Rio 2016 (not how the newspapers reported it!)

Flying into Rio the sky was filled with a grey haze that made any sort of airborne sightseeing impossible… All I could make out was a lot of hills and a very large city beneath me. Both those observations were correct. 

Having read the newspaper I anticipated that I would arrive in Rio and experience endless queues, thieves, mosquitos just waiting to bite me and infect me with Zika and generally have a terrible time. I am happy to report the descriptions by newspapers could not have been further from the truth! From the moment I stepped off the plane Rio was a slick operation, well sign posted, efficient and lots of people who either spoke English or were willing to play the game of trying to communicate despite the lack of mutual language! The one flaw in the trip was the number of people expected to fit on the bus into town… The bus arrived already full, 20 people hopped off and about 50 got on, this process continued the whole way into town. When we reached the last stop it looked like the bus was power-chucking humans as the spilled into the station. After a trip on the metro and a ride in a taxi (I was so tired I gave up on finding the bus I could take to my hostel) I arrived at my hostel absolutely shattered! It had been a decent 32 hours since I left London and therefore that long since I had lay flat or had a proper shower!


My exhaustion was quickly forgotten as soon as I saw Angus and excitement took over! After an hour of excitement charged energy the exhaustion of the previous 32 hours set in and Ang and I turned in early in preparation for our big 3 event day at the Olympics!

Our first day at the Olympics was undoubtedly our busiest.. While we left the hostel with the intention of attending 3 events we ended up seeing 5! First up was track cycling, one of the coolest venues we went to with 360 views of the action. 

Olympic Velodrome
We also got to see the funniest event of track cycling, this was the Keirin this involved a ridiculous looking man sitting on an electric bike leading the race for the first six laps and then the cyclists were able to sprint the last two laps… The guy on the electric bike undoubtedly had the best job at the Olympics!

Keirin Race (note the Kiwi in the front)

After the track cycling with a few hours to kill Ang and I started wandering through the complex when the world’s worst skelper came up to us… Offering us tickets to the artistic gymnastics final (including the men’s parallel bars, women’s floor and men’s high bar – we didn’t know this until we went into the stadium.) these were student tickets that retailed at 130R, he offered to sell them to us at face value so we were surprised when we gave him 250R and received 20R back (like I said, terrible skelper). So, off we trotted to the gymnastics final. We were sitting up in the Gods (could feel the air getting thinner as we climbed) but thanks to the big screens we could still see everything that was going on
We sat next to two hilarious Brazilian women who made some very borderline comments about the Chinese gymnasts. These comments continued even when men wearing China track suits sat down right in front of us. The men’s finals were cool, but the women’s floor final was the highlight. Not only did we see America’s superstar Simone Biles compete and win but we got to see a gymnast from GB get 3rd and sob with joy the whole way through the victory lap and medal ceremony… It was seeing people like that win medals at the games that was really cool!

Simone Biles in action
Tokyo 2020 NZ Gymnastics Delegation

After the gymnastics we feasted on an inspired lunch of wholemeal bread (that was weirdly sweet) with cheese and Doritos… It turned out the supermarkets didn’t really stock ready to eat lunches the way M & S does! From the gymnastics we did a full 180 and went to the 105kg + weightlifting B final. Not only were the athletes very different, but it turns out the people who attend gymnastics and weightlifting are quite different crowds… While sitting at the gymnastics we enjoyed pop tunes and a diverse audience, the weightlifting attracted in general a large, male crowd (or females who lift) and we listened to heavy metal! It was hard to believe it was the B final, neither Angus or I could have lifted what they were lifting and we are both renowned as very good weight lifters.


From the B final we went Badminton… These were tickets Angus bought cheaply when he arrived in Rio. I don’t think I will attend badminton again. While I was impressed that the shuttle cock moves at over 300km at its top speed there was little else about the sport that excited me.


After 45minutes of Badminton Angus was sitting reading and I was really only watching so that we didn’t both sit there are read. At that point we decided to call it a day. Well we intended to. Walking out of the Badminton we were offered free tickets to the A final of the 105kg + weightlifting.. After our thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the weightlifting we jumped at the chance to see the A final.


SERIOUSLY BIG BOYS! The heaviest in the class was 169kg, an Iranian, the favourite, who it turns out is basically a rockstar in Iran. The reason we worked out his fame levels in Iran was because of the high drama that unravelled in the final. In the first round the Iranian managed to break the world record for the snatch and was headed for the gold… Until he was disqualified in the clean and jerk. We didn’t understand what he did wrong but we did understand the Iranians screaming and booing as every subsequent competitor completed their lifts. After being disqualified the 169kg Iranian walked around and stood behind the judges arguing against is disqualification, initially terrifying, that evaporated when he sat on the floor with his legs splayed on the floor crying. While the Iranians continued to boo the competitors from Georgia and Armenia (the soon to be medalists in place of the Iranian) the rest of the crowd banded behind them with the Brazilians getting louder and louder trying to drown out the Iranians. The other highlight of the weightlifting were the facials that came with it… It looked like a battle of the human thumbs, which Angus and I then tried to replicate…


Leaving the Olympics at 10pm after over 12 hours we then had to make the 2 hour trek back to our hostel (this happened regardless of which venue we were in) on the bus and the freezing cold metro!

After our 14 hour Olympic marathon day 2 started slightly slower than the day before, but as had occurred the day before we were able to indulge in cheese toasties for breakfast! We headed to Copacabana Beach in the morning where there were very small tog bottoms on both the males and the females, it appears in Brazil togs are made in one size fits all despite the fact that one size most definitely does not fit all!!

Flags on Copacabana

After tracking down fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch… And NO bread (something of a miracle in Rio) we headed to an afternoon of sailing at Marina da Glória. Sadly however we spent more time sitting on the side of the beach reading in the shade than watching sailing due to a severe lack of wind (the day was eventually cancelled).

Ang testing the wind for the sailing

The lack of wind did however give us a clear blue sky and plenty of time to get some token Olympic photos!


We wandered on to Olympic Boulevard which was busy and had a very confusing flow of traffic, our attempt to view the Olympic flame was a failure due to the flame having one way access (we did see it later in the week and turns out it wasn’t very impressive).

View from the new museum on Olympic Boulevard

The evening of day 2 was one of the highlights of the week, the men’s team Table Tennis final!!! Japan vs China and a seriously vocal crowd. While the Brazilians quickly sided with Japanese team and boosted the Japanese’s volume, the Chinese supporters were relentless in their cheers and had the world’s best table tennis player in their team, Ma Long.


While we could not understand a lot of the cheers, the atmosphere was one of the best we got to experience in the games.. Turns out the Japanese and Chinese really do love table tennis!

Ma Long in action
Day 3 started with a morning at the athletics, our morning started watching two Kiwis, Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill qualify for the shot put final, our seats were looking straight onto the shot put pitch (??? Is that the word you use to describe it???)

Jacko Gill’s qualifying throw

Both male and female heats for the 4x100m relays were on… While we had hoped to see Usain Bolt (and did initially think we saw him) sadly in a relay team you are apparently allowed 5 athletes so one of them was subbed in for Bolt for the heat!

The man we thought was Bolt

Despite our mocking of the Japanese team, due to their bizarre peach/orange onside looking outfits, they ended up winning the heat and beating Jamaica much to the shock of everyone in the stadium.

Watching the 400m Hurdles final confirmed to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will not ever be an Olympic 400m hurdler… They just looked so goddam tired in the final stretch, like all the light and joy had been sapped from their lives (also hurdles are high!)

Another 2 hours on public transport and we were back at the sailing for a second attempt and a condensed programme which meant we got to watch three NZ medal winning races! The girls in the 470s and 49s (both silver) and the booths in the 49s who won gold! There was a huge Kiwi contingent there to support the athletes and getting to watch the NZ flag being raised three times, once including the national anthem was a seriously cool experience!

Intending to go to NZ House for a beer at the end of the day we somehow stumbled our way into a swanky drinks party at NZ House with free food and drink (great result). Despite looking very out of place in our shorts and jandals we at least weren’t the poor sods who were dressed up as Zespri kiwifruit and had to dance! Aside from the free food and drink we also got given kiwifruits on entrance and exit… Something both Ang and I were very excited about!

Despite arriving in Rio with tickets to the women’s hockey gold medal match the Black Sticks sadly didn’t make the gold medal match and instead we managed to trade tickets with a couple of Dutch people in our hostel and therefore got to watch the Black Sticks compete in the bronze medal match. We were playing Germany and the Germans were well prepared with noisemakers and air horns making them particularly annoying spectators to sit alongside! The Kiwi contingent did however manage to rally with strong vocal chords and retaliatory chants!

While unfortunately we didn’t get the bronze watching a hockey game like that was so cool, the final 10 minutes were super intense and well yet again I established that I won’t be an Olympian, this time hockey was ruled out!


In the afternoon Angus and I parted company for a few hours, while I headed to diving, Angus trotted off to wrestling. At the diving I sat next to Tom Daley’s family… Not knowing this until about 20 minutes into the diving I managed to get a fair few stupid comments to them e.g. Which board do they jump off! But sitting next to the Daley’s was very useful I enjoyed quizzing them on why dives were scored different ways and what the requirements of a diving competition were!

The moment where the dive goes horribly wrong
Lifeguards at the diving wear FLIPPERS!

With no plans for the morning of our fifth day we decided we would walk up to Christ the Redeemer, arguably Rio’s most famous landmark. While the conventional tourist walking path went through the botanic gardens and national park, Ang and I worked out that we were already part of the way there in our hostel so we took the very non-touristy path to Christ. 

Angus’ short cut

Walking through a pretty dodgy neighbourhood and then along a few winding roads without footpaths we made it to the information centre. This was sadly as far as we got as the security guards told us we couldn’t walk up from there (even though Christ was only about 500m away) and we weren’t able to get in one of the shuttles up for two hours!


So, back we turned and down the road we wandered with a couple of quick glimpses back to Christ who was swallowed by thick cloud we decided we hadn’t missed out on too much and happily headed off to the modern pentathlon.

The modern pentathlon is one of the less well known Olympic events but has always been one of my favourites… Mainly because I think it’s ridiculous! The event combines swimming, fencing, show jumping and, cross country running and shooting (two disciplines combined as one event). My favourite detail about the show jumping is that the horses are drawn from a hat, meaning the rider is riding an unfamiliar horse!!!


Angus and I arrived at the modern pentathlon just after the fencing demonstration and just as the rain set in. While initially I had something of a sense of humour bypass sitting in the pouring rain, freezing this abated as the show jumping commenced and chaos ensued. Quite a few of the horses were really rather naughty and where they didn’t refuse at jumps they would often jump them in a manner which would leave the audience amazed that the rider stayed on. Undoubtedly however the funniest part of the show jumping was when a rider would fall off their horse… While normally that would result in elimination (in normal show jumping) in modern pentathlon the rider is not eliminated until their fourth refusal or dismount meaning… The riders would fall off and then chase the horse round the course trying to catch them and get back on!!!


After watching 36 rounds of hilarious show jumping the athletes changed and prepared themselves for the 3.2km cross country run combined with laser pistol shooting! The current winner of the pentathlon was set off first with everyone else let off after him depending on how many seconds faster than him they needed to run/shoot to win – this meant the Russian was being chased around the course. The staggered nature of the start made for a really exciting race where you could see people losing and gaining medals as the running/shooting went on.


As strange as the whole event is it was a very fun event to watch and made me rethink (just a little) just how much I take the piss out of this sport!

Starving and damp (the rain did eventually subside), Angus and I decided to get dinner before going back to the hostel and showering. With a bit of a hike up to Santa Teresa we managed to catch the conclusion of the men’s gold medal football match (which the Brazilians won) and found a delicious cafe to eat. Cafe do Alto was the first cafe I ate authentic Brazilian cuisine in that I really, genuinely enjoyed! Angus and I shared two tapiocas, one with guacamole and the other with marinated tomatoes and haloumi, as well as salad, a bean and rice dish with masses of haloumi and finished it off with dulce de leche tapioca!!

You could sense the heart foundation’s disapproval with every mouthful

Our final day of Olympics (and Ang’s final day in Rio) also saw a lot of rain… Only this time we were prepared, with bin liners! Well equipped for the rain we headed off to watch the men’s marathon. Despite having tickets to the actual stadium where the marathon started and finished we opted to see them twice on the course and then head to the cross country mountain biking. Marathon runners are alarmingly fast.. I mean I couldn’t hold that pace over 100m, let alone 42km! Seeing them at 3km and 16km the only discernible difference in the runners was that there were slightly less people in the leading bunch, other than that they were still moving with serious speed!


As we headed off to the mountain biking the weather started to clear and we were finally able to abandon our bin liners for the day. A busy, male dominated crowd the mountain biking was not an event I was that interested in… Or so I thought. The mountain biking was actually a really cool event to watch, despite the terrain the bikers still move with serious speed uphill and with a couple of spills on the course the event was exciting even though I know nothing about it! Angus was a huge help in this area as he actually know about mountain biking and could explain things to me!


Farewelling Angus who had to scoot off to the airport to fly back to NZ I watched the end of the mountain biking on my own and then headed back to the hostel for a quick nap and a shower before heading to watch the closing ceremony at NZ House. Enjoying a cold shower and a power cut (which carried on for the next 16 hours) I darted back out in the pouring rain for a spot of Mexican for dinner with my friend’s boyfriend who was also a loner for the closing ceremony. My final night in Rio wasn’t a wild party, instead it was a few drinks at NZ house and dodging more torrential rain on my return journey to the hostel – I felt terrible for the athletes who were standing in the rain for about 5 hours at the closing ceremony!!

Leaving Rio the next day I spent the morning sleeping in and packing before finally leaving the hostel with zero plans to return there in the near future! I managed to find a nice cafe where I ate lunch and then started making my way to the airport due to warnings of bad traffic and queues. My own trip would have been exceptionally efficient had I not jumped on the wrong bus and headed in theopposite direction to the airport to begin with!  I still made it to the airport with more than enough time and safely boarded my plane for Salvador!

A final few notes on our week in Rio – we were consistently impressed with the speed of public transport and security queues, the locals were very kind to us and always tried to help us get around whenever we looked confused or lost… Aside from turning off the air conditioning on the metros I really don’t think the Rio Olympics could have gone any better for us!!!

Oh and finally…. I never want to have another plain cheese toastie for breakfast again!

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Budapest the Beautiful

I’d had it in my mind for a fair while that Budapest was a place I wanted to visit. I don’t know where the idea came from or why it was there but it was and now having been there I can think of a lot of reasons why I would want to visit there and am very pleased I went!


Budapest, and Hungary, are both a city and nation steeped with history. Having endured both Nazi and Soviet rule they are a city/nation that has experienced persecution in many forms and given that Soviet rule only ended in 1989 the various forms of persecution are still relatively fresh in public consciousness. Despite studying history through Uni and focussing on modern history, specifically the Cold War and WWII it had never really crossed my mind that I was travelling to a country where I would be surrounded by memorials and the legacy those conflicts left behind. This was the first reason I loved being in Budapest, everywhere I turned there were places to learn more about WWII and the Cold War – it also reminded me of how limited our curriculum can be in terms of informing us about all aspects of these conflicts – as Hungary was not such highly contested land as say Poland, France and Germany it has been somewhat neglected by the history books (or at least only mentioned in passing in the books that I was given to study).


One of my favourite memorials to the Holocaust in Europe would have to be the Shoes on the Danube. Sixty pairs of iron shoes are fastened to the bank of the Danube near the Hungarian Parliament to commemorate Jews who were forced to strip naked (including removing their shoes) and stand on the edge of the Danube to be shot by Arrow Cross militiamen from 1944-1945. There is something very real about this memorial, perhaps it’s the fact that there are women’s, men’s and children’s shoes mixed up along the bank – a strong reminder that the persecution of Jews was uniform, with disregard for age and gender.

I also went to two very different museums in Budapest both related to WWII and the Cold War. 


The first was the House of Terror on Andrássy Avenue. The House of Terror is building was used by both the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century to detain, interrogate, torture and kill victims of the regimes. Now transformed into a museum you are able to walk through the building and see the rooms while also being given a detailed history of both regimes in Hungary and how each regime utilised the building.

Images of the victims tortured and killed within the walls of this building
Soviet Propaganda
Resistance

The exhibitions span three floors with the last floor being the basement – aside from the ridiculous system of having one lift that holds eight people, very slowly, to transport people down to the basement (stairs are not an option) – this was by far the most chilling part of the exhibition. You could walk into the cells people were held in, see the gallows they were hung on and here quotes from their executioners. 

The second museum I went to was the Hospital in the Rock. This hospital was built in the 1930s beneath Buda Castle in preparation for WWII. The hospital was constructed within a series of caves and tunnels under the castle that are naturally warmed by the thermal waters running through tunnels parallel to the hospital. Utilised through WWII and during the Hungarian uprising against the Soviets in 1956 the hospital that was designed to house 200 patients often had over 600 patients there during these periods of intense conflict. The hospital was later repurposed as a nuclear bunker to face the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War. This is not a museum you can just wander through, you have to go on a tour – while originally this pissed me off it did mean that I learnt a lot more about the siege of Budapest in WWII and the Hungarian uprising in 1956. The museum is full of wax figurines and it seems obvious to me that the person who made the figurines had a real sense of humour e.g. The person depicted on the loo really looked like they were trying to squeeze one out!!! Seeing this hospital (and the wax figurines in it) made me even happier with Coventry Hospital where Alice is than I was before.. Things looked very grim in this hospital!!

As well as the history of the city Budapest is full of beautiful buildings, bridges and views over the Danube! Buda Castle Hill, situated on Buda side is a wonderful area to walk around, from here you see Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church as well as having a great view over Pest and the Parliament buildings.

View of Pest from Buda Hill
 

The castle has now been turned into an art gallery and a museum, neither of which I went into, but rumour has it like most castles it’s quite good looking on the inside! I spent quite a large portion of the day wandering around Buda Hill. I paid to go into Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion – the view from Fisherman’s Bastion is no more impressive than anywhere else on the hill and the church, like many churches in Europe is very grand on the inside, but it’s exterior is truly beautiful!


Another church I visited was the Basillica of St Stephen – again unless one was totally enamoured with European churches I wouldn’t bother with the interior… I would however encourage people to pay the 500 HUF and climb up to the dome viewing deck. As the Basillica is in Pest this gives you a view of Buda Hill, the climb isn’t hard and the view is worth it!


The final church I admired in Budapest was the Sziklatemplom (the Church in the Rock), like the Hospital in the Rock it is built in the naturally occurring caves under Buda Hill the church is unlike any other church I have seen in Europe (and therefore was my favourite in Budapest). The church pews wind through the cave and it is a wee bit difficult to work out how a service would work in the church, but it is very impressive that the Hungarians have managed to utilise the space!

Sneaky snaps inside the Church (no photos allowed)

The final architectural masterpiece that must be commented on is the Hungarian Parliament building…

Slightly more impressive than the Beehive
View from the back

Not only has Budapest got an array of impressive buildings but it also has plenty of large green spaces and views… Walking along the Danube, climbing up to the Citadella, walking around the City Park (and going into the Széchenyi Public Baths) and running around Margaret Island – all activities I was able to enjoy in the beautiful city!

View from the Danube at night
The lushest grass I ever did tread on
Széchenyi Thermal Baths (turns out I still don’t like spa baths)
Heroes Square

Walking up to the Citadella is a fairly easy walk uphill to a beautiful view over Pest…
View from the Top!
I was very surprised to find really good coffee in Budapest… Probably the best I have had since leaving NZ! The Pest side seemed to be overflowing with cool little cafe that made delicious pastries and breakfasts alongside their coffee. For anyone heading to Budapest here are my top recommendations for coffee

  • My Little Melbourne – Great coffee and pastries – all designed to be takeaway (including muesli)… While the guy who completed the transaction was very slow at working out change that is really my only complaint outside of that the whole operation was fantastic!
  • Blue Bird Coffee – Only does coffee (and sells beans)
  • Kontakt – This was my favourite coffee shop in Budapest, mainly because across the alley there was also an amazing cafe where you could buy really delicious food for about $6 NZ (Szimply Good Food)!! There was however a slightly strange rule… You could drink the coffee shops coffee at the cafe, but couldn’t eat the cafe’s food at the coffee shop!

Ice cold coffee from Kontakt

I must confess, I did not find Hungarian food to be all that appealing… A heavily meat based style of cuisine I was not enthused! I did manage to find delicious alternatives in the form of Japanese, Italian and Turkish cuisine (oh and lots of ice cream).

Overall, Budapest was a very beautiful and cool city to be in… I decided it would be an amazing city to be a student in as everywhere is within walking distance (the only public transport I took was to and from the airport), there is a great public transport system and it looks Ro have an amazing nightlife (not that I got involved in that haha). While I still don’t think it has overtaken Salzburg as my favourite city in Europe it definitely has made itself the other woman in my relationship and placed Salzburg under serious threat!

My favourite statue

The Motherland… Not quite the trip we all had planned

Leaving the sunny shores of Europe and returning to England I spent an enjoyable few days in London seeing friends and detoxing from Florence. I enjoyed activities like the viewing deck of the Tate Modern where you get a view straight into the living rooms of an apartment building where despite the signs saying please respect our neighbours privacy we all spent 30 minutes staring straight into their flats critiquing their decor and hoping someone would do something scandalous!! 

Human hair and car bumpers… one of the stranger pieces of art at the Tate Modern
View from the viewing deck (I stopped short of taking photos of the apartments)

I was also able to catch up with friends who I spent a lot of time drinking with when I lived in England on my gap year… This was a very strange experience as we realised that many of us met for the very first time nearly 6 years to the day prior as we started our Contiki tour of Europe. The strangest thing was that it really did feel like out Contiki tour had only started six months ago… 

I also snuck in a few more snuggles with one of my best friends Steph’s newborn boy Austin – while he has made a bit of a habit of throwing up on me he is adorable and I can’t wait till they are back in NZ!


After a few days mooching round London we headed as a family down to Somerset to celebrate Alice’s 30th birthday… This was a seriously fun weekend! We stayed in a house in Bruton that was connected to an art gallery and The Roth Bar and Grill. The house was incredible, an old English house with a very “shabby, chic” look to it was beautiful (although one we all agreed we probably wouldn’t want to live in).

One of the art installations within the house

The weekend of Alice’s 30th birthday was an absolute cracker!! An enormously fun weekend was had by all filled with a lot of eating and drinking involved… So much so that first up on Alice’s agenda as a 30 year old was a big old vomit from being hungover!!! With a number of family friends coming down to Somerset for Alice’s birthday I had a lot of fun. It was also to finally see where Alice lives and meet all her friends who have made her life here so much fun!

My favourite humans
She had the best moves of anyone on the dance floor
Browned butter cake with salted caramel, rhubarb and pistachio crumb

Leaving Somerset behind we returned to London where I had about of week to be a tourist/lead a normal life with homemade meals, naps, consistent access to a washing machine… You get the idea! I filled most of my days in London with trips to art galleries, seeing west end shows, a lot of walking and catching up with friends in cafes across London. Because I am trying to recall all this and haven’t made notes yet I am going to write this in bullet point form… Sorry for the laziness!

Exhibitions

  • Yayoi Kusama – Out in Shoreditch, not the most convenient location for where I was staying, I went to a very popular and free exhibition of a Japanese artist! Given that most of her works of art were light and mirror based you spent a fair amount of time queueing and eventually got let into a box (of sorts) where you and one other person were allowed about 30 seconds to appreciate the art and then you were booted out!

  • Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy – The Summer Exhibition shows over 1,000 pieces of art from up and coming artists. It really is an exhibition where there is something for everyone. The 10+ rooms of the Royal Academy are all curated by different artists with different themes. The works cover a full spectrum of artistic styles from sculpture to printmaking to photography, there is everything and anything in there! It is hard to pick just one favourite piece of work from such a wide ranging exhibition but if I had to it would be this…

  • Exhibitionism – Growing up in a house where The Rolling Stones were regularly played on road trips (at volume!!) the Exhibitionism exhibition detailing the life and times of The Rolling Stones was a very interesting exhibition. While any exhibition about The Rolling Stones would be interesting the calibre of this exhibition was NEXT LEVEL, it was superbly laid out, interactive and struck the perfect balance between disseminating knowledge and just being entertaining! If anyone is going to make it to London before September 4th and likes The Rolling Stones (even a little bit) you MUST go to this exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (Sloane Square tube station)!


Shows

  • Austentacious – As part of the Udder Belly festival in London, Austentacious was an improvised show in the style of Jane Austen. This was absolutely hilarious, the title that the cast were given was ‘Bridge of Flowers’ and from that alone they performed an hour long show that adhered to the traditional hamburger method of story telling and presented an entirely coherent story! DP, Annabel and I laughed our way through the show and all left completely awe struck by the talent of those performing.
  • Matilda – This was quite possibly one of my most favourite activities on this trip to London. An absolutely AMAZING show with seriously talented kids and adults, Roald Dahl’s story was brought to life (this time with music). While not wanting to give away any of the amazingness of the show all I will say is anyone going to London get to this show, you won’t regret it!
  • Kinky Boots – While this show had flashes of brilliance (primarily the OK GO! like dance scene) it took a while to get going… I think my disappointment in the show could partly be attributed to the fact that the male lead was meant to be a drippy character… The guy played this role to perfection.. In turn it made some of the show feel like quite laboured viewing!
  • Les Miserables – The only other time I saw Les Mis live was as a 13 year old watching a Rangi-Christ’s College production… I remember being completely astounded at the quality of the show and thinking it was one of the best things I had (and would) ever see(n). In comparison I watched the West End version of Les Mis and was impressed but didn’t leave with the same awestruck feeling I had as a 13 year old. While I do not think that the high school version of the show would have been better than the West End version I think I had just set very high standards for a West End show, particularly one that had been running for 30 years! The singing was incredible and the revolving stage was very clever but outside of that it sort of just felt like another show… It really does pain me to say that as I really wanted Les Mis to give me that same feeling I had 11 years ago!

Outside of the shows and exhibitions, I enjoyed numerous cups of coffee (from A Wanted Man in Chelsea), far too many cheese straws (from Gail’s) and countless other culinary delights from all over London (honourable mention to Wokit in the Borough Market (and just the Borough Market in general)). Seeing friends from high school and generally reacquainting myself with the city of London the time flew by. 


With just over a week left in the UK and with Mum and Dad with a week left in the UK we had plans to visit family friends in Suffolk and then all go our separate ways. Unfortunately my sister, Alice had a very bad horse riding accident that left her with a broken femur, crushed pelvis, both collar bones broken, broken ribs and a punctured lung (and despite that rather horrifying list thankfully no brain or nerve damage). All plans were promptly put on hold with Alice’s health becoming the centre of attention – Mum and Dad were not getting back to NZ anytime soon!

After a scary few days we started to see real signs of life in Alice

Airlifted to Coventry Hospital she received some of the best orthopaedic care in the UK… While we were all thrilled she was receiving such wonderful medical attention our thrill at the location stopped there. Coventry is a city about 1 hour from Birmingham that is one of the most depressing places I have been to in the UK. Littered with off-licences, ladbrokes and betfreds the city is not one that is thriving in the 21st century, rather it appears to be one that is a Mecca for those on the dole.

A standard example of a Coventry local

Having spent four days in Coventry, the only really exciting activity I did there was spending a day sitting alongside a judge of the family court, getting an insight into the private realm of family law hearings. This was a very cool experience (especially as I got to sit at the bench, next to the Judge) and gave me a far greater insight into how a court case operates outside of District Court 1 in Christchurch. Hearing four cases, all of which concerned the welfare of a child or group of children I became enormously grateful for my upbringing in Christchurch and the sanity of both my parents!


As Alice’s drugs were pulled back her sense of humour began to return and we began to receive many more smiles. While she is still a long way from being up and running it is enormously reassuring to have moments where she acts like her normal self! Alice has also managed to give the nurses and doctors quite a lot of entertainment (not always in a good way)… Day one in the general ward (not trauma ward) Alice declared she wanted to sit in the chair, despite being told by Mum and the nurses that she couldn’t when left alone for 10 minutes Alice managed to manouvere herself from bed (with railing up!!!) to chair! Much to the astonishment of the staff… All this really confirmed to her family was that she has a very high pain threshold and is very stubborn!! She also performed a terrifying fainting routine when the physio had her out of bed. Just after saying she thought she should sit down for a bit she collapsed forward over her walked and onto the physio and nurse…. It was a lot of limbs falling! The physio declared she was relieved that for someone who was 6 foot tall she was so light, otherwise we could have been in real trouble!

Prior to going to Coventry, in the limbo phase between Alice’s fall and her operations I skipped off to Suffolk to stay with some of my favourite Poms Lucinda and Crispin (and their children Oscar and Claudia)… While only there for two nights they were superbly hospitable (as always) and entertained me with kayaking, swimming, biking, croquet and ping pong. 

Evidence that England does sometimes have a summer!

I now get to escape off to Budpest for a few days before returning to England to hang out with Mum, Dad and Alice a bit more!