I went to see a movie on...

THE THIRD LARGEST SCREEN IN THE WORRRRRLD.

I have no idea where the 2nd largest screen is, but apparently the largest screen is also in Australia. In Sydney. But back to THE THIRD LARGEST SCREEN IN THE WORRRRRLD.

It's at the Melbourne Museum IMAX. And they were showing How to Train Your Dragon 2. Which I really wanted to see! All the better that it is on an impractically large screen. How impractically large? 7 fucking storeys tall, large. It is ludicrous and completely unnecessary. But it was kind of nice to see a movie play out across my entire field of vision.

As far as the movie goes, a) it was the first one I've been to in a theatre on my own, which was pretty cool, b) it is a decent movie, although not as good as the first, and c) I don't think the parents in the theatre anticipated how sad it was going to be. I'm not going to spoil anything, but when a certain thing happened, they were lingering on it, and I was sitting there in a theatre with hundreds of kids going "ohhhhh dear". Sure enough, I saw parents leaning over and hugging their kids, and one girl behind me asked, with some level of horror "what just happened...?" Way to traumatize some kids, Dreamworks. MAKE THEM CONFRONT THE DIFFICULT ISSUES THROUGH FICTION.

Then for dinner we had mexican food again. What can I say. It was tasty, and apparently Italian and Mexican are the big cuisines in this area. Besides bagels. 'Cause- Jewish neighbourhood.

THURSDAY

I hid inside from the POURING rain, after going out for a delicious lamb burger. Also, I cooked dinner again. Baked pasta with lots of cheese and chicken. Deliciousness.

The plan for this weekend is a big group dinner with all online friends tomorrow, and dinner and drinks with James' friend on Saturday- and on Sunday, maybe seeing Cammie again!

You guys, I leave in a week! I am the most sad about this. The most sad.
 
 
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