Wisdom is overrated anyway

A week or so ago, I had a toothache.  On a Friday afternoon, of course, because things like toothaches never happen on a day when it’s easy to get a dentist’s appointment.  But I somehow managed to at least get in to see my normal dentist’s assistant.  Who, after a bit of poking and prodding, told me that not only did I have a cavity, as I expected, but that it was in one of my wisdom teeth, and therefore wasn’t going to be a quick filling-and-you’re-done sort of job.  And that there wasn’t really anything he could do on the spot (other than give me a prescription for antibiotics I can get filled if it starts hurting enough that I think it might be infected) but that I’d need to see the real dentist* to discuss what to do about it.

Luckily, the pain eased off again (it’s definitely still there, but it’s just a dull ache that I can pretty much ignore most of the time, and so far have only had to take pain killers for once – did I ever mention my high pain tolerance?), because it was a week before I could get an appointment for the consultation with the proper dentist, and, because I’m going to be away at a conference, I won’t be able to get the actual work done until the end of the month.

And yes, the bad news is I have to get that wisdom tooth out.  And he strongly advised I get the other two** out at the same time.

The good news is, it isn’t going to be quite as expensive as I’d been dreading (it’s always scary when the first thing a dentist asks is “Do you have insurance?”***).  Thankfully, the whole thing, including a couple of minor fillings that hadn’t been bothering me, but which I decided he might as well take care of at the same time, should come in under $1000.  So not cheap, but it could be a lot worse.

And the other good news is that, unlike the last tooth I had out, which was just under local anaesthetic, I’ll be properly sedated this time round.  So hopefully that means I won’t even notice the horrible graunching noises of tooth against bone which are almost worst than the actual pain part.

Still not looking forward to it, though.

*Not that the assistant isn’t a real dentist – according to his card, he has a BDS, and he must be a proper dentist if he can issue prescriptions – but the other dentist, who I think runs the practice, is the one who does all the complicated stuff.

**I had one out many years ago when I lived in London.  The others hadn’t come up yet at that time, so I didn’t bother getting them out at the same time.  In hindsight, I really should have while I was covered by the NHS!

***To explain for the foreigners, although we have free(ish) public health care in New Zealand, that doesn’t apply to dental work.  Some people do opt to take out health insurance (mainly because it allows them to skip the waiting lists in the public system), but in theory you shouldn’t have to… until you get a huge dental bill and then start regretting your choices.


And now, to counteract thoughts of pain, three happy things:

  1. Lytteltonwitch and I have booked our flights to Paris for next year’s Bookcrossing Convention!  It’s suddenly all very exciting and real.  We haven’t booked much else yet (just accommodation in Paris and Bordeaux – we’re still working out the rest of the itinerary), but I’m spending way too much time poring over maps of France (and northern Spain), and practising my very rusty French (and only slightly less rusty Spanish), when I should be doing other things. Who cares, though – nous allons en France!
  2. New World were doing their “Little Gardens” promotion again last month, and I finally got round to starting off the three plants I got (I seemed to have bought very few groceries while the promotion was on, probably because I was away quite a bit). We had a bit of a heat wave last week, so they all burst into enthusiastic life very quickly, but have slowed down a bit now that the weather has returned to normal Christchurch spring-ness. I’m not convinced about the feasibility of growing either cucumbers or watermelons in a pot, especially not in this climate, but it’ll be fun seeing how far they get. And the thyme should at least grow ok, once the weather warms up again.
  3. The rapid approach of Christmas has given me the perfect excuse to break out a new project. Or technically, many smaller projects. I, as usual, have got way too ambitious with my plans for “quick” wee presents, but I’m having lots of fun making them (it may also have been a good excuse to buy a couple of Christmas-y charm packs that were on special at one of my favourite fabric shops…).And so, the production line begins:


    (and experimenting with all the possible colour combinations…)

    I did actually finish one of them off completely, because I wanted to include one in the parcel I send off for the Bookcrossing Ornament Exchange, and I’m running out of time to send it. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out – I was playing some more with contrasting quilting textures, and using the patterns of the pieces to guide the quilting. I don’t think I’ll do the rounded corners on the rest of them though – they were way too fiddly to do the binding on.

    The quilting looks really good on the back, too (and for once, I actually remembered *before* I did the binding to add a label, and some little loops in case the recipient wants to hang it up instead of use it as a mat).

Stewart Island

What, a blog post about a convention that was only two weeks ago?  What is this madness??

So, yes, the Aus/NZ Bookcrossing convention (or unconvention, technically) was the weekend before last, on Stewart Island.  Stewart Island is not the most obvious place for a convention (for the foreigners, it’s that little island at the very bottom of New Zealand, with a population of a few hundred, one tiny town, and pretty much no roads).  But after the success of the Queenstown convention, which was very much run in an uncon style (i.e. minimal organisation, just gather everyone together in one place for a weekend and play it by ear), and proved that Bookcrossing conventions don’t have to be held in cities, CrafteeCod (who was living on Stewart Island at the time) offered to organise the next convention, and the idea was seized on with great enthusiasm.

In the intervening two years, life happened, and CrafteeCod ended up having to move back to the UK, so the organising reins were taken up from a distance by EdwardStreet, who (after an initial unsuccessful attempt to arrange group bookings for various potential activities) pretty much told us what date to arrive, booked us all in for a meal at the (only) hotel, and left us to organise the rest ourselves.  A very sensible approach, and one that worked out incredibly well in the end.

Lytteltonwitch and I left Christchurch on the Thursday morning (with Albert in the back seat, of course) and had a leisurely drive down to Dunedin.  In theory we could have done the whole distance to Bluff in a single day, but it’s a very long way, so it was much nicer to break the journey with a night in Dunedin.  We arrived early enough to be able to visit the Otago Museum – we’d hoped to go to the butterfly house there, but it’s closed for renovations at the moment, so we just explored the rest of the museum.  I haven’t been to the Otago Museum for many many years, and a lot has changed since I used to visit as a child (it was definitely among my most favourite places), but I was thrilled to discover that a few of the galleries are pretty much unchanged.  The cases full of stuffed exotic animals up in the attic, which were always my favourite, have been thinned out a bit (presumably some of the animals got too moth-eaten), but they’ve preserved the Victorian style of the gallery, so it brought back wonderful memories.  Lytteltonwitch was particularly impressed by the model ships on display in another unchanged-since-the-70s gallery on the floor below – I was just pleased to see that the whale skeleton still dominated the centre of the gallery.

Next stop was the supermarket to stock up on snacks – the forecast for Stewart Island wasn’t looking good, so just in case we were stuck in the hostel playing board games all weekend, we wanted to be well prepared.  We of course made sure to get plenty of truly kiwi treats (chocolate fish, Pinkie bars, Buzz bars, Whittaker’s L&P chocolate, pineapple lumps…) for the Australian contingent :-)

We knew MeganH was staying at the same hotel as us, so we’d left a message for her at reception.  We weren’t expecting her to arrive until late, because her plane wasn’t landing in Christchurch until afternoon, and then she had to drive down to Dunedin, so we headed out for dinner.  When we got back, the receptionist told us she’d arrived and gave us her room number, so we headed up to say hello, and spent the rest of the evening catching up.

The next morning we were all up bright and early, and had breakfast together in the hotel’s dining room… accompanied by Albert, of course, much to the amusement of the staff, and of the tour bus full of elderly people who were also having breakfast (though I think we may have knocked a few years off the lives of some of them, after they walked into the dining room and saw a skeleton sitting at a table!).  Travelling with a skeleton is definitely a good way of getting strangers to strike up a conversation with you!

We travelled in convoy to Bluff, because MeganH hadn’t been that way before, so didn’t know the road.  Apparently she wasn’t impressed by me telling her there aren’t any really big hills between Dunedin and Invercargill – in my defence, to a New Zealander, those aren’t big hills!  But yeah, to an Australian they might have seemed slightly larger…

The weather had been looking steadily worse all morning, and we could see a very obvious southerly front approaching.  As we reached Invercargill, the front hit us in a massive downpour.  Things were not looking promising for the ferry :-(

At the ferry terminal in Bluff, we immediately spotted a contingent of Bookcrossers:  Skyring, Fiona and her husband.  The ferry crew were just as amused by Albert as the hotel staff had been, and gave permission for him to sit in the cabin instead of being consigned to a cargo bin.  I opted to sit out on deck despite the weather (I’ve been across Foveaux Strait on the ferry before, so I know how rough it can get, and I also know how seasick I can get even on a calm day if I sit inside).  It was certainly an exciting crossing , with the boat being tossed all over the place, and spray being thrown right over the deck.  I even had to sit down for part of the trip.

After the horrible weather on the crossing, we reached Stewart Island and the sun came out.  It very quickly developed into a glorious day, with no sign of the southerly.

As we got off the ferry, we spotted EdwardStreet and KiwiInEngland sitting outside the hotel (which used to hold the distinction of being the southernmost pub in the world, until they opened a bar in Antarctica) enjoying a drink in the sun. We stopped to chat for a while, but knowing how fickle the weather can be on the island, I suggested a walk before the rain returned, in case it was our only opportunity to get out in the bush. Most of the others had booked on a bus tour (I was amused by this idea, as other than a couple of short roads to the next bays over from Halfmoon Bay, there really are no roads on Stewart Island!) so declined, but after dropping off our bags (and Albert) at the hostel, Lytteltonwitch and I set out to walk the track to Horseshoe Bay.

The first section of the walk was along the road (with a slight detour into the cemetery, where Lytteltonwitch was in search of a geocache), but then we turned off onto a walking track. It was a really lovely walk (though it involved some serious hills!), round lots of little hidden bays inaccessible other than on foot or by boat, and the weather stayed amazing. Random photos from the walk:


Cemetery with a view (and someone walking on the beach)


Black oyster catcher


Looking back across Halfmoon Bay to Oban


Onionweed flowers – not very exciting (or native), but they looked pretty in the sunshine


As a child, I used to call the native fuschia trees (kōtukutuku) “paper trees”, because of the thin bark that flakes off them.


Yes, the water really is that clear (way too cold to swim in without a wetsuit though – that’s the Southern Ocean out there: next stop Antarctica!)


Lytteltonwitch released a book on this beach – and (despite it being about an hour’s walk from the road) got a catch before we got back to the hostel!


The entrance to Horseshoe Bay


You can just see the South Island through the haze (that’s Bluff Hill)

Most of the walk was through areas with a lot of fuschia, so we saw hundreds of tui (which feed on the nectar). I decided the tui were teasing me, because every time I pointed my camera at one of them, it would immediately fly away, turn its back, or hide behind a branch. I took many many photos before I finally got a few decent ones. A typical sequence of photos:


Hiding in the darkest part of the tree


After much patience, he finally comes out, and immediately flies to a tree at the limit of my zoom (and then only because I blew the photo way up and cropped it – otherwise he’d just be a tiny speck in the distance)


Now why would you do that just when I’ve finally got close enough to get a better photo?


Success at last (though a bit blurry – see comment above about blowing photo up to prevent speck-sized bird)


See, now he’s definitely just laughing at me!


Finally got one to show off his plume of neck feathers (and the reason early European settlers called them parson birds) properly!


I think this was the closest I got with a camera in my hand (when I wasn’t holding a camera, they got much closer, of course – they were swooping right past our heads!)

We walked back from Horseshoe Bay by the shorter route along the road (and were passed by the “tour bus” full of the other Bookcrossers along the way – the driver must have been confused when all his passengers suddenly started waving out the windows to a couple of random people walking down the side of the road!), but even so Lytteltonwitch’s fitbit was still registering a total of 15 km walked by the time we reached Oban – so not bad for a little walk!

That night we all met up for dinner at the hotel. I opted for blue cod, of course, as I did every night we were there – I had to make the most of it while I was far south enough to get the good stuff (it really has to fresh-caught from the cold southern waters to taste right – I make it a rule to never eat blue cod north of Oamaru). But I didn’t say no when Fiona’s husband offered up the remains of his crayfish for the rest of us to pick over – he’d left all the best bits behind in the legs and claws!

It was Friday the 13th, so Lytteltonwitch had planned a spookily-themed book tree. So after dinner we all trekked up to the top of the hill, to the only suitable tree we’d been able to find (the island is covered in trees, but a book tree requires a certain sparseness (and bareness) of branches, which native trees aren’t good at. The wind was picking up, but we managed to tie all the books to the tree. The planned photo-shoot with Albert wasn’t so successful, though – the wind sent him flying onto the muddy grass before anyone got a decent photo of him leaning against the tree.

One of the activities EdwardStreet had attempted to organise was a guided tour of Ulva Island, a predator-free nearby island. There were several different companies offering tours, at wildly varying prices, but after talking to the staff at the backpackers (who were fantastic about ringing around the different tour companies to get details for us) we decided to go with the most expensive option, as it seemed to offer the best value for money in terms of how much time you’d actually get on the island. At dinner that night we confirmed numbers, and (the backpackers staff having made the booking) arranged to meet up in the morning so we could all walk over to the tour guide’s office to pay. At breakfast though one of the staff told us she’d been rung by the guide asking if we could come and pay earlier than arranged, because she had to go out on another tour. So we quickly gathered together everyone we could find, and I put the fees for the late sleepers we hadn’t managed to get hold of on my credit card (that’s the nice thing about bookcrossers – I knew I could trust everyone to pay me back later!).

That bit of organisation out of the way, Lytteltonwitch and I decided to walk over to Golden Bay, where we were going to be meeting the guide that afternoon, to see how far it was (I’d been there before, and thought I remembered it being only 5 or 10 minutes walk from the hostel, but we thought we’d better check before we told everyone when to meet up). It did turn out to be only 10 minutes, even given the giant hill we had to walk over, and the little harbour there was just as beautiful as I remembered.

Just to show you how changeable the weather is on Stewart Island, only a few minutes after I took that photo, this happened:

Luckily there was a little shelter by the wharf where we could wait out the rain, or it would have been a very damp walk back to the hostel!

We had lunch at a cafe that technically wasn’t a cafe, because they only did takeaway coffees… except you could eat them on the premises. It was a wonderfully Stewart Island way of getting around regulations set by the local council in Invercargill. The owner explained to us that in order to run his business as a cafe, the council’s regulations required him to have toilets. But the little shed he was operating out of didn’t have any, and it would cost a fortune to install them (building anything on the island is incredibly expensive, because all the materials need to be shipped across on the ferry). But if he only offered takeaway coffees and food, then he didn’t need toilets. So he served everything in takeaway containers, and told his customers if they wanted to consume their takeaway purchases inside his shop (and sit at the convenient tables and chairs he just happened to have there), then they were welcome to do so.

After lunch the eight of us going to Ulva Island walked over to Golden Bay to meet the guide, and the boat that was taking us across to the island. Our guide seemed very bossy at first – giving us instructions about how to walk so that we’d make the least possible noise, and telling off anyone who dared speak at the wrong time or rustle a food wrapper. But it quickly became evident that she was doing so because she wanted to give us the best possible chance of seeing all of the rare native birds that the island is known for (many of which have been driven almost to extinction by predators in the rest of NZ). We spent an amazing four hours on the island as she showed us birds that we’d never have seen if we’d just been wandering around on our own, and told us all about them, and the trees, and the ecosystem that supports them. She definitely knew her stuff, and I learnt a huge amount.

I had as little success photographing most of the birds as I had with the tui, but that didn’t really matter, because it was so cool just getting to see them in the wild that taking photographs was very much secondary to the experience. I did get a few cool photos from the day though:


Stewart Island weka. They’re much smaller than their South Island cousins, but just as curious – as you can see, this one walked right up to us on the beach to find out what we were up to.


Keen photographer Skyring and keen birdwatcher MeganH in their element


A yellowhead (mōhua) – best known for appearing on the $100 bill


Robins are easy to photograph – they’re even more inquisitive than weka, and all it took was the guide scratching at the ground to get one flying down to check if any tasty insects had been disturbed.


A tiny native orchid – the first time I’ve ever seen one flowering


And an even better example


Saddlebacks (tīeke – one of the endangered species (super endangered, in this case – at one point there were only 36 of them left) that are thriving on Ulva Island) proved particularly hard to photograph. They specialised in positioning themselves exactly behind closer branches and leaves that my camera would decide to autofocus on instead of the bird (I really must practice being faster at switching my camera from autofocus to manual for situations like this!). There’s two saddlebacks in this photo, somewhere in the blur behind that perfectly sharp leaf…


I finally get a saddleback in focus, and he’s silhouetted against the sky, so you can’t see the distinctive colouring that gives it its name


At least kererū (wood pigeons) stay still for long enough to get a photo, though he was very high in the tree, so my zoom was at its limit


Stopping for a chocolate break…


…where we were joined by another very inquisitive robin, who sat on a branch just above my head, and took a great interest in me as I took his photo (many many photos – now that I finally had a bird up close and sitting relatively still, I made sure to take advantage of it!)


Not the best photo technically, but definitely my favourite :-)


Finally, an elusive saddleback without any branches in front of it (just his head stuck inside a punga as he searched for insects). And then I took a couple of steps to the side and…


A decent photo of a saddleback at last!!!

Back at the jetty, we sheltered from the rain (it had rained off and on all day, but we were under the canopy of the trees most of the time, so it didn’t bother us), and watched the weka who came to investigate while we waited for the boat to come back and take us back across the inlet to the main island.  As the wind had got up quite a bit and the sea was too rough for us to stay out on deck for the trip back, we all crowded into the wheelhouse where Discoverylover kept the skipper entertained by putting on an impromptu version of the “Baby Bounce” programme from her library, complete with a reading from a Dr Seuss book, and an action song (no babies though, which was disappointing – we wanted to know how well they bounced 😉 ).

We all agreed the tour was well worth the money.  If you ever find yourself on Stewart Island, I highly recommend doing a tour with Ruggedy Range – for $135 per person we got a private tour for our group that was tailored to exactly what we wanted to see (we discussed beforehand what our interests were), with an incredibly knowledgeable guide (I think she said she had a degree in ecological science?), and an overall fantastic experience.  There are cheaper options, but from what we could tell, they didn’t offer nearly as much value for money (the ferry company offers a trip to Ulva Island for $70, for example, but it only gave you one hour on the island, and we were told that the guides were just ordinary ferry crew members, with little specialist knowledge).

That night we ate at the island’s only other restaurant (there is a “kai kart” which sells fish and chips, but it was closed for the off season while we were there), a much more upmarket place than the hotel (but it’s still Stewart Island, so it’s definitely not black-tie – no noses were turned up at us bunch of scruffy backpackers :-) ).  They don’t like to book large groups, because their kitchen is quite small, so we had to go in two separate seatings.  But it was actually nice to eat with a small group, where everyone could be part of the conversation, instead of the big long table full of people we’d had the night before.  The food was very impressive – I had a starter of paua ravioli which was amazing (and the paua was actually tender – a very tricky thing to achieve!), and then blue cod (of course :-) but cooked in a different style than the “battered with chips” I’d had at the hotel).  Then, all too full for dessert, but still wanting to try them, and none of us able to make up our minds which dessert to choose, we ended up ordering one of each and sharing them around the table.  I think we spent about three hours at the restaurant (we ended up overlapping with the group that came later, so we did kind of get to have another big group dinner :-) ) just enjoying the food and the company – a really great evening.

The weather got worse, and by Sunday morning it was obvious that it wasn’t going to improve in a hurry.  In fact, it was bad enough that all the ferries and planes back to the mainland were cancelled (luckily Goldenwattle was the only one of our group who had booked to go back that day, and she was able to change her travel arrangements reasonably easily).  So we spent most of the day sitting in the lounge at the backpackers putting together a jigsaw of a Paris street scene (to get us in the mood for next year’s world convention), eating the lollies Lytteltonwitch and I had provided, and generally relaxing.  At most conventions I would have been frustrated by the enforced idleness, but it had been such a casual, laid-back weekend that I actually enjoyed it – it was nice to all just enjoy each other’s company with nothing in particular we had to rush off and do.

The main reason we’d all opted to stay until Monday was so we could attend the famous quiz night at the hotel (which came to the world’s attention when Prince Harry took part when he visited the island a couple of years ago).   The pub was crowded with all the people who had been stuck on the island by the weather, but we managed to squeeze ourselves in round a couple of tables, and formed two quiz teams.  It was a great quiz, with the questions actually written by the two young guys who were running it, rather than being one of those horrible commercial quizzes that so many pubs use these days. It was all very light-hearted, with spot prizes awarded to people who could tell good jokes, or do a convincing Russian accent. And a lot of laughter when one of the quiz-masters inadvertently gave away the answer to one of the questions :-) Of course, our two tables were fiercely competitive (against each other, at least – we didn’t particularly care how we came in relation to the rest of the pub!), but I’m sad to say the other table won the day – they came second equal, whereas our table only got fifth place.  It was all a lot of fun, and a great way to end the convention.

The next morning the weather had cleared enough for the ferry to be running (although it was still pretty rough – 30-40 knot winds, and 4 metres of swell), so we all boarded our respective ferries or planes and left the island.  The crossing was another exciting one, though I didn’t think it was as rough as it had been on the way over – I was able to stay standing up the whole time this time, and it wasn’t nearly as wet out on the back deck.  At Bluff we farewelled all our Bookcrossing friends, and Lytteltonwitch, Albert and I headed up through the back roads of Southland to Central Otago (with a slight detour to visit the town of Nightcaps – well, we had to really, I’d had the book Nightcap sitting on my bookshelf for years, waiting for the next time I was in Southland and could release it there!).

We spent the night at Mum’s place in Alexandra, so I finally got to see her new house, and the changes Brother and SIL have made to the shop (it looks amazing).  Mum invited Brother and family round for pizzas for dinner (the kids didn’t know we were visiting, so it was a cool surprise for them when they turned up at Granny’s and I was there – though I think Niece was more excited to see Albert again than she was to see me! :-) ), so we had a lovely family evening (and Brother and I had a long debate about gender identities – we may not agree, but at least I know he’s trying to understand).

We ended up not leaving Alexandra until after lunch on Tuesday, having spent a nice relaxing morning chatting with mum over many cups of tea, so our drive back to Christchurch had to be much more direct than our normal meandering road trips, but at least it meant we got back to Christchurch at a reasonable hour.  It was a struggle to wake up in time for work on Wednesday though!

So that was our Stewart Island adventure.  And that was an entire convention blogged and photographs posted in the same month that the convention happened.  Yeah, don’t hold your breath for me to manage that for the next one…

The big reveal

The mystery quilt has been handed over to its recipient, so now I can show it off here:

Given the subject matter, no prizes for guessing who it went to – Lytteltonwitch of course. When I saw the fabric (everything inside the inner purple border is a single panel of fabric) I knew I had to turn it into a quilt for her.  The big challenge was to finish it in time for Halloween, especially as I was running short of weekends in October (next weekend is the NZ/Aus Bookcrossing convention, and this weekend I was supposed to be spending most of on a couple of long walks as part of the Walking Festival, but the weather has reverted to winter again with heavy rain all weekend, so the walks got cancelled and I was left with a free weekend, which is really the only reason I managed to finish the quilt off yesterday).

The patchwork itself isn’t particularly complicated (the border is made of Courthouse Steps, with Log Cabins on the corners, which are both pretty simple blocks), but it’s the first time I’ve really done multiple borders (I don’t count the added-at-the-last-minute borders on the Flower Garden quilt, because I was very much making them up as I went along – this time I actually planned the borders in advance and worked out all the measurements so everything would fit).  In the process, I learnt that my quarter-inch foot doesn’t actually sew an exact quarter inch, although I don’t think it’s the foot at fault – I actually think my machine is slightly out of alignment.  It’s only out by about a millimetre, which isn’t a huge issue most of the time, but when you add all the millimetres in all those Courthouse Steps up, it was out by about an inch in the total length.  Which meant I had to trim the blocks next to the corners quite a bit to make them fit properly, so some of the “steps” are very narrow compared to those around them.  Luckily though it’s not really noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for, so it doesn’t spoil the quilt overall.  I’ll just have to keep the not-quarter-inch thing in mind next time I’m doing a quilt where the measurements are so crucial.

As I mentioned, I’m really proud of the quilting on this one, because I didn’t use an overall design, but quilted different sections differently so that certain parts would stand out more.  Most importantly, I stitched an outline around the skeleton, then (other than a few internal lines to keep the batting stable) left the skeleton itself unquilted, with dense quilting in the background (spiderwebs, of course :-) ), which makes the bones really stick out. It’s a bit hard to see in the photos, but in person it looks quite 3D.

I did something similar with the borders, using dense and sparse quilting to increase the contrast between the dark and light steps.  I also changed the thread colour between sections, again to keep the contrast nice and clear.

You can get a better idea of how I did the quilting by looking at the back of the quilt:

The difference to the final product between doing elaborate quilting like this and just doing an overall design is subtle, but I really like how it came out.  And, as always, I learnt a lot in the process.  Every quilt I make expands my repertoire of skills a little bit more.

Needless to say, Lytteltonwitch was very happy with her gift :-)

Oh, and the skeleton glows in the dark…


I went last night with Lytteltonwitch to see the film adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover.  I’m not sure what I thought of the movie as a whole, because it was filmed in post-earthquake Christchurch, so (just like the first time I saw the Lord of the Rings movies), seeing so many familiar places on the big screen distracted me from the actual film (I think the same was true for most people in the audience – I kept hearing whispered comments from around the theatre of “Hey, that’s…”).  I’ll probably have to see it again to judge it properly.  But a few (spoiler-free) initial thoughts:

  • Timothy Spall was really good.  A bit too good, really – he made the local actors look slightly amateurish.
  • Setting it in Christchurch (or, at least, filming it in Christchurch – I don’t think they actually say in the film that it’s Christchurch, but they mention the city being destroyed by earthquakes, so there’s not really any other western city it can be) was, I think, a good choice – the empty residential red zone provides a suitably eerie backdrop to the story.  I wonder though how audiences outside of Christchurch (and particularly, outside NZ) will respond – what’s become normal to us (an antique shop in a shipping container, half-demolished buildings left abandoned, streets with the outlines of gardens but no houses, and in particular, parts of the city being so incredibly normal when everything around them is damaged) be so weird as to be incomprehensible to outsiders?  How will outsiders read things like cordon fences and flooded streets, which have so much extra meaning to Christchurch people?
  • I haven’t read the book (yeah, I know, but it’s one of her later books, so I missed out on reading it as a kid, and she wrote so many I haven’t caught up with all of them as an adult), so I don’t know if it’s meant to be this way, or if something was lost in translation from book to film, but there were a few moments where I got really confused about what was going on – it felt like there were plot points that had been skipped over or something.
  • (Just to harp on about the landscape a bit more…)  As films always do, they took a lot of  artistic licence with the geography of the city – there’s scenes where characters walk from what looks like Bexley to the CBD in a few minutes (it’s about 10 km in reality), and buildings that are far apart (in time as well as space – in one scene a couple of the characters are on a balcony looking across the city.  Right below them is a building under construction – except I know that when that building was at that stage of construction, the building they’re supposed to be in (which they definitely weren’t in, because it was earthquake-damaged so would be too dangerous, and it’s on the other side of town anyway) had already been demolished…).  None of this detracts from the film though (unless you know Christchurch well, of course, when it’s a bit distracting – again, I heard a few whispered comments in the audience of “How did they get there so fast?”).  It mostly just amused me, seeing how they’d warped the city to fit the needs of the plot or atmosphere (or just logistics – there’s one scene that shows an ambulance travelling along Hagley Avenue towards Christchurch Hospital, but when it arrives, it’s at Princess Margaret (an old, mostly abandoned, hospital on the edge of town) – obviously they couldn’t film at the real hospital because it would be too disruptive).

So yeah, I need to see it again (and probably read the book) to really decide whether or not I liked it.  If any of you (especially the foreigners) get to see it, I’ll be really interested to hear your thoughts.

The rest of Wellington

Seeing as the conference was on a Friday, I decided to stay up in Wellington for the weekend.  Discoverylover, as well as offering me a bed, arranged a bookcrossing meetup for the Friday evening, so after the conference finished I walked down to the railway station to meet up with her and the other bookcrossers at the station cafe. There were suprisingly few books on the table for a bookcrossing meetup (I think, just like our meetups in Christchurch, the Wellington meetups have become less about the books and more about just catching up with friends), but it was an enjoyable evening.  I revealed our secret plans for the 2019 and 2021 NZ/AUS conventions, and they were met with general approval (mysterious cat is mysterious – if you want to know more, you’ll just have to wait until Stewart Island… 😉 )

Discoverylover had a cold and an essay to write, so I absolved her of any duty to keep me entertained the next day, and caught the train into Wellington (she lives out in the Hutt Valley).  The weather was pretty dull and grey (and windy, of course), but after a long leisurely breakfast in a cafe, and stopping off at a few bookshops, I went for a wander along the waterfront (my favourite bit of Wellington), and managed to take a few decent photos:


(Yes, the “let’s destroy bridges by covering them in padlocks” trend has hit here too)

Jacq, a friend from the UC Linguistics department, was at the conference too, so I’d arranged to meet up with them and their partner for lunch.  Discoverylover had suggested that I check out the National Library’s He Tohu exhibtion, so I invited the two of them to join me.  It’s an amazing exhibition – it’s subtitled “Signatures that shape New Zealand”, and that’s a great description, because the centrepiece is three documents that formed NZ as it is today: the Treaty of Waitangi, the Declaration of Independence that lead to the Treaty, and the petition calling for Women’s Suffrage.  Seeing even one of those documents in person would be cool, but having all three in one place was amazing.

Because they’re such precious documents (and not particularly well preserved, especially the Treaty), they were displayed in a darkened room, with buttons on each display case that turned on lights for just long enough to be able to see the document without causing damage.  And flash photography was of course forbidden.  But I managed to hold my camera steady enough to get a couple of non-blurry photos even in the dim light:


Te Tiriti


The suffrage petition (when the petition was presented to parliament, the pages were stitched together into a long roll, in an intentional attempt to increase its impact when it was rolled out across the floor – a very effective ploy, as the roll looks so much more impressive than a pile of loose pages would be!)

The rest of the exhibition was displays and videos explaining the impact of the three documents, and how they still have an affect on the way New Zealanders see ourselves today.  It was really fascinating (and I learnt a lot of the history of my country I never knew – probably because when I was at school nobody really talked about Te Tiriti much), and we ended up spending well over an hour looking at it all.

As we were leaving, Jacq said they’d quite like to take a tour of the Parliament buildings (the National Library is pretty much across the street from the Beehive) – they’re Canadian, so after learning so much about NZ history from the exhibition, wanted to see something of how modern NZ runs.  I’d done the Parliament tour before, but it was years ago, so I was happy to do it again (and it was actually quite cool doing it for a second time, because instead of looking at the things the guide was showing us, I spent most of the time looking at the other artworks and things we were passing).  So it turned out to be an educational afternoon all round (though I had my doubts at the start of the tour, when the guide was showing us the earthquake strengthening in the basement, and explaining how the base isolation system would withstand the horizontal movement from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, so no matter what happened to the rest of Wellington, Parliament would still be standing.  My immediate thoughts were (a) you know that earthquakes get a lot bigger than that, right? and (b) if it’s anything like Christchurch, it’s the vertical movement that does most of the damage.  But I didn’t say anything – the guide was obviously a historian, not an earthquake engineer, so I didn’t think she’d appreciate me asking technical questions like that :-) )

After I said goodbye to Jacq and their partner, I met up with Discoverylover again for dinner (at a place that does proper Italian hot chocolate! This may necessitate many more trips back to Wellington…) She hadn’t made much progress with her essay, so I think was glad of the excuse to abandon it and come into town to meet me :-)

My flight back was at lunchtime on Sunday, but I managed to squeeze in another quick adventure – instead of going directly to the airport, I left early enough so I could catch a bus out to a nearby suburb where there was a quilt shop.  So many cool fabrics!  Luckily I was constrained by how much I could fit in my bag, so I didn’t spend *too* much money there, but it was really tempting (they have an on-line shop, but it’s not the same as being able to see all the fabrics in person).  Even better, the shop was within walking distance of the airport (via an underpass which goes under the runways!), so I didn’t have to rush to get to my flight.

As I was waiting at the departure gate, I heard a familiar voice – it turned out Dan had been in Wellington for a different conference, and was on the same flight back as me.  It was great to catch up for a few minutes while we waited for boarding.

Back in Christchurch, Harvestbird met me at the airport, as we had tickets to the Clementine Ford talk that afternoon.  It was a wonderful talk – she pretty much just went through some of the horrific comments she gets on-line, and responded to them with thoughts about feminism, and anecdotes from her life.  There was a signing afterwards, and for once I was actually organised and had her book with me, so I was able to get it signed.

So, a busy, and very social, weekend all round!

Books and cats and quilts (what else is there?)

Alkaline-kiwi was in Christchurch this weekend, so we had a Bookcrossing meetup this morning.  It was great to catch up with her – plus, of course, the injection of new books into the meetup group is always appreciated :-)  As so often happens, I came home with as many books as I’d gone with, so my to-be-read pile has grown quite a bit.

I picked up:


The other thing that keep growing is my list of quilt projects I want to try. I really must stop watching YouTube videos – I keep getting inspired and adding more ideas to my list.  At least it means I never get bored – I seem to always have several quilts on the go, plus more lined up to start when I want to try something new (which is always – I’m definitely easily distracted by every shiny new thing that comes along…)

Which is all preamble to lead into the the fact that I started another quilt this afternoon.  The other jelly roll was calling to me, so after much deliberation I decided to try a “Three Dudes” quilt, similar to this one (although I’ve altered the pattern a bit).

I spent most of the afternoon just working out the details of the pattern, and then grouping the strips into sets so that the different colours and patterns would be nicely distributed through the quilt (the version in the photo below went through several more changes before I got to the final one), and cutting strips of white fabric to add to them to make up strip sets.

I only got half way through sewing the 10 strip sets I’ll need for the quilt. Once they’re done, they need to be cut up and then sewn back together again a couple of times to make the final blocks, so there’s probably another weekend or two’s work to finish the complete quilt top. Assuming I don’t get distracted by some other project in the meantime… :-)


Gratuitous cat photo of Parsnips sulking on the windowsill because I kept moving her off the sunny spot on my cutting mat on the totally unreasonable grounds that I wanted to cut fabric, not the cat. I also won’t let her jump up on my ironing board, because I’m scared one day she’ll jump up there while the iron is on. I am such a horrible person!

Athens Travel Journal – Part 4

Saturday 23 April, 11 am, at the convention

We’re about to have a guest speaker, and I’m not sure whether they’ll be speaking in English or Greek, so this seems like a good opportunity to catch up a bit.

So, after Zeus’s temple we wanted to try and find the Lykia where Aristotle taught.  It was quite a distance away, but we worked out the route on the map and set off confidently.  And of course, got it completely wrong, and ended up walking about a kilometre in the wrong direction before we realised.  (In my defence, the map showed a stadium, and we did pass a small stadium, so I thought we were on the right track.  But it turned out that the stadium on the map (which was just one of those cheap tourist ones you get for free at the airport) was actually meant to be the Olympic stadium, which is a wee bit bigger than the one we passed.  (Also in my defence, you try reading street signs written in Greek and matching them to a map that’s written in English and see how well you do!)).  Eventually though we figured it out and backtracked.  The detour wasn’t entirely a waste of time though, because we came across the site of an old temple (can’t remember now which god – they all start to blend into each other after a while – it might have been Artemis, I think?), and another little Byzantine church.  That’s one of the cool things about Athens – it’s never boring, because there’s interesting little spots scattered all over the city.

Anyway, we set off on the right road this time, which took us past the parliament buildings, guarded by the guys in skirts and pompoms.  We stopped to take some photos, and were about to move on when the two guards started thumping the butts of their rifles on the ground.  It turned on we were just in time for the start of the changing of the guard ceremony.

I’m sure it’s intended to be a very solemn and dignified ceremony, but I’m afraid we got the giggles.  They did this elaborate march towards each other (even weirder than the stomp shuffle of the flag soldiers up at the Acropolis), with a combination of high kicks and a movement that looked exactly like they were trying to scrape dog poo off their boots.  The combined effect was very much John Cleese doing his Ministry of Silly Walks routine, but with the added bonus of bouncing pompoms on their feet and knees, and skirts that were way too short to be doing high kicks in.

When the guards met in the middle there was the usual military pomp of presenting arms and being inspected (by a guy in normal camouflage style uniform), then they stood and waited while another three guards approached from across the road, all doing the Silly Walk.  Then everyone presented arms yet again, one of the new guys escorted the old shift back across the street again, the other two new guys were inspected, and they Silly Walked their way back to the guard posts.  Definitely worth stopping to watch the ceremony, even if only because we got such a laugh out of it (with no offence intended to the Greeks, of course – I’m sure you’d find just as much humour in some of our traditions!).

I feel like the guy in front isn’t as committed to the silly walk as the other two.

The dog is supremely indifferent to all the stomping and scraping going on behind him – he just wants a shady place to sleep.

We found Aristotle’s Lykia not far from the parliament buildings.  All that is left of it are the traces of a few walls, so not a lot to see, but it was still really interesting to imagine (helped by the descriptions on the information boards) the buildings that would have once stood there.  And anyway, just the thought that you’re standing where Aristotle once stood is so amazing!  There’s so many places like that in Athens, that make you realise that people whose names you only know as legends actually existed, and lived right here.  It makes them all seem so much more real.  Like on Friday, when Katherine took us past an otherwise unremarkable wee square, and mentioned that that’s where Diogenes had his home (according to legend, in a large pot).

The site was surrounded by gardens, and a gardener was working on them as we walked around, but otherwise we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I suppose it’s not as spectacular as the big name tourist sites, hence the lack of crowds.  I don’t mind, it was to our advantage to have the place to ourselves, because we could take our time looking around.  As we were leaving, the gardener came over and presented us with a rose each from the bush he was pruning – I got the impression he was pleased to see visitors actually interested in the site.

We walked back to the Plaka area, which is very touristy – pretty much every shop that isn’t a cafe is selling souvenirs.  Amongst it all we found a little shop selling prints and watercolours.  I stopped to have a look and found a nice little pen sketch of an Athens street.  When I went to pay for it (only €15 – did I mention how cheap everything is here?) I realised that the shopkeeper was actually the artist.  So that was cool, to not only have another picture for my wall of art, but also to have bought it direct from the artist.

While we were in Plaka, I thought I might as well take advantage of the cheap prices to buy a few wee presents for the kids.  So I got Nephew #1 a t-shirt with the Pythagorean Theorem on it (written in Greek, of course), and Nephew #2 one that says “This is Sparta!”  And for Niece, a bag with cats on it (ok, so I may have ended up buying one of those for myself as well… :-) ).  Hopefully they should appreciate them.

By that time, we were starting to feel walked out (Lytteltonwitch calculated we’d walked about 21 km in total that day), so we headed back to the apartment to sit down for a while and get organised for the official start of the convention in the evening.

The convention venue is just around the corner from our apartment, in a little museum.  The evening was the usual business of registration, browsing (and contributing to) the book buffet, raffle tickets and supply store, and of course, lots of catching up with friends I hadn’t seen since Melbourne (or even Dublin!).

Tuesday 26 April 2016, 11 am, Athens airport

So much for keeping this journal up to date, but the last few days have been so packed, I just haven’t had time.  So, where was I up to?  Friday night at the convention, I think?

The highlight of the evening (other than seeing so many old friends, and meeting new ones) was a shadow puppet show.  Shadow puppets are a traditional Greek art form, with (I gather) a few regular characters that show up in every story and behave in predictable ways (a bit like Punch in the English tradition).  The one we watched was written specifically for the convention, and was all about one of the regular characters, Karagiozis, learning about Bookcrossing, and being carried by an owl to China to find out the fate of the books he’d released.  The plot involved a dragon and a monkey and was pretty incomprehensible even with the aid of the English surtitles (the play was performed in Greek, of course).  Despite not entirely understanding what was going on a lot of the time, it was still great fun to watch – the puppeteers were very talented, handling a dozen or so different puppets (actually, I think they said it was about 30 actual puppets, representing about a dozen characters – each character had multiple puppets, depending on what they needed it to be able to do), each with a unique voice.

Sorry, not the best photos, because I was a few rows back so was trying to take pictures between the heads of people in front, while simultaneously trying not to block the view of the people behind me. But hopefully they’ll give you an idea at least of what the puppets were like.

There was an author talk on Friday too, by an author who is also a translator.  He talked (in English) a bit about the challenges of translating, and of having his own books translated, which was really interesting.

And of course, being Greece, there was a tonne of food.  Each of the Greek bookcrossers had brought along a few dishes, and as almost all of them were traditional Greek dishes, I wanted to try as many as I could, so even though they were all just bite-sized snacks I was still feeling seriously full before I managed to work my way all the way down the table.  Among many other delicacies were the biggest olives I’ve ever seen (I’ve discovered that even though I don’t usually like olives, I do in Greece – they taste much nicer here! :-) ), and all sorts of little pastries and cheese balls that we got to know pretty well over the next few days (the snack table seemed to be being continually refilled).  There was only one dish I didn’t like: a sort of tasteless mush that apparently is traditionally eaten with dry bread leading up to Easter (which of course is later here than in the rest of the world – Orthodox Easter is next weekend) – I suppose it’s the equivalent to Lent (which I suppose makes sense that it doesn’t taste very nice – if it’s meant to be for Lent then you’re probably not supposed to enjoy it).

Saturday started with a yoga class on the balcony.  As expected, I was terrible at it – every time the instructor said “turn to the left”, I’d get confused and turn right (yay for dyslexia), and then get the giggles because I was facing my neighbour who’d turned the correct way.  Not really the most conducive to being calm and focussed.  Plus, having had so little sleep, I had to struggle not to just fall asleep when we did the meditation bits.  Yeah, I don’t think yoga is for me, really.  But it was interesting to try.

Next was another author talk.  The author (who spoke in Greek, but had a translator repeating everything in English), wrote children’s books, and mentioned how most of the schools in the distant islands don’t have libraries because of funding shortages, so it’s difficult to get books into the hands of children.  (As a result, the NZ and Australian bookcrossers have been talking to the Greek bookcrossers about whether we could sponsor a school to help buy them some books.  It looks like it might be a complicated process though, so I don’t know whether we’ll manage to do it.  We’re certainly going to try though – even a few hundred dollars would go a long way here.)

Athens Travel Journal – Part 3

Friday 22 April

Another long and super busy day.  Last night, of course, was the pre-convention dinner.  We made it there only a few minutes late (at the expense of not having had time to go home and get cleaned up and changed first, as we’d hoped to), and quickly spotted the other bookcrossers. Of course, we weren’t the last to arrive by a long shot, a large group being guaranteed to be impossible to completely organise, but eventually everyone was assembled and the food began to be brought out.  I won’t even attempt to list what we ate, because there was so much of it!  Every time we all thought it must be the last dish, something else would appear, until finally, when we must have sampled every traditional Greek vegetable dish there is, they announced that now we’d have the meat (!).  Not a lot of meat got eaten, despite it being delicious – nobody (except the Greeks, of course) had any room left.  And then, when we insisted we couldn’t fit any more in, the waiters cleared the tables… and brought out desert, and orange syrup cake.  I think I ate about one mouthful of it before giving up.  One thing for sure, you’ll never go hungry if you let the Greeks do the ordering!

It was a very late night, with us not getting home until after 11, and we had plans for an early start this morning.  Bronwyn and Robyn opted to sleep in, but Lytteltonwitch and I headed out early to find breakfast, then went back to the Acropolis as it opened at 8, to beat the crowds.

It was so worth going back! It was wonderfully crowd-free at that time, so that it was actually possible to pause and admire details without having someone with a selfie stick get in your way.  An unexpected benefit too was that we got to see the flag being raised for the start of the day. A group of soldiers slow-marched in with the flag (they had a weird lopsided sort of march, with one leg being raised and stomped down, and the other sort of shuffling), then after much ceremony and presenting of arms, the flag was raised as they sang what I presume is the national anthem (though they sang it so tunelessly, it was hard to tell – they sounded like a bunch of rugby players)… and then was lowered again because they’d got the rope tangled.  But they got it up smoothly on the second attempt, then did their stomp-shuffle slow march back out again.

I got kind of obsessed with taking photos of this temple – it was so much more interesting than the big Parthenon building. But so as not to bore you too much, I’ve only included a handful of the photos here (ok, so it’s a pretty large handful, but trust me, you’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the number of photos I took!)

This cat was chasing another cat, which you can just see sitting on a branch at the top of the picture.

As an indication of how crowded it was the first time we climbed the Acropolis, I didn’t even notice you could see the sea from up there, because I never got near the railing on that side. This time there was actually time and space to admire the view.

While we were watching, we got chatting to an elderly couple from California.  They were incredibly well-travelled, and had even been to Pitcairn (I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s visited there before!).  Made my own travels seem pretty tame in comparison, but we compared notes on a few favourite places.

After we’d had our fill of the Acropolis (and watched the feral cats chase each other up an olive tree), we walked down to the Theatre of Dionysus on its lower slopes.  As well as the theatre itself (or amphitheatre, though I learnt today that “amphitheatre” actually just means “shaped like a theatre”, so it’s a bit tautological), there were all sorts of other ruins to see on the lower slopes, so we spent quite a long time wandering around them.

The fancy seats at the front were obviously for the rich people (and apparently, just like nowadays, if you paid enough you could get your name on your seat at the theatre).

The tickets that we’d bought for the Acropolis also let us into various other historic sites, so we decided to take advantage of them and see as much as possible. So first we went to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, which was seriously impressive – massive pillars, the scale of which was impossible to capture in a photo – just believe me when I say they were huge, and felt like they were towering over you.

Hadrian’s Arch (yep, the same Hadrian as the wall between England and Scotland – he got around a lot)

None of the photos I took really show the scale of this place, but trust me, those columns are big. The people in the foreground are quite a distance away from the columns.

Too tired to finish this off now – I’ll write up the rest tomorrow.

Athens Travel Journal – Part 2

Thursday 21 April 2016, 3 pm, Athens

In a seafood restaurant, having just gorged on greek salad, boiled wild greens, eggplant dip, fried zucchini, squid, sardines, mussels… just a light lunch :-)  We’ve been on the go all day, so I still haven’t managed to sit down and write.  But, briefly back to the story now:

After we’d had drinks in the roof garden, and it got too dark for photos, we walked around the area some more, ending up at a souvlaki restaurant.

At the restaurant there was a moment of crisis when Lytteltonwitch discovered her wallet was missing and the pocket of her bag was hanging open.  We figured out what must have happened was that we’d stopped to watch some buskers in quite a crowded square, and someone had obviously pick-pocketed her in the crowd.  A couple of other things were also missing out of the same pocket of her bag, either taken at the same time as the wallet, or fallen out of the open pocket later.  Luckily, she didn’t have much money in the wallet, and a quick phone call back to New Zealand got her cards cancelled, so not too huge a loss (except to her pride in being an experienced traveller, perhaps).

The meal was amazing – we got Panost to order for us, so we had a traditional dish that I’ve forgotten the name of (I knew I should have written this up sooner) that was a sort of filled pasta that I think was fried – it was crispy and very tasty anyway. Then there was fried zucchini strips, and then, when we were already feeling full, huge platters of meats – kebab, doner (which I never realised was a different thing to kebab – I spent too long in the UK, where it’s just called “doner kebab”), pork, chicken, and loads of pita bread to go with it.  Greeks are definitely very big eaters – we were all struggling to make any sort of dent in the platters, and ended up with a few doggy bags to take home.  It was about 11 pm by the time we got back to the apartment (this is on top of the 31 hours of travel, remember), so I was very quickly asleep.

This morning Lytteltonwitch and I decided to try and retrace our steps of the night before, just in case we spotted any of her lost gear.  We didn’t have any luck, but it was a nice walk, and I was pleased we didn’t get lost, considering we’d been so tired the night before when Panost was guiding us around.

The gods of the eight winds. We were meaning to come back and find out which god was responsible for Canterbury’s nor’wester, but forgot…

We’d arranged to meet the others back at the apartment at 9, so we could visit the Acropolis together. We were a little bit late getting back, having been distracted by a little Byzantine church (one of the ones we’d seen last night), which was open, so we snuck a look inside.  It was so amazing inside – everything either painted or gilded, icons everywhere, and so ornate (we weren’t allowed to take photos, so you’ll just have to use your imagination).

And of course we had to stop for a quick breakfast, of something similar to a pain au chocolat from a little bakery we passed along the way.  And then a further distraction when we spotted Skyring and Mrs Skyring sitting in a cafe.  So we never did make it back to the apartment, but the others set out towards the Acropolis hoping to meet us on the way and found us chatting to the Skyrings, so we all caught up in the end.  The Skyrings had only just arrived, so they were off to their accommodation for a nap, but the rest of us, plus a couple of the German bookcrossers who the others had bumped into, headed up to the Acropolis.

5 pm, Tourist Police station

We’re here attempting to report Lytteltonwitch’s pickpocketing, so she has it documented for insurance.  There’s quite a queue, so we may be here some time, so I’m grabbing the chance to sit and write some more.  I’m determined not to let this journal get too far behind (tricky, considering how much we’re packing into each day!).

So, where was I? We’d met up with the others, and stopped for a quick coffee at a roadside cafe (where, due to a miscommunication/miscalculation, we ended up paying twice for some of the coffees, so the waiter must have thought we were very generous tippers!).

A dog watching us from a balcony above the cafe where we stopped for coffees.

Next, we climed the hill up to the Acropolis.  In hindsight, we probably should have gone up earlier, because by 10 am when we got there it was swarming with tour groups. But despite the crowds, it was amazing.  They’re still in the middle of the restoration, so there’s scaffolding around one end of the Parthenon, but even with that it’s still an incredible structure.  And the other temples too are amazing, and the views out over the city, and just the sheer antiquity of it all. It’s amazing to think that these buildings have been here for thousands of years, and that chances are the site was used way before that too.  When you are up on top of it, you can see why the site was chosen for a temple – it feels so high above the city – definitely where you would expect the gods to hang out.

And for such huge structures, there’s so much detail in the carving. Of course, a lot of it has been lost to the centuries, but there’s bits remaining here and there that tell you what they must have been like.

We spent a few hours up there (and took so many photos!), then walked down the hill to Monastiraki Square, where we were meeting up with another Greek bookcrosser Katherine. The square is full of life (don’t worry, we’ve all been watching our belongings closely after Lytteltonwitch’s experience), with buskers, many many beggars (we’ve got quite good at shooing them away, and haven’t yet had to resort to the Greek swearwords that Bronwyn picked up from her kids :-) ), and stalls selling everything from shoes to fresh fruit.  The fruit was incredibly cheap (or, at least, it seemed so to us – I’m sure it’s much more expensive to buy it there than from a less touristy market) – we bought a whole kilo of strawberries (which were amazing – so sweet and juicy!) for just €2, and sat in the sun eating them while we waited.

Katherine took us for a long walk around the city, (Lytteltonwitch’s Fitbit reckons we’ve walked about 17 km in total today!) and to a museum devoted to the jewellery of a famous Greek jeweller.  Some of us was quite spectacular, but I was starting to flag a little, so I was glad when we went on from there to lunch (which I think I described above).  We were all feeling pretty tired, so lunch was long and leisurely (and very pleasant) but eventually we had to move, and set off walking again – I’ve got no idea where we ended up going, but I know we saw all sorts of interesting little churches (including one where the basement was used to manufacture gunpowder during the war of independence, and another where, along with the usual saints, the porch was decorated with images of the ancient philosophers (whose names, I’ve learnt, I’ve been pronouncing completely wrong all this time)), and every sort of architecture from the ancient to the very modern, often right next to each other, and streets lined with orange trees.

Inside the city’s cathedral, which has just been restored following the 1999 earthquake. Hard not to make comparisons with our cathedral…

Apparently this is where Diogenes lived in his barrel (which may actually have been a jar, which is even weirder)

And cats everywhere (feral cats are definitely a feature of the city – they’re everywhere you look, even sunning themselves on the stones of the Acropolis. Most are pretty mangy looking, so I wouldn’t want to touch any of them.  We met a woman this morning who was feeding one colony. She said she has 6 cats at home, and when she can afford it she buys extra food and feeds the strays (I couldn’t help thinking a better form of charity would be to catch them and get them sterilized) – I noticed she was wearing gloves to touch them.)

We ended our long walk by meeting back up with Panost and yet another Greek bookcrosser (whose name I missed).  The rest of the group were going with them on one of those hop-on hop-off bus tours to see some more of the city, but Lytteltonwitch and I opted out so we could come and get a police report.  We also want to go to the pre-convention dinner tonight, which the others are skipping, so we wanted to make sure we’d be able to get back to Thisseo on time (although that’s looking less and less likely, because we’ve been here an hour now, and although Lytteltonwitch has managed to get a statement taken by one officer, she still has to wait to see someone else who’s responsible for actually writing up the report).

At least I’ve achieved something while we’ve been waiting – I think I’ve got this journal up to date now :-)

Athens Travel Journal – Part 1

Tuesday 19 April 2016, 10 pm (Bangkok time) – somewhere over Indonesia, three hours from Bangkok

I woke up from a half-sleep just in time to see one of the islands of Indonesia below us. It’s pitch dark, of course (according to the flight info screen thing, it’s 11 pm locally), but the islands are outlined in light. At first I thought the moon must be out and reflecting off surf or something, but then my sense of scale kicked in and I realised it’s the lights from villages stretching around the coast in a thin line.

A pretty uneventful trip so far. A very full plane, but it’s Emirates, so pretty pleasant as far as long-haul flights go (this leg is 9 hours, our longest for the trip).

Christchurch-Sydney was 3 1/2 hours, just long enough to watch a movie and have the first of two dinners (we got another dinner at the beginning of this flight (which is actually technically the same flight – Sydney was just a refuelling stop for an hour and a half – long enough to stretch ours legs with a walk around the transit lounge)).  By the time we got onto this flight I was sleepy enough that another movie didn’t appeal, so I listened to an audiobook while eating second dinner, and woke up again several chapters in (oh well, it was only a Shopaholic book, which I’d specifically picked off the menu as being one where I’d be unlikely to care if I fell asleep and missed some of it).

We’re over the middle of one of the big islands now, and in constrast to the coast, there’s almost no lights – I can just see one off in the distance.

Descriptions of flights are always the least interesting parts of these travel journals, so I’ll spare you any further boredom and go back to my audiobook, and write more once we get somewhere interesting.

Midnight, over the South China Sea

So many fishing boats down there – the sea is dotted with lights.  The squid boats are incredibly bright, even from up here. From the map, it looks like we should be passing over Ho Chi Min City soon.

A bit later

Ho Chi Min looks huge! Just a sea of light in the distance.

And a wee bit later again

Directly over the city now. The lights are obscured by what seems to be smog – it’s only of the city (the lights of the surrounding roads are clear) and is darked than the light fluffy moon-reflecting clouds over the sea.

Wednesday 20 April, 4 am (Dubai time), somewhere off the coast of Pakistan

Dawn is catching up with us – there’s a definite glow to the sky behind us. We’ve had a lot of turbulence since just before India, but I’ve still managed to get some sleep despite that.

Bangkok was just another quick refuelling stop.  We were allowed to get off the plane if we wanted, so of course I did, just so I could say I’ve been to Thailand (even if it was just in a transit lounge for half an hour). It was cool seeing all the signage in the Thai alphabet – ok, so I’m a language geek, but there’s something about a different orthography that makes a place seem so exotic :-) It was good to be able to stretch my legs a bit too, but my real reason was to add another country to my count :-)  It was very warm – even at whatever middle of the night time we arrived you could feel the heat through the airbridge.

In another couple of hours we’ll be in Dubai, where we’ve got several hours’ wait, because we’re actually switching flights.

8 am, Dubai

This airport is huge! And incredibly busy and so full of shops. Neither of us being particular shopping fans, we’ve had a quick wander around, had a (very expensive) snack, then retreated to a quiet corner where there’s wi-fi to wait for our next flight.

As far as I can remember, I’ve never been through Dubai before – any other flights via the UAE have been through Abu Dhabi. The two airports are very different – Abu Dhabi is relatively small, and very Middle Eastern in flavour, whereas Dubai seems very western – the food options all seem to be big international chains like Starbucks and Burger King, and the building itself could be any airport anywhere in the world. Even the signage is in English first and Arabic in smaller characters below.  And, as you’d expect from an airport that’s such an international hub, passengers of every nationality, almost all in Western dress (as opposed to Abu Dhabi, where Arab robes dominated – I’ve only seem a couple of people wearing them here).

11 am, just out of Dubai

So much for our uneventful trip. We ended up leaving Dubai about half an hour late, because for some reason our plane was parked way across the tarmac, so we were all loaded onto buses to be taken out to it. And then the buses (which had no seats, only standing) had to wait for ages for various planes and other vehicles to pass. Then, once we finally reached the plane, despite the fact they carefully sorted us into sections of the plane before loading us onto the buses, they sent the buses to the wrong ends of the plane, so (after climbing a very long set of stairs up to the plane – you don’t notice how far off the ground the doors on a 777 are until you have to walk up to them!) there was utter chaos as everyone tried to squeeze past each other to get to the end where their seats were. The cabin crew were trying valiantly to help, but basically all they could do was stand there and occasionally try to stop arguments (like the two elderly Greek men blocking the aisle while they passionately argued about who was allowed to stow their bags in which overhead locker.  Lytteltonwitch and I got the giggles over it, it was all just so stereotypically Mediterranean, and our laughing set off one of the cabin crew, who was trying to stay professional, but kept laughing at them too.  It actually seemed like the crew had all just resigned themselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to be a quick take-off, because they were all exchanging smiles and rolled eyes at the chaos around them.) But anyway, we’re finally in the air, so in another four hours or so we should be in Athens.

The sun was so bright (and the heat already quite intense) when we were out on the tarmac – I’d forgotten just how glaring the light can be in the desert.

Annoyingly, on the one leg of this trip we’re doing in daylight, I’ve got a seat over the wing so I can’t see anything of the ground below :-( I’m sure when I booked the tickets I picked a better seat location than this, but either they’ve changed the seating allocations (I can’t remember exactly which seat number I picked) or I just mis-read the seating diagram.  Oh well, it’s not the end of the world – I’ll miss seeing the Mediterranean from the air, but I can always watch it via the camera feed to my video screen (and anyway, it looks like we’re flying over cloud at the moment, so there’s probably not much to see right now even if I had the perfect seat).  I’ll just have to watch a movie instead.

11 pm, Athens!

We’ve managed to pack an incredible amount into one short (or long, given the time now!) evening. We arrived in Athens half an hour late, as expected, but got through immigration relatively quickly (helped by the fact there was no customs inspection – very weird to us New Zealanders, so used to having everything scrutinised by biosecurity). We managed to negotiate the Metro system to the correct stop (mainly by remembering the sequence of initial letters of the few stops before the one we wanted, because remembering the actual names was impossible! (quite literally all Greek to me…)), and followed the map I’d printed off to the AirBnB apartment we’re staying in. Things got complicated for a bit at that point, because I discovered than the phone number I’d written down for Bronwyn (who’d done the booking for the AirBnB) was wrong (it turned out to be MeganH’s – I had scribbled them both on the same bit of paper in Auckland, so when I copied Bronwyn’s into my notebook I must have somehow swapped them over).  So we couldn’t call her to let her know we were waiting outside.

One of the building’s other occupants spotted us standing on the doorstep in the hot sun and let us in to the shade of the lobby, but as we didn’t know the apartment number, that wasn’t much progress. Luckily though, Lytteltonwitch discovered she still had one of Bronwyn’s emails in her phone’s memory, and it had her number in the signature, so we were finally able to call her and get in.

After much needed showers and cold drinks, I accompanied Robyn, the fourth occupant of our apartment, to pick up a few snacks from a nearby supermarket (it’s such fun looking round supermarkets in other countries – so many weird and wonderful products).  When we got back, MeganH and Leith arrived (they are staying just a few blocks away), and local bookcrosser Panost.

I’m almost falling asleep as I write here, so I’ll finish this in the morning.

Thursday 21 April, 9.30 am, sitting in an outdoor cafe under the Acropolis

The Acropolis is amazing and totally dominates the city. Every corner you turn you see another view of it. Our first glimpse was as we walked out of the Metro station yesterday on our way to the apartment from the airport. I was looking around trying to orientate myself to the map, and suddenly there it was, looming over us on its huge rock. I many have squealed a little bit in excitement…

To continue yesterday’s story:

Panost took us out for a walk. I was struggling to keep up with the group because so often I wanted to stop and take photos – everything is so picturesque. Even the back alleys are gorgeous!

And serious antiquities scattered all over the place (including a couple of churches that seemed like they were sunken into the ground. Panost explained that actually it was just that the surrounding roads have been built up over the centuries, so that now the street level is about a metre higher than it was when the churches were built. That sort of time period is impossible to get your head round!)

He took us to a hotel with a roof garden with an amazing view over the Acropolis, so we stayed there for a couple of hours watching the sunset and taking a million photos.

Leith, MeganH, Lytteltonwitch, Robyn, Panost and Bronwyn.

A little church hidden among the buildings below the balcony where we were sitting. There’d been absolutely no sign of it from the street outside.

The pigeons are different in Athens! (though they do have the ordinary variety as well)

Not a pigeon :-) It came in the fancy drink someone (can’t remember who now) ordered.

The Acropolis reflected in the windows of the bar

(Are you bored with photos of the Acropolis yet?)

Reporting in

Having an amazing time in Athens too much food,not enough sleep, walking our feet off,and almost filled a memory card of photos already. such a gorgeous place (despite pickpockets and the fact that everyone smokes everywhere all the time).

I’m discovering the value of a mathematical education for trying to decipher street signs, and I’ve learnt to say hello and thank you , (though my pronunciation is awful). Everyone speaks some English, which makes communication easier, but I’m trying to be polite enough to at least attempt a few words of Greek.

I’m writing this on my tablet, which is difficult, so This will have to do for now.. Just wanted to let you all know I’m alive and having a wonderful time.