The coldest winter in 20 years

Oh Vienna. Minus -23 degrees with wind chill.  Because of course, when we choose to go to Europe, it must be the coldest winter in 20 years. This same winter, houses in Russia were collapsing under snow. Trains and flights were canceled. It was FREEZING.

The first thing we noticed when we got to our hotel in Vienna, was that it was closed. Yes, closed. Luckily there was a sign on the door with our names on it, so we went in and up the stairs.

The lady informed us that the heat was broken and that they had closed the hotel. But we were getting upgraded to one of their self-contained (and more importantly, heated) apartments. Luckily it was just around the corner, because with the snow and the freezing conditions, we weren’t feeling motivated to walk too far with our luggage.

It was a great apartment. There were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchenette. We didn’t stay too long though, because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. We braved the weather and ran across to a cafe that was across the street. We sat down, opened the menu…and discovered it was in German.

This presented a slight problem, because none of us actually spoke German. On the plus side, there were some pictures and the lady taking our order seemed to understand our pointing and interpretive sign language. We all ordered sandwiches, which apparently came with a side of chips.

We all assumed this meant hot chips, so when the food came out with potato chips next to the sandwiches, we were highly amused. But it was all delicious, so we finished it off and went back to the apartment. A and C wanted to go to the Natural History Museum, but I thought I better wait for mum to arrive at the hotel. I didn’t want her to freak out when she saw it was closed.

The lady at the hotel was nice enough to let me wait in one of the hotel rooms and watch TV. The minute I heard the door to the hotel open and heard the lady say my mum’s name, I was out the door and in her arms like a shot. I have never been so happy to see a person in my life.

I don’t remember much about what we did that afternoon, but that evening was funny. Mum and I went to get kebabs from a kebab shop we had seen. Naturally everything was in German again. Mum remembered a tiny bit of German from school, and I recognised a few words from watching “Inspector Rex” on TV (seriously, who says TV ISN’T educational), but we found there was a guy propped up on the counter who spoke a bit of English.

Anyway, when we had ordered and got our kebabs, the man then said he would be happy to drive me and my mum back to his apartment for dinner. We politely declined.

An interesting note on most of the European hotels we stayed at. The beds have no top sheet. The pillow is extremely thin, and the towels are like dish towels. Very odd.

Tomorrow, Schonbrunn Palace, the Sound of Music Tour, and almost falling through ice.

Vienna

Europe Trip Part 4 – Mummies, Wax people and snow

It had always been a dream of mine to go to the British Museum and I’m sure that even if you had several weeks you could never see everything that’s in there!

We went to see the Rosetta stone and some of the beautiful Greek marble and of course the mummies. My friend C and I did classes in Ancient Egypt at uni, and it was cool to see all the things up close.

Rosetta Stone

They also had, and I’m not kidding, a completely reconstructed Greek temple:

Greek Temple

We also went to Madame Tussaud’s which was both a cool and freaky experience. On the cool side, you have all kinds of celebrities just standing there, but their eyes are really creepy.

We took lots of pictures, with both celebrities like George Clooney and Brangelina (this was before Shiloh was born and they made that weird creepy wax thing) and also historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. There is also a picture of me and A pretending to murder Hitler. Good times.

From London, we flew to Vienna, Austria. Now, let me tell you something about the Austrian airport. We arrived on a Saturday. The plane is parked out on the tarmac, you have to climb out of the plane and go down those steep plane stairs. And when that door opens up you REALLY feel that -23 wind chill. Then a bus pulls up, and everyone gets on with their cabin luggage, and the bus takes you to the door to the terminal. I might add, my mother, who flew in on the Sunday, had to WALK to the terminal. No bus. In -23 wind chill. Just saying.

Then when you go in, this place is DESERTED. It’s like walking into an abandoned ghost house or something. In fact, the only way you know there is people there is that the luggage starts coming out on a carousel.

Tomorrow – what happened when we went to our hotel, and our stay in Vienna.

Europe Trip Part 3 – Bath, Stonehenge, and Umbrellas

Another lesson learned from traveling in Europe. Take an umbrella.

The day we were to have a trip to Bath and Stonehenge, it was drizzling in London. Only drizzling, so I put my hood up on my waterproof jacket and we took the tube to the right station.

Taking the tube was an interesting experience. My friends have taken transport like it in Asia, but I had never been on something that like that before. Why couldn’t we have that in Australia? In my city it would make life so much easier!

We got off at the right station, and the wind started. My friend C had her umbrella turned inside out. The rain stopped for awhile so I took my jacket off, because it was really too hot to wear it.

We got lost trying to find the bus stop, and as was Murphy’s Law, it started to POUR. By the time we found the bus we were soaked, and when we got on the bus, we discovered they had the air conditioner on. The joys of London weather?

The bus trip was really nice. I sat next to my friend C, and my friend A actually had a free chair next to her. Clearly because most sane people don’t travel to Europe in the winter!

We travelled through some beautiful country and saw some of the chalk on the hillsides that make lovely pictures. The tour guide was really nice and helpful, and clearly very knowledgeable because she told us all about where we were going and what we were seeing.

When you get to Stonehenge, the tour bus actually parks across the road from it, and the visitor’s centre is next to the carpark. You go in and you actually go through a  tunnel that goes under the road, to reach Stonehenge.

I cannot begin to explain how windy it was. The wind was literally pushing us along the paths. We were all rugged up like Michelin men, but you could still feel the wind through our jackets, long-sleeved shirts, jeans, one layer of thermal underwear and our normal underwear.

But it’s all worth it, because the site itself is beautiful. They have it all roped off so you can’t touch the stones, which I understand, because people graffiti them (Really? How can you graffiti a piece of cultural history?) and litter and generally make a mess.

Actually being there, standing next to this piece of history, was completely and utterly awe-inspiring. Despite the wind and the fact we’d all been drenched earlier in the day, and despite the fact I was still anxious and missed my family terribly – I was in awe of standing next to Stonehenge. And I knew this was only the beginning of the historical and cultural monuments I would be seeing on the trip.

Stonehenge

After we left Stonehenge we went to Salisbury Cathedral, where we were also having lunch in a pub across the street.  Hello British pub lunch of bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potato) how much I love you. I finished every last bit of mine. A and C had salmon and vegetables, but I was like dude, I’m in England – I’m having bangers and mash just like my grandfather.

It was delicious. We then walked over to Salisbury Cathedral, which was beautiful. They also have the original Magna Carta (link) in preservation there. We had another very knowledgable guide for the cathedral, who took us through all the rooms and showed us all the beauty of the cathedral.

We then moved on to Bath. I would have loved if the trip had included a visit to the Jane Austen museum, but alas, we were only going to the Roman Baths. Next overseas trip I will have to go to the Jane Austen museum.

Well, after I visit E first, because if I don’t make a stopover to meet her, she’ll kill me.

Moving on.

Bath was beautiful. One thing I loved about Europe was all the cobbled streets and the many towns that did not allow traffic and/or large trucks into the main area. My city is full of bitumen roads and concrete paths, and it was beautiful to see the lovely streets and little alleyways and everything with the most beautiful streets. It was a pleasure to walk in Europe (well, except for the snow and ice, but we’ll discuss that later).

The Roman Baths were gorgeous. A lot of it has been preserved, and you were able to walk through and see the springs and pools. They told us not to touch or get into the water (which was a pity because there was steam and it was like WARMTH), but the colour was a beautiful blue. There were lots of archaeological finds displayed in cases as well, and I really enjoyed all the curses and that on the walls, that people had written for someone who had immensely annoyed them.

The Roman Baths

As we were heading out to the bus, A and C spotted a Disney store. Granted, we are all Disney fanatics, but I didn’t think we had time to look into the store. But I went to the bus and they dashed in, and I sat in the bus thinking “please hurry and don’t miss the bus”.

Luckily they didn’t and they bought a couple of Disney things they loved and we were on our way back to London.

Tomorrow, The British Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and flying to Vienna.

Europe Trip Part 2

So, we’ve arrived in Europe. I telephone my parents from the airport to tell them that we’d landed okay and we’re alive. Mum asked me how the flight was. I said fine, although I’m pretty sure she saw right through that.

We decide to take a cab to the hotel because the bags weigh a ton – strangely winter clothes weigh a whole lot more than summer ones. We went outside, and I gotta say, it was not as cold as I expected it. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, and I didn’t feel the need for my jacket.

Anyway, we found one of those black cabs, and can I just say, there ain’t a whole lotta room in them! Not like Aussie cabs. We had three girls plus three suitcases and assorted bags in the back seat, and it was CRAMPED.

Now, I’m gonna go right ahead and name our hotel, because there are really no words for it. It was called The Beaver (perhaps this should have alerted me) in Earl’s Court. The room we had stank of smoke, but luckily we didn’t mind having the window open because it had a huge heater inside and we probably would have suffocated otherwise.

During our stay, the bedside table next to my bed randomly fell off the wall, and a soap dish randomly fell off the shower. My friends were especially fascinated by the breakfast.

It was very nice food, but the size of the sausages amused my friends because they were almost smaller than their fingers. It got to the stage that even though I wasn’t going to eat it (more on that later), they made me order sausages and bacon anyway so they could eat them. They were so amused, they took a photo:

Beaver Hotel Breakfast

Anyhoo, when we arrived at the hotel, we all had jetlag. My two friends had traveled overseas before and experience this thing but oh my god, I was in for a shock. I had never felt so tired in all my life.

We thought we’d have a “little nap” and we didn’t surface until that evening. LOL.

I was still feeling nauseous and a bit wary of food after my flight experience, so I didn’t eat anything that night. Actually, I didn’t eat anything, or leave the hotel room for almost three days. When my parents found out, that said I had to go to a doctor. Our friendly people in the Beaver hotel suggested I walk around the corner, which involved me walking into the wrong place and being flashed by an elderly man, and when I did find the doctor, he didn’t see new patients.

The travel insurance company was fantastic though, and directed me to a nice doctor at a train station. It surprised me because it was not a train station like any other train station – it was like a shopping mall that happened to have trains run through the bottom of it.

So, I got treated, took the medication and drank the Lucozade and ate (I was ordered, lol) and it all went fine until the middle of that night.

I had a gigantic panic attack. I was so upset, sobbing and everything that my friend gave me her phone to call home and I said to mum “I want to come home.”

So after much talking, my mum – my hero – asked if I would keep going if she flew over and came with us on our trip providing my friends were happy with it. I said yes and my friends were fine.

Mum made me promise I would go on the day trip we had planned the next day – to Bath and Stonehenge – which I did and she was going to meet us in Vienna.

This amazing woman was given help by the passport office (hers was out of date), by the travel companies, who went to find her rooms everywhere we were staying, my family who helped her buy as much warm stuff as she could find and by my dad who said he’d look after our animals.

The trip was definitely looking up.

Tomorrow, Bath, Stonehenge and more 🙂

My trip to Europe Part 1

In 2006, my friends wanted me to go to Europe with them. We were going to go to London, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, Florence, Venice and Rome.

Because one of my friends was still at uni, she wanted to go in our summer holidays. For those wondering, yes, that means I let my friends talk me into going to Europe in the winter.

Remember, I had never been overseas before and never been in snow.

But let us continue. I let them deal with most of the bookings – my main stipulation was the hotel had to be at least 3 stars and have a private bathroom. They booked most of it through the student travel agency.

 

As you can imagine, leading up to takeoff, I was extremely nervous. My mother and my psychiatrist had discussed it, and although they didn’t know if I’d be able to do it, they were impressed with my resolve to press on.

Afterwards, mum and dad told me that when they saw us off on our plane to Sydney (at that time there was no direct flight from my city to London), they hadn’t been sure until the very last second that I was going to go. To be honest, neither was I!

But I did get on. And my two friends and I flew to Sydney.

Because of the frequent flyer points program at that time, I was actually on a different flight to London than my friends. This was probably not the best of situations, but it did help me learn that I am better on a plane when I’m not by myself.

I was stuck in a middle seat, which on a long-haul flight – also not the best idea. To my right sat a man who chewed tobacco the entire flight. They also served seafood lasagne (seriously, who eats seafood on a PLANE?)

Anyway, by now I was in full on panic mode. Although I don’t like British Airways planes, I will be forever grateful to that crew. I had been vomiting in the bathroom quite a bit and after a while the crew had me sit in the cabin with them, sipping ginger ale. I hadn’t slept the entire flight (we’d had one stopover in Singapore for 45 minutes, which freaked me out a little because I’d never seen army personnel patrolling an airport with semi-automatic weapons) and they could see I was freaked out.

So those lovely people upgraded me. They put me out of economy and into “World Class”, which was their version of Business class. I was in a seat with more room and on my own – there was no one in the seat next to me. You could watch TV and play video games. And I actually slept for awhile.

I arrived in England at 6am British time. My friends weren’t due till 8.

One thing I noticed about Heathrow airport that it is a mess. And there are NO rubbish bins. I was astounded at this piece of information. NO rubbish bins? What are you supposed to do with your rubbish?

Anyway, tomorrow I shall tell you about my experience in London and what happened that changed the trip forever.

Things that go Bump in the Night

I had originally started to write about my trip to Europe in 2006, but before I could finish it, we had a creepy incident.

It’s kinda late over here in Aus – past 9pm – and mum heard a knock on the door. I was watching a video on my computer, so I didn’t actually hear it. Dad was out dropping a friend of ours home.

I didn’t hear anything until I heard Rosie barking and mum’s voice saying “Who’s there?”

I gotta admit, I get a bit freaked out at night. I’m okay if I’m home, or if I’m with a group of people, but if I’m alone or something creepy like that happens, I get freaked.

But  my mum’s all fierce. She was no way in hell opening that door until whoever was on the other side identified themselves. We had a look out the windows but couldn’t see anything.

Later, after my dad came home, they went downstairs together and checked everything out, but couldn’t see any signs of anything.

Then mum came in and told me “Never be afraid. Nobody can get in, and even if they could, I’d beat them to a pulp and Rosie would eat the pulp.”

 

My mum is my hero.

On inaccuracies and public transport

Tomorrow I’ll be telling you all about my trip to Europe I did in 2006, but I thought today because of my public transport experience, I would share that first.

The city that I live in doesn’t have a fantastic public transport system like London or Paris. We have a pretty spread out city, and we use buses and trains. Or cars.

So I take the bus to uni. When I was 13, I tried taking the bus to school. But with the way these bus drivers drive, and the weight of my backpack, I ended up in a strange man’s lap even though I was trying to hold onto the rail.

Anyway, flash forward to now, and I take the bus to uni. So naturally, I rely on timetables.

I get to the bus stop at 9.25, perfectly in time for the 9.32 bus.

The 9.32 bus does not arrive.

At 9.35 a guy comes and sits next to me, also waiting for the bus.

During the course of the next half hour, we see 6 buses going in the opposite direction, and one bus coming in our direction saying “Sorry, not in service” on it’s display.

Finally, at 10am a bus turns up. It’s a bus I can take. The driver then proceeds to the city at 20km an hour – in the 60km and 40km zones.

With regards to buses not turning up, this has actually been a big problem in Australia. In 2003, a 13 year old boy named Daniel Morcombe was waiting for the bus under an overpass on the Sunshine Coast. He was going to buy Christmas presents at the shopping centre. The bus he was supposed to take broke down and never arrived. The replacement bus went straight past him because of the delay.

Daniel was never seen again. It is presumed he was abducted and murdered. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Morcombe

After what happened to him, a lot of other people came forward to tell stories of children being left behind with buses either driving straight past or not turning up.

Moving on.

This afternoon, my friend and I were taking a bus to go to a restaurant. There was a sign, up the front, I am not kidding, talking about how there was “no spitting” on the bus. Then the sign continued on to say that the drivers were now equipped with DNA kits.

So firstly I did my Angie Harmon impression of “Really?” Then I proceeded to wonder “Who spits on a bus?” I mean, who spits in public anyway, but on a bus? If the bus is moving you’re likely to end up wearing your own spit!

 

Anyway, before I go on a rant about the public transport crisis in my town, I thought I would share with you some thoughts from my marketing class today.

I have a confession to make. I regularly disagree with lecturers.

Back in my younger, naive days, when I was doing my first university degree, I had to take a required course of journalism. Now for someone like me, who has a background in literature and a penchant for noticing incorrect things/badly reported things in the news, this was never going to be a good fit.

Needless to say, when they gave me a grammar book for journalism (which apparently dumbs down the English language), I sort of started asking a lot of questions.

A lot of why is that so’s and that is incorrect and so on and so forth.

Anyway, from this I learned a valuable lesson. Give the lecturers what they want, and know your truths.

Today in marketing, our lecturer was talking about demographics. He was saying that in the future, it has been project it will be mostly singles/unmarried people with no children, or one child.

So my confusion with this? How does it take into account people who are not legally allowed to married? And what about people that are unable to have children, or can only have one? Does it include adoption?

He then proceeded to talk about wealth and used cereal as an example. The reason cereal was more expensive? Because people could afford to pay more.

My argument? Excuse me, have you watched the news? Most people CANNOT afford price rises.

 

Nevertheless, I kept my mouth shut and continued my mantra. Give the lecturers what they want and know your truths.

One of those days…

Have you ever had one of those days, when you know nothing is really wrong but the day is just “off”?

Well for me, today was one of those days.

I’ve been having some sinus problems for a few days and my nose was running when I got up and just wouldn’t stop. My ears were bothering me too.

We do our grocery shopping on Thursday, and I had about 320 in small change that I had been saving up, that I wanted to put in my account today. So I got out some little bags and divided the money into denominations and added up how much was in each bag so I could tell the teller. It had been a long time since I had changed coins and last time they took my bags and weighed them, which told them how much money was in each bag – except apparently 5 cent pieces.

So we got ready to go and I put all the bags of coins in another bag which weight a ton and off we went.

We get to the shopping centre and I can hear babies screaming and people talking and I knew that noise was going to be a problem for me today. So I got my iPod out and had that in, but I always take it out when going to a register so I can talk to the people. I always ask the cashier how their day has been and when I leave I tell them to have a good day too.

When I get to the bank, I take a number and take out my earbuds and sit down. When my number is called, I go up to the cashier, who I’ve met before, and said I have some coins I’ve saved up and want to put them in my account.

And at first, she’s all happy and that’s fine and no problem.

Then I get the bags out and she does not look happy. She said “You haven’t sorted them.”

I didn’t say anything, since I thought it was rather clear that all the different denominations were in different bags.

And then I got the lecture of how they were not in the special bank bags, with only certain amounts in each bag.

This was certainly news to me and I pointed out the last time I did this they just weighed the coins.

She then informed me that “We still have to sort them after you’re gone!”

By then I’m on the verge of crying, but I pushed it down and patiently waited for her to sort the coins into the little bags and I promised I’d do it the next time.

I suppose everyone has bad days – I know I do. But for some reason it go to me. Maybe because I like to be prepared and in this case I wasn’t.

Alas I am unable to research or be prepared for everything and I guess that is one of my hurdles that I have to learn to overcome/accept.

 

In today’s good news, I found out how to use AirVideo on my iPad and access videos from my home computer wherever I am. I approve.

Music

I thought I’d talk about music today. It’s a very important part of my life. I started playing the drums when I was 15 and I played the piano since I was 9. I don’t usually read music – once I listen to a song, I can usually play it. I regularly shocked my drum teacher that way – by bringing in pieces I’d taught myself to play when I hadn’t learnt to play in that particular time yet.

I’ve been to three concerts. I went to The Corrs when I was 17 (it was Caroline Corr who inspired me to play the drums), Bette Midler (we actually got moved up to a better seat because I had a sprained ankle) and Pat Benatar/The Bangles

When I go out, I always take my iPod with me. With the music and the videos, it is a way for me to shut the crowds and noise out and just relax instead of having an anxiety attack.

I always have interesting memories associated with music. Everytime I hear the song “Hero” by Mariah Carey, my brain automatically runs through the scenes of E’s music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZj4X-CueYQ

Whenever I want to grin, I watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP24tkMYEEA

Or this: http://www.fanpop.com/external/14255270

And this makes me giggle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWVyYKMAd88

I just love music. I’ve got all different types on my iPod – pop, rock, classical, retro, musicals etc.

I’m also enjoying Glee because I like the new takes on the old songs.

I also LOVE hearing what other people love to listen to. Let me know in the comments – I’ll try anything once!

The University Dilemma…And Feet

I had one of my university classes today, so I thought I’d share with you my uni life. I am in the first semester of the first year of a Business degree, and the first two core subjects I have to do are Marketing and Data Analysis.

The normal full-time student load is 4 subjects, but I am doing the part-time load of 2 subjects, just because it makes life a lot less stressful for me.

I want very much in the future to run my own business that has smaller offshoot businesses, so my major is Marketing and my minor is Entrepreneurship (at this stage).

When attending university, it’s basically my whole family has to deal with it, so it was a family decision when I expressed my desire to go back to university.

I did an Arts degree when I left school, majoring in Writing and Literary Studies. When I left after four years, I didn’t feel I was really qualified to do anything.

I have tutored students before, but I don’t want to teach. The first reason is that I may never be able to cope with a normal 9-5 (or 9-3!) job. The second is that I prefer teaching students one on one – for two reasons. Firstly, I adjust my teaching to fit with the way the student learns, rather than teach them all the same way. The second is that I don’t have to conform to a special teaching schedule.

In respect to perhaps not being able to work a 9-5 job, I’d like to work part-time, work from home or a combination of both.

But back to uni.

I decided last year that a Business degree would probably help me where I wanted to go and make jobs more accessible for me. The government in Australia also offers very flexible working conditions for people like me, so it is another avenue I can pursue.

Starting back at university when I am 27 comes with its own set of challenges. Because I am not 18 and just out of high-school, I am considered a mature age student.

Mature Age Student. Really?

I knew that when I was 18, I was not like other 18 year-olds. I wasn’t obsessed with fashion, I didn’t care about cliques and I liked to read, write and learn. Now that I’m 27 and in first year classes with 17 and 18 year olds, I find the differences even more pronounced. The lecturers and tutors emphasise how much the students have to lift their game, to study, to turn up to classes etc. I sit there and watch them giggle through classes, or say to one another that they are not coming to the next class because it’s boring.

And I sit there and vary between “shut up so I can hear what he/she is saying” and “you’re an idiot”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against having a good time. I love to go out to a meal with my friends, or watch movies or window shop with them. I’m not someone who likes to go to bars, pubs, nightclubs (nightclubs give me a headache) and I’m not into drinking enough that I get a hangover the next morning.

I do the uni homework and the uni readings. I turn up to all the classes (unless I’m sick) and all the tutorials. If that makes me a nerd, then so be it. By being prepared, I’m less nervous and less stressed before assessment. I still stress out and get nervous, but at least I know I’m prepared.

I signed up with the disability services at the university this year. Instead of being in a huge exam room with 1500 other people (which freaks me out no end), I’m going to be put in a room with about 10-15 other students and they will allow my mum to sit somewhere in the room so I can see her during the exam.

They also inform my lecturers and tutors about me, so that they can keep an eye on me and understand if I need a little more help in class at times.

After today’s lecture, I feel I must talk about how unclassy some of these kids are.

This chick sitting behind me, wearing sandals, puts her feet on the top of the chair beside me. They are practically in my face. Every time I glance beside me to check my notes, they are staring me in the face.

And then, as if this was not traumatic enough – she drops her books on me. I mean really. REALLY?

 

And I think that’s a good note to end today on. Things to remember for the future: Do not put your feet on seats in front of you – there is someone sitting there that would prefer to have a non-traumatic university experience.