Saturday with Phil and his family.

Dexter in Preston was delicious and home to a pleasant surprise: meat doughnuts :O

It was a sugary, crusty, slightly chewy dough with a spicy filling and super good.


Afterwards we went bouldering, and I was pretty average at it but it was quite fun to try anyway. I feel a good kind of sore today.

Dinner was at MoVida - good food and a good atmosphere, and an open kitchen to watch :)

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Strangely enough, the one thing we craved the most (despite the cold winter) was gelati. Little did we know, Italy fulfilled our desires – and so much more. It gave us warmth – the first time I had seen the sun in over two weeks, fed us like we were its own children, and nursed us back from the brink of death that was Prague.

We touched down in Milan, and had a lot of trouble finding the AirBnb. The stated location took us to a derelict block of what looked like public housing, which was rather depressing. Somehow, we managed to find the owner (1.5 km away), and were relieved to find our place was actually the beautiful, hipster loft we were promised. The courtyard would’ve been lovely in the summer, but unfortunately it was too cold.

The area we stayed in (Navigli) was meant to be a kind of grungy, arty Fitzroy.  It is known for its canals. I went for a run along the banks in the morning, and the art on the sides was kinda cool.

IMG_4860IMG_4865

That night, we went to one of the owner’s recommended restaurants (Taglio). We were too early for dinner, so we got some pizza next door for entrée. Unfortunately, whether due to genuine mistake or crafty business acumen, the owner served us three pizzas, instead of the two we asked for. It was disappointing because they were bland and sad, and stomach space is precious commodity. Nevertheless, there was no way we would miss eating at Taglio, so we lined up again, with hope in our eyes and determination in our hearts.

Let me tell you. It was the most beautiful dinner I’ve ever had. The restaurant is a café, deli and restaurant depending what time of the day it is, with a large silver coffee machine sitting proudly near the front, which is on from open to close. The lights are dimmed for dinner, and it’s mostly local couples and families. The shelves are filled floor to ceiling with pastas of combination and permutation, from fat shell-shaped conchiglioni to tiny, lego-like ditalini rigati.

IMG_4844Milan edit-2IMG_4918

We were offered a bread basket with all the different breads that weren’t sold earlier in the day, along with a plate of whatever cured meat was on offer – prosciutto in this case. There was free sparkling water flowing all night (I KNOW), a huge wine list and cute Italian babies being passed around from customer to customer. We had some creamy rabbit pasta and apple pie for dessert. Every minute we spent there, I pretended that – just for tonight – this was our local restaurant, and we could come back whenever we wanted.

During the day, we hired bikes and rode down to the Duomo (cathedral). It is this white, beautiful, intricate, humongous cathedral in the centre of Milan (and the biggest in Italy). The best part was being able to walk on the roof, alongside the statues of important people in Italy’s history and biblical figures perched on the spires. You could look out over the people criss-crossing the square, and watch the fast moving shadows of hawkers chasing after tourists with roses or rainbow bracelets (I was one of those tourists – and they managed to throw one on me even as a rode away on a bike).

IMG_3454Milan edit-4milan squareIMG_4944P1010039

For lunch, we had these massive MASSIVE food-fired pizzas. Even though the menu was really long, all the pizzas only had some combination of olive oil, cheese, tomato, and meat. Any other vegetables were a sacrilege (or maybe it was just the middle of winter).

IMG_3459

Later in the day, we discovered the best ice cream ever. There were chocolate fountains and taps, and the most creamy, gorgeous pistachio ice cream ever. I had mine in a warmed brioche bun (OG ice cream sandwich!), which was exactly the decadent dessert I came to Italy for.

milan brioche

Afterwards, we rode around the streets, exploring the north of Milan. We whizzed through the castle grounds, past huge museums and galleries that came up out of nowhere as you turned the corner, and past the twinkling displays in the shop fronts. It was quite fun and a good way to work up the appetite for two dinners yet again.

P1010007.JPG

P1010014

Anwyn and I also visited the Mudec art gallery. The inside was like being inside one of those Aalto vases. The exhibition itself was small but the colours were really inspiring. We had lunch together, which is one of my favourite things about visiting another city – sitting snuggly in a café somewhere, eating nice food, drinking coffee, and watching stylish people walk past. I saw the most chic Italian lady ever, and I couldn’t resist taking a stalker photo for future reference (and now I’m realising how creepy this is – oh well 😦

gaughin signmudec1mudec2

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P1010091
She’s in the background LOL

Next we’re off to Florence!!!

Milan edit

 

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Strangely enough, the one thing we craved the most (despite the cold winter) was gelati. Little did we know, Italy fulfilled our desires – and so much more. It gave us warmth – the first time I had seen the sun in over two weeks, fed us like we were its own children, and nursed us back from the brink of death that was Prague.

We touched down in Milan, and had a lot of trouble finding the AirBnb. The stated location took us to a derelict block of what looked like public housing, which was rather depressing. Somehow, we managed to find the owner (1.5 km away), and were relieved to find our place was actually the beautiful, hipster loft we were promised. The courtyard would’ve been lovely in the summer, but unfortunately it was too cold.

[gallery ids="723,747,741" type="rectangular"]

The area we stayed in (Navigli) was meant to be a kind of grungy, arty Fitzroy.  It is known for its canals. I went for a run along the banks in the morning, and the art on the sides was kinda cool.

IMG_4860IMG_4865

That night, we went to one of the owner’s recommended restaurants (Taglio). We were too early for dinner, so we got some pizza next door for entrée. Unfortunately, whether due to genuine mistake or crafty business acumen, the owner served us three pizzas, instead of the two we asked for. It was disappointing because they were bland and sad, and stomach space is precious commodity. Nevertheless, there was no way we would miss eating at Taglio, so we lined up again, with hope in our eyes and determination in our hearts.

Let me tell you. It was the most beautiful dinner I’ve ever had. The restaurant is a café, deli and restaurant depending what time of the day it is, with a large silver coffee machine sitting proudly near the front, which is on from open to close. The lights are dimmed for dinner, and it’s mostly local couples and families. The shelves are filled floor to ceiling with pastas of combination and permutation, from fat shell-shaped conchiglioni to tiny, lego-like ditalini rigati.

IMG_4844Milan edit-2IMG_4918

We were offered a bread basket with all the different breads that weren’t sold earlier in the day, along with a plate of whatever cured meat was on offer – prosciutto in this case. There was free sparkling water flowing all night (I KNOW), a huge wine list and cute Italian babies being passed around from customer to customer. We had some creamy rabbit pasta and apple pie for dessert. Every minute we spent there, I pretended that – just for tonight – this was our local restaurant, and we could come back whenever we wanted.

During the day, we hired bikes and rode down to the Duomo (cathedral). It is this white, beautiful, intricate, humongous cathedral in the centre of Milan (and the biggest in Italy). The best part was being able to walk on the roof, alongside the statues of important people in Italy’s history and biblical figures perched on the spires. You could look out over the people criss-crossing the square, and watch the fast moving shadows of hawkers chasing after tourists with roses or rainbow bracelets (I was one of those tourists - and they managed to throw one on me even as a rode away on a bike).

IMG_3454Milan edit-4milan squareIMG_4944P1010039

For lunch, we had these massive MASSIVE food-fired pizzas. Even though the menu was really long, all the pizzas only had some combination of olive oil, cheese, tomato, and meat. Any other vegetables were a sacrilege (or maybe it was just the middle of winter).

IMG_3459

Later in the day, we discovered the best ice cream ever. There were chocolate fountains and taps, and the most creamy, gorgeous pistachio ice cream ever. I had mine in a warmed brioche bun (OG ice cream sandwich!), which was exactly the decadent dessert I came to Italy for.

milan brioche

Afterwards, we rode around the streets, exploring the north of Milan. We whizzed through the castle grounds, past huge museums and galleries that came up out of nowhere as you turned the corner, and past the twinkling displays in the shop fronts. It was quite fun and a good way to work up the appetite for two dinners yet again.

P1010007.JPG

P1010014

Anwyn and I also visited the Mudec art gallery. The inside was like being inside one of those Aalto vases. The exhibition itself was small but the colours were really inspiring. We had lunch together, which is one of my favourite things about visiting another city – sitting snuggly in a café somewhere, eating nice food, drinking coffee, and watching stylish people walk past. I saw the most chic Italian lady ever, and I couldn’t resist taking a stalker photo for future reference (and now I’m realising how creepy this is – oh well :(

gaughin signmudec1mudec2

P1010089

[caption id="attachment_772" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1010091 She's in the background LOL[/caption]

Next we’re off to Florence!!!

Milan edit

 

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P1000807 The train ride into Prague was a bit of an adventure in itself. It started off with the awkward struggle of negotiating the two-way traffic of everyone’s massively oversized tourist luggage down the narrow corridors, and feeling bad for kicking out a couple who had settled into our reserved seats (I think it’s only in Europe you have the system where you have to buy another reservation on top of your actual ticket to get a guaranteed seat). The two guys sitting in our carriage celebrated departure by clinking beer bottles, and when the middle aged lady in a pink crocheted cardigan nonchalantly pulled out a litre of goon, it became apparent that a) we were the only people that hadn’t come fully prepared for the trip, and b) that we really were headed towards Eastern Europe. Walking around Prague, I can see why people say it’s a beautiful city. The buildings are pretty, pastel and ornate. Look, to be honest, we were only there for two nights, and it was just way too cold during our time to get out and about, so most of my memories of Prague revolve around staring at my feet and shivering. It was also the halfway point of the trip, which was a fitting time for us all to get miserably sick. I think this post is just going to be pictures and comments… P1000827P1000826

This handy clock counts down until the next train


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Actual supermarkets are kinda hard to come by, but these mini-mart-convenience-store-mart sell a bit of everything. It was like the opposite of Amsterdam - here there are Marijuana leaves on every store window, but no actual goods sold... P1000839P1000837P1000838 The Old Square. It was pretty. I'm sorry. I have nothing more to say :( P1000854 The slightly wonky, slightly haphazard Jewish Quarter. Like pretty much every other country they settled in, they were marginalised and persecuted. Without permission to expand their community beyond certain borders, the dead had to be buried on top of one another, resulting in a high-rise cemetery that sat a good storey above ground level. P1000902P1000892P1000877P1000860P1000866P1000865 Views over Charles Bridge. Sidenote: (without intentionally stereotyping an entire demographic) if you need a photo taken, middle-aged women are your worst bet. P1000904P1000929P1000927P1000921IMG_4800P1000939 Prague Castle cute cute nice nice really fookin cold P1000884P1000882 And it SNUUUUUUUUUUUUUWWED~!!! Look at that snowflake formation!! Just like the paper cut outs :) IMG_4795IMG_4796IMG_4797 The best gadamn food in Prague - hot, crispy, fragrant dough, covered in cinnamon sugar and nutella <3 Beanie Boy was 100% correct, they are delicious. P1000874P1000870IMG_4762 Cubist cafe staircase interior, and funky lights in this fully veggo/yoga/namaste restaurant IMG_4818IMG_4824IMG_4822 Prague might be the home of lager (ridiculously cheap lager at that), but their fancy beers were kinda disappointing... IMG_4823IMG_4751 Our apartment/hostel thing. Excited about the amount of SPACE we had, pleasantly surprised by the unexpected responsibility of the plants on the windowsill (plant parenthood eyy). IMG_4831 On the way to MILANOooooOOOOO

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P1000739P1000740P1000638Berlin was kind of a weird city for me. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Probably due to where we were staying (Alexanderplatz), which was previously part of communist East Berlin, it was a strange mix of stark, brutalist buildings from the 70s and opulent classical architecture * from Germany’s better days, both sitting side by side on wide, open boulevards built too ambitiously large in preparation for city that never recovered its pre-war population. The end result was that I felt like I was walking through a city with no real inhabitants, but instead populated almost exclusively by dour curry wurst stall-holders sizzling pale, limp sausages on every street corner.

*Probably wrong about the architecture classification, but basically they looked really grand.

[gallery ids="375,305" type="rectangular"]

[caption id="attachment_817" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000642 The German church[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_822" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000640 Currywurst errywhere[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_319" align="alignright" width="276"]IMG_4735 Firecracker aftermath (no one cleans up after themselves??)[/caption]

We also arrived at a somewhat awkward time between Christmas and New Years, so the city seemed half tired, half resolutely partying on (or maybe that was a reflection of
my own emotions). What I initially thought were continuous gunshots going off 24/7 turned out to be firecrackers going off 24/7 everywhere and anywhere, including in the underground train station (which scared the shit out of me the first time).

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We started our first real day with a tour that focused mostly on 20th century Berlin. To Germany’s credit, the atrocities that Hitler and the Nazi regime were responsible for were in plain sight, from the monumental Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, to the numerous museums and monuments dedicated to the victims of the Third Reich. Additionally, there was no public monument (at least, that we could find) for the fallen German soldiers of WWII, which is understandable given what ideals they were fighting for. Nonetheless, I do wonder what it’s like to live in a city where you are always reminded of the past atrocities that your country’s government committed.

[caption id="attachment_806" align="alignnone" width="3916"]P1000626 Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe[/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_832" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000635 The site where Hitler killed himself at the end of WWII. It’s now a nondescrapt carpark, to stop neo-Nazis from making it a place of pilgrimage[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_819" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000645 Book Burning Memorial outside the University – A window down into empty shelves capable of holding 20, 000 books (roughly the number burnt by Nazis in the infamous book burning of 1933)[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_816" align="alignnone" width="4412"]P1000646 The Book Burning Memorial plaque, with a quote from Heinrich Heine, which was oddly poignant in how predictive it was of what was to come: That was only a prelude, there where they burn books, they burn in the end people. (Heine, 1820)[/caption]

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A question that commonly comes up is how Hitler managed carry out the atrocities he planned with the support of a government, and the majority of the German population (at least, for the most part of his reign). At the Topography of Terror museum, video files of Nazi perpetrators denying all responsibility initially made me angry/sad (sangry?!), but then I thought that perhaps the coward’s excuse had some reason to it. The roles ushering victims along the path to death were so many and so fragmented that it could be easy to cope with the truth by telling yourself that you simply paraded innocent people through the streets (to certain death at a concentration camp), or simply fielded correspondence (that got innocent people arrested), or simply followed orders (to pull the trigger). In addition, Hitler had worked hard from the start of his reign to build populous support, giving the impression that life was improving for the common German with campaigns improving quality of life (holidays!), national infrastructure (rail/roads), finances and international prestige (Hitler held host to the 1936 Olympics). Adding to this was a general atmosphere of complicit terror, aided by his systematic eradication of all political opposition, a move which trickled down into the community, where speaking out spelled certain death. [Also, all of my Year 12 history was coming back, which helped a lot with appreciating the things we saw].

[gallery ids="356,348" type="rectangular"]

[caption id="attachment_825" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000679 Kind of crazy how systematic the plan to exterminate Jews was. It can be seen in this official document (just one of many), which clearly sets out goals for the arrest and persecution of Jews.[/caption]

The Sachsenhausen concentration camp was actually quite bare, as it had been stripped of its bunks and buildings in the post WWII tumult. For me, at least, it made it harder to visualise what happened here, although walking through the gate and seeing that infamous slogan did give me chills. The recounts of the various forms of torture and death were really sobering, but I think it was hard to appreciate because it just so cold that we were actually running from place to place to stop our toes falling off. In saying that, it was easier to imagine the misery of winter, when temperatures would drop below zero and the prisoners were in pyjamas rather than plushy down jackets. It was built literally at the edge of the town, and although most the townsfolk were ignorant to its realities (wilfully or otherwise), some stories of kindness did emerge. Looking at the monuments around, it was also deeply affecting to think how many different groups of people were targeted. There were not only Jews, but Dutch dissenters, homosexuals, political prisoners, those from nuerous Eastern European countries… just how far the Nazi hold spread was actually quite terrifying to think about.

[caption id="attachment_835" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000686 SS Guards’ houses leading to the entrance of Sachsenhausen, built in the “ideal” German style typically seen in the Alps. They are inhabited today by townspeople.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_820" align="alignnone" width="3448"]P1000692 Gate A (Entrance): Work will set you free[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_836" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000700 Memorial to Soviet soldiers who liberated the prisoners that were left in Sachsenhausen. Those healthy enough to move were forced on a death march away from the approaching Allied forces.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_831" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000704 Foundations of Station Z (The exit): Prisoners were led from room to room on the pretense of getting a medical, and shot in the back of the neck while they thought they were getting their height measured (gassing happened later on). They had to develop new, more detached ways of killing, as the soldiers were beginning to show signs of psychological distress.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_829" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000707 The sleepy town today – you actually wouldn’t guess that there was concentration camp in the town, as there are barely any signs pointing the way/ads for tours etc.[/caption]

Shortly after the trauma of WWII, peace in Germany didn’t seem to last long before the Cold War set in, dividing Berlin in half politically and physically. Most of the wall (over 100km of it) was built in 6 hours overnight, so citizens literally woke up to a city divided. It was only torn down in 1990, which is crazy to think that it happened just a few years before we were born, and definitely within our parent’s life times (like, what was the international opinion about this Wall situation, and why weren’t people out on the streets protesting every weekend?? Maybe it’s like how we view North Korea now, sort of on the periphery of our political consciousness?). Anyway, maybe that’s why the city seems kind of grungy and incongruent, like it hasn’t really figured out its vibe yet – I guess it’s only relatively recently that it has been a city united.

IMG_4672Kinda derelict building opposite us - found these all over where we were staying

[gallery ids="358,337" type="rectangular"]

[gallery ids="345,369" type="rectangular"]

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P1000734

[caption id="attachment_843" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000723 Segments of the Berlin Wall[/caption]

[gallery ids="365,333,341" type="rectangular"]

In terms of Landmarks, we also visited the Reichstag dome. It was foggy, so the audio guide pointing out important buildings and spectacular views was pretty much lost on us. Nonetheless, it was quite an impressive building, with an open dome/funnel system above parliament. Below, it was also really interesting to see the extraordinary resilience of the Reichstag, from being set on fire during Hitler’s reign, to falling into almost complete obliterated disrepair post WWII/during the Cold War. Despite all this, it was still rebuilt, and to me, stands as symbol of Germany’s will and ability to use the past to guide towards a better future.

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[caption id="attachment_824" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000779 On the roof of the Reichstag[/caption]

[gallery ids="475,474" type="columns"]

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The open roof of the dome

Food – Berlin (food-wise) is a pretty much a bleak, dark place in my memories. There weren’t all that many food options nearby that weren’t hotel/cafeteria style food or currywurst stalls, and there wasn’t a kitchen or fridge in the hostel, so we pretty much survived on crackers and bread. To be fair, something about the texture/flavour of German bread is quite addictive, especially the potato bread, which sounds like an abomination, but really combines two of the four essential food groups for winter dining (the other two being sauerkraut and sausage).

 

[caption id="attachment_852" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000641 Currywurst[/caption]

We visited a Christmas market the first night, where the stalls were 90% currywurst/roast pork, and 10% gluhwein. One time Anwyn and I went to an actual restaurant. I took a picture to mark the occasion when we had a whole vegetable for the first time in a week.

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Museums

Jewish Museum – a really cool architectural space, with some art installations designed for the space.

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The Shalekhet – Fallen Leaves (Kadishman) is an installation whose design works very well in the space. The museum has a couple of empty “voids” – angular spaces that stretch straight up through the building. In this space, Kadishman has laid the floor with heavy, iron plates which have been crudely carved out with individual faces stretched out into silent screams. Although you try to tread as softly as possible, the clanging sounds ring out like cacophony of cries up into the vertical space of the void.

 

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The Holocaust Tower was another interesting space. It was a cold, jagged room with black stone walls, stretching straight up into a vacuum of pitch black nothingness. The only light was a vent at the very top, representative of the sliver of hope that people may have turned their faces towards in the dark despair of the Holocaust.

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Although we didn’t have much time to look through the exhibit, I actually hadn’t realised how widespread anti-Semitism has been across almost every century and continent. Persecution seems to have been the constant backdrop in the life of a practicing Jew at any point in time.

Bauhaus Archives

Out of the turmoil of WWI, the Bauhaus was a movement that extolled simplicity, functionality and efficiency. More than just an art form, it was a school that dedicated itself to merging art, design and architecture. For example, all the lights in the school were designed by the students themselves. I had seen bits and pieces of the Bauhaus in Melbourne, but I remember being not very impressed by how plain everything was. I think with the historical context of what they were doing, however, you can kind of start to appreciate how ground-breaking everything was. For example, the tubular chair which can probably be found at every BBQ in the outer suburbs was originally a Bauhaus design. It was an exercise in building the first chair that moved away from the typical four-legged chair, and specifically extolled the Bauhaus adage of balance, simplicity and functionality by using the least material possible, and achieving balance in both form and practicality (when the person sat down in it). I also really liked the Mies van der Rohe house built for the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1983.

[caption id="attachment_313" align="aligncenter" width="467"]IMG_4736 Bauhaus[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_799" align="alignnone" width="500"]225598491_accac2a2332 One incarnation of Breuer’s tubular chair[/caption]

[gallery ids="512,513" type="rectangular"]

[caption id="attachment_300" align="aligncenter" width="581"]photo-1 Barcelona Pavilion[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_299" align="aligncenter" width="578"]201111-Spain-Barcelona-4 From: https://eilishscreativespace.wordpress.com/mies-van-der-rohe/[/caption]

New Years/Berlin by Night:

Maybe we didn’t go to the right places, but Berlin clubbing is really kind of weird. It’s like everything you imagine a Euro club to be – mostly in kind of dodgy buildings with scaffolding (aesthetics or just holding the walls up?!). The music was more like a minimal electronic beat that barely changed pace or intensity, reducing the chain-smoking dance floor to just sort of aggressively stepping side to side. The policy seemed to be minimal visibility at all times, so once the cloud of cigarette smoke lifted, it would be swiftly replaced with enthusiastic gusts of smoke machine. At the end of it, it was kind of fun… but only if you tried hard to.

Sitting in the hallway of the hostel, eating peanut butter out of the jar was not exactly how I envisaged spending the morning of New Years, but it was a good a place as any to write some resolutions.

I’m writing a couple here to keep me accountable:

  1. Be a better daughter/granddaughter

  2. Be less critical of things

  3. Actually ring in the New Year this year lol


[gallery ids="302,314" type="rectangular"]

 

Misc.

[caption id="attachment_818" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000806 Foggy mornings with the needle[/caption]

[gallery ids="364,370" type="rectangular"]

P1000728P1000736

[caption id="attachment_865" align="alignnone" width="4147"]P1000737 Walking along the Spree[/caption]

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[gallery ids="332,552" type="rectangular"]

P1000808

[caption id="attachment_853" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000809 “Do you want some bread?” “Anwyn, all we’ve bloody eaten for the last week is bread”[/caption]

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So this is a reflection on my time in Amsterdam – stop one on our European sojourn. Our apartment is up an absolutely backbreaking, booty-forming set of stairs (so, the typical Dutch stairs). As houses used to be taxed on their width, the Dutch compensated in order to have more living space by building rooms with high ceilings – which meant that the stairs had to be accordingly narrow, winding and steep. As we were on the fourth floor, getting up there with heavy suitcases that just fit the width of the stairway, and definitely could not balance on the shallow depth of each step, meant that getting to our apartment was a personal Everest, where I saw my life flash before my eyes a few times.

[caption id="attachment_203" align="alignnone" width="720"]12467772_10153869482743872_772170266_n.jpg Halfway up to level one[/caption]

The apartment itself is cosy for two, and just crowded for the four of us. We have to put our suitcases in the hallway that is owned by the people on level two, but apparently that’s okay because “they won’t come up here… unless they do”. On the plus side, he has provided us with about 12 varieties of tea (the Dutch love their tea weak, and apple/berry/cinnamon flavoured it seems). The balcony is also very quaint and lovely, but unfortunately too cold to hang out on for longer than twenty minutes at a time.

12467736_10153869482628872_1539041244_n.jpg

We wandered the local market (gouda cheese is pretty average) and had dinner at the Italian around the corner, where we had the worst service I’ve ever had in my life. Tap water wasn’t served unless you ordered a glass of wine, so Jeanette decided to have half a litre to herself so the table could stay hydrated (which was probably a good idea after the food came out). Several mishaps later (mixed up orders, forgotten food, undercooked food and zero apologies), we left to collapse in bed.

P1000457.JPG

The tour we went on really helped me to appreciate both the history of Amsterdam and the current day attitudes of the Dutch. From the beginning, the Dutch seemed to a resilient people, establishing the city of Amsterdam by fighting against the sea and rerouting the water to form the canals. It was in part this early struggle against adversity, where religious and cultural differences became secondary to uniting against a common enemy, as well as the fact that the Netherlands didn’t have a monarch until relatively later on, that meant that it was, and still is, a remarkably tolerant country. In fact, it will pretty much be atheist by next year. This was something we saw reflected in the fact that two of the oldest, grandest and most historic churches in town (the Old Church and the New Church) are both no longer in use as churches with weekly services. The New Church has been turned into a museum, and Old Church is used more for events. Another church in town is now a nightclub (Paradiso).

[caption id="attachment_207" align="alignnone" width="720"]12459618_10153869483058872_1632689902_n.jpg Part of the Light Festival - apparently it's about celebrating America's ideals of freedom but let's be real... nice cover story[/caption]

 

From the beginning, the Amsterdam has also been a city that holds dualities and contradictions. The red light district was built around the Old Church, and they were built together – which seems like an odd choice, until the tour guide explained that it was for several reasons. The first was that it was because the priests wanted an inconspicuous way to go about satisfying their desires, and the second was that it was good for business. As it was a trading town, sailors would often come through, visit the girls, and then head to the church to pay a small fee to the church in order to absolve their sins. They could also trade a few hours or days of labour, so the different coloured bricks in the Old Church show where adequate funding and labour allowed the extension of the church. As our tour guide put it… “sin and salvation go hand in hand”. The red light district is mainly made up of alleyways with small rooms lit with a very obvious red light outside. Each small room is the width of a glass door, where girls stand behind and pose, waiting for customers to come up and knock on the door. What is cool though, is that Amsterdam has actually made prostitution legal. It means that the industry is now regulated and safer (pimping is illegal), so girls can work for themselves, on their own terms. Things like weed, which is clearly very much available throughout the city (you get a whiff every time you turn a corner) is actually illegal to grow, buy or smoke, but is condoned by the government as it brings in a lot of business. Interestingly, only 17% of all Dutch have ever actually tried weed, and they are also never in the top ten of countries that habitually use it – perhaps a statistic in favour of the legalisation of weed. Our tour guide seemed to be adamant that weed is a drug that has been falsely maligned in the media, and seemed very much in support of shrooms (lol).

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The Dutch also seemed very much in support of political freedom – if someone has a dissenting opinion, there is always space for it be expressed and debated. This was especially evident in the 60s and 70s, with passive aggressive revolts against the actions of the monarchy, as well as the emergence of squatting culture. There was a bit of a housing crisis in the 70s, with real estate proprietors buying up old canal buildings with the intention of turning them into high rise apartments. However, all these buildings were heritage listed, so could not be torn down. To get around this stipulation, they decided to let the houses fall into disrepair, in order to have “no choice” but to tear them down and rebuild. This led to a housing crisis, where students had no place to live, despite the countless empty apartments lining the street. Soon, they began to squat (then, illegally) in the empty rooms. They began to maintain and look after the buildings, and this meant that the houses were not falling into disrepair as planned. The companies tried to take the squatters to court, but in absence of any good reason as to why the rooms were empty, the court ruled that squatting was legal so long as you were undiscovered for more than 24 hours. This was legal up until very recently, which I think is just an example of how the Dutch government rules more for the common citizen rather than being swayed by the larger corporations.

[caption id="attachment_214" align="alignnone" width="720"]12459756_10153869483398872_591067016_n.jpg A squat house that was successfully bought from the realtors[/caption]

Amsterdam is very much a biking city, with a population of 1.5 million and a bike count of 1.7 million. Children are transported around in these cute little carts. As soon as the Dutch (or anyone including myself really, as I came to realise) get on two wheels, it’s like all the road rules become suggestions instead. They’re silent and fast, and never use their bells. I’ve seen people use their phones, cycling hands-free, and be so busy scrolling through Facebook that they just cycle on through red lights. I have no idea how, but I’m still alive today after half a day on the roads. It was absolutely lovely to cycle along the canals though, and watch the lights turn on in the houses as the day turned to evening. Although the Dutch don’t really “do” Christmas like Londoners (even the galleries were open on Christmas), the warm lights and decorations shining through the tall windows are really very pretty. Catching glimpses of a Dutch family sitting down for a meal, some nice interior decorating, and floor to ceiling bookshelves made me feel super warm and fuzzy inside. At night, the houses all look like little gingerbread houses, slightly wonky but very charming.

[caption id="attachment_218" align="alignnone" width="720"]12443037_10153869484423872_705807311_n A sea of bikes - 1,200 - 1,500 fall into the canals each year[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_222" align="alignnone" width="720"]12443194_10153869484108872_21600988_n.jpg lel @ grumpy cat in the background[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_224" align="alignnone" width="720"]12459650_10153869484203872_833119480_n.jpg Lights starting the turn on[/caption]

A lot of houses actually lean slightly forwards, with a hook above the very top window. With the crazy Dutch staircases, it’s actually impossible to get things like sofas or fridges upstairs, so what they used to do, and what they still do, is that they will have a pulley system on the outside of the house, and directly move objects to the top floor through the window. The aesthetics of the houses, the biking culture, along with the very liberal and very tolerant politics and attitudes of the Dutch, has really made me think that it is somewhere I can see myself living for a couple of years in the future.

[caption id="attachment_216" align="alignnone" width="720"]12483769_10153869482843872_1507915999_n.jpg A quiet courtyard in a converted nunnery, where the residents now must be female spinsters[/caption]

In terms of food, the best dinner we had was probably at Maoz, a little vegetarian chain that specialises in hot, crunchy, falafels and a delicious open salad bar. Other Dutch specialities we tried were Stroopwafels (thin, crunchy waffles sandwiched by a caramel syrup), Appeltart (they Dutch know how to do apple tarts – sooo good) and Olieballs (warm, deep fried dough rolled in powdered sugar).

[caption id="attachment_226" align="alignnone" width="720"]12442819_10153869483643872_1371076131_n.jpg MAOZ how can veggies be this good[/caption]

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For cultural stuff, we visited the Rijks museum, which housed a lot old Dutch masterpieces. My absolute favourites were the Vermeers, which had just a beautiful simplicity, balance of light and stillness. I also liked all the Dutch landscapes, portraits and still lifes, which seem to be different from the more sombre British/Australian style. I noticed that the portraits seemed infused with more of a lightness and movement in the sitter’s eyes and postures. I also loved the detail and symbolism in the still lifes, which was something I was super into in Year 12, and very cool to see up close in real life.

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The Van Gogh museum was also something special. The main exhibit itself housed a lot of his work – some of it, I would say were definitely more just experiments and plays with different techniques, rather than great works. It was interesting to see how his style, technique and focus changed over his career and after being introduced to various movements. There were a lot of the same-same-but-different self-portraits (Van Gogh against a blue backdrop with a hat), which was kind of like, as Damien put it, viewing someone’s selfie-Instagram feed. The best wing though, was the Munch/Van Gogh exhibit, which in my opinion was better than the rest of the gallery put together. This exhibit paralleled the works of the two artists, who worked during overlapping years with similar themes, and included some masterpieces of the artists in their circles that inspired both their works. It was great because suddenly you had some masterpieces just suddenly popping up – some Manets, Gaughains, and then the classically great works by Munch and Van Gogh (such as The Scream and van Gogh’s Sunflowers). My favourites were the Madonna by Munch, as well the portraits of the solider, the room and starry sky by van Gogh.

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The most sobering experience we had was probably the visit to the Anne Frank museum. It was really quite sad that the despite the father’s foresight (they moved from Germany as soon as Hitler came to power, and were one of the first to go into hiding when the Nazis arrived in the Netherlands), he was the only one who managed to survive. Viewing snippets of her life and her diary as we walked through their hideout, I came to realise how wise she was, and how despite the terrible cruelties she was seeing, hearing, and living, she still “believed in the goodness of mankind”. That sort of optimism is something I think I will try carry with me for a while, and I’m definitely going to go read her diary when I get home.

Xmas fam pics:

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London Day 8 & 9

No, you didn’t sleep through two posts, yes this is out of order. Posting has sort of been erratic/hard because I totally had everything up-to-date and journaled (v. organised), until Word quit on me and everything deleted (trust me, the only person more devo than you is me). The only upshot of this is that as I am rewriting, I can make a conscious effort to sound less like a pretentious wanker. It does mean that I prefer to write up what’s fresh in my mind, so the in-between London posts will come sometime later.

As I’m writing this now, it’s dark outside and I’m sitting in my new room on Portobello Rd, watching people walk around the street below – this makes me sound like a massive creepster, but I love people watching. The house is really narrow, literally a doorway wide, which means every floor only has one or two rooms (Bathroom Level 1, Balcony Level 2, Kitchen Level 3, Bedroom Level 4 etc.). I’m on the very top floor, sharing the level with some Tibetan headdresses and piles of tweed jackets.

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The house itself is filled with paintings and little knick-knacks on the walls, some of which may be there to cover holes in the wall. The host is absolutely lovely, and seems like a very busy, very creative sort of person. So I was settling in earlier today, taking selfies etc. etc., it was all going well – when suddenly I hear a man’s voice and then suddenly (and I couldn’t quite tell if it was next door or the floor below or what) a woman starts yelling, and screaming, and then crying… and this goes on for a good 15 minutes. Amidst shouts of I’m sick of your emotional manipulation!!!... You’re SO MEAN and I just want A REAL CAREER, I get real hungry, so I head off downstairs to the kitchen – turns out the argument was happening in the room next door and as I opened the door, I made awkward eye contact with this guy. Which is momentarily awkward, but ok, no worries, arguments happen and that’s life hey, so I make my way into the kitchen. Upon opening the fridge, it’s pitch black, massively over frosted and the shelves are crammed full of the usual suspects (bottles of forgotten condiments,  six half drunk bottles of milk, five containers of crème fraiche… just the usual). It’s not cold in there either, so I assume it’s no longer functional, or relying on the ambient coolness in the room to chill the goods.

I have half a cold bagel with me, but I realise there’s no toaster or microwave. Heating up a whole oven seems excessive (also, I open the oven, and there’s three trays of what I can assume are stodgy leftovers from a week ago, because that’s how old the food looks – and I really can’t deal with more of this shit right now). I look around this eclectic kitchen, which was cute on first impression, and now less cute when I can’t find the salt or even a pan amongst the random collection of vases and crockery, and I decide the only way to warm up this bagel is to put it straight onto a pan and heat it that way. Which I do, and it’s kind of working alright, when the man comes into the kitchen.

Him: Hi

Me: Oh Hi

And then we continued in uncompanionable silence. He started to make a coffee, and I continued to stare at the stove, thinking - do I have to explain that I’m the Airbnb person? Do I try make small talk? Do I try explain why there are two pieces of bread just chilling/cooking on this pan? It was the longest five minutes of my life.

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[caption width="424" id="attachment_138" align="alignnone"]1059023_10153842466493872_60213356_n Close up of this CREEPY AS PAINTING (still cool tho)[/caption]
[caption width="434" id="attachment_139" align="alignnone"]12404628_10153842466403872_1902156769_n ... right below a pic of Jesus[/caption]Shortly after, I just decided to go for a run down to Kensington Garden, and leave them to their domestic dispute. Portobello is kind of a strange mish-mash of throngs of tourists buying cheaply made little trinkets alongside Mercs and multi-million pound mansions (which were very pretty with their pastel facades).

[caption width="720" id="attachment_144" align="alignnone"]12398917_10153842466158872_797947031_n How other-wordly do these trees look?![/caption]Kensington Park is this massive park with buildings, statues and galleries scattered throughout, sort of haphazardly, as if someone went: Wow, we’ve made this massive bronze statue, now where do we put it?

The Serpentine Gallery had some pretty weird stuff. There was a pop-art-ish one was meant to be about the transience/fast-paced turnover of technology, but honestly I was more impressed by the artist’s ability to place the just right pure pigments of colour next to each other. The end product is bright and in-your-face, but the objects still stand out from the background and the colours don't clash in cringe-worthy way. Their bookshop was also really well curated with art books that were actually interesting, and more thought-provoking political/critical/analytical works. I only picked up two Shrigley postcards in the end, because I just bought a Kindle, and I am now forever committed to buying eBooks to justify the purchase.

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Afterwards, I wandered back in the dark (at 5pm) and saw my dear, dear friend JAANETTE, and heard about her life-and-death journeys in Iceland (manning snow mobiles in a zero visibility ice storms included). That country is going straight to the top of the bucket-list. Man, wandering around London alone has been fun, but seeing friends just makes me realise that I’m ready to actually have travelling companions now.

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DAY something on Portobello (Day 9)

Today was high tea at The Orangery in Kensington Gardens, properly hanging out with Jeanette and Anwyn bebe for the first time in months. It is a beautiful building from the outside, and was used specially to cultivate oranges.

[caption width="720" id="attachment_154" align="alignnone"]12395194_10153842466048872_666256511_n.jpg The Orangery off in yonder distance[/caption]I was definitely looking forward to the scones (orange scented!) and the smoked salmon bagel. I think the selection was perfectly fine, but everything from the tea to the scones were just a bit bland, and the desserts were more sugary than flavoursome (super :( ). The best item on the plates was the cucumber and mint sandwich, which was an unexpectedly refreshing combination.

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After multiple selfies and hours of unremarkable conversation (lel jokes, jokes), we headed off to Regent St/Oxford St in search of tacky Christmas jumpers (I was gunning for a 3D LED light up one). What we met instead was a swarm of Christmas shoppers, a crowd so thick that attempts at walking were reduced to waddling along with your fellow suffering comrade. There is something uniquely soul-sucking about Selfridges at Christmas, which I think has something to do with the sheer amount of shiny, whirring, plastic, stuffed crap that is piled sky high across multiple levels. All these harried shoppers swarm over these meaningless objects, and it’s just depressingly wasteful when you know all these glittery money making products are just going to end up in a landfill in a matter of months, ready for cycle to begin again next Christmas, and so on and so forth and so on and so forth and so on and so forth until you have your own children and you find yourself picking up the latest Disney figurine that now shoots laser beams out of its ass.

[caption width="451" id="attachment_185" align="alignnone"]12431537_10153842530058872_54130570_n This was on the quieter end of Regent St[/caption]Apologies for the language, but can you tell how sad/mad I was that it brought my mood down from a tea-induced-100 to 0 in a matter of minutes? Anyway, I decided a trip to the Royal Academy gallery might be a last-ditch effort to rectify the situation – which it did, thankfully. The now famous Ai Wei Wei trees were impressive visually and quite clever in meaning.

The trees themselves were made from wood gathered over many regions in China. In putting together these Frankenstein trees, Ai represents the People’s Republic stubbornly uniting various provinces under its own name, provinces that are otherwise independent in language and culture. These trees are stark and bare (emphasised by the very appropriately grey London skies), suggesting that this effort is not a fruitful or rewarding one. The marble couch in the far corner is reminiscent of the Ming tradition of crafting objects out of precious materials, rendering them useless in practicality. In this critique of the government (a running theme throughout his works), he exposes a  regime crippled by its paranoid need for power, and insistence on holding onto people and lands whose interests it doesn’t first and foremost represent.

[caption width="700" id="attachment_188" align="alignnone"]notmine.jpg Once again, stolen off the internet (magsramsay.blogspot.co.uk) because London is dark by 4PM. I might go back to take a photo during the day tomorrow, but there's an equally likely chance I won't[/caption]See what I mean?!?! Something with thought and actual significance, which was exactly what I needed after this madness.

Now, I’m going to struggle with uploading all the pictures to this post before taking a consciously chilled-out day tomorrow. The plan is to take a leisurely stroll down the road to the fruit and veg market, and come back and make my speciality banana pancakes, find recipe below:

Ingredients:

1 Banana, mashed

Toasted coconut flakes

Enough oatmeal to make a paste

Optional: Desperation as you realise you have zero ingredients to make actual food because you can’t buy/eat entire packets of things in two days.

Method: Combine and cook, scrape off the bottom of the pan

It actually tastes remarkably okayish, will make for anyone that requests.

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Day 1

Day 1 in London has welcomed me with grey, drizzly arms. Mel collected me from the station, and as we rounded the corner to her place, the street was – in one word – charming. The photos don’t quite do it justice, and in the background around the bend, you can see the pointed roof of St. Pancreas station (an architectural landmark in its own right). The day was spent settling in, grocery shopping (the tea range here is BIG as expected, but tofu is oddly absent), and running errands and  sightseeing at Covent Garden. This was an area busy with winding streets of full of high street stores, pubs and theatres. I guess going to pubs is either a really big thing here, or there are just a lot of people, or the pubs are really small (or all of the above), because throngs of people spill out from pretty much every pub, with people in business suits and Santa hats just standing and drinking on the pavement. The live music (string quartets, opera singers) at Covent makes wandering through there so entertaining. The tea stores were heavenly – I really don’t want to return to Australia like a tea mule but I think it’s inevitable. It seems like every time you turn a corner, London just has more to show in terms of architecture. I feel like every street looks like the Paris end of Collins St, except with a very flat front (so if it rains, you have nothing to duck under). The shops are all very European in appearance, and with the lights and decorations up at night it really looks spectacular. It might be for the tourists, but London does Christmas well.

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From there, we made our way to the Southbank Christmas markets (basically a collection of food stalls) along the Thames. Caramelised roasted nuts are a thing here. I got one of these Polish sausage things, it pretty much tasted as good as it looked.

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Later, we walked across to The Shard for some drinks up on level 31which commands some absolutely spectacular views over London. Seriously, this is the view as you wash your hands at the basin. They don’t even bother putting a mirror above the basin (wise choice). It was a pretty classy joint, so apart from being called out for looking like a tourist in my thermals and questioned as to where I came from by the waiter (“Australia?? Not China or Japan?”), it was a nice place to hang (prices to match sky-high views). It was super nice to catch up with Mel, and I will enjoy her bed as she jets off to Iceland.

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DAY TWO:

Today started off with a quick jog up and around the Angel Islington region, which is much nicer and posher than its Monopoly position would have one believe. The houses here are more square looking, and a bit wider, and a couple have nice tiled steps up to the door.

The first stop of the day was the Tower of London. Initially I was a bit apprehensive as it seemed like a tourist must-do, but it ended up being a really great experience. If you had the patience to read all the labels, you would really get a lot out of it. For example, the Old Mint sounded really boring, but it was actually great to read about the facts of changing currency over time – with austerity measures, silver coins were now mixed with cheaper metals, which in turn lead to inflation. The currency was initially made with precious metals like gold or silver. Clever citizens would clip the edges of the coin, melting them down as they would be more valuable as a metal than the currency they were worth as coins. Others would hoard new silver coins and trade them overseas as their weight in silver. But you would still need cash to use, so people made fakes to spend back home. Fakes were a big problem, and apparently there were almost as many fakes as real coins in circulation.

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You can't visit the tower without appreciating its bloody history. It seems pretty unbelievable that you could just order someone in your family to get their head chopped off, and more so that you couldn’t even trust your siblings in the first place. Different times, and all that, I guess. What was pretty cool were the elaborate pieces that were carved into the walls by prisoners awaiting death. There were some real masterpieces alongside some kinda wonky ones. I can’t really imagine being in a freezing stone tower, contemplating your inevitable death while chipping an insistence of your existence (or your innocence) into the walls.

[caption id="attachment_107" align="alignnone" width="358"]tolgraffiti Stolen off Google because I forgot to take a photo (lel how ironic)[/caption]

 

I then raced off to St Paul’s Cathedral, a journey that should have taken 30 mins max… and ended up being about 1 hour thanks to my navigation skills. LifeTip #1 – if the GPS says you are going in the wrong direction, you probably are.

[caption id="attachment_120" align="alignnone" width="720"]gherk like... at least I managed to stumble upon the gherkin while going in the wrong direction??[/caption]

Although I was too late for regular entry, I ended up waiting for the Evensong service (spending time in space as it was meant to be used, and all that). I snagged a seat sitting up near the choir, which was in quite close proximity to the altar and the priest. The service went as most do (lots of singing), and I think all the walking around made me really tired, and it was a bit of a struggle to keep awake during the quiet time for prayer.

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On the walk back, I realised that London had an insane amount of cheap fast meal-to-go sort of outlets, just dominated by the same sushi/sandwich chains. It's a convenient city to be in.

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DAY ONE - HONG KONG

I thought I was pretty clever in booking a day stopover, which would allow me to eat my way across Hong Kong. What I forgot to factor in was the carry-on I would be sweating under for the whole day, and the fact that Hong Kong was in actual fact, not really a metropolis of small eateries. Nevertheless, my initial impressions of the city were very favourable. The natural grandeur of Hong Kong’s islands as they rose out of the water, obscured by what was either low-hanging cloud or a thick fog, mirrored the sky-ward soaring ambitions of man – the monolithic unit blocks of a city in a state of seemingly perpetual construction.

When I reached Ngong Ping Cable Car, I realised I was an hour early, and so decided to take a ~*~spontaneous~*~ trip on the MTR, hopping off whenever I felt like it. The first thing I noticed was that the MTR was ridiculously quick (waiting about 5 minutes between services) and ridiculously easy to navigate. Snatches of Hong Kong whipped past - flashes of concrete units, greenery and pale grey-blue water. I began to think about the public housing that the government provided most Hong Kong residents. They were impressive from a distance – solid, hulking blocks of concrete that created their own indelible mark on the skyline. But up close, pieces of people’s lives peeked out from the small rectangular windows, some individuality within the strict uniformity of the regulated façade: A pair of underpants fluttering madly in the breeze, some peeling posters hanging on for dear life. What would life be like living in a tiny apartment, with innumerable tenants above and below, everyone going about their lives in such close proximity to one another, but separated by definitively by regulatory uniform concrete walls?

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Suddenly, the city gave way to an open port, and then, what seemed like a bare, sheer, cliff face. It took seconds for me to register that the mottled rock face was actually made up of rows upon rows of concrete memorials in various stages of aging. My immediate thought was – these people die as they live. It was a bit of a morbid thought, but the stacks on stacks of square tombstones, like little granulations protruding out of the rock, mirrored in colour, material and uniformity the public housing I had seen just seconds earlier. Undoubtedly life in the public housing blocks is probably nowhere near as terrible as I am making it sound. But the world seems headed towards becoming these dense cities – when the suburbs have sprawled as far inland as possible, and the world’s population swells along its projected trajectory , this might be the most sustainable form of sheltering masses of people. As selfish as it sounds, however, I don’t want it to. I like my house, I like my garden, I like the space and freedom of not living sandwiched between people on all four sides of you.

 

One thing I loved about Hong Kong though – I have never been surrounded by so many Asian people in my life. There is something completely comforting about looking into faces of people that are strangely familiar to the reflection you see in the mirror every day.

[caption id="attachment_22" align="alignnone" width="4592"]P1000050.JPG Wait about two minutes and the stairs will be swarmed with peak hour commuters[/caption]

It did make me feel terrible that I couldn’t speak any Cantonese (despite the fact that no one in my family is from Hong Kong), I felt like an ignorant child who had come into the country, and did not even have the basic decency to learn the language. My first instinct was to try speak in Mandarin, as if to prove that I did not, in fact, throw away all my heritage. But the warnings that I had received from my mum echoed in my mind. All the way to the airport, she had gifted me with numerous pearls of wisdom and too many reminders, and out of the plethora she bestowed on me, this one surfaced: basically a significant portion of Hong Kong people hate, or at least, feel some form of antagonism towards the Mainland, for political, cultural and economic reasons that I did not quite understand until I spoke to Mel about it later. So, I was reduced to speaking my English everywhere I went, internally wincing every time at how distinctly foreign I was, how the language I communicated so easily in back home felt so ill-placed coming out of my mouth here.

 

The crowds were a bit of a two-way street though. On the one hand, I loved the hustle and bustle of a grimy city that never stopped churning. On the other hand, I felt as if it was a city that one could all too easily disappear in – as if I could easily melt away into the background (die, or something), and no one would notice, it would not even be a blip on anyone’s radar.

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So enough of my thoughts, and onto some activities. I was back at Ngong Ping after an uneventful adventure. Earlier, I had hopped off at Lai King, and it took me half an hour of tailing young people who looked like they were on a leisurely day out (until they vanished into office blocks) to finally be convinced that there was probably not much more to it than being an industrial town.

[caption id="attachment_26" align="alignnone" width="3448"]laiking1 Lai King - grey on grey on grey[/caption]

The cable car ride itself was beautiful and probably the highlight of Ngong Ping. I could see the city, now more spectacular and less formidable from afar, and the wide stretches of water, as well as the green landscape below. The Buddha walk was fine as well – but I was a bit shocked (although I really shouldn’t have been) at how commercialised everything had become. Entering the village was through a long, narrow giftshop (probably shaped for maximum exposure of product to tourist), with the “village” on the other end really a collection of traditional storefronts that had been turned into food stores (everything from Starbucks to kebabs) and souvenir shops touting chopsticks, flashy plastic jewellery and imitation Chanel bags. Even the venerable Buddha was not immune, with a food and gift store sitting under His crossed feet, waiting for tourists fat with appetite and money. My favourite place was the Temple, which was gaudy in its own way, but was still a reminder that at one point in time, it was probably a special place of worship.

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The next place I was determined to make it to was the stretch of markets in Mong Kok. I was initially a little apprehensive, as my friend had told me it was located all along the red light district, and I just realised that in a country where I had no wifi and no SIM, my offline maps had also not downloaded. Nevertheless, I wandered around for a bit, and decided to follow my nose. Which thankfully lead me to a small storefront with a disproportionately large queue. I soon discovered they all seemed to be locals, lining up patiently for soup and wonton, or a cold chilli based noodle. Well, the day was all about seizing opportunities and what-not, so despite just having lunch, I decided I could probably go for a bowl of dumplings. Although I had my own gripe with speaking English, it really is quite a legitimate way to communicate, a lot of people speaking English. The shop owner, upon learning that I was from Melbourne, happily told me that his sister lived there. Well, the dumplings were pretty good, but all I could taste was the addictive chilli oil base, which reminded me of the Szechuan style of chilli (ma la, as I believe they say). And I wasn’t complaining, it was the right mix of spices and chilli, and a bit of freshness from coriander that kept you going back for more. (Please contact my manager regarding all food review requests).

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Some other markets I toured were the Flower market, the Bird market, the Ladies market (not much apart from stalls selling the same variation of cheap bags and hosiery) and the Goldfish market. Apart from the novelty of the goldfish in bags, it was actually quite sad to see some of the other animals on the street. Huskies, for example, were kept in tiny glass boxes. That is no place for such an active species, but I guess that’s how things work here. The final market, Temple St Food Market, was disappointingly quiet, apart from a small restaurant with a line that looked about an hour long. Well, screw that. I ended up with about 10 mangoes as I wasn’t quite sure how to negotiate just buying one. I managed to down about three before I had to leave them on the side of the road to head back to the airport. I hope they found a good home.

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fishies

That was my day in Hong Kong. I’m sure there’s so much more left to explore, but I’m not sure how keen I am to get back. The hustle and bustle gets tiring after a while, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that very evident rich-poor divide.

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I’m not one for formalities, but it feels wrong to start without an introduction. The Germans have a tradition known as wanderjahre, where in order to earn the status of ‘master’, apprentices leave their teachers and their homes, travelling far and wide to gain experience and hone their skills. I am neither an apprentice, nor am I German. Actually, I’m just taking a holiday and hoping that I have accrued enough life skills to avoid any moderately severe self-instigated catastrophe.

This blog is kept mostly for my own records, but there is an undeniable fraction that aims to instill a serious sense of FOMO in anyone who reads this. So, with this in mind, come join me in my journey of self-discovery, wine, cheese and hopefully not being Taken (I, II or III).

I’m pretty excited about this, as you may or may not be able to tell from this pretty zoomed up pic of ma schnoz.

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