Posts Tagged ‘city’

Old Woman Whinge

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

I warn you in advance that this blog post is likely to sound like an old woman whingeing about “The Youth of Today.” Feel free to move on and maintain a positive outlook on life and not be bogged down by my complaints. HOWEVER, I write this having been woken up at 5am to the sound of some sort of pre-dawn chorus. It sounded similar to cats being strangled but I believe it was a group of drunken students singing along to an unrecognisable song completely out of tune. I suspect their performance took place on one of the balconies of the surrounding apartment blocks, their voices bouncing off the concrete buildings, entering my bedroom window and attacking my sleeping ears. Just brilliant.

Now, I admit that I did reach my “There are a bunch of drunken students singing outside” call without any proof of a. who was singing or b. their sobriety. However, recent events in Manchester forced me to jump to this conclusion and really there was no other possible explanation for the unforeseen concert.  September has arrived and Manchester has been taken over by students. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. The centre of the city is swarming with young, barely-dressed teenagers buying pillows, saucepans and bottles of vodka. Now, my after work pop in to Aldi to buy vegetables for my dinner has become a elbow fight with 17 year olds carrying shopping baskets. Luckily, not many of them know what vegetables are so there’s still plenty left for me, but if I ever went mad and decided I wanted to buy frozen pizza, I would be in trouble.

Yesterday it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to catch a bus from Manchester city centre to West Didsbury. It is a five mile journey and one that I once ran in less time. Why did the bus take so long, I hear you ask? Because I happened to be taking the £1 Magic bus ride that goes past two universities and almost every location for student housing in south Manchester. I get it, students need to catch buses, too. But do they need to push the button at every stop and slow the bus down so frequently? Can’t they get off at the same stop (preferably mine) and walk a little bit?

The bus travel time isn’t helped by the fact that two or so weeks ago, a HOLE OF DEATH opened up on the main road into town (the road my bus drives down) and therefore traffic has been diverted onto smaller roads that can’t handle the extra traffic. This HOLE OF DEATH is really just a small gap in the already dodgy bitumen and not the massive sink hole the local authorities are making it out to be. Perhaps I should be grateful that they are looking after my safety, but really I’d just like to be able to spend less time on a rickety bus full of young people who say “Ummm… like totally.” a lot.

Ok. Rant over. I LOVE STUDENTS.

Hanging with the Romans

Monday, February 24th, 2014

My first week of self/un – employment was great. This was largely thanks to my friend, Pip, coming to visit which provided me with a great distraction for my lack of work. You may remember Pip from my first year of adventures in Paris. Pip was my shopping/museum/sanity buddy in that crazy city and a fellow Aussie trying to find her place (and preferably passport) in Europe. She has since lived in Dusseldorf and is now in London and a mere two and a half hour train ride from me! Hoorah!

Pip had picked up a guidebook for northern England – a surprisingly thin book that somehow managed to cut half of Manchester city centre off the map (and it isn’t a big city.). However, this handy book suggested Chester as a good place to visit so we booked some bargain tickets on a very slow train.

According to, Chester is one of Europe’s prettiest cities. I would agree, it definitely rates highly on my Prettiness Scale.   It also wins big points for having been established by the Romans over 2000 years ago. It always amazes me how far those Romans managed to get. Very impressive.

Ye olde Chester.

Ye olde Chester.

The main town centre is surrounded by a ye olde wall first built by the Romans and you can walk around the entire city with a fantastic raised view of the river Dee, England’s oldest race course, and into people’s backyards. Then there is the Cathedral which features one of the most peaceful courtyard gardens I have ever stepped foot in. The main city centre features some beautifully preserved medieval half-timbered buildings. There’s something so wonderful about black timber beams criss-crossing over white building exteriors. My camera finger goes snap happy whenever I’m in the presence of such architecture.

Peace and quiet (and a couple of mer-people) in the Cathedral courtyard.

Peace and quiet (and a couple of mer-people) in the Cathedral courtyard.

We somehow managed to score decent weather and the sun shone for most of our day out. It was lovely to be able to wander around outside for an entire day, enjoying new sights, good weather and fun times with friends. I have missed these random adventures and plan on doing it more over the next year. There’s so much to see in this world – this week I am off to another Roman town, York to attend a conference. I don’t think I’ll have much time to explore but it is just nice to get on a train and travel to a new place. I think I would had made a good Roman.

Walking on a wall.

Walking on a wall.

There’s a Place Called King of Prussia?

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Sometimes procrastination and distractions are worth it and today Wikipedia delivered me a gem. I have spent part of my afternoon looking for writing opportunities and read about a copywriting position in “King of Prussia.” At first I presumed this was the name of a creative agency or some sort of weird and whacky company. However, a quick Google search and the all-knowing, always reliable source that is Wikipedia told me that King of Prussia is a census-recognised area in Pennsylvania with a population of 19,936 (2010.) It is also home to the largest mall in the United States (based on leasable retail space.)

It gets better – it is also the location of the headquarters of the American Baptist Churches USA, a building known as the Holy Doughnut. While on the doughnut theme, there is also a Dunkin’ Donuts at the King of Prussia Mall.

Thank you, Wikipedia. Now it’s back to work.

Running in the Dark (or A Man and His Dog)

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Every weekday my alarm goes off at 6.10am, the BOOPITY-BOOP! BOOPITY-BOOP! BOOPITY-BOOP! jolting me from my comfort as I thump blindly at my bedside table – evil noise, go away. For five minutes I lie in bed with my eyes closed, my two inner beings having a fist fight and screaming match in my head. Lazy, relaxed Jess thinks lying in is good for me and that I could really do with some extra sleep. Strict, demanding Jess has higher expectations and is insistent that now is the time to get up and go for a run. This second Jess always wins due to copious amounts of guilt, threats of weight gain and promises that the more I run, the more cake I can consume. FINE.

It is DARK in Manchester at 6.10am. The sun currently doesn’t rise above the horizon until 8.22am so I have been for my run, had a shower, eaten breakfast and am leaving for work by the time the sun gets up. There are a few issues with running in the dark:

  1. You can’t see puddles. Manchester footpaths are notoriously bad for pot holes, sloping pavement tiles and for just being generally shocking. If it rains (which it always does) massive puddles form across the footpaths and when there’s no light around they are are particularly difficult to spot. This means you are guaranteed wet and therefore frozen feet by the time you return home.
  2. Your chances of being murdered are greatly increased. Don’t start panicking yet, Mum, but Manchester doesn’t have the greatest reputation for safety. There are a few oddballs and weirdos who like doing things to people in the many dark and dingy streets of the city. This means that I stick to main roads that are well lit and frequented by lots of people and cars and my running routes are therefore really, really boring. I much prefer my summer run that takes me along the canal where I can see water and rowers and evil Canadian geese. I need to devise some more interesting running routes throughout the city but Manchester is so small that it seems like I am back at home before I have even started.
  3. Sleeping when it is dark is much better than being awake. Enough said.

Despite these drawbacks, I do feel much better after I have completed my 45 minute run and there are tears streaming down my face from the cold and I feel like I have been running against tempestuous winds for the entire time. Plus I now have a friend.

I have met this smiling man and his big, friendly dalmatian at the corner of my street and the main drag, Deansgate, three times now. The first time we crossed paths it was as if he was waiting for me – “HELLO!” he said. It felt like we were old friends. I had left the house in a sour mood, stressed by approaching Christmas tasks that I needed to perform and his greeting and enthusiasm at seeing me brightened my mood instantly. Now each time we meet, his dog comes over to have a sniff and say hello. “You can pat him!” said the man the last time we met. After I had explained my allergies to all things with fur, it was as if I had crushed his heart with my bare hands. “Well that’s awful! He is such a good dog! You poor thing!”

Our meetings are only brief – a hello, a how are you, and good wishes for the day. But that brief interaction is enough to bring pure delight to my day and make me run with a lighter step.


Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Owen Wilson once said, with the help of a horrible script by Woody Allen, that Paris is beautiful in the rain. He has clearly never seen it in the sunshine.

I can smell summer.


Blue sky

Hello blue sky.

Portugal, I Love You

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

You know you’ve enjoyed a country when your stomach is screaming with pain from eating too much food and drinking too much wine. Maybe it was the fried, salted peppers, or maybe I just over indulged but my stomach is currently on holidays from my excessive Portuguese eating habits. It is glad to be back in the country where while everything is full of butter, it doesn’t drip down your chin as you bite into your food.

Jess and toast

Butter chin!

We returned to Paris at lunch time on Sunday after a week away in Portugal. Sunny, warm Portugal. It was Tom’s birthday present – I bought him tickets and accommodation for four days in Lisbon and three days in Porto. The main reason for this present was because Portugal is a country I have wanted to visit and I had started to miss the beach beyond belief. Really, it was a present for me, but Tom didn’t seem to mind.

Lisbon was a fascinating city and I don’t think I have ever walked through a city that has worked my calf muscles as much. I thought there were hills in Lyon – that was NOTHING compared to the mountainous terrain of Lisbon. You can be walking along a street and decide to turn right, only to discover that to get to the next parallel street you have to go up an almost vertical incline. To add to your woes, you have to deal with cobblestone footpaths that are made up of super slippery tiles, so you have to grip on with your toe, feet and leg muscles to avoid going backwards.

Lisbon hills

Danger hill alert!

Of course, you then get to the top of the hill, walk along a nice flat area for awhile, only to discover that you now have to go back down the slope without slipping over and falling on your butt. It was hilarious watching slow and cautious tourists being over taken at rapid speed by locals, often elderly women with walking sticks. I was once over taken by an old lady carrying a carpet over her shoulder. I wanted to bow, kiss her feet and compliment her on her walking abilities and hope that one day I could walk as well as she could.

Portuguese lady

Look at that skill!

The good thing about hills is that you often have a nice view from the top of them. There were LOTS of nice views in Lisbon and these vistas, terraces, or look outs were really well used. There was almost always a little kiosk cafe where you could sit and have a drink, a historical monument or an over priced tourist venture.


Beautiful Lisbon.

On our first day in Lisbon we were the stupid tourists who paid to go up a lift that used to be run on steam (if it still was run on steam I would have enjoyed it more. Instead it was just an ordinary lift with wires and electricity and stuff) for a 5-10 second ride in order to get ‘a view’ over Lisbon. If we had waited and walked around for a bit longer, we may have realised that if we had walked up the hill NEXT to the lift, we could have had the same view for free. But hey, what’s the point of being a tourist if you don’t get ripped off? Plus it was Portuguese prices which means we could have gone up and down the lift four times before it cost anything near the price of going up the Eiffel Tower.

Lisbon elevator

The Elevator of Santa Justa

It was interesting being in a European city where there are few buildings dating back past the mid 18th century. A massive earthquake in 1755 destroyed most of the city so it was interesting to then visit Porto which has some much older buildings and feels like a much older city. There is a feeling of hardship in Portugal – it is one of the EU countries currently struggling with its economy and it is quite obvious from the living standards in the cities and it the country towns we passed when on the train. People make do with less and have done so for centuries but global economies are making it harder for this to be possible. However, while people’s homes appear run down and falling apart, it was also interesting to see that houses with city or water views that had once belonged to generations of family members were being transformed into fancy hotels and tourist restaurants. This really annoys me. The fact that large numbers of delightful cities are transformed into Disneylands just to maintain economies and to satisfy rich tourists is horrifying. While I am one of those tourists, I don’t want to see a city taken over by souvenir shops and tourist menus. I go to a city to see its history, discover how people live there, and eat local food. This is becoming much harder to achieve.

Lisbon restaurants

Tourism is taking over

Anyway, potentially contradicting my previous statement, we spent one afternoon in Porto doing what the tourists do – visiting port cellars and sampling the local produce. Much like going wine tasting in the Swan Valley or Margaret River, there were hoards of tourists wandering from cellar to cellar, demanding free samples and feeling hard done by if they had to pay for something. We joined in and visited four port cellars and sampled approximately 10 different ports. That’s a lot for one afternoon.


The first three ports

In two of the cellars we were able to join tours that took us into the caves where the port is stored and provided us with a bit of information about how the port is produced. You can see a highlight of these tours in a movie on my Flickr site, where a particularly amusing girl provided us with a very interesting tour of the Croft cellar. The main reason it was interesting was the way in which she spoke English – it was just delightful. Plus the fact that she appeared strict and like a scary teacher at first, and then started dropping really sarcastic jokes throughout her speech just made it a tour to remember.

Basically, the key thing I learnt from my four cellar visits, ten ports and two tours, was that I like Tawny Ports because they are oakier due to being aged in smaller oak barrels than Ruby Ports. See? I was listening. And if you have a vintage port, drink it within 2-3 days of opening. And all Port grapes are grown in the Douro region in Portugal. SO THERE YOU GO.

Portugal was fantastic. I will write some more later but right now I have to go and buy a baguette for lunch. Tough, I know. I do have to venture outside into grey and windy Paris where it is fairly cold. That’s not sunny Portugal!