Sunday, May 27, 2007

Scotland - The Rave

(Days 18-23)

I loved my time in Edinburgh and the Highlands. And I'll post about it very soon. (By the 29th) So there!

Kiss Me, I'm Irish!

(Day 17)
Spring might have been in the air, but after almost a month of travel, the only kisses I'd enjoyed were of the Hershey's variety and I'd had enough of it. So I made a date with an Irish spunk who promises a few seconds with him will turn you into a witty charmer with the gift of the gab - I went to pash the Blarney Stone.

Sadly the photo of me actually going in for the snog is both a) hideous and b) not scanned. Also, it kinds of looks like the guy who's holding me over the railing is copping a bit of a feel, which I assure you he wasn't, so the chances of it ever making its way onto the internet are slim to none. I can tell you all I remember is feeling a sickening sense of vertigo as I opened my eyes while leaning backwards over a railing several stories in the air, then it was all over and I probably spent more time wiping disinfectant gel over my face. (Seriously, have you heard the rumours about what they do to the stone after the castle closes for the night? Ewwwww.)

Then I was free to spend the rest of the day wandering around the castle grounds, taking "artistic" snaps like the one above. It was nice to be out of the city and enjoy the countryside, until I wandered into the rock garden (complete with hermit's cave and druidic sacrificial stone) which freaked me out no end and I had to leave.

So did I get the gift of the gab? Not sure. Did I really need encouragement to talk more? Um, probably not. But I will tell you this - my boyfriend is a way better kisser than the Blarney stone. (1,2,3 - awwww!)

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

(Day 16)
About three minutes into my day tour of Northern Ireland the twenty-something driver, Tom, turned to me and said, "The aircon doesn't work, so I thought we should all nude up and turn the bus into a big happy sauna!" About three minutes and fifteen seconds into my day tour, I started to have second thoughts about riding shotgun. Luckily, he figured out how to open the windows and turned out to be an excellent guide with a real sense of pride in his hometown and strong opinions about how Belfast should develop into the future.

The tour was great - the Antrim Coastline was gorgeous, even if the Giant's Causeway was smaller than I expected (I'm Aussie - if you're going to describe something as big, I expect big like the Twelve Apostles or Uluru or Patnther's World Of Entertainment) Here's me on a deceptively small looking rope bridge, which was actually kind of high up over some water.

The cities were pretty depressing. We drove past what I initially thought were jails but turned out to be fortified police stations; by the time we reached Derry/Londonderry Bogside, the middle-aged British couple was practically too scared to get off the bus. And they definitely didn't want to visit the Free Derry Museum, in a building converted from the houses outside which the Bloody Sunday killings took place. I spent a good two hours in there and while I found it tragic, frustrating and confronting, I was also moved.

As fascinating as Belfast was, I wasn't sad to leave. It may be a city on the rise, but there's a palpable undercurrent of tension throughout the North. I hope that Tom and his generation (our generation, really) can move beyond what's come before and build that future they see.

The Leprechauns Made Me Do It

(Days 13-15)
OK, so, I've sort of told you about Boston. I came, I saw, I partied too hard with the guys and girls of the Jersey Coast Guard and left with a rotten hangover. A hangover that did very little to dampen my enjoyment of the JFK museum which I swung by on my last afternoon in town. There was a special exhibit about JFK's visit to Ireland, which is a total coincidence, because that was exactly where I headed next! (Most. Awkward. Segue. Ever.)

There comes a point in every trip where you finally hit your stride and settle into the rhythm of travel. For me, that moment was waiting to cross the road on a freezing Dublin morning with the sun breaking through the clouds when a car drove up playing U2's, "One" at full volume and I thought to myself, "Yeah, I'm in the right place." It was pretty awesome.

But that wasn't the first thing I noticed in Dublin. No, it was the electoral posters - corflute after corflute on every telegraph pole and lamp post - that caught my eye. There was no escape. The slogans were disturbingly familiar too: "More Gardai (Police) on the streets," "Tough on Crime" and "It's Time!" but I lost track of the parties. The only face I recognised was Bertie Ahern. As I write, the "Teflon Taoiseach" has just been re-elected to a third term, but if his posters are anything to go by, "Teddy Bear Taoiseach" is probably more on the mark. My favourite poster though was this one here. Tell me there's not something vaguely creepy going on here- like she lives in a gingerbread house or something.

Political posters aside, Dublin is just as adorable and charming as you'd expect, full of adorable, charming locals who say things like "Oh, that's grand!" First stop was the Guinnes Storehouse, because apart from chruch, it's pretty much the only thing in town open at 10am on a Sunday. The view from the bar is fantastic and the (locally brewed) Guinness actually does taste better in Ireland. As a corporate affairs hack, I especially enjoyed the special section to encourage "responsible drinking" right next to an interactive postcard wall where 9 year old Thomas left the message, "It's great, it's cool, it's GUINNESS!" Guess it beats leaving the kids in the car while you go on a brewery tour.

Fortified by the pint, I tried to keep doing touristy things (Christ Church, Dublin Catsle) but by mid-afternoon I was cold and fractious and I cracked. In a scene straight out of my mother's "I told you so files" I went and bought a spencer. That's right - I gave up sightseeing to buy daggy underwear. And then promptly went back to the hostel and crashed at 6pm. It's a world tour baby, and this is my rock and roll lifestyle.

Woke up the next day feeling about a million times better and went to check out the Book of Kells (kind of overrated), Molly Malone (kind of over endowed/exposed) and the National Gallery (surprisingly excellent) and then jumped on a bus to Belfast. I think I managed to count at least thirty-seven of Ireland's forty shades of green (in a row, naturally) as I headed North, but my idyllic afternoon came to a swift end as I discovered my hostel for the night was not only fresh out of adorable and charming, but also lacking in clean, warm, welcoming and water pressure. And let's not even start on the kitchen. A miserable excuse for a shower and a dinner of Pringles and Guinness later and I was staring to see why all these Northen types were so cranky. The next day I was to find out more.

I Heart DC

(Days 9-11)

Sandwiched between my visits to NYC and Boston (though obviosuly not geographically so) was Washington DC.

DC is the offical capital of the USA, but in late spring, it's also the unofficial capital of school tour groups with really, really ugly t-shirts. Radioactive orange with silly logos or lime-green-and-purple-tye-dyed, thet shirts are to help the teachers and chaperones distinguish their charges from the 50 million other cranky pre-teens being dragged around the Mall to visit Important Sites of National Significance.

Given that the entire street was choked by a mass of ugly tees, I quickly realised my chances of seeing Ford's Theatre were slim to none, so I hightailed it to the International Spy Museum. The exhibits are a smooth blend of fact and atmosphere (shaken, not stirred) tracing the art of spycraft throughout history and posing intriguing questions about the role of intelligence gathering in post cold war policy making. Plus they sell ninja t-shirts. Feeling suitably intellectual, I wandered over to check out the Whitehouse and stopped in front of a pretty building with a statue in front of it when it ocurred to me that it was the Treasury building and this was Alexander Hamilton! A man who is, according to Wikipedia the "patron saint" of American political economy, and according to me, patron saint of Wednesday night pub trivia. I immediately decided that this was indeed a Kodak golden moment and when a nice Treasury staffer who offered to take a photo of me with Al, said with an excited smile, "Your friends named a trivia team after Alexander Hamiton? You guys must really like economic history!" I felt kind of bad admitting the truth*, so I just smiled and nodded.

Three thoughts about the White House: 1) I was kind of disappointed not to see Jeb Bartlett. 2) Those snipers on the roof are probably the most (unintentionally) photographed men in DC. 3) The Ellipse would make a great venue for a President's Eleven cricket match. Finished my afternoon with a memorable stroll around the memorials and monuments and a forgettable meal in Chinatown.

I hit the ground running on my second day. No, seriously, I didn't realize how far everything was from everything else, so I sprinted between my hostel, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Capitol. There's this great tradition where each state sends a bronze or marble statue of two of their most famous citizens to stand in the national sculpture collection in the Capitol. The guide talked about some of her favourite pieces in the collection, and then asked me if we had anything similar in Australia and what kind of citizens we honoured, and all I could say was that I didn't think so (and think that if we did, the good people of Tasmania would no doubt immortalize Boonie in bronze.) (And then think - where are all these thoughts about cricket coming from anyway?)

I also managed to persuade an assistant into letting me visit the Senate wing, which I didn't have a pass for, which I thought was kinds of cool, until I remembered I used to be paid to get Parliamentary assistants to help me out. The procedings were mind-numbingly boring, and when Barry and Hillary didn't turn up for a quorum call, I took my search for excitement to
the National Air and Space Museum. Lonely Planet gushed, but I thought most of the exhibits were pretty lame and out of date. (Look kids, a video about commerical airliners circa 1984! Check out that modern design!) What was cool was the fighter jet flight simulator where you pay for the privelege of being strapped into a "cockpit" and shooting at enemy jets. Anyone who's seen me attempt any sort of computerised game that requires the ability to steer or sense direction will know I suck at it. Needless to say, I shot down two out of a total of about twenty enemy planes and spent most of my 5 minute flight quite literally hanging upside down. As I wobbled out, the operator grinned at me, "Damn girl! They give you a licence to drive in Australia? They crazy!" Clearly I am no Maverick. I am not even a Goose. I am a flighless creature that spends most of its time hanging upside down. Call me Sloth.

I walked back across the Mall t and found the photo op of the day, above, at a military recruiting fair. Clearly, the US Government sees no irony in setting up a row of heavy artillery and barbed wire in front of the Capitol. Hmmm. Then again, I went into the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independnece ("Dear Britain - it's not me, it's you. You're dumped.") and came out of a special exhibition on "the education of our Presidents" with the disturbing knowledge that Richard Nixon looked creepy from a young age, but Gerald Ford used to be kind of hot. Rounded off the day with a truly excellent night out in Georgetown hanging out with people from a bunch of different countries drinking beer and talking about politics and cultural topics beyond sterotypes and accents. And not a single ugly t-shirt in sight.

*The team is named "Touch the corpse" after a quote about Alexander Hamilton's actions to bring the national credit 'back to life." Hey, I never said we weren't nerds.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thistle Do

Two and a bit weeks in and I'm already hopelessy out of date. All I can promise is that I will manage to transcribe my diaries when I get to London next week when I have better internet access and no distraction from drunk American college students wanting to discuss their preference for schnapps shots over tequila or the merits of the hostel's water pressure and shower temperature. Ah, welcome to the joys of backpacker living. (Don't worry, I haven't bought anything tie-dyed yet.)

I'm writing this from the Scottish Highlands, having spent a day looking at some of the most incredible landscapes I've ever laid eyes on, not to mention meeting Nessie and discovering that haggis is damn tasty. (Look - there's nothing in haggis you wouldn't find in a burger from that other fine Scottish restaurant Macdonalds and you all eat those, right?) Tomorrow promises more of the same in the glorious Scottish 'liquid sunshine' (rain.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Beantown Blues

First up, I want to assure the locals that New York (in their own words) "rocked my face!"and I look forward to spending more time exploring the city with the locals when I return.

I'm now in Boston, where it's fun to stay at the YWCA, mainly because they have really awesome laundry facilities. I spent most of yesterday wandering around a very rainy city, and quickly reached the tipping point where the thought of clean clothes was more enticing than seeing another museum. That said, the Harvard campus was astonishingly beautiful and I spent a charming if slightly soggy afternoon with the swan boats and making way for ducklings.* Headed out to an Irish Bar to watch the game and, inexplicably, drink Irish beer. Am now nursing a wicked bad hangover, which is not helped by the knowledge that I'm flying out to Dublin tonight, a town I hold personally responsibly for my current fragile state. Time to check out the JFK museum, just as soon as I find some berocca.

*"Make Way For Ducklings" = classic children's book

Friday, May 11, 2007

New York

They say the best way to travel is light, without the weight of overpacked luggage or expectation. But how can you not have a preconceived idea of New York City, a place that exists not just as a collection of islands in the Hudson estuary, but in our collective cultural immagination?

From the Staten Island ferry to Fort Tryon of Harlem, Manhattan was fantastic, but I couldn't shake the fantasy - Gatsby, the Knights of the Algonquin Round Table, Jazz in the Village, Sex in the City. The New York I found had all the grit I could have hoped for, but not quite enough glamour.

Which is to say that I thought New York was all that but not and then some.


Hosts: The charming & gracious Donny put me up in his cute East Village apartment and showed me the sights. His lovely flatmate Bronwyn saved me from the bathroom-overflow-horror of May 2007.

Locals: If the city didn't quite meet my expectations, then the bloggers I met in Brooklyn were about ten times more fabulous in person than I could have hoped. THANK YOU! Kate and Conrad and Krissa and Stewart and Shiv and Jen and Kev and Mark and Stephanie.

The City That Never Sleeps: What do you do when you get off a ridiculously long transcontinental flight? Why, go out for dinner, drinks and (becaude you're staying with Donny) karaoke. At 3am. On a Monday night. In a place that's a lot nicer than Barrons. And then you do it all over again for the next week. What's not to like?

Celebrity spotting: Apparantly they snap froze Anglea Lansbury the second thay stopped filming, Murder She Wrote, because when I caught sight of her emerging from a Broadway stage door, she looked freakishly well-preserved.

Top of the Rock: The Empire State was incredible, but the Rockefeller had a view so good, it reduced the horde of screaming French teenage tourists to English, "Oh my God! Zees ees fur-keeng amazeeng!"

Culture: The Met, MOMA, The Cloisters, the International Centre for Photography, The New York City Library = pretty much my idea of heaven.

Brroklyn Bridge: Just wait until I upload the 679 "artistic" sunset shots I took here!

The Angel of The Waters, Bethesda Terrace, Central Park: Amazingly beautiful and serene, a weclome respite from the flower-clutching Japanese tourists and bad buskers in Stratwberry Fields.


Times Square: The idea that the centre of the universe is just a bunch of neon signs and chain restuarants triggered at least five minutes of existential angst. Then I saw Sephora and got distracted by makeup.

Pizza and Coffee: You guys had how many million Italian immigrants and you still can't make a decent espresso or slice?

UN: I want to believe the UN is more than a toothless tiger, but from the utter schermozzzle of the security screening tent to the desk clerk who started yelling at the Asian tour group who didn't speak English, you can sense why they have issues arranging little things like humanitarian aid and peacekeeping missions.

The New York Attitude: Considering how many elections I've handed out at, it's a small mircale that NYC managed to top them all for the number of times I've been told to "F**k Off, whore!" in a ten minute period. Those suave and sophisticated gentlemen of Gotham City sure know how to charm a gal!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Quick Update

I've survived New York and am here in DC, enjoying the quiet and trying to think of witty ways to describe my travel experiences. More soon, promise.

Monday, April 30, 2007

I Wanna Be A Part Of It

I'm about to fly out of Sydney to New York on the first leg of my RTW trip. I'll be back in a day or two with added jet lag and more bad New York cliches than you can start spreading the news about.

File Under Awesome; Ten Kinds Of

New York City is going to have to pull out something pretty special to top this.

Somewhere between waking up to a view of the Opera House and luxuriating in fluffy bathrobes and excellent company, I did stop to wonder why I was so keen to leave Sydney. Still can't quite put my finger on it. (I think it may have something to do with the fact that the clock has struck midnight, Prince Charming has flown back to Melboure and I'm effectively unemployed and living with my parents. And when you put it that way...)

I am an extremely lucky girl and I totally owe my boyfriend a weekend away when I get back. Babe, I'm thinking you and me, the Sydney Airport Formule 1 and a takeaway dozen Krispy Kremes could be a magic combination, yeah?

Speaking of airports, I'm due at one in less than five hours. Of course, I'm still awake, finishing last minute stuff and (apart from the fact that what I'm really excited about is 21 hours of gin and tonics, movies I've been meaning to catch and sleep; in that order) generally acting like an little kid on Christmas Eve.

Awesome indeed.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

From the excellent Blue List site comes this compilation of Travel Pleasures to stop feeling guilty about. Entries include: visiting a country for a stupid purpose; having a cultural moment while watching TV; and being OK with not blending in (guess I'll be packing the bundy t-shirt and bucket hat after all, eh?)

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

So, um, slight change of plan. Turns out I actually have a lot of love for a lot of cities. So much love, in fact, that I'm planning visit a whole 26 countries worth between April and August.

Or, to put it another way: Six weeks ago I woke up to another 80km commute, another day behind a desk writing another random document. Something felt strange. And I decided if that strange feeling was life calling, I wasn't letting it go through to voicemail.

Call it a delayed quarter life crisis -I gave notice, ended my lease and booked a round the world plane ticket. Already I feel as though my horizons have broadened. I mean, I now know more about gore-tex jackets and travel packs than I thought was humanly possible and I haven't even left the country. At this rate, it can only get better. Or at least more entertaining. Ladies and Gentlemean, stow your tray tables and return your seat to the upright position. We're ready for takeoff.