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Maria's international adventures

"Chaos is the score upon which reality is written." - Henry Miller

Diary Entries

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Location: North of the river, England

It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve also managed to give myself whiplash due to an alcohol related injury. I was at Kajsa’s and her flat mate spilt a tray of bailey shots. I’m not sure if I was walking past or dancing through, but I slipped and landed in it. I went down hitting my ass, back and head and Mel thought I was concussed. My bum and beneath my shoulder blades were aching for the week, along with my neck. Baileys really stinks when you’re coated in it from head to toe.

My job has been keeping me entertained. There’s been more social events like our planning event at the Dali Universe, followed by a speed boat ride on the Thames and then dinner. Nursing hangovers the following day is completely fine here.

Work has also taken me to the races at the Royal Windsor racecourse. My boss had a spare ticket in the corporate box so I joined in the drinks, surf and turf, and was £30 up at the end of the day.

This week I’m saying goodbye to Islington in North London. I currently live on the border of Highbury and Stoke Newington. I’ll miss Stoke Newington Church Street, which is a cool little area. But on the other hand, we’re just up from Hackney, which as my Dr informed me, has the highest incidence of TB in all of Europe!  I’m now immunised.

Our little household is moving on. Tired of her job, Lucy quit and threw her future to fate. She found a job in a boarding school in Oxford with Jess. Lucas, my other flat mate is also moving due to work - to Dubai. It would be hard to find better housemates but I’m excited about leaving the pigeon breeding ground and Japanese torture device known as our shower. Or maybe it’s more Swiss, with it’s 20 seconds of scalding and 20 seconds of freezing alternating water.

House hunting in London has an emphasis on the ‘hunting’ with places filled in moments. And then there’s the sifting of the dickheads. For example, the girl who arranged for me to see her place on Sunday afternoon. She left me waiting with her flat mate for an hour while she went shopping. She finally arrived but was more interested in making herself a sandwich. Even her flat mates were confused. After a brief chat she said it would be good for me to meet their other flat mate, and he’d be home in about half an hour. There was no way I wanted to live in this converted, dodgy flat with an insecure, pain in the ass, inconsiderate girl, so I said I’d been there long enough. Time wasters.

I decided to take a place in Clapham, Sarf London. The house needs a bit of love, but the it’s spacious and the guys are chilled and super nice. Both are 30, one from Kent and works in emergency services and the other is from Adelaide and is an industrial designer.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Location: Dans le Noir?, England

Forget dancing in the dark, why not try eating in the dark? Lucas organised a group dinner at Dans le Noir? This restaurant has its diners eat in the dark so they can re-evaluate the notion of taste and experience what it might be like to be blind. It’s ‘a unique human and sensory experience of a dinner in the pitch dark.’

When we arrived we were given locker keys for our bags and were asked to pick a menu, eg. vegetarian or no fish. The idea being you don’t know exactly what you’re about to eat but it could be anything from your chosen menu. From there a waiter takes you to the restaurant. The waiters are blind and as they’re leading you into an increasingly dark area, you walk through with your hand on the shoulder of the person in front.

There were six of us for dinner all sitting around a table. With my arms outstretched I could feel the edges of the table, so it wasn’t that big but having to listen without the visual clues, it felt like the table was much bigger as my friends sounded further away than they were. The conversation had more pauses as we listened and waited for others to finish.

Food was brought to the table and taps on the table would indicate where it had been placed. Also, we would occasionally feel taps on the back as they waiters navigated themselves around the restaurant. It is a situation of trust also, as you’re not sure what’s happening around you. There were a couple of clanging confrontations.

I soon gave up on cutlery (I’m not great with utensils anyway), and found pouring drinks the hardest. Basically, I stuck my finger in the glass and poured till my finger got wet. The only problem was that I also poured wine over my finger, hand and the table.

Guessing the dishes was harder than I thought and to be honest, the food wasn’t that great. At the end of the day, the restaurant is about the experience rather than the food. The experience was also marred by a group of 30 that were shouting over tables (I’m assuming) to each other. Given the whole place seats 60, I’m fairly sure everyone else in the restaurant were also subjected to their conversation. With the veil of darkness, I shouted to my friends at the table to compete with their levels, and so we could hear each other at our table. Clearly no match for the bigger group, I decided to shout at them instead. ‘Shut up! This is a restaurant, not a pub!’ To which one of them shouted something about being rude. What ever.

It was funny, as we went to the bar - with lights - afterwards, and the large group were milling around looking suspiciously at the other diners trying to work out who had been shouting at them...

Here’s the website if you’re curious

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Location: Queen's Theatre, England

I have a new favourite theatre show - Les Miserables. Before stepping into the Queen’s Theatre this week, my knowledge of the play was limited to it being set in 19th century France. I’ve been living under a contemporary rock.

The actors were great and delivered the goods with powerful songs and performances. Jean Valjean and Fantine were awesome. Even the young boy as Gavroche was well cast. Also impressive was the revolving centre of the stage. This provided interesting scene changes and movement of the characters. Where was that during drama classes and rock eisteddfods! It was really well done.

The performance was really entertaining. And yes, I cried.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Location: Zurich and Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucy and I headed to the land of clocks, cheese and cows for Easter. But I didn't get off to the smoothest start.

Stupidly, I keep torturing myself by booking early flights. It never seems to connect with me - an early flight = ridiculous wake up time. According to the Transport for London website, my best route was estimated at an hour and a half combining bus, tube, a bus replacement service and the train, leaving my house at 4.30am. Believe it or not, this was the most straightforward. I don't know why I didn't just book a cab to the train station.

Negotiating London's public transport on Good Friday is near impossible, and when you combine that with a mis-informed, down right lying website... Maybe services are optional in minus degrees; I was waiting for phantom buses in the snow. After a series of set backs and only getting so far, I cabbed it and missed my flight anyway. Being a public holiday, the next available flight wasn't till 7pm that night. I found out later that Heathrow had 1.07 million passengers over Easter. I was put on the wait list for the next four flights and tried to contact Lucy (who was sensible and had booked her flights in advance, allowing more than three hours sleep). I was ready to pack it in. But roaming the airport pays off even if it means skulling a piping hot, burning, coffee as your waitlisted flight calls your name. I was back on the road again!

Switzerland was gorgeous. We flew into Zurich. The city centres around the Limmat River. Swans float in the water and the atmosphere is relaxed. But yet, there's plenty to see and a lot of cute bars down small cobble stoned streets. I also loved their shopping - very funky. It was probably a good thing that most places were closed over the Easter break.

We visited a few churches - the Grossmünster, St. Peter's Church and the Fraumünster which contains stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. We went back to the Fraumünster on Easter Sunday for what Lucy thought would be a catholic mass. We must have stuck out as tourists as we were warned on our way in that it was about a two hour mass. In German. Ok, that's fine. Then the priest turned around we realised it was protestant (maybe). But hey, I believe in the ONE God and had two hours of personal prayer time!

We also went on a tour, where every site was "steeped in history and tradition". A boat ride on Lake Zurich was cool. We watched clouds cover the sky and snow pelt down.

In Zurich they mainly speak Swiss-German and French, and a little Italian. Ahem, we ate Italian a number of times (cough, cough). It was SWISS Italian people! That's my story anyway... We did try for a fondue place, and were willing to immerse ourselves in the cheesy stench, but were laughed at for not booking well in advance.

I also did a day trip to Lucerne while Lucy checked out Bern. Lucerne was gorgeous.  I loved it.  No wonder Audrey Hepburn chose there to be her home.  I had a beautiful clear morning. Perfect. The medieval architecture is awesome. The wooden Chapel Bridge, Water Tower and little market made me feel like I'd been transported. A wall around the city, Musegg Wall, remains and I went to the top of one of its towers. Such a gorgeous view of the city. Towers in they skyline, coloured buildings in the foreground and amazing snow capped mountains in the background.

I also saw the Lion monument, 'the dying Lion of Lucerne'. It has been carved out of the rock as a memorial. It snowed furiously in the afternoon. It was pretty dramatic. I found shelter in the Picasso Museum. I didn't realise he had such a fixation on the naked female body.

Lucerne was so beautiful. I was hoping to also get to the Jungfraujoch but cloudy days prevented it. I'll have to go back in summer to Interlaken for some mountain air and adventure. Perhaps even a bike ride with cow bells ringing in the distance. Snow is very pretty, but bring on summer!

Pretty as a postcard pics are here

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Location: London, UK

A few birthdays, a live recording of a radio play, a wig party, St Patrick's Day (several) celebrations and theatre had my attention in the lead up to Easter. Along with general injuries (tenosynouitis to my arm), from my first gym trip after Australia. I think I'm finding new ways to hurt myself.

Cat also introduced me to a wonderful Thai place called Busaba. Which I then introduced to Dave, and then Cat and I introduced to Lucy. Is three times in two weeks excessive? The chilli calamari are worth it on their own! I also love the informal communal tables. Here you can't reserve a table (ha, take that!) and the line is well out the door. As a testament to it, and to prove I'm not obsessed (ok, maybe a little...) Lucy has now been there twice in one week. See! See!!

Just on good food, I hadn't been to the Portobello Markets since 2003, so it was time. It really is a lovely area. BTW, I seem to be having difficulty finding ricotta over here. Thanks also to Michael who calls me from Aus to tell me what's on his sandwich! Damn you and your ricotta!!

Avenue Q at the theatre was good. It combines puppetry with human actors. Some of the singers were excellent. It was a cute, feel good type of show.

The BBC radio play deserves it's own slot too. Hut 33 is set in WWII and the characters are in a code-breaking hut. Microphones hang from the ceiling over the crowd, and the actors are on stage, rising from their chairs when they have a part. It was really good! I was crying from laughter, and at times when no one else was. Why, oh why, do I find accents so funny? Maybe I should look for a Russian and be happy forever more!

Sunday, 09 March 2008

Location: Paris, France

I was back at work for a week and then off to Paris with the work crew. They had won an award for for their work (prior to me joining) and this was their reward. They insisted I join them. Who am I to argue? It would have been rude not to!

I remember when I first went to Paris in 2003 and thinking, I've seen so many great places, how can the guide book go so far as to say this is the most beautiful? But then I saw it on a beautiful summer's day and later at night with the lights going crazy on the Eiffel tower. Lovely street lamps, beautiful bridges, small side roads. While the magic isn't quite the same in winter, it's still lovely. Mind you, that might have more to do with me preferring sunshine.

My bedroom in our hotel had a chandelier. I love how they do things. We went up the Eiffel Tower, and walk around town and dinner out. We had a bar recommended to us, but the waitress directed us to somewhere better. Turns out they were both gay bars. Good fun and good scenery at least.

I also took in Notre Dame, the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe. I had wanted to get tot the Muse d'Orsay this time around, but will have to put it on the list for next time. On the plus we found cheese, wine and a cute creperie with a disco toilet (including coloured lights as well as pumping music). 'You have to use my toilet! It's fabulous!'

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Location: London, England

I've just returned from a lovely month in Australia. I love that place.

I crammed quite a bit in kicking off with Jules and Anth's wedding. A hens night and a trip to Eden with around 40 of the guests were also part of the celebrations. It was like a school camp with some of my favourite people - including singing by the campfire, tobogganing down the mountain on beer cartons (which became more dangerous when Anth lit sparklers in the grass which you had to toboggan through), bocce and even pasta making.

Spending time at home went way too fast. But I got some quality time with family and saw friends out. I also took my bros ice skating. We gained the attention of the little kids, who loved coming up to us and giving us pointers. I found out later the little girl is Mum's next door neighbour. One little boy was delighted to lap me. He didn't seem to understand that it doesn't count when either of us aren't actually on the ice. If he's outside eating an ice cream or I'm changing my shoes, it doesn't count. I started to test him on his times tables to shut him up. I think Michael's tactic worked the best - skating behind him and growling with his arms outstretched.

Spending time with all the Nonni was great too. From the singing, the joking and the wise words, "when I heard he did that, I said bugger him and bugger his country too!"

Hanging out with Mum and downloading Italian music from the 60s and forcing Teresa to listen to it on the way to work was gold. It's a new tradition.

I squeezed in a couple of days in Brissy also which was relaxed and oh so warm. I caught the Andy Warhol exhibition, caught a couple of ferries, checked out Southbank and lapped up the sun.

I truely love Australia. The easy lifestyle, the bush and the sounds of summer. Ciccadas in the grass, cockatoos in the morning and lawnmowers in the afternoon.

I was sad to be leaving knowing I was heading back to winter and given one of the last things I saw before leaving London was pigeons picking through a pool of vomit. And you know how much I love pigeons. But the days are getting longer and I'm trip planning.

Just an aside, I felt the earthquake last night. The epicentre was in Licolnshire. I was reading in bed when I noticed my book was wavering. I wasn't remotely tired (good old jet lag) and I thought it was a draft coming through the inch slit at the top of my window (great place huh?). But then my bed started to vibrate. Not knowing what it was, at first I thought I was getting dizzy. But the bed was definately moving. After maybe 10 seconds it stopped.

I was awake till about 5am due to jet lag. So tonight decided to buy steak to boost my iron. But apparently I can't read when I'm tired. For those that don't like pork, it tastes inoffensive when cooked like a steak with mushrooms and baked veggies. I probably wouldn't have noticed if Lucy hadn't asked why it was white.

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Recent Messages

From tua mamma
Hi bella,
Just in case you've forgotten already.......felicita'......ridera' sara' ballo del quaqua........

Response: ...sono buigarda...!
From Jules
I love that you've lost your 'self-filter' remindes me of the poison chalice filled with ummmm ....
Response: ... with poison!
From Josie
Following on from your 'rats with wings' topic, the French have almost wiped out their population of tiny little birds, called ortolans, because they keep wolfing them down. They drown them in Cognac, I think, and then cook them. What a way to go!
Say 'hi' to Lucy, Cat & anyone else I know!
Love and hugs!
From Timbo
Sweet pics must be having a blast. I'm so jealous.
From mum
Maria, your memory is failing you - must be all that northern summer sun. There are no men with big gold hoop earrings, it was men with big smiles of gold teeth!!!! The thought of it makes you want to run away......lots of love xxxx
From kalina
wish i was there !!!!!!
luff u and don't cut your hair
Response: Hehe, you be careful around men with big gold hoop earrings!! Luff u too!
From mum
So much entertainment to view from your windows. It's a hard and tough life for some. Love to all, mum xxx.
Response: Lots of love right back at ya. Mwah! xox
From Miss P
Oh but you are a cookie full of arsenic!!!....You're too funny Smurfette!