Tuesday, May 13, 2014

London on my Mind

It's no secret that a very special place in my heart always has and always will be reserved for that magical, once Roman city on the Thames. But this past week has been like seeing a different side to the city - one that's not as cold as usual. It's only a little chilly. But still rainy. 


From Thursday morning when I flew in until now, I've been swept away by London's charm once again and found myself far from feeling underwhelmed or less than entertained despite the amount of times I've spent here. Instead I've only discovered new sides to the story, seen new faces and learnt so much more than I thought I would just be bein around in a warmer season.

Markets

The Borough markets were my first stop on Thursday, and even half asleep and probably jetlagged they held a kind of spark. Dedicated solely to food and located in what looked like the Victorian back alley beneath a railway, I was more than happy to be escorted there by some new friends I'd made at the hostel that morning. There was so much option to sample and marvel at with more than a few different foodstuffs I'd never even heard of, and even some, like game pie, that I thought were ripped right off Henry VIII's dinner table. And don't even get me started on how damn good all the cakes looked.

Later that same day we made it to Camden, which if you've been there is more of a labyrinth of markets rather than a larger one. After all there is Camden Lock, the Stables, the main market and so many extra shops and food stalls around that link them all up. If you say yo're heading for Camden, then by all means be prepared to either get lost, leave behind some breadcrumbs or duel the Minotaur that I'm sure is hiding in the centre of the town somewhere. I didn't have any of those because I had some guides and no need to be anywhere that day, but I did score myself a pocketwatch for my next trip down the rabbit hole. 

If you're looking for clothes and you didn't find them in Camden, then I'd suggest heading to Brick Lane and the Old Spitalfields markets in the East End. Or even if you don't, give them a try. The stretch of Brick Lane itself is supposedly the most concentrated area of Indian restaurants in the entire world, more so even than in India, with over 50 restaurants along the road. And that isn't even including the ones in other streets nearby. In fact, like the Borough markets, Brick Lane is pretty exciting for food, too, even if you're not big on the Tikka. With hundreds of international food stalls and something for everyone, the likelihood that you'll starve is pretty close to nil unless you're just trying to be difficult. But apart from the food, both Brick Lane and Old Spitalfields are some pretty great areas to hit up in general - I think I even preferred them to Camden. Because not only are they great places to get some cheaply delicious lunch, but they're great for clothes and on top of that they're just damn cool. The East End is home to some of the most gruesome, creepy, colourful and wonderful stories from London's past; notorious figures from Jack the Ripper to the Cray Twins, Banksy the artist and plenty of upcoming new stars, to exciting new ventures like the Lucky Juice machine are all in abundance here. So if you're ready to branch outside of the Cities of London and Westminster themselves, I reckon hop to the East End for a look in - there are even plenty of walking tours to guide you if you aren't sure of it on you're own. 

Note: I haven't been to Portobello market, but hey I was never really that into Bednobs and Broomsticks

Museums 

Like I always do wherever I go, I spent some quality time at the museums over the past week. This week I made it to the Museum of London (albiet for less than half an hour because I got in a little too close to closing), the Museum of Natural History, the British Museum (where I spent way more than a couple of hours), and the V&A (That is, the Victoria and Albert Museum). The British Museum I went to first in order to see the Vikings event the Friday after I got in and let me tell you that was as weird as it was awesome; the event consisted of a number of different acts from Opera, to standup comedy, a poetry reading, a choir and a live action battle replay (the last even included the Viking curator dressed in chain mail and swinging a sword.). The idea of the separate acts was to bring in different art and music forms to convey Viking culture and life and how its still prevalent even now about a thousand years ago. And it totally is! The least of all is the language we speak and a lot of our English words are taken from the Vikings, but for other information I suggest either looking it up or checking out the Viking exhibit currently on at the British Museum - trust me, it was so worth it. 

The Natural History Museum I went to only recently in January, but since then they'd opened up the human prehistory of Britain exhibit that I went back to have a look at. And since I'm staying around the corner from the museums I figured why not take advantage of that closeness. The exhibit was smaller than I'd have liked, but I enjoyed reading about the evidence they'd found in Britain that dragged the earliest known dates of human occupation in Britain back up to a minimum of 40,000 years ago - which was already pretty much established in mainland Europe, Africa and Australia. The idea is all very significant if you're an archaeologist, and I enjoyed that. Plus the explanation of how they came about those dates, particularly the form of dating that they used, although I would definitely like to have read more about that. What can I say - I want to read more about what they did and what they used from the statigraphy to the evidence they found that lead them to think they'd found a family group. Also the gift shop had some great gag gifts that I really wanted to buy. 

The V&A I have still to see tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to it the most perhaps because the exhibit I'm on my way to see is all about wedding dresses from 1775 up until the present. And who am I to turn down the opportunity to marvel and lust over pretty, pretty dresses. I love my period clothing and even more so I love my gowns and princess dresses. It's no wonder that I love to read about historical time periods or imagine myself a princess with scores of beautiful gowns. I'd wear them everyday if I could both afford them and I didn't think that that would get me more weird stares than it already does. Trust me, I get some pretty weird stares as it is. The last time I was at the V&A there was a Hollywood costume exhibit on that featured some gorgeous pieces from films throughout history and included some amazing dresses from period films like Marie Antoinette, Dangerous Liasons and Cleopatra alongside so many others that I wished so badly that I could wear and prance around in. I love dressing up so much that someday I want to get married just so that I can have a pretty dress that I can wear and twirl around in and look pretty. I've had enough self esteem and image problems to last a life time, so sometimes dressing up pretty to make myself feel good goes a really long way. Anyway, I anticipate so much drooling and tail wagging at the wedding dress exhibit tomorrow that dragging myself away is going to be one hell of a feat. 

Stories


As a writer, England is one of the best places in the world to travel around collecting stories. Not only does every borough and city within the land contain histories and stories that span hundreds of years, but its also a magical sort of place where fact and fiction are so interwoven that sometimes its hard to separate the two. Just think of things like King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Sweeney Todd - all stories that never actually happened despite the years and years of retelling that has so become a part of the culture and history that they may as well have been real. But that's not even because the truth pales in comparison when you factor in characters like Dr Joseph Bell, Jack the Ripper, Dick Turpin, Burke and Hare, Charles II and Elizabeth of York. In fact, the English have a real tradition of glorifying their authors, fictional characters and cultures right alongside the real facts and figures in one big happy melting pot of awesome. Just look at Baker Street as an example: not only has number 221B been actually squeezed into the street and the house turned into a museum, but the Tube stations have big silhouettes of Holmes with a pipe in his mouth along the walls just in case you had any doubt you'd made it to the right place. My point is that England is an author's dream. 

Some of the world's most prestigious and wonderful authors all came from here. People like Enid Blyton, JK Rowling, Beatrix Potter, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Lewis Carroll (or Charles Dodgson as he was really known), plus others like Arthur Conan Doyle, Eva Ibbotson and Eoin Colfer who didn't hail from England but later made it their home. 

Spending time in Oxford today was great for the pursuit of both stories I already knew and stories I want to write. Whilst the morning began with a touch of history in Oxford Castle, the rest of the day was a cornucopia of colours, stories and more than a little bit of magic (I even won myself a wand at Christ Church). The Story Museum boasted an exhibit dedicated to 26 famous characters of children's literature and children's authors including both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, the Alice shop I visited was really worth seeing (original sweetshop that Alice Liddel used to visit), and the walking tour I went on had some really great information about Harry Potter, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll respectively because all were associated with Oxford University. 

I could really go on for hours about how great Oxford was, or London and England in general, but I'll keep it brief; all I'll really say is that I was looking for a way to get back to basics whilst trying to assess where next I want to go in life, and this is definitely the way to do it. Between rediscovering the modern splendour and multicoloured histories of Europe, walking in the footsteps of some of my favourite and most influential authors, and just genuinely getting to be myself is a really nice way to just wipe a new slate for myself whilst I figure some things out. I am an archaeologist, but I was a writer and historian before that. I am a lover of art, costume, music, theatre, stories, travel, culture, writing and history, and I am so passionate about the things that I care about that there is no point in just trying to pick one. I accept that. Like I said in previous posts: what is the use in always put off the things we want in life in the promise of something that might never come? Seize the day, seize the night, and just remember to be yourself even if it means getting back to basics every now and then. Be inspired to be you, do the things you love. Life isn't just about sacrifice. 

I have so much else that I could tell you about my week back in London during the Spring. I've seen so many new sights, heard so many new stories and learnt so many new things that I could talk for hours - and I already have! - but for tonight I will leave it here, and leave you with the three main themes of my trip so far and something to remember: get back to basics. It's ok to lose who you are sometimes, just remember to get back to basics every now and then to jog your memory. You'll feel inspired. 

Oh, and did I forget to mention that I stumbled across the X-Men premiere at Leicester Square yesterday? I got to see Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Patrick Stewart in the flesh. Yeah. That happened.

If you're interested in more about Tolkien at Oxford then I suggest this cute little video from the BBC in the 60's. It's certainly fun:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/writers/12237.shtml

Sam xox

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cannot Connect to iTunes

Yesterday was plain awful, but that's not now; that's then. 

Very true words there, Orphan Annie, you got it in one.

Whilst yesterday was a cornucopia of stress, tears, trauma and some very strong words, the anger and misery has so far melted away today under the wonder and excitement that is Singapore. But even more specifically, Changi airport.

I don't want to go into a massive rant about what happened yesterday because I'll only get angry again, but in short something went wrong between my computer and iphone and both decided to kick up a fuss. So I was left with my phone completely erased and data lost that I had been specifically compiling for this trip - not to mention years worth of other accumulated data that I won't go into. It was pretty horrible, more so when I had to race against the clock in the attempt to fix the problem - and never did. Even after virtually staying up all night and learning that my iphone and master computer don't seem to be on speaking terms right now. No amount of cursing or crying would make either connect to iTunes.

Spiteful technology.

But then I manually restored what I could, got dressed and made it to the airport leaving only my coat behind (It wasn't an expensive one, but I was disappointed all the same and will have to pick one up in Primark to replace it). And after that everything just seemed to get a lot better.

We had a coffee at the terminal together before I waved farewell to my family, and then a half hour later to Al, and struck out on my adventure.

Sitting in Changi still doesn't make it necessarily all seem real, and every time I think about it I think holy crap, then HOLY CRAP. I'm surprised myself how mutually excited and terrified I am. I do, however, feel a very strong sense of general freedom. It's weird when I travel a lot and Perth doesn't make me so miserable anymore, but being on the first leg of a long trip like this feels like I've got all the time in the world to just do the things I'm truly passionate about: write, read, drink tea, study history and see the world. Obviously I wish friends and family could have come along for the ride, but what can you do?

The last time I was in Changi I was eleven years old and terrified to be away from my parents for two whole weeks, now I'm twenty-three and looking forward to being away from my home for 5 months. Ironic, right? At least its just interesting and goes to show how much I've changed in thirteen years.

As the first time I'd ventured out into Singapore, I found that I really liked it. I could see the remnants of the murky old port town of pre-colonial Singapore, admired the crazy and beautiful architecture of the Marina Bay, and marvelled at the appropriate 'East meets west' tag the city holds. I greatly look forward to returning in August! 

But for now, ciao! 

Also, sorry this ended up being dated - it's been crazy! 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Final Countdown

Once again, I've been pretty lax in keeping my blog up to date. So sue me.

Actually don't really because I'm going to be living on noodles for weeks anyway.

But in my defence the last couple of weeks have been sort of crazy. First there was the week when I worked 7 days straight at the cafe, which admittedly doesn't sound so bad but when it's school holidays plus Easter plus ANZAC day it leads to all sorts of crazy. Not the least of which included kids trashing the place and my almost knocking one of the out in my attempt to skirt around a chair whilst carrying a bunch of hot plates. Totally not my fault when you can't control your kids, but I did feel pretty bad about it even if this woman caught the chair before it smacked a little girl in the face. It was a pretty catch 22 situation. It's not like I wanted to hit the child!

Then there was the week when I half worked and half ran around getting things organised for La Vie, like switching my phone to prepaid (yuck), sorting out things at the bank, and hobbling through the shops with a trolley full of citrus trees. That last bit was probably the most fun because I felt like a master of disguise tiptoe-ing around with bushes in front of my face - at least until some woman waylaid me by diving in front of the trolley to ask me where I'd acquired my trees. And then when they tipped over in the car and sprayed dirt all over the back seat. That part was not as fun.

Although despite the thousand and one things I've been organising this week from my tax return packet to running some more red through my hair, I've still had plenty of time when I've been vege-ing in my pyjamas and watching Hannibal. Shit is getting real on that show and I can't watch it anymore without making the :O face. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you get on that.

It's nice though sometimes, despite the general crazy right now, to have a moment or two when I can just sit down and have a cup of tea (maybe my new signature blend 'Celestea') and chill out. When you travel like I do there isn't much chill out time on the road. Unless it's in a coffee shop somewhere or writing. Or maybe I'm just being lazy.

So that all being said there is roughly a day and a half left before I'll be sitting at the airport coffee shop with my fab new little computer ready for another adventure. And what an adventure I've got planned so far! Last time I really spoke about my travel plans in detail I had a big gap free with an 'insert adventure here' after the end of my 36 day Topdeck tour, but since then I've got a little more settled:

May - June = Topdeck
Late June = Morocco
July = Grand Europe tour on the rail starting in Portugal
August = BM internship, Scotland and Ireland
September = Singapore, Cruise through South East Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali)

It's not all planned yet, particularly July and August, but I figured there's plenty of time for that. Whilst in the US at the beginning of the year I only booked my flights and accommodation around the place the week before and that went pretty well. Besides, getting through Europe with my Eurail pass already organised and mapped out, seems to be cheaper and easier to travel through than the US is. All those metropolises so close together and all makes it theoretically pretty simple to make your way through. I wouldn't say idiot proof or infallible though - no need to tempt fate here.

Now that all the major things are sorted and the last things left to do really are to get my hair cut (I may have singed the ends a little again) and pack. I really don't know what clothes to take and It's going to concern me for the next two days.

Here's to travelling as light as possible with my personality!

And I'll try to keep ya'll more up to date with the goings on - plus everyone loves a picture or two.

Sam xox