Monday, January 28, 2008
After finding the correct bus-stop to get a bus back home, I set out to find it. It wasn't on the main street, and was several back streets away. I set out, my iPod™ keeping me safely within my own Bananarama world. When I finally found the correct street, I was panicked to see the bus I needed heading down the street towards me. Picking up the pace, I raced across the road towards the bus stop, nearly being run down by a slow moving car. Reaching the bus doors I caught sight of the bus drivers sour face before he drove off leaving me stranded (many of the bus drivers in London seem to have chips on their shoulders, not like the black cabbies at all).
I then saw that the car behind me was a police car, and they stopped a short distance up the road from me and reversed up to where I was standing. Here I was, thinking: would they search me? Would they frisk me? Damn. They're not going to frisk me.
"Want a lift to the next bus stop?", asked one of them.
"Oh, sure!" I replied.
I jumped in the car and they asked which way the bus went. I said that I had no idea, so then they just said "ok then, we'll drop you off home then", which they did. On the way they told me that where I was walking around was actually pretty dangerous, and they advised me not to walk around with my iPod™ out.
So I only have nice things to say about London policemen. They tend to be rather handsome also...
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Next stop was Rimini, where we met some of Daniele's friends and had a nice dinner. We drank "spritz" which is a mixture of Campari and white wine. They are quite strong, and come in large glasses. After a couple and all the excitement of the day, I ended up returning to the hotel to watch "Friends" in Italian. Rimini is very pretty, and the city centre is beautiful, but I think I am starting to appreciate it less now, after seeing so many beautiful city centres. I'm starting to get a bit numb I guess.
The next day, we jetted off to San Marino, which is still an independent state. It is basically a big castle on top of a hill, a very large hill, which was the obvious strategy for avoiding invasion for so long. The easiest way up was by cable-car (also the most fun way). I resisted trying to scare people by shaking the car (after my cable-car experience in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, ended up scaring myself the most). I also used a machine that punches a 2 euro piece into a pretty piece of metal that says "I love you San Marino". So trashy, so of course I had to have one.
After S.M., we drove to Bologna, where Daniele lived for many years. There is a beautiful church on the top of a hill in Bologna that is quite famous. There are over 666 steps to the top of it (this is true, I asked a Bolognese), and it takes around an hour to get to the top. It was a tough climb. I could tell because the people looked really tired as we drove past them. The church itself was fascinating. Like many Catholic churches, there are lots of opportunities to pray to saints rather than the more important deities. Kind of makes Christianity polytheistic, right? There is also a machine that you put your candles on that slowly takes them along a long metal tray and dumps them in a box at the end. Progress and technology even reaches churches I was happy to see.
We stayed in Daniele's old apartment in the city centre and had real pizza in the restaurant around the corner. Yum. Real pizza for once. Was delicious, and we went for a walk around the city later on, where we saw the two huge towers (one of them leans, see what I mean?) In the main piazza, there was a wooden effigy that was going to be burned as part of the New Years Eve (Capodanno) celebrations. This is quite common in Italy, and it symbolises the burning of the old year to make room for the new one. Sounds like a grand excuse to toast marshmallows to me. But I love fire, so was instantly attractive as well. Perhaps there would be a witch that needed burning. Ah, a witch! But more on that later.
For New Year's Eve, we went to a dinner with a big group of friends in a smaller town called Faenze. Going out in the country is becoming more popular here. The menu was a degustation, and we had about 9 courses plus wine. Some were a little strange (like cream with green olives, *ew*). But for the most part the food was amazing. I have discovered that there is a time while I am nearly drunk where I can understand Italian a lot better than when I am sober. Not certain why this is, but in any case once I do actually get drunk, this benefit is lost to an equal degree, and I struggle to understand English, let alone Italian.
After midnight, the music was supplied by an experimental burlesque group from Berlin. Firstly they strung ribbons from the ceiling, and some slightly plump ladies did a show, slinking up and down the ribbons. I say slinking, however it was more like slumping, as they weren't particularly graceful, in fact one of them had a little fall and nearly hit the floor. Still, it was entertainment. Then the singer came on. It was great, exactly how I imagined. She read bad poetry in English against a musical background, so Berlin. The highlight of her number was her song Cats on Crack, which went like: "Cats on crack, cats on crack, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow..." etc. This had us laughing in the car all the way back to Bologna. The best New Year's I've had in ages!
Friday, January 04, 2008
It is always less motivating to find a nice restaurant when you are travelling by yourself, and the first night in Florence I found a nice solution. There is a small shop near my hotel that dispenses full Italian meals. You just put in 4 euros, select your pasta/pizza and then in 60 seconds it spits out a ready hot meal. Mmmm... I had ravioli al ragu. It was rather salty and not evenly hot, but it was satisfying. Later I suffered some indigestion, but I guess that is the price that we have to pay for progress. Suffice to say that my Italian friends were absolutely devastated that I had done this. Some refused to listen at all. Hehe...
The next day I met up with T___, J___ and T___ , and we went to visit some of the important sites. First stop was the Galleria dell'Accademia where Michelangelo's statue of David is. Is amazing because the statue is much larger than I realised. It stands over 30 feet tall. Not only that, but every feature is perfectly balanced and in proportion. The symmetry is amazing. There were also lots of portraits, so many of the Madonna and child. You would have thought that they would have got sick of painting that after a while. There is a whole wall just of Madonna and childs. I didn't see any of Madonna and Lourdes though (I would have filled out one of the suggestion forms, but didn't know how to write it in Italian).
After that we walked around the city, saw lots of churches and cathedrals, which are all amazing, large and ancient. We strolled over the Ponte Vecchio (an old bridge over the river filled with jewellery shops). And ended the day by visiting an amazing palatial garden, which stretches for ages through different types and styles of garden.
Am loving Italy. LOVING IT!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The train ride to Chiusi was lovely. Finally got to see some real countryside. Lots of farms, vineyards and olive trees everywhere. The train dropped me off at Chiusi Scalo, where I spent an hour and a half waiting for my lift to the villa. The guys got mixed up when I said I was arriving at 14:50, they thought 4:50. Easy mistake to make. The drive to the villa was amazing however, as the little towns that one goes through are so different to anything I've seen. The only point of reference that I had was from the movies, and I felt like I was in one of the James Bond films. Octopussy I think, where they are driving around the Italian countryside in a sports car shooting at teach other. Each of these little towns are built on a hill, and based around some kind of castle or tower, which would protect the people in times of attack. Most of the buildings are very old, and made from stone or brick. The streets are cobbled and narrow, and because the town is on a hill, they go in every which direction. There is so much charm about these places, that for the most part are maintained with the integrity of the sense of time and setting.
The first day, we travelled to a working abbey which was built in the 10th century, with bona-fide monks! J___ had timed it so that we arrived just as the monks were starting a gregorian chant for the nona service! It was freezing cold inside the abbey, but the sound was so amazing, nothing I have heard is like it. The sound bounces around the abbey and seems to strike your ear from every direction at once. Once again, I felt the power and mystery of the church, and I could see how easy it would have been for people to believe in God. It is so different to any modern church. Nobody clapping hands, just monks chanting mysteriously in latin.
Christmas was spent eating some of the local specialità, like Gallonella, which is a very difficult dish involving a chicken with its guts ripped out, and then stuffed with various meats and fat. Sounds delicious, and it was! Also had tortellini braised in broth, as well as all kinds of cheeses and tasty snacks. For dessert, Panettone of course, as well as baked figs, chocolates and many other wonderful things. Later we drank port and watched movies on TV. I got spectacularly drunk drinking grappa, which is kind of like metho without the flavour, and as a result had a very sore head this morning when I left. Lucky Xmas only comes once a year.
Today I am in Firenze (Florence), and I am meeting with some friends tomorrow to have a look around.
A presto! Baaa...
Monday, December 24, 2007
Today was the day that I travelled to one of the pillars of Catholicism: St. Peter's Basilica. Truly it is stupendous, and I had so much more of a sense of being a Catholic there (whatever that means). It's a bit like always seeing Wheel of Fortune on TV, but never actually being on the show. Well now it's like I have been on the show and I've spun top dollar. I had to pay to climb the 600 or so steps to the top of the basilica, but I was well rewarded with the most splendid view of Rome! Also, claustraphobics beware, as near the top of the cupola, the steps become so narrow and the slope of the roof bends you sideways, that it is quite unnerving. Both of your shoulders end up touching the walls, and there is no way back. Completely worth it though.
The basilica itself is the most spectacular thing that I have seen sofar. I mean, the Colosseum is amazing, but if it were my vote, then the basilica would be the next wonder of the world. I can't describe in words or with pictures the scope and immensity of it. Suffice to say that just to walk around the floor of the basilica took around half an hour. There are so many things to take in. every possible corner of space has been painted, carved or frescoed, and statues are everywhere! Truly, truly spectacular, on a scale I had never dreamed of.
If I were a sim in "The Sims" then my culture rating would have just jumped up two notches. As it is, my Cath-o-meter has risen, and the statistics now stand at:
Popes seen: 0
Cardinals seen: 0
Bishops seen: 0
Priests seen: 1 (In the train station)
Nuns seen: 5
Most of the nuns were manning (hehe..) the stores, licking stamps and instructing people not to bring coffee into the shop. Let me tell you, I've seen nuns, and I don't think these ones were pushovers. I felt like if I screwed up, a nuns hand would slap me across the face with the full force of the Catholic Church behind it. As it is, I just bought a postcard and tried not to break anything.
After that, I left the basilica and was trouncing through a souvenir shop, thinking about buying a vatican flag (5 euros? No way.). In the first shop I came to, I almost laughed out loud, as while I was checking out the Pope Benedict XVI plates, "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. came on over the radio. The irony was totally lost on the sultry shopkeepers, who kept eyeing me with suspicion. Now that was totally worth the trip in itself! You can't buy that kind of irony.
Later on, I took gelato at the Trevi fountain (5 flavours: chocolate, pistachio, raspberry, mixed berries and pineapple). Which was spectacular, but packed with tourists and peddlers. By that time I was exhausted from all the climbing back at the basilica, so I retired back to the hotel, made some calls, bought another cheap bottle of Lambrusca and laid in bed eating biscotti and watching old movies in Italian.
Tomorrow I have to leave Rome, so I guess this is arrivaderci Roma per adesso. I hope to return one day, but tomorrow I go to discover the countryside in Tuscany, which I imagine will be a completely different experience. Ciao Roma!
Friday, December 21, 2007
I arrived yesterday, and have been speaking broken Italian ever since! I feel for the poor lady at the reception desk. She tries to talk to me in English, but I still spit Italian back at her. It's the fastest way to learn if I always speak it, I reason. What they say about learning a language in a country that speaks it is certainly true. it's as if someone has gone and stuck language labels all over everything. Treno... Farmacia... Fermata... Autobus... yay!
I must say that I am a little disappointed in the Romans, they seem very self-involved, and not so interested in talking to a foreigner struggling to communicate with them. But I suppose that is like most cities. Perhaps it is because I have only met Italians outside of Italy before, who have a different agenda. I expect that once I get out to Chiusi the people will be more amicable.
For those who have been wondering why there are not many photos uploaded since I arrived in London, the reason is because I lost my camera on the bus *sigh*. Luckily British Transport lost property department found it for me... *cheer*... the same day that I got on the plane for Rome. *sigh*. So I have been taking photos with my phone for the most part, but they won't be available until I get back to London, so I will add a stack of photos then.
Today I got up early, and after polishing off three courses at the breakfast buffet, I headed out to see the sights. First stop was the Colosseum, which is truly spectacular! It is the most amazing visible link with the Ancient Romans, and even today is a feat of engineering. It was difficult however to get a sense of time, as there was all kinds of modern objects amongst the ruin that interrupts that link with the past. I did feel it quite strongly though when I walking around the adjoining ruins, which were quiet, and in many parts somewhat untouched. Then I felt like a senator, walking to the forum. That was amazing.
Then it was off to the Spanish Steps for lunch, where I lay sprawled basking in the sun after eating a fresh panini. Ah happy days. Then it was off to a Renaissance art gallery near the Trevi Fountain. It was wonderful to see actual paintings which I had only ever seen in books, just hanging on the walls. And the scenes painted on the ceilings were incredible, one just looks up, and there, 20 metres above you is a depiction of God creating the angels, or Christ ascending into heaven. And the artworks themselves, sometimes the frame that holds them is more spectacular than the paintings themselves. There were portraits of Henry VIII and Thomas More, and famous pictures by Raphael. Mostly they were from the 16th Century. That's 200 years before Australia was discovered.
After that I took a long walk around, through the Circus Maximus, trying to get lost in the streets. I was surprised to find that there are still places in Rome that are beautiful, but where the only sound you hear is the sound of your own footsteps, and the echoes bouncing off the walls back at you, like a sonar shadow.
Pizza was on the menu for dinner, and now I have had a few glasses of Lambrusca, and am planning on getting some sleep. Tomorrow I conquer the Vatican! I will try for an audience with the Emperor (he does look a bit like the Emperor from Star Wars), but am not sure of my chances.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
So, I am standing at an internt booth now (yes, standing), punching away at these strangely heavily weighted keys, giving my fingers a workout. I did manage to get a later flight to Rome, so all is not lost. I have learned that the price of optimism is a cranked-up credit card after all. Well, I was expecting an adventure, right?
Thanks to everybody for my birthday wishes by the way.I had a great night with my flatmate at the pub, having a roast turkey dinner and a couple of beers. Oh, and that's another thing about here, there are so many different types of beers! Lagers, Bitters, Guinness et al. The lagers come cold, and the bitters are slightly less so (but believe me, when it's cold as it is here, the idea of a frosty beer flies out the window). I keep trying new beers, as I haven't found anything stellar yet (excuse the pun). There is a beer called "Hoegarden" which I tried last week at my friend S____'s birthday drinks, and after a couple of pints, was told that it is really strong. So on my birthday, I avoided the Hoe, and chose the beer next to it. After a couple of pints I could barely walk, and the barman told me that the beer I chose is even stronger than Hoegarden. "Whaddaya mean?", I said, with an intoxicated giggle...
Friday, December 14, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Having got to Victoria station where I change to a bus, I found at the ticket gates that my weekly ticket had run out, and so was made to wait while everyone else went through so I could talk to the attendant. Another guy was in the same situation, so we waited together. He was friendly enough, and about 6' 7" tall! Anyway, we were given directions to go to a ticket office where we could purchase a new weekly ticket. Unfortunately the directions led us nowhere, and so we had to turn around and go back. The following conversation ensued:
M: Damn, they've sent us on a wild goose chase.
B: Yeah, it's not down this way.
M: No, let's go back and ask
B: Yeah, black bastard.
M: It's not his fault, he's just doing his job
B: Not that guy, the black bastard that sold me this ticket.
Damn I was angry! But I haven't heard this kind of talk much in Sydney, so I didn't really have time to formulate a response apart from defending the poor ticket guy on a personal level. Honestly, I must be so sheltered in Sydney, as I don't really hear that kind of talk much. I thought in London there would be even less of that kind of thing. I guess it doesn't matter where you are, there are racist bigots everywhere.
And so, it is with some sadness that I award the "Bigot of the Month" award to this despicable person. There is no place for racism in a civilized society, and I was so mad on the train and kept thinking of all the things I should have said to that guy.
Apart from this, my day was rather nice. Found a coffee shop guy in Notting Hill who I can practise my Italian with.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
The weather today was atrocious, but I was glad to get out of the house. Southbank is a wonderful place, and picking up a music program for the Entertainment Hall I was amazed at just how many shows there are on here! So many classical music concerts and operas, all the time! It really is quite incredible, so much to do and see! So after wandering around for a little, we decided to catch a movie (the weather really required it), so we caught a classic "All About Eve", a 50's academy award winner with Bette Davis. Was great! The rain was pelting down when we came out, and so I was glad I remembered my umbrella (ha!). Unfortunately I had decided to wear one of my two pairs of shoes that are not waterproof. Actually, neither of the two pairs of shoes that I brought are waterproof. It is a bit like the feeling when you walk in the rain without an umbrella knowing that you are going to get completely soaked, so you kind of let go and enjoy the experience of getting wet. Well it was a bit like that with my wet feet, just without the enjoyment. *sigh*. So my next purchase is going to be a sturdy pair of waterproof shoes. Especially before I go to Italy.
Well I'm off to check on my Xmas pudding that I made (er... bought from the supermarket). Missing you all terribly!
Saturday, December 01, 2007
It is so strange to hear all the British accents. There are so many different ones as well. Some people sound like Eastenders extras, others sound more like Trisha Goodard. I am surprised though how friendly people are here. At first glance, everybody seems a bit cold and stand-offish, however once you start to engage them they are so polite and helpful.
Last Saturday I moved into my new place! I am now living in East Dulwich, which is delightful. While not very close to the city, it is near an amazing cheese shop, which sold me in the end. I haven't tried their Pecorino yet, but that will come. After the move, I had lunch with my new flatmate James. He is a carpenter who renovated the place himself, which is why it looks so fabulous. We went to our local pub and had roast something-or-other. Had my first warm beer (which kind of makes sense in this weather). The interesting thing about British pubs on a weekend is that children are running around everywhere, and on the way to the toilet, I almost tripped over a dog that was lying there. It certainly wasn't a guide dog, as it was so grizzled that it looked like it would need its own guide. It is a real family atmosphere, something that Australian pubs don't really have because Australians generally go outdoors more.
Last Sunday in particular was fun. I caught up with my Boss's brother and his partner, and we did a pub lunch (again) in Islington. It is a very nice area, and full of rows upon rows of houses looking the same. Reminds me a lot of the movie "Love, Actually" with the delightful Hugh Grant. Anyway, I digress. After our lunch, we walked back to S___ place and on the way, the boys showed me the place where Bananarama used to live! Yes, these icons had 4 houses built especially for them! But wait, 4 houses and only 3 bananas... something doesn't add up I hear you say. As it turns out, the fourth house was for their manager. I could just picture Siobahn needing some olive oil, and she races over to Keren's, who is baking muffins with Sara. Well, at least that's how I imagine it. Seriously, this should be near the top of the sightseeing on anybody's list of things to do in London. It really made my day! Just try not to look too much at the Banarchitechture, as they're not the prettiest houses...
Friday, November 23, 2007
(apologies to my British friends, of course when I say "British" I really mean "all the Brits except my British friends whom I really love and cherish")
Thursday, November 22, 2007
After checking in and resting a bit, I was full of beans and decided to take a bus/tube trip around the city. Very fun! Marble Arch, Mayfair, Park Lane... I was taking a trip through a Monopoly™ board! I'm sure people must have thought that I was a little strange, walking around and taking in the sites, smiling at strangers that little bit too much. But hey, I didn't care! London - city of splendor! And then it started to rain...
Interestingly, on the tube now there is a kind of smart card called an "Oyster" card, which you just swipe over the turnstiles and it lets you through. You put credit on the card, so it just takes the amount off your total. Kind of like eftpos without the "effort" (haha). No PIN number needed. I was already familiar with this, as they have the exact same card in Hong Kong (they call it an "Octopus" card). It is an Australian company who created the technology, and now are hauling in the cash from all over the world. In Hong Kong however, you don't just use the card on public transport, you can use it almost everywhere! Bakeries, shops, vending machines et al. I haven't confirmed this, but you may even be able to use them in brothels. This in mind, I waltzed into a newsagent on Wednesday night, noting his "Oyster" payment point, and having selected my gum, quietly placed it on the counter, with my "Oyster" card poised.
"39p" said the attendant. I smiled knowingly, and, swiping my card across the payment point uttered confidently: "Oyster Card". The man gave me a look that seemed to imply that I was clearly insane. A conversation then ensued that (hindered by his bad english) went something along the lines of:
"Yes, Oyster Card"
"You cannot sir"
"Oh, but I want to pay with my Oyster Card"
"That is your balance sir"
Eventually the guy in the line behind me said that these access points are only for checking your balance, and you can't actually buy anything else but transport tickets with them. Sheepishly I pulled out some coins and quietly left the shop. My (over)confidence with my "Oyster" card was dashed. My spirits weren't down for long though, hey, I'm in London after all! And isn't that Big Ben over there? Er... no it isn't actually, it's just a church tower... but you get the idea.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I stayed over at Vincent's place on Saturday night in Repulse Bay. He has a fantastic view of the bay from his apartment, and it is a nice contrast to the busy, intense atmosphere of Causeway Bay. Vincent has a large apartment, with room in the back for the maids, which he used to make climb the ladder to their top bunk at age 70... (actually, that is not quite the real story, but it makes for a good story). If they didn't work, then he would beat them with his maid stick (actually, that is a down-and-out lie). Actually Vincent is very lovely indeed and would never do anything like that (apologies).
In the evening, Vincent and I caught up with Bean and Paul, and we took a ferry to a friends place in Discovery Bay on Lantau island. This island has the most low-rise buildings I have seen in the whole of Hong Kong. The one that Claire and Rob live in has only 5 stories! Tiny! They have 2 dogs and a large backyard. They used to live in Happy Valley, but this place is bigger and they both are very happy there. The amusing thing about this island is that the government has banned all cars from the island (except buses and taxis), which it makes it difficult to get around. However the government has introduced a loophole by allowing a maximum of 300 registered golf carts. So what do you think happens on an island of filthy rich to whom money is no object? You guessed it, the price of golf carts has shot up. Rob told me that they are currently going for around $700,000HK (about $100K AUD)! Yes, that is more than the cost of a BMW or Mercedes for a GOLF CART! Welcome to Hong Kong.
Anyway, Claire and Rob's apartment also happens to be situated directly opposite to Disneyland Hong Kong, which has a firework show every night. So EVERY night, they get to see a firework display! Strangely, they refused my requests for them to adopt me. Hmm...
And that was my final night in Hong Kong. Tomorrow I am off to London finally. Time for a little last minute shopping I think. I am sure there is a spare centimetre that I can squeeze into my bag.