Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reflections One Year In

Me looking at the view of Liege, Belgium
One year since I arrived in Europe!

And what a year it's been. I spent Christmas in Germany and New Years skiing in Austria, then trained around Belgium, France and Switzerland before trying to sort out a visa and job in Madrid. When that fell apart I moved to Antwerp, Belgium to nanny for a family, which also ended badly, and then arranged to go and nanny for another family in Luxembourg, at which point I wrote this blog post, Reflections Six Months In.

Me with two kiwi friends in London
During the second half of this year, I spent a few weeks hanging out in an empty house in Germany and exploring the surrounding countryside, headed down to Sicily for a week, and then settled down here in Luxembourg. The beginning was tough, it took quite a while for the kids and I to really get in the swing of things with each other, and I still don't feel 100% settled here, but I think that has a lot to do with the nature of Luxembourg itself, people are always coming and going to its hard to have a permanent group of friends. I've gotten out and about in Luxembourg itself quite a bit, but other than a few weekend trips away, including my second visit to London, things have been pretty quiet. You can check out the full list of cities I've visited this year here.

Me on the ski lift at Rauris, Austria
Working out what the highlights of the year have been is difficult, there is simply so much that's been amazing. Spending last Christmas in snow-covered Germany, discovering different villages and castles and experiencing the Christmas market with Hauke and his friends was awesome. Learning how to ski during a week on holiday with two German families too. My week in Paris - the clubbing, the people, the food, the sights - which is surprizing because I went there expecting it to be overrated. My trip down to Sicily.

Ollie and I in his first snow in Luxembourg
And then all of the things like the moments when Pepi tells me he loves me, when Ollie first shouted my name, and when either of them runs up to me for a spontaneous kiss or hug - its taken us a long time to reach this stage, so I really appreciate it! The moments where I manage to navigate long train journeys, or find my way to someone's house in a strange city, and remember how lost I was when I first came to Europe! The moments when people's generosity and kindness just blow me away, the moments when I first discover something that you wouldn't dream of back in New Zealand, and the moments that make me accutely aware of how lucky I am to have grown up in New Zealand, with the family that I have and the opportunities I have had.

Me with Alice and Arin, the kids I looked after in Antwerp
Thinking about the lowlights of the year is also difficult. I guess, a lot has not gone to plan, and while I'm pretty adaptable, it has been disappointing. Not being able to stay in Spain and so far not having learnt much of a third language has disappointed me. My time as a nanny in Belgium was a pretty big lowlight! While I did learn a lot there, overall I wasn't happy with the experience. Visiting friends and realising that time and distance has changed our relationship for the worse has been a lowlight too.

Me at the Eifel Tower, Paris, France
I've learnt that I'm not your average tourist, I'm not happy just dashing from city to city partying and checking out the major attractions. I've gained a lot from spending as much time with locals as possible, doing small things like going to buy bread at the local french bakery with my host, and visiting small towns and villages. I've also learnt that, while flexibility and making decisions about where to go and when to go at the very last minute seems to be the typical approach to backpacking, you can save a lot of money buy booking in advance! I had to do a bit of research about how the train ticketing systems work in each country in order to get cheap deals, but in the end I saved a lot and don't feel like I missed out on anything but sticking to a itinerary.

Me out partying with a bunch of Latinos here in Luxembourg
Would I do anything differently? Not much. I would think twice before getting a Working Holiday Visa for a country that is new to the scheme! But overall, I think I'm happy with everything that I've done.  How has this year changed me? I don't think I'll be able to answer that for a few more years! I'm definitely more worldly and knowledgeable. I've gained a lot of confidence in dealing with children, and I've become a lot more certain about having my own someday. In some ways, I've gained confidence, but in other ways, I've lost it - I'm no longer as certain about myself and where I'm going in life, I feel like I've lost a lot of my sense of self here, as many of the things that I would identify myself by, like my work, my community projects and my achievements aren't part of my life over here.

Me in front of Vianden Castle, Luxembourg
The year has been both fantastic and hard. I've seen and done so many truly amazing things, but living in brand-new countries has a lot of challenges. I miss just understanding everything, like the way things work if you want to post a parcel or buy a cellphone, or when the supermarkets will be closed due to public holidays. Everything being in a different language means that Google is not your best friend like it was back home, and finding simple objects can turn into huge missions when they aren't sold in the shops you expect them to be in. Not speaking the language means that its harder to go over and introduce yourself to the neighbours, its harder to ask questions when you're unsure of something, and its harder to make friends. As I said, I've also found the loss of identity quite hard. Going from someone who had done well both academically and professionally and had quite a few achievements to my name, to being just another illegal immigrant wiping kids' butts for a living has been tougher than I expected.

Me at an ancient theatre above the sea in Taormina, Sicily, Italy
And where to from here? One thing I have definitely learnt is that being on an OE means you can never truthfully answer that! Yesterday I would have said that I was going to be in Luxembourg for another six months before moving to Germany. Today, things beyond my control have changed and that no longer seems likely. However, I'm not ready to go home yet - I haven't achieved my goal of learning another language, there is still many countries to discover, and I'm terrified of going back to a country where I am an expensive flight away from anywhere else, especially considering almost all of my friends are either from overseas, or currently living overseas too.

So, bring on another year here in Europe!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This is Why You're German

Normally I hate stereotypes and I don't want to cause anyone offense, but anyone that has been to Germany or has German friends should get a laugh out of some of these! Taken from the website

The concept of small talk still puzzles you.

You call your cell phone "handy" and a projector "beamer".

You recycle not just bottles and cans but also light bulbs, water filters, batteries and printer cartridges.

You separate your trash into more than five different bins.

Being on time means 15 minutes earlier to you.

You are really upset when the Deutsche Bahn is yet again 5 minutes late.

You wonder why all those people are standing waiting in line when it's easier to walk straight to the front.

You go to the movies, the theater is empty, but you still look where your assigned seat is - even if it's the left-most seat in the front row.

You write your Nouns with capital Letters when writing in english... and your Nationalities and Languages beginning with a small letter.

It's your birthday and you are paying for the drinks.

You answer the phone by identifying yourself with your surname rather than just "hello".

Your taxi drivers drive Mercedes and your police drive BMWs.

You assume all stores are closed on Sundays apart from the local railway station store.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's snowing!

I was excited on Friday to see that the weather report looked like this:

Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, rain+snow. Cool.

On Friday night it snowed. I went outside at 2am and then freaked out because something was falling on me, I thought the roof was breaking apart or something. Unfortunately it didn't really stick and when I woke up on Saturday morning the world was still green, although it was freezing cold and smelt like snow.

Stupidly I forgot all of that when getting dressed to go out on Saturday night, and it wasn't until I opened the door wearing high heels, a short skirt and a top that goes see-through when wet that I noticed it was seriously snowing! Knowing I would miss my bus if I changed, I headed out anyway, and 50m down the road decided I was already over the snow!

Sitting in the bus, and later in the bar, listening to the french, german and spanish being spoken around me and watching the snow fall down among the old buildings and christmas decorations was pretty cool though. I think I've never really been out and about while it was snowing, like I've gone out to play in the snow, or ski, or even to walk to school or whatever, but I guess it normally snowed at night, or we thought it was so bad that we stopped everything we were doing and huddled inside. So, it was quite a cool experience to just take the bus into town, spend a few hours drinking and dancing, and then take the late-night bus home while the snow was falling all around me. Have to say though, high heels+snow+cobblestone streets = seriously bad idea. Through in my propensity for general clumsiness and you're in for some real trouble!

I had the kids the following morning and was really hoping that the snow would stick. Luckily it did, and the kids didn't notice it until around 8.30am, and then I managed to drag out us actually getting out of the house until 9am. I threw them in multiple layers of clothing and put my ski pants on myself and out we went.

For two-year old Ollie, this was his first snow, and he walked out of the door and just stopped and stared with this "what the..." look on his face! It took him a bit of persuading to get amongst it. There was no holding Pepi back though, we got straight into making a snowman, which turned into a huge drama as Ollie got really into the 'ball' and got really upset that we were just using him for the snowman. Heaps of tears, so I made him his own snowball. Two seconds later, it was broken on the ground. More tears. Another snowball. More tears. Another snowball. Pepi had commandered my gloves as we couldn't find his, and my hands were freezing, and Ollie was howling so loud I swear the neighbours all hate us now!

Here's the snow from Ollie's perspective:

"Um, Claire, whuck is all this white stuff?"

"It's cold, it's wet. Girl, what are you doing to me!"

"I want a snow ball!!!!!"
"Hmm, this throwing thing looks like fun"
"Ahaha, payback time, nanny"

Finally Pepi and I managed to distract him with snow fights, until Ollie worked out he could actually throw the snow back at us (previously these fights have been pretty one sided!) and I got outnumbered by them, we all got wet and cold, and it really was time to head inside and make hot chocolate. It was so cool though getting to see Ollie really experience the snow for the first time, and I can tell we're going to have a lot of fun out there in it during the next month!

More photos of the snow in Luxembourg Ville and the kids are here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Strasbourg at Christmas time

Strasbourg - Capital of Christmas
This weekend past I headed to Strasbourg, France, to catch up with Hauke who is there for a year on a study exchange (between European universities it's called Erasmus). Strasbourg is only about 250km away, so two hours on a direct train. I'd been there for a day trip back in March when I'd been visiting a friend further south, in Mulhouse.

Hauke and I before the ball
I arrived at 3pm, and after dropping my stuff at his place we headed to the mall. Shopping usually isn't on the cards when we get together, but we were going to a ball at the university that night and we needed formal stuff. We were dashing from store to store, and kept bumping into another Erasmus student on a mission to find tights, but finally got everything done and after a few laughs at the awkwardness of Hauke trying to ask the lingerie shop assistant for a backless bra for me in french, we headed home to get dressed and have a few drinks before we went out.

A bunch of the Erasmus students
Rita from Ireland and Majorie from the USA came over, and after we were all dressed up and well-watered and had taken the obligatory prom photos we headed in. A lot of people had paid to go earlier and eat, so we were arriving as everyone was already into the swing of things and lost no time on catching up by drinking the cheap beer. A lot of faces of other Erasmus students became a bit of a blur, and while we had a good time, nothing exceptionally remarkable happened, and then sometime around 4am we toddled home with us girls feeling rather sorry for ourselves after a night in extremely high heels.

One of the many squares in Strasbourg
Saturday got off to a slow start, we didn't make it out the door until after 3pm, but we headed into town to see the Christmas Market. Strasbourg has a really famous and large one, which unlike in most cities, is spread all around the place, with many sections having specific themes. Each year they invite a different country to have their own section as a guest of honour, so this year there was a 'Little Switzerland' section with a lot of cheese and watches, including a fondue stand where instead of dipping things into a pot full of melted cheese they had cut massive wheels of cheese in half and had managed to melt the cheese on the inside, so that the half wheel was working as a kind of bowl that they could dip things into.

Hauke drunk some Gluhwine (mulled wine) but I was doubtful that my stomach was prepared to hold that down after what I'd put it through the previous night, and so I stuck to spiced hot orange juice, a nice alternative that I haven't seen before.

Christmas decorations in a pedestrian alleyway in the centre
The Christmas decorations in Strasbourg are really hard to convey through photos, just the shear volume of stuff decorating each tiny alleyway and each shop made it hard as photos where too noisy for you to be able to recognize individual decorations, and photos can't show the atmosphere or how packed the place was. It really was incredible, I thought the Christmas markets and decorations that I've seen in Germany and here in Luxembourg were amazing, but they have nothing on Strasbourg. One street even had a row of actual chandeliers encased in glass or fabric boxes suspended down the middle. The council's electrical bill must be massive, as would be the amount of money poured into buying and installing the decorations, but I guess they get it back from all of the tourists. I also didn't take so many photos because it was just too damn cold to seriously consider taking my hands out of my pockets!

Woman serving Gluhwine
The sun is currently setting before 5pm here in Europe, and it was really windy in Strasbourg, so while I think it was a lot warmer than Luxembourg, with the wind chill it was really freezing and we ended up sitting inside the massive Cathedral for quite a while just to try and keep warm! We had another quick gluhwine with a guy Hauke knew from highschool and some of his own Erasmus friends, the three of them had come for the weekend too, and then headed back home to warm up again!

Dinner at the Mexican place
We'd planned the night before to go out for dinner with some of the other Erasmus students, so we met them and went to a mexican place that Latin-American-born Majorie insisted was awesome. Unfortunately it was so awesome that it was really full, so we ended up going away for a beer and not getting to eat until 10pm! Luckily it was really worth the wait, everyone enjoyed their quesadillas and fajitas, and Hauke managed to eat his own 'plate full of different meats' (just meat. Big hunks of fried meat. Crazy!) meal and then finish off two of ours' as well!

Wandering around the city
We'd wanted to go out that night, but everyone was so tired from the previous night and so full from dinner that no one was really up for it, and we kept having issues with bouncers and places being full. After one last attempt to go to the University nightclub, a random place above what I think was a small shopping mall in amongst all the uni buildings, we called it a night and went home to bed instead.

We again didn't make it out of bed before lunchtime the next morning, and in the afternoon headed back into town. There probably is more to do in Strasbourg than either of us realise, but with me having been there before and it being so cold and christmas-dominated, we mostly just kept wandering around. We did manage to climb to the top of the Cathedral, which was cool but not as impressive as it once would have been, having climbed up church towers with similar views in most European cities that I've visited!

View of the rooftops from the Cathedral
Finally, we met up with Rita for a little bit, got our photo taken with a random drunk Russian, and headed back to the warmth to watch a movie before I headed to the train station for the evening train back to Luxembourg.

Photos are here, or even better ones from the last time that I was in Strasbourg are here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Generosity this Christmas

If you can take anything away from this blog and the experiences I've had, it is the benefit of opening your doors and hearts to people from all around the world. In doing so myself I've been rewarded with amazing friends, and people opening their doors to me while I've been trying to learn more about the world and myself has really made this trip possible. I can't thank people enough for everything that has been done for me during the past year.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, how about you consider opening your doors to a young person from somewhere else in the world yourself?

I was hosted by an amazing family during my AFS exchange year to Costa Rica, and my family has hosted a Costa Rican girl and French boy since my return.

The only requirement is a open heart and a spare bed. AFS exchange families come in all shapes and sizes, from young singles to retired couples and everything in between. You don't need to be the richest family on the block, or the most family-time focused one, there is always a young person that will fit in with your lifestyle. Just think about it. Interested but can't commit for a long-term exchange? Talk to me about other options.

And in return for opening your doors to someone else, I know you will be amazed by the doors that will open in return to you. 

Nick, Germany, 16
Nick comes from a family of 5, and is the oldest of 3 brothers. He very much enjoys astronomy and owns his own telescope. He also enjoys taking photos of the night sky. He also enjoys skiing and playing strategy games. Nick is described as an honest, ambitious and respectful person. He is looking forward to coming to New Zealand and exploring our beautiful country and is excited to be part of a Kiwi family.

Veronica, Finland, 17
Veronica is an active young lady with numerous interests. She plays tennis, goes to the gym, does cross-country and downhill skiing, does horse riding and has taken dancing lessons just to name a few. She applied to go exchange after doing a school presentation on New Zealand. She came home and told her parents she wanted to go on exchange to New Zealand. She also has artistic endeavours and enjoys photography. Her parents describe her as positive with a good sense of humour.

Luiz Felipe, Brazil, 17
Luiz Felipe is a friendly and easy going person. He likes to keep busy and enjoys such sports as soccer, surfing and swimming. Twice a week he does volunteer work teaching disadvantaged children how to use computers and he really enjoys this. Luiz Felipe also takes drama and performs in the end of year school play. When he finishes his studies Luiz Felipe wants to study to become a doctor and more specifically a neurosurgeon.

More student profiles and information can be found here, or by calling 0800 600 300

Saarbrucken's Old Christmas Market - Germany

Saarbrucken Christmas Market
Two Saturdays ago I went to Saarbrucken, a German city of about 175 000 people and capital of the Saarland region, on the border with France. It takes just over an hour to get there by bus from Luxembourg. The Christmas market begins in mid November and runs until Christmas, but on one weekend every year they have an additional market set up on the other side of the bridge from the main market.

Stall selling Christmas wreathes
Christmas markets originated in Germany, the bordering Alsace region of France, and Austria, and were a street market and celebration during the four weeks of advent, usually set up in and around the market square. They have rides for children, the nativity scene, shops selling crafts and Christmas stuff, different types of food stalls, and boothes selling Gluhwein, hot mulled wine. Normally they put on some kind of nativity show at least once as well for children. The food I've seen sold includes a huge variety of sausages and grilled meat, waffles and crepes, gingerbread and candy, popcorn and roasted nuts, and usually there are regional specialities and the occasional asian or italian stall as well. I visited the Gottingen Christmas market last year but didn't write much about it on here.

The Gingerbread house
The Christmas festivities began right near the train station, so I walked down the big pedestrian street and shopping zone in the middle of the city, taking in all of the Christmas stuff and ducking into the occasional chain shop on the way past! I reached the main market in the square first and stopped to have a good look around. I really loved the Gingerbread House stand selling gingerbread hearts. They have things like "I love you" written on them, and you're meant to buy them and hang them around the neck of your sweetheart - the only person I saw wearing one was a middle aged man, quite funny!

People drinking Gluhwine outside a stall
Gluhwine is normally served in mugs that have a logo with the name and year of the Christmas market on the side, I took one from the Gottingen market last year and decided to keep the tradition going by stealing another one this year (they take a $5NZD deposit for the cup so it's not really stealing!). Last year I couldn't stomach the Gluhwine at all, and although I've been learning how to drink red wine while travelling around Europe and found the taste a little better this year, I still hid in an alleyway and tipped most of it out so that I could throw the mug into my bag.

Mistletoe, sold by the Lions club
I then followed the crowds over the river, to the additional part of the market. Here, the market winds from a church at the bottom, along a long inclining and curving road, up to the Saarbrucken Castle. The Castle isn't much of a castle, its just like a big administrative building. This part of the market was mostly dominiated by stalls selling crafts or wares, international foods, mistletoe, christmas wreathes, and charity organisations selling or doing various things as fundraisers. It was quite cool to see the mistletoe there for sale, as we don't have it in NZ. I'd spent months this year trying to work out what all those balls were in the trees until someone in France told me what it was.

Schnitzel on a stick
I tried rostwurst, one of the many varieties of German sausages (German sausages are one hundred times better than those back in NZ) and a massive schnitzel skewer thing, three pieces of fried crumbed schnitzel on a stick, handed to me in a piece of bread. There were also a lot of casseroled mushrooms, bread spread with what looked like herbed cream cheese, and deep fried balls of something that I saw a lot of, I think some might be regional specialities, and I saw a couple of stands selling the Schneeballen that I saw for the first time in Heidelberg. I quite liked going to the market alone, so that I could stop and look at whatever I wanted without feeling guilty, but it meant that I didn't have anyone to explain all of these foods to me!

View of the end of the market from the Castle
By now it was getting late and I'd spent enough money finishing off my Christmas shopping, so I headed back towards the train station, detouring past part of the river and the town hall and into a few more shops. Arriving back at the train station was scary, there were police cars everywhere (I counted 21 before too many were arriving and I couldn't keep track) and there were police all over the place, stationed in a ring outside and at the entrance to every platform, as well as those waiting in vehicles or just milling about. Police in Germany are a whole lot scarier than NZ police as well, they wear dark clothes and army boots and carry huge guns, and these guys had what looked like riot gear on, complete with different numbers on their backs to identify their squads. At first I thought there was a bomb in the station, and then I noticed what looked like drunk right-wing skinheads standing around or talking to the police, but then someone said it was just because there had been a football match and they were preventing riots (I guess drunk right-wing skinheads and German football fans look pretty much the same!). It was pretty intimidating though, and really reminds you that you're not enveloped in the safety of New Zealand anymore, these are countries in which bombs in train stations and riots or shootings by far-right terrorists occur every so often.

The bus ride back was uneventful, and then I spent several hours wrapping the Christmas presents that will cost me a fortune to ship back to NZ. I really feel in the Christmas spirit now and can't wait to visit Strasbourg in France and their huge Christmas market next weekend.

Monday, December 5, 2011

London take two

Lissa, me and Philippa at the bridge
Last year working as an advisor at Victoria University I had two coworkers, Lissa and Philippa. Lissa has spent the last six months living in Germany (I visited her in Erlangen in July) and Philippa has been in London all year (I visited her there in May). We'd talked about the three of us meeting up for awhile, and finally one weekend in November we did.

Poppy wreath outside Westminster Abbey
Lissa and I both flew from Frankfurt Hahn, my absolute favourite airport (or not, its a former army base in the middle of no where, turned into a trashy airport for low-budget airlines, I've flown in and out a couple of times). In theory it should have been an easy trip, as there's a direct bus there from Luxembourg and only a quick flight from Germany to London, but I'm amazed that I made it there! After a morning of all the errands I had to do here in Luxembourg going wrong, I left the house late and missed the bus I needed to take to catch the airport bus, got there by taxi with only seconds to spare, and then our bus to the airport got stuck in roadworks and Friday evening traffic and I barely made it through check-in!

Lissa outside Philippa's place
The next hurdle was getting in and out of the UK itself. Last time I was there I was placed on an alert list due to all of the fun and games I was having with my spanish visa, so I was scared that they wouldn't let me in this time, given all I have to prove that I have a visa is a laminated ID card. A surly looking German man studied this for a while, and then let me through and onto the plane. After we landed in London Stansted, we waited in the 'Non-European' queue watching two immigration officials rigorously interrogate everyone. Finally our turn came, and after several minutes spent swearing that I was studying Politics in Madrid on exchange and explaining who we were visiting, what job she did, and what her life plans and star sign and childhood pet's name were, we were in!

oldtimer band at the local pub
We managed to bus from the airport to Mile End station, and Philippa met us there and took us back to her flat. She's moved since the last time I was there, and is now living in a very Coronation-St-type two story, three bedroom place inhabited by five-and-a-half kiwis and with another on the couch - nine New Zealanders sleeping in a three-bedroom, one bathroom place in central London, true OE style! This house had once been inhabited by the Horror Handyman from Hell (fancy your light switches inside kitchen cupboards, anyone?) and the toilet had decided to stop working this weekend too, fun times. By this point, it was around 11pm UK time, so midnight our time, and we were quite shattered, but we did make it out for some food and a drink at their local, a crazy old-timer looking place with an amazing band made up of elderly men with what little grey hair they had left at a rock-star long length (check out the bassist in the photo).

our Yeoman tour guide
On Saturday morning Philippa and her fiance James took us out for breakfast and coffee at a wee cafe in a park somewhere near their place. The weather wasn't bad at all, after it being 3-8degrees most of the previous week in Luxembourg, having 18 degrees in London felt like heaven, and having a real Latte made by a kiwi barista was amazing! We then went to the Tower of London and did the tour inside. These tours are run by the Yeomen Warders, who, I was surprized to learn, actually live with their families inside the Tower. Imagine being the teenage son or daughter of a Yeoman Warder and asking a taxi to take you home there after a night on the town! The one who did our tour was absolutely hilarious, and earned extra respect from us for referring to Australia as 'one of the islands in the New Zealand group'.

the 'White Tower' of the Tower of London
I learnt a few things that I didn't know about the place. The Tower has a reputation for being a prison, but was actually designed as a royal residence and usually only had high-profile prisoners kept there for very short periods of time, and actually the first prisoner ever held there escaped. It was built in 1078, but there was no purpose built prisoner accomodation until 1687. The Tower was last used to hold prisoners during WWII, with Hitler's deputy the final one. The Tower of London also has seven capitive ravens living in the grounds, legend has if the 'six ravens' are lost or fly away, the Tower and the Crown will fall. The seventh bird is the reserve. There is even a 'Ravenmaster' Yeoman that looks after them and feeds them meat every day.

Spanish food at Borough Market
So, we did the tour, looked at the Crown Jewels, saw some old armour (that King Henry VIII had some serious allusions about the size of his own crown jewels!) and then wandered down to the Tower Bridge, where James left us. We went to the Borough Market for lunch, that place is amazing! It has foods from all around the world, both cooked meals and things like specialist cheeses and bread to buy. As much as I love markets here in continental Europe, its cool to have fifty different types of food in one place, rather than just fifty stands selling the same cheese and olives. Lissa and I had paella and Philippa chowed down on some German sausage.

View from the London Eye with Westminster in the bottom right
We went up the London Eye, something I'd wanted to do since the last time I visited. It's like a giant slow-moving ferris wheel, you go into a pod with about 15 other people and it does a thirty-minute circuit up and down again. It was quite cloudy but still very cool, and a nice change from walking up the windy stairs to reach the top of church bell towers! We walked over past Big Ben and Westminster, where they had war Remembrance Day memorials going on, and took a quick look at Buckingham before going back to the river bank for the Lord Mayor's Parade fireworks. They were quite cool fireworks, but from where we were sitting the Eye completely dwarfed them, and made it all kinda underwhelming.

Fireworks beside the London Eye
We met up with James again, and their former Aussie flatmates, and went for a drink and then to Brick Lane for curry. Brick Lane is full of curry shops, and the waiters stand outside the doors and make deals with you like free wine and 20% off if you come to their place. We went to what these guys consider to be the best, and it was really good (I tucked into some especially spicy stuff!) but what made the place was the decor - the walls were covered in huge paintings of erotic mythological scenes, apart from one wall that had a big painting of Diana instead. Weird. We left this place extremely full and not feeling capable of heading out, so we went back to the flat and hung out there with some flatmates and some of their friends for a bit.

Xmas lights on Oxford Street
Sunday was shopping day! We had coffee at another kiwi-barista place and then took the bus through town to Oxford Street, the road that almost bankrupted me last time I visited London. This time I was a bit more savvy, and didn't buy anything until we got to Primark, where I splashed out as one only can in a place where pants cost no more than five quid. A couple of hours later we managed to free ourselves from the grasp of Primani goodness and stumbled out to find darkness had fallen and the street full of Christmas lights. We headed up to Piccadilly to take a quick look, and then spent our final evening in London having an amazing chicken roast with all of the trimmings thanks to Philippa's awesome cooking. It felt quite weird to be sitting around with so many kiwis, eating something so kiwi, with english-speaking TV playing in the background after over ten months here in Europe!

Roast chicken dinner
Monday morning we flew back to Frankfurt. Thanks to Lissa's much more sound planning skills we managed to get a bus out to the airport without being stressed when we got stuck in early-morning traffic, but most on the bus didn't seem to be in the same boat and one man got really aggressive. I was looking forward to landing back in the immigration-slack EU, and sure enough I had no problems walking in with my flimsy Spanish ID card, but Lissa got held up a bit - her German visa was granted on the basis of her husband being here for work, and the woman demanded to know where he was (at work...can't a girl take a trip without her man to hold her hand?) and then we were back in the 2degree cold of Europe, and I was back to Luxembourg and small children once again.

More photos of London in November are here.