A Travellerspoint blog

2013's new adventures...

sunny 4 °C

Today for the first time in 15 days we spent money. A lot of money to be precise. We paid for some airplane tickets... home.
Now lets start at the beginning, because according to Julie Andrews this is a very good place to start.

Since the Mayan calendar situation ended in nothing, I thought I would come up with some other useless numbers. 70 weeks ago we left New Zealand. 2012 took us to 10 countries, where we spent 8 different currencies. It has taken us 490 days to decide what the heck we are doing in the world, and 2013 is the year to make some decisions.

As you can imagine, there is only so long you can travel the world being fun-employed before reality starts tapping away in the back of your head like a woodpecker. What are you doing? Where are you going? But more importantly… how are you going to pay for this? Anyone keeping up with our travel itinerary has seen that we have sort of circled the outside of Europe and not really got to experience anything in the middle. However those who have travelled Europe know you cannot really do central Europe justice if you are counting your pennies.

So as I mentioned before we have to make some decisions. I cannot in my right mind sacrifice the Europe experience because I cannot ‘afford’ to do it, but I am not prepared to spend the next few months living in a tent, hitchhiking, dumpster diving and waiting for my hair to dread. So for those who have been anticipating this announcement, Iain and I have decided to leave the Navy and look for employment in the UK.

For many of you this will not come as a surprise (it certainly didn’t for our career managers), but it was not the easy decision that many of you may imagine. Since leaving in December 2010 almost every day we have thought about NZ and returning to our careers. When we first left we had about 90% of our days foreseeing our return to a happier, more productive and appealing Navy. Since then, this percentage has slowly dwindled as we watch social media channels, and see more of our friends giving up on the service, or being short changed for the hard work they put in. Back at the end of 2011, we had just had the first round of civilianisation and things were bad. Low morale meant going to work was exhausting, constantly battling a climate that was consistently taking more and more away.

Although we would rather see a solution to the problems rather than jump ship (literally), after a year away from the service neither of us felt we had the energy or enthusiasm for the Navy that we once did, which is what we would need to rejoin and make a difference. Someone employed just for paycheck in their back pocket is not what the Navy needs now, it needs motivated and determined individuals who see the light at the end of the tunnel, and unfortunately we have seen too many trains on the tracks. Many of our peers who are still in, can be defined as these people, diligent to bettering the atmosphere for others, as they are dedicated to the cause, not because they feel obliged. As for us our decision is mostly based on a rejection of the secure, comfortable, easy option - we need a new challenge.

There becomes a time when you start thinking, well if I don’t commit now... when? All the things that have been tying us to coming home to the Navy and New Zealand seem to be falling away. So it is time to leap into the big bad civilian world, manage our own careers and find something else that confronts us and makes us stand up and test our integrity, something the Navy used to do.

So with all the doom and gloom there is a little joy in this blog. Whilst we are intending to go to the UK for work in the near future we are going to return to New Zealand for a short stay – to see everyone. Yah! I can hear you all staying! I will be returning for 6 weeks, hopefully enough time to process and receive a UK work visa. Iain will be back for 4, as he already has a British Passport so he is just coming back for the visiting part. Thanks to the Hobbit there are really cheap flights from London at the moment (not in the return direction funnily enough), so we thought we would lock them in and make the big journey back home to sort our affairs and drink copious amounts. The intention is currently a week in Christchurch, a week in Otorohanga, one in Wellington and then the rest of the time in Dorkland, starting on the 29th of March. We hope we will be able to see all those who are around and catch up on our many months apart.

In the mean time we are still in France until the 20th of January, when we will head off across the continent in a rental car for three weeks before heading to the snowy slopes of Bulgaria.

So surprise 2013, you thought you had revelations for me, well - jokes on you - I had one up my sleeve. We apologise to those we didn’t get a chance to tell individually, the 12 hour time delay and the holiday season has made us slack. It is nice to get the weight off my chest in one succinct article with a concentration on honesty and clarity, and in addition it is a good test of who reads the blog. Salutations to those who we didn’t get to share champagne and donuts with to sing in the New Year. There will be plenty of time for that in April. Let us know if you will be around, as we have now gone from fun-employed to legitimate unemployed bums, we are offering a good dishwashing and wine consuming service in return for lodging…

Posted by kayles 04:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

The Orsum's Tour de France

rain 5 °C

Since Paris we have left the city and the bright lights behind us, and are now settled in the countryside. Said countryside contains one auberge, one church, one yurt, a few houses and a resident flock of sheep complete with bells, although without a shepherd it seems.

The Auberge is where we live, for anyone lacking on the French language front, an auberge is a small inn, like a little hotel. We are living with and working for a Dutch couple called Eric and Caroline, helping out where needed. For those not in the know, we are currently doing a thing called ‘Workaway’. It basically means that in return for food and board, we go and help out about 5 hours a day or 25 hours a week doing what ever needs done. Have a look online if you want more details, it’s pretty easy to organise and a good way to spend some time in one place, or in a culture without having to part with a small fortune to do it.

Our daily duties are nicely spaced out between helping clean guest rooms, the dining room and the bar, with a casual dog walk in the afternoon. In return, we have a fully stocked restaurant kitchen (stocked with fresh croissants and baguettes… uh, uh, uh baguettes every morning) and an entire floor of the house basically to ourselves.

We arrived on the 20th of Dec and have helped out with Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day meals for guests – Iain has even been in the kitchen plating the dinners up! Don’t worry; from all accounts no one has died from the meals so far. Although if they did die, it would probably be from scurvy - the French do not like salad that’s for sure!

However it has been pretty quiet on the home front around here, just getting the hang of things and seeing the countryside by walking the dogs (often in the rain) or having the dogs walk us. Today we feared we may have to cart a deer back to the kitchen as one of the dogs proceeded to chase it through the fields… keep in mind we are in a regional park so that dragging would have had to be under the cover of darkness…

On the whole Christmas front, like many Christmas orphans we were taken in by a group of Scots, Irish, Welsh and Dutch – who themselves seem to be orphans of the French countryside. Many of them have arrived for the lifestyle and stuck around even though they don’t seem to fit entirely with the French way of life, which is not uncommon here in the rural backblocks of Auvergne province. Anyway, there was about ten of us all around a big table in a farmhouse kitchen about 10 minutes down the road, and it was fantastic. Lots of wine, great food and good company is all you can ask for from the Christmas season. And it was with very sore heads that we woke on boxing day, but still with a smile on our face. It’s funny when you spend time away from family during the holiday season, you attempt to draw parallels to your own Christmas even if it is not connected by any tangible threads. With a lot of time pondering, I think the overwhelming feeling of content was probably the only enduring theme.

Although things are quiet, the bank account is looking a little better – not because we have received any magical money, but for the first time in months, we have been in one place for longer than 7 days, and we have not spent a penny (or Euro cent as the case may be) since the 20th. All the coffee, wine, cheese and bread you could want here – I’m a little unsure what else you would spend money on?

So until our snowboards arrive, it is dog walks and staring longingly at the mountain on the horizon. In the short term we will enjoy the relaxed nature and consistency that life away from the city offers. The church bells ring every hour from 7am. When it chimes 9 we get out of bed, after 3 chimes the sheep wander down the main street on their own and somewhere between 4 and 5 bells Iain and I and the dogs go for a walk. It’s easy, and for the first time in my life, I think I can say that country life agrees with me. Certainly not long term, but for the moment, it is nice to only have to consider what book I will read today.

Posted by kayles 12:48 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris c'est la vie, la vie c'est Paris.

(I really wanted to call this N-word in Paris after the controversial Kanye song, but Iain wouldn't let me...)

overcast 8 °C

Paris has 42 million tourists each year, and it’s easy to see why. It is a beautiful city - surrounded by art, culture, pride and grandness.
Since we left Lake Louise at the start of October, Paris has been the first city that has been full of tourists. Most of the last two months we have been relatively quiet, sane and peaceful in terms of seeing the sights. There were parts of Egypt that we were the only ones in a Temple, in Greece we didn’t have to fight for photo opportunities of the Acropolis, in Moscow we were certainly one of very few English speaking (read: photo smiling) tourists. But here the tourist pilgrimage doesn’t seem to stop. In saying that though, it is a city completely prepared for the madness of crowds, and I think would be lost without them.

The Louvre wouldn’t be the Louvre without the hundreds of people huddling around the Mona Lisa. Notre Dame wouldn’t be Notre Dame without people lining up around the square and up into the grandstand. But unlike some locations, where the hoards of people detract from your experience, Paris is Paris, with or without the tourists. They just fade into the background and give you the feeling that you are somewhere special and you are sharing it with a lot of people you have never met.

The culture and style is something that Paris is known for, and even in the grey rainy-ness of December this is endemic. What other place has their advertising in big gold gilded frames? Where else in the world can you find a man singing Christmas carols as he walks to his car – not for money or acclamation, but for the joy of the season.

Paris has its charm, but it also has a lot of myths surrounding the city. Parisians are rude and unwelcoming; the women are apparently the most beautiful and aloof in the world, etc etc. However I wonder if the city falls into the same category as the art it portrays in its hundreds of galleries. They are all enigmas. The people, the art and the culture. The Mona Lisa is famous for being famous. Originally it was in a little gallery in the Louvre, just one of De Vinci’s many works. It was not until 1911 when it was stolen by a man who popped it under his arm, and took it home on the bus, that it become a famous icon. Since then it has self fulfilled its own fame. The more images of Mona Lisa circulating the world, the more it is known, the more famous it gets. The same with the statue Venus of Milo – not one even knows who the statue is actually depicting. But all you need is Monty Python to spin you round in the opening credits of a movie and you all of a sudden get a crowd around you taking photos for the next 30 years.

The French women are the same. The whole ‘French women are not fat’ and ‘French women are exotically majestic’ movement that has been developing for the last decade is an enigma too. There may be a much smaller issue with obesity, but it is not about them choosing the correct path specifically, it is the fact that so many cultures have the wrong path. The women themselves are normal. They are beautiful, they are refined, educated and sophisticated. But any culture could have that if they wanted. Every culture has some appeal, and some lacking aspects. It is that the French have created this mystery and promoted this ambiguity self fulfilling what people see and expect in the French culture. You don’t hear people discuss how all Parisian metro systems smell human urine and homeless men, but they do.

Whilst contemplating the ambiguity of French culture in the museums, I also had a lot of time to consider art. While the art gave me a lot to think about, there were two other things that gave me pointers to ponder. One of these was having the memory card of my camera crap itself after our day in Versailles, and the other thing was people watching (undeniably one of my favourite pastimes).

When my camera died, it was one of those moments that most people have had, that journey of
hope – thinking that you can fix it by blowing on the card,
anger – bloody technology, piece of crap – why did I think pink was a good colour for a SD card?,
sadness – oh no there was that lovely photo of (enter something important here),
then that realisation that it could have been worse. And in this situation it really was the case. Although I have no photos of the palace, I luckily did take all the other Paris photos off the day before. But what it really made me think about was, as a tourist photographer what am I doing?

There are a number of themes occur in tourist photography, and by the end of our time in Paris, I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for these people or physically sick. The first theme that runs rampant in tourist photography nowadays is requiring a camera larger than your head. Not just you, but you and your partner, taking photos of the same things. So big that you struggle to carry it, or complain about its weight, or have a specifically designed bag for the journey. Don’t get me wrong, I love photographers and amazing photos, but something tells me that the majority of photos taken by these people are displayed only during a post trip painfully tedious family slideshow, set up specifically for the event. I imagine the photos to be incorrect in orientation with fingers over the lenses, blurriness and widespread occurrences of interpretive signs.

The second theme that has plagued me is the insistence of taking photos of an art piece with you, the tourist, in it. Do you want people to know you are present at the showing of this piece? Surely they can tell by your photograph of said painting or sculpture. With the current world of technology I could technically make a photo with myself standing in front of the Mona Lisa from my living room, so that must not be the reason… maybe it is that you think your own beauty or handsomeness must be comparable to that of the art piece… hmmm… for brevity of the blog I will not start a rant on this comment.

Thirdly, we had a lot of tourists that let their photos be influenced by another party. To explain this I will explain a fun thing to do, parading as a social psychology experiment. When you are next in the city, stop and look up at the top of a building and point. Make sure you are in the middle of the pavement to really influence the surrounding foot traffic, and then just wait. Soon people will be looking and pointing at the imaginary thing you have indicated to them, this is when you can walk to the opposite side of the footpath and laugh at them. This happens with tourist photography all the time, especially in art galleries or museums. Iain and I would be looking at something, often speaking in English about something completely separate to the item, but if we stood there long enough and pointed out things, it wouldn’t take long for someone to elbow their way in front of us to take a photo of… anything. I just wonder what they explain the photo as to their imprisoned-photo-viewing-family-members.

Iain and I went to ‘Le Hobbit’ in Paris – it was in English, although we still have no idea what any of the Orks said. Mostly because they were subtitled… in French. The reason I mention it, is because it was the first time I have really felt homesick since we left. Not really homesick in a boohoo-take-me-home way, but a wow we have a beautiful country, I’m so proud of what the clever people in our country can do.

So well done Kiwi’s, bravo. And to those who didn’t work on the Hobbit… well, you just have a great Christmas and New Years. We are now nestled in our homestay in central France for the next month, safe and sound. Iain has made a Christmas tree out of a single branch, and it looks amazing. I hope everyone enjoys the Christmas the Mayan’s didn’t want us to have. And I hope the jolly old man doesn’t bring round the end of the world in your stocking.

Posted by kayles 07:42 Archived in France Comments (0)

London calling from a faraway town.

overcast 6 °C

London was so easy. It is the first place since we left New York on the 4th of November that english is the primary language. Although after hearing some of the people speak here, I sometimes fail to gauge whether it is actually English that they are speaking. I’m sure they think the same of my ability to converse too. This wasn’t the only thing that New York had in common with London. Thinking back to my US blogs, I remember being overcome by the feeling that I had visited the many famous sights before, and that popular media had been so influential in my upbringing, that important places had lodged themselves so deep in my brain that I struggled to process imagination from reality.

London was the same. I thought I could hear the Coronation Street theme tune at every corner, I expected to see Dick Van Dyke running along the roof tops with his chimney sweep brush and at almost every underground stop I had a song to sing - mostly to myself, sometimes to Iain and rarely out loud (Waterloo was a particular favourite of mine). I realised that although American movies and TV had been influential, British culture had been absorbed through osmosis from a vey young age. My Nan and Pop rarely watched anything American (I think because of a vague and remote patriotism), so we often sat down to The Bill, Coro Street or Vicar of Dibley in the evenings – with a bit of East Enders in the afternoon. Since being here, I realise that the characters conversations, the way people dress and the interactions between people, that I used to find so hilarious, are actually accurately reminiscent of the culture.

I am realising more and more as we travel that a country’s culture is less about the structures and tourist sights, and more about the people. They can’t obtain tourist revenue from people watching though, so they market amazing things for you to see. Iain and I wandered to most of the sights in London while we were there, but didn’t really go into any. One because we are starting to board the poor train, but also I believe we will be back to see all the sights again. For us this trip was about seeing the people – Kiwi’s and English. For New Zealanders, England is like ‘mother’. Like real mothers – you can either love them or hate them, but you at least have to visit them every once in a while. The more you spend time with them, the more you love them and understand them, the less time the more distant and frustrating they become.

This trip to London, was less about the sights and more about the people, although we did do the basics - and many of the places on the Monopoly board. However most of our time was spent catching up with a lot of people who had been missing from our lives for a while. It was so nice to stay in houses, with people who you can talk to in your mother tongue, and shoot the breeze over a morning coffee. We caught up with so many people it was fantastic. Kiwi’s in London are genuinely excited to host and spend time with other kiwis. Often this is for the right reasons – they legitimately miss the kiwi banter, the culture and the companionship. Although I find some kiwi’s don’t assimilate to English life. They are content having NZ friends, living in flats with NZ people and live in a bit of an NZ bubble – pining for Pineapple Lumps, missing Marmite and craving Cheezels. I am glad to say that none of my friends are really like that, but I think it is a bit sad for those stuck in that cycle.

I found most English interactions to be lovely, people seem to be genuinely helpful and want to be as accommodating and supportive as they possibly can be. My fellow Kiwi’s seemed to be surprised by this statement. But really, I had no worries over safety, misunderstanding or mistrust while I have been in England. I’m sure there are many people huffing right now, ‘Oh she is so naïve’. But if you assume the worst, you are not giving your fellow countrymen enough credit. We have had nothing but good intentions since arriving. Although we had a couple of problems, they really have done their best.

One of the major’s was Iain managed to leave our Christmas presents on the overhead locker of the bus, when we went down to Portsmouth. He swears black and blue that he checked it before we left… however after the bus had left, we didn’t have it. Now to put this in perspective you have to understand the importance of these presents. This would have been my first Christmas presents in 2 years. Last year, my mum tried to send me a present, and managed to send it to half and Auckland address and half a Canada address. We are still trying to figure out how this happened… But we are not allowed to discuss this anymore.... She then gave this address to my Nan who did the same thing. They received these back in NZ about 6 months after Christmas.

So I was very excited. I had them delivered to my good friend who announced that they had arrived a day before we left London for Portsmouth. So while she was off wedding shopping and we were off to the bus station we met at the turn-style of Kings Cross station for a parcel transfer. Very international spy like. From there, I had these for about 3 hours before they got lost in the land of England’s national bus service. I hadn’t even opened them yet. The people around me spent the next day insisting that it was probably stolen by now, the English are full of thieves, Christmas presents are like gold to them. But lo and behold, after a number of quite convoluted phone calls, it turns out it was in Portsmouth at the depot, and we paid 2 pounds to charity for the pleasure of having it stored there overnight.

People say the city is crowded; the people are thieves, it’s too expensive and it is always dreary and rainy. If you think it is going to be like this, then it will be. Just chill out, absorb, interact, enjoy. Because actually, it’s a pretty amazing place to be.

Posted by kayles 10:47 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

From Russia with gloves.... (and a scarf)

snow -7 °C

I’m not sure what I was expecting in Russia. Snow, people plagued by old soviet injuries lining the streets begging for money, perpetual all expansive greyness or alley ways lined with spies.

It’s not really that at all. It is actually surprisingly western. Keeping in mind we were only in Moscow and St. Petersburg, I would even go as far to say it is more affluent than New York. It is certainly better dressed – NY’ers are known for their style, but there is no naked cowboy in the middle of Red Square. The women are immaculate here, incredibly dressed in heels as tall as the Sky Tower, fur jackets and leather gloves. Even though it is snowing outside, they have perfect makeup, long perfectly styled hair cascading out of their fur lined hoods and still managing to totter down the street elegantly in icy slush, that cause Iain and I to slide our feet along the ground to keep as much contact with the pavement as possible.

Getting to Russia is really the hardest part. The process of getting an invitation from someone inside the country to even get a visa, having to go to the consulate personally (or pay exorbitant fees to get someone else to do it), and then having to wait for processing times, seems a little scary and painfully tedious. Then there is the constant fear of having to have your passport and documentation on you at all times whilst in the country, because you could be asked for it at any stage makes it all the more daunting. However once you arrive at passport control, you realise you are stepping into a world few people from New Zealand ever have experienced.

It has some beautiful places to see, rich culture and amazing history, but Russia is really not set up for tourists. It’s trying, and I’m sure its come a long way from where it was. However the majority of the signage is only Russian with Cyrillic lettering. There is English around at the museums and important sights, however its pretty standard to have one A4 sheet of paper with information in the doorway to explain the whole room – with everything else unintelligible for English speakers. Sometimes its not even at the doorway, and its like an easter egg hunt to find it. English however is at least found, if you spoke any other language you’d be buggered.

We travelled to Russia during the start of winter and I thought the snow lined streets, grey skies and constant snowfall would mix in with the grey buildings, grey weary faces and dark colours associated to winter clothes and I may forget that colours exist outside of the ‘Iron Curtain’. I was under the impression that I may begin to think I had gone become colour blind. Well I was completely wrong, when they do use colours they are bright, powerful and all encompassing. When the snow sits around them it just makes the colours even more vivid and piercing. The Cathedrals with their onion shaped domes, the churches with their gold steeples and fixtures, and the buildings with their bright colours that seem never ending lining full city blocks.

You have to go to Russia during winter and snow, it wouldn’t be right to visit during summer. It is not what Russia is about, they are set up for cold weather, they suit it. Their food, clothing and demeanour are all distinctly winterised. Even their language suits spitting out short sentences, whilst wrapped in scarves and hats.

Moscow is quite expensive, which was surprising to me. I guess after visiting Morroco, Egypt and Turkey we were eventually going to hit that wall, but I didn’t think it would be in Russia. It wasn’t unusual to find a standard small coffee was $10NZD. Not for us mind you, we walked a great distance through the snow and back alleys to find cheap food, treats and vodka shots with pickles.

One thing that we warmed to whilst in Russia is the fact the city is actually an advent calendar. Originally it was a pain in the bum. When we arrived at our hostel at 1am in Moscow, it was sleety/snowy and we had just walked 7 blocks from the train station following some pretty specific directions until we arrived at a door, on a street. This door had no sign on it, only a pin code. Surely this is not our bed and breakfast, surely they would have a sign. So we wandered up and down the street for about 40 minutes looking for this bloody place. In the end we walked into a bar on the corner and played charades with the person to be able to call the number we had for the accommodation. Then we realised the game of Russia is just open the door – you never know what you might find. Big steel doors with no markings might be a post office, an ornate church or a drug den. Who knows. It’s worth opening it though. Otherwise you miss things.

Whilst in Russia we did all the touristy things because it had to be done, the places on offer are amazing, and when you never know if your going back to a country its not worth scrimping on these things. We did all the buildings around the Red Square, a day in the Kremlin, a day in the Hermitage, a day in the Peter and Paul fortress. You could spend months here just taking it all in. No amount of words can describe them, so I’m not going to bother. I know there are about 3 people that read my blog, and if I write 5 pages on each spot then I might lose those people too.

If you look at the photos from St Petersburg and think wow it’s dark there – that’s because it is. When we were there the sun rose at about 1130 and it was dark again by four. Half three if it was snowing. It is a place of short winter days, but incredibly long summer days. They have a festival called ‘White Nights’ in summer where it is light all night long.

Russia was an experience, from the hostels to the snow, to the constant feeling of conspiracy. One day I’ll tell you more about it. But it will probably be over a beer. Or a Vodka with a pickle.

Posted by kayles 02:50 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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