Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ahhh!! Where's my jacket/beanie/gloves/scarf!!

Hiya from Leeds!
After two flights, one sleep in an airport, and a night in an actual bed, we are finally in Leeds. The flights from Sydney to London were, to put it plainly, long. After saying goodbye to our family and friends we left Sydney just after 10pm on Sunday night. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was not so bad, Malaysian airlines were nice enough and we had a really nice flight steward who gave us extra snacks and real milk for our tea. He was a bit of a joker, who, after asking us where we were going and we replied "London", he helpfully said "hahahah, you have ages to go!".

Our arrival at Kuala Lumpur was at around 3.30am, and we were dreading for the six hour stop over ahead of us. We wandered around the terminal for a bit, briefly considered getting a room in the very expensive, and very 1970s looking terminal hotel. Deciding that the money would be much better spent in  Berlin, Budapest or Paris, we decided to catch what sleep we could in the terminal.  Following the advice on the surprisingly helpful, we headed for the leather lounges on level four, but unfortunately these were already occupied by like minded sleeping travellers (pretty sure they weren't homeless people). We managed to snag a couple of hours of poor and interrupted sleep on a variety of undersized and uncomfortable metal benches, with the cackling of what we are fairly certain was the whole of the Kuala Lumpur airport security team, only metres away. After an atrocious breakfast of Malaysians-trying-to-be-French croissants (beef penang or chicken curry croissant anyone?) and abysmal coffee, it was onto the next leg. Also, tiny teaspoons!

We boarded the next flight at about 10.30 local time, and settled into the next 17 or so hours of flying. This was not our favourite flight, as it was incredibly long and we were feeling the effects of not much sleep. This is what we looked like as we were coming into London.

I think the best way to describe us at this point, was bone tired.
We did have the opportunity to see some pretty cool views as we were flying. Here are some pics, the first is of the desert in Turkmenistan and the second was the East Anglian coast line, as we fly in to Heathrow.

We got into London at about 4.20pm local time (+11 hours for Australia), and got through customs with no problem. We were a bit surprised at the extra attention groups of Nigerian travellers received from the Border Agency guards, but going from what we see on Border Security Uk and the like (TV is always accurate, right? haha) there may be some justification for it.
At this stage we were both ready to find a box and sleep for a year or so, but luckily we were met at arrivals by Steve, who had kindly offered to drive four hours from Manchester to pick us up. He even had M&S sandwiches, snacks and drinks for us! Needless to say, we couldn't thank him enough! With the bags loaded it was off to Manchester, where Steve and his mate Lee had organised a hotel room for the two of us to stay and catch up on some sleep. I crashed out half way to Manchester, awaking briefly to stagger to the room. 

We went to bed earlier than we have since primary school, and awoke a little more refreshed at 5am and watched some quality TV, including a show where people were rescuing badgers from a barn. At about 8am, dawn began to break and we could look out the window of the hotel room. We had a great view over Salford Quays, but when we opened the window to check the outside temperature, the chill took our breath away. In retrospect, the inch thick ice in the roof gutters below our window should have been a giveaway. Anyway, we closed the windows up, rugged up and headed downstairs for breakfast. After 30-odd hours of airplane food, the full english breakfast was a godsend, however the coffee was atrocious. Steve had warned us, and so we used Ben's aunty Carol's trick of adding a pinch of salt to bitter coffee (it works, try it!), which made it almost palatable. Despite the freezing temperature outside, there were lots of people jogging about the Quays, including quite a few old men wearing big padded jackets, beanies and short running shorts... a little odd. 

After breakfast, Steve arrived to pick us up, so we checked out and headed east across the surprisingly rugged Pennines to Yorkshire and our home for the next 4 and a bit months, the city of Leeds!  
Once again, Steve was a massive help, driving us around for most of the day, taking us to meet with our landlady and get keys to the flat, helping us stock up from Ikea, sort a wireless toggle for the laptop, and even do a run to the local Morrisons grocery shop. Without Steve's help, we would have needed ten arms, a load of bus tickets and a plethora of patience. We owe him more than just a few dinners and drinks :)

The apartment we are staying in is located in Kirkstall, a lovely little suburb named after the ruined but still imposing Kirkstall Abbey around which it is based. It's about 5 mins drive (10 on the bus) to the northwest of Leeds city centre. The flat is quite homely, well heated, and well appointed with oven, microwave washing machine and even a dishwasher.  We are very happy to have a place to call home for the next 4 and a bit months. Emma, the owner, was kind enough to organise a whole bunch of bedding and kitchen stuff for us to use whilst we are here, including an awesome duvet (13.5 TOG...whatever that means) which has thus far stood up to the cold very well.

Wednesday morning, after a delicious breakfast of British bacon, eggs and toast, we rugged up and headed into town. The bus stop is about 10m from our front doorstop, and with services running to the city centre every 10 minutes getting in to town is a breeze. Buying a ticket from the bus driver provided me with my first language barrier incident. Manchester was bad enough, but in Leeds they seem to talk a lot faster. The bus driver was a mumbler as well, which didn't help, and besides I don't think he understood me either! 5 pound and two adult tickets later, we hopped on, going up the stairs to the top of the double decker.  It's very fun sitting right at the front of the top, a bit like a ride and you get a good view. We got off at The Headrow, the main drag of Leeds in front of the huge neo-classical Town Hall and headed into the bitingly cold wind, up the hill towards the University where we were to take part in the international student meet and greet. The group we were in had 6 other Australian students, one German and a French girl and a guy from New Jersey. The staff of the international office seem very friendly and helpful, and we found out that we can buy a term pass for the buses which should save us a heap of money. 

After the orientation, we headed up to the student union building. This is immense, with restaurants, bars, eateries, even a beer garden and two nightclubs! We had a delicious and very cheap lunch from one of the restaurants, before heading out to wander around the grounds. The Great Hall is amazing, like something from Harry Potter. Not wanting to look like tourists though, we didn't stop to take any photos - we'll get some soon though. Next on the agenda was to buy some boots! Ben had bought a pair back in Australia, but while his feet were toasty and warm mine were freezing in a pair of Nike trainers. We wandered around the commercial district, which is pretty impressive with so many stores. I eventually ended up finding a decent warm pair of boots from, of all places, a store which specialises in Ugg boots.  Funnily enough, the denizens of Tuggerah will be delighted to know that Ugg boots are, in fact, fashionable! Not so much the worn out trackie-dacks though I'm afraid. Maybe next season. 
Anyway, it was getting dark (so about 3.30pm), so we caught the bus back to our flat and, after dinner and a delicious Rekorderlig Cider (they're only 1.50 over here!), still feeling a bit of the jetlag, we crashed out at about 7.30, after watching the beautiful sunset (on the right side of the double glazing).


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Only 4 full days left..

Hi everyone, Laura here.
What a week it has been! We are pleased to announce that we have signed all the paperwork and paid the deposit for what will be our house for the next almost-five-months. It was a stressful process, with many a Skype phone call being ended with an abrupt "we don't do any leases for less than six months", in a broad Yorkshire accent. In the end, we have managed to find a nice one bed flat in Kirkstall, which is, according to the ever trusty Google maps, a 40 minute walk from Leeds Uni. Let's hope our snow boots are comfy to walk in.
While I am on the topic of snow boots, we though you might like a bit of a run down on what we plan to bring with us. I have really been struggling with the concept that we will be flying into a country where it isn't getting much warmer than 5℃. So I have made the executive decision to leave hot weather clothes at home, and pack for the cold weather. We will be in the UK until the end of May, so we will be able to pick up the warmer weather gear there.

We will be taking our 13" MacBook Pro, Elly's DSLR camera (thanks Elly!), our little point and shoot camera, chargers for both, adaptors (UK and Europe) and warm gloves!

Here we have our backpacks, Ben's snow boots (I have to get mine over there), a travel pillow (thanks Lisa!), our fantastic shell jackets, and big comfy warm scarves made by my mum.

The laptop will be kept in this new laptop case. I got sick of not finding any decent cases for under $40. So I got some spare material out and made this the other afternoon. It's even double sided so that Ben can have a blue case!

So there you have it, a couple of things we are bringing with us on our adventures. We are getting very close to getting on that plane now, and it's started to get a little more real.
We have lots to do between now and Sunday, but we will try and update before we go.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Noumea - And T-12

Ben checking in, i've just updated my other blogand thought i'd best give this one some love. We've got just under two weeks till we leave for the UK, and are very much excited, despite the fact we have as yet nowhere to stay in Leeds. Laura's been busily working away though, arranging viewing appointments for furnished apartments near the Uni (LS6 is, i'm reliably informed, the postal zone to be in :)).

I've had my selected subjects approved, and it looks to be a pretty interesting mix. I'll be studying the Barbarian groups of the Later Dark Ages (Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians, Lombards etc..), 16th and 17th century Catholic Europe, great power politics in the lead up to the Great War, and keeping up with my French Language. Laur is still waiting on final confirmation for her module enrolments, but she is looking at textile specialisation, photography, patterns and culture and country house studies.

Speaking of which, i spend the last week of November over in Nouvelle-Caledonie on a uni-funded home-stay / language course. I was travelling with 5 other students, all training to be high school French teachers (French is my minor, History being my major specialisation area).
Noumea itself was a very interesting place, and i was surprised at just how French it felt. The architecture, cars, language, even the street names were lifted directly from metropolitan france. I was lucky to stay with a lovely host family (or famille d'accueil), who through originally from Madagascar had travelled extensively across the french speaking world thanks to my mere d'accueil, Sonia's, job as a paediatrician. It was interesting to hear their views on the island, and i found it particularly interesting how the various cultural groups remained largely separated, with the French 'metros' located in the suburbs and in the exclusive coastal suburbs near Anse Vatar and Baie des Citrons, and the indigenous Kanak islanders largely in the poorer inter city areas or out in the countryside.

The language courses were held by the Centre de Rencontres et d'Echanges Internationaux du Pacifique, shortened to the much easier CREIPAC. The teachers and staff were fantastic and very helpful, and the classes were immeasurably beneficial. Our courses at Newcastle focus primarily upon grammar and written work. All six of us found that we often found ourselves speaking a word or a phrase which, if we had written it down, would have been understood, but our pronunciation was so poor that we had difficulty making ourselves understood. Ourprofesseur, Jean-Pierre guided us all through the vowel sounds and we spent one very enjoyable morning looking and sounding like idiots as we struggled to learn the correct noises necessary to communicate in French.

CREIPAC itself is located in an old french Penal colony on the Nouville peninsula from the late 19th century, the school and offices occupying the old commandant's offices. I love French colonial architecture, and the beautiful weather and amazing view across the bay made CREIPAC a delightful place to study.

The six of us spent most afternoons exploring the centre-ville, including a fantastic patisserie Le Fournil Gourmand where we all overindulged on the superb pastries. Again, i was surprised at how similar Noumea is to France, as Le Fournil Gourmand was comparable to any patisserie in metropolitan France.

After a few afternoon exploring the centre-ville and the Port Moselle we spent the rest of the week at the Baie des Citrons, lazing by the beach reading and listening to music. one evening my famille d'accueil took me to the Ouen Toro lookout to watch the sunset. Ouen Toro is an old colonial fort, and several of the WWII vintage 155mm guns are still in situ.

The food provided by the famille d'accueil was delicious and healthy too. Speaking of healthy, the first day i arrived at my home-stay house, i was asked "voulez-vous vous promener?" which means would you like to go for a walk. I replied oui, expecting a leisurely stroll. I found out after a 30minute drive that I had actually agreed to climb Mont-Dore, the tallest mountain on Le Grande Terre, the largest island of Nouvelle-Caledonie. After about an hour of very steep climbing in scorching sun with no water, the urge to collapse overcame my politeness and i said that i had to go back. My famille d'accueil were fine, and actually found it rather amusing. Still, the view from most-of-the-way-up Mont-Dore was spectacular, and when i return i'll be trying to make it to the top. Next time i'll take water though. :)

Noumea was a great opportunity to practise and improve my spoken French, and will hopefully stand us in good stead when we return to France in the next few months.
Anyway, enough of the chit-chat, on to some photos of Noumea.

First off, this is a picture of the CREIPAC offices, ex french penal prison admin building.

Below is the view from my home-stay house. The mountain in the distance is Mont-Dore, a little more serious than an afternoon stroll. :) There are also some pics I took from almost at the top of the little peak to the right, the person in the picture is my mere d'accueil, Sonia.

Below are some pics around the centre-ville and the Port Moselle, the main harbour. The statues are in town square, the Place des Cocotiers, and are of Admiral Olry, the Governor of Nouvelle-Caledone from 1878-1880, and the other is the fontaine celeste. The buildings are the old customs house, the bibliothèque, not sure what the white one was. If you do go to Noumea, you must go to Le Fournil Gourmand patisserie. It's cheap, not touristy at all and the food is amazing.

Below are some pics of the Baie des Citrons. The two people fishing were two old Kanak ladies. They both had plastic shopping bags under their arms, and after every cast they reeled in a fish and placed it in the bags. They must have caught 10 each while i was watching.

Below are some pictures from Ouen Toro. The guns are 1930s vintage French 155mm GPF type, identical to the american M1 'Long Tom.'

Below are some pictures of Ilot Maitre. A few of us travelled to this resort island via Taxi-Boat on the saturday. It was nice, but very resort-y and very expensive also. Noumea on the whole was not too expensive, but on Ilot Maitre it cost 20AUD just to use the pool, and the buffet lunch was over 100AUD per head. We brought a packed lunch of baguettes, les fromages (proper french cheeses were so cheap. Why are they so expensive in Oz???), orangina (my favourite soda/soft-drink. It's basically carbonated orange juice, and is rather delicious), crisps and fruit. Looked nicer than the 100 buck buffet as well. Resort travel is not really my thing i'm afraid.

Below is a pic of me and my Uni of Newcastle friends, Daron, Ash, Bec and Lil. The last of our croup, Gareth, was taking the photo.
And some pics of me and and mon famille d'accueil. Sonia, ma mère, Jao mon frère and Sarah ma sœur.

So, that's about it for this update. T-12 days until we leave, so when I post again it'll be from sunny Leeds. Current temperature is 6°C in Leeds, and it's about midday. Good thing i've got a good coat and a decent pair of boots. Thermals too :)