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?)


Got home this afternoon after 30-odd hours spent on planes and in airports.  I’m incredibly tired, but attempting to stay awake at least until dark, to ward off the worst of the jet lag.

Italy was amazing (as was Greece, but I think I already posted to say that :-) ) and we had so many adventures!  I’ve taken a million photos (I had to buy a new memory card because I filled up the two I had with me), and written a long and detailed travel journal, which I will attempt to transcribe over the next few days (because we all know if I don’t do it straight away it will never happen) and post here.

Or maybe I could just spend the next couple of days sleeping…

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.

Final countdown

Do do do do, do do do-do dooo… sorry, accidentally segued into bad 80s music there.  But I’m all packed, the house is tidy, I’ve left a note for my house-sitter, and in an hour or so Lytteltonwitch will turn up and we’ll be off to the airport.  And about 35 hours and 5 airports later, we’ll be in Greece!

I could definitely do with a holiday, because this week has been even more chaotic than usual.  Work was super busy, of course, trying to get everything completed and/or handed over to colleagues before I disappear for a month.  Plus I had to try and write sufficient notes for myself on the data coding I’m in the middle of for my thesis, so that when I get back I’ll remember what exactly I was doing and will be able to pick up where I left off.

And then, just to add to the long list of “things I must get sorted out before I go”, I developed a minor toothache on Monday, which by Wednesday had developed into a “no, you can’t just ignore it until you get home” sort of pain, which meant I had to get an emergency appointment with a dentist.  Where, after x-ray, it turned out I had an abscess, and was given the option of either a very expensive root canal that the dentist warned might not last more than a year because of previous work done on that tooth, or an only mildly expensive extraction.  So I opted for the extraction.  Which of course means I’ve had to fit salt-water mouthwashes into my schedule multiple times a day to try and get it reasonably healed before I leave (which doesn’t seem that bad, except that the kitchen and bathroom are on different floors in our building, so for the rest of the week I spent a large proportion of my work days going to the kitchen to make up a cup of salt water, then taking it downstairs to the bathroom to rinse out my mouth, then back up to the kitchen to clean out the cup… and repeat every couple of hours).  The good news is that it seems to be healing well – I can’t quite eat on that side of my mouth yet, and my jaw still feels a little bruised, but there’s no real pain now, so I should be fine to fly without needing to resort to my emergency stash of painkillers.

I finished work on Friday, but didn’t exactly spend the weekend relaxing.  Ages ago I’d arranged for Dad to bring the boys up for the weekend, because there were some jobs that needed done around my property that I couldn’t handle on my own (most important being chopping a large branch off a tree in the back yard, which had grown too close to the chimney and become a fire hazard, and the branch was big enough that it would need multiple people hanging off ropes to stop it damaging the roof when it was cut down), and this weekend turned out to be the best option because the boys would be on school holidays, and I wouldn’t be studying (I’m officially suspended from the Masters programme for the next month).  So they arrived on Friday night, with the surprise addition of Niece (who I think had been a bit upset to hear her brothers were coming to visit and she wasn’t, so Dad let her come along too – which led to some very complicated sleeping arrangements trying to fit four extra people into the house – luckily Niece is still small enough that she could sleep on the recliner armchair, but the boys are pretty much adult sized now, so the days of making up beds on couches are numbered…)

It was great having them here, and they worked incredibly hard (even Niece helped out occasionally with little jobs, but mostly I let her just play on my computer to keep her safely out of the way).  We got the offending branch removed, cut back or removed entirely a whole load of other trees and bushes, painted the window trims (rather badly – I let the boys do the first coat, which was a mistake, because I think more paint ended up on the surrounding bricks than the woodwork… they’re great kids, but no practical skills* at all!), cleared the gutters, and seriously cut down my long “when I’ve got some of this mythical spare time” to-do list. I wish I’d thought to take before and after pictures, because the transformation of my jungle of a back yard is incredible.

*Or common sense: Nephew #1 was loading up the trailer with green waste to take to the dump, and left the rake lying in the bottom of the trailer.  So when they got to the dump and needed the rake to pull everything out of the trailer, it had half a tonne of branches on top of it…

As well as being good to get all that work done, I really enjoyed getting stuck in to some physical work myself – after so many months spending virtually all my time sitting at a computer or behind a textbook, it felt almost restful to just be using my body instead of my mind.  And because I’d have felt too guilty letting Dad and the boys work on my garden without helping them, there was no temptation to head into the university and try and squeeze in just a few hours more work before I leave.  Given how good I felt after it all (well, apart from a couple of aching muscles today), I think I should schedule a couple of similar visits over the next year or so, to ensure I get a break from studying occasionally.

They left at lunchtime yesterday, and the rest of the day was spent frantically cleaning (it’s amazing how much mess three children can generate in just a couple of days!) to get the house into an acceptable state for the house sitter, then the evening was spent packing (not quite as last minute as it sounds – I had everything I wanted to take organised, so it was just a matter of throwing it into the suitcase), so this is really the first chance I’ve had to sit down and relax.

But everything is done now, and very soon we’ll be on our way.  I’ll try and post occasionally if I get wi-fi access, but you’ll have to wait until I get home for the full trip report (assuming I don’t do what I so often do and never get round to actually writing it up…). And lots of pretty pictures of course!

Two Happy Things

  1. I had to go into town for a meeting on Thursday (it still amazes me that I have the sort of job now where I get to have meetings – and not the sort where I’m only there to take minutes!), and on the way back to work I passed a sign for Scorpios‘ newly reopened shop.  I didn’t have time for more than a quick look around, but it was so exciting to see them back in a proper shop (while the cramped container in ReStart and the Riccarton satellite branch are great, they’re just not the same).  Brought back so many memories of the days (pre-Amazon) when I used to come over from Westport for the weekend and stock up on as many books as my budget would allow, just so I could survive a little bit longer in the cultural wasteland.  Of course I had to buy something, and Margaret Atwood’s new book (well, newish – it actually came out last year, but this is why I need Scorpios, so I notice things like new Atwood novels when they actually happen!) leapt off the shelf at me.  I was smiling all the way back to work – there’s something just so comforting about a new book in a Scorpios bag :-)

  2. It’s April, which means I’m going to Athens this month!!!  In just over two weeks, in fact!  I went down to the bank in my lunch-hour yesterday and got some Euros, which is the last major bit of preparation I needed to do (other than the last-minute stuff like packing).  There’s something about getting foreign currency that makes a trip seem so much more real (especially in these days of e-ticketing – a printed-off email never seems as real as a proper ticket).  Lytteltonwitch and I have been talking about this trip for so long (two years in fact, since Athens’s bid for the 2016 convention was announced) that it’s felt like a far-off thing even while I’ve been buying tickets and booking accommodation.  But now it’s suddenly very immediate and real.  There may have been a small degree of happy dance occurring while I took the above photo…

Bringing balance to the weekend

Yay for five-day weekends! (Tuesday is a university holiday, on top of the usual Easter public holidays).  I’ll admit my first instinct was to treat the long weekend as three extra days I could spend in my office coding my data (a long and laborious process – I’ve got tens of thousands of instances of “of” or “-‘s” in my data, and I’ve got to manually go through each of them and decide whether it represents a possessive or not (not as easy a decision as you might think: “the roof of the house” definitely is, but what about “the middle of eating lunch”, “that kind of thing” or “lots of rubble”? (spoiler: they’re all technically possessives.  But “all of a sudden”, “sort of screamed”, and “full of water” aren’t.)), and then I have to classify the ones that are possessive according to a long list of criteria that seemed sensible when I designed my methodology but now I’m faced with actual data seems overwhelmingly huge.  Plus, people don’t speak properly!  I wish I had nice data like “the roof of the house”.  What I actually get is something like “and then um the the the r~ the top ah you know the roof f~ the roof of of the um the h~ the house you know sort of fell”, and I’ve got to somehow figure out which bit of that is the possessive.  When you’re reading the nice examples in textbooks, they never mention that nobody actually talks like that! (sorry, my quick aside seems to have turned into a rant about data.  So, back to what I was trying to say…)).  However (as may be evidenced by the preceding brackets), I realised it’s probably about time I had something resembling a break, so I compromised on doing *some* study but not an excessive amount, and spread out over the whole long weekend (rather than my usual system of spending one whole day of my weekend studying).  Trying to find a balance between actually enjoying the weekend (not that I don’t enjoy studying, but it is tiring) and not feeling guilty about wasting this opportunity to get all this extra study done.

Anyway, it seems to be working ok so far.  On Friday I did the housework, then went into my office for a couple of hours, then met Lytteltonwitch in town so we could have dinner at the food trucks in the Square, because it was their last Friday night before shutting down for the winter.  We tried also to go and see Ornot’s new play, but the booking office was closed when we first tried, and then when we went back later they’d just sold out.  Oh well, should have been more organised and booked online…

On Saturday I walked over to a cafe for breakfast, did a couple more hours work, then came home and baked some biscuits.  Half the biscuits I took round to the Gwilks’ that night for the games evening they were hosting.  They wanted to introduce various parts of their friends groups who didn’t intersect to each other, so I didn’t know any of the other people there, but games are a good way to get to know new people without all the awkward “so… what do you do…” small talk, so it was a really fun evening.  Made even more fun by their cat deciding to bring a small rat inside in the middle of proceedings.  The rat of course managed to escape the cat’s clutches, run up the curtains and leap from curtain-rail to shelf around the room, causing much chaos as everyone tried to alternatively catch it or just get as far away from it as possible.

After the late night on Saturday, I decided to take yesterday off entirely.  So I spent the morning sewing.  I don’t think I’ve shown you pictures of my latest project (not that I really need a new project, because I’ve still got the Birds in Flight quilt to finish, but that’s at a stage that requires much thought and planning, and I wanted something that I could just work on a little bit at a time when I’ve got an hour or two spare).  I finished the last of the blocks for it yesterday, but I’ve still got to do all the sashing yet.

The background fabric is a much nicer shade of green than it seems in that photo, honestly, it’s just taken in bad light. It’s actually a really fresh spring green, that goes great (I think) with the bright colours I’m using.

Then in the afternoon I went over to Harvestbird’s with the other half of the biscuits, to eat cake, peaches, and easter eggs (the mini-Harvestbirds had had an easter egg hunt in the morning, resulting in a considerable haul, so adult Harvestbirds were working on the theory that it’s better to get as much of the chocolate consumption over with as quickly as possible, and suffer one day of hyperactive children rather than drag it out for weeks), and sit in the sun (well, in theory, anyway. The mini-Harvestbirds were very excited to have me visit, so I spent a lot of my visit playing with them (hmm, maybe that’s why they’re always so excited to have me visit…) – so I had to push them (and their imaginary friends!) on the swing, take part in ballet practice, say hello to a pink diamond with a face (called “Diamondy”, of course), and help build an elaborate lego ice palace for the diamond, to protect her from attacks by Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons (it all made sense at the time, possibly?). Harvestbird took a photo of the ice palace (Flickr won’t let me embed it for some reason – possibly because you’ve licenced it copyright, Harvestbird?).

The plan for today and tomorrow is similar.  Once I’ve finished writing this I’ll head into my office for a few hours again, then maybe have a late lunch somewhere nice, and tomorrow I might take advantage of having a day off when everyone else is back at work to go into Riccarton.  Maybe I’ll even do something drastic like see a movie!

While I’m posting photos, here’s my shiny new suitcase.  For most trips to conventions when I’m just going for a few days and am carrying more books than clothes, I normally take my yellow bookcrossing bag, but it’s not really big enough for longer trips. And my battered old suitcase that I’ve had since I was 19 is really on its last legs – the wheels fell off years ago, and I don’t think it can survive another long-haul.  So I bought myself a new suitcase the other day.  But it was a bit boring, and looked like every other suitcase in the world.  And the advantage of my yellow bookcrossing bag, and even more so of my old suitcase (which I’d extensively decorated with that puffy foam paint that everyone decorated their clothes with back in the 80s), was that they stand out really well on baggage carousels.  Who needs to tie an identifying piece of ribbon to your bag when your entire bag is decorated? :-)

So the solution was obvious.  Buy a packet of sticky foam shapes, and make my new suitcase a bit more interesting:

Ok, so half of them will probably fall off before I get home, but in the meantime it’ll be distinctive :-)

And finally, a photo of Parsnips with her bald patch:

And Parsnips mid-yowl, complaining that I’m wasting time taking her photo when I could be scratching her under the chin, which in her opinion is one of the only two reasons humans have hands (the other, of course, being to open the fridge door).

So much news

And the DD site has been down for days, so I couldn’t post anything. And of course I wasn’t so sensible as to just write my entries up in Notepad and copy and paste them in, so I’m sure I’ll forget some of the really cool and important stuff I was going to tell you about. And I don’t really have time to write very much anyway, so this will just have to be a quick summary of the most memorable important stuff, in no particular order:

  1. I have a thesis topic! For a while there this was not the case, when it looked like my proto-topic was going to be completely unviable, but one of my lovely supervisors (in related news, I have supervisors!) came to the rescue and pointed out how my ailing proto-topic could in fact be resurrected into an actual topic. So all I have to do now is expand my topic into a proper proposal, and submit it for approval before the end of the month. And then the real hard work starts…
  2. I have a woodburner! Of course, I can’t actually use it yet, because the building inspector hasn’t been round to sign off on it (hopefully that should happen later this week), but at least it’s been installed. It’s not as pretty as my old one (I miss my nice purple tiles), but it will keep the house warm in winter, and that’s the important thing.
  3. I have tickets! Many many tickets, and bookings, and other important documents. Lytteltonwitch came round the other night, and (after being distracted by the lure of games at the Gwilks’) we spent several constructive hours planning our trip to Greece and Italy, and booking all the things. So we are now confirmed for 6 nights in Athens, 6 nights in Venice, and 7 nights in Rome, and various planes and trains to get between them. So my credit card is cowering in terror, but it’ll be worth it. Athens Convention, here we come!  (Hmm, better learn some Greek, I suppose (and some Italian, but I know enough Spanish that I can at least puzzle out some Italian words. Greek, on the other hand, is quite literally all Greek to me.))

Welcome back DD, and please don’t die again!

Gin, alpacas and flying lessons – so how was your Christmas?

I’m down in Alexandra for a few days visiting Mum, but we decided to postpone Christmas celebrations until Brother and family get back from SIL’s parents in Middlemarch.  So today was pretty much an ordinary day.  Except that we decided to go over to Lauder to visit my uncle, which rapidly turned it into a very un-ordinary day.

Lauder is a very small town (if you can call a couple of houses and a pub a town) a very long way from anywhere, and if you go even further into the middle of nowhere from there, you get to where Uncle lives in a tiny stone cottage in the middle of farmland at the end of a long dirt road.  It’s a very isolated but beautiful and peaceful spot, and suits him perfectly – living in a town would be way too conventional for him.

First order of business when we got out there was to admire his still, where he’s been distilling gin (it’s ok, distilling spirits is legal in NZ, as long as you don’t sell the product).  It’s a really interesting process – the still actually produces almost pure alcohol (90%!!!), which gets filtered and “polished”, then watered back down with distilled water until it’s at an alcohol level that won’t actually kill you, then finally flavours are added to turn it into gin.  The crazy thing is he isn’t actually much of a drinker himself, he just enjoys the science of distilling.  So most of his end product is given away to friends and family.  He experiments with other types of spirits as well (we tasted the frangelico and the cherry brandy, but I’m not really a drinker either, so a very small sip of each was enough for me).

Then we went out into the garden to visit the menagerie.  Last time I was out there he had a flock of chickens to keep him company, which have since been joined by a duck (it was two ducks, but unfortunately a feral cat killed one recently) and two alpacas:

After the alpacas had been fed a few apples, Uncle asked me if I’d like to try flying one of his model planes.  I expected a little toy plane, but it turned out to have a 2m wingspan!  We walked up the hill above his cottage, where he’d mown a landing strip in the neighbouring farm’s paddock, and after a *very* brief lesson on how the controls work, he sent the plane up to a reasonable altitude, then handed control over to me.  Not quite as dangerous as it sounds, because he had two remote control box things (technical term), which were connected by wireless so he could instantly turn off my controller and take over on his if anything went wrong.  Which it did many many times – it was a lot harder than it looked, so most of my attempts ended up with the plane either in a stall or nosediving towards the ground.  But eventually I did manage to achieve a few seconds of reasonably level flight, which I was quite proud of :-)

I decided to leave the flying to the expert though, and swapped the controller for my camera to attempt to take photos as it flew overhead:

Not such a great photo of the plane, but I included this one because you can kind of see Uncle’s cottage, nestled down among those trees at the bottom of the hill (and just because it shows off the gorgeous landscape around his place):

I did get to spend a bit of time with Niece and Nephew #2 yesterday, before they left for Middlemarch (Nephew #1 was already down there, working on the farm).  They came up to Queenstown with Dad to meet me off the plane, so we got some icecreams, then stopped off in Cromwell to play on the flying fox at the playground.

Nephew even convinced me to have a go on the flying fox – I’m afraid my attempt wasn’t quite as elegant as Niece’s, but it did provide much entertainment, especially at the sight of me trying to figure out how to get off it again once I got to the bottom!

When we got to Alexandra, Niece and Nephew came with me to Mum’s place while they waited for Brother and SIL to finish packing. For some reason, we ended up playing a game of charades, which was quite challenging given that, being only 6, Niece’s reading and watching tastes don’t exactly overlap with Mum’s or mine, so thinking up clues that she’d recognise was pretty difficult (plus she was working entirely under her own set of rules…).  But we had a lot of fun anyway, and it kept the kids well entertained until it was time to go :-)

So that was my Christmas Eve and Christmas – not exactly the traditional way to spend it, but definitely not boring!  Hope you’re all having/had an equally entertaining and enjoyable day.