Thursday, July 29, 2010

Frinking In Drankfurt

I arrived in Frankfurt finally at midnight last Wednesday and was happy to see some English speaking friends. Jenni, Satch (a kiwi who I flatted with in Edinburgh) and Janine (Satch's Kiwi fiancee) were at the airport to pick me up. I hadn't met Janine before and was a little apprehensive about turning up to her wedding but she was so welcoming and so lovely that my apprehension soon faded. Satch has been playing rugby in Frankfurt for the past 4 years but this year decided it was time to hang up his boots and retire in favour of coaching. Because it is between seasons most of the players had gone home or away for the summer and Satch had organised us a room three doors down from his house at one of the rugby flats which was perfect. No locks on any of the doors and to open the front door we had to put our arm through the missing pane of glass and open from the inside but he insisted that it was safe. Which it was.

Thursday was Satch and Janine's wedding and although it was raining (apparently the first time in ages) the day was perfect. In Germany everyone has to get married at the city hall to make it legal. Some people have the marriage and then a church 'wedding' but Satch and Janine decided to make this their wedding and then have a party for all their friends on Saturday night instead.

Janine wore a classic white wedding dress and looked beautiful and Satch looked good too in a suit as opposed to his normal attire of shorts, t shirt, and jandals. He scrubbed up well.
It was just a small gathering of immediate family (both sets of parents had flown over from NZ) and a few friends so Jenni and I felt very honoured to be included.

The reception was at the rugby club which was very posh - I was pleasantly surprised. The meal was great and the wine kept coming - I don't think my glass was empty once! Which helped a lot when the waitress dropped my salad all down the back of my dress. Completely by accident but it really wasn't a problem and I had forgotten about it within 2 minutes. For all I know I could have been walking around with a piece of tomato stuck to my bum all night!! It really was a great day.

On Friday our friend PJ (you might remember him from his wedding in a previous blog update last year?) flew in from Estonia. He and his Estonian wife and their little boy are living there for a year and are expecting a little girl next month so he made the trip alone this time. It was good to see him again. We all caught the train into the city for lunch and after a bit of a walk around we found a garden bar and had a few drinks in the sunshine. That night we went back to Satch and Janine's for some more drinks and some more of their friends came over. We sat in their back garden and had a really good night.

Saturday night was the boat party. At 7pm a group of about 15 of us all caught the train into town to the river where the boat was moored to meet up with another 50 of their friends. It was very nice with an upper deck which we sat on to watch the sun set. The boat went up the harbour turned around and went down the harbour before turning around again to go back to the start point. The whole trip lasted about 5.5 hours and on board the boat there was ample champagne, food, and music. It was awesome. By the time we got back to the start everyone was best friends and we headed to an Irish bar in town to continue the night. It's all a bit of a blur from here but I got home safely with the new bride sometime early on Sunday morning. There were a few sore heads on Sunday.

Jenni, PJ, Mark (Satch's American friend), and I made the most of the day by walking down the road to McDonalds for lunch and then heading back to the house for an afternoon nap. Yip, that was pretty much the extent of the day but then we were invited to Satch and Janine's for a BBQ on Sunday night which was yummy. We had to get up early on Monday morning to catch the bus to the airport so it was an early night for us. Luckily the day before Satch had enquired as to who we were flying with. We were all set to go out to the airport we flew in to which was a 15 minute drive away not knowing that the Ryan Air airport is a 1 hour 40 minute bus ride away. Phew! Lucky we found that out!

So now Jenni and I are drying out in Venice. Will update again soon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lessons Learnt In Portugal

Before leaving Edinburgh I managed to fit a few more things in. The previous Tuesday Jenni and I caught the bus over to Glasgow to go shopping for the day. In all the time I had lived in Edinburgh I had only gone to Glasgow once and that was at night for a Monkees concert. Random.
Jenni introduced me to Primark which is a cheap clothing store. All new and all cheap. We went wild! I loved it and we shopped until we dropped! Stopping only to refuel for lunch.
While walking down the main pedestrian walkway I saw a Hare Krishna so started talking to him and it just so happened that he remembered Averil and Eru from their WWOOFing stint at the Hare Krishna community there in Glasgow. He seemed really nice and I ended up buying the `Monk Rock´CD he was selling. I figured it was the least I could do seeing as they all looked after Averil and Eru so well.
We caught the bus back to Edinburgh and by the time we got back to Jenni´s our arms were a little longer and our wallets a little lighter.

The following Tuesday we met up with Jenni´s friends to go walking around (not up to the top as proclaimed in the last blog) the base of Arthur´s Seat. The Queen was having her annual garden party at Holyrood Palace so there were people and cars everywhere. Most people were all dressed up looking lovely. I stopped to talk to a policeman to see what was happening and asked what the chances were of us getting in. He said there was no chance. I think it was my unsuitable footwear that let us down. A bit too casual.

On the way around the base of Arthur´s seat we saw the royal helicopter and then not long after it flew off so that was a little exciting for us plebs.

On my final night in Edinburgh we went around to my friend Emma´s house for dinner and it was lovely. She has a nice wee flat in Leith and we had a wonderful risotto dinner with salad. Mmmmm. It was really great to see her again.

Which brings me to Thursday - goodbye Scotland, hello Portugal!
I flew with Easyjet and little did I know they don´t assign seats. As soon as I got on board it was a free for all scrum to an available seat. I was right down the back with a stag party who were actually very well behaved. The poor stag was wearing an all in one skin tone body suit and a blonde wig. At least I think that was the stag... oh, and a green sequined g string. Nice. He must have been boiling. Poor guy.

After arriving in Lisbon I got the bus into the city centre, then the train out to Cascais, then a taxi to the Happy Home that I had already booked on the internet. Unfortunately when I arrived they had no room for me. Had I been travelling with someone else we probably would have just laughed about it but I wasn´t and I didn´t. I felt very close to tears. As it turned out the lady owner was absolutely delightful and had organised for me to stay with her daughter and son-in-law which actually turned out better as they were only a 5 min walk to the centre of Cascais. They were very welcoming and lovely. I didn´t see a lot of them but the man (Pedro) dropped me off around at Claire & Helder´s apartment for dinner on Thursday night which was very kind of him.

On Friday I went walking around Cascais... for 7 hours to be precise! Cascais is beautiful and right on the coast. I even sat on the beach for about an hour but wasn´t game enough to go into the icy cold water even though the outside temperatures during the day were reaching 30 degrees.

Saturday was Claire and Helder´s wedding day. I got up early and went for a walk down to the nearby markets which are held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. They were massive! Selling fresh produce, flowers, fish, and baked goods. It was amazing just watching.

Then I went home and got ready for the wedding. I caught a taxi to another hotel where Claire´s workmates were staying and had very kindly offered to share a cab with me.
One thing I found was the taxi drivers in Portugal don´t seem to know where they are going and this taxi driver was no exception. After dropping us first at the wrong church (luckily the driver checked before leaving us stranded) she then couldn´t find the correct church even though we had the address. She ended up asking a group of policemen who, after a lot of discussion, decided they knew where we needed to go and so escorted us there! How to arrive in style!
The church was lovely and Claire, Helder, and the service were beautiful! The ceremony was all in English AND they had Lord Of The Dance as one of the songs - My favourite!! After the ceremony we had a chartered bus to take us to the reception which was at a restaurant on the beach. The setting was amazing. The food was to die for. The whole wedding was absolutely magical.

Claire had even organised a message from Bryan Adams (Helder´s favourite singer) congratulating them both on their special day. Amazing.
It really was a special day.

Sunday was Helder and his twin brother, Sergio, birthday so we all had a big family dinner out at a restaurant. The meal was very nice and consisted of `hanging meat´- meat on a skewer hanging from a stand. Interesting, but yummy. I also learnt the name for a knife in Portugese is a `faca´- sounds like tucker but with an `F´. Of course I had to ask Claire to pass me the little faca from down the table. Oh, how we laughed. It was a most enjoyable evening and Helder´s family were just so welcoming and lovely. We all left with very full tummies.

On Monday I left Cascais to go to Lisbon for two nights. The taxi driver was very kind and gave me his card in case I had any problems and said just to give him a call. He also gave some good advice about when getting a taxi from any airport to always go to the departures side to get one as the arrivals taxis will pay a fee to work from the airport which of course, will be added on to the fare. Good to know.

Tuesday I went on an open topped bus tour of Lisbon. There were queues for EVERYTHING so I only got off at a couple of stops but Lisbon city is beautiful . The footpaths are cobbled which look beautiful but can be dangerous and are very slippery. Yesterday I nearly fell over while walking down a walkway. My foot twisted in one of the grooves between cobblestones and I have a nice wee bruise today. I hope no one saw!

I checked out of the hotel this morning only to be greeted with a whopping phone bill of 161.25 Euro for a 15 minute call I made to Mum last night. I nearly fell over and possibly asked for a knife. I am just about to head of to the airport for my next flight to Germany where I will meet up with Jenni again. Hooray! I´m not sure I´m really cut out for travelling alone. I much prefer having someone else there to talk to and laugh with.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scotland The Brave

I left Japan early on Saturday morning to catch the 5.20am shuttle to the airport. Unfortunately there were no taxis available and Sayaka couldn't reserve one the night before so we ended up cycling to the station - Sayaka peddling her heart out, me on the back with my huge back pack on, my small day pack in the basket at the front. It would have looked hilarious! Fortunately, due to Sayaka's skillfull cycling, we made it in time.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, however you look at it) there are no photos of this so you will just have to use your imagination on this one.

I made it to Leeds last Saturday evening after a very long day of travelling and my friend Claire Hopkinson was at Manchester Airport waiting for me. She is the bride for the wedding in Portugal so it was lovely to spend some time with her and meet her fiancee, Helder, before the wedding. Helder is Portugese and speaks English very well. He mentioned he could understand my accent better than Claire's Yorkshire accent! They too, were very good hosts. We had a lovely dinner out on Saturday night and just chilled out and caught up on Sunday which was nice.
The weather here in the UK is much cooler so I can straighten my hair again without worrying about looking like a clown (well, my hair at least).
I made it to Edinburgh, Scotland last Monday afternoon and was met at the train station by Jenni and her friend John who very kindly dropped us back at Jenni's flat.
It's been a nice relaxing week. I caught up with some friends on Monday night for a few drinks which was good. I had to re-tune into the Scottish accent. One of the guys said he had been to 'Torkay' on holiday and as soon as I asked where that was I realised he meant 'Turkey'. Doh! I was also talking to a friends husband who is Irish and he said he has 3 brothers and a sister - Ween, Paul, Karl, and Don. That, to me, was 4 boys names so when I asked what his sisters name was he repeated Karl.. Oh right, CAROL. By the way, Ween is actually 'Wayne'. I feel like I speak a different language!
Last Wednesday I caught the train up to Inverness for two nights with my Scottish pen friend Alison. It was nice to see her again - we have met twice before. I was lucky enough to be invited to her wedding in 2001 when I was living in Edinburgh. She has just recently been through a divorce which turned out to be rather messy. I told her I was glad that she got me in the division of belongings. Her ex husband always reminded me of the mole from Wind In The Willows. She seemed quite delighted when I told her this.
Alison's house is gorgeous. She managed to hang on to it in the divorce and it is rather grand with 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. My room had it's own ensuite and was really lovely. Much better than most hotel rooms I have stayed in!

On Thursday Alison took me out to Cairngorm National Park and we took a ride up the Funicular tram to the top of the mountain. It is a VERY steep and rugged mountainside but the views were spectacular. The winds at the top just about blew me off the viewing platform so it was a quick photo opportunity before heading back indoors for a hot chocolate to thaw out again.

After leaving there Alison drove us around to Dores to the not-so-touristy edge of Loch Ness. I didn't spot Nessie... this time.

I caught the train back to Edinburgh on Friday and we were supposed to go camping on Friday night but I had picked up a wee tummy bug so we stayed in and watched Big Brother and Jenni cooked a yummy dinner for us instead. Bless her. She has been looking after me very well.

On Saturday we played tourists and walked up the Royal Mile - stopping at every souvenir shop on the way. There are a LOT, by the way. It was very wintery and drizzling but still a good day. The rain jacket I borrowed from Paula came in VERY handy.

Sunday was Jenni's birthday so we had a night in on Saturday night to save ourselves for the following day. I had sneakily managed to pick up a birthday cake without Jenni even knowing and we had champagne, strawberries, chinese take away, and birthday cake... oh, and cups of tea. It was very nice.

Yesterday we took the bus out to Southhouse to have lunch with Jenni's parents. It was the first time I had met them and they are lovely. Jenni's Mum had made lentil soup and ham rolls which were delicious and just what we needed to line our tum tums before the afternoon drinking session began!
After leaving there we went to Leith to sit in a garden bar by the canal and a few others joined us for a few quiet drinks.
After a couple of hours we headed to a bar in Tollcross for the World Cup Final. Jenni even got 'Happy Birthday' sung to her in Dutch.
It was a very civilized night actually and we were home by 12.30am.
Today has been another relaxing one with a wee walk up the road and then dinner with friends. Tomorrow we are thinking we might conquer Arthur's Seat.
I am leaving Edinburgh on Thursday to fly to Portugal for my next exciting adventure!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

First Stop - Japan

I was up bright and early on Tuesday morning ready to catch the shuttle to the airport to start my overseas holiday. I stayed awake pretty much all night worried that I was going to sleep through my 1.30am alarm and miss my flight. Of course, by the time my alarm did go off I could have slept til Christmas. Mum and Claire had both offered to ring me at 2am just to make sure I woke up. Bless them.

The first flight was just a little one from Christchurch to Auckland. During the flight someone had an emergency down the back of the plane and a request for a doctor or a nurse was put over the loud speaker. Unfortunately there weren't any on that particular flight. Where are Catkin or Renee when you need them? I still don't know actually happened but we had to stay seated once we had landed until the ambulance staff had boarded.

After just an hour and a half in Auckland I boarded the plane bound for Narita, Japan. 10 hours just flew by (excuse the pun) and I caught up on a couple of movies and had a 20 minute nap. I can see why Air NZ has such a good reputation - the food was good and the staff were very friendly and attentive.

Dear Sayaka was at the airport to meet me. She had emailed me directions on how to catch the shuttle bus once arriving in Japan as it is a 2 hour journey from the airport to Omiya where Sayaka lives. Sayaka had requested a half day the previous day as they are quiet at work at present so it really was unexpected very nice to see a familiar face when I arrived in Japan.

Sayaka's house is small but very cool. It's an old home where she had lived when she was just a baby. Apparently 4 people lived here then but I`m not exactly sure how they all fit! Her father had been born in the living room and had grown up there. She shares her home with two black and white cats - Gruzzei and Mittenand. Mittenand looked a lot like Min but about half the size. Both were not so sure of me - even after I had been there for 3 days.

On Wednesday we cycled (yes that's right - rode bikes - on the footpath with no helmets even!) to catch the train to Ogose to Sayaka's parents place in the country. Papa san - Tsuneo (pronounced 'snail') and Mama san - Masako are the sweetest people in the whole of Japan. Masako picked us up from the train station and although she spoke no English and I spoke no Japanese we communicated through Sayaka and sign language. When we reached their home Tsuneo came out to greet me proudly wearing an Adidas t-shirt sporting the All Blacks name with the silver fern. He had worn it especially and doesn't even watch rugby.

They took Sayaka and I out to a tempora lunch in Tokigawa which is a small village two villages over. It was yummy and again we managed a good conversation.
They took us sight seeing to Jikoji Temple and then went to a paper making factory. Paper is a huge source of employment in Japan. It's very interesting and quite a process.

Later on, after a nice cup of tea, Sayaka took me to see a huge tree, then to Juonji Temple, and to a hydranga garden.

Masako cooked a wonderful dinner for us all and even prepared pink rice which is used only for celebrations. I felt very honoured. We sat around their table on the floor and they had a leg room pit which was very comfortable. I find my legs go to sleep when sitting for long periods cross legged and it can be embarrasing when I get up and try to walk with a dead leg! No one likes to be crushed by a falling foreigner!
They were very disappointed that they weren't going to meet Averil and Eru but Tsuneo gave me some bamboo chopsticks that he had made himself to give to them. What a nice gesture. Like I said, nicest people ever!
Masako drove us back to the train station after dinner and we got back to Omiya around 10.30pm. It really was a great day.

Thursday was THE day I had been looking foward to the most. After a nice easy morning Averil rang from the train station to say her and Eru had arrived in Omiya. Sayaka and I raced down to the station to meet them and there was shrieking, hugs, and kisses all round. It was soooo good to see them again after 18 months. They both looked so tanned, well, happy, and relaxed. It was nice to know they were looking after each other.
After dropping their bags off at Sayaka's we took the monorail to Stella Mall for a nice Japanese buffet for lunch and then a good look around the Mall.

We also went out for a late Japanese pub meal which was great too. Averil and Eru are now vegetarians and Japan seems to be a great place to get a wide range of vegetables and fish and the meals full you up without feeling stodgy.
This morning we caught the train to Tokyo and wandered around the old market streets for quite a while before heading to Sensoji Temple. After lunch (yes, we have been eating very regularly!) we took harbour cruise across to Odaiba for a look around.
Sayaka took us to have a look at the busiest intersection - traffic and people everywhere - and apparently it's like that all the time. An ocean of people.
I'm about to catch the shuttle out to the airport this morning. Next stop: UK.