Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Sometimes, things are better in theory than in practice.

Take for one, liberalism. In theory, I wholeheartedly support the idea. However, in practice, sometimes, the results are less than pretty. And that is all I have to say on that.

Take for two, our hotel. In theory it was uber-funky, modern and efficient. In practice it was gimmicky, annoying and uncomfortable. And that is all I have to say on that.

So Amsterdam took a little while to grow on me, but grow on me it did. On the first afternoon we went for a random wander with our little time, found the tourist-y areas (and as you imagine this ponder for a moment on the kind of tourism Amsterdam that attracts) and didn't like it very much. The one nice thing that we did see was the Bagijnhof, a serene little complex of old churches, houses and gardens, entered by a secret door.

The next day we got an early start after hardly any sleep (see theory vs practice). We jumped on a bus (which ended up being two busses, and join me, will you? in thanking the standard international deity that ALL of the Dutch, including the busdrivers, speak excellent English) to get to the Aalsmeer flower market, the largest flower auction/distribution houses in the world. The getting there was fun, as we drove through some cute suburbs, with sweet Dutch houses with colourful gardens, and driveway bridges over the canals between the footpath and the roads. The market itself was amazing with huge warehouses full of pallets and palets of flowers, all being hooked together and pulled this way and that by little men on industrial segway-like vehicles. The warehouses were so big that bikes were provided for workers who needed to get from one side to the other! The auction rooms (12 in total) were like large lecture theatres, full of buyers on laptops all focussing intently on the product being wheeled in front of them and the screens displaying the changing price. It was all very cool to watch; however, considering how much effort has gone into making the place tourist-able (purpose-built special walkways around the factory), I think they could really do a much better job, for very little more effort.

After this we headed into Amsterdam itself and went on a New Europe walking tour of the city. This, as always, was fabulous and really gave us lots of insights into the city, both as it is now and in a historical context. It presented the more controversial aspects of the city in an interesting and non-threatening way, as well as introducing the gentler and often more hidden side of the city. By the end I had totally warmed to the city, the gorgeous canals, the live-and-let-live character of the people, the crazy tilting houses (built on an angle to make it easier to get stuff through the higher windows), the polyphonic church bells, the lovely boutique shops (very welcome after city after city of chain stores), and the lilting language, which sounds like a cross between English and German, as pronounced by the Swedish chef. The only thing I didn't like in the end was the cyclists, who are totally, completely, utterly mad. They ride on the bike paths, the streets, the footpaths, the right way, the wrong way, through red lights, at pedestrians.

After the tour, we went to Pancakes! to have, you guessed it...no, wait....poffertjes! (Teeny pancakes!). Then on to Metz & Co, a super fancy department store with a cafe on the top floor serving average coffee, made worthwhile for the spectacular view of the city. We then aimed to fit in a museum before the evening, but didn't quite make it.

During the tour we were taken to La Place: Marche du Monde for lunch - a giant marketplace-like hall with any type of food you could imagine, from sandwiches to salads to soups to steaks to smoothies. You just pick up what you want, take it to the cashier and then sit down and eat it. The food so was delicious, healthy and cheap, that we went back for dinner.

And that was it for Amsterdam. Short, and sweet. (Except for the hotel, which was awful).

Sunday, 28 September 2008


I was kind of under and overwhelmed by Prague all at once. A lot of it was more beautiful than any other city I've visited - there are so many amazing buildings all packed into one tiny space. There were some pleasant surprises too; it is, for example, one of the cleaner European cities I've visited. But for all of this, I was hoping for something more, something a bit different than everywhere else, perhaps something a bit more... eastern... which I just didn't find. The Czech Republic seems to have modernised very quickly since the Iron Curtain lifted, and although I know I would've found it hard to deal with if it had been gritty and confronting, somehow it just felt unfortunately like more of the same (only surprisingly more expensive). (Which just goes to show how spoiled I am becoming, and I am sure I will eat my words when I am home, and every city no longer has a handful of cathedrals from the middle ages.)

On the plus side, we were staying in a wicked cool hotel, although possibly this added to my malaise - quite honestly I would've been happy to lounge around in there all day every day. It was brand new, but fitted out like the dream of the 60s, with both new and vintage furniture. They also had delicious breakfasts and afternoon teas, and a big big bath. Which is, when it comes down to it, really all I want from life: food and soaking.

We didn't manage to pack a lot in to the 4.5 days that we were there. Perhaps we needed a break, or perhaps we just didn't manage to get inspired by the city quickly enough...

On our first day we did a bit of aimless wandering, and had an average dinner in a fancy art deco restaurant. The next day it rained a lot, but we did a 'free' (suggested tip of AUD$20 per person) walking tour of the left bank of the city, including the old town square, the Charles Bridge, the pee-men, the Lennon wall and the castle complex, among other things. We also saw the 'pee-men' a totally bizarre sculpture of two men peeing onto a map of the Czech Republic. You can sms your name and the pee-men will pee it. So maybe not entirely more of the same...

The following day we did the 'free' tour's other leg: the right bank, where we saw the astronomical clock, the hall where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni, the 'New' Town, Wenceslaus Square, Jan Huss' statue, Kafka's house, and the Jewish ghetto, plus a bunch of other things I have already forgotten. We also went to a crazy shopping mall becuase I'd decided to use the delightful hotel bath to finally try out some Lush products, and we discovered why Prague is such an expensive city. Apparently since the fall of Communism the Czechs have been shopping mad (like, REALLY mad) and there are gigantic Marion-like malls dotted all around the city. Totally bizarre.

On Friday we saw the astronomical clock chime, had a long and seriously delicious veggie lunch at Lehka Hlava (I even had birch sap to drink. Apparently now I will never get kidney or liver disease. Al-right.) In the evening we went to see the Czech Philharmonic play at the Rudolfinium. This orchestra is apparently the 9th best in Europe (although I don't know where they get rankings like that from) and I recognised two of the basoonists names (Frantisek Hermann and Jiri Seidl for any other nerds out there) which is kind of nothing short of amazing. Well, anyway, again, I was slightly underwhelmed. I'd be willing to put it down to perhaps we had bad seats and the acoustics weren't amazing, but they sounded a little wolfish and just somewhat less than perfection (bearing in mind, still 9th best...). Although full marks to the brass, and the silky brilliant solo trumpeter.

On the way back from the concert we came across a man on the Charles Bridge playing the New World Symphony on glasses played with water. That was, for better or worse, a more magical experience than the orchestra. Even though techically it's not even the same universe let alone ballpark, this guy was playing the glasses like I would never have imagined, and also putting his heart and soul into it...I was spellbound...until he finished and started playing the theme from Titanic. Well, I guess you gotta please the crowds when you're playing for tips...

On our last day we crammed a few things in that we'd missed earlier: we went to the musical instrument museum which I'd really recommend to any musicians visiting Prague (if only for the white baby grand with disco-mirror tiles). We saw (half of) the Lebkovitz Palace - the former home of a Bohemian prince, restored with all its contents to its family after the Velvet Revolution. It's a simple museum but they have some incredible treasures - like the original hand-written orchestral parts for Beethoven's 4th and 5th symphonies. Butter my bum and call me a biscuit - I did not expect that when I walked in the door! We also had a bit of a poke around the rest of the castle grounds and visited St Vitus' cathedral (which has some beautiful newer stained glass windows) and saw the changing of the guards ceremony. It was all pretty fun, and really enlightened me to how ridiculously old Prague is (the area has been settled since the paleolithic age).

Now we're in Amsterdam - reached by sleeper train direct from Prague, via Germany. I'm not sure mum totally enjoyed the experience, but I had a ball, although not a ball I'd care to repeat in a hurry. Something about sleeping in a moving vehicle, watching all the towns go by and the landscape change, having a nice young man bring me cups of tea and make my chair into a bed, seeing the lovely formulaic German train stations again, all really appealed to me.

tasting Czech chocolate.

Kofila: Chocolate filled with coffee ganache, but in a cheap kind of way...

Flint: unexpectedly like a slightly nicer Bounty

Lentilky: Czech smarties!

Fidorka: choc/hazlenut wafer.

Margot: chocolate covered milky-way consistency marzipan. Grossness incarnate.

Not pictured: bratwurst flavoured chips. Nice one!

Not pictured: Becherovka - a Czech herbal liquor. As yet untasted.

Not pictured: Pilsener Urquell - the first light coloured beer ever brewed. Bitterer than you'd expect and not so nice, really...

Not pictured: Nogger - the Czech golden gaytime! I wonder what it means...

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

coaxed into liking Italy after all.

To steal a Chandler-ism, could Padua BE any different to Venice? There's none of the big famous stuff to see, it's not on the water, it's not 95% beautiful. However, there are also less than a billion tourists, it doesn't smell, the shops sell stuff not rubbish, the food is good, and wait for it, people are actually NICE.

Case in point, the nicest person we came across on our last day in Venice was a lady working at the train station. We actually commented on how nice she was, and she earned this praise by the lofty acts of saying 'thankyou' after we handed over our money, and by smiling professionally as she did it. No more. By contrast, the nicest guy in Padua gave us free plums becuase we only wanted to buy two, not a whole bucket. The rudest person we met in Venice on our last day there bordered on aggression, all becuase I dared to ask if I could exchange a pair of gloves for a more expensive pair. By contrast the rudest person we met in Padua...well...I can't remember one.

Padua is an old city, and it certainly has its pretty bits, but I would not hurry there. However, my top tip for visiting Venice now is to stay in Padua. Sure it'd be cool to wake up next to a canal, but staying in Padua would be a lot cheaper and a LOT pleasanter, and in our case we were staying on the mainland anyway as we literally couldn't find a hotel room actually in Venice proper. The train to Venice from Padua is 20 minutes and they go about every half an hour. It's not rocket surgery, folks.

Anyway, we just visited for the day to get out of horrible Venice. We were deciding between Padua and Verona and in the end chose the former, even though Verona was probably cooler, becuase Padua is closer to Venice, and we figured it would be less touristy which was why we were getting out of Venice in the first place. Heavens to betsy that was a horrible sentence. Sorry. I'm not fixing it though since I've already written it and you've already read it.

We headed straight past Giotto's frescoes (which are apparently the main reason people visit Padua) although we did (literally) stick our heads through the door of the church with the less interesting ones. (The more interesting ones involve a 4 hour wait and an airlock.) We wandered past the old Roman amphitheatre and found ourselves in the city, where a bunch of just graduated medical students were playing the fool.

Padua has some amazing fruit markets which we explored a little, and then headed for lunch in a place the Loney Planet suggested (hurrah!) which had a really delicious bean/pasta soup which I'm going to look up in the big Italian nanna cookbook when I get home. We did a little window shopping and wandered past the Basilica of St Anthony and tried to find the Donatello statue of a cat which proved difficult as it turned out to be a statue of a man on a horse with a name resembling the Italian word for cat. Der. It was nice but very high up and it was a bit sunny to look at properly. We did however find the Piazza in Padua which is the largest in all of Italy - it was really beautiful, with a dual circumference of statues, a moat around the outside and a fountain on the inside. I would've gladly spent the afternoon napping on the lawn there but Ma was not up for that idea unfortunately, and oddly there are no cafes on the square which perhaps I could have coaxed her into. On we went to the botanical gardens which are the oldest in teh world. Unsurprisingly then, they are quite small but laid out really interestingly, having grown from a very formal medical garden. They have a giant palm tree that dates from 1585(!) which inspired Goethe to a poem. After this, we had a little more Grom gelato, thought about braving the post office but decided not to when we saw the line, and then headed back to the train for Venice.

All in all it was one of the underwhelming days that funnily enough seem to be exceedingly the most enjoyable.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

overwhelmingly underwhelmed.

First impression of Venice? It stinks like the sewage they pour into the canals. After 3 days my impression has softened a little to concede that in parts it is quite pretty, but it is still not going down as the highlight of this trip.

The first day went awfully - everything that could've gone wrong did (with the possibly exeption that I didn't die of a stroke on the plane like I thought I would). The short story: 2 hours in the airport trying to get on the bus which we were overcharged for and yelled at about, mum nearly got locked in the luggage compartment under the bus, the toilet in the B&B overflowed, on our hostesses' advice we got stuck in tourist hell for a few hours, on the way home we got really lost from the bus and ended up stranded in the dark in a carpark on the side of a highway. Yes, that is the short version. Venetians are the rudest people I've ever come across, and I can literally count the number of people who've so much as smiled at us on one hand. They range from agressive (the really bad) to just plain sullen (the relatively good). To top it all off my camera has fully packed up and (all of a sudden) refuses to even turn on. I think maybe it's just Venice working its magic. Now I am using mum's for the rest of the trip, and all my photos are turning out grey and out of focus. Urgh.

Yesterday we got out of Venice proper after not enjoying our first day's taste of it. We visited the island of Murano which was basically the same only a bit better because it was less completely overrun by tourists. We had a nice lunch in the sun on the canalside, wandered through the pretty backstreets a little, and after seeing approximatly eleventy billion shops full of tack, managed to find some nice locally made perfume bottles.

Somewhere in there we also caught the waterbus around the grand canal at sunset which was admittedly rather magical, although somewhat marred by the old English lady who kept elbowing me in the head.

Today we tackled Venice again, but this time wandered around the further edges where everything was less touristy. (Notice I say 'less'. It's still mega-touristy, just not Christmas-eve-in-Rundle-Mall INSANE like the middle). We had a few points of reference to visit (a gelati shop, a glove shop, a bead shop, the shipyards) of which we managed to find two, although we didn't really get that lost, I maintain it was more that things weren't where they were supposed to be. Have I mentioned the complete rabbit warren that this place is? It's nutso, half the streets don't have names just numbers and I don't even know how the posties do it. The gelati shop was very nice, but no better than Cibo, and I did buy some extremely lovely soft leather gloves. We also had a super delicious lunch (even after our hostess helpfully told us 'there are no nice places to eat in Venice') - I had black pasta with prawns and roasted tomatoes with a rocket/garlic/oil sauce. Nom nom nom.

Actually this trip is making me realise exactly how influenced Australia is by Italian culture. In some ways I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else because so much feels familiar, and I also think that the migrants must've brought the best of their culture with them (and left the tools at home), becuase every lovely thing I've had has been comparable to the best I've had at home. I am talking about food here again, of course...

There are pretty parts of Venice - it is admittedly awesomely cool being in a city with water instead of roads, and no cars at all, and many of the buildings and views are ridiculously sweet, with the candystriped pole boat parking bays, the painted walls, and the rooftop gardens. However, it's dirty, stinky and the people are totally repulsive. The hidden corners are lovely, and I'm glad I've seen it, but on balance I'm not sure the visit is worth the grief.

Tomorrow we're getting out and going on a day trip - maybe to Padua. Hopefully that will be better.

Friday, 19 September 2008

ready to go back to Lisbon already...

Day 1:
This afternoon I had my shoes shone. (Shined?). Mum's been on at me to do it since she arrived, since my beautiful brown leather shoes are looking a bit scruffy, after 8 months of travelling-walking. I've been resisting, partly I suspect, out of sheer stubbornness, and as a throwback to the only kind of teenage rebellion I have ever really exhibited (can I hear a 'get a haircut' please?). But I think it's been mainly because there's a sort of pride to be taken in scruffy shoes, shoes that have obviously seen a lot of road, shoes that could tell a few stories if they had the talking kind of tongues, and I was loath to erase that, in the same way that an oenologist wouldn't dream of dusting his collection. Also, I'm a bit pedantic about my shoes, and I'd rather they got a bit scuffed, than treated with some shiny-making, nice-smelling, leather-killing chemical concoction.

But wandering through the city on our first afternoon here we came across an abandoned stool and brushes on the footpath, and at the same time I tried to surreptitiously take a picture of the open bar in the traffic island with a few old men standing around having a late afternoon beverage. I guess I wasn't that subtle, because one of them wandered over and somehow I was having my shoes cleaned. He spoke no English (although I suspect he understood a fair bit), but somewhere in the long-jump pit between that and my complete lack of Portuguese we understood each other.

'Can I take your picture while you're shining my shoes please?'
'No, you'll have to wait 5 minutes - I don't want you taking my picture while your shoes like this, I take pride in my work!'
'Um...fair enough...giggle...'.

It was definitely the best E2.50 I've spent all year, and not just because my shoes are looking better now than they did when they were new. This old man put on a great show - not a spectacle mind you - but he knew what he was doing, and did it well, cigarette firmly wedged in his shoe brush, at least when it wasn't in his mouth. I suspect he's not the most interesting guy in Europe, and certainly not the most beautiful, but (without being a complete middle-class twit, glorifying the working man blah blah) somehow he had more charm than almost anyone I've come across this year.

Why am I telling such a long story? Well, it's a metaphor for how I'm feeling about Lisbon right now. It's a pretty grubby city, and could use a serious bit of spit and polish itself, but somehow I like it here, I really really like it here. The weather's good, but not annoyingly straight-white-teeth, blonde hair perfect, and the people have been bend-over-backwards friendly, whether or not we speak the same language: our neighbour on the plane gave us a list of tips for things to see in Lisbon and made sure we got a good deal on a taxi; the taxi driver from the airport explained (in French) all the sights to us as we went past; the hotel receptionist suggested an itinerary for our few days here; the cafe waiter cracked a joke about how well we communicated despite the fact that I was forced to order in Portuguese (a language I literally speak 2 words of - the obligatory 'hello' and 'thankyou') because he spoke nothing but the native language; the Brazilian dinner waiter gave me his email address in case I ever visited his country and needed any tips. Jolly submarine yellow seems to be the colour of choice here, for everything from tablecloths to trams, and the tiling on all of the footpaths and some of the buildings makes me imagine the Moors who colonised this whole peninsula over a thousand years ago. The policemen drive around on glorified golf buggies and segways. Oh, and this is the home of the custard tart. What more could you ask?

Day 2:
Today didn't quite live up to day 1, but I suppose the wide-eyes couldn't last that long. This city built on 7 hills is gritty, and I have to keep reminding myself that the graffiti and grime, the people lolling about in the streets don't indicate dodginess like they would at home: Portugal has the lowest GDP per capita in western europe, but it's about 20 places ahead of Australia in the peacefulness stakes. Mum mentioned over coffee that she's been as relaxed here as she's gotten since leaving home - I think this is Lisbon. It's not very shiny, and there's no big 'must-see' destinations, but the people move more slowly, and there's more time to savour the sun and the matching yellow scenery.

This morning we hiked up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge - the old castle which dates from 6bc. It was a lovely tranquil spot, but I kept waiting for an actual building, rather than open ruins. Cue Tony Roinson. We wandered down through the muddled streets Alfama, historically the muslim area, and came across the starkly beautiful catholic cathedral halfway down. We wandered through to the Bairro Alto for a moroccan dinner and left rather quickly - I think it's the Hindley St of Lisbon, with all of the coolest shops, restaurants and bars, but with the same confronting first appearances. I suspect we won't go back, although I will always wonder what we might've missed.

The Portuguese language is still rolling around in my mouth and my head - it sounds nothing like I thought it did, but almost like Russian, and I can't understand the sounds of it beyond the numbers, although much of it looks familiar. It sounds less like Spanish than I expected, and in fact our crazy taxi driver told me 'the one thing you must know in Portugal - you must not mention the Spaniards!'. We haven't had any trouble getting around, and almost everyone speaks English, and of those who don't, a majority surprisingly speak French. Despite this, it grates that I am forced to follow 'olá' with '...um...do you speak English?'. I've been spoilt in Britain and France, and even Germany to a lesser extent; I utterly hate the feeling of being in a country where I speak and understand absolutely none of the language - I feel impolite, like a bad houseguest. Everyone, however, has been unfailingly friendly about it, and those who can't speak English just smile and nod at my awful attempts at menu pronounciation. Even that seems the way of life here: smile and nod and continue on with your day.

2nd and last day in Lisbon:
Right now I am in Venice and I have had the WORST day (good luck getting an Italian person to so much as smile at you!) so unfortunatley i'm not in a good writing mood, which is a shame because this lisbon post was going pretty well. But i've been so slack about these updates and i'm so behind that i thought it better to just get moving and finish it off.


We navigated the post office, had lunch in a horrible tourist cafe, but made the most of it by ordereing the most random thing on the menu which was actually not bad - a banana and cheese toastie. We made a trip out to Belem and had the famous pasteis de belem - the portuguese custard tarts. These were incredibly and actually way better than at home, though essentially the same thing. The pastry was so flaky - almost like croissant pastry and almost burnt at the bottom making it all tasty-like. The custard was just set and still warm and you get little packs of sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top. So so yum. We bought 2 and then went back and joined the giant line for 6 more, they were so delicious. Whilst out there we also saw the monstery of jeronimos which was really lovely, and also had this great big timeline of the history of the monastery (over 600 years from memory) with another line showing the conurrent events in portugal and another with world events. It really taught me a lot about portuguese and world history in a very short time.

After heading back from Belem we went on a mad shopping trip to pick up a few things - i bougth a filigree peacock brooch which seems to be the thing to buy in portugal and up to this crazy shop we'd spotted earlier selling aprons. It was like something straight out of the 50s - kind of women's home goods, from babies clothes to deoderant to washing powder, and they had these awesome old cross over apron/pinnafore things like my mum's nanna (apparently) used to wear, and iv'e basically only seen on the crazy old italian ladies in my street (i think). Anyway i fully wanted one, and it was quite an experience finding the right size becuase the guy running the shop didnt speak anything but portuguese, but like everyone else in lisbon was so super friendly and between his portuguese and my franglais and a heap of smiling and laughing nodding and hand gestures and guessing we walked out with a couple of nanna aprons. What a souvenier! Then we went up the crazy lift from 1906 that lets you see over the city and had dinner where I *encouraged* mum to have the sardines which she enjoyed eating and i enjoyed watching because they had bones and heads.

Anyway, in conclusion Lisbon was excellent. I liked it as a city, but for me more importantly it really reinforced that all the cool attractions in the world are less important than friendly happy people, a lesson i'm unfortunately re-learning from the other angle here in Venice. Ah well, easy-come, easy-go...

(PS. sorry about my horrible spelling, punctuation etc etc blah. I amm very tired).

Monday, 15 September 2008

enjoying being a tourist more than a local.

What do I have to say about Paris that hasn't been said before? Well, probably nothing that hasn't been said before by at least one other person, somewhere, somehow, but maybe I have something to say that at least hasn't been said by me.

I wasn't really looking forward to coming back to Paris given my negative experience living there, but I was happy to come back because I knew it was somewhere mum really wanted to see. What I certainly wasn't expecting was to actually find myself on arrival with a feeling of returning home. I actually felt like I was showing Mum around my hometown, which I suppose I was in a way, since it was the first place I was really forced to strike out on my own, and although I certainly don't know the place as well as i know, say, the Australian national anthem (ahem...), I got a real kick out of being able to navigate the metro effortlessly, being able to walk around at least certain areas without reference to a map, being able to point out monuments and places with certainty, and knowing where they lie in relation to the whole.

I also remembered how I used to eat there in courses - salad for dinner, and then 7 tiny desserts: cheese, yoghurt, fruit, mousse, chocolate. It sounds nuts, but it actually ends up being quite light and balanced as it's like an inverse pyramid.

It was also really gratifying to be in a country where I could communicate with everyone, and have a sense of achievement about it. I am really enthused now to go home and continue improving my French, as well as maybe to pick up another language or two, whereas when I left 'for good' I just felt burnt out and frustrated. This time I got a real sense of exactly how quickly my brain is taking in new information in that language now - would anyone like to know the word for 'waterproofing spray'? Anyone? I not only learnt it but also retained it.

I always said that Paris is a better place to visit than to live. I think I proved this true by having a much better time as a tourist than I ever did as a local. And in fact, the only horrible moments we experienced this time around were navigating 'living' issues rather than 'visiting' issues (hello, landlords!). And this time around I got to see almost all of the things I regret missing out on the first time - although of course in a city as big as Paris there's always more to see and do.

I left this time feeling that I'd actually benefitted from my time there, and although I don't feel the need to go again, if I do it'll be like visiting an old (if somewhat cantankerous) friend.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

coping better now she has internet again.

Right. So I've been internetless for the past couple of weeks, and before that I was very lazy about actually writing something about my sporadic 3 weeks in London/Oxford/Stratford/Paris. So in an attempt to catch myself up I'm listing everything that I can remember that I've done, and I'll actually write about it all hopefully at some point when I have time.


When at Gus':
  • Portobello Road Markets
  • Walked through Hyde Park from Oxford St
  • Italian dinner with Gus

At Nhan's:
  • Chachamoon cheapo Asian dinner with Nhan & Sim, bar afterwards
  • Visit to Shoreditch for painting, magic sparkly cupcake
  • Day at Grenwich: through tunnel under the Thames, cool coffee shop/record shop, danced on the Meridian, John Harrison's Clock (tiny compared to earlier attempts - like a big fob watch), laksa in chinatown
  • Crazy broth making with Nhan
  • Walk with Emma through oxford circus, leicester square, the river, westminter abbey, coffee
  • Coffee with Sarah, visit to Harrods, laduree macarons and Maison du chocolat freebies, wandered kensington, asian dinner
  • Noel Coward show with jonny and emma ('brief encounter')
  • Indian dinner with Gus
  • Primark experience with Nhan
  • More broth with Nhan (sour cabbage soup), ice/coffee
  • Big day: Camden markets (gumboots), burrough markets (wild boar sausage sandwich, fancy coffee, lovely gelati [bergamot and something pink]), columbia road again, spittlefields markets (closed), bricklane for overpriced indian meal and desserts, Sim's house for sex & the city dvd with Jac.
  • Colunbia rd again - finally bought print. Peche mignon again (yum), notting hill with school friends - gail's for coffee and flocked wallpaper. Lamb shish kebab and delicious grilled haloumi for dinner, gok wam on telly
  • Walked from notting hill to nelson's column for dinner with emily from primary school - wahaca mehican, and south african cider
  • Merry Wives of Windsor, queeen's walk, big ben.
To Edinburgh (previously covered).

Back to London:
  • Catch up with school friends - more yummy mexican.
  • Tate Modern
  • Brunch with alice - fancy yummy
  • Catch up Sarah again

With mum
  • Peche mignon for lunch
  • Big walk: london bridge tube, burrough markets (closed), globe tickets, tate modern 5th floor iew, blackfriars bridge, st brides fleet st (publishing exhibition basement and roman walls), the strand (crazy monument with dragon, royal courts of justice, fancy bank), st pauls
To Oxford:
  • wandered around the high st
  • museum of natural history
  • lunch with J&E at the vault, & coffee at the place
  • history of science museum (eintein's blackboard)
  • magdalen college
  • exeter colege
  • beer at the tarp
  • dinner at the eagle and child

Daytrip to Stratford-upon-Avon:
  • coffee with sarah
  • holy trinity church (shakespeae'res burial)
  • river walk
  • lunch @ courtyard
  • shakespeare's birthplace house
  • more fancy cheese from the nice place
  • high street
  • new coat
  • drink at the dirty duck (actors' photos)
Back to Oxford:
  • Blackwells bookshop
  • Bodleian tour
  • Lunch J&E in covered markets (salad)
  • Coffee
  • Blenheim Palace (marlboroughs, spencer-churchills), fancy gardens
Back to London:
  • Tower of London (crown jewels, murdered princes)
  • Westminster Abbey service (Victoria piece)
  • South bank, dinner wagammama
  • Portobello Rd markets (shut), new shoes, notting hill
  • Globe - Merry wives again - got to stand in the middle
  • Nhan - chachamoon cheapo asian
  • Carnaby st, liberty shop, apple shop, dad's shoes
  • Kew Gardens
  • Buckinham palace tour, banquet setting, royal icecream
  • walk to big ben, downing st, nelson's column, whitehall, oxford st, new suitcase
To Paris:
  • Big walk around Marais, Notre Dame, the islands
  • Met Sasha: hotel de ville, pain au chocolat et banane, walk around islands (little pointy garden), falafel lunch, walk to les halles, st eustache, rue montorgeuil, past the louvre, up champs elysees, laduree macarons, past arc de triomph, through my old neighbourhood, strawberries, noisette, tube home. Picnic dinner with french 5 part dessert: 2 cheeses, bonne maman yoghurt, chestnut mousse, chocolate, nuts.
  • corned beef sandwiches from the place opposite L'as du falafel, bought magic shoes, did this massive walk from Sacre Coeur down to the Mosque for mint tea, via Montmartre, a lovely lolly shop, cute arcades (one just for old stamps and postcards), the Palais Royale gardens, the Louvre courtyard, the pont des ARts, the Institute Francaise, teh 6th, a 2nd century amphitheatre (with men playing boules).
  • Champs Elysees, dealt with bank (hurrah!), my old neighbourhood, went to resto on near Courcelles (good potato gratin), sat down for Marriage Freres cup of tea. I had white tea with agrumes in a pretty glass teapot and an extra pot for hot water. Went home early as I was coming down with a cold.
  • Louvre, then the Bon Marche, Mamie Gateau for cake and Cuisine de Bar for lunch. Still sick.
  • Went to Versailles - a billion tourists. Opulent inside, nicer gardesn. Quick trip to Musee d'Orsay.
  • Orangerie, Amorino gelati, Berthillon sorbet (2x), antique musical instruments shop (rue du pont louis-phillipe), Sainte-Chapelle, more falafel, Notre Dame treasury, picnic in Champs de Mars (proper champagne) and blue Eiffel tower.

Caught up. Sorry it's a bit pants. Something with actual content coming soon. I hope.