Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A not-so-gloomy birthday weekend in Budapest

Before this weekend, I knew next to nothing about Budapest, except that it was the setting for the movie Gloomy Sunday, which has a really good (and gloomy) soundtrack, and had mixed reviews from the friends who had travelled there. Lauren had seen Gloomy Sunday, plus two other Holocaust-related movies set there, and - despite being put off Eastern Europe a bit by grumpy Bulgarians - decided it would be a good place to turn 28 in.

What a masterstroke. Budapest is brilliant, in the central city at least much more Austro-Hungarian grandeur than decaying Communist concrete. It's definitely the prettiest city we've seen at night, when the gorgeous buildings on both sides of the Danube River are lit up by scores of lights. The perfect place to wander about and remember that you can still be romantic and goopy when you're old and crusty like us. It wasn't gloomy at all.

No, I wasn't drunk - I had to stick the camera on an angled wall to keep it still.

The Parliament and the Danube.

Fisherman's Bastion

As in any any self-respecting capital, there was many a stone lion to pose with.

The synagogue

The memorial cemetary at the synagogue. All the dates ended in 1944 or 1945.

Gelert Spa - nearly as good as Awakeri Hot Springs.

There was only one lowlight. Before going my workmate Jay told me palinka, the local drink, tasted like mouthwash. He was being generous.

Monday, 18 February 2008

We're famous!

For a belated Christmas present, Erin sent me a neat little book, Little Histories, that was published by the Department of Internal Affairs late 2007. It's an interesting read, and filled with some great photographs of births, deaths and marriages throughout New Zealand's history.
Some of the photography is beautiful, my favourite being of an unidentified Maori woman taken at a funeral in the 1920s. Imagine our surprise, then, when we flipped to page 66 and saw a photo of us. (click here for a link to the pdf - see Chapter Four "Marriage Ceremonies") The photo was taken by a Dominion Post photographer at our ceremony last April because of me appearing in a newspaper feature about women changing their names after getting hitched, and after the feature ran it never occurred to us that it would resurface. I haven't laughed so hard since I watched Flight of the Concords last. I suppose it makes sense that they chose a photo of us alongside other arty historic shots as we are a hetero couple that got a civil union in a registry office, with a proper photo to boot. We still think that it's hilarious though - you should check it out! And maybe even buy a copy yourself as I am sure that every bookshelf needs a book with a photo of Tane and me inside ...

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The man whose house was at deep mid-on

This is a little tribute to Mr Mogford, my family's neighbour.

Mr Mogford was the last of the neighbours who were there when we moved onto our section, back when I was a toddler. He and his wife helped my parents a lot while Dad was building our house. Randomly, he used to work with Grandad (Mum's dad) at the Power Board. I remember the two grey-haired men chatting over the fence one day.

I did not know Mr Mogford well. What I mostly remember is his good humour - which he needed, as his immaculately maintained section was at about deep mid-on from the sports field where we played cricket. We were always hitting balls over there. He'd be there with a smile to let us in and sometimes helped us look for the ball under the big plum tree, or amongst the garden, or next to the shed.

He died last Thursday, suddenly, aged 86.

From Jane Austen to Berenstein Bears

In Emma, Jane Austen wrote "Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what every body found so well worth seeing, and she and Mr. Weston had agreed to chuse some fine morning and drive thither." We also decided to see what Jane Austen had written about, so Megan, Tane and I chose a fine morning to train thither and climb the hill.

"It was a sweet view--sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive." - Jane Austen. Oh, and Tane in the foreground too.

Rather than making fools of ourselves while up the hill as Emma did, though, we had a lovely walk through the hills, past some hairy cows, down some lanes, and through a little village filled with houses with names like "Mole's Manor" and " The White House". As Jane Austen wrote, the walk around the hill was indeed dirty. We are hardy Antipodeans rather than wussy regency maidens and men in tight tights, however, so did not lament the need for a donkey to carry us up as is in the book. The cows were so sturdy looking I am sure that they would have sufficed if I did decide to do it in again a corset and round gown next time though.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's an exceptionally hairy cow!

The walks around Box Hill were exceptionally badly signposted and we got quite lost. We found ourselves wandering through sheep paddocks and up roads that seemed to lead to no-where. After a couple of hours, though, we emerged back into civilisation and found that we were in Dorking. Yes, there is a town in Surrey called Dorking, and four months is London still isn't enough not to find that funny. Heh. Dorking. Not only does Dorking have a funny name, but we also found that all of the directions given by locals reminded up a lot of those in the Berenstein's Bears book "Bears in the Night" (out of the bed, under the bridge, past the tree, up Spook Hill) so well became very well acquainted with Dorking's back alleys.

Around the hill, past the sheep, past the lycra-clad cyclists, through the trees, and up Spook Hill!

While we did not have servants to collect us in a carriage afterward as happened in Emma, it was a great day to get out of London and see some of the "English verdure" Jane Austen wrote about. Living in London it can be hard to remember what green fields look like, so it was a fabulous way to spend a Saturday.

In other news, this side of the world seems to be having a crazy sunny and quite warm period at the moment. This may be the best weather we will get until summer 2009, but we are making the most of it. I had to put this pic in taken at Kensington Gardens last weekend to prove it ...
Please note Tane's shorts and Sarah's jandals ..

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Celebrating Waitangi Day on the tube

Yesterday Tane and I joined an estimated 10,000 other New Zealanders for the annual Waitangi Day Circle Line Pub Crawl. The rules were pretty simple: wear NZ gears, sing loudly, stop at various pubs along the Circle Line, only travel on Cirle Line Trains, and while on the trains, you are not to sit down or hold on. So, early Saturday morning we boarded the train to Paddington to start and as soon as I saw a guy dressed in a NZ police uniform in Ealing and a girl with a tui hat and Glassons bag, I knew it would turn into a pretty good day.

Waiting for the tube in Bayswater

Given the amount of beer that was flowing, it's remarkable that it didn't turn ferral. The huge crowd was in pretty good spirts though, except of course when some people clad in balck and white were caught boarding a District Line train and were booed at by hundreds of people. And when one guy was caught holding on while the rickety train was moving and had to let go after chants of "don't hold on, don't hold on!" Some of the locals looked a bit bewildered but most seemed to be fairly bemused. To quote one english guy "I knew that beating England at the cricket the other night must be a big deal, but this celebration is a bit extreme isn't it?"

People dressed up in all sorts of outfits. Silver ferns and kiwis were everywhere, as were beer t-shirts, NZ flags and buzzy bees. Some were more original - we saw sheep, people dressed up as 1970s policemen, cows, fake AirNZ pilots, fake moko, and t-shirts displaying the tui logo and the phrase "we'd rather be in NZ for Waitangi Day - yeah right!". There were also groups in Tino Rangatiratanga tees, and one bloke who was wearing a t-shirt displaying the text of the Treaty (in English, mind). These were some of my favourite costumes:

One of the themes from the day was saying "good afterble constanoon!" to as many bobbies as possible. As you could imagine, they were everywhere, although seemed to be enjoying themselves as well for the most part. I managed to say it to three policeman - two of whom smiled, and one that looked at me like I was crazy. These ones also let us take a photo with them, hurrah!

The day ended with a mass haka underneath Big Ben in the late afternoon. Traffic came to a standstill and the haka started just after Big Ben struck four. It was standing room only as all the NZers squished in Parliament Square, being photographed by bemused tourists wondering what we were on about.
After the main haka, when the only thing left to do seemed to be cheering the crazy people climbing flagpoles, Tane, Ben and Simon decided to do there own haka as we were walking away. The hilarious thing was though that while doing their poukanas they attracted a small crowd of American tourists and got a big clap for their efforts.
It was a great day, and next year I intend to be there again. Although I am glad that I have an entire year to master the art of being on the tube without holding on.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Making 12 year-old Lauren happy

When I was 11, we had to do a project at Ashhurst School about the letter our name started with. Part of this was a project about a country starting with that letter, and I chose Luxembourg. I became so interested in the tiny country that once aged about 12 a teacher asked where we most wanted to visit when we grew up. "Luxembourg!" was my instant response. It is fortuanate that when I grew up I also met a bloke willing to humour me and come with me to the place that I have wanted to visit for 17 odd years, and we went there last weekend.

Luxembourg City

We stayed in Luxembourg City, the capital and largest city. Of course in such a small country the term "large" is relative though, and the capital has the population of Palmerston North. Luxembourg City is built on a huge rock fortress, and is probably the second prettiest capital city I have been to - after Wellington, naturally. I hadn't realised that Luxembourg is the centre of European banking as well, and as a result feels very wealthy and has excellent shopping to cater for all the fancy finance types that live there.
Luxembourg City

Another intereting thing about Luxembourg is that all the residents speak three languages, French, German and Luxembourgish. All three are taught in school from what I understand, as is English, so getting around was a breeze. I would love to know what language they speak to each other, but coudn't figure it out. Nor could I figure out Luxembourgish, apart from learning the word for 'hello'.

In a park in Luxembourg City. Me walking feeling glad that my project wasn't on Lithuania, Lesotho or Lybia.

While in Luxembourg, we did a great wee trip to the fairytale town Vianden at the other end of Luxembourg. Again, of course, distance in relative, as it was only 45 minutes and 3 euros away. As great as London is, both Tane and I really needed to spend a weekend away from a city filled with 8 million people. Vianden was perfect - it was a gorgeous small town, friendly locals, and some lovely walks around the river.
Tane in Vianden
Sweet, sweet greenery

Vianden, population 1400.

Tane also got something from the trip (as well as a dose of R&R) as while there he saw his first snow fall ever. Alas, it didn't settle, but was pretty exciting nonetheless.
Luxembourg was the prettiest most relaxing part of Europe I have seen yet. I totally recommend it, whether you have wanted to go there since you were 12 or not.