Saturday, 25 August 2007

Cockney Poser Geezer In'it

The weather forecast for London while I was there two days ago? CRAP - cold, rainy and windy.

The weather today while I wasn't in London? GORGEOUS - summer sunshine that prompted walks among the flowers.

I am jealous.

Jon - of mangoes taste like sunshine fame - is in London after a 6 week stint in an American summer camp in upstate New York and I swapped a Munich for our most disastrous London flight, the dreaded EK 001 to see him.

Jon was born in England, and spent the first twelve years of his life in a gorgeous little place called Epsom, in the county of Surrey (did I get that right Jon?) before moving to sunny Australia and tasting his first mango. His last trip back to London was 6 years ago, so it was very special that he took me to see his old stomping ground while I was there. Who ever would have thought that someone from his Australian life would be in London at the same time as him and get to step into his English life??

He met me in the hotel and we set off for a trip down memory lane. I'm glad I took Flip's advice
and packed my thick white coat in preparation for the hideous weather that awaited me. Last month I had on a light jumper and was hot, but it can all change in the blink of an eye in London - much like my beloved Melbourne.

Jon had told me that to get there, we had to catch the tube to Waterloo and then get an overland train out to Epsom. Well, my navigationally challenged brain malfunctioned and I thought he'd said we had to go to Liverpool to catch the overland, which spawned a serious of irrational and rather confusing emails to Jon about how Flip said that Liverpool was north and that it was going to be one looong trip if we had to go that way. He laughed at my stupidity and wondered aloud how I manage to navigate the train systems of the world ALONE without getting completely lost. Pot luck I imagine!

We arrived in Epsom and wandered the streets until we came across Jon's old street and then his house. His dad built the stone fence when he was a youngster and he showed me where he and his brother and sister used to ride their bikes and where their friends lived. I think we stood outside his house for so long that we freaked out the current owner, as he kept peering out of the garage suspiciously at us.

I came across my first real life holly tree and was so excited! Not being Christmas time, there were no red berries, but it's prickly leaves were so beautiful. There were gorgeous country style gardens in the yards we passed and little cottage-like houses that made me wish I could live in a cute little English house on a cute little English street in a cute little English suburb.

We went to meet some of Jon' s family friends who still live in the street, and their children, who used to play with Jon when he was younger. We had a very English cup of tea and had a chat for a few hours and then headed back to the city. If possible, it was even colder and rainier and windier, but it was a lovely outing and well worth it.

We snacked on some pastries from the train station and I've just figured out that's why we probably felt rather sick the next day. Pastries with meat in them are best not consumed from a train station at 11pm!

We said our goodbyes as the crew were heading out to the bus and will see each other again when Jon stops in Dubai for a 9 day holiday on his way home to Brissie. I'm already making a list of all the things we can do while he's here, and I think a stint at both The Aquarium and our new little place Al Nasr LeisureLand are in order!

Al Nasr LeisureLand

I rolled out of bed today at about 11am and was invited by my mate Chiara to go ice skating. Now, the last time I saw Chiara, she was fresh off the ice with Jena and we met for dinner and they both couldn't stop raving about skating. I accepted her offer immediately and we set out for the rink which is located in Al Nasr Leisureland.

Before all your imaginations run wild with images of state of the art theme parks, think created in the late 70s and firmly stuck there! There are dodgem car rides, the most ancient roller coaster you're EVER likely to see, a gym, a bowling alley and a very old school cafeteria and toy stand. We were going to have a ride on the roller coaster, but were informed something was wrong with it's tracks and it wasn't running today. I was silently relieved, as suffering bodily injury wasn't really on my to-do list today!

Slightly dingy, the rink boasts an Olympic sized floor, complete with ice hockey markings. We were told rather rudely by a Russian instructor to "move out of zee circles pleaze", as we were clearly interrupting the progress of the next world class skater. She was wearing a Tinkerbell skirt with stockings for goodness sake!

There was an interesting collection of people on the ice - from fearless children to fully abaya-clad women. After a few minutes we were all fairly confident and were gliding around without too much trouble. We're even thinking of investing our hard earned dizzas into some lessons, so we'll be whizzing around the rink like the stars of our very own Blades of Glory.

All in a day's down-time really!

Front Row with the Fish

Now that I'm in business class, the endless streams of days off in Dubai are over. We're worked to the bone, usually only get our minimum 8 days off a month and spend those days sleeping, madly catching up with friends and facebooking. Needless to say, I've not had much spare time this month, but have managed to fit some exciting outings into my week around the hours of time spent on the couch logged in to facebook.

A few months ago, Ash and I bought a book about eating out in Dubai, listing all the great restaurants. A few weeks ago, she took our friend Nat to The Aquarium, which is located on the creek at the golf club and after reading her blog about it, and hearing her rave reviews I decided to take my beautiful friends Ange and Katja there last night.

I arrived shortly before the girls and was seated on a gorgeous white leather lounge with a beautiful view of the creek. The restaurant gets its name from the massive floor-to-ceiling fish tank/aquarium that sits smack in the middle of the room. It has a gigantic piece of coral in it and is home to what looked like hundreds of the prettiest fish of all colours. There were angel fish, pink fish, zebra fish, yellow fish, black fish and more!

We were seated right next to the tank and spent the evening eyeballing the fish and taking so many pictures of them frolicking that our memory sticks were full!

The food was delicious, the wine was chilled to perfection and while my sticky date pudding was COLD, it was still yummy. There was a huge open plan kitchen with so many chefs doing nothing it made us wonder what took our meals so long! I guess restaurants just like to make us wait. Suspense or something - the hungrier you are by the time you get your food, the more dessert and coffee you're more likely to order perhaps? With its dimly lit tables, quiet ambiance and very relaxing fish tank, we were all feeling rather dozy after our dinner & drinks and decided an early night was in order.

Friday, 17 August 2007

From Russia With Love

Where in the world can you buy authentic Russian vodka for less than the price of a punnet of strawberries?

Moscow of course!

I’ve been working hard to get a Moscow for the past year and a half but can’t seem to score one on my roster and can never persuade anyone to swap with me. Now that I’m working in business class, it’s even harder to swap, because duty free commission is highly coveted. Imagine my surprise when one popped up on my roster! I was even more surprised when we were in briefing picking positions and I ended up scoring duty free! On BOTH sectors! Woo hoo I said – we had a total of 21 passengers there, and only 11 on the way back. I didn’t make the millions I had hoped to, but a few hundred $$$ commission is better than nothing.

I’d hoped for a trip in winter, so I could see some snow, as I’ve never had a trip with work where I’ve seen snow. However, I wouldn’t wish a Moscow in the dead of winter on my worst enemy – it gets as ridiculously cold as something like –30 degrees! As if I’d sign up for that, and AS IF anyone could give that away in winter!

The bus ride from the airport to the hotel is always a minimum of 1 hour and depending on traffic, can stretch out to 2 hours. We were all warned to go to the loo before disembarking, and after having our passports stamped rather violently we set off. The landscape was quite pretty, very green and deeply wooded. It reminded me of Dusseldorf, with all the forestry. We drove past a river where people were sun baking and swimming and also past a massive public apple orchard. Apple trees covered in ripe green apples stretched for miles! I was tempted to jump ship and run through the rows of trees like the couple in the tv adds for Victorian vineyards!

It was a muggy 33 degrees and the hotel felt like it’s central heating was on! We scoffed down some of the packets of gummy bears on the counter in the foyer, did a quick outfit change in a our rooms and came down to catch the free shuttle bus into town to visit the red square. The 11 seater bus was full, so we occupied ourselves for an hour at the beautiful outdoor restaurant drinking beer and eating fries.

Once settled on the bus, we made our way through the streets and I quickly realised that there wasn’t a word of English to be seen ANYWHERE. I had to find a money changer and was worried about signage, but there was a massive neon sign displaying dollar and euro symbols. With my US dollars changed to Russian rubles, off we set.

We located the square and marveled at the architecture – the domes and turrets are absolutely stunning and everywhere we looked there was another building to ooh or aah about!

I was very excited about visiting the Red Square, as the Kremlin was the KGB’s headquarters, or so I’m lead to believe. Lenin's mausoleum is also there, right in the square - a big modern black mark on the gorgeous old square. Having a passion for criminology, espionage and all things secretive, I was delighted to do my own march on the red square. We got there at about 7.30pm and the sun was going down, which made all the gold gilt glisten in the sun. The red colour of the buildings seemed to glow, and cast long elegant shadows over us. We had a photo shoot, with all 7 of us posing, laughing and marveling at the fact that we were behind the “Iron Curtain” in Moscow. It’s certainly somewhere I never thought I’d get to.

After the sun went down and I got separated from the group and was worried I was lost, we all met up and started the long walk back to the bus stop. We picked up some souvenirs outside the square, including music boxes in the shape of the turrets, fridge magnets, postcards and military style hats covered in fantastic badges. When crossing the road, you must walk through a tunnel UNDER the road to avoid being hit by wayward traffic. During our underground stroll through one such tunnel (which smelt strongly of cat urine) I came across a lady selling paintings she’d done of the square and surrounding areas. I was drawn to a pink sparkly one, so I struck a deal with her and handed over all my remaining dollars and rubles.

Clutching our purchases, we staggered onto the bus and made our way home. One of our male crew decided to go clubbing and was getting off the bus as we were getting on. We had been warned not to go out alone but off he went. I wasn’t surprised to hear the next day that he’d been mugged and had his allowance stolen. He also scored a punch in the face. Silly boy.

After a good sleep in my room with a thoroughly depressing view, a few of the girls and I headed off in search for a grocery store. I had a bee in my bonnet and only wanted fruit for brekky, and I also wanted to grab some vodka. The concierge sent us off with very accurate directions and we found the little supermarket that sells vodka that’s cheaper than strawberries. After racking up close to a thousand rubles ($35-ish), I went to the checkout and handed over my credit card, as I only had 100 rubles left after my impulse painting purchase. Both the owner and checkout lady looked at me and my card as if we both had a serious case of leprosy and at the same time said “niente!” with such venom in their tone I almost took a step backwards!

We worked out that they didn’t have card facilites and that there was no ATM in their vicinity either. Getting frustrated that I couldn’t understand anything, I used my rusty sign language and determine that I had a 2 minute walk to an atm ahead of me. So off I went, with a crash course in Russian that involved words like “turn right” and “walk straight for two minutes”. All was good, I got my rubles and my food and set off for a short nap before my flight.

The return sector was uneventful but I did notice the a Moscow flight smells almost as bad as an Indian one. While the smell is different, there was a rank combination of sweat, body odour and something I couldn’t put my finger on. After a while it dawned on me: most of passengers were Russian and the majority of them, male and female, all smelt as though they were recovering from a hard night out. The sickly sweet smell of sweat and alcohol pouring out of the pores of 350 people permeated the cabin and made me feel rather sick.

So, in about 3 months I’ll be trying to get myself another Moscow to see some snow!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Nanna's 90th!

I've completed yet another Brissie trip, but this one was for a very special reason. My gorgeous Nanna turned 90 and there was no way I was missing that party!

I've already missed weddings, 21sts and other important events back home, so when I found out there was a party happening I set about trying to get a trip home. I thought I wasn't going to be able to get there, but while I was in Jakarta I was sent a swap for a Brissie and it all worked out.

I flew in and pretty much stayed quiet for a few days and then surprised Nanna on Sunday. The look on her face was well worth it. My aunt Sue who lives in the US also flew in as a surprise and it was a lovely family reunion.

Nanna has 8 children and all of them except one were there. The house was full of grand-kids and second and third cousins and even some relatives I'd NEVER met! I was on video camera duty and wandered around filming everyone and getting some birthday messages from Nanna. When the camera was eventually turned on me I got a little shy and didn't have much to say!

There were some beautiful speeches, and some lovely memories for Nanna. She scored a table full of flowers, and was given some lovely presents. She loves ginger and I was lucky to find some ginger tea and coffee while I was in Jakarta recently.

Having been away for so long, I have a little cousin who's about 18 months old that I met for the first time at the party. His name's Banjo and he's just as gorgeous as his older brother Jett. Here's a quirky story - Banjo's dad, my older cousin Scott turns out to be the best high school mate of my flatmate Ash's older brother Simon! Ash grew up in Darwin, as did Scotty and Simon, and I was in Brisbane.

I travelled halfway around the world and lived with my older cousin's best mate's sister? What a small world!