Saturday, April 30, 2011


Early rise this morning. 3:45am, to be exact. I always find it funny how a two hour flight can take nine hours travel, but I suppose that's budget airlines for you.

We've been looking forward to coming to Gothenburg (aka Göteborg, and pronounced yer-te-borh) because we haven't had much of a chance to get off the beaten track in our travels yet. Places like Vegas and Paris are amazing to visit, but they do lack that element of the unknown, that thrill when you feel like you've stumbled across a completely foreign gem.

Our hopes may have been high, but so far Sweden has not diappointed. Our first impression was the green farms and brilliant blue sky as we took the almost-dirt road from the airport into Sweden's second largest city. Our second impression was the genuine kindness of strangers, who have all learned English and seem over the moon that you've provided them with an opportunity to use it.

Just near our hostel.

Our arrival was wonderfully non-eventful. No life lessons about missed trains or getting lost this time. After checking into our awesome clean hostel, we took the tram to Haga, a little cobbled café street where the Swedish custom is to spend an hour in the afternoon sun over a great coffee and a cinnamon bun. No prizes for guessing what we did there. The coffee and the bun were expensive, but obscenely delicious.

We had planned to head from there to the Art Gallery, but after comparing closing times, realised it would be better to leave that for tomorrow, and instead head to Liseberg (pronounced lisa-bere), the largest theme park in Scandanavia. 

It was fantastic! Their latest attraction (Atmosfear) opened last week and is a giant drop half the height of the skytower! It also features Balder, an old school wooden rollercoaster voted the worlds best several times. I really valued the greenery around the park - it's by far the greenest theme park I've ever been to. In fact, it was refreshingly non-American overall.

There are trees and fragrant flowers everywhere.

Back at the hostel now, it's 10:30pm and I'm and looking forward to getting a decent sleep! That won't be too hard in a 16 bed dorm, right?


Friday, April 29, 2011

Life Lesson #22 - Sometimes a Glimpse is Enough

Did you see me on the telly today? I'm sure you must have... I was standing right here: front of these people:

...near this guy:

...just behind this big brick thing: 

Didn't see me? That's a shame. We had an excellent view through that little gap in the archway you can see in the photo above? Twas enough to view the procession through. Well, to view people on horses anyway. Actually, the heads of people bobbing up and down in a way that suggests they must have been on horses. And there was a carriage at one point. But not the carriage - that was topless and therefore waaaay beyond possible-viewing-distance!

But, we had a great time anyway and don't regret braving the crowds. My good friend Emily joined us last night, to spend the Day of the Royal Wedding together.

We tried to see the ceremony from the big public screens in Trafalgar Square, but it was so packed that they'd closed it off, so after catching Kate's walk down the aisle with our peripheral vision from behind a tree, we headed up Pall Mall hoping to find a spot somewhere remotely near the processional route. Turns out it was quite busy.

It was festive though, and despite hearing and seeing absolutely none of the rest of the ceremony, we still enjoyed the atmosphere. We finally ended up just by St James's Palace, which is where the photos earlier were taken. It's the closest we could possibly have got - we were very lucky to have seen as much as we did! Sometimes a glimpse is enough.

Once the white vans started coming along The Mall we knew it had to be over, so headed to Green Park (where it was just as crowded). That's when we saw the fighter jets coming overhead, which is probably the only part of the day that's better live than on TV!

Once the jets had passed (meaning the kiss was over), the people thinned a little, and we could stand on the edge of a barricade in order to glimpse the edge of a big screen that was obscured by trees anyway.

But it's all part of the fun, right! Knowing we wouldn't be able to see anything else, we took the tube back to our nearest, and much less crowded, park: Regent's Park. No royals, but a nice afternoon anyway.

Monday, April 25, 2011

ANZAC in York

Our accommodation in Bradford was amazing. We think it's because nobody really goes there... otherwise it would have been way above our price range!

Yep, that's where we stayed.
When we were ready to leave Bradford, we hopped back into the dreaded manual and headed to another address Paul's granny had lived at. Unfortunately we had trouble finding it, but we got to see some cute little Yorkshire villages along the way.

The dreaded manual.
York is meant to be one of the coolest cities in England, so we decided to go an hour or two out of our way to spend the last day of our roadtrip there. We weren't disappointed - it's a great little Medieval city, where you can see the former perimeter of the thousand year old castle.

It's home to Yorkminster, the cathedral Lonely Planet calls the best in the UK.

All the houses and shops look straight out of the middle ages.

One of the former entrances to the castle still stands over the road. It still has spiky gates too.

One of my favourite things after our afternoon in York was the parking officers. We were more than an hour late back to the car, and rocked up right as a guy in a funny hat was scribbling down our details. I smiled sweetly and told him we had gotten carried away because York was so beautiful. He smiled and said "orrite, orrite, yer on yur whey thun", or something to that effect. Naturally, I stalled when we tried to drive away.

All through the English countryside there are these yellow fields. I don't know what they are, but I loved driving past them.  
Almost halfway home from York is Nottingham. Our trusted Lonely Planet told us the oldest Inn/Pub in England was here, and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem really was worth a visit! The back of it is cut into the stone hill behind it, which is below the castle. It's famous because the crusaders stopped here on the way to maraud and pillage the east. It was established in 1189. Kind of a bizarre feeling being in a place with so much history. I wonder if Robin Hood ever dropped in for a pint?

We couldn't afford to eat as well as drink, so on the drive back to London we munched on some ANZAC biscuits I had managed to find. It was a nice reminder of home.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter at the Lakes

The main point of our trip to the Lakes was a nice walk. And, for once, almost everything went to plan! The weather was spectacular, and the 6km walk was amazing (thanks to the walk guidebook Paul had bought in Ambleside the night before).

The walk starts over mountains...

...continues into a wood...

...and comes back along a Lake. This is Wordsworth Country, so we read Wordsworth's poetry to each other as we walked. The best spot we found to read it was on a tree over the lake (below, centre).

Feeling very satisfied and lucky to have found a walk away from the crowds, we continued back into Ambleside, where we visited the house and garden of our resident poet, William Wordsworth.

We stopped briefly at a delicious bakery in Ambleside to feast on hot cross buns by a picturesque river, then left the Lake District and continued east.

We stopped briefly in Skipton to visit an old castle.

The reason we came to Bradford for night #3 was to see where Paul's granny (who passed away a few days before we left New Zealand) was born. That was a great experience.

Paul in front of the house where his granny was born in 1916.

Afterwards, we headed into Bradford town for a curry dinner. Apparently they're good here, according to the Lonely Planet.


Life Lesson #21 - Not an Asset to the Abbey

Today I learned that Alzheimer's can come on early.

At the Lakes, most people stay in Windermere. We didn't, we stayed in Barrow. It's about as exciting as the name sounds (nearly as good as Palmerston North!), and well over an hour away from Windermere. Which basically means staying there cost us two and a half hours driving in a manual. Now that's rough!

But the main reason we did it was to go to the Furness Abbey. This place is meant to be amazing. Like, could-only-be-better-if-Maria-was-there amazing. We made plans to visit first thing after checking out, while the weather was still awesome.

When we got in the car we were still psyched out about the whole fire alarm thing. I asked Paul to direct me to the Abbey, because I'm still sketchy in a manual. About forty minutes later we're happily driving along, almost in Windermere, when we both realise we forgot to go to the abbey. 

We have no idea how it happened. But it meant we drove 2.5 hours to the most boring part of England for absolutely no reason. #$@%!!

Life Lesson #20 - Fire

Today I learned that you should always take signs seriously. Even ones that seem silly. Say, for example, there's a sign by the bathroom in your hotel advising you to always keep the door shut when showering or the fire alarm will go off.

You should never see such a sign and think to yourself "I bet it wouldn't", "well that's a crappy fire alarm then" or "there's not much steam anyway".

Because if you do ignore such a sign, the fire alarm probably will go off just to spite you. The entire hotel will be filled with blaring sirens for five minutes, while you try to hastily pack your things and make a sneaky exit.

And when the steam begins to clear, the siren won't just stop. It will instead belch for half an hour like a homage to the van in Little Miss Sunshine.

If this does happen to you, take the back exit and run.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Onwards and Northwards

Our hostel in Manchester is in Castlefield, which is a really cool area right by the canal. Manchester somehow manages to pull off being an industrial graveyard and still be charming. We walked through the city to the Art Gallery in the morning and loved seeing all the train bridges and other signs of the industry that once existed here. Thomas the Tank Engine now makes even more sense to me.

Our hostel in Manchester on the right, the canal on the left.
After leaving the Art Gallery, we headed straight on the road North to the Lakes, wanting to make sure we got as much time there as possible.

We pulled into a quaint little town called Ambleside, and despite the greying weather (and bad pub food), loved it. The town was a welcome relief from stalling and bunnyhops! It felt like the sort of place they created the word "quaint" to describe... no surprise that it's where Beatrix Potter comes from.

A quaint little house on a bridge in quaint little Ambleside.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: Ghost: The Musical

One Sentence Summary: dire sounding adaptation of the classic 90s movie that's actually not bad!

Trivia: The screenwriter for the movie also wrote the book for the show. The guy who wrote the music has never written a show before, but has worked in the music business forever.

Best thing about it: The show actually has heart, they don't skip the tender moments for flashy numbers like some movie adaptations. The soundtrack was good, there were quite a few memorable songs. Also the special effects are worth noting. (how on earth did they make him disappear like that??)

What they could change: The Demi Moore role develops well in Act I but gets boring in Act II. Also the chorus choreography is too Beyonce at times. But it's still on previews (moving to the West End in June) so they have time to fix it.

We left thinking: Our low expectations were smashed out of the water. It ended up bring one of the best movie adaptations I've seen.

Rating: An unexpected, but well deserved 7.5 / 10.

Manchester in a Manual!

Today, I drove a manual and survived.

It was very successful. I was honked at less than 15 times, and both times we got lost we found our way again in less than 45 minutes. The whole trip took only twice as long as it was meant to, and I only stalled on two roundabouts. And six traffic lights.

The sights were lovely too. We popped past a really happening town, "World Class Birmingham" (according to the sign, anyway). They have a lovely wee art gallery there and a pub in a mall that serves food almost as good as the hospital cafeteria's. I can completely understand why Snoring Lamp Man would want to live here.

Luckily, Manchester is great. Our hostel is right by the canal, and the area has a really cool vibe. We even went to see Ghost: The Musical, which we thought sounded about as fun as World Class Birmingham, but was actually surprisingly good.

Tomorrow, we head further into the Lake District. I can't wait to get back behind the wheel.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Billy Elliot

One Sentence Summary: Young boy in a small mining town in England during the 80s discovers a love for ballet, creating friction with his family's narrow world view.

Trivia: Four boys share the lead role and rotate nightly. Elton John wrote all the music, and was the driving force behind the movie being turned into a musical, after being brought to tears at the premiere. The guy who wrote the movie also adapted it for the stage, and even wrote the lyrics for Elton John's music.

Best thing about it: The entire show is brought to life through dance. It's daring, and artistic. The result is an understated performance that epitomises what I always say makes great theatre: you couldn't possibly pull it off any other way but on a stage.

What they could change: This was almost a 10/10, but a few times in Act II, the show plays for laughs. That's the kind of thing you laugh along with in Legally Blonde, but this show needs to give it's audience more credit than that. Luckily, the majority of the time it does.

We left thinking: "That's theatre at it's best. How on earth did they find four boys who can do that!"

Rating: 9.5 / 10

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Last Day in Paris: L'Autre Jardin

We checked out of our hotel on a high today, because we were going to take the train into the countryside to visit Monet's house and garden, including the famous lilypond. We were looking forwards to hiring bicycles to ride through the countryside and enjoying fresh baguettes on the banks of the Seine.

But it turned out that A) our tickets weren't valid for that train, B) we couldn't afford the extra, C) there were less trains than Paul had realised when planning, D) while speaking to an agent to figure out points A - C, the only train left.

So we went to Versailles instead.

The photos are lovely... but in truth the day was hampered quite a lot by the hordes of people. We had to queue for 45 minutes just to buy tickets, then when we were ready to enter the Chateau, that took another hour and a half. In the blistering heat. We paid several euros for a 7-Up, and it was worth it.

This is about a third of the queue for the Chateau. No shade.

An example of the crowds inside the museum.

The only crowdless photos are of the roof.

In the courtyard afterwards.
We left feeling a bit disappointed, to be honest. I felt similarly when I visited five years earlier, but for opposite reasons. Last time, the whole place was under scaffolding, the grounds had iced over, all the fountains had been drained, the trees were bare, and the statues were covered in tarpaulins. This time, it was lovely but impossible to really experience anything. The opulence was difficult to even appreciate, as you were always 20 people back.

When we left Versailles, we picked up our luggage where we had left it in Gare du Nord and headed to the airport. On the wrong train. Luckily we realised our mistake before it was too late, and got on the correct one. But got off at the wrong terminal. Luckily, I had allowed plenty of time to get through, and we didn't miss our flight. But Immigration at Luton took so long that we missed our bus to town. Ah, the dramas of travelling.  I love it, really!


Day Three in Paris: The Louvre

I'm getting sick of the crowds. It turns out that it's school holidays in Europe, which I probably should have checked before we booked. We're now paying for it every time we want to do anything. Which is making me regret the incredible weather a little bit. It's really beautiful... but makes long waits a tad unbearable.

Surprisingly, the Louvre was one of our better queues. Just 45 minutes.

We stayed until the museum closed. The highlight for me was easily this painting, which I have been obsessed with for years, and had no idea was even at the Louvre. Her expression has always entranced me. It's much more personal (and theatrical) than most paintings of the area. I tried to copy it more than once (with dismal results, as you can imagine).

Young orphan girl at the cemetery, Delacroix, 1823-24
After we left the Louvre, we returned to the Eiffel Tower for sunset.

The queue was so long that the sun was almost down by the time we got up there. We walked up, because the queue for the stairs was shorter than the one for the elevator. It still took over an hour... and then we had to start climbing!

...But the view was worth it.

We even got to watch the tower do it's hourly sparkle from three different points of view, perhaps the most unique of which was in the elevator on the way down.

We had planned to grab a quick chocolat chaud on the Champs D'Elysées afterwards, but we were too tired after the long day at the Louvre, so we headed home instead and slept very soundly!