27 April 2011

Spring vs. Autumn

Here in Galway it is still spring although the daffodils are mostly gone and the blossom trees have already lost their flowers. There are ducklings though, cute little fluffy ones. Maybe there will be swan-babies soon - last year there were about a half dozen in the canal outside my work-place but apparently to have so many is rare, most of them normally die. It is sunshiney outside today - it is not as warm as it was in London and Paris but better than nothing, I must find some excuse to get out of the office.

Back home in NZ on the other hand it is autumn and I hear the weather is bloody awful. A couple of days ago the old fluffy cat died, she had a stroke. She was 20, and hopefully those last few years in a new home were happy. She was probably better taken care of than when we had her. Last I checked she spent her days either sleeping in the sun or sleeping in front of the fire. She was a good cat, very cuddly, although all the dribbling wasn't quite so good.

24 April 2011

Paris and London in a frantic whirlwind


On Wednesday morning after a very early start Mum and me were on a plane to London, where we did not catch the Eurostar to Paris. Luckily I had been in contact them and due to the whole medical emergency thing they agreed to let me reschedule my missed trip - which means that I did not really lose money on it and I have an excuse to go back to Paris. We did make it to Paris though, after an afternoon of wandering London and not doing very much we got on the overnight bus, which was very tedious, and involved a ferry trip in the middle of the night - the whole thing was very tiring. We arrived in Paris very early and after getting the hang of their metro system made it to our hotel. Then seeing as we had only two days it was sraight out of the hotel again to see what there was to see. We began with the Basilica Sacre Coeur, the church that is at the centre of Montmarte, the area in which we were staying (the sort of artsy area).

Even with a map finding our way around was not so easy but after asking some instructions we found the metro station (not before being harassed by several people wanting us to sign stuff/fall for their cons/give money, etc). We went immediately into the part of the city with all the big famous landmarks because when you have only two days that is how you must do things. So we took the Metro to St Michel place which is right near Notre Dame. That is not where we were heading first though, no - the first thing to do was get on a bus tour and be told all about everything that we might need to know.

The bus tour of course took us to many places which I took photos of because that is what I do, and I even remember some of them. Paris is called the city of bridges (another one - I think all cities built on rivers are called cities of bridges. Why is nobody ever original?). So we went over many bridges. There were many palaces and many are now musuems. There are several very tall things - one great big obelisk from Egypt covered in heiroglyphs and one great big column with Napolean at the top and then of course there are church spires and the Eiffel Tower. Many of the big impressive things were built just for the World's Fair (I'm not sure which one). So the Eiffel tower was originally intended to be temporary, and the big bridge with the gold statues and the glass roofed palaces were all built just for this great big exhibition. As I said I did what I always do and was rather liberal with the camera so I have put only my favourite pictures here and all the rest I have made into a slideshow which is right at the top of this page and which I hope you can all actually view.

After the bus tour we went for a wee wander and the intention was to go see Notre Dame but the cue to get on stretched a mile (exageration but it was still very huge). So we wandered back up the river, brought an ice-cream (which was quite good but not as good nor cheap as all the gelato in Vienna) and went on a boat cruise to see all the sights of Paris from a different perspective.

The nice thing about the boat was that instead of listening to a recording we had a real tour guide who had very good english. We heard a few different pieces of history and saw all the bridges much better. At this point perhaps I should mention that Paris was very hot and sunny, so sitting on this boat for an hour left me very sunburnt. It is now fading but I will have very clear tan lines I think - I guess though that seeing as it is too cold to where summer clothes in Galway they will never be seen. That is not really much of an upside.

After the tour we went back to Montmarte, the artsy markety area near our hotel to check out something I had heard about, the Marche St Pere - a fabric market. Apparently it is the place to go to get lots of good fabric. Which I was keen to see because here in Galway there is only a single fabric store and it is crappy - though I did hear that a new one has just opened up somewhere so I must find that. Anyway this market was not a big old fashioned open market (though it may once have been) but the sort of market that is just streets full of little shops that are dedicated to fabric - similar to the silk souk in Dubail. The fabric was good, but I must say compared to the nothingness of Galway any store full of piles of varied fabrics is impressive. Still, if I have the chance I will go back with a big empty suitcases and buy up large. Not just fabric though, there was something way more exciting. We found a shop, and there are probably others like it, that was full of buttons! So many, so much variety, better than anything I have seen before. Everything you would need to make so many unique jackets and coats and cardigans and dresses and pants, everything! They had all sorts of other accessories too. So despite being broke one must always remember that there is not point to money if you don't spend it to make yourself happy so as soon as I can, probably when I get back from Germany, I will buy an overlocker and then re-visit Paris and then make stuff!

Anyway after a wee look around and no buying because there was no time nor luggage space it was back into the city to climb up the Eiffel Tower and nobody told me that there would be a line an hour line! I know that this is why you should buy tickets to stuff in advance but I wasn't sure when exactly we would go up the tower and I organised so much in advance that I got tired of it, plus half of it fell through anyway because of Mum getting sick. So we waited in line for over and hour and it was hot and annoying and when we finally got up to the 2nd floor I lost Mum straight away because I got in line to go further up to the summit but by the time I realised that she wasn't coming to join me in line it was too late, I couldn't get away so I went up to the top, where I took photos of the view which I was not much impressed with.

To me it is just a great big sprawling city, it is so big that you cannot see past it. It is mostly white, I guess they used similar stones for all the buildings so that it looks nice. I think I need to stop visiting cities and go see some amazing scenery because all of these buildings just don't do much for me. But after being unimpressed with the view I still could not find Mum despite going round and round looking. So finally it was past the time to go and I figured she must be outside. I lined up to go back down the tower and what would you know she had just given up looking aswell and joined the same line. I don't know how we both looked for so long and did not find each other. Now we were flustered and frustrated (it was a very sleepless tiring frustrating trip you see, the whole thing, so this was nothing new) and we had to leave and rush to make the metro to get the the cabaret before we missed it.

The cabaret was interesting, even though our seats where up high and I had to crane my neck to see well. You get good seats if you pay more money and get a meal. We just paid for the show. If you get the meal you are sitting right around the stage which is not an in front of the audience stage but a slightly raised in the middle of everyone sort of thing. The cabaret is almost entirely singing and dancing and it is very sparkly. Some of the singing was real and some I think lipsync but the point is not really the singing. It is more the mainainence of this very old type of show that has ridiculous costumes and show a lot of skin, with lots of bared boobs. I guess when you think to the time when all of this began that was terribly scandalous. It wasn't all like that though, some of the costumes were quite conservative and some of the singing was good. There was the traditional feathery stuff and there was a women in a sparkly classy dress doing a lot of singing and at one point they were dressed as cats, at another like egyptian statues, in another like belly-dancers. At one point and ice-skating rink popped up and there was one comedian that made sound effect noises, and this one guy that did a type of juggling thing that was very impressive. Oh, and there was a guy that did the type of acrobatics with a long white strip of fabric that he climbed and wrapped around his legs and hung of it it crazy interesting ways and rolled down it and stuff. I have seen it at another circus. So the cabaret was like mostly dance show and some circus acts with partial nudity and lots of sparkles. And of course was not allowed to take photos so you will just have to take my word for it.

Next morning after not enough sleep we got up and went into the city, had quick breakfast and when to Notre Dame. It being easter the cathedral was full of people that were there for actual church reasons but there were also many tourists. So early in the morning the line moved very quickly and we got in promptly but you know, it turned out to be just another cathedral. It did not really seem so different to others I have seen. I always appreciate seeing stained glass windows but I still didn't really see what the big deal was. Yes it was large and full of little chapels but so are many cathedrals. Sometimes maybe as a tourist you need someone really passionate with you who can get you properly enthused.

What I did like were the gargoyles and statues on the outside - I always seem to like the statues and stained glass the most. I would have liked more time to find lots of interesting ones to take photos of but this will have to do.

After Notre Dame the goal for the day was to see the Louvre which of course everyone wants to do thanks to that bloody Da Vinci Code book. They say it takes days to see it properly and we had only a few hours but it turned out we didn't even need all of these few hours, I was plenty tired of it after just a couple. The thing is, musuems just really aren't my cup of tea. They are cold and big and I get tired and I get sore feet. This museum was probably the loudest I have ever been in and in parts was terribly crowded. There was a huge crowd to see the Mona Lisa and I must say that while I have always like the works of Da Vinci it was never one of my favourites and my mind has not been changed. It is small and dark and somewhat boring. I prefer some of his other works. The crowd was awful and none of the many museum staff guarding it were trying to prevent people from using flash photography when there were clearly signs everywhere that said no flashes. What sort of terrible management is that? I was shocked. I would have liked to say something but I couldn't be bothered. Instead I moved on and looked at other paintings instead. As I said, museums are not really my thing so my method is to walk fast, look at things and move on, only stopping when the odd thing really catches my eye. So I found a couple of paintings that I liked, in the French section. The one below is Delacroix:

I found that I also like a painter named Delaroche. And here below is another that I liked, called Magdalena Bay by Biard. The Italian and Spanish (and admittedly most of the French and German too) is all the same biblical scenes. In the German and Flemmish section there were also a lot of still lifes.

The sculptures were cool but there was so much of it, at that point I began to get really tired. Plus it is all sort of the same after awhile. The whole idea of sculpture I like, they make such pretty and smooth pieces of art, but you are not allowed to touch them at the musuem and I prefer to be able to touch things. There was a huge amount of French sculptures and then from there I found all of the really old Eastern and Greek and Roman stuff. They have a lot of historical stuff taken from Egypt including a statue of Ramses and a lot of sarcophagi. If these things were not taken there would be more to see in their country of origin. It was difficult to see all the sculpture, the order was not really chronological so it was hard to get into it, you think they would begin with the really old Egyptian stuff and then move to more modern but maybe it could be seen like that, only at the moment so much is being renovated that you have to skip parts and find alternate ways to get to all of the rooms. It was not signposted well enough and I got lost. When I finally found what I wanted to see, the Greek statues, they were not that impressive. They were smaller than I expected and really, if you are not a great art fanatic they are not that exciting. I would rather be outside in the sunshine seeing buildings and trees so at this point it was time for me to leave. I had had enough of museums. They say it takes days but I doubt I will go back to the Louvre. Instead I went outside, got rehydrated and then braved the sun to go for a walk. There is a bridge outside of the Louvre, Pont Des Artes, and the chainlink fence is covered in padlocks. In the sun it is very sparkly but I could not capture the sparkle in a photo.

I spent some time taking photos of interesting padlocks and the other bridges up the river and was continually harassed by some group of people wanting me to sign something. They finally got to Mum and she signed, but it was not a petition. They wanted money and it was for the deaf and dumb apparently but they were bloody awful and should not grab onto tourists like that. People over here have no manners, they may be raised to be polite but they have no idea about how to fundraise courteously. It's even worse in Galway.

So after the Louvre it was time to get some quick little souvineers and I got cheap sunglasses because it was so bright and mine had broken. At work we have a magnet collection and everytime one of us travel somewhere we add to it so I made sure to get a Paris magnet. Then it was time to go, to get on the train to London, which was so much faster and nicer than the bus. Unfortunately though when we got there we did not go to the London Eye because we were told it was unlikely that we would make it there before it closed. But that's okay because as I've said views of city are not so great. Instead we got dessert at a little Italian place because I wanted ice-cream and then we went to bed because we were so tired and Mum had to leave early. After she left I had breakfast, waited for the day to begin, and then went out. I intending to check out Harrods but had no map and couldn't find it so instead I went to Portabello market. The day got hotter and hotter and I began to be so hot that I was worried I would get heat exhaustion again. So when I got the the clothes part of the market I brought a dress and put it straight on and it is quite nice, not that I needed more dresses. I brought a couple of pieces of jewellery too - I am not sure how antique such things actually are but that's okay, so long as it is interesting and sparkly. Then I went to the park to wander around and cool off. Squirrels are still a novelty to me so I took a photo of the only one that I saw.

I spent most of the day wandering through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park - it was so hot that all I could do was wander and then sit in the shade and rest and then wander and then rest. In Hyde Park there is a big walkway and it was full of people on rollerblades doing tricks so I watched them and now am determined to at least learn to skate backwards. I am realistic enough to know that I will not be able to do tricks like that anytime soon and probably never if I have no pro to teach me. Still, going backwards should be achieveable (and if you are wondering what I am talking about youtube 'freestyle inline skating'). When the weather finally cooled I found myself on Oxford street and despite my touristing-sore feet I went window shopping. I found Selfridges, a big department store, and it was amazing. I could spend a whole day in there just looking at all the pretty things. There is nothing like that here. I found a couple of bookstores but no cheap book for the way home (I had already finished the two I had brought with me). I found a gelato stand and was hungry so in proper holiday fashion I had ice-cream instead of dinner. It is I think a common opinion that while on holiday you should live off of ice-cream alone. Next I came to Picadilly Circus and Regent street with more shops but by this time I was tired of window shopping so I headed back to the park to meet some friends quickly before I left. There is a big ferris wheel in Hyde Park that apparently is not always there.

Anyway after only having sat down on the grass for a couple of minutes raindrops were felt and we figure it is just a sunshower. That is all it was for the first wee while but before too long it was cold and windy and there was lightning and thunder! We left to find shelter as did the hundreds of other people relaxing in the park on that sunny day. It was suddenly lashing rain outside and the shops were packed with people buying emergency jumpers and jackets! It was time for me to leave London anyway and I did have loads of time to make it to the airport but it turns out that they were doing serious maintainence of the subway, which left me running about a half hour late! So I rushed and ran and made it to the express train with only 2 minutes to spare! I was puffed and my feet hurt after three days of being a tourist, plus they are covered in what I think may be excema, ughh. On the train I get my breath back to prepare for another mad dash at the airport to make it to the gate on time but despite what my ticket said about the gate closing at 8.30 I had plenty of time, the good thing about the London airports that are not Heathrow is there is barely a crowd. I even had time to stop and by a cheap book. Which is a crime thriller and full of science references, half of which I know about and doubt that what they are doing can be done in such a short amount of time. They have even being using electron microscopy. But that is beside the point.

The point is that I am very tired but back in Galway, where it is not raining but after the last three days of real summer like weather seems very cold. I have lost my sunglasses, I think I must have accidently thrown them away with my bag of rubbish in London! Incredibly gutted, they were cheap but I actually really liked them. I can't find my student ID card either which is a bit of a problem. It is easter so I ate and easter egg, a big one - it seemed a good idea at the time. Doesn't seem like it was such a good idea anymore. No more easter eggs for me, instead I will make hot-cross buns tomorrow. And ANZAC biscuits because it turns out it is that time of year again. Then back to work which I am so not ready for. It really is high time that I won the lotto so that I can buy a tropical island and become an eccentric hermit with cats and dogs and chickens.

17 April 2011

Mum in Ireland

Well it is 10pm Sunday night and Mum should have been safely in Galway by now. Instead we are on the bus just leaving Dublin because this morning she sent me a text saying that she is in hospital with bacterial meningitis! Then I was trying to call her and couldn't get through, didn't hear from her until late in the afternoon. At which point it turns out that she does not have meningitis but they treated her for it just in case and she was just too out of it to be more clear in her text message. So I was all ready to go to London but she thought I was really wanting her to be here in Galway so she missed her flight but brought a new one and arrived at about 8.30 pm. I quickly jumped on a bus to go meet her considering that she was ill but her plane got in at a rather inopportune time and not only did we have to wait quite some time for the next bus but it won't arrive until past 1! Hopefully all the antibiotics will kick in and we can do some fun stuff but if not at least she can just sleep it all away for a couple of days. Drama aside we now must sit in a bus for a few hours which sucks. Maybe tomorrow she will be well enough to go horseriding. Or not. I don't know. We will make it to Paris and the cabaret at least - for awhile there I was trying to figure out how to cancel it all!

Well with good holiday thoughts in my head I will put all that aside and guess what I brought yesterday? Roller blades! They are pink and have good rubber wheels and only cost me 35 euro! It is like being a kid again it is that much fun. The weather was nice and we went roller-blading, it was hard after all this time but I wasn't sore from it today so that's a bonus! After all that fresh air and exercise we were starving so I made delicious food for dinner but I am so often informed that I go on and on about food so I won't even tell you about it. I don't feel the need you see because I have already gone on and on somewhere else - I have started up an additional blog, a food blog! In it I will only talk about food but even more so than I usually do! And include all of my recipes, which has my housemates all excited because they want to be able to make the same food after I have let them try it. And it will be good for me to do because so often I do not take note of what I am doing and am not able to recreate delicous meals that I have made. So there you go, maybe I will stop going on about food, and maybe I will start going on about my roller blades and hula hoop and second childhood instead! Keep watching for the upcoming news about Mum's trip, Paris and London!

So that's all from me for now but a word to the wise for those of you in Invers - my sister is in the hospital for a few weeks on bed rest so if anyone feels like visiting her I'm sure she'd appreciate it! I have brought her the Sims so that while out of real life she can immerse herself in virtual life!

15 April 2011

When will it be summer?

I think that Ireland must delight in disappointing me. I wake up in the morning to the sun shining in my window, so I open the curtain to make the most of it and decide that it is worth the risk to wear something slightly summery. But it is cold outside and now there are clouds, goodbye blue sky. I get to work and the office is dark, no more sunshine, I have to turn on the lights instead. Now it fools me again by shining in my window, but I look out and the sky is still competely overcast, plus I see the tree tops moving so it is surely cold and windy. I think the way to enjoy Ireland would be to have a nice apartment that was not surrounded by other buildings to block the little sun there is, with a glass house on the roof in which we could sit and lounge. If a plant deserves the heat and warmth of a glass house why don't I? It was good yesterday afternoon and in the evening so perhaps it will clear up but probably not. It is more likely that the good weather has spent itself on struggling to  be felt during the week and for the weekend it will just give up the ghost and go hide somewhere. The forecast says it will be clear so surely it will rain. I will be very glad for a couple of days holiday over Easter next week - perhaps it will be warm in Paris?

So in the middle of this week I went to Dublin for the final of a competition I entered. I learnt that there were 85 entries in total so my essay being chosen as one of the top 5 is an achievement in itself. Yet it doesn't really matter because like the rest of the country this event ended up being a bit of a mickey-mouse show. First of all there was supposed to be an audience of high school students. Not only one class pulled out but their entire audience pulled out, leaving an audience of organisers and supporters - maybe 30 or 40 people. Very disappointing. Then when the judging came around I discovered that while the competition was marketed as being about communication skills, it was judged on current commercial viability. So the guy that won was a very good speaker and I knew he would get it. The guy that came in second - no stage presence at all and he read the whole time from his powerpoint presentation. But, his lab has a new drug in its second clinical trial. Then, despite being run by the newspaper, the article in the paper the next day was only a small paragraph! You think they would at least talk themselves up somewhat. However you can all rest assured that I did put on a kick-ass presentation and that if there had been an audience to vote they would have loved me. At least it is something to put on my CV. Now I must settle down to work and prepare my manuscript for my first publication because I am supposed to have it done before going to Germany in a month. For which I must find accommodation which is not easy seeing as I don't speak German. As for the manuscript - I am quite sure that a supervisor should have more of a role in this but who cares, I would rather write it myself anyway, and she should not complain that it is going slowly seeing as I have never produced such a thing before.

To end on a positive note, last night on my way home from work I found 10 bucks on the street. Yay for me! So for now it is time to get to work, it is a Friday and I have a lot to do. I will try my best to work the weekend (it is hard though when you are lazy and have a good book waiting at home) because on Sunday my Mum will arrive and then I must show her a good time. We will go horse-riding, and to the Aran Islands. And then to Paris! We will see a cabaret. Then London where we will see the Phantom of the Opera! Plus it will be Easter and I want an easter egg, and hot cross buns!

10 April 2011

What did I achieve today?

Today I baked a loaf of bread. And it worked! I tastes like real bread, it is soft, it is not dense, it does not taste yeasty. I am very proud of it. Oddly enough, I did detect an odd note of garlic when I tried a slice. Perhaps I should not have roasted vegetables and garlic in the oven while it was preheating? But oh well - now to eat it! And then to make more! I have found my new obsession - for the time being at least. Now, back to work :(

04 April 2011

Hawk Walk

First of all let me just say that the weather is absolutely shocking and I am freezing my arse off. Walking to work against the wind was such a struggle that I should probably have just stayed in bed all day. Which is what I really wanted to do anyway because I am still so tired after a very long day on Saturday. My last week was a little slack because very naughtily instead of working I spend a lot of time making a treasure hunt and wrapping up a parcel in layers and layers of paper and jokes, culminating in a big metal box wrapped in chains and padlocked up. So then Saturday began with a surprise (for the birthday boy that is, I was not surprised) drive out to Ashford castle.

We stopped for a picnic lunch by the lake, with the place of honour going to my cookie-monster cupcakes. They were awesome. I should make fun cupcakes more often. The icing melted on a couple of them and the face began to slide sideways, making them mutant cookie-monsters.

After the picnic it was off for a walk through the grounds, stopping to use the facilities in the castle (which is a very expensive hotel these days) and having a sneaky little nosy around the place. It was very fancy, all wood panelling and nice upholstery, with a giant carved wooden chess set in the foyer and the sinks in the bathroom were all painted with enamel flowers. So, moving on from the detour, we eventually arrived at the school of falconry which was to be the big surprise of the day. Once there we were introduced to our guide and the birds in residence, most of which are hawks and not falcons. There was one beautiful eagle-owl and one big old buzzard.

We were allowed to take three hawks out with us and took turns at bearing them. They are surprisingly light and when they land on your glove you expect a heavy thump but they actually land so gently you barely feel it. Then they will peck at your glove until you give them the food that you have hidden in your fist. One of the hawks insisted on landing on the ground instead and plucking the grass. Another caught a flower and would not give it up.

Despite being tame they are not pets so no stroking or petting their feathers, which of course is what I would have liked to do. It was nevertheless loads of fun and so worth it. We walked for a good long time and when we returned the birds we hung around for a good chat with the guide. The rest of the evening involved sending the blokes out for the treasure hunt, and it turns out we were too clever for them because it was much too hard. They said they had fun though so it's all good. And the prize, after getting through layers and layers of wrapping? Space monopoly! And of course we had to play that, leading to a very late night. The cake was awesome too, I cannot take credit but I helped to decorate it, making insects out of smarties. If I were to win the lotto I would surely open a cafe somewhere and spend my time talking to people and making cakes.

Now I must get to work because I have been very slack. It is cold and I do not feel like working and my office is making strange noises - there is an air conditioning unit somewhere that has never done anything before but now I can hear air being vented. It is very irritating. I should probably just go home.