Friday, April 9, 2010

My Trip (part four)

London (UK) - four weeks
Palace, borough market, tube

After a ridiculous trip from Amsterdam to London through Paris (the Eurostar broke down about a million times), I finally arrive in London. My tour is now over, and now begins the part of my trip where I really have to start looking after myself. I have to book all my own travel, organise all my own food, and pay for most of my own beer. With every other person in London being either a Kiwi or an Aussie, there was little here to make me feel unique. I end up staying at a good friend of mine (Morgan), who is actually in San Francisco for the first couple of weeks. So I end up hanging out with his flatmate Chris (another Kiwi), who I get on rather well with. My first day is my favourite; I end up visiting the Borough Market under London Bridge (and end up on TV - Market Kitchen). All my foodie dreams come true.

I saw Buckingham Palace, many of the touristy sites, and a few shows at the West End (Avenue Q and We Will Rock You being the highlights). I also managed to complete the 'Muffin Man' routine with a complete stranger, which was one of the highlights for my entire trip. I also took the chance to catch up with many of my Kiwi friends, UK friends, and friends/family living in London: Jen, Morgan, CRC, Vee, and Keira.

London also saw me starting to work again, so that I could continue to afford my trip. I bought a new suit, went to several meetings, and began the slow and arduous task of boring old policy work from abroad. Okay, some of the work was interesting. But much of it wasn't.

Highlights:
The tube (and the accompanying black snot effect), the Borough Market, getting on TV,
Avenue Q, the muffin man, Harrods, endless hands of 500, walking around London, getting incredibly lost, calling the police on my first night, Hyde Park, double decker buses, Oxford Circus, NZ butter cheaper than in NZ, and posing for a photo shoot.

Edinburgh (UK) - four days
Fringe Festival, ghosts, fortune tellers

If I was going to go all the way to London, I figured I should probably make the effort and head to Edinburgh, especially during Fringe Season. So I took the train and headed across the land to the kilted heath (not an official slang... okay, so I made it up) and stayed at a stray uncle's house while I took in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. I quickly learned that (contrary to popular belief) you don't have to be good to get into the Fringe Festival - you just have to have a venue and pay the registration fee. I saw much in the way of average to lame while I was there, including work from the infamously bad "Oxford Drama Society". Yeesh! Princess Cabaret was good fun though (my friend's group), and I also enjoyed hanging out with an old WIT friend Clare. We boozed, and broke up several relationships that week, we did!

Also took a ghost tour of the city, and managed to capture some of the wee beasties on film. Or a ball of dust. The jury's still out on that one, I believe.

Highlights:
Ghosts, princesses, porridge, finally getting my fortune read, walking the whole city, getting lost in Edinburgh, taking the train across the country, falling in love with a particular bottle of whiskey, not buying that bottle of whiskey (only to find it again in London), and catching up with old friends.

My Trip (part three)

Berlin (Germany) - three days
Basterds, corner-babies, and a wall

Bus tour almost over now. By this part of the trip I've started to figure out what most of my tour group are like, and the people I got on with initially have turned out to be douchebags, and the people I thought were most likely douchebags are still douchebags. Still a few decent people remaining on the tour, but they remain to be couples. Thus they tend to keep to themselves for most of the trip, hanging out only at dinner or drinks afterwards. Saw the Wall, went to see Dirty Dancing - the Musical (in German), and took the subway everywhere.

Highlights:
Dirty Dancing, seeing Inglorious Basterds at the cinema, watching my room mate make out with the most annoying girl on the tour, falling asleep during the tour of the Wall (mainly due to the hangover - not the tour itself), the first proper meal with vegetables in over a week, and finding out that the Sony Centre was actually rather lame, and not a 'super shopping centre' as touted in the guide books.

Amsterdam (Holland) - two days
Clogs, dykes, sex shows

Last stop on the tour. Saw a live sex show which was quite possibly the least erotic experience of my life. Like any good tourist, I spent a chunk of time wandering around the infamous red light district - only to find that it was a lot more bizarre than I had imagined, while remaining a lot less risque; possibly due to my being desensitized thanks to television. Walked around the city and saw much more than my tour group as a result. I also watched a pair of clogs being made, and explored a cheese factory. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, especially when you get out of the red light district and just explore the area as much as you can. Just make sure you take a map.

Highlights:
Great chips and mayonnaise, watching one of the tour girl vomit all over herself as she tried to impress one of the tour boys, final group dinner, hilarious 'dyke' jokes (they never get old), the Contiki kids following us around and being picked on by the strippers at the live sex show, having to order a new drink from the bar at the live sex show because the curtain on stage brushed across the rim, and having my room mate swap rooms with his mate so that he could shag his cousin.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Trip (part two)

Vienna (Austria) - two days
Coffee, opera, schnitzel, Australians. Many, many Australians.

I arrived in Vienna after a brief (one hour) stopover in Riga, Latvia. They have good coffee and chocolate there. In the airport.

Vienna was the start of my organised group tour around Europe. Well, part of Europe, anyway.
I had two hopes for this bus tour:
1) that it wouldn't be full of old people (you know the kind), and
2) that it wouldn't be full of Australians (you know the kind).

It was full of Australians.

Nevertheless, the tour group itself wasn't so bad - and the tour operators (Kevin and Susan) were awesome. I hired a bicycle with one of my tour buddies and cycled around Vienna. Lost patience with my tour group on day two when we argued for an hour about where to go for dinner, I waited five minutes, then went and discovered a free classical music concert.

Highlights:
Sacher Torte, Habsburg Castle, biking around Vienna (and getting a little lost), a giant of a man for a room mate who snored, sneaking lunch from the hotel breakfast buffet, opera, chamber music group, schnitzel, outdrinking the Aussies, buskers that would make our symphony orchestra weep, updating my blog in an internet cafe while sitting next to an old guy looking at porn, and massive slices of pizza for only one euro.

Budapest (Hungary) - two days
Goulash, Goulash, Goulash

Starting to get the hang of this bus tour thing by then; well actually it was my first stop on the tour since I started in Vienna. At this point I'm in a bit of a funk. Not quite homesick, but wondering if I'm a little crazy for leaving for so long, and if I'm cut out for all this travel nonsense (spoiler alert: I am). Fell in love with the goulash, and spent most of my time there chasing the dragon. Also bought an Obama russian doll.

Highlights:
Goulash, Obama doll, giant paprika market, homeless elephants, the House of Terror, goulash, beautiful weather, getting stood up in a shopping mall by my snoring roommate, Hungarian Florints, resisting the urge to make "I'm hungry in Hungary" jokes (and failing), not being able to find anybody to read my fortune.

Prague (Czech Republic) - two days
Communism, art purchase, cavemen

Prague was fun. Though our hotel was well out of town, it was close to public transport and so we were able to make it into the city well enough to enjoy the sights. The Charles Bridge was awesome, and I took many a blurry photo from it's periphery. Went to a caveman themed (not entirely Prague-ian, but fun) restaurant for dinner where we could only eat with our hands and almost got charged for drinks we didn't order but I drank anyway. Paid instead with a hangover (karma?), and became obsessed with a painting in the hotel lobby.

Highlights:
Making (read: stealing) the riskiest lunch from the hotel breakfast buffet (50 euro fine if caught), the Charles Bridge, buying new sneakers to walk in, cavemen, not getting drunk but getting hungover and throwing up incredibly discretely at 3am, buildings that looked like they were designed by me in a third form graphic design class, and buying a spectacular painting (only to find out that it is a spectacular print). Lovely.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Trip (part one)

Okay, so I know it's been a while since my last post.

Maybe it's because I've been getting used to being home, or maybe it's because now that I'm back I'm finding it difficult to write anything. But what I do know is that I have at least one more update in me after this one; a 'now that I've been back in NZ for a month, what is it like?' update.

What I thought I'd do today though, is provide a summary of my trip having now finished it with no more trip left in me.

So without further ado (any more ado I could not do), here it is:

Beijing (China) - four days
Great fun, great food, great Wall.

I enjoyed Beijing. It was great getting to catch up with my friends (having somewhere to stay also made a heck of a difference!), and culture shock is a very interesting, and I would say effective, way to start a six month trip around the world. Culturally very different, crazy, and a little oppressive. Japanese tourists love me.

Highlights:
Live scorpions on a stick, arguing with a tuk tuk driver about a $40USD fare, discovering the Beijing branch of the Mediterranean Food Warehouse (from Newtown), the Great Wall of China and being followed by the paparazzi (I just want my privacy), eating a fish eye (even if by accident), not being able to see for the pollution.

Stockholm, Uppsala, Fiskebaksil, and Goteborg (Sweden) - Ten days
Ahhh Sweden - home of ABBA, meatballs, and many types of preserved fish.

The reason for my trip. Going to watch my good friends Rob and Emma tie the knot in a small fishing village in the south of Sweden showed me what it would be like to live in a postcard. If living in a postcard was the kind of thing you would want to do, or in fact could do. Met a few new people, but did not meet a Swedish wife. More's the shame.

Highlights:
Beautiful Stockholm, the palace, the Madonna concert that I didn't see, meeting ABBA (not the band though), the wedding, meeting Stockholmian improvisors, road trip across the country, Swedish natives, expensive everything that required me to eat at McDonald's and BK more than I wanted, taking a riverboat cruise, and $40 for a load of washing.

Copenhagen (Denmark) - Three Days
Even more expensive than Sweden, beautiful people, a mermaid and fairytales.

Killing time before my tour started, Copenhagen seemed like the perfect place to spend a few days before surrounding myself with Australians for two weeks. I met a couple of new people, stayed on a random (awesome) guy's couch, and lived on not much more than bread, cheese, McDonald's and BK. And beer.

Highlights:
Hearing a car crash and missing the last bus, a Little Mermaid, getting lost on arrival and walking three kilometres in the wrong direction with my backpack, beautiful buildings and architecture and stuff, Tipoli gardens and open sandwiches (seriously, that's their national dish... a sandwich without a top?), Carlsberg beer and elephants, the crown jewels and all kinds of sunny weather.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Things to do in San Francisco, or 'Yay, a new city!'

There are many things you can do while in San Francisco.

You can:
- enjoy some of the finest (read: most expensive) dim sim in the world - (tick)
- find and devour the best deep dish chicago style pizza you will ever have in your life - (tick)
- explore Castro, or what I lovingly refer to as 'Rainbow Plaza' - (tick)
- ride the cable car like a tourist, by hanging off the back and yelling 'Screw you world, I'm riding a cable car like a tourist!' - (yes, tick)
- bike across the Golden Gate Bridge - (tick... no wait, untick)
- find and partake in a crazy themed restaurant/bar, such as... oh I don't know, Hooters - (tick)
- eat at a crab shack - (tick)
- go to Alcatraz - (tick)
- take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge covered in fog - (tick)
- walk up and down some of the main streets, getting lost - (tick)
- confront a homeless man about his awful poetry - (tick)
- see an improv show at BATS - (tick)
- have a drink at a gay bar - (tick)
- take photos to prove that you did these things - (tick)


I've always been a sucker for the 'dead inside' look:

And I thought they smelled bad on the outside (yes, I'm a nerd)!

My last stop on my trip was certainly a good one. I met a bunch of great people, started the transition back to kiwi life, and gorged myself on Mexican food and deep dish pizza. All that was left to do was make it to the airport to begin the long flight home.


Thank you, San Francisco.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Helping with a Transition

I learned a few things during my time in San Francisco. One thing I had heard is that it's a lot like Wellington. Here are my reasons why I agree:

1. There are many hills, of varying height, walkability, tree saturation, and steepness.
2. There's a harbour.
3. The weather likes to play games with you (though appears to be a little kinder to its citizens)
4. Seagulls steal your food, and
5. They're a lot more relaxed about life than the other big cities.

But more than that, SFC had a very similar vibe to Wellington. Sure, there were a lot of homeless people, the city felt just a little bit dirty at times, and you didn't always feel like it would be a safe place to not wear shoes lest you risk standing on hepatitis, but at the same time there was a cultural vibe to the city that just made you feel like you'd found a place that was worth staying; that didn't have that underground cut-throat survival of the fittest/meanest attitude that New York had. I love New York City, very much, but it will destroy you if you give it a chance. I get the feeling though that San Francisco would give you as many second chances as you'd be willing to take, and that it would never screen its phone calls (even if you've just had a massive fight).

Being in a city that was just like Wellington actually proved to be rather helpful I think. It wouldn't be a lie to say that I hadn't been entirely looking forward to returning home and having to go back to work and life and everything in between, but being in SFC really allowed me to remember what it was like back home, and provided a great transition for me to get back to Wellington. It had all the excitement of a new place, but with some of the familiarity of home. In that way, it was really a really good last place to be.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Going BATS in San Francisco

One of my aims while on my trip was to meet up, hang out, and play with improvisors from around the world. About a year ago I made contact with several improvisors in Sweden, France, the UK and the US, with that very aim. I only managed to connect with Swedish improvisors though, due mainly to the lack of improv over the summer months, and difficulties in contacting people once I was in the country.

Until San Francisco, that is.

A couple of days before I arrived in the city, I emailed my Facebook contact Rebecca Stockley (from BATS in SF); we had been Facebook friends for around a year, but had never had any conversations since making that connection. This didn't seem to matter though, as I received emails from her and two other SF improvisors within hours of my making contact. Where previously I had not had much luck with improv on my trip, I had now made contact with a group that seemed genuinely excited to hang out and play (and also a place to stay in San Francisco)!

I arrived on Saturday evening around 5pm, was picked up by the wonderful Lisa Rowland (an SF improvisor), and went straight to an improv show. I have seen a couple of improv shows during my trip, and they were all rather disappointing. But Saturday's show was from an improv troupe with seemingly similar interests and philosophy - and it was classic theatresports, which was not only a joy to watch, but also to be a part of. Yep, I got to judge the show, which I love to do.

It was a fun wee theatresports show: "Rock and Roll Theatresports"; where players get points based on scores from the judges, and also from a giant fluffy dice rolled on stage. There were some awful scenes, some wonderful scenes, and several scenes where the judges, and the audience completely disagreed with each other, and also a couple of scenes where the judges and audience completely disagreed with me. So much fun!

Everyone I met was a great deal of fun, and I had a complete blast hanging out with them. It's a shame I wasn't able to join them in a workshop or watch them rehearse, but I guess that's all the more reason to go back.

Outside of improv, I got to explore a good chunk of the city. More on that, later.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

These ARE the droids you're looking for!

Yesterday I did something awesome.

Yesterday I got a private tour of Lucas Arts.

Yesterday I also signed a non-disclosue agreement, preventing me from saying anything other than this:

It was awesome.

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An Oregon state of mind

You may be wondering how Oregon was.

It was lovely. Damp, but lovely.

And there was turkey, and there was cider, and there was rum, and there was rain.

And beavers.

Oregon.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

Maybe a little bit psychic...

So I went to a psychic in New York.

These guys are everywhere, and are almost as common as pizza parlours and those 'I love NY' tee shirt sellers. They're easy enough to spot with their neon signs on the street 'psychic readings, $5', and while I had had my tarot read in Edinburgh, I figured I would see how the competition fared.

So I found a pizza parlour, washed my hands, and went next door to a psychic. This particular psychic was co located inside a nail salon, in a back room. I entered to find a Jabba-esque woman absorbing her chair, who was suffering from some kind of awake apnoea, and I kept wondering if she would survive the reading or if I'd have to risk my pizza and revive her.

I chose the standard reading, which included 'two palms and a face'; covering life, money, and love. A summary follows:

- I am supposed to be rich, but something went wrong

- I am a very generous, giving person, though am often misunderstood

- Many of my friends are jealous of me, and actively work against me to impede my success

- I will meet my soul mate soon, and be married in two years

- I will get divorced not long after this

- Three kids (two boys and a girl) are in my future. More than one mother

- I will have everything I want by age 44 (apparently including at least one divorce)

- God has blessed me in my life, but somebody cursed my mother by performing black magic against her while she was pregnant with me, by stealing some of her jewellery and burying it in a graveyard. This means that I haven't been as lucky as I should have been, and

- I have a very black aura

I certainly had no idea that I was supposed to be rich, and especially no idea that my mother had ever had any jewellery stolen. So, wanting to do good by my mum I asked her what could be done.

This can be fixed, she said, and the curse against me can be lifted. But it would be expensive - around $450 for nine days' prayer and meditation on my behalf, as well as the lighting of nine candles (one each day). She did advise me not to worry about the money, as once the curse was lifted money would start pouring in and it would be a drop in the bucket of my wealth.

I told her I needed to think about it. She advised me to pray on it, in a church. Hey, psychics can be Christians too.

So Soul Mate, if you're reading this, I apologise that I was too cheap to save our love.
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Friday, January 8, 2010

I got to be a part of it

What better way to farewell the city that never sleeps, by not sleeping?

I had spent a little over three months in and around New York, seen many touristy sights and met a tonne of interesting people. I had even made a couple of friends there. So my last few days were spent hanging out with the people I had met, as well as the kiwis that I knew from a previous life.

My last day in New York City. Wow, it's kind of a hard thought to process. I mean, what do you do on your last day in a city that's been your home for the last three months? Do you rush around your favourite places again, trying to take it all in before you go? Do you cram in some last minute souvenir shopping because, even after all this time, you still haven't gotten around to getting that 'I [love] NY' t-shirt? Or do you spend it hanging out with the friends you've made, since there's a reasonable chance you may never see them again?


If you're me, you think about all these questions only on the day you leave. When you haven't packed. So a good chunk of the morning was spent at the laundromat, and then trying to figure out how I had started my trip with my backpack less than full, only to find that I can barely squeeze everything into two bags (my backpack and a duffel - though to be fair I blame a large chunk of my packing issues on the snuggie). Still, I am fully prepared to acknowledge that bringing home more than I left with is a very acceptable way to return from a trip. My goal though, is to make sure that I can still carry everything on my own, with minimum discomfort. We shall see, however, how well that stacks up.

The problem I have, is that my flight to San Francisco was at 7am on the Tuesday morning. This meant that I had to be at the airport by 5am, which meant I had to leave my apartment by 3am. No point going to bed really, so I might as well make a day of it, and not go to sleep until my flight.

One of my friends who lives in New York (a kiwi), also works at the United Nations (for New Zealand), and so arranged for me to take a tour of the UN building.


Nicky was a fantastic tour guide, giving me much of the fun backgroundy stuff that goes on in the UN that you don't get to hear about on the normal tours. Sure, it does mean that I don't get the normal 'this carpet was presented to the UN by Sultan so-and-so', but to be honest... well not so keen on that. This is me representing New Zealand:


The world would be a better place.

After the tour, I walked once more through Times Square. Not that it's my favourite place in the city by any means. It is however, one of the places in the city that I have spent so much of my time; seeing shows, meeting people, dodging tourists, visiting psychics (oh yes - just wait until I write about that!), and dodgy food carts. Also, it was rush hour, and it was faster for me to walk to the subway through Times Square. Also, and by no means less important, it allowed me to finally purchase a couple of those 'I [love] NY' t-shirts; last minute souvenirs which allow me to tell everybody back home exactly where I've been and how I feel about the place.

Then I went back to my apartment, squeezed my new souvenirs into my backpack, fitting everything in it (except for the jar of marmite I forgot), and sat down to a wonderful roast beef dinner cooked by my room mate. After dinner, my friend Rohan came and picked me up, and so I bade farewell to my apartment and room mates, grabbed my luggage, and took the subway into the city for karaoke.

We dropped off my bags at Rohan's office nearby, then proceeded to Fat Black Pussy Cat for an evening of singing, booze, showing off and more singing. I can tell you now, that we brought it - boy we brought it hard. Our plan was basically to bunk down there for the evening until they kicked us out at 3am, and then head to the airport from there. I opened up the evening with a little Counting Crows, then some Mustang Sally, a few other classics, and finished the evening off with a Total Eclipse of the Heart. Rohan and I sang a few duets, but he also held his own quite well:

video

Also impressive was the karaoke lady host - she had a voice like Christina and Pink put together, and was a lot of fun to sing for, and sing with. We made many friends that night. Mainly because we were awesome, but also mainly because we were very awesome. But also because the people there were as awesome, if not more awesome. A total fun night was had, and was a fitting end to my time in New York City.

At the end of the 'oke, we made our way to the airport where, four hours later, I would be winging my way to San Francisco, and then connecting to Oregon.

New York. I've enjoyed my time there, I really have. I do feel as though I have closure there though; no job demanding me to return, I didn't meet the girl of my dreams or get married, and many of my friends are leaving or returning back to NZ soon. As such, while I would love to go back someday, I do not feel like I need to go back in the next few months. That's how I feel now, of course, and that might well change when I get home. But for now, I'm happy having spent the time that I did.

Thank you, New York; we were great together. We had our differences, sure, and we didn't always agree or see eye-to-eye with everything. But we had fun, and let's remember it for that.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year in New York, or 'from 0 to 60 in 190 minutes'

If there is one lesson I can take away from this city, it's that two people do not a house party make.

My New Years started out just like every other in my life. I was preparing for disappointment, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised. People always put too much pressure on the evening to be spectacular, significant, or successful. I just want to stay awake for the count down. Usually I would invite people over for dinner and drinks, and count in the New Year with some good friends and even better wine.

This year is a little different, however. Mainly because I am in New York, but also mainly because I don't really know many people in this crazy city, and also mainly because there's it's New York City. My original intention (along with every other tourist in this city) was to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Just to say I did it.

Having been here for three months however, spending seven hours surrounded by tourists and unable to move or go to he bathroom, with a high chance of snow, was not so much my idea of a a great night out. I was, in essence, just happy if I could see the New Year in at a party, bar or pub with a bunch of locals (and my friend Rohan).

One of my local friends, Rob (who happens to live in Times Square), decided that he would have a party at his apartment - usually a good way to start an evening. Okay, good. Then it's cancelled, with Rob having only invited me. So I make other plans, and decide to spend the evening at a local pub.

Enter New Years Eve.

1pm my phone rings. It's Rob, wondering why I'm not coming to his house party.

'Because it's not on.'
'Of course it's on. I've told everyone you're coming. They're all excited to meet you.'
'Right. So it's on then?'
'Yes.'
'Okay, we'll be there.'

Rohan and I showed up at Rob's around 9pm, looking awesome.

This night was going to rock, and then we showed up to the apartment. Rob was there, with his friend. And nobody else. They were sitting there on the couch, drunk and a little stoned, watching Terminator 2. Wasn't perhaps the best start of the evening. We sat down (30 minutes), waited for Rob to get dressed (30 minutes to put on a jacket), went to 7-11 to get Rob a hot dog (20 minutes).

We finally went to a bar - a dead bar - at about 10.30. Half an hour there, and I had enough. Rohan and I got up, said goodbye to everyone, and left. We hopped outside, and into a taxi, and headed to a bar around the corner from my apartment. One $20 cover charge later, and we were in a bar full of people (but not too many), counting in the New Year in style. One guy got angry when his girlfriend started talking to me (I can't help it if you're boyfriend's a douche, hon), but for the most part, the folks at the bar were cool; such as this guy. If Reverend Al Sharpton and Willy Wonka had a child:


A little before the countdown Rohan and I met what I have affectionately decided to call 'kiwiphiles' - people who think NZ'ers are awesome.

'You're from NZ?! Stick with me. You won't pay for a drink the whole night!'

Brilliant.

Here are some photos from the evening. Notice the fun times (and slightly drunk friends):



We drank, we partied, we drank some more. The night ended at 3am, with me paying two strangers $20 to help carry my friend home. In the end, a memorable New Years.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

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