Thursday 12 December 2013

Employ Emergency Manoeuvres!

Well... I had started to write a post about Laura and I's imminent departure for the next exciting leg of our trip-skiing in Canada. I was going to tell you about the epic, back to back ten hour days of driving we did to get to and from Fernie for the jobs fair, which culminated in driving through fog so thick you could cut it with a knife in the middle of the night while singing slightly hysterical renditions of Sound of Music songs trying to stay awake and alert, but how it was all worth it because we were both offered our first choice of jobs. I was going to mention something about how great and convenient it was we were able to leave our skis up there so we wouldn't have to haul them up there with our other luggage come moving time. But that was all before the Canadian immigration department decided to frown upon us.

It's not that we won't get our Canadian work visas, oh no, it's just that we won't get them until the ski season is almost done; and while that's disappointing enough, there are so many more layers of disappointment and hassle. It's an onion of bad news. There's the fact that we didn't find this out for certain until about two days before we were supposed to be leaving for Fernie, the fact that to find this out we had to visit the Canadian consulate in Seattle, be directed to the L.A. Canadian consulate, who have a policy of not answering telephone inquires or e-mails about the subject (yes, seriously, they will not speak to you), call the Canadian consulate in Sydney, and finally drive up to the Canadian border where we ping ponged back and forth between Canada and the U.S. about six times in less than an hour, all to finally be told there was nothing to be done and our visas would not be processed in time.

So we went into crisis mode, executing a very hasty back up plan of applying to jobs at Steamboat Resort in Colorado and changing all our travel plans into an elaborate squiggle across the states to Colorado. The squiggle was elaborate because of a very unfortunate "great convenience". Our skis were in Canada. It would have been bad enough to not be able to go to Fernie for the winter, but to have to arrange to get all the way back up there, get our skis, and see exactly what we would be missing for the winter was just the sad, sad icing on the cake.

So we rented a car, drove all the way to Fernie, spent a night, were reminded just how nice a place it is when the man in the repairs shop adjusted my ski bindings for free, just because, defiantly skied for the afternoon in -21 degree weather, which resulted in a moment of me going from outdoors to heated indoors too quickly, taking my boots off, and being hysterically convinced that my toes were being slowly cut off despite them being right there in front of me, as they warmed back up and feeling returned to them, then we drove all the way back to Coeur de' Alene, Idaho for the night.

The next day we drove to Pendleton, Oregon, a town which seems to be full of some of the nicest people around, where we dropped off the rental car, a man told me I was a free spirit because I was going to Colorado to ski at a moments notice and had no where to live and no job waiting for me (I'm not sure that's the term I would've used...but I'll take it), and a kind man at the Greyhound office pretended against the formidable real evidence to the contrary, that we were only checking two bags each onto the bus and only carrying on one each and a purse so he didn't have to charge us as much. An attempt to honor the kind man's voluntary blindness as much as possible resulted in me spending an hour squatting in the snow rearranging and repacking all our possessions and taping my skis to another bag with copious amounts of packing tape to make it into "one item" while Laura went on an amazing race to return the rental car and catch a taxi back in time for the bus, a taxi ride during which the driver told her all about how his night vision wasn't great (it was nighttime) and about the various people he knew who had recently had heart attacks, including the guy that was supposed to be driving that night that he was filling in for. 

Laura made it back in time and we caught the Greyhound for our 21 hour trip across bits of four states, which involved one transfer of buses at Salt Lake City and a moment where Laura and I were certain we had just walked into a movie as we ate chili and cornbread in a trucker rest stop diner, with snow swirling outside in the night and a waitress coming around asking "how ya doing hon? Can I top that coffee up for ya?". When we arrived in Steamboat we got straight on the free bus service and the friendliness continued with two men on the bus helping me get the tape off my skis, one was so dedicated he tried to break it by biting it with his teeth, quite the introduction. We checked into our hotel, the cheapest one we could find in a town with no youth hostel, and that's where I'm sitting writing this right now. We almost found an apartment to move into with two guys also looking for a place to live, but it fell through when one of them, the ultimate snow bum, lost his job (his second one in two weeks, looks like we dodged a bullet there) and left without warning for California in his van with his two dogs, named Queen and Love ("because (and I quote) love, you gotta have it!"), and the other one stopped texting or calling us back.

So here we are, being all 'free spirit-y'. Laura has a job with the resort, working in the childcare centre, though it hasn't started yet, and I am still unemployed, still waiting to hear back from the myriad of jobs I have applied for and we're both semi-homeless and verging on destitute. But the irrational optimists in us believe it will all work out and the Whidbey islander part of us is focusing on sending positive vibes into the universe. It would be really, really great if it could all work out very soon, but we know that what seems like the worst or weirdest stuff at the time always makes the best stories later. So we're making stories.

Wednesday 30 October 2013


Autumn is a really good look for the Northwest. You get thick fogs that obscure all landmarks and turn ferry crossings (if you happen to live on an island, which I do) into pirate voyages on the high seas, or journeys to the edge of the world in the land of Narnia. You get piles of low, puffy clouds that sit beneath crisp, blue, snow covered mountains like pedestals made of fresh whipped meringue. And you get the Autumn foliage which combines just the right amounts of orange, yellow and red to make it look like the trees are actually glowing, like huge luminous lanterns on a background of thick evergreens. Yes Northwest, if you've got it, flaunt it.

Also, on the agenda for Autumn here is of course the best holiday ever (well my favourite anyway), Halloween. I mean really, what's not to love? You've got masses of candy, you've got an excuse to dress up in costume, you've got a bit of spookiness and intrigue and you've got great parties. Or, if you're in a different age bracket, you've got trick or treating, it's win win all around!

Living in Australia for the past six years has meant it's pretty much been Halloween-party of one for me every October. Well, me and which ever friends I can infuse with some of my rampant Halloween enthusiasm, but for the most part, it isn't really a thing over there. So it's just been me stubbornly carving turnips because the customary big orange pumpkins of the U.S. weren't available (or were, but had been imported from the U.S. and thus cost you your first born and guilt about food miles) and frightening the two groups of trick or treaters we got by forcing lots of candy on them since there might not be any others. But not this year, this year there will be festivities! My costume will be a slightly Gothic Alice, of Wonderland; there are petticoats involved, I'm excited. I'm going to a haunted house which may or may not be in an old morgue, then out on the town with my friends Scarlett O'Hara, a lady pirate, a cat, and some surprises. I've already spent a pleasant day carving jack o' lanterns (from locally grown big orange pumpkins), drinking hot apple cider and volunteering as a guide on a friend's haunted woods walk. Now I just need my boss to give me November 1st off.... Happy Halloween!     

Monday 1 July 2013

Commuting Commentary

Nothing like starting your morning with a brisk run. Or at least, I imagine you would feel that way if you were doing it by choice. When you're running to catch a ferry and both your shoes go flying off your feet, and the reason you're running late is because you had to fill the water trough of your elderly pet pig, you might feel it's kind of an odd way to start your morning... If you also happen to to be feeling a bit queasy from the potentially under-cooked porridge you ate that morning because, you know, you were in a hurry and for some reason are incapable of making porridge, even the instant stuff (yet remain hopeful that you'll get the hang of it any day now), well then that's just icing on the cake. Speaking theoretically of course, not referencing a particular morning I've had recently or anything...

Public transport commuting. It's not for the faint of heart. Between the the people you meet/interact with, the hours in advance you must leave in order to reach your destination on time and the lengthy periods of time spent sitting on a cold curb feeling your bum go numb it is important to be adequately prepared. It is vital to have reading material, for instance. A source of music is also very important, especially if you're one of those people that can't read in moving vehicles. An Ipod or similar is also useful for deflecting any unwanted social interactions, nothing says don't talk to me like a pair of headphones in your ears (which, incidentally, is an over used manouver in today's society, I said unwanted social interactions, many people seem to think this should be used to avoid any social interactions). It is also good to have water with you, especially if you have short connection times that require running (speaking from more personal experience than I would like in this instance), but you also don't want to drink too much water, depending on the length of your commute and the availability of bathroom facilities along the way. Here in the U.S., I find it is also very useful to carry a lot of one dollar bills with you, in addition to them ensuring you always have correct bus fare, I just find that one dollar bills come in handy a lot. They're nice to have for your random acts of kindness for the day, ie. giving to the homeless, or the person in front of you on the bus who doesn't have quite enough for their fare or doesn't have correct change. Ones are just good to have.

Travelling by public bus is an an adventure in and of itself. It says something when you get on public transport and they've felt the need to upholster everything, wall to wall, with movie theatre carpet. You know, that crazy looking carpet designed to make stains less visible. Carpet that's designed to lead a hard life. Carpet that's seen things... Then there's the things and people you see on and from the bus. Like a sign proudly proclaiming "New! Try a fresh crepe drive thru!". You have to ponder that one for a minute. Were they two separate thoughts they just gathered together on the same sign? "Try a fresh crepe, and we have a drive thru!" (And may I just remark on how much it pains me to write 'thru' instead of the accurate 'through', but that's what the sign said). Or are they actually encouraging people to buy crepes at the drive through, and if so, had they ever actually seen a crepe before they optimistically had the sign made up? I would certainly wager they never did a test run of trying to eat a crepe while driving a car... As for people, for example, there's the young guy with his girlfriend, with her in those very short, high-waisted shorts that are popular at the moment, you know, the ones that give people a wedgie and camel toe all in one fell swoop; and him in jeans three sizes too big, positioned just so, so his whole bum is hanging out in just his boxers, a clothing choice which causes onlookers to want to walk up and either pants him or pull them up to his waist and explain "I'm sorry, you didn't seem to be able to make up you mind about whether you were taking your pants off or putting them on, so I made a decision for you. I realize it is none of my business how others choose to dress, but I just feel that if human being are going to stick with this wearing clothes business (which probably looks pretty strange to all the other animals, but then again we are practically bald as a species these days, so it would be a bit chilly without them) then they should probably commit to it and actually wear them, rather than lingering indecisively somewhere in the middle, which this strange 'fashion' in mens pants seems to be doing.

Anyway, that's some of my tales from commuting, did I also mention long commutes give you a lot of time to think...?

Saturday 4 May 2013

Baseball Patriot

Is there anything more American than baseball? Apple pie perhaps... Which is both amusing and fitting, since it's something that was brought over from Europe, even the species of apples we grow and use in it, but then so much of what constitutes U.S. culture today was, and then has just been tweaked and re-named "all-American". In fact even the origins of baseball are somewhat contested... but I digress. The point is, baseball is viewed as an emblem of American culture, and this was entirely evident at the Mariner's game I attended last weekend. The vendors came around yelling "Peanuts! Get your peanuts!", the seventh inning stretch was serenaded by an operatic rendition of God Bless America with an image of an American flag on the giant screen, waving in all its digital splendour, followed by all of us singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game collectively; and 'the wave' made it a full three times around the stadium, an impressive sight. It's a little much, but the thing is, I like that.

There are very few times I really feel patriotic, about either of my two countries, I feel a fondness for both and even a love for them, but patriotism is not something I often experience; I should think because there are two of them. Growing up as a duel citizen and having spent a decent amount of time in both of my countries has led to a little identity crisis which means I identify with both places and neither at the same time. Now patriotism, to me, implies a concentrated sense of loyalty for the country you love and, in most people's cases, live in. So no great surprise I don't get that feeling often, as my loyalty and affection is divided between two countries. But baseball games are something of an exception. There's something in the atmosphere of them, an uplifting feeling. Part of it is probably just being at a baseball game, as I really enjoy that (another oddity for me, as sports and I usually don't see eye to eye at the best of times, and at the worst, view one another with open hostility), so I'm already in a good mood. But being at a game seems to also encompass its own little pocket of time, as there's a somewhat old-fashioned feel to them. The traditions of the game, the enthusiasm it inspires in people, the aforementioned uplifting feeling, it just seems to encapsulate a lot of the good things about the U.S., which is a nice feeling to get caught up in. So when I'm at a baseball game, I just go with it, and embrace my little moment of American patriotism, even if a little part of me did die inside when the words of God Bless America were playing on the screen and instead of "through the night with a light from above" the screen read "thru the night with a light from above"...... at  least the Mariners won with two home runs!

Of course, talk  to me on Australia Day and I'll be singing a totally different tune...

Tuesday 9 April 2013


These last few posts have actually all been belatedly posted. I meant to put them up before, but a combination of factors didn't allow it. The first was a truly awful sunburn in a very strange spot which meant that I didn't want to sit at the computer to type (the chair was made of wicker, wicker. Enough said) for any length of time. The second factor was the sporadic availability of internet in Vietnam, so I just had to wait until I got to the next leg of my journey, the U.S. So these delayed posts have theoretically resulted in delaying other posts about the U.S., but seeing as I'm in the Seattle area, where I grew up and have many friends I don't get to see enough of, the things I've been up to are really only of interest to me, and any third party reader would probably be bored by a post about them anyway, so really things are right on track!

However, I suspect that posts will now become a bit less frequent/interesting for this leg of my trip, as it involves getting a job, finding an apartment/house to live in, and staying in one area for a time, before then commencing with the road trip portion of these travels. That's my theory anyway, but who knows, I kind of feel I could do an in-depth expose just on the size of marshmallows over here (honestly, these marshmallows looked like they could eat me, rather than the other way around) so perhaps there is writing material galore, we'll just have to see...   

Traditional Vietnamese Tansportation Dancing

Transportation in Vietnam, it's an adventure in itself. Planes, trains and automobiles, we've done a bit of it all now and there's definitely a hierarchy of discomfort. Planes are winning out, we've taken two domestic flights, the first was from Saigon to Hanoi. We showed up early at the airport, as you do, and managed to check in in an odd, non-queue situation. No one waits in line here, anywhere there would be a line in a Western country there's just a crush of people and first in, best dressed. There's no point getting annoyed, it's just a cultural thing, a Western hang up we must dispense with while we're here, like thinking there might ever be a break in traffic so you can cross the road without fearing the loss of a few toes, you'd be waiting there forever. Anyway, the non-queue thing, while commonplace, has never been more disconcerting than at the airport. While we were showing our passports and and trying to put our bags on the scales another group of of people actually came up to the counter and tried to hand the attendant their reservation information and documents around us. Even the guy at the desk seemed to think this was not the time because he gave them a stern talking to in Vietnamese and sent them back to the 'queue' area. After that we found our flight had been delayed by an hour and a half. When it was time to board, a bus came to collect all of us at the terminal doors for what was to be the shortest bus ride of our lives. We all piled on to the bus, spent some time shuffling about and getting situated, then discovered the plane directly behind and just a smidgen to the left of the bus was in fact our plane. The engine started, we executed a slow turn around the tail of the plane, and then stopped on the other side of it. Then we all piled off again. Once we were on board the plane, it quickly became apparent that the plane had been designed to service a shorter, smaller, Asian clientele. I felt like a giant in a dollhouse, with my knees tucked up in front of me, firmly wedged into the seat in front of me, just hoping the person sitting in it didn't decide to recline and kneecap me...

Then there's the buses. Well, not so much the buses as the roads. We had a three and a half hour bus ride to Ha Long Bay, so seven hours round trip, but with a night on the boat in between; and driving here at first looks like some sort of extreme sport you would have to be an adrenaline junkie to undertake, but upon closer inspection it reveals itself to be more like some sort of loosely choreographed, but fairly elegant, dance. It ebbs and flows, it's give and take, not just between the drivers, but pedestrians as well. There's never a break in traffic, so crossing the road is something of an act of faith. You just start out into the road and walk with purpose among the motorbikes. Horns are used in a special way, not as angry alarms, but as general, constant warnings. People just drive along honking, indicating "I'm here, look out, coming up on your left". Different vehicles also have different sounding horns, which brings me back to our bus trip. The horn on our bus had an almost musical quality, a series of little beeps all in a row. This sound rang out in a fairly continuous stream as we bounced, rattled and spine-crushingly lurched our way to and from Ha Long Bay. Drinking anything isn't advisable, unless you want to be wearing it, and food has a way of leaping out of whatever container it's in. It's also best not to look out the front windshield, as staying on your side of the road seems to be more of a suggestion than a rule, and games of chicken between you and other vehicles of various sizes are commonplace. Laura and I distracted ourselves with games of 'spot the best/weirdest/most improbable motorbike cargo'. The game is an ongoing challenge which has included everything from lengths of metal or bamboo at least twice the length of the motorbike, simply supported on a shoulder, with one hand being used to hold it in place and the other used to steer, to some large piece of metal scaffolding held on by two rope straps attached to it and over the driver's shoulders like backpack straps. But the cargo winner so far has been a man, on a motorbike, transporting a live, full grown cow down the highway. The cow was on its side, tied down to a plank of wood which was tied across the back of the motorbike. The absurdity of it would have been funny if we hadn't felt so bad for the poor cow.

 And then there's the trains. Ah the trains...I've saved the best for last. What an experience that was. At the time I originally wrote this we were in Nha Trang and to get there we had to take a ten hour train trip. Being a day time journey our options were a hard seat or a soft seat, so we booked a soft seat in an air conditioned compartment because, you know, we're lightweights that way. We purchased lots of snacks and got to the station feeling prepared. But we weren't. Not for car nine, where we would be spending the journey, and where we quickly realized we would be maintaining more of a hardcore traveller status than we'd intended when we tried to cop out with our soft seats and air conditioning. We walked into chaos, with masses of people organizing their things and finding their seats, some of which were tiny plastic chairs placed in the aisles, apparently when they ran out of normal seats to sell they just kept on going anyway, but as soon as we got on it was all eyes on us, the only foreigners. Reaching our seats among the battered, frayed "soft" seats I discovered mine full of crushed crackers from the last occupant, with rubbish stuffed into every available crevice around the seat, as well as a sizable bag of it underfoot.

The smell of the carriage was something of a combination of used chicken bedding straw and unwashed, well used human feet. The smell was made much worse about nine hours in when we stopped inexplicably and the air conditioning, which had been tepid at its best, went out completely. The journey was also continuously interspersed with the smell of every type of cup o' noodles ever made (everyone elses choice of train snack), as people passed us with them in the aisles, filled from a boiling water source we never figured out the location of. Our on board entertainment status was maintained throughout the trip, anything we did, or even just sitting there, inspired fascination and open staring. I half expected Laura to get some kind of standing ovation when she started eating an apple. One man even conducted a sort of interview with her (mainly in Vietnamese, interspersed with English words) about her apple eating experience while it was going on. The food cart rattled back and forth periodically and it looked like an auction house with everyone holding up their arms, shouting to each other and handing around trays as the servers rapidly dished up rice and chicken, throwing some soup in from a large bucket of it they carried behind the cart. Soup, an odd choice on a rocking, clunking train, but everyone managed it with ease. Even the the sweet couple two rows up from us who were eating it while juggling their cute little daughter between them.

As for our immediate neighbors, I spent most of the journey with the leg of the older woman next to me sort of across my lap, with her foot pressed into the back of the seat in front of me. Laura's neighbor put up the arm rest between them and made himself at home, taking up part of her seat as well as his own. Somehow, we both managed to never discover what lay behind the toilet doors, though there may have been a bit of dehydration involved in this feat... When we reached Nha Trang, I can't say we were sad to leave the train behind.

All forms of transportation over here have been an experience, and we haven't even ridden on a motorbike!    

Monday 8 April 2013

Ha Long Bay cruising...

Ah, Ha long Bay, so beautiful you can't even fully register what you're looking at. Towers of stone wearing crowns of lush, green vegetation rising out of opaque, pale blue water... and they just go on and on. The junk boats meander through them, revealing giant sea caves, arches of rock and the floating fishing village where the school, indicated by its flag (and paid for largely with the profits from a James Bond movie which filmed scenes in a nearby sea cave) sits in the middle of floating houses painted bright turquoise with yellow trim or, in some cases, all different colours. At the fishing village, one of our stops on our lovely overnight junk boat cruise of the islands, we took to kayaks to explore the village and its surrounds. As we paddled, huge birds (apparently they were Black Kites, local to the area, or so the bird enthusiast websites tell me) drifted through the air above us. Laura and I were so enjoying the kayaking we were the last ones back, no doubt causing a bit of anxiety to Peter, our good-natured and very funny Vietnamese tour guide who was devoted to his schedule. He liked to come around on the boat and announce to all of us "sunset wine tasting party in nine minutes, yes, yes" or "boat leaving for amazing cave in seven minutes, yes, yes" (he like to emphasis things things with double yeses).

We soon discovered our boat had a few quirks, like the way the electrics seemed to be set up in some special way which meant that all the lights went out in the cabins periodically and without notice. Although, you could rely on it happening every time the boat's engine started. This state of affairs resulted in me unexpectedly taking a shower in total darkness, figuring out what was shampoo, conditioner, or bath gel based only on smell and consistency and shouting out my progress to Laura as I went. Namely, "Ok... I think they're all shampoo!" It was weird enough just taking a shower on a moving boat... However, the boat was in fact lovely, with a beautiful sundeck up the top where you could lounge and the bar staff would bring cocktails or a glass of wine up to you, and an open bow, where you could stand right at the edge and look out at the passing scenery. It was like getting to sail through the peaks of a mountain range.

Other highlights of the cruise included swimming in the bay (surprisingly cold, so breathtaking in every sense) and visiting a cave very aptly named 'Amazing Cave', which was a series of caverns that got progressively bigger until we were standing in one which was the length and breadth of about two city blocks (depending on your city I suppose...) and about three stories high. It looked like the lair of a giant dragon, who perhaps popped out for a minute just before you arrived. It simultaneously looked like the landscape of an alien planet and a set from an Indiana Jones film. Someone else in our group said that if he was an evil genius, plotting to rule the world, it would be his choice of headquarters.

The whole trip was over much too soon, we could've done with two more days at least of stunning scenery and discovering even more amusing aspects of the boat, like when we were packing up in our cabin and I was looking through our basket of complimentary toiletries, all neatly packaged in little boxes and labelled with the boat company's slogan. All very run of the mill, until I reached 'razor kit' (just a normal disposable razor in a box) and said to Laura "Well that's unfortunate". "What?" she asked, and I proceeded to read out the words on the box... "Leave your worries behind-razor kit".   

Tuesday 26 March 2013

The elusive jazz music of Hanoi...

"Of all the gin joints in all the world..." we walked into Jazz Club Minh in Hanoi. After two nights of searching we followed a clue written on a scrap of newspaper by a man whose only English seemed to be the word "Finished"....and we were thoroughly rewarded. It really was like a scene from a movie, ascending the three flights of stairs to an elegant glass door which, as you reach it, is pulled open for you to release a wave of fantastic jazz music. A smiling server gestures us to a table right down the front, where we could reach out and touch the band we were so close. Settling in, I look over and see that one of the sax players (there were three), making this wonderful music with such intensity, is wearing Crocs. You just know this is going to be a good night.

And it was. We sat there drinking lemon iced tea cocktails and Vietnamese beer while people at the tables around us filled the air with a very jazz club haze of cigarette smoke (it stung the eyes a bit and can't have been very good on the second hand smoke front, but it was atmospheric, you have to give it that). Part way through the evening the band brought up a former student of of the lead sax player's to play with them; and this young man, probably 17 or 18, spent the rest of the night up there with his shiny, new looking sax in the midst of the older musicians whose saxes looked so well loved they'd probably been playing those same ones since they were his age.

During the band's break we were treated to two piano performances by a very young girl and boy, escorted by their parents and dressed in crisp, white attire, playing like concert pianists. At the end of their performances, while everyone clapped, they took small, formal bows and returned to their parents without a word. We still don't know if it was all pre-arranged or if if it's just something they do there.

At the end of the night a taxi ride through the winding streets and rushing traffic of Hanoi's Old Quarter deposited us back at our hostel; and while I don't really know anything about jazz music, I know I'll always remember that jazz music.    

Sunday 24 March 2013

Vietnam Ahoy!

So we're now in Vietnam. After a short layover in the most impressive airport we've ever seen in Singapore. There was an outdoor, rooftop cactus garden and an electronic sign in the ladies room urging visitors to rate the facilities as they left, enough said. Though we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at night, which was a bit daunting, our trip into the city went very smoothly, as every local person we've encountered thus far has been unfailingly kind and helpful, and all we must do in return (besides of course being very grateful, which I suppose we don't have to be, but we certainly are) is be stared at. Laura for her fair skin, which in a country where a number of women wear white-tinged makeup to make themselves appear paler, and whitening treatments seem to be a standard beauty treatment, has been a source of not so subtle admiration, and me for my height, which for a girl in particular around here is of Amazonian proportions.

We had a short stay in Ho Chi Minh City to begin with, in which time we had the opportunity to buy at least twenty pairs of sunglasses, had we been so inclined, as we explored (wandering vendors hold out a few different things, but sunglasses seem to be the favourite), but one of the many beauty salons is where we were headed. I selected a foot scrub and paraffin dip from the services menu, which was lovely, but I'll admit I don't recall any other foot beauty treatment that also involved cracking all my finger and toe joints in a hair-raising manner, having an arm and shoulder massage which culminated with a manoeuvre which can really be described no other way than being repeatedly punched in the arms (truly, I had a dead arm on the right side for quite a time after this, and the woman doing this I would describe as deceptively petite), and for the finale, being bopped repeatedly on the head, which for reasons I cannot fathom, cleared my sinuses in a way usually reserved for sniffing strong peppermint scented things.

The paraffin portion of the treatment, which I had envisioned involving dipping my feet in a little tub, perhaps while perusing a magazine or some such, in fact turned out to involve whole leg movements which looked like something out of an aqua aerobics routine while extremely hot wax was painted onto my legs and feet, even between my toes. My waxy portions were then encased in plastic wrap and towels for a waiting period before it was all peeled off again. At the final moisturizing phase of the treatment it was gravely suggested to me that I carry on into a treatment they offered charmingly called foot scraping. As a person who likes to be barefoot as much as possible and on all terrains this didn't come as too much of a surprise. As it turned out, this process essentially consisted of having your feet, mainly your heels, grated like a piece of cheese. By the time Laura came down from her leg wax there I was with my legs splayed out in front of me and two very intent women crouched in front of my feet wielding tiny graters. But, I have feet as soft as a baby's bum to show for it!

Friday 22 March 2013

Melbourne and beyond...

The journey begins. Three days in Melbourne as our first port of call. It was busy times, it seemed like we were running everywhere. We checked in at our hostel which was above a pub, where the bar and the reception desk were synonymous, and were assigned a room on the third floor, in a lift-less hostel, with our "long term trip" amount of baggage. After a sweaty, slow climb we dropped off our bags in a room full of other mystified new arrivals, as we had all been decisively issued bed numbers in a room we all now discovered was labelled with letters... There were also no clean sheets and Laura and I's chosen beds appeared to be strewn with M&M's.

Running late to meet a friend we left again, hoping things might be sorted by the time we returned. Our destination for the evening was the beautiful Astor Theatre where we were seeing three Irish short films, The Guard (in honour of it being St. Paddy's Day) and Quartet. We'd missed the first short and went in halfway through the second. It was perhaps for the best. What I'd first assumed to be Irish Gaelic we quickly deduced from the lack of subtitles was in fact English, unintelligible English accompanied by men digging a very large hole. There was something about the whole situation I found extremely amusing, but between bouts of silent, side-shaking laughter I managed to figure out that the story was in fact a loving tribute to old-fashioned peat digging. I also caught the word donkey. Laura managed to catch the words "and that's the story" before the screen faded to black. What the story really was I don't suppose we'll ever know.

The rest of our time in Melbourne was a rush of catching up with people and eating a lot of pizza (the pizza part wasn't planned, it just sort of worked out that way). But our hostel was a treasure trove of oddity. Our first night when we returned there were indeed clean sheets, our first morning there was puke in the middle of the third flight of stairs. Not that this really reflects on the hostel, they can't be held responsible for some St. Paddy's Day reveler being unable to hold their drink and lacking the drunken spatial awareness to aim slightly to the left or right. We certainly felt bad for housekeeping though. We also discovered the M&M's weren't confined to just our beds, someone seemed to hae stood in the middle of the room and thrown a whole bag of them like confetti because we found them everywhere. The bathrooms were pretty good, though the sinks were so small, and sat so far beneath the low shelf above them that you needed the spitting prowess of a Spaghetti Western cowboy to be able to brush your teeth there. The pillows, however, did not pass muster, with Laura informing me the morning after our first night "My pillow was no pillow at all, just two lumps of fluff in a sack! Two separate lumps!"