Thursday, October 28, 2004

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now.

We got back last night from several days in Cornwall. I proceeded to stay up way too late, after lots of motorway driving and coffee, to write a job application… it's done, but really not my best work. I hope the inevitable stupid mistakes are forgivable ones.

The extra long weekend started with a heartfelt warm welcome from second- (or is it third?) cousins-twice-removed and later, much drawing of family trees. This site has a map of the Lizard Peninsula which shows Gillan, where we stayed with Aud.

Tubby the West Highland terrier was sweet company in the absence of Elvis and Mia-belle. We went for walks along the coastal path, which Tubby tended to lead from well behind for the first 20 minutes or so, when he would suddenly build up to explosive, joyous speed. In literally every direction it is a postcard view: sailing boats in harbour or stranded well up on dry land at low tide, and picture book farms with patchwork fields and black & white cows, autumn colours in the trees. Actually it's nice to enjoy an Autumn without the Winter hanging over me! I fell in love with the Scots pines - will try to find a suitable picture to show you what I mean. My favourite activity was sloshing around in Gillan Creek at low tide in Aud's knee high gumboots.

Western Cornwall was just as incredibly beautiful and quaint as last time, and I saw a bit more of it, including a tour of the Lizard Peninsula on Sunday, stopping at Kynance cove and Cadgwith, one of several tiny little fishing villages perched on the edge of the sea. This was in the afternoon, following a huge feast at the golf club with the cousins (two different vegetarian options, both delicious. Yes I tried them both. And steamed chocolate pudding).

I was fascinated with the hedges and the beautiful gnarled windblown trees growing out of them. Many of the roads are very narrow winding lanes walled by thick hedges, room for one car only, with foot hovering over the brake at all times.

Another trip on Monday, further west, first to Penlee House Gallery in Penzance – a nicely sized gallery of various Cornish art, just the right number of paintings to take in in one go – going on to Land's End, great views if you avoid the tacky tourist centre/amusement park, and then the charming town of St Ives for a Cornish pasty and to rub shoulders with many tourists from the north of England down for half-term break.

A quiet day on Tuesday with another walk and some reading of Daphne du Maurier (Cornish of couse!).

Yesterday we drove home in rain and howling wind. The weather settled down a bit outside Cornwall but it was still raining and windy at times. We drove through Bristol so I could see the area where Dad was born, and check out the impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge. (but I didn't see as much water under it as in that picture) A drive through the city centre and then on to Bath for a couple of hours of wandering around the town. I didn't go into the Roman Baths, for £9 I would have wanted to spend a long time in there! Next time maybe. I did peek into the Assembly Rooms where Austen set her society balls. Although it was rainy and late afternoon, I thought the town centre of Bath was beautiful. Higlights included the abbey and the Pulteney Bridge with buildings along it, reminding me a little of old town Edinburgh. The 'Bath stone' from which most of the buildings are constructed is a warm creamy colour and even after dark, it glowed in the streetlights. A short but very memorable visit.

Friday, October 22, 2004

West End Girl

I have discovered the joy of cheap standby theatre tickets. Yesterday We Will Rock You was sold out – I suspect I'll have the chance to see it in Australia anyway - so I grabbed a ticket to Les Miserables instead. My seat was pretty good, in the Dress Gallery (one level above the stage) and a little to the side. I already knew most of the songs and the basic storyline, but I think I was expecting to find more storyline in it, upon finally seeing the whole musical. In the way that musicals sometimes do, it seemed a bit disjointed, and some parts were a bit slow. That said, I did enjoy it, especially the big numbers like Do you hear the people sing, and Master of the house. The cast were excellent, and the costumes and set design were fantastic.

When I saw Phantom of the Opera in Melbourne (wow, I just realised that was twelve years ago), we were in the top tier of seats, waaaaay above the stage, and in the foyer we hired opera glasses so that we could see the costumes and facial expressions. West End theatres go one better, or at least the two that I've now been inside, with the opera glasses available attached to the backs of the seats, released by coin like an airport trolley. I didn't need them but I liked the idea that you don't have to decide before you go in, if you think you will want them.

But today….today was the day. Christian Slater in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!!! I only found out yesterday that it was on, because I walked right past the theatre, the Gielgud, on my way to Queen's Theatre for Les Miserables. They told me there would always be standby tickets for the matinee, and how right they were. Fantastic seat (also half price), almost in the middle, 14 rows from the front, in the stalls, down at stage level. Spitting distance, for a particularly good spitter. Boy did I enjoy this show. Wow. I believe the appropriate word might be… (could it be?) Wahoo! You can keep your hobbitses and your elves, and your Michael Crawfords too. Go on, comment, tell me how jealous you are!

Oh yeah, and the play was excellent. Nurse Ratched (Frances Barber) was fantastically evil, and Billy Bibbitt was played wonderfully by Mackenzie Crook from The Office and Pirates of the Carribean. Actually a lot of the cast was made up of stand-up comedians rather than established stage actors, and there were lots of laughs, at least until the latter parts where it moves more towards tragedy.

What else have I done lately?

I've seen the deer in Richmond Park. I've visited my uncle and aunt in Guildford, and seen the main sights there including new bits (university) and old bits (ruined castle, old churches and town buildings). The town has a charming main street, and a terrible traffic problem. But I gather that's not uncommon.

I've been to the Tate Modern, which I really warmed to, after a slow start. For some types of modern works, such as Andy Warhol's Brillo Box, and Dali's lobster phone, nothing much is added when you see them in a gallery, having already seen them as photos in a book. But others, such as Picasso's drawings, prints and paintings are absolutely worth seeing 'in the flesh'.

I've seen the giant computer shop construction where I think Kensington Market used to be. This was where the coolest threads could once be bought, from Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury at their clothes stall.

Da Vinci Code sightings are way down. One being read in the Eurostar terminal in Paris – could have been another English person. Copies for sale in Schipol airport in the Netherlands but no actual sightings of people reading it.

I've been shopping, and discovered the Halloween seems to be a bigger thing here, or at least, so the shops would have you believe.

I'm less of a supermarket geek than I used to be, but I've still taken some supermarket geek notes, for those who care. Range of types of trolleys, including one for use with wheelchairs. Optional self service checkouts. Checkout operators generally sit on stools. You pack your own bags. Beer is cheaper in the supermarket than orange juice. (this could make breakfast more interesting). Alcohol is sold in the supermarket, not in a separate section. There's a huge range of pre-prepared meals.

There's more to say, but time's up for now. Off to beautiful Cornwall tomorrow. Sayonara sugars.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Ah, Paris!

Honestly I didn't think about it that much. I knew I wanted to see Paris like I want to see all the great cities. I like cities, I like old buildings. I love galleries and museums. But Paris is something else. I could probably explain it away as the combined effect of movies, literature and art all portraying it as the city of romance and beauty, but I don't really want to. I just really loved the feeling of the city.

Tim did a great job organising a wonderful weekend and we managed to do a lot in two days.

The Eurostar fast train under the Channel was very pleasant and smooth and quick.

We had tickets for the open top buses which are a great way to cover a lot of ground and get off and on where you want.

We stayed in a charming little old hotel on the Rue d'Universite near the Latin Quarter. My room was up the narrow stairs to the fifth floor - probably once the servants' quarters.

Ordering vegetarian meals in French restaurants required some creativity - 'can I have this baked potato with that side dish?'

I was suprised to see apparently French people actually wearing berets (maybe they were tourists after all). I tried to buy a beret but they looked silly. I ended up with a Kangol hat from a dicount place - so I can be as cool as Samuel L Jackson...maybe. It actually has kangaroos on it.. and yes it's an English brand. But it is kind of beret-ish.

Parisians have the littlest, cutest dogs.

I loved the bookstalls along the Seine, which pack away into neat little boxes. Apparently these used to be the place to get your dirty books, now it's mostly well known French literature. A few were devoted to comics and others sold books on particular topics such as military history. Quite a few were given over to tacky souvenirs, but also nice prints and postcards.

I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower! I took the lifts - probably should have earned that view by using the stairs. At the top level there are signs indicating the direction of capital cities, so I took a photo in the direction of Canberra. You can see a long way, though maybe not that far. When I got back to the ground my head was still in the clouds.

The Arc de Triomphe, had, like many of the signinficant buildings and monuments I've seen in London (St Paul's for example), the inevitable scaffolding on part of it. It is pretty impressive up close.

The Moulin Rouge is nestled in a street of porn shops and XXX theatres. The Lido is not (it's on the more genteel Champs-Elysées).

Paris, compared to London, is quite planned and set out with wide boulevards (of course they knocked down a lot of buildings at some stage to create that effect).

And, I added another form of transport to my list by riding the funicular up to Sacre Coeur. There is a lot more I could say but my time is up, so, Au Revoir and Bonsoir (or Bonjour to everyone in Australia right now).

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Quick Netherlands report

I'm back in London after the better part of a week in the Netherlands (or should that be 'The Netherlands'? – Holland is just so much quicker to say, especially when you're getting over a cold!)

The country is very wet, and usually very rainy. I managed to find possibly the only stretch of several almost rain free days in Autumn, or possibly any time of year. I was incredibly lucky and saw quite a lot of sun, and only a few spits of rain. It was, however, pretty cold, and noticably colder on the clear sunny days. I would not choose to go there in winter.

The public transport is very efficient and reliable and runs precisely on time. Except for yesterday when I needed to get to the airport and there was an all day strike. Not like those nice convenient Action Buses strikes that go from 10am to 3pm. We were warned of traffic jams and chaos, but nothing like that eventuated. We think maybe everyone stayed home as advised.

I had a lovely time with Louise and Pete, in fact I extended my stay. I filled my head up with Van Gogh, maybe a couple of hundred paintings in two different museums. I discovered that you can live happily and reasonably dryly, 6 metres below sea level. I saw more bicycles than I've ever seen before, though Mum & Dad probably saw more in China… I rode a bike around a national park, where there are supposed to be wild boar though I didn't see any. We took a boat tour of the Rotterdam port, which is the largest in Europe and claims to be the largest in the world. It certainly is big. We got up close to some really big ships, saw endless fields of containers, found out how dry docks work, and listened to the commentary in four or five different languages, one of which, luckily, was English. I also did a canal tour in Amsterdam. I tried souvenir shopping but couldn't quite bring myself to buy overpriced clogs. Most of my souvenirs are postcards and other items from the museums. Amsterdam's airport, Schipol, has some really classy shops, including an outlet of one of the museum shops (The Rijksmuseum).

Friday, October 15, 2004

Impact Comics grand opening!

If you are in Canberra, get yourself down to Impact Comics above Revolution CD in the Civic bus interchange this Saturday (16 October) for the grand opening celebration!

There will be signings by Jon Somariva, Ben Hutchings and Ben Guy. Face painting for the kids, by my talented sister Demelza. I'm really sad that I'll miss it all. I hope everyone has a great time.

Monday, October 11, 2004

They love their dogs here

If I lived in the Netherlands, (or much of Europe, it seems), Elvis and Mia could come on the bus, the train, or the tram with me. Mind you they would have to be a bit better behaved and calmer! As Lou said, how else do you get your dogs to the restaurant?

Friday, October 08, 2004

The New Harry Potter?

Everywhere I go, plane, train, bus or Underground, someone is reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Everywhere! Being so contrary about things like that, I will have to wait at least five years to read it. I did eventually enjoy Harry Potter that way.

Off to the Netherlands tomorrow until Tuesday. Will see if they are reading it there too, and faithfully report back here.

Went to another museum today, the Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Even got to look in the library, which is not exactly public (I had to fill in a form for a pass). Very nice, veeerrrry quiet. As we were leaving, someone got in trouble for photographing books! Cheeky.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

London has fun with soft furnishings.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was my first full day in London. I checked out the Barbican Centre, where I saw a very interesting Daniel Libeskind exhibition. I didn't mean to sneak in, I really just wandered in, and didn't realise you were supposed to pay £5 until I was wandering out again!

I also spend a few delicious hours in the nearby London Museum, I won't bore you with the details but I loved it. Having been kicked out at closing time, I decided to have a look at the outside of St Paul's cathdral. On the way there I was passed by two young men with pillowcases slung over their shoulders. I thought this was a little bit odd, maybe they were headed to some outdoor event such as a concert, but the weather wasn't ideal. Then I saw someone with a handful of fluff in his hands. Curiouser and curiouser.

When I reached the front steps of the cathedral, there was a tight crowd of people, the ones around the outside just standing and laughing, and I could see pillows flying around in the middle. Two policement stood at the edge, watching. I had almost walked right into a huge pillow fight. I stood up on the steps to get a better view, and took a couple of photos. I had heard of flash mobs before, I think there was a recent one in Sydney involving people shooting each other with bananas, but this was the first time I'd seen it happening. I thought they were usually supposed to be over quickly... obviously people were having way too much fun hitting each other with pillows. The ground was covered in feathers and fluff, and it had obviously started quite a while before I got there. After 15 minutes or so of this (I got bored and started consulting bus maps) a huge cheer went up. Someone had been declared the winner. His pillow must have had the strongest stitching.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Big trip

Dear friends,

Wahoo! I'm off to England, with trips to the Netherlands and France, for the next four weeks. I'll be updating as often as I can while I'm away.

If you'd like me to send you an email each time I update, just let me know.