Thursday, December 24, 2009

defeating the grinch

Things that could steal all my Christmas cheer:

1) I have just moved house, and finally left behind me the most patronising, unhelpful, annoying, idiotic, unethical landlord known to man. I have not mentioned him all year on this blog, just in case he ever came across it, because it's probably not a good idea to antagonise him, and we've had to be polite to him and treat him like a respected elder while he tells us we're unintelligent, messy and bad tenants (which is so not true - I cannot WAIT for him to discover in 2010 that he had it extremely good with us). I had to open up the house the other day for him to show prospective new tenants around, therefore I had to put up with him for a couple of hours.
However, that morning I had noticed (I'm sorry, this is gross) a small squashed decomposing creature of some kind on our driveway, which I could not bring myself to move because it was so foul. After he left that day, though, my other flatmate and I noticed the creature had gone and were astounded he'd done something helpful for once.
WRONG! I got a text message from my flatmate a couple of hours later - he had put the small dead animal IN OUR RECYCLING BIN.
Who's unintelligent now?! It would be funny if we didn't have to burrow in there to get it out.

2) This morning I put out our rubbish and organics bins on the kerb for the truck to come past and empty them. Because I am in a new house I did not realise that you aren't supposed to put them close to a corner, which meant the truck driver just drove straight past with a scornful look, probably thinking to himself - "GIRLS." Because I am in a new house we have a huge amount of rubbish this week and the bin was packed to the top. Great. We have to wait another fortnight with a steadily mounting pile of rubbish.

3) This morning, also, I parked at the mall, not realising I was parking in front of a "Restricted Park". Bang! A $45 fine.

I could be very angry and annoyed right now. But it's Christmas Eve!!!! I'm not! I'm happy! I'm wrapping presents! I feel like dancing round the room singing "Merry Christmas, horrible landlord! Merry Christmas, rubbish disposal truck! Merry Christmas, parking wardens!"

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

good advertising?

TV ads have got to be one of the most annoying things to sit through. In my opinion, the "mute" button can be a girl's best friend. However, occasionally, there are some ads for which I turn up the volume, and I feel happier after watching them. I've already shared some of my favourites with you, in this post in May. Here are some more!

My current favourite, this is Sky TV's take on the classically annoying song, "Que Sera Sera". Please be aware that the content may be objectionable to some people.

In this ad, Rhys Darby (of FotC) heads the advertising campaign for new mobile phone network 2 degrees.

This is a really snuggly ad. Watch it to understand. It is for Pink Batts, which is an insulating material for houses.

Here is another utterly random Instant Kiwi ad, featuring Doug and his imaginary friend.

Another ad in the series for L&P soft drink:

Finally, another ad that comes in a series - for energy drink Lift Plus:


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

the year in review

We don't have Thanksgiving in New Zealand - a real loss, I think - but it's still about this time of the year that I suddenly consider everything that's happened to me in the year that was, and wonder how on earth I got to be so lucky. I am thankful that:

1. At the beginning of the year I got to go on an amazing road trip with one of my best friends around a small part of this beautiful country. I don't know how I would have got through this year without that chance to take a deep breath and enjoy nature.

2. My sister and husband and tag-along children FINALLY moved back to New Zealand after too much time abroad, and better yet, they chose Christchurch. It has been so, so wonderful having two small nieces in close proximity to me, to play with, help look after, and adore. They are THE cutest three-year-old and one-and-a-half-year-old girls in existence. No competition.

3. I graduated! And it was more fun than I anticipated.

4. I have been allowed to spend a year of my life doing the most self-indulgent thing I have ever done: Choosing a topic that completely absorbs me, and spending all my time finding out more about it. It hasn't always been easy to do a MA, but it is the most rewarding thing I have ever attempted. I've also had brilliant supervisors, and brilliant co-thesis writers to moan and whinge to.

5. I got to meet the Prime Minister! Incredibly kind and generous people also gave me the means to do the following...
6. Going on a research trip to the UK. I can't describe what a thoroughly awesome experience this was, in every possible way. I fell in love with London. I was welcomed into the homes of two families who not only provided for me generously but also opened my eyes to new ideas, experiences. I saw history. I saw proof that Jane Austen existed. I was free to indulge all my geeky tourist desires. I got to stay long enough to feel like I was at home. Had what I could say is possibly the time of my life. I came back a different person.

7. I also got to visit continental Europe with the same friend I went on a road trip with earlier in the year. We got to see so much variety, so much beauty, and to experience so many things I had had no knowledge of before. Almost nothing went wrong; we finished in one piece; our money did not run out; we chose a good route. The worst part about it was saying goodbye at the end.

8. I went flatting for the first time. It was a very good decision. I have made what I am sure will be lifelong friendships among my flatmates. Where things have not gone quite to plan, or where personalities have clashed, I have learnt so much more about myself, and about how to deal with life. I am quite certain now in my adulthood - in fact, that has been the overwhelming development of the whole year. Obviously, technically I've been an adult for some time, but I've never felt like it. Now I am quite happy to say: I am Woman! Hear me roar!

Goodbye, 2009. Thanks for everything.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I think I need a holiday.

- stressed because we have to move house soon;
- anxious about the situation in our flat (we need someone to move into our new flat with us from 19 December and start paying rent; this Someone is still making up her mind and we don't know if we'll find anyone else in time if she says no);
- coming down with bugs/headaches every week;
- generally short on money;
- unable to summon up much motivation or enthusiasm to work hard on my thesis;
- supposed to finish its first chapter in less than two weeks (I've written one page);
- feeling completely unable to write anything creative and worried I'm not going to be able to keep up with HDtS;
- unable to take a holiday because I've taken too many already and I'll need time later when my family shows up for Christmas/New Year's;
- stressed out by a private situation which has been developing, and that's really all I can say;
Et cetera.

So this is my explanation for being the proprietor of a Very Boring Blog over the last little while. And this post doesn't make anything better. I'm sorry. I just don't feel like I can think about anything right now.

On the bright side, I have discovered Gilmore Girls for the first time in my life. My flatmate bought the complete seven seasons on DVD a while ago and we have been slowly making our way through them (we've almost finished the third season). I LOVE THEM. They make me happy. I can't explain the relief of getting home from a unproductive, depressing day and watching a couple of hours of pure pleasure. I think my flatmate must be extremely tired of me spouting my feelings; "Oh I love him so much!" whenever Kirk pops up.

But then I feel bad because I spent two hours on pure pleasure and should have spent it taking notes from long boring books or squeezing historical insight from my tired mind.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What do Marx, three-year-old nieces and paeonia moutans have in common?

I sit in an office quite a lot, thinking about history, writing about history, researching history - oh, and facebooking (a concept so crucial to time-wasters that it has become a verb). This year the walls of my little cubicle are MADE of red pin-board type material, and the temptation to cover them with Things is just too great. I am not by a window, so this substitutes as the window out which I gaze when pondering. More will be added, I have no doubt, but for now, here is My Window. (I apologise for the quality of the photo; I took it with my webcam.)

Middle: Karl Marx. His tombstone at Highgate Cemetery, possibly my favourite of the places I visited in London. When I look at this I get a delicious chill running down my spine; it also is kind of relevant to my interest in Soviet history.

Bottom left: "Rendezvous", the famous 1939 political cartoon by David Low. This is an incredibly cool cartoon just on appearances alone, but once you understand a little of the history it simply thrills me, and I love it more and more every time I look at it. Hitler and Stalin, sworn enemies for the entire 1930s, completely scathing about each other - right up until 1939, when suddenly they sign a non-aggression pact, shocking the world, and take over Poland together, like good chums.

To the right: Marc Chagall's stained glass window based on Psalm 150, which is housed in Chichester Cathedral, which I visited in the south of England. I love the concept of modern stained glass, especially when it's sooo pretty, and so expressive of the psalm. In fact, I did a whole blog post on it.

To the right: Paeonia moutan, a postcard I bought at Kew Gardens in London, and then decided to keep, not send, since it was purty.

Bottom right: A postcard sent recently from Bretagne, France, by one of my best friends, who travelled in Europe with me before going to start a job in Bretagne. SUCH a beautiful picture and it reminds me of my friend whom I miss heaps!

Middle left: A famous poster of Lenin, bought as a postcard from Memento Park in Budapest. I particularly like that I can understand the Russian words on it: "Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!"

Above left: A painting I saw at the National Gallery, London: "Christ before the High Priest", by Gerrit van Honthorst. It doesn't translate incredibly well onto postcard-sized card, but the full-sized painting was just amazing; the use of light and dark was so effective; everything about it was expressive, and I LOVED it.

To the right: A photo I took of a sunrise in Dunedin, from the park next door to my sister's house. (I blogged about it here.) I recently bought a colour printer and printed this off and was very pleased with the result. I have to say, this is the picture that distracts me the most because it's sooo pretty.

To the right again: my niece, two and a half at the time, riding a donkey at the local zoo with an over-sized helmet and a huge happy grin on her face.

Middle right: picture by said niece, drawn recently for my birthday. She is only just three, but she wrote my name on the top left corner!! Yup, she's a genius.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A&P Show

... which stands for "Agricultural and Pastoral Show", otherwise known as the Royal New Zealand Show, held annually across the country but it is generally acknowledged (by Cantabrians) that the coolest one is Canterbury's, held in Christchurch every November, with a public holiday to celebrate.

It's the first time I've been in about ten years, and was hardly typical, the weather refusing to cooperate. So it wasn't the usual sweltering Canterbury November day. Who cares? When you can view the following, the sun isn't necessary.

Slightly frightening funfair games and rides.

Big strong men chopping wood really fast.

Pretty horses jumping over things.

Ridiculous sheep (and other animals).

Hanging out with the flatmates, trying not to freeze.

Eating low-quality hot-dogs that seemed sooo good at age ten.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

serves me right

Well, it just serves me right for being a snobby postgraduate. For the last two years of postgrad study, I've avoided exams - up until now. 'Ha! Undergrads!' I thought, swivelling on my swivelly office chair, drinking free coffee, complaining to the College of Arts because we don't have pinboards on our doors anymore. 'They don't know what hard work is!'

And then I decided to take a first-year paper this year - Russian language. I decided it would be fine for me to up and leave the country for two months, and then just catch up when I got back. It's a 100-level course, right? Can't be that hard? The exam'll be a breeze!

Well, I've spent the last week studying Russian verbs, vocabulary, cases, grammar. Memorising three months' missed classes. Feeling guilty day and night because I wasn't working hard enough. Beating my head against a brick wall going "it's soooooo haaaaaarrrrd, I hate exams, heghhhhh".

And now the exam is over and I am exhausted. Really looking forward to getting back to my thesis. I apologise, undergrads. Exams suck. I will never downplay their horror again.

As an interesting aside, below is the result of one my moments of procrastination this week:

Monday, November 02, 2009

disclaimer: will definitely contain mistakes

Я так плохо говорю по-русски, и пишу по-русски, и читаю по-русски.

I am really bad at speaking Russian, and writing Russian, and reading Russian.

Кроме того, я не ходила на много классы.

Besides, I did not go to many classes.

Теперь, я должен учиться.

Now, I must study.

Пожалуйстa, экзамен, ___ симпатичный меня. *

Please, exam, be nice to me.

Твой, Элей

Yours, Allie

* I couldn't figure out how to command the exam to 'be' nice to me, so I left the verb space blank.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I've done something I never thought I would get into today; got my gardening thing on.

I share a flat with four other girls. We're all students, and it's hard enough getting everyone to do their chores about the house let alone weed the garden every now and then (which, apparently, IS our responsibility as tenants of the house). So in the course of the last ten months, the garden has got exceptionally overgrown, apart from the lawns, which we actually do mow weekly or fortnightly. As we're coming up to the end of the year and all that entails (flat inspection etc.), and as today was a really lovely day, I decided to get outside and start attacking those weeds.

And it was surprisingly addictive. Imagine, if you will: A huge, waist-high green thing, a foreigner among the shrubs. Grabbing it with both hands. RIPPING it out of the ground intact, like some alien creature, and shaking the dirt off its roots triumphantly. I've only got a small portion done, but the bug has bitten me (thankfully, not literally) and I want to see that garden looking tidy!

It also happens to be the case that a few days ago we bought some seedlings - lettuce plants, and some herbs to grow in pots. So part of the day was spent happily transplanting cute little plants which will hopefully be extremely useful in a month or two.

The amount of weeds we stuffed into our organics disposal bin! It was VERY SATISFYING. I think next time I'll take before and after shots.
Our cute little lettuce plants.
Our herbs, lined up on the windowsill: pizza thyme, basil and Italian parsley. Mm-mm.
So, who knows what I'll be doing next weekend?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

ee-ee-ee-ee-ee eet eet eet

The latest Regina Spektor album, Far, came out here just after I left for the UK, so I didn't buy it until I got back to New Zealand - a wait of two months which was HARD.

But now I have it, and have basically made up for two months missed music by listening to it constantly. By launching into vocal aerobics of made-up words when my flatmates least expect it (much less skilfully than the singer, too).

There are several things I love about Regina Spektor's music. One is the lack of pretension in her voice. She doesn't pull out the silly little tricks less creative artists use; she's just plain good at singing. Another is her playfulness, with tunefulness. She uses her voice like a musical instrument.

Personally, I enjoy this album just as much as 'Begin to Hope', at least. At this point I think I like it more. It's a little less radio-friendly; it seems a little more creative. However, I have been known to change my mind about CDs that I listen to over and over again. For now, however, I'm loving it.

My favourites: Human of the Year, Eet, Genius Next Door, Wallet, Machine, Laughing With and Dance Anthem of the 80s. (But actually I like them all and find it very hard to choose.)

Has anyone else opinions to share? I have been completely unable to discuss it with anyone because no one else I know has listened to it yet.

Friday, October 16, 2009

is it possible to be TOO much influenced by books?

One of my English purchases :)

Diary entries while in Europe:

London, 15 August
... I can see why Bean in Fantastic Mr Fox existed on cider alone. ...

Brighton, 30 August
... I went for a little walk through a field up a hill, and calmed right down. It was exactly how England's supposed to be. I felt like Elizabeth Bennet wandering round Hertfordshire.
Then I saw cows in the next paddock over, and started imagining farmers with dogs and/or guns, a la Farmer Maggot of the Shire, so I quickly made my way back to campus. ...

Brighton, 31 August
... There is something very likeable about Brighton. Taste is an unknown word, but it's very vibrant, and everywhere you look something is going on. I felt like I shouldn't like it, but I did.
I can see why this is the place Lydia Bennet eloped with Wickham. It's exactly the sort of place where you do stupid things.

Brighton, 2 September [in the Royal Pavilion]
... I kept wondering, trying to remember, as I wandered through the rooms, "Was this the room where the heroine of Regency Buck fainted when the Prince Regent tried to kiss her?"

Prague - Krakow, 15-16 September
... We were on the 21.09 to Krakow Glowny, in a ladies' sleeper shared by three. ... We were told we MUST lock our doors or we would be robbed by gypsies, and it felt like a cross between
Murder on the Orient Express and “The Elves and the Shoemaker”.

London, 26 September
... I started off by catching a bus to Manor House Station, and then hopping on the Piccadilly and Centre lines to Notting Hill. I knew I would not forgive myself if I didn't go to Portobello Road Market on a Saturday morning. So I went. ... I bought one antique print, a woodcut, which I am very pleased with for £15. ACTUALLY considered buying an 1899 illustrated Pride and Prejudice for £180. Even after calculating exchange rates and figuring out exactly how much that would cost me, I considered it. Ended up ruefully deciding I couldn't justify it. ...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

a little piece of me is in London

It's over two weeks ago now, but here am I: displayed proudly in a glass case in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I'm the big one in the middle; you may JUST be able to see a sketch of a vase. As the public walked into this particular room, we were given a card and a pencil and asked to draw our favourite ceramic from home; minutes later, we were part of an exhibition. Little pieces of people.

And now I'm home. There are wonderful things about being home:
- seeing people: family, flatmates, friends.
- living in a country where cigarettes are unpopular and where smokers are subject to etiquette.
- a silly and unpredictable climate which makes me feel quite a fondness for little old New Zealand, buffeted on all sides by the weather.
- ducklings, daffodils... etc.
- getting involved in the History department again.

Less wonderful are:
- the constant questions of "how was Europe?" What else can I say but "er, really good. Do you want more detail?"
- catching up on two months of missed Russian language classes. MY HEAD HURTS.
- a feeling of boredom as I go from extreme activeness to moments of free time.
- most of all, feeling like there is a little piece of me missing.

Here is what I wrote in my diary, sitting in Heathrow Airport on 29 September, waiting to leave London:

"I cannot believe it's only two months since I came through Heathrow for the first time, but at the same time it feels like yesterday. Up until writing, I've felt very matter-of-fact about it all--oh yes, I'll be in Christchurch on Thursday--but suddenly, a wave of unease hits me, and I just know I don't want to go. New Zealand is still my favourite place in the entire world--make that GALAXY--but I feel torn. I absolutely love this place; I've no idea when I will come back, if ever; it has been, possibly, the time of my life. And I'm supposed to just go back home and settle into life again? to consider my future in an unbiased manner when everything is whispering "England! England!"? I'm one of those people I hate, Miss Travelling-CHANGED-Me - no, I'm not. At least, I hope not. But I won't be able to explain it to anyone without hurting their feelings or elevating the NZ inferiority complex, which is not my intent or purpose at all. Being away has heightened my appreciation of what we have at home to a huge extent. But I want to be in two places at once, which we all know is impossible."

So here I am now. Loving being home; missing London. Struggling to find my niche.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Europe, part VII

18 September 2009
Krakow-London, 3.30pm

Last night we went out for what we thought was going to be Polish cuisine, and discovered yet another form of restaurant/café in which it is possible for us to be clueless—self-service. At least we tried Polish pierogi (a bit disappointing) but the rest of our mixed plate was nice. Then to Western-style café with English on the signs—helps us to feel less imperialist. (At least I did say ‘thank you’ in Polish today, TWICE, and they understood me!) We also tried, at different times, these breads that are sold everywhere in little stalls. They are shaped into a big ring and look a bit like pretzels, and they’re really yummy.

It was my last night in Europe (Katie made a silly mistake and booked her flight to Paris on the 19th!) and so we stayed up to 11.30, our latest yet! and played two-hand 500. I lost, of course, but at least I wasn’t in negative figures.

This morning we left our bags at the hostel and went for a wander, first getting breakfast takeaway, and strolling through the park that is in a ring around the city centre. This brought us to Wawel Castle and so we went further around it, walking beside the river Wista with the castle towering over us, before making our way back to get our bags.

We walked to the train station through the Old Town and came across things we really should have seen before, such as St Florian’s Gate. Oh well—at least now I have a snapshot!

At the train station I had to say goodbye to Katie for possibly a whole year which of course made me cry and still makes me tear up now. [She is teaching English in France for the next year.] And now I am on a plane to London. It does feel like I’m returning to civilisation, a little, after ten days of hostels. It almost feels like I’m coming home. I can’t believe I’ve only got eleven more days here, and I am not ready to go back to New Zealand.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Europe, part VI

17 September 2009
Krakow, 4.45pm

Today we spent the day at Auschwitz. I don’t even know how to describe it. There is nothing I want less than to be all sentimental and talk about an icy feeling clutching at me as I entered—because there wasn’t—but neither can I pretend that it wasn’t profoundly moving.

We took a bus filled with lots of other people from central Krakow, a drive of about one hour and fifteen minutes. As we drove, we would have looked out on pretty peaceful scenery, except that our eyes were glued to a screen, watching a documentary of footage filmed by a cameraman among the Soviet liberators of the camp. It was pretty shocking stuff but there were two low points for me – 1) footage of Soviet pathologists performing an autopsy on a limp, dead baby found in the camp, emaciated and tiny; 2) footage of child prisoners, aged maybe five or six, in a group, raising their arms to show the numbers branded on them (they probably did not know their own names), looking for all the world like a primary school class, except that they were skeletal and branded. Result: a sense of grimness before we even reached the place.

However, entering the camp itself, it was hard to picture these things. It could have been a normal, almost pretty, apartment complex, if you ignored the barbed wire and watch towers, or if you didn’t enter the buildings. We followed a guide around—in the buildings now is housed a museum, and we saw photos, documentary evidence, material evidence (piles and piles of human hair, shoes, glasses, etc.)… We saw a recreation of the wall where prisoners who had committed some ‘crime’ were shot, now stacked with flowers and candles, and the punishment cell where Father Kolbe, a Polish priest who sacrificed his life for another prisoner, was sent to die by starvation with another nine prisoners. We saw ‘standing cells’, about one square metre, into which four prisoners were crammed overnight, with only a small ground-level door as an opening to crawl through—after a night in these, the prisoners were still expected to work all day. We saw a whole hallway of photos of shaved-headed prisoners, with their names, their numbers, their date of arrival and date of death; of all the ones I read, only one had no date of death, and almost all the rest died within two or three months, at the most. A few here and there had traces of a half-smile as they had their photo taken, the vestige of their personality, stolen by the Nazis; they died no later than anyone else. We saw the place where Rudolf Höss, the camp commandant, was hung after the war, about two hundred metres from the house he had lived in with his wife and children and had a happy life, right next door to utter misery. We walked through a gas chamber and crematorium in which thousands and thousands of people died a slow, painful death.

Lord, have mercy on us.

I felt pretty grim all the way round (an understatement) and did not feel at all like talking, but actually came extremely close to crying at one point, in the little square where the prisoners were shot – I don’t know why it was there, but there it was.

After a short break in which we ate lunch and felt bad about it, we got on the bus for the short ride to Birkenau, otherwise known as Auschwitz II. This seemed much more how one would imagine a concentration camp—a big empty field with long wooden huts on either side, train tracks down the middle, the remains of crematoria the Nazis tried to destroy before they fled—except that the grass was a brilliant, Irish green.

We only had about half an hour here and saw the latrine hut, which prisoners were allowed to use twice a day—about 2000 people had to make it through in half an hour, or an hour if they were lucky. No need to do the maths to understand how impossible that would be. We also saw a hut with the sleeping bunks—even in its clean condition it was horrible but to imagine how it must have been with 700 or 800 people, in either summer or winter…

I bought a book: “The Holocaust: Voices of Scholars”—academics such as Kershaw or Wiesel or Bartov discussing the difficult questions of the Holocaust. It looks very interesting, but the blurb on the back is a bit pretentious and was obviously written by an academic:

“The duty to raise questions about the Holocaust rests especially upon intellectuals, since from them we await answers to critical, difficult questions of values…” Really? Do we?

And now we’re back at the hostel. My last night in Krakow, my last night in continental Europe, and the last time I see Katie for almost a year.

Europe, part V

16 September 2009
Krakow, 2.00pm

We finished off the day in Prague yesterday with a river cruise, which afforded nice views and also FASCINATING insights from our guide, such as, “Ladies and gentlemen, over here you can see the Ministry of Public Transport…” No?! Fancy that!

After which we walked back to the Old Town Square and had cocktails as, from a distance, we watched a Czech talent show of different martial arts. Felt like we were mastering European café culture—just plonked ourselves down and waited to be served, after which the waiter told us “service is not included in the bill”, which makes things SO much simpler than going through the issue of to tip or not to tip. Had kebabs for dinner (Vienna ones are superior) then went back to the hostel for our things, walked to the train station (Hlavni Nadrazi), and eventually, exhausted, found our train.

We were on the 21.09 to Krakow Glowny, in a ladies’ sleeper shared by three—we had the top two bunks and a Czech lady had the bottom. We were told we MUST lock our doors or we would be robbed by gypsies, and it felt like a cross between “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Elves and the Shoemaker”. I was on the top bunk, and had a ladder to climb up, and felt very comfortable, lying there on the top bunk being rocked to sleep.

Until… I must have dozed off, and then woken again in a sudden flash of panic. Don’t know why, but suddenly felt very shut in, unable to sit up, unable to just jump out of bed, imagining being enclosed in that space, and I knew that if I didn’t get out, I would start to hyperventilate or something. So I got up, went and washed my hands, paced the corridor for a while, said some prayers, then got into bed, intensely disliking the feeling. Eventually I must have got to sleep, and so the night passed, but I must say I was very relieved to get off that train, bright and early at 6.30am.

We wandered into Krakow, tried to get money out of an ATM but were thwarted by a beggar who wouldn’t back away so I could put my pin number in without him seeing; finally found ‘Coffee Heaven’ open so had a sort of breakfast; then left our bags at the hostel. We walked over to Wawel Castle and wandered the cathedral and grounds—very beautiful, and the royal apartments had an unexpected feel of Italy. However, I haven’t seen a ‘castle’ in Europe or Britain that seems at all how I imagined a castle. I wonder if such exist!

Now we are at the hostel, enjoying much appreciated showers and rest. Soon we will go into the Old Town again to get on a bus to go to Wieliczka Salt Mines—will update!


Well, the Salt Mine was amazing. A great tour guide who told us—actually—REALLY INTERESTING stuff about the mine and cracked some not-tired-sounding jokes. The mine itself was amazing. Statues, whole CHAPELS carved underground, it astounded and brought the whole thing beyond expectations.

And just for your information - that chandelier is made from salt!!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Europe, part IV

14 September 2009
Prague, 11.20pm

We’ve had a wonderful day glimpsing some of Praha, starting with the Old Town Square, which boasts the Astronomical Clock – a surprisingly cool contraption which has a skeleton who reaches out and rings a bell every hour (plus more unintelligible aspects which were completely lost on me).

There’s definitely a more medieval feel to this city—just walking into the square confirmed that. Possibly the narrowness of all the little streets, maze-like, too, or the sight of Prague Castle across the Charles Bridge… Again, I am impressed by Eastern statues. So much more interesting.

We went on a tour with a bunch of other English-speakers (mostly Americans) to Prague Castle. The castle seems less like a castle up close, but has an elaborate changing of the guards and a gorgeous cathedral with stained glass like nothing I’ve seen before.

After the tour was finished we walked back to the Old Town via the not-disappointing Charles Bridge and did some shopping (at least, that was mostly me). I got some great present items [which of necessity must be hush-hush, given that this is a public blog]. And we wandered some more.

Tonight we went to the opera! Carmen. We were both a bit under-dressed, and the lady at the door looked us up-and-down very disapprovingly, which was a bad start, but at least she let us in. It only got better and better. The theatre was spectacular but once the performance started you only had eyes for the stage. We had great seats and the set/music/cast/EVERYTHING was wonderful. It seemed so much more like The Real Thing than anything I’ve seen in New Zealand (though to be fair I’ve never been to an opera before). A new addiction, perhaps?

15 September 2009
Prague, 2.30pm

I am sitting on an island – Střelecký Ostrov – in the middle of the Vltava River in Praha. It’s been a busy sort of day, a second full day in the city, which seems unusual and abnormally long compared to the last two cities. But it is very pleasant sitting out here watching the river, and it is a nice change from rushing around madly.

This morning we started off at the Chocolate Museum, which is as educational as it sounds, choosing this over the Museum of Medieval Torture (which actually looked pretty interesting) and the Sex Machines Museum (not so much).

Then we went to the cemetery in the Jewish Quarter. Naturally. This was the only burial ground allowed for Jews and so is stacked high with graves and a higgledy-piggledy morass of tombstones. Some Orthodox Jews were gathered around one grave, presumably someone special, chanting and rocking, and I felt so rude walking around with my camera out. Felt worse when I saw a couple of other tourists standing right next to them, snapping away…