Tuesday, January 31, 2006

London Still

I have been away from home a year now. Around this time last year I packed up and left for the other side of the world. Sure, I was home in July for two weeks, but now I have been away 6 months straight...starting to get homesick!

Never has The Waifs song made so much sense to me.

But I haven't done too badly in the 12 months. Visited 14 different countries, had loads of fun. Amazing experiences.

But hearing how warm it is back home, and feeling how icy it is here....

Alas, there is lots more to see and do. Lots of plans, no money (as usual), but the guts to do it anyway!! Hee, hee.

...and i miss you like my left arm that's been lost in a war
today i dream of home and not of london anymore
i'm in london still...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Australia Day in London

Since my last post I have curled up in the squishy chairs at Electric Cinema in Notting Hill to see Memoirs of a Geisha (with a glass of red and a brownie to die for - very good!), and then saw Fun with Dick and Jane the next night after a few jugs of sangria.

On Wednesday, after a little work trip out past Cambridge, I met up with Nat, Cam, Kimberley and Caitlin to see Australia Day in Australian time, in appropriately. Nat had managed to find us a place with both Boags and Coopers! Jackpot!

It was all wrong having Australia Day in the bitter cold, and having to work! All wrong. Although ducking off to the pub for a meat pie and wee pint helped!

And then at beer o'clock, some of us from work hot-footed it into the city for a celebratory night at the Shaftsbury Avenue Walkabout. Emy, Laura and I met Charles inside, after a tiny line up (nothing too serious at all!), and got stuck into the beloved Carlton Cold. Nat and Cam, and then Kimberley joined us, and Niny and some of her mates too.

I am surprised I have a voice today, given the belting out of classics like Working Class Man, You're The Voice, and Land Downunder that was going on. Hee hee. I had such a fun night! (More photos.)

Needless to say, I am feeling very rough this morning. Trying to piece together details of the night, trying to avoid having a chuck on the tube...all signs of a good night! Hee hee!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Let there be light

In an attempt to beat the gloom of the oppressive London darkness, and the effects of the lack of daylight hours which means that it's dark when I leave for work, and dark when I leave the office...and a bit of homesickness that has crept in since Katie has gone and the knowledge that the girls have been sitting in the sunshine at the tennis back home for the last two days...I went along to the Light Lounge last night for a fix!

There was must media interest in this last week, and so we decided to book a treatment! The light boxes set up in the room are supposedly the recommended treatment for SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, with a twenty minute exposure to the bright light being a substitute from the natural light we all need. And this should cure the winter blues for a little bit!

So my housemates and I, and Nat and Niny went along hoping for the best. We were set up in the little room with the light boxes, on the couch with reading material. The guy gaves us the little disclaimer that it sometimes takes two or three sessions to feel a change....right.

Anyway, we soaked up the artifical light for our twenty minutes, and then were back out in the gloomy rain, the soul destroying tube, and London humanity....hmmmm, not sure that it worked!!! Will have to work on convincing myself some more!! Hee hee.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pubs, Celebs and Brunch

One of the last things I still had yet to show Katie was the dingy London pub world - so on Friday night after work Charles, Nat, Kimberley and I took her out for a few too many pints in the city. One of the crusty pubs from the Monopoly pub crawl, and then another we just happened upon...and then into a club in the city. Mission accomplished!!

The next morning, feeling very seedy, Katie dragged me off to the last remaining things she wanted to see. The must take photo crossing the pedestrian crossing in Abbey Road, then into Hamleys Toy Store for Katie to make a bear from the Bear Factory. A couple of photos in the tube, we then went along to Madame Tussaud's. Feeling quite dodgy, I certainly hadn't dressed for a dinner date with George Clooney!! Hee hee!

I have had no real desire to go along to this before, but it was actually heaps of fun! Where else do you get an opportunity to hang out with Madge, squeeze Robbie's bum, realise that Prince William is way too tall for you, and punch Little Johnny in the nose without getting arrested!!?? Gold!

Half the time we didn't know who was real in the room, and who was made of wax. We actually stood and waited for a wax figure to take a photo for a little longer than was right! How embarrassing! Hee hee.

After the high of mucking about and getting our funny photos, we then went into The Chamber - LIVE! not really having a clue what it was.... And being scared to death!!! I have never been so frightened in all my life!! Katie and I were actually clinging to each other with terror!! We cowered behind a couple, of which the guy was also hanging back from entering each room...so it must have been scary!!

Needless to say, the figures in this room were real, and jumped out at you, grabbed you, and ran at you in the dark. One of them hovered behind me for ages. I have never been so scared!!

Ahhhhh - Tom and Katie!! Hee hee. (More photos)

Yesterday Katie and I had brunch in Little Venice, which is two stops away from home, at Cafe LaVille, and then headed to Notting Hill for the Portobello Market.
After cupcakes and hot chocolate to die for at the Hummingbird Bakery (thanks for the tip, Melpo!!), we headed home to get ready for the tube ordeal to Heathrow - some of the lines were down for "engineering work". Always the way when you want to go anywhere. A true London experience to end Katie's trip.

Thanks so much for coming over to the other side of the world to visit me, Katie! I had so much fun. Very proud of you for making the trip on your own, and so didn't want you to go! (And I hope you are joking about the plane being bogged!! You should be in Hong Kong for your last change by now....)

Friday, January 13, 2006


Last night I had managed to book 6 of us in for dinner at Fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant from his TV show, Jamie's Kitchen. You know the one, where he trained up unemployed kids to be chefs just like him?

They have a bit of a booking system, but I had secured us a table for 9pm in the Trattoria, and so after trying not to eat before that time, Jenny, Nata, Charlotte, Nat, Katie and I were seated to taste the infamous dishes from the kitchen.

Served by an Aussie waiter (what the...??!!), we ordered and settled in for the cullinary delights - and were not disappointed. The food was good!

Of course, the night was topped off once we found out that Jamie himself was actually in the building for the evening, and a few trips downstairs to the second restaurant area to sneak a peek at the man kitted out in his apron and chef whites made the evening complete!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Katie in London

During the weekdays last week and this, Katie has seen quite a bit of London whilst I have been at work, as well as bits that I could show her after 5pm! I took her into town on the first Tuesday night after we got back from our travels, to show her how the Tube works, the changes, and all that. She was so funny! I guess the Tube trains are quite scary upon first encounter! Cowering when the wind and then as the train approached. Hee hee. Poor Katie. We went for a wander around town to give her some bearings, so she could plan her sightseeing during the days. The next night she attempted her journey to Hogwarts at Kings Cross Station, and then we went for a curry along Brick Lane.

I have infected her with my addition to Pret, and hopefully the travel bug! And she agrees that there is no such thing as customer service in London - it's not just me!!!

On Tuesday night this week, Katie and I, and Charlotte and Matt went to see The Lion King. The costumes and puppetry was amazing. The music, of course, was brilliant. The set designs were awesome. Was such a great show.

Last night we went to see Brokeback Mountain - Heath and the beautiful landscapes of Wyoming. A gorgeous and troubled love story. Could it be his Oscar??

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Paris for the weekend - 'cos we Can Can!

Katie and I caught the Eurostar on Saturday morning, and 3 hours later we were in Paris!! Winging it on the Metro, we checked into our hotel, dumped our bags, and then set out to explore the city.

The iconic Eiffel Tower was our first stop, after having it jump out at us along the skyline on the train. It's brown!!! I didn't know that!! Hee hee. We joined the queue, and awaited to climb the 674 steps to the second level of the tower for the view of Paris.

Stopping for a rest, to take in the view and for some lunch, it got dark while we were hanging around on level one, before we made our way up to level two. From these floors of the Tower, we got a good view of the city, and were able to work out where all the places were to see.

After taking loads of photos, we eventually crossed the Seine at the foot of the Tower, and rode one of the Carousels. Hee hee. We then walked down to see the Ach de Triomphe and then along the very busy Champs-Elysees. More walking lead us past the Louve, and a view of Notre Dame, before our very tired feet got us home for the night!

After copious pastries in our buffet breakfast, we started out yesterday at another look at the Eiffel (we'd had an eyeful of the Eiffel!), before walking to Les Invalides to view the tomb of Napoleon. Over coffee (trying to thaw out!!) we discovered that The Thinker was close by, so we dropped into Musee de Rodin to see the sculpture garden.

A quick visit to see Notre Dame in the daylight, and a wander inside, we then managed to have a quick lunch before getting to Musee de Louvre to allow enough time to see all the highlights.

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Vermeer's The Lacemaker, and Psyche and Cupid were some of the major works we saw. We kinda rushed around to see all the highlights.

After a quick nap we donned our going out clothes, and headed via the Metro to Montmarte, to see the show at the Moulin Rouge. An extravagent addition to our weekend away - but why not!!?? A bottle of champage came with our table in the theatre, and we got to sit and giggle our way through the show. The dances and the costumes, the nude boob bits and the hot male bodies, the French Can Can, and the little skits and acts in between - our show was called Feerie. Was heaps of fun, and felt quite special!

This morning we were back on the train all the way back to London, and back to work for me this afternoon. Wake up in Paris and be back at work in London by lunchtime! Madness!! Ahhh, Katie and I will always have our fun weekend in Paris! (More photos)

Katie in Paris
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Monday, January 02, 2006

Get-pis to 2006!!

We tried to learn "Happy New Year" in Finnish, but after hearing that is was about 15 syllables long, we discovered that "Cheers!" was "get-pis!". Now that's a phrase we could master, and master well! Hee hee.

After many drinks of Finlandia (when in Finland, drink what the Finns drink...), we could at last walk around Helsinki normally - well, some of us could. I think the fire in our bellies helped us get around more confidently on the ice covered streets, anyway. We wandered out to the Eteläesplandi amid fireworks going off at every turn. Another drink, and Katie schmoozing with the locals, we made it to Senate Square for midnight to see the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006.

Prepared with the Finnish countdown to join in, it turns out we didn't need it, as the Finns gathered in the Square didn't count down! Just a big bang of fireworks amid all the others, and it was 2006!

Struggling to enjoy the breakfast buffet the next morning, we could see the snow sheeting down outside. We donned our thermals again, and set out to take in the streets of Helsinki. The festive lights and the blanket of snow made the city magical and pretty. The buildings were spectacular, although I think even Katie got over my "check out the Architecture in Helsinki" line at every gob-smacking building. And they were on every corner.

We walked around to see the Senate Square and Cathedral in the daylight, and then the Uspensky Cathedral and the icy sea. We stopped for coffee and a hangover rest at the lovely Kappeli, and could have easily snuggled in there in the warmth, with the view of the city being coated in more white stuff.

We managed to walk some more in the snow, and see the Temppeliaukio Church, the Finlandia Building (Oprea house, not vodka this time!), and the castle-like National Museum. (Photos)

A late night plane ride back to Stockholm, and the bus back to Uppsala, we are now taking a breather for the day before heading back to London tonight and work tomorrow. We have been to 4 countries in the last 4 days - do I know how to show a little sister a good time, or what!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Stockholm and Tallinn

Katie and I headed into Stockholm to see what we could see, and get a feel for the city. Rugged up in head to toe thermals, we walked through some of the main shopping mall, and out to Gamla Stan (old town). We managed to catch the Swedish changing of the guards outside the royal palace, after being amazing at the snow sitting on all the beautiful buildings surrounding us.

We wandered along the shore of the little island that is the old town, and then through the tiny, gorgeous cobbled streets. So cute! We eventually stopped for a drink and cake, to try and thaw out, before we wandered around some more. (Photos)

Jenny met us at the bus station, and we figured out how to get to our overnight ferry. Boarding a boat very much like the Spirit of Tasmania, the Tallink ship took us from Sweden to Estonia overnight. Once the ship hit the middle of the Baltic Sea, and rougher waters, we began to question the choice of the all-you-can-eat buffet personal challenge. After watching some very bad dancing, and trying our luck with the party games in the nightclub area, we headed to our cabin to sleep off the seasickness (or not sleep, as it turned out).

Another stamp in our passports, and we were in Tallinn. We checked into our ultra modern hotel - Ulemiste Hotel, and then winged in on the local bus into the city. Whilst we hit the jackpot with the bus outside of the hotel, which did take us straight into town, we did misjudge getting on and off on a few trips, and ended up doing a tour of the city port a few too many times!! The bus was also a different price every time we rode it - I don't know what was going on there, but we collected a full set of tickets!!

That day and the next day we walked around Old Tallinn, the most preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. The first day was one of the coldest days of my life, wandering around in failing daylight at 3pm trying to get our bearings as it snowed down on us. The thermals seemed to make little difference - and the fact that I landed on my arse in the ice once or twice didn't help things at all!!

The Town Hall and the square was beatuiful, and we wandered around looking at the amazing churches (Olaf! And the Russian Nevski. Such amazing buildings), the old city wall, and the old old buildings lining the little streets.

We had a yummy dinner (hunger strikes when it's dark, although I think it was only 3pm again!) in a classy restaurant in the Town Hall square on our last night in Estonia. The rest of town that we saw was boxed shopping malls, and concrete - a modern city with a well preserved medieval heart. (Photos)

Jenny and Katie turned a shade of green on our Nordic Jet Line across to Helsinki the next morning. We arrived at our hotel - Hotel Simonkentta - just in time to have a drink for the Australian New Year's Eve.

We have now walked around Helsinki to get our bearings, and our Finlandia supplies for a large evening. Happy New Year!
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