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?)

Home

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.

Stick some gears on it (warning, many many photos)

Lytteltonwitch and I spent the weekend in Oamaru, where they were holding their annual Steampunk Festival.  We didn’t dress up ourselves, but we did go to a few of the events. I think what was most fun though was just seeing all the costumed people wandering around the streets.

I wasn’t brave enough to actually ask people to pose for a photo very often – most of the photos I just took without asking (not that anyone seemed to mind when the did notice I was taking a photo – I think walking around in costume pretty much comes with the assumption that people will take your photo).  I should have asked more often, though, because those photos are definitely the ones that came out best.  Although some of the unposed ones did make for fun juxtapositions.

There was a Steampunk Market on the Saturday, with some amazing costumes on both customers and stall-holders:

Also on Saturday we went to a talk about the science of Scott’s Antarctic expedition (the speaker arguing that the expedition was far from the incompetent “boy’s own adventure” it has been portrayed as in the popular media, but rather was a serious scientific expedition, with many of the “bad” decisions Scott made being explained by the fact that he was more concerned with collecting good data than with his own or his team’s safety.

Then later in the afternoon was a dramatised reading of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, performed by a group from Wellington, accompanied by much audience participation in the form of flag-waving and shouts of “Huzzah!” at appropriate moments.  The performers led us on a walk around Oamaru, stopping at various points to perform another Fit of the poem.

The cast:

Most of the audience were just as decorative as the performers:


“Huzzah!”


Lytteltonwitch was trusted with the holding of the Jubjub bird staff.  So of course she immediately started trying to peck people with it…

On Sunday we saw even more elaborate costumes at the fashion show.  The contestants were judged not only on their costumes, but also on the backstories they’d come up with for their characters.  Some of them were very clever (and a couple were just incomprehensible…).  There was an audience choice section, and it was very difficult to choose who to vote for, because there were so many amazing costumes and stories.

I didn’t get many photos at the show, because we were sitting a few rows back, so I had the choice of either getting lots of audience heads in my photos, or standing up and annoying the people behind me.  So I didn’t take any photos during the competition itself, but did manage to grab a few during the photo shoot session they had while waiting for the judges to return.

This woman’s costume was amazing (she was Absinthe, The Green Fairy), but obviously it was also amazingly heavy, because she had so much trouble walking in it that she needed the help of her kilted companion (who I gathered was her partner, who didn’t normally participate in steampunk events, but had dressed up so he could accompany her on stage) to stop from falling over as she walked the catwalk, and her smile had more than a hint of grimace of pain to it.

[Edit: I’ve been informed that I was mistaken in my assumption that the Green Fairy was suffering under the weight of her wings.  In fact, her wings are very lightweight, but due to an accident she has difficulty walking and climbing stairs, and having spent most of the day on her feet while rehearsing for the show, was in a lot of pain, hence the need for her companion to assist her.  Makes her achievement in participating in the show all the more impressive!]

Another view of those massive wings.

Although the MC tried to coordinate the photoshoot, asking the contestants to all face to one side of the runway or the other, he had limited success, because they all kept turning the wrong way to wave to friends in the audience. Because of where I was sitting, I couldn’t get everyone in frame anyway (and never did manage to get a photo of the people at the far end of the runway), so this is the closest I got to a group shot of all the costumes.

The woman with the multi-coloured parasol and her green-suited partner (who featured earlier in the Hunting of the Snark cast) were who I ended up voting for, mainly because their story was very clever (it involved a safari to hunt tea-krakkens).

Oamaru is definitely embracing its new steampunk identity, with a lot of businesses cashing in on the trend (with varying degrees of successs – probably because it’s pretty obvious which ones are only doing it to try and attract tourist dollars).  This sculpture outside a car dealership was pretty cool, though:

And of course, in the midst of the Victorian quarter is Steampunk HQ itself, a very strange place that’s a cross between a junkyard and an art installation, and definitely an entertaining place to explore.

There’s a steampunk-themed playground, too, with elaborately-carved old trees decorating its boundary:

It wasn’t all steampunk though.  We did take an early-morning walk around the waterfront (and later, rode the old train back round the same route – I think the train’s supposed to be for kids, but we still had fun :-) )

We also visited an art gallery, which (among other things) had a WW1 commemoration that was very well done.  If you’ve been to Oamaru, you might have noticed the avenue of trees going up the hill, each of which was planted in memory of a local man killed in the war, and each of which bears a brass plaque with his name.  Over the years, many of the trees have had to be cut down for various reasons (mostly because they were dying), so the plaques were preserved.  The exhibition displayed all of the removed plaques, turning them into temporary artworks.  (Only one sneaky photo, because I wasn’t sure if photography was allowed inside the gallery).

And on Sunday morning we took an early-morning walk through the botanic gardens, which were shivering under a very heavy frost (there was even a decent layer of ice on one of the ponds):