Monday, December 27, 2010

Tardis in the cupboard

Hooray! Despite continuing Heathrow closures and cancellations, I was incredibly lucky and managed to get out and home for Christmas after all.

My last few days in London went really well! I caught up with Barlow and we went on a (successful) mission to find Steed's flat, and then I met up with Ash for drinks on my last night in London. After heading out with Ash on both the first and last nights of my trip, I feel like it all came full circle!

I had my London photos conveniently uploaded, it's just taken me a while to get around to organising everything, because I've been lazy (or the better excuse, jet-lagged) and have just been watching TV. Now you can see them all: from here!

Elvis stampede aka London is the greatest!

Here are some final figures from my trip!

Number of countries visited: 23
Number of currencies used: 12
Number of books read: 12
Number of trains caught (including best estimate of trains after my Eurail pass expired): 86
Number of different beers tried: 89
Number of adventures had: uncountable

Good to see beers > trains, if only just!
It was a brilliant trip and whilst I'm glad to be back, hopefully that's not the end of my adventuring travels.

Until next time!


Me in a restaurant car, from Vodkatrain

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Regent Street and Leicester Square

Here are three stories from my first full day in London:

1) Jenny and I were walking through St James's Park when we saw a squirrel and got really excited. Then we saw a whole heap more squirrels - the park was full of them! We saw one right by the path and were surprised at how close it was and as we scrambled for cameras for Exciting Squirrel Photos, it made a dash straight at Jenny and tried to climb her leg. Did it mistake Jenny for a tree or do the St James squirrels just have no fear? Squirrel madness!

2) We headed to Buckingham Palace which was surprisingly crowded. Aha! It turned out we'd arrived there for the changing of the guard. At least, after the event, I'm pretty sure that was what was going on but whilst we were there it felt like there must be some kind of extra special event on considering the amount of people. I guess it's just a popular occasion! We saw the big brass band of guards in bearskins parading around and some riflemen walked past us. Eventually the brass band marched into the central courtyard where they set up music stands and looked like they were ready to start their Main Fanfaring event.
The band started playing and we were sure we recognised the tune. It took us a minute, but then we realised they were playing.... Don't Stop Believing?!
This then turned into "Any Way You Want It"
We went to Buckingham Palace and the guards played a JOURNEY MEDLEY.

This now ties as one of my favourite things that's happened over the course of my whole trip.

3) Later that day I went to buy a DVD, which happened to be rated UK-15. I took it up to the counter and I was asked, "can I have some ID for that?"

To reiterate: over the course of a day I saw royal guards play a Journey medley and was mistaken for being ten years younger than I actually am.

London is crazy!
London is also the greatest. I've also been to see the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, Abbey Road, 221B Baker St and plenty of other good things.

I've been to Forbidden Planet and went a bit crazy for Avengers merch:

Avengers madness!

Not pictured is my Avengers soundtrack album which I bought on a CD-buying spree at HMV. Presents for yourself - a good expense?
I also bought myself a copy of Peter Rabbit at the British museum. Peter Rabbit in hieroglyphs! It is the greatest.

Today for lunch I had a venison, wild boar, red wine and apricot baguette, washed down with mulled wine from a Christmas market and then a slice of banoffee pie. Living the good life on my remaining pounds!

Today was also Jenny's last day and we celebrated with a final pub dinner before parting ways. Two more days for me before I (hopefully!) head home.

And now for some very concerning news: (here)

Here's hoping the airports have opened up again by Tuesday. Please, please let me get home for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Celtic Soul Brothers

One more Stonehenge photo for the road

I've made it! I'm here in London, the last stop on my trip before heading home and I'm very excited about one more week of adventuring before returning to eat a lot of barbecues, drink Good Stella and enjoy Christmas and Buss festivities.

Our time in Cornwall was great: we ended up making it to Falmouth (where we based ourselves at an inn that did insanely strong ginger beer), Tintagel, Penzance and St Ive's and whilst I didn't see any actual pirates or mermaids I did succeed in eating some good pasties.

On our first night in Cornwall we were, we're pretty sure, kicked out of a pub! We got completely lost trying to find the inn we were staying at so we had to stop the car and ask at another pub. Despite being completely friendly, receiving apparently friendly directions in return to "the other pub" (it was just around the corner!) and promising to return for a pint for their help, a woman got up from the bar and walked with us to the door, closing it behind us and muttering to us "don't bother coming back." What?!

Having a car to drive around was excellent and many cheers to Jenny who was our designated driver (as I am considered too young and reckless, ie. being younger my insurance would have costed more). We listened to a lot of radio but it was never as good as the Irish radio! Considering how much incredibly good British music there is I don't know why we had to repeatedly hear Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair".

My favourite car moment was when, in a sudden change of programming, the radio started playing "Killing In The Name Of" bringing back so many memories of how much we ROCKED OUT to it in the Dublin pub crawl, and as we rocked out to it one more time Stonehenge came looming up before us. I said, "hey there's Stonehenge!" Jenny said, "where?!" Me, "right there!" This went on for quite a bit, and it's funny because Stonehenge was right in front of us, looking particularly prominent. This could be one which loses something in the telling!

Cornwall poll: Which of these seagull public safety warnings from St Ives is best? Also, why would a town issue at least 3 differently-worded seagull warnings?

Seagulls of St Ives: Warning 1

Seagulls of St Ives: Warning 3

Seagulls of St Ives: Warning 2

More photos from Cornwall and our whirlwind stopover in Oxford are now up: here!

Far out, I'm excited about seeing London. All I've seen so far is a bit of the area around my hostel in the dark but it turns out I'm staying in a very cool part of town - on Queen's Gate, the same block as the Albert Hall! I've got 6 days to fit in all I want to see and I'm determined to see a lot. London! Hooray!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I am the Blaidd Drwg

Today almost all my Wales dreams came true:

Heated tents for cool people

We found where they were filming Doctor Who!
It seemed like they were on their lunch break so we didn't actually see any actors, but there was definitely some interesting business going on in Neath Abbey! We didn't linger around (we actually felt a bit snoopy being there), so all we saw were some tents, serious looking security guards and a cool abbey, but strangely they did let us just wander around the site and through their stuff. Actors or no, it was mega-exciting. When I see this episode, it's going to be the best!
Just to make it even cooler, word on the internet is that the episodes that they're filming at the moment are written by Matthew Graham. Best ever!

Cardiff was an amazing place where I drank brains, didn't get rained on and where there was something eerily familiar (from Who) around every corner.
My favourite was the National Museum, which we didn't plan to go to but were lured in by the draw of a free museum and were surprised with both animatronic wooley mammoths and much Who-familiarity!

Hey, I know that museum!

Musée d'Orsay by mistake!

We also went to see the Doctor Who exhibition, where they house lots of the old monsters, costumes and props. IT WAS BRILLIANT.

Dalek, or 80s rock legend

My pictures of the Lake District and Cardiff, including many of the Doctor Who exhibition are all up: here!

It's been pretty sad leaving Who-country where our hostel was particularly great and did the best breakfast I've had yet. However, today we picked up a hire car and headed on a big road trip down to Cornwall, where I intend to find a mermaid, thwart a smuggling ring and eat lots of pasties. And keep fondly remembering that time when I walked through the Doctor Who set.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The ice age is coming

Over the past few days I've had a really unfortunate run of bad luck!
Within the space of a day I managed to lose a pair of thermal long johns (accidentally (?) taken from our hostel's 'drying room'), my GERMAN HAT (foolishly left on a train - but I'm still chasing up lost and found in case of a miraculous recovery) and a postcard I was about to send home. Also, one of our trains was cancelled meaning we almost didn't make it to Stratford-upon-Avon in time for our theatre booking for that night. Yikes! Too much in too short a space of time!

Luckily we did end up making it in time for our show and it was worth it in every way. We went to see Matilda, A Musical by the Royal Shakespeare Company. A musical version of Matilda, with music by Tim Minchin, performed by the RSC felt like something that could go very wrong very easily. Instead, it was awesome! The songs were good, the casting was good, it was a genuinely great time. Trunchbull was the best. I want to see it again!

For our crazy one-night stop in Stratford-upon-Avon (where, because of our late trains, we didn't get to see much more than a few Elizabethan houses, a pub and a play) we had to stay in a B&B. This was pricey but as it turns out, great! The B&B owner, Diana, was the friendliest lady ever and cooked us a seriously awesome full English breakfast. The whole house was decked out in Christmas decorations and we stayed up watching QI and Big Bang Theory on our free TV. Now I feel appropriately refreshed from my spate of bad English luck and I am excited about England again!

Before this we spent a few nights in the Lake District, which was very snowy but very cool. Whilst there I seemed to offend a lot of wildlife. We came across a robin whilst walking in the snow who seemed mega friendly and didn't mind at all when we poked our cameras in his face. Turned out he must have just been sizing us up as opponents because as soon as the cameras were away he tried to swoop me.
Later, we walked past a field of sheep who I tried to communicate with, with a friendly "mmeeeeehhhh". After my third attempt at the perfect sheep noise I finally got a response.... and then another.... and then another.... Suddenly all the sheep were mmeeehhhing at each other, one at a time, and each sheep that made the noise looked directly at me with what appeared to be a very menacing gaze. It was spooky and we made speedy tracks away from the field!
It's very hard to tell how much of this apparent wildlife spookiness is actually just a side-effect of me reading my first Stephen King novel, which I picked up from a hostel book exchange and which may have put me more on edge than I realised!

I haven't got my photos up yet but trust me, they are full of snow! Now we're in Cardiff where right now, somewhere in the not-too-distant neighbourhood, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are filming Doctor Who. Am I excited about this? Yes, my friends. Yes I am.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hoth, Coruscant, Florin and Gallifrey

Cliffs of Moher, or, Cliffs of Insanity!

The other day we went on a bus tour as a means of seeing a bit more of Ireland with our limited time - we went to Limerick, the Burren, Bunratty Castle and the Cliffs of Insanity.
This meant a lot of time on the bus listening to Irish radio. Here is a great insight into Irish radio: after reporting on the heavy snow across the country, they announced all the babies born in the county that week. Then, they played "Ice Ice Baby". Irish DJs are out of control!

Over the course of the day I also got really excited about the impending announcement of the World Cup bid winners, which they were counting down to. Hooray to World Cup in Russia (particularly as while I was there they had all their flags out for the World Cup bid)! Boo to no World Cup in Australia!

Ireland is a great country which I have loved immensely! It has proved everyone wrong: I didn't get rained on once! Heavily snowed on, yes, but no real rain and in Cork we had three days of blue skies.
Ireland has felt like a string of drinking stouts and crazy occurences.

These occurences include:

- using my voucher for a free pub crawl on a pub crawl in Dublin in which there ended up being only 4 other people (including the guide). Jenny and I were the oldest people there (including the guide) and we definitely felt it. It was a strange but pretty good time, but when we got to the last pub things went nuts! Within the space of what felt like a very short amount of time: two of pub crawl attendees started making out and then went off together, our guide mysteriously disappeared, the other pub crawl member had locals get into a fist fight over her and then they got kicked out the pub, and I found myself partying harder than I ever thought possible to "Chelsea Dagger" and "Killing In The Name Of" played by a cover band. I woke up mildly hungover and ate a full Irish breakfast, including black pudding! I have concluded that Dublin is a good time.

- going to the Great Jedi Library! Or, the building that George Lucas somewhat sneakily "adopted" for the Jedi Library. I think this could be the first Star Wars location I've ever visited and it was insane, it was just like stepping into the movie. I was exceptionally excited. Then, once I got over that, I was also excited about what a cool library it was!

(this is a photo found on google because they don't let you take photos in the Jedi Academy!)

- In Cork, Jenny and I shared wine with a completely crazy Frenchman known as "French Adrien Brody". We never found out his real name but he looked a lot like Adrien Brody. Twice we saw him cooking, and getting very excited about, potatoes.

- We went to the Cork gaol where, after doing a tour of the old prison cells which are filled with creepily life-like wax dummies, we were going to look in the little shop. When we got in a guy told us to come with him so we could watch a film. He led us down a corridor and into a big circular room and told us to sit "near the fire" (heater). We were the only ones there in this big room - except for some more wax dummies with their backs to us - and he left and turned off the lights. Instead of a movie, the wax dummies were lit up by this weird blue light and we heard choir singing for probably a good two minutes. It was completely crazy. Eventually a film did start, projected onto the walls, but for those two minutes where wax dummies that appeared to be singing in a dark and otherwise empty prison chamber, we were genuinely completely spooked.

- the place we stayed in in Cork was above a pub and we went to a battle of the bands there. We saw a wild girl with gas masks on her shoes who made mermaid sounds whilst she was singing and at one point had a guy lift her above his head. Sometimes she did punk songs with lines like "pussy make the world go round" which were not quite my thing but then sometimes she did reggae songs where her voice sounded really good. If this girl ever becomes famous I guess we can say, hey, we saw her in the Cork Bru Bar Battle of the Bands!

- Whilst down in the bar we saw a Fake Moriarty. This guy bore a very spooky resemblance to me, particularly from the side, which was also helped by the fact that we wore pretty similar clothes. Jenny and I theorised that he could be a distant Moriarty relative, and then joked that he might be the new roommate we knew we had in our dorm. Surprise! He was. We then concocted elaborate plans to find out if his name was Moriarty (which basically consisted of Jenny saying "hey, Moriarty" when we were both around). We never found out. Either way, I think he must have been the wacky Irish version of myself! He wouldn't believe me when I told him the time in the morning - for some reason never established, his phone was set half an hour earlier than the actual time.
Other than this candidate I didn't meet any other Moriartys in Ireland (to my knowledge), though I did hear a request for "Family Moriarty" when I was listening to the radio on my bus trip (it was for Billy Joel)!

Here is another classic Jenny quote from one night in Cork:
"This is the worst dinner ever. I'm having beer and two mushrooms."

After Cork we returned to Dublin for two more nights, where we decided to take a night off and ate junk food and went to see Megamind. It was good times! Today we finally made it to the Guinness Storehouse and tomorrow morning we're hopefully finally flying out to England - flying into Manchester and then heading straight for the Lake District. We're waking up at 4am so fingers crossed we're not thwarted by further snow!

My photos from the week are all up: here

They played songs by The Jam in both the first Irish pub we went to and the last. Ireland is excellent!

Shamrock in my Guinness!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The sun is shining, but the ice is slippery

In Paris I got very excited when I saw this much snow:

Snowing for real!

But now we're in Dublin and there's this much snow:

Statue in the mega-snow

It's not just snow, it's mega-snow! It's a very exciting time for me. A cold, exciting time.

So far I'm loving Dublin: I've drunk some delicious Guinness, ate beef pie and when "Going Underground" came on in the pub we were in last night I stuck two thumbs up right in Jenny's face.

As it turns out we made a bit of a mix-up with our flights and are flying out of Ireland a day later than we thought. Woops! This unfortunately means we get one day less in the Lake District but on the plus side, one more day of Ireland! No complaints here!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Charles the Gaul

Eiffel Tower and some mighty paving

Tonight is our last night in Paris and I'm celebrating by playing my "Ridiculous French" playlist (assorted songs which vary between sensible and very tenuous links to France) loudly on my laptop whilst Jenny tries to peacefully write in her journal. What a great roommate I am!

During my time in France I successfully managed to: buy things in shops, order in restaurants, give directions to strangers and navigate a particularly complicated job at the post office all in French, without being replied to in English (whether because I succeeded so well at French or because the people I were talking to just didn't want to speak English I will never know). Proud of myself! (particularly considering that upon arrival in France I felt like I'd forgotten everything I'd ever learnt)

I am also proud of myself because tonight I tried mussels for the first time, ordering them as my final meal in a French bar. They were curry mussels, they were very tasty and I ate them all up. Success!

My French success is in great juxtaposition with the most brilliant Paris scene that Jenny and I witnessed:
We were walking along and we saw a guy walk up to a policewoman and say to her, in a very strong southern USA accent "Eiffel Tower?"
Then, when she looked at him blankly, he said much louder, "EIFFEL TOWER?" whilst doing an "it's this tall" gesture with his hands.
The policewoman looked at him completely stoney-faced and said without cracking, "je ne comprends pas". She definitely must have known what he was saying. Greatest policewoman ever!

Our time in Paris has been pretty mega-busy! I bought a museum pass and we went to a lot of places, some which I'd been to before but all of which were grand to revisit.
It would take a long time to go through them all but here are some of my favourite things that have happened in Paris:

- we went to the catacombs, which are deep underground tunnels filled with the bones of many Parisians, all stacked in there after they decided to clear out the city's cemeteries for health reasons in the 18th century. They were the greatest!

Badge evidence

- we caught the first snow of the season (we think) whilst wandering around Père Lachaise cemetery! The first snow we got was quite confusing as it was semi-snow, semi-hail but today we got definite flakes. I was mega, mega excited. Jenny was cold!
I am much more of a cold weather fan than Jenny, who is not so much, as evidenced in a quote from today: "I think the cold is making my gums recede"

- tracking down Hotel Chevalier:

Hotel Chevalier!

- Jenny chasing pigeons in Montmartre:

A Pigeon Story: part 2A Pigeon Story: part 3

I have a ton of photos from this week which probably have a lot more detail about what I've been up to! Now all up: here
That link starts at the end of my Strasbourg photos, which I realise I didn't all make public when I thought I did. Woops! Now they're all up for real!

Last night we went to see Harry Potter - in English, but it still had subtitles in French. Turns out that in French "wand" is "baguette". The very serious scene where Voldemort was going on about how he needed another baguette and would anyone like to give him a baguette was the greatest thing I've seen in a long time!
(also, for some mysterious reason Snape is renamed "Rogue" in French. Sneaky old Severus Rogue!)

I have strong suspicions that my Italian talking watch may be aquiring an intelligence of its own. For two mornings in a row it's suddenly started spontaneously playing music when I'm trying to be quiet and not wake up the other people in my dorm. Is my watch attempting to sabotage, or brighten up, my mornings?

Tomorrow we're flying to Dublin, and I'll return to countries where I'll be able to read every sign, understand background conversations and understand everything on the menu. Woah! It's going to be a crazy change.
Goodbye Paris and mainland Europe! I've enjoyed being stuck behind your language barrier and having good times for the past 4 months.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ça Plane Pour Moi

Last night I drank kvas and had borscht and pelmeni for dinner. Hey, I'm back in Russia! Or rather, I found a Russian restaurant down the street from our Paris hostel and convinced Jenny we should go. Sour cream and dill, it's been three months and I've missed you!

Mighty welcome feast

We had a grand time in Strasbourg and Anne and Jonathan were awesome hosts. We got two days of being shown around wacky Strasbourg with tour guide Anne, and then one day left to our own devices whereupon we decided to go CRAZY and go back to Germany. We went to Triberg in the black forest, saw a waterfall, ate black forest cake which I didn't think I'd like but which was really, really good and then suddenly found ourselves back in France again. Bam! Goodbye Germany, for the 3rd time.

Strasbourg was indeed a wacky town. Each of the tram stops had its own music, one of which I swear was one of the sound effects from Mass Effect. There was also a giant statue of a giraffe in a suit, a whole square full of army tanks and a park with monkeys in it. It's madness! But good madness. We tried traditional Alsatian flams, from "Flams", and Anne also introduced us to the best kind of cheese. All up, a good time!

My Strasbourg photos are all up: here

We're now in Paris for a week, during which time we plan on doing heaps of stuff! This is the first city I can say I've properly returned to. At the same time it's familiar, but not like I remember it, except for some parts which are exactly the same. A strange feeling!

So far we've heard "La Vie En Rose" twice in the one day that we've been here. I plan on keeping count! However, I'm worried that if I hear "Non Je Ne Regrette Rien" I'm going to suddenly wake up on an aeroplane heading to Beijing and realise all of my Europe trip so far has been just a dream....

Hey, I'm on TV!

Friday, November 19, 2010

1664 Forever

Today we went on a tour of the Kronenbourg breweries in Strasbourg.

Was the best part of this:
a) the fact that the tour was in French and I was able to follow along for most of it?
b) the fact that afterwards we got to try a lot of beers for 4.50 euros?
c) the cardboard stand-up I discovered in a corner display case.

Correct answer:

It's just so good!

This may in fact be one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

Translation of the caption: "I love my wife. She buys Kronenbourg in six-packs."

It's George Lazenby, so does that mean his beer-delivering wife is Diana Rigg?
I just can't get over the astounding awesomeness of this ad. Hooray for the 60s, hooray for Kronenbourg!