Casa’s Blog

A Life Abroad

Is this just a matter of, Me getting what I needed? Till I was safe upon the other side, Of the international dateline…

Okay, so we have successfully arrived in the USA.  Not just in the USA, but we have successfully arrived at our destination of Washington DC – a political geeks dream.

Before we got here though there was the whole process of meeting up with Joey at Richmond Station and getting to Marmi’s where we would crash the night.  That all went like clockwork, even with my well predicted warnings that Marmi would try to feed us up good and proper coming true.  Joey and I had planned on an early night’s sleep, especially with a 3:30am wake up call and trip to Heathrow ahead of us, but with the excitement and all that it involved…we ended up chatting to about midnight.  Who needs a full 4 hours sleep anyway? 😛

To greet us in our sleep deprived state we had a disgusting cab drive. Now I am in no way critiquing his driving (although those comments could also be made) but it is clear that he was not necessarily the cleanest cab driver around.  The sounds of his chewing and other noises emanating from the drivers seat would’ve probably put us off more if it wasn’t for the lack of sleep.   We even had some lame, soppy love songs to accompany our ride to the airport before the sun had risen.

As result of our preparedness, and in spite of a check in dude who failed at the simplest tasks and didn’t even intially give us our connecting boarding cards, we had some waiting time at the airport.  I bought two books (Obama’s Audacity of Hope and a book on the bizarre scientific experiments of history) while we also browsed a variety of other books and magazine.  The travel guide for Toronto that Joey found had a disturbing entry about a ramp…but it said don’t ask about it and against our worse judgment I don’t think we will.  Waiting time that was made worse the fact that we were on the edge of our seats waiting for the gate of our flight to be announced.  All other flights had theirs listed and ours had “please wait” for about 15 minutes which we both think is highly unfair!  Although in the end we boarded the plane successfully, took off and we were on our way across the pond.

On the plane we were lucky enough to not only have those personal entertainment screens, but unlike my trip to UK from Australia…the screens worked.  There was a limited supply of quality though.  In the end, Joey and I both watched Paul Blart: Mall Cop (A movie I had started watching before and never finished but was really enjoyable) and Bride Wars (Not great, but passed the time).  The length of the flight could’ve accommodated another movie. Joey, the insomniac that he is, watched Confessions of a Shoppaholic…while I got in an hour of z’s.  The trip in the end went rather fast for the amount of time we were in the air and the food was pretty good.  The pizza was a little salty, although I didn’t notice, and there was some supposed scrambled eggs with breakfast pancakes that most likely had never seen poultry in it’s life.

We were quickly through customs and USA immigration and we were once again waiting in the airport.  One interesting point that I discovered, and was picked up by the immigration official, was that my Australian Passport had been used to enter the USA on 30 May 2006.  The last time I was in the USA was as an FPSP Evaluator in 2006 and this would not have been of importance except that today was the 30th of May 2009.  I have now been to America twice, and arrived on the same day of the same month each time.  It is exactly 3 years since I touched down on these shores last.

Our flight from JFK airport in New York to Regan in Washington D.C. once again went through amazingly smoothly.  It did shock me somewhat when I boarded the flight and had to duck my head.  It was the SMALLEST plane I have ever seen.  It had an 3 seats per row, with an aisle separating them in to lots of 1 and 2 and no more than 30 people would be on the plane.  There was just one flight attendant (steward or whatever I am supposed to call them these days) and to our delight he was probably the biggest flight attendant I have ever seen.  The smallest plane to take flight since the Wright Brothers was staffed by a 6 foot 5 plus, 200 pound flight attendant.  To us it was funny, although I do admit to have giggled slightly when my train was en route to Cockfosters last night and at the name of a rather innuendo named Muffin brand over here.

We managed to master the Washington DC Metro system and arrived after a short walk at our hotel.  The Allen Lee Hotel.  From the outside, it is a dump.  I must remember to take a picture at some stage, but really a lick of a paint would hardly fix this place’s facade.  The rooms are clean, if not in too dissimilar condition but the best part about the place is its location.  It is spitting’s distance from the Whitehouse and the Mall, right next to George Washington University and means that instead of cabs or public transport, everything we want to do or see is walking distance.

To make the most of our time in DC and the fact that we had a perfect almost summer’s day, we dumped our bags and went for a stroll.  Although guided by a map in traditional tourist fashion we struggled to go where we set off to go.  We missed the Watergate hotel and Kennedy Centre and stumbled across the Lincoln Memorial (although we made note to leave visiting such a landmark until tomorrow).  We did make our way to investigate FDR’s memorial and the Jefferson Memorial as well as seeing the Whitehouse from North and South…it was amazing for this politics nerd.  DC is a brilliantly designed city, with amazing greenery, the stature of the buildings is perfect and unlike the “hick”country town it appears, on the face of it, to be a capital you can be proud of.  The Washington Monument, which again was left until tomorrow was especially jaw dropping for me as Joey, with glee, highlighted my need to take photos of it from every angle as we walked around the city.  If I become a statesman…I want THAT kind of monument please!

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Tonight Joey and I went in search of a cocktail bar and although the Washington Hotel Cocktail Bar Terrace was shut (like the hotel) for what looks like renovations we eventually found Ozio’s.  With Winston Churchill painted on the wall, a name like “Aussies,” brilliant and rather cheap cocktails, beer on tap and a mixture of jazz and more popular music…we couldn’t find a better local for Joey and I.  We drank, chatted and just enjoyed our surroundings.

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The one disappointing thing we have noticed about Washington is the poverty. Particularly what appears to be a large proportion of african-american homeless and poverty stricken.  The parks are filled with homeless and begging people and the streets at night have people sleeping in sleeping bags. I haven’t seen such poverty in Australia and particularly such poverty targeted on a particular race in a city before. To see such a thing in the capital of what claims to be the leading country of the world is sad….but the city besides that is awesome!!!!

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May 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

But everybody’s gone, And you’ve been there for too long, To face this on your own, Well I guess this is growing up!

I spend yesterday afternoon and in to the early night enjoying the wonders of Bruges.  The city was bathed in glorious sunlight and as I had little tourist things to do, I decided what better to do than to make use of this good weather.  I sat in the De Garre pub, enjoyed another glass of that amazing beer and read my book.  I sat along the canals, between the two oldest bridges in town as the sun hit my neck, ate a selection of beautiful belgian chocolates and read my book.  I sat in the Markt as the throngs of tourists disappeared off for dinner, chowed down on some Belgian Frites (or French Fries to the uninformed) and read my book.  In the end it was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon/evening that I am sure my bookworm mother (or aunts, great aunts, grandmothers, etc) would all be proud of.

 

The book I was reading, and have now finished, is a book I started reading long ago.  I got it for christmas 2007 I am pretty sure and it is a biography of John Curtin. John Curtin has always been a major figure of interest for me as an Australian, with centre-left tendencies and generally a politics geek…how could he not.  I still remember the first time I came across his name was back in Grade 6 when I included him in my highly uniformed list of the 10 Greatest Australians.  I am now still not ‘properly informed’ to make such judgments, but I know a lot more to be in a position to judge and while a few have fallen from that original list, Jack Curtin survives.  The book was incredibly interesting reading and I think it was pure laziness that stopped me finishing it earlier.  As with all biographies (the type of books I love) it takes a while to get “to the good stuff” as you have to generally deal with all the family background, childhood and formative years and I didn’t have the patience to do so.  However, the book has now been read from stained and torn cover to cover and Curtin continues to be a really interesting figure.  He is a very flawed man who almost fell in to the positions that lead him to have such influence.  Continually doubting of his own abilities but hardly doubting of his cause.  He does show a progression from idealistic youth to the more moderate and worldly figure that sat in the Lodge, but it seems that he matured as leader as Australia matured as a country and in the end he was just the perfect leader for Australia at that time.  The good thing about the biography was that it made clear that Curtin was FAR from perfect. He struggled with depression, alcoholism and many other issues, but I think you can take heart in what he was able to achieve from such a handicapped position.  Okay, I could go on…but I feel I might have bored even the most politically minded members of my family and friends (Hi Mum!) at this point.

 

This morning I had two last tourist stops to make before I left Bruges for the start of my trek to Washington via a stopover in London.  They were two of the museums – one dedicated to Belgian “Don’t call ’em French or Freedom” Fries and one dedicated to Belgian Chocolate.  They probably weren’t the most amazing places to visit and they definitely weren’t the reason I came to Bruges, but they were enjoyable enough.  There was a reason I left them until last, but there was also a reason I went to them you could say.  I started off at the chocolate museum and it covered the history of both the plant/substance and the industry in Bruges and wider Belgium.  Besides making myself incredibly hungry it was interesting to learn all the processes and to find out the Mayan/Aztecs role in chocolate’s history. Particularly the fact that it was recently that it went from a drink to the solid chocolate we know and love.  I then moved on to the Fries museum which was just up the road and I was able to buy a combination ticket for both of them.  The fries museum taught me three things – the history of the potatoes, how we came to eat fries and that man some people take this stuff seriously.  There was a rather comical (even if not in the ended way) cartoon character romance story between a male potato and a female Fry that went throughout all the exhibits that I enjoyed.  Although I must say, although there were some trivia tidbits that may come in handy for a pub quiz down the road, the highlight was definitely the fries at the end.
Anyhow after a quick stop off at Stef’s Chocolate Shop to stock off, I took the train back to the Brussels Airport and I am now awaiting to take my British Airways flight back to London Heathrow.  I will meet up with Joey at Richmond station, head off to Marmi’s for some sleep before we are up early at about 4am to catch our flight to USA.  Another part of my travels is about to begin and it is a part that I have been eagerly awaiting for months now.  Not just because of the cities and sights that I will be able to see but that I have the opportunity to do with a good friend.  I can’t wait!!!! 😀 😀

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

You’re like a child. All the while I need you a lot. And these photographs keep me alive.

One thing you notice about Bruges is all the little things that I suppose if you rushed through the city you might miss.  The archetypal example of this is that most of the street corners have, about 3 quarters of the way up the building, little statues built into them.  I am sure there is some sort of significance that I am missing and odds are they are religious in tone.  However, I do find myself just ending up standing there, looking up and being amazed at the street art.

My first stop of today was to the Holy Blood Chapel.  As you can imagine, the name suggest why this is a famous part of Bruges- It supposedly houses a vial of the blood of Jesus Christ.  Besides the amazingly designed, vibrant interior, this is also the home of a relic described as the blood of christ.  It is an ancient, intricate  and powerful chapel regardless of the relic though.  I am not the biggest believer in relics as they have generally not sustained any scrutiny and seem more likely to be the work of the world’s first marketing students.  However,  it is obvious that they have a moving effect on people.  I went back to the chapel at 2pm to actually get a chance to see the relic up close, I couldn’t partake fully as I thought that would be more disrespectful than just observing, but whatever is in that vial is held to be extremely important to a vast group of people.  It didn’t look like blood or 2000 year old blood to me though…

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After my first visit to the Holy Blood Chapel I moved on the old palace of Gruuthuse, which holds a collection of amazing art, items and furniture from the 15th through 19th centuries.  It was particular to see both secular and religous artwork being displayed of equal quality because one tends to assume that all the great artwork of those times was religious in nature.    There was some amazing workmanship into these items though.  I couldn’t imagine where to start in designing or making any of them.  However, when I looked at the jaw dropping lacework and needlework  I could imagine people being able to make these kinds of things as I have witnessed my grandmother able to produce similarly cool stuff…a talent obviously that won’t be passed on to me.  Best of all with all these museums and exhibits is that most of the places in Bruges either have discounted prices for people who get a “Bruges Card” from their hostel or many are even reduced to just 1 Euro for people under 26 years of age – BARGAIN!

I then found myself in the Church of Our Lady.  Although a more imposing building than the Holy Blood Chapel, it was not as impressive to un-religious me.  I am sure the outside of the building would be truly inspiring though if it wasn’t being restored and covered by white plastic.  Although what old buildings in europe aren’t being restored right?  The main reason I went to this church though is that there is a statue of Madonna and Child that was made by Michelangelo in the very early 1500s.  It is one of the few works of his that left Italy and was a very impressive piece of work. I do find it strange though, reading over this paragraph, that I would rate this church as okay but not brilliant.  Before coming to Europe this church would’ve been AMAZING…but I suppose after you have experienced what Europe has in the way of churches (although I am yet to see most of the most famous ones), you get a more discerning eye.

Okay, well then I ended up at the De Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery which is the last operating brewery in Bruges.  Once again I found myself on a different and still interesting brewery tour.  Our humorous, yet matronly guide took us through the newage brewery as well as helping us nagivate through the tiny rooms, corridors and staircases that were the old brewery.  The finer points of how hard brewing in the old times (this one has operated for over 200 years) were made very clear to us and how we are blessed with beer brewed with the assistance of science.  We even ended up on the rooftop of the brewery at one point which gave another breathtaking view over the city of Bruges.  The view and the complimentary beer at the end were made even better as you could smell the hops, malt, wort and general yummy brewery smells throughout.  Now I smell like a brewery, although in the good way.  If they make a hops/malt cologne…I am buying it!

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My last tourist stop of the day before I headed back to see the relic of Christ’s blood up close was at the St John’s hospital Museum.  The insight in to the operation of the Hospital as both medical care building and housing for the homeless was interesting.  The exhibits throughout juxtaposed the suffering of those who lived there with the somewhat extravagant art that adorned the walls and corridors of this over 900 year old hospital.  Art and Charity seem to have been at the heart of this hospital.  Even religion was only a later addition to the functioning of the hospital as it started without formal ties to the church.

I am just off to sit in the pub, drink some Belgian beer and read more of my book.  However, before I go and strain my tired legs with more cobblestone walking, I have a few points to make about Bruges.  Bruges is amazing, although I supposed 2 1/2 days would be close to the maximum of time you can tourist here.  If you were going to have more time here you would need to ensure to sit and relax more, eat more waffles/chocolate and drink more beer (What a chore that would be haha).  In the end, Bruges, although brill can be done in a weekend.  If I was to come back though, I think it would be the perfect setting for a romantic weekend.  It has the beauty of the city itself and I am sure any future partner of mine would love waffles, beer, lace, artwork, architecture, chocolate or beautiful parks, if not a combination of those.  Actually scrap the lace and my perfect partner would probably love all of those haha

May 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two lovers dressed in their nightgowns, sleeping but their souls are somewhere else. Nobody came when they called for help. There was a ghost in the boy’s bedroom wearing the boy’s mother’s perfume. He didn’t know he would see her soon.

Okay so what is ,more difficult than typing on the keyboard that has not got the corresponding letters to the keys?  Typing on the actual belgian keyboard!

Well, I should get the announcements over and done with.  I am in love. Just after California continues its bigoted views of relationships I feel it is as good as time as any to announce my new love. Now this may shock none of you but I am in love with the De Garre pub here in Bruges.  Up a hidden alley, sits a pub that is housed in a building that has existed for more than 500 years. Inside said pub, for just 3 Euros, you can get the house beer (Triple  Van De Garre). It is the greatest beer ever. Seriously!  It is smooth, strong, sweet, heavy (11  per cent heavy!) and just sex in drink form.  If I would kill my kids for Paradis Ice Cream…you REALLY don’t want to hear what I will do for my one true love 😛

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Besides just walking around Bruges, tonight I have also noticed how cheap Bruges is.  It isn’t free, but when compared to Denmark (which is extortion) or any other Euro town;  the prices are amazingly cheap.  The above beer price should tell you such…

After going to De Garre I continued my walking around the city.  In the end I ended up at what is the oldest pub in Bruges…at just under 500 years old! I had to have a beer in this establishment and as I did I couldn’t help but fantasise about the past.  The many people and characters that have gone through those doors in 500 years.  The ghosts that haunt this pub. Somewhat childishly, I ended up thinking only of Guybrush Threepwood coming through those doors… ARGH! I am rubber and you are glue!

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My walks continued, as they were assisted by cheap and amazing belgian chocolates.  I walked the streets, the alleys and the parks of Bruges.  I covered so much groudn that I was impressed!  I did need to refuel; so a meal of french fries (or Belgian Frites I should say) and a cheeseburger did just the trick halfway along the walk.  I did manage to tick off another “In Bruges” place as I walked through the park where Ray tries to kill himself.

And with that my day is done. I thought about leaving this til tomorrow, but my legs are so tired the idea of typing a post while stationary was too appealling.  After a very early  morning, I am off to bed!

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies. This is the dawning of the rest of our lives, On holiday…

Okay, so apologise for any spelling mistakes in this post but I am using the computer in the hostel that has a Belgian keyboard, yet is typing like a USA/Aus one…so I am using my memories of learning to touch type from primary school lol.

Today I am in Belgium, Bruges to be precise, but I feel I need to wrap up my time in Copenhagen.  Last night was a very fun and relaxing night.  The best way to top of my time in Denmark.  After a meal of “Fried Flesh” and potatoes with some awesome sauce that Jonna made (okay, I am rabbiting on about it a bit…but she cooks good food!), the whole family ended up sitting down for tea, popcorn and jeopardy.  That was of course after I enjoyed the wonders of a Danish thunderstorm.  The storm moved in quickly, and basically left just as quickly, but it was fierce and had that strange beauty that thunderstorms have.  The funniest part about the whole night was that although a trivia board game is supposed to be a challenge for the contestants, as the jeopardy game was in Danish for my benefit Sebastian (quizmaster of the evening) had the test of translating every question in to Danish.  He was surprisingly good, although I should learn not to be so impressed by the multilingual nature of europeans but pretty much every word he struggled with, I (the native speaker) struggled with as well haha.  It was an early night for all involved though as everybody had to be up early, Peter (who was driving me to the Metro Station) and myself having to be up incredibly early…at 5am 😦

The process of getting up, going to the Metro Station, getting to the Airport, checking in and getting on the plane all went very smoothly.  A little too smoothly some might say.  Well, just as I was remarking to myself how easy the process had all been I encountered that the train from Brussels Airport to the city that would lead me to my train to Bruges was affected by a strike (Damn Unions 😛 ).  So I ended up having to get on a couple of trains, not really knowing where I was going and relying mainly on the dodgy english suggestions of the staff at the stations.  However, surprisingly come 12:30pm…I was in Bruges.  I was kind of proud of my ability to negotiate all of this when although all signs/announcements were in 3 languages…none were english.  I realised that although I thought Denmark was the first country I have visited without knowing the language, the fact I had the help of supportive extended family…I didn’t really realise the daunting task it was.

I did get some time to examine the countryside of Belgium, although I saw non of Brussels (besides the main train station).  The country is just what you would expect.  Plenty of green. Plenty of farms and cows.  Plenty of pitched roof gingerbread houses and most of all the landscape is peppered with old church spires poking up through the scenery

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When I got in to Bruges, I found my hostel and dropped off my bags.  I would have to wait to check-in so I thought I better make the most of my time and wander the streets of Bruges.  I took a stroll down to Markt and the Belfry, which is widely regarded in all the guides as THE attraction and also plays a main part in “In Bruges” so really, it had to be the first thing I saw and place I went to.  The Belfry was another of those mammoth stairclimbing challenges, where the steps and stairwells get smaller, tighter and harder to navigate as you got up.  However, once again I successfully reached the top of over 350 steps.  I was proud of the achievement as I looked out over the fairy tale like city that is Bruges.  On the horizon you can see the influence of the 21st century but the city itself, especially from this high angle where the glass storefronts and electronics can hardly be seen, seemed to be trapped in the 1600s.  That is the point of this city though as it was  thriving port town that got cut off from development as the bigger ships of about 300 years ago couldn’t reach it through the narrow canals.

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After my trip up, and down, the Belfry I took the advice of everyone I had spoken to and that is to see the city from the canals.  I found the nearest tourist boat stop and for just 7 euros I was off as part of a full boat of tourists for our hour long multilingual tour of the city.  The tour gave a little information about the history of the town, but also did a very good job of pointing out all the major landmarks so that I can now roughly know where all the other places I want to visit are.  Overall, the canal tour just reinforced the fact that Bruges is a city that just doesn’t look real. The only downside of the tour was that it started to pour with rain just as it started.  It didn’t distract from the beauty of the place, but it did mean that I had to navigate my neck around a vast sea of umbrellas to see things.  I was one of those people who didn’t really mind getting wet as long as I got to see the wonders of the city.

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Okay, I am off soon as I can’t sit in Belgium without going to the pub for some good ol’ Belgian Beer.  However, there is one last thing I want to say.  It has taken me just a few hours in Bruges to not only notice how great the place is, but also that the movie magic was well in force for  “In Bruges.”  So far I can tell you that the ticked booth to the Belfry is nowhere near where it is in the movie, they only shot in the widest part of the tower (even when it is supposed to be at the top) and at the top the area is well enclosed…unlike in the movie.  These are the kind of small things that are bound to keep popping up and keep me entertained haha.

Anyway…beer awaits!

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why are you looking grave? Are you thinking of something to say? Why are you sitting there? Are you hoping that someone will stare?

Today was my last proper day in Copenhagen.  Tomorrow morning I wake up quite early, jump on the Metro to Copenhagen Airport and start my journey to Bruges in Belgium.   A really full day yesterday had meant there was only one last thing to do today from my list and that was to go to the Carlsberg Brewery.  Yes, you may start to notice that Breweries and Distilleries are regular features of my travels but that is because they mix my two interests of science and drinking as well as in this case Carlsberg being  a drink I have lived off as my beer of choice for the last 6 months…I just had to go.

 

After I eventually woke up I began walking to the Carlsberg brewery.  I probably could’ve bused it or biked it but as time was not a factor I liked the idea of continuing to ramble my way through the streets of Copenhagen.  It just allows you to see many things you may otherwise miss from a bus or other form of transport.  50 minutes later, I arrived at the brewery. 

 

Much like most major breweries, Carlsberg’s main operations have moved out of the city and in to the country where there is greater land available.  However, there was a visitors centre set up in the old brewery as well as a Jacobsen’s micro-brewery and bar that has been added on the site of the old brewery. 

 

Much like the Guiness tour, it was a self guided tour and a fair bit of time was devoted to the process of making the beer.  This is something that doesn’t drastically differ in theory between breweries but there was still a vast amount of things that made this tour special and interesting.  Firstly there was the largest beer bottle collection in the world, although I couldn’t see any VB or other Australian beers in the display.  Then there was also a detailed timeline of the history of Carlsberg and information on the influence that Carlsberg has had on wider Copenhagen (Of course the little mermaid and other statues are all donations to the city by the Carlsberg company).  The interesting parts of the tour for me where the fact Carlsberg used to use the Swastika as it’s symbol, the relationship between all the different breweries in Denmark that has lead to Tuborg, Carlsberg, etc all being one company in the 21st Century as well the excellent way the displays made use of comparing the process as used by Carlsberg today vs the process of the 1900s and earlier.  There was also the interesting thing that every brewery tour I go on seems to have  a large amount of school kids there on an excursion…a pretty cool excursion if you ask me!

 

After the tour there is the Jacobsen’s bar where you get to sample two different beers as part of you entry price (DK60).  I went for the Carl’s Ale and the Jacobsen’s Extra Pilsner as I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to drink beers that aren’t available back home in Australia.  They were lovely though and it was great to just sit down and enjoy them on a beautiful day in Denmark.

 

As I strolled back, I did notice the many Danish Flags that were on display.  You could almost consider it the equivalent of Australia Day from the flag pride going on as they adorned shop windows, buses and many other locations.  However, today was no different to any other day in Denmark, it appears that national pride is something that is taken very seriously by the Danes.  I know from talking to people about the negative effect of the recent racial issues in Denmark on the country’s reputation just how seriously their pride in their country is as well as how disappointed they are that their reputation on the world stage has been slightly dented.  One of many things that you can ponder as I sat in the park, eating my pizza and hot dog lunch as the sun beamed down…

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

You ride with both hands, Worrying is the breathing that you need, So there won’t be far to fall…

Okay, so two posts in one day but I thought it was best to cover tonight before it got lost in whatever I get up to tomorrow as it was  a great night.

Since I last posted we have eaten dinner (Some beautiful Danish meatballs that Jonna made – you can’t half tell I have been craving GOOD food after eating my dodgy attempts at cooking in Leeds can you?).  However, the main event was a trip to Tivoli. 

 

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To get there, as the weather was perfect, we rode the bikes.  The Danes, like a lot of europeans, ride bikes regularly but this was my first time on a bike in what I think was 5 years (To say my ass and legs are saw at the moment is an UNDERSTATEMENT!).  However, as they say, it is “like riding a bike” so even after an iffy start, eventually I was riding like Cadel.  It was interesting to note that there are no helmet laws in Denmark, or UK for that matter, so after being brought up in Australia the helmet-less riding just felt a little wrong.

 

When we arrived at Tivoli all of us (Seb, Peter, Jonna, Nikoline and Sophie-Seb’s girlfriend) did a slow lap of the place that let me get my bearings and get a general feel of the place.  Although it is a theme park and shares many similarities with others I have been to and even the Royal Melbourne Show, there are distinct differences that make Tivoli special. After an all in Wack-a-mole game, eating some candy, eating coconut ice cream and rides on Demon and Monsoon are night was done and off we rode home at 10:30 just as the sun was setting.

 

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What I think makes Tivoli specíal is that it isn’t at all Cheesy.  It has very little tack-factor and by an large does the whole theme park idea well. The rides may not be the best in the world, although very entertaining and the games are still most likely ripping you off, but it has a great atmosphere.  You can’t help think that Danes have the perfect date night spot whether you are a spotty faced teen desperate trying to get that first kiss or an elderly couple walking around disturbed by the amount of unruly youths with their over use of hair products.  To have such a lovely place, in the centre of town, and by comparative Danish standards be not that expensive is great.  It is something that definitely Melbourne lacks…

 

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The other thing that I have noticed in my time in Denmark is just how different every family is.  As  a kid we grow up thinking that our family is the norm.  Ýou may stay over at a friend’s place and see something a little different or a different kind of relationship but you will generally just side track that and disregard it.  However, in reality we are probably the exception instead of the norm- or at least every family is different and has its own unique dynamic.  I have been welcomed in to a ‘home’ here and I am very grateful for that fact, but I notice that it is a different kind of home than I am used to.  It may be a danish thing. It may be a them thing.  Odds are it is probably just a people thing though..

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Brilliant sky all over, There’s a brilliant sky all over. These days, yeah…

Last night, after a full day of Copenhagen I was pretty tired.  I feel tiredness may become a common feeling with the amount of stuff I am fitting in over the next few days. However, after a brilliant dinner of Veggie Lasagna, potatoes and salad I did have the energy to go with Peter as he walked Baloo so I saw a little more of the area.

 

I don’t think I have mentioned Baloo yet.  Baloo is the family dog -a cute little furry one who has quite a bark on him.  He seems to want to be a bigger dog than he really is so barks like a maniac at strangers, especially men, and I fit the bill on both counts.  After a few days though the loveable Baloo is coming around to me though.  When I came home after my day today, there was no barking.  Just an inquisitive, ultra-cute look that you can see below…

  

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Anyway, back to the walk.  As we walked around the suburbs of Copenhagen at near-dusk (which is after 10pm at the moment) and chatted I noticed something.  There is a look to all the houses I have seen around Copenhagen and I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it besides “Danish” or “European” which are piss poor excuses of adjectives.  Well I figured out the three things that put these house apart.  They all have ultra pointed roofs to deal with the snow.  They are all made out of brick as obviously there is a lot less wood available here than in Australia where weatherboards are quite common.  Finally, all of the houses look like they should be in a fairy tale and made out of Gingerbread.  Okay Hans Christian Andersen was a Dane so that is not surprising but it takes a while for these thoughts to solidify.

 

Anyway, after watching Mission Impossible 3 and going to bed, today I was off to “tourist” on my own.  I had been informed that the bus we took yesterday goes all the way in to the centre of Copenhagen and drop me off near the Tivoli, so off I went.  I got alighted next to the Tivoli and then started my stroll through the city to my eventual destination – a canal tour.  The Tivoli is one of the main tourist destinations, but we had already planned to go there tonight.  The walk through the city was brilliant as I got to see a variety of different buildings and spaces and got to get a real feel of the city.  One thing I’ve noticed is that all through the city, along the roads and bike paths and in the public squares are statues.  It really brings a level of interest to all the parts of the city.

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The canal tour was pretty good.  For just DK60 (or about 8 pounds) I got an hour tour of the canal and harbour in English, German and French.  The first thing that impressed me was how Leah the young tour guide managed to repeat the whole tour in 3 languages as she went.  It did mean that  you had to listen all the time though as occasionally, with her Danish accent, you couldn’t quite tell if she was speaking English haha.  The tour was really informative and you got to see a lot of Copenhagen as it really is a city built on the water.  A list of the things and places I could see are Nyhavn, The Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, Our Saviour’s Church, The Royal Yacht, Christianborg Palace, the Old Stock Exchange and of course…the Little Mermaid. 

 

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The Little Mermaid statue has been what most people think of when they hear the name Copenhagen, so I had to see it.  I even especially had to see it because as a kid Copenhagen = THAT statue, as in the awesome kid’s computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? the picture that associated with Copenhagen was that statue.  However, although you got a good view of its backside from the canal tour, I wanted to see it up close so that was a task for later on in my day.

After my canal tour, I got a somewhat Danish lunch while on the run to continue my travels around Copenhagen – hot dogs.  There are little sausage stands set up around town and for just DK20 you can get a good feed.  I should say though that my hot dog was so good that I got another…different stand, but equally good.  My plan was to walk from Nyhavn around to the Little Mermaid Statue but on the way I saw some great fountains, churches, buildings and the Amalienborg Palace up close.  There are some great sights in Copenhagen.

 

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Once I arrived at the Little Mermaid statue, I must admit that it isn’t that impressive. I think a lot of my desire to see it comes from societal reasons influencing me that it is the thing I have to do and that it is so associated with the city.  It is a nice statue, but some of the other ones I saw around the city seemed to be much more expressive, beautiful or interesting.

 

I then ended my day in Copenhagen City by strolling back towards the bus stop.  On the way I strolled though the impressive King’s Gardens.  Today was a proper sunny by that point, so it was very relaxing and beautiful. I found myself stopping to sit in the sun for a bit just to enjoy it.  Anybody else would’ve!  Although I did think as the sun beamed on to my face how differently special these gardens would be covered with fresh white snow in the winter.

 

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Just before I caught the bus back and rested my tired feet I stopped off to get Paradis Ice Cream again.  It is THAT good that I needed to. Especially as the “Hydelbloom” or whatever that flavour is, is amazingly tasty yet although there are drinks, ice creams and the like flavoured with that berry in Denmark I don’t think I will find it again soon.  After taking a swig of Nikoline’s “Hydelbloom” drink in Christiania yesterday…I have become an addict.

 

Anyway, I think the time has come to relax in the sun with a Tuborg.  Tonight we will be busy at Tivoli and I need to be full of energy for the world’s oldest amusement park!

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

We are what we’re supposed to be, Illusions of your fantasy, All dots and lines that speak and say, What we do is what you wish to do….

Sup from Denmark 🙂

 

I flew in to Copenhagen without a hitch.  EzyJet were on time, didn’t crash and  all this despite the plane leaving from the somewhat fearful gate 13 at Stansted Airport.  I’ve always enjoyed toying with the “fate” associated with the unlucky number 13 though, even wore it when I played footy as  a little kid because nobody else would 😛  The first thing I noticed on the plane was that there were Scandinavians everywhere.  Now this probably shouldn’t have been surprising but it was more the fact that there didn’t appear to be a Pom or other foreigner on the plane.  Scandinavians with their damned good looks (yet to see an ugly one haha) and there fondness to what I call “Marty McFly” shoes were all over the place.  It was also on the flight that I realised that the Danes speak Danish (another obvious observation) but I must admit I gulped when I realised that I will be going to a place where I won’t be able to understand the natives for the first time since I left Australia.  Actually that should be, as I was going to the first place where I didn’t speak the language…as WHO can understand an Irishman, Scotsman or man from Yorkshire? LOL

 

I was met at the airport by Peter who had graciously offered me a bed for my time in Copenhagen as well as to pick me up from the airport and generally welcome me in to my home.  For the friends, Peter is my Dad’s cousin.  He is the Danish equivalent of Riza…but we still struggle to realise what type of Cousin that makes them to me 😛  My first thoughts of Denmark were a little blurry as I couldn’t see much from the plane (besides the bridge to nowhere that is really the bridge that goes to a small island before becoming the tunnel to Sweden) and I was more preoccupied with sitting on the right and NOT driving when Peter was driving me to their place than to actually look around the city.  Those observations were left until today.  I did though have a good look at their place and it is one stylish house.  Scandinavians seem to have style that us foreigners can only dream of.  I feel like I am living in a Ikea display or house layout from a magazine.  Even the small touches around the house are very stylish and “smooth.”

 

After chatting to Peter and Jonna on a bit of every topic I got a relatively early night.  I had been exhausted by a full day of travel, a 4am start to said day and the “young’ns” were out having fun.  Saying hi to Sebastian and Nikoline would wait until morning.

 

The morning was relatively lazy.  Breakfast was had.  I checked emails/facebook and  the footy scores…Lions lost unfortunately.  I did run in to Sebastian after he came home and Nikoline when she awoke, but as the weather was rainy the lazy morning continued.  Peter had suggested that we ride to Christiania (more on what that is later) but the wet weather and Copenhagen Marathon meant that became rain coats on and my first experience with the Danish Metro. 

 

When Peter, Jonna, Nikoline and I arrived at Chirstiania (Sebastian would join us later) it was an interesting place to see.  On the outside it looks like any run down, slummy area of major cities.  But this was no ordinary area.  Founded in the early 70s, it is a commune where it is largely self sufficient and hippy culture rules all.  Apparently the Cannabis culture has been removed in recent years due to a police crack down (Leading to it spreading to other parts of the city, starting gang issues in the city, etc which generates quite significant debate about drugs policy and malign displacement of crime around Denmark) but I still swear there was a certain smell in the air and you could taste the Bob Marley vibe it was that strong.

 

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I suppose to liken it to any Australian equivalent, it is like Nimbin if it was in the centre of the city.  The real estate value of the area would be extreme and you could see some capitalist investor dreaming of kicking off this squating community and making a bundle.  However, there is much more to Christiania which I feel is unique.  We sat and had coffee in the cafe and there was just a happy feel to the place (and not a drug induced happy 😉 ).  There is also a history of the community supporting each other, the less fortunate and generally, despite a history marred with riots, a supportive environment. As you walk around and hear about the “1500 christmas-less people” that they give a full christmas dinner to, you struggle to see the downside of the area.

 

Okay, if you are starting on the downside the fact a negligence lawyer or health and safety officer would have a field day with the self-built houses and buildings that look like planning permission is unlikely to have been requested, that may be a good start.  I think the real issue comes though when you hear about the area taking electricity and other resources/services from general Copenhagen and still not paying taxes or contributing to that society.  If the area was fully self sufficient, I doubt you could question its existance too much.  That is at least my first, and largely uninformed, opinion.

 

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We then went to New Harbour, after meeting up with Sebastian, where I got my first real look at Copenhagen-proper as the sun started to come out.  You see the canals.  The old tall (yet not high rise) buildings that are crammed along every street.  You see the influence of an old monarchy in the various statues and royal insignias seen around.  In general, you see a rather beautiful city that is completely different to anything you would see in Australia.

 

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We stopped for lunch on the canal bank and I had my first pint of Carlsberg in Denmark and chowed down on 3 luxury Smørresbørd (open sandwiches).  It was great food and although the fish and steak ones sounded Delicious, I was a little surprised at how nice the eel one was.  Also, I am glad that I was able to use the ø.  I am using a Danish Keyboard on the laptop Peter has lent me, so now I just need to find use for the æ, å and ¤ keys sometime haha

 

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After  a wonderful lunch, we then strolled through old Copenhagen.  Just walking around the streets was an experience for this Australian (and I am not talking about the fact I almost get run over regularly as a result of looking left instead of looking right haha).  Around every corner and in every nook there was a building, sign or store that interested me and made me stop and look.  It was amazing we actually moved anywhere. However, we did manage to walk past the Queen’s palace, stop off at the Round Tower and eat the BEST ice cream ever (Paradis Ice Cream…no kidding, I am contemplating moving to Copenhagen just to be able to eat this regularly.  I would kill my first born for just one more scoop.  It is THAT good!  The best I have ever had…and I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream haha)

 

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The Round Tower was  a great site.  It was built by an old king, supposedly the ramp inside is because he wanted his horse and cart to be able to take him to the top as I am un-reliably told by Peter, and as Copenhagen has no real sky scrappers you get amazing views of the city.  I saw the Tivoli Theme park that we will go to probably tomorrow night and just vast amount of very Danish house crammed in along the streets with the periodic historic/royal building thrown in there.

 

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Overall my first impressions of Copenhagen are that it is an amazingly beautiful city, the city matches the Scandinavian people.  It is the kind of city I came to Europe to see and the only downside is that you see prices in 3 figures and you only divide them by 4 to convert to Australian Dollars.  The prices may be extreme…but it is a lovely place.

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

This is our last goodbye, I hate to feel the love between us die. But its over. Just hear this and then Ill go…

Last night I double checked that I had packed everything and did a few final tasks.  I bought my last dodgy british kebab, as I had cleaned out all possible food supplies.  I triple checked I had all the travel documents I would need.  I had my last pint of English Beer in a proper English pub in Yorkshire (Yorkshire Gold was the brew and it was very nice).

I also did something that made myself feel good.  It wasn’t intentionally designed to do so, but it certainly helped cheer up my “omg I’m leaving Leeds!!!!” semi-funk.  I had collected a drawer full of 1p, 2p and 5p coins.  There may have been a few 10p and 20p thrown in as well, but you get the idea – pure shrapnel. Well as they were pointless to me as it wasn’t worth the time and energy to convert them to “useable” money, I thought someone else could use what on rough estimate was between 5 and 10 pounds worth of coins (I had collected and not spent a single copper or 5p coin since I arrived in the UK, I just hate carrying them around and I always got embarrassed when I bought something if I would spend one minute just trying to find that “2p” coin in my pocket).  Well I went to the 3 stores around me, each of which I had noticed a different charity collection tin, and dumped a 1/3rd in each. What surprised me was that each of the store owner’s had chosen that charity for specific reasons and when they saw the “coin dump” would thank me and tell me their story.  In the day and age where a lot of the donations I make are over the phone, etc it was pretty pleasing to see someone, face-to-face, who (or who’s family) your donation (even however small) was helping…

 

This morning was a bugger of a start.  4am wake ups are hard, but not as hard as you would expect as the stupid Nothern Hemisphere means that it is actually almost bright at 4am….after getting dark at like 11pm.  All I had to do was shower, donate my bedding and take me bags to the waiting taxi.  However a busted lift, something that I had gotten way to used to at Sentinel Towers made sure I got my exercise for the day carrying my stuffed to the brim, heavy bag down the stairs.  The cab to the Bus Station was  a pleasant experience.  My “proper” yorkshire cabbie kept the talk flowing and made sure I realised I was Australian…and that means the piss must be extracted for all minutes of the journey. I gave as good as I got though 😉

 

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My “empty” room

Leaving Leeds was a weird experience.  I found myself looking around my room, building, suburb and city knowing that I will most likely not see them again (or if I do it will be in 20+ years time).  Yet it couldn’t sink in.  I was sad, but I seemed to be waging an internal battle trying to convince myself that I was really was leaving.  That was until the time we left suburbia and started having the motorway surround by lush green open land.  At that point, I realised that Leeds is now the past and I may have had a tear or two hidden behind my eyes.

 

I had chosen to take the bus down to London as it was cheaper and the fact it took an hour extra didn’t really bother me as I could sleep the way down.  It did annoy me that not only was the bus 20 mins late in arriving but by the time we arrived in London we were 40 mins later than planned.  This lead to a mad rush through Greater London on the tube, bus (a wank of a bus driver didn’t help :P)  and foot.  I popped in to drop my bag off with Marmi, stayed for a drink and cookie and the mad rush continued.  I rushed back to Victoria Coach station (including a delightful tube ride complete with guitar playing busker) where I had enough time to buy something to eat and in the end take the EzyBus 20mins before the one I was supposed to catch.  The result of that is that I have this 20 mins in Stansted Airport (Yes Obama’s airport of choice 😉 ) to post this.

 

The reason I took the EasyBus is that 1) Stansted is as close to London as Kalgoolie is to Perth and 2) As I am flying off to Copenhagen on Ezyjet, I saw a level of symmetry there I liked that wouldn’t have existed if I had used another company.  Anyone who has watched the series Airline would be familar with Ezyjet, Stelios and would understand why my EzyBus/Jet experience has been narrated inside my head by Tony Robinson.  It has all gone smoothly so far though.  Check in took a while, but I think that is because I got stuck in the ‘non-moving’ line (isn’t that always the way) and I am never gutsy enough to change lines for fear that as soon as I move that one will come to a complete stop as well.

 

Anyway, I see a nice airport bar with a pint with my name on it.  In a few hours I will be in Copenhagen.  That has me excited beyond words, although the only thing I can think about now is if Denmark is a “pint” or “litre” kind of country 😛

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment