Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last Week in London and First Weeks Back in Perth

So Daniel and I moved into Phoenix Hostel in Marylebone for seven nights to sort out where we were going to live. The hostel was filled with people just like us; homeless, unemployed and spending all day on their laptops trying to find someone to pay them to do things so they could afford their own roof over their head. There were three beds to a bunk and the showers stunk. By the second or third day, I gave up.

Daniel on his bed. One metre above mine. Don't let the smile fool you into thinking we were happy.

"I think I'm just going to go home," I said to Daniel as we discovered our hangovers from the middle and top bunk beds.
"Yeah?" Came his muffled response through the mattress above me.
"Yeah, I think so." I felt thoroughly crap and it had nothing to do with cotton mouth or my churning stomach. And that was pretty much it. I met with Mum and Dad later that day, they thought it was "for the best" and started booking me a flight home for that weekend. I said I wanted to stay until the end of the week as my friend, Sutton, from Portland was coming to London and it was unlikely I'd see her again.

Until Sutton got there, Daniel and I spent our days drinking in parks (and once hung out with a roadie for various heavy metal bands, who told us filthy/hilarious stories) and eating £2.50 Meal Deals from Tesco, singing "I hate my life, I hate my life" to the tune of the wedding march and wondering how it all turned to shit so quickly. Daniel's life, in particular, did a stark 180 turn. I couldn't go in to details before because he was suspended from Burberry but has since been let go. Basically, he had been given his dream promotion in China, we all got kicked out of Pepys, he made a joke to burn Burberry down after not being allowed one day off work, was put on paid suspension and then fired. Absurd. I'm pretty sure if I had made a joke to one of my managers at Sacred about burning the place down they would have handed me some matches.

Mimosas and card games.

And then Sutton was there. We talked about Portland and I showed her Brick Lane, Camden Markets and Regent's Park where we continued our tradition (if you've only done it once before, can it be a tradition?) of drinking in trees. We discussed our plans of me marrying her friend Javier so I could live in America/Portland (he's going to wear a purple tux and I'm going to wear the mirror ball suit from The Mighty Boosh, Sutton will be my maid of honour and Daniel my flower girl; it's going to a stunning event) and her marrying my friend Andrew Sutton so she can be called Sutton Sutton.

Sutton in a tree.
Doing the Pockets Dance in Brick Lane.

And then I stayed with Giulio, one of my CS hosts when I first got to London. I didn't want to go home, but I was sick of the waiting around and I couldn't be bothered with the upcoming twenty nine hour transit back to Perth. On my second last day in London, I had breakfast with Daniel in Bethnal Green (he has since returned home to Vancouver) and then we parted ways on the Central Line. That night I went out in Brixton with Giulio and his friends. I sat outside Hootenanny, a local reggae/Creole venue, and thought how I was going to miss these cool bars and the casual lifestyle of going out for a couple of drinks. It seems like so much less effort in London. I woke up early on Sunday morning after Giulio's kitten spent most of the night crawling across my chest and made my way to Heathrow, very glad it would be the last time I had to cart all my belongings on public transport.

The last things I remember were getting annoyed that Londoners don't move along the carriage (or help) when someone has a lot of luggage, talking to a bogan Australian from country Victoria and helping an American couple find their terminal.

The flight from London to Singapore was uneventful. I had an eleven hour stop over in Changi, which was the middle of the night on London time. I watched the last four episodes of Doctor Who, two of Parks and Recreation and then passed out in my chair. The flight from Singapore to Perth was fine until two hours before landing the exit sign and warning signal flashed consistently until we landed. The pilot assured us that it was a minor malfunction and apologised for the disturbance. Then we went through some moderate turbulence - which made the man sitting in front of me scream. Twice. I considered leaning over and asking him if he thought we were going to crash but thought better of it/couldn't be bothered undoing my seat belt and untangling myself from my nest of blankets and pillows.

For the first week in Perth, I was severely jetlagged but didn't try that hard to get over it. Which generally resulted in me staying up until 4:30am and crying at some point. I had to set an alarm for 12pm on Mum's birthday, 5am London time, which was a struggle.

It didn't take long before being away for nine months felt like a dream. Like an Alice in Wonderland kind of thing. Nothing has changed in Perth although the fridge seems smaller, my bed is tiny and not as comfortable as I remember and everyone had broad accents for my first couple of days back. I had to ask Mum if people were actually bogans because I couldn't tell. The bird outside my window still makes the sound of small children being murdered just before dawn and the crazy bag lady still gets the 443 bus and walks home from Davallia Road (although she has upgraded to a red wheely bag from the green Woolworths bag). Every now and again I remember standing on the tube in London or walking down the street in San Francisco and think "Oh yeah...I was away. I went places."

My dog, Bobbi, is just as adorable as ever. I still enjoy rousing her from sleep to smother her with attention.


My sister, Steph, came over for Mum's birthday and to organise her wedding. A jetlagged, miserable twenty one year old mixed with Bridezilla is not a wonderful experience and I don't recommend trying it, but we survived with some minor bumps along the way. Steph has a venue, a dress and the bridesmaid dresses sorted. While shopping for the latter she asked me what I wanted to wear, thinking "well, I usually don't like wearing exactly the same thing as three other people," but decided to keep my mouth shut and mumble something along the lines of "I'm not sure yet." The chosen dress is nice, though. You'll like it, too.

Me, Catsanus and Mum at Indiana Teahouse in Cottesloe for Mum's birthday/everyone else's birthday on Mum's side of the family.
My new...cousin, Helix.
(How are you related to your cousin's child? Great Aunt? Great Second Cousin?)

A few days later I pulled my room apart and threw out a whole lot of crap. Thinking that I had lived without it for nine months, I can live without it now and how the hell did I gather so much junk anyway?! I also took five bags of clothes and shoes to the Good Sammy's bins. I ripped down all my posters and photos and kept my walls bare apart from the posters I actually paid for and a few postcards I collected in Berlin. It felt good. A few hours later I was watching TV (which I think is pretty crap now) with Mum and suddenly said "I want my stuff back." I also dyed my hair brown. Maybe I went a little bit nuts.

I surprised my friends by organising "group skype dates" and then showing up to their houses. Their screams/open, gaping mouths were thoroughly entertaining.


Dad has since got me a job working in the customs hall at the airport. It's going to be mind numbingly boring (twelve hour shifts, four days on, four days off) but it is amazing pay. The plan was to stay and work in Perth until Catsanus' wedding but I'm thinking (as of twenty seven minutes ago) that I might move to Melbourne early next year. It's not that I hate Perth that much, I'm just over it. I don't like driving down the street thinking "oh hey, I remember going to that park with Grandma when I was six." I want to be somewhere new. I want to be somewhere that I want to be, rather than working to like where I am. That and I can't decide where I want to go travelling next.

I like being home with a fridge full of food and enjoying Mum's amazing cooking and not worrying about how much money I'm spending on general living expenses while I work out what I want to do, but it's hard to stay positive/entertained when all my friends are busy with university/work. I guess it will get better when I start working too. Even if I will be a zombie.

I've spent the rest of my time watching Adam Scott in whatever TV show I can find and trying to motivate myself to exercise (I almost got there then it started raining). I miss my independence. I miss being whoever I want to be. I miss London and I miss goofing around with Daniel.

This came across as way more depressing than I intended. I'm okay, really. I think.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Berlin


While travelling with Mum and Dad, the plan was to follow them to Sweden and stay in Uppsala with Lloyd or maybe travel on my own for a bit while they galavanted around Scandinavia with their friends. Unfortunately, last minute flights from Amsterdam to Stockholm were too expensive (Ryanair was booked out) so I was sent to Berlin for two weeks until they got there. How horrible for me.

My American friend Grace, from Illinois, is currently studying in Berlin and said I could stay on her couch while I was there. She met me at Oppelner Strasse train station in Kreuzberg and we walked the few blocks back to her apartment. I was amazed and jealous to discover that she had a huge room, in fact even her bathroom was bigger than my bedroom at Pepys (it had a couch in it!) and she paid €360 per month when I paid £460. I was liking Berlin already.

That night, in between catching up on Illinois gossip and telling me about the Kreuzberg area (and how much I was about to fall in love with Berlin) we ate some of the delicious food around the corner from her flat and drank Club Mate and vodka. Grace raved about the Club Mate, an energy drink made from a Brazilian tea, and I was skeptical about how it would taste. But I have to say, I really liked it, and I still crave it. It basically tastes like fizzy apple juice and is popular with young people in Berlin, both on its own and with alcohol. That night we went out with two of Grace's friends in Kottbusser Tor, where we danced all night in a club above a Kaiser's (supermarket) that used to be a doctor's office.

The English don't know the meaning of Jacket Potato.
Grace, Ilona, Megan and some Australian guy photobombing.

The next day, I went to Maur Park with Megan, who is originally from California. Maur Park is basically a huge flea market. People set up stalls with unwanted clothes, shoes, bags and crafts. There was also delicious food, beer gartens and lots of people in cool Berlin fashion with their dogs. I was so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of everything that it took me a while to buy anything. We started the day with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, had some bizarre mix of delicious Turkish vegetables for lunch and had pommes (chips/fries) with beer in the afternoon while it rained. Megan bought an entire wardrobe of new clothes, while I walked away with a blouse, flouro orange and pink jumper (Megan: "I think I owned something like that when I was six.") and an army green jacket, which made me feel very Berlin.

We left the park as everyone was packing up and headed back to Kottbusser Tor for a few quiet drinks. We found a hookah bar and decided to sit there with a few beers and apple flavoured shisha. After we were significantly relaxed we walked down the road to a Mexican restaurant. Megan, being from California was skeptical about the quality of Mexican food made by Germans. "We have actual Mexicans making it in California," she said. I managed to convince her to try it anyway.

Our foot long burritos were on our plates for all of four and half minutes before they had disappeared. We inhaled them. Ten minutes later we had paid the bill and were sitting on a stoop on the street wondering what had just happened. We had eaten the best Mexican ever, was all we could think about. You know it's good Mexican when a Californian approves.

Walking around Kottbusser Tor in search of a quiet, cosy Irish type pub we stumbled upon a dive bar called 'Red Rose'. This was one of the weirdest, coolest, scariest and most intriguing bars I have ever been to. I remember thinking it was like being in a David Lynch film. In fact we both noted that it was like we were extras in some one else's story. The bar was decorated with cherubs and tinsel around the bar, a collection of gnomes and an ugly witch figurine above the toilet door, a fish tank in the window and the ceiling was covered in that green army bunker lattice stuff. There was a transvestite, who looked more like Pop-Eye than a woman, frisking a guy who hadn't paid his tab, a morbidly obese man-child in a red jumper hanging around the bar and a woman who genuinely looked like the cat lady from The Simpsons wearing an awesome leather cap while playing the pokies in the back. Meanwhile, Echoes by Pink Floyd was playing loudly over the top of everything. Echoes is a pretty spooky song to start with, but whenever I here it, it reminds me of Dad playing it through our record player (yes, I said record player) with all the lights in the house off and made us sit in silence and listen to it for the full twenty minutes. It's an amazing song, and I remember thinking that even when I was scared we were all about to be absorbed into Pink Floyd Void, but I still get the heebie-jeebies when I hear it now. Especially when I wasn't sure if Pop-Eye was about to come and frisk me too. Once we'd finished our beer (and the one guy who spoke English had approached us and requested we dance for/with them) we decided leave, unable to take any more stimulation for the day.

The next day Grace and Megan left for a conference in The Netherlands and I was in Berlin on my own. I wish I could say I had adventures like this everyday but in reality I did some modest exploring of the streets and slept a whole lot (Grace's bed was very comfortable). I visited the East Side Gallery (very cool) and Karl Marx Allee (very boring) and ate a Currywurst (eh).



Grace lived just down the road from an amazing park filled with people having picnics and drinking and smoking weed and making music and reading books and being all I LIVE IN BERLIN LOOK HOW AWESOME MY LIFE IS. So I went down there a few times and watched people. I watched a middle age woman approach two young guys and ask if she could share their weed, in English (why didn't I think of that, damnit!). While telling them about her life she proceeded to smoke the rest of their joint and then yelled at people walking past, complimenting them on their clothes.

It was busier and more awesome than this photo makes it seem.

One night I went to a CouchSurfing meeting, determined to meet some people I could hang out with. I met an American guy who looked like John Hamm (from Mad Men), so I told him he looked like John Hamm (from Mad Men). Then I spoke to an Israeli girl who was unbelievably patronising to me for liking America.

"America? You liked it?"
"Yeah, absoloutely loved it."
"Wow. You're the first person I've met to say anything positive about America."
"Uh..well, I guess, a lot of people hold a pretty ridiculous stereotype about Americans and think they're all fat, stupid and ignorant. No one I met was like that. I made some amazing friends."
"Well, you have fun there," she said as she patted me on the head.

I turned away from her and spoke to an Australian girl sitting on my right about leaving home and travelling and not being that fussed about going home. Before too long, the Israeli girl had piped up again.

"It's a shame about Australians."
"Why, what do you mean?"
"Well, when I was busking in Paris, I met this Australian guy who was going to meet me the next day and busk with me. So I went to the park we were going to meet up in and he never showed up."
"Is that it?"
"Yeah."
"So...is that a shame about all Australians...or a shame about that one guy?"
"Uh...yeah... I suppose..."

I'm usually not one to defend Australians all that much, but this girl was a moron and I was tempted to get all patriotic on her. I decided to ignore her instead. She was quite similar to a lot of people I've met in London/the small amount of Europe I've seen. There have been quite a few people who think they're pretty damn amazing because they're travelling Europe. You're not. At all. You're doing exactly the same thing as everyone else at some point in their twenties. Stop it.

(I realise it might come across that I feel that way because I'm writing about my experiences. I don't. I just like travelling and writing and thankfully the two go together quite well. I'm aware that I'm average.)

I watched this 3D street art being painted over three of four days, as I walked past on my way to the train station.

So I also went op shopping a few times. The op shops/thrift stores in Berlin are ah-mazing. I went to one in Alexanderplatz called Humana Project which had a whole floor of cardigans. How was I supposed to go back to London, knowing that this place existed?! And I met the Pope, too.

The Pope approaches.
The Pope is totally in one of those cars. Woo...

The next Saturday night I met up with Alex, another friend from Illinois and her friend, Anna. We had dinner a few train stops away from Oppelner Strasse at an amazing Indian restaurant and then went to Alexanderplatz for a bottle of wine. On the train on the way there were a group of drunkish German guys asking us to throw some rubbish in the plastic bin there were carrying with them. Whenever someone threw an empty bottle or a used train ticket in (who am I kidding, no one in Berlin buys train tickets!) they would cheer maniacally. Alex and I asked Anna (from Berlin) what they were chanting about once they had moved down the carriage. She said they were yelling something about "cleaning up Germany" and wasn't sure if they meant environmentally or racially. I know it's a faux pas to mention Nazis in Germany and I don't want to make a big deal about it, but I thought it was fascinating anyway.


Alex, Anna and moi.


I met Alex and Anna at Maur Park the next day (yeah I liked it that much), we walked around, ate an amazing vegetarian burger and enjoyed the atmosphere before they had to leave as Alex had a train to catch back to Limburgerhof where she was working as an intern. I walked around a bit on my own, bought a beer and a slice of some kind of delicious pie and watched the Bearpit Karaoke. Unfortunately it wasn't on the the first time I was there with Megan because it was raining, but this Sunday had beautiful weather so everyone had gathered at the amphitheater to watch strangers sing. In fact, the weather was so beautiful that I gave up after about five performances and had to retreat back to the shade.



And then I was back with Mum and Dad, telling them about how laid back Berlin is and hearing about their adventures in Sweden and Norway. We went on a walking tour of the city which was really good. It was great to see all the landmarks that my year 10 history teacher, Mrs Wright, had told me about and even to feel proud that I already knew some of the quirky stories that our guide told us. That evening we sat by a canal in a beergarten, drank beer, ate pizza and watched the people and boats amble by.

The boat is called 'Adele', in case you can't see. Mum got ridiculously excited and demanded that I take a photo.

The next day we visited Tacheles, a once Jewish Department Store, Nazi prison and now houses an artist's collective threatened with eviction (thankyou Wikipedia!). Walking in, the first thing to attack your senses is the immense layered graffiti on the walls and banisters and steps and everything.



The next is the distinct smell of piss. Wanting to look at as much as possible and take it all in but also to get it over and done with thanks to the dank aroma made for a strange artistic experience. After exploring the several floors of (let's be honest) somewhat shitty art I waited outside on the street for Mum and Dad. Were weren't allowed to take photos of the exhibitions but they were the kind of displays you look at and say "my three year old niece could have done that."



A tanned man walked towards me and stood way too close for comfort. Thinking he was going to say/ask something sleazy I leaned backwards but tried to act nonchalant.

"Hey, where are you from?"
"Australia." Oh God, why is he standing in my bubble.
"Oh cool. Why are you here?"
"I'm just travelling." He's going to ask me for sex.
"Nice, why are you here, though?"
"What? As in...right here?" Definitely being sleazy as hell.
"Yeah."
"Oh. I'm waiting for my parents to come out of Tacheles."
"Ah okay, so you're here to study or party or travel?"
"Uh...travelling...?"
"Hey, you like keen and wade?"
"What?"
"Do you like cocaine and weed?"
"Oh. Um. No, thanks, I'm right." Didn't I just say I was here with my parents?
"No? Maybe something else? Whatever you want, I can get it for you."
"Maybe later." Where the hell are Mum and Dad?
"You come back later?"
"Sure. I'll come back later."
"Okay, what time?"
"Yeah, look...I probably won't come back..."
"Okay, well when you do, I'll be here, whatever you want, I'll get it for you!"
"Okay!" Oh thank God, there's Mum and Dad...taking a photo of me being propositioned for drugs.

It felt like he was standing closer than that.

That night I went to a beergarten near where Mum and Dad were staying and decided that I only wanted to be in London so I could travel to other places. I had a new life plan that didn't involve crying over making sandwiches at 7:30am. I was going to find a semi decent, slightly higher paying job, save up and move to Berlin. Not full on move to, because that involves getting another working visa, saving up more money that I could in London and also learning German. I just want to go there on the three month tourist visa. Just be there. With my new inspiration for life abroad I enjoyed a few steins, pickles and pretzels with Mum and Dad before we parted ways and I left for the airport back to London early the next morning.



I really, really liked Berlin. It's so laid back and full of young people and creativity and liberal-ness. I liked that I could buy a decent beer for about €1 and drink it where ever I wanted (train included). Food was cheap and amazing and from all over the world. The train went all night on weekends (unlike the tube in London which stops at midnight every night. Absurd!). Even with the ridiculous German language around me, it was the kind of place that I want to be.