Saturday, 31 March 2012

Great Rules of Writing

I stumbled across this whilst doing some research for a lesson I was teaching one of my classes and have determined that this is a gem of wisdome that simply must be shared!

Great Rules of Writing (By William Safire)

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

A New Kind of Adventure

It has been three weeks since I returned to Australia from my globetrotting ventures. I feel like I traded one whirlwind for another and I have spent the last three weeks starting out in my new career as a teacher. Although it's been quite a roller coaster (yes, there have been tears...) I am now enjoying one perk of my new job-the school holidays! The last three weeks have flown by, with each day dictated by the ringing of a bell with short moments of calm as I enjoy a cup of tea using one of my Twinings tea bags from London. It certainly has been challenging and life as a teacher is quite a contrast to life as a student! I am very glad of having these holidays to try to catch up with where life has taken me. Of course, I have a pile as high as Jack's Beanstalk of preparation and lesson planning to do as well as a room full of things that need to be sorted out and tidied up. Some BBC period dramas are also in order-I've already watched 'Persuasion', 'Emma' and 'Wives and Daughters'. It will be nice to have a break from the seating plans, marking and reporting, meetings, phone calls and chaos that the last few weeks have been!
I now have a good excuse to go stationery shopping though as I have a school desk that requires kitting out and my desk at home needs restocking too. It has been so nice to have a desk to call my own in the staffroom, although I think I need a secretary to help me keep things organised as there never seems to be enough space for all my papers and folders. There also seems to be some kind of creature living in my top drawer that has an appetite for pens....they are disappearing at an alarming rate!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Ambling Ramblings #22- In, Out, Up, Down and Around London

Jane Austen, a royal castle and more time in my favourite city....what more could a girl want I three days!

Upon returning from our tour of the countryside, we were no longer content to simply stay in London for our last few days so have done a few trips out of the city to explore other areas. The first day after our tour we stayed in London as there were a few things we still needed to do before we leave. The first of these being a visit to the original Twinings tea shop, not only to browse through, but to stock up on a few different types of tea that aren't always readily available in supermarkets. I think I have enough to last me through my first week of teaching now! We also walked along the Thames past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye and a few other iconic buildings of significance back to Shakespeare's Globe as there were a few things I wanted to see again. It then took us over and hour to walk all the way back to the side of the city we are staying on (we didn't quite think it was that far, but hey, we got to see more of the city!) and stopped in at Primark, a large department store that is fairly cheap in its prices-a few people we have met recommended we go there to do some shopping, and since it was quite imperative that I purchase another bag to get all of our paraphernalia back to Australia, we thought we'd try there! We were successful and marnie bought a few other things while we were there too. By this time, it was late afternoon and we had a very important date that night to go and get ourselves dressed up and ready for. 
We decided we should go and see a show while we were in London, as this city is famous for its theatre so that's exactly what we did. We had just a minor glitch along the way-you know you are in a cultured city when there are so many theatres that they start having similar names and you get confused as to where you should be! We went to the Apollo Theatre, only to find that the show we were seeing was actually at the Apollo Victoria, so we quickly hopped back on the train to get to that theatre just in time! It was well worth it and we both loved our night out on the town being cultured! Dressing up was also good fun and any excuse will do :-) 
The following day we went on an excursion to the country, to Chawton to visit Jane Austen's house and museum (Can you tell I'm a Jane Austen fan, with a visit to Bath and to Chawton in one week!) I have thoroughly educated Marnie and she now has an appreciation for the works of my favourite author, however we were the only people under the age of 50 to be visiting the house that day-as we entered, the steward at the house looked at us and asked if we were avid Jane Austen readers, as I think he was surprised to see us! The house is incredible and so well laid out. Each room is set up as it would have been in Jane Austen's time with items from her and her family laid out in each room with very good explanations and descriptions of each item nearby. The gardens were also beautiful, as everything was just starting to bloom, making it a lovely day out in a quiet village in the south of England. 
The next day was another excursion out of London, a trip to Windsor Castle-one of the official residences of Her Majesty the Queen. There was an lovely collection of sixty photographs of the Queen on display in the castle as a part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations-it's a good year to be visiting London, with the Olympics coming later in the year as well as it being a jubilee year! One of my favourite parts was seeing Queen Mary's doll house which is not a child's toy but a beautiful exhibit of miniatures, complete with working electricity and plumbing in the house! I also enjoyed seeing France and Marianne, two dolls that were given to Queen Elizabeth and her sister when they were girls-the dolls have a complete wardrobe of outfits for every occasion and are beautiful! The apartments and suites in the castle were incredible and very tastefully decorated and it was very interesting to see how the interior designs changed over time as different regents added their own tastes in the decorations of the rooms and added to the art collection. I loved seeing the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I amongst other past members of the royal family, as well as suits of armour, the china collection of exquisite dining settings-they have over 40 sets to choose from! I only dream of having just one set one day! 
The castle is very extensive and took us quite a few hours to walk through, and we only saw a portion of the castle as not all of it is open to the public! I saw the rooms where, if I were ever so fortunate, I would meet the Queen in, however, although she was in residence at Windsor when we were there, she wasn't receiving visitors for tea today. I'll just have to call again sometime to have tea with the Queen! As is typical in England, it was raining today so we didn't go out into the gardens, but what we saw of them was very beautiful. 
Just a few days now until I'll be back on the other side of the world...far away from all these historic treasures that I have been so privileged to see and experience for myself, but I am certainly bringing lots of memories back with me (along with thousands of photos and just a few souvenirs!)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ambling Ramblings #21- The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

On our return across the Channel, we had a day of exploring London (my all time favourite city in the world) in which we went back to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a place we went to last time we were in London, but needed more time to explore further. We had a lot of fun with the interactive displays and I tried on a corset and hoop skirt, and then we designed textiles and book plates on some digital interactive activities which was a lot of fun. We did get a few strange looks though, as I think we are perhaps a little too old for such things, but what can I say, the child in me likes to come out and play! We also loved seeing lots of lovely teapots and other antique china, beautiful furniture and old clothing and then some incredible old books and other historic artefacts. We also went to the British Museum, which has an amazing collection of historic artefacts from all around the world and from all eras of history. Some of the ancient pieces, Egyptian Mummies, Persian sculptures from Bible times as well as items from the Greek and Roman empires were just incredible to physically see. It has given me a greater understanding and appreciation of the history of our world and just how the world as we know it has developed. I also enjoyed some of the more recent pieces, like a collection of clocks, from intricate little pocket watches to great big Grandfather clocks. By this time we had seen so many things that we couldn't take in any more, so called it a day and walked through the city back to our hotel. We have got quite good at using the tube and are quite comfortable with catching the trains in London so we do that when we get tired (this is, after all, quite a big city and you can only walk so far in a day, craning your neck upwards to look at everything around you!) I have loved seeing spring come to the city and seeing all the parks that we saw five weeks ago coming to life with blossoms in the trees, daffodils blooming everywhere, swans on the lakes and ponds and more and more green life every day. It's just so beautiful, even the window boxes on all the apartment buildings are full of beautiful pansies, tulips, jonquils and other very bright, happy flowers. 
Saturday and Sunday were spent on a two day bus tour of Southwest England through Oxford, the Cotswolds (one of the most beautiful parts of England), Bristol, Bath and Stonehenge as well as stopping in a lot of lovely little villages along the way and driving down country lanes through the English countryside.  There were only three other people on the tour, so it was a nice and small tour group with a really good tour guide who knew a lot about the area and had lots of good stories to tell. We had a fabulous time, although it was strange to have someone else organizing our days for us, after being self reliant for so long! 
I loved all the picturesque countryside, sheep grazing on the hillside, gorgeous little cottages covered in vines, lunch in a lovely little tea room, lots of antiques shops, the lovely little bridges and gardens in the villages, the big old manor houses, settings from period dramas that I love, drywall stone fences through the fields, hedgerows and a vibrant rainbow that we stopped for photos of as the colors were so deep! Our tour guide in Oxford was quite the character, this lady had the biggest personality i have ever encountered, two hours with her were quite exhausting! We were in Oxford on degree day, so saw lots of students and professors in academic regalia, ready for graduation ceremonies. The highlight of the time in Oxford though was visiting Blackwells bookshop and browsing through hundreds of books-another of my 'one weaknesses'!   
Although the little country villages scattered throughout the Cotswolds, like Stow on the Wold, Castle Combe, Upper Slaughter (quite the name!), Lacock and Bibury were my favourite stops on the tour, I must confess that I very much enjoyed going to Bath. In Bath we went to the Roman Baths, wandered the streets and went to the Jane Austen centre for a tour and an insight into the two novels that she set in Bath, one of which is my favourite of all her novels, 'Persuasion'. The centre has quite an extensive collection of pieces relating to Jane Austen and has a very well organized exhibit about the years that she lived in Bath and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about my most admired literary works and their author. We also stopped at Stonehenge on the way back to London from Bath and although it was quite cold, wet and rainy, it was nice to get out of the tour bus and walk around a field looking up at an incredibly dramatic sky with dark clouds rolling in on one side, and clear, cornflower blue sky on the other. Spending two days in such a beautiful part of the country just makes me want to see more, not only of that region, but to explore further afield someday! 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Ambling Ramblings #20-A Mixed Bag of Jellybeans

20 posts thus far.....something of a milestone I do believe! We are nearing the end though, so not many more to come after this one. (Is that a sigh of relief I hear?)

Our last few days on the Continent were like a bag of Jellybeans, we never knew what colour we were going to pull out next and had a few adventurous moments along the way and certainly sampled every colour. From Amsterdam we caught the train to Cologne and had the shortest and least eventful walk to our hotel of any city in Europe! We arrived with just enough daylight to see the Cologne Cathedral, which is grand on truly epic proportions in its Gothic architecture and incredible stained glass windows. Amazingly incredible to see and stand in, gazing up at the intricate designs in the windows, each of them with a story to tell and the longer you stand looking, the more you see in it. We also managed to fit in some shopping (of course!) and wandered in and out of shops until we could shop no more! The next morning it was back to the train station for our final Eurail Pass train journey-the end of what has been an exhilarating and exciting adventure around the Continent. We headed to Brussels for the night where we only had enough time before our train the next day to buy a considerable weight of Belgian chocolate (which we now have to carry halfway around the world....I don't think we thought that one through very well!).

Our last few days on the continent were quite a whirlwind and have melded into a mashed and swirled marble cake of memories. The jumbled blur of what I can remember looks something like this: impressive cathedral in Cologne, fancy shops and pretty dresses, sitting on a train facing forwards, sitting on a train facing backwards, pretty countryside, night on the floor by the heater (long story, don't ask!), ensuite bathroom reached by a little staircase in our room, tea, more tea, chocolate waffles, tasty pastries, lots of steps, lots more steps, waiting at the train station, lugging heavy bags weighted down by chocolate (oh and one or two paving stones I've picked up along the way as souvenirs), getting lost, finding ourselves again, pecan Danish pastries, separation anxiety from Marnie, long walks on extremely long train platforms from carriage 17 to carriage 3 and a whole lot more.

In the last 7 nights I have slept in 7 different beds. Settling into a routine at home will be quite an adjustment from this nomadic lifestyle, although it will be nice to not be living out of a suitcase, to have my own bed, to be in one bed for more than a few nights at a time and to know where in the world I am at any given time! It will certainly be very different, and I'm sure it won't be long before I have itchy feet again and am planning my next trip somewhere-anyone want to join me?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ambling Ramblings #19-Artsy Amusements in Amsterdam

After searching high and low through the supermarkets of Europe since leaving France, we finally found crepes again in Amsterdam, making us two very happy little Vegemites (although here, I think it would be Nutella rather than Vegemite as that is definitely the most popular spread and one that we often indulge in!). We also had the surprise of having a kettle on our room- which as I'm sure you could guess, made me very happy as I could have tea with my Nutella crepes! 
We did do more than eat crepes and drink tea in Amsterdam and enjoyed our brief stay there. I definitely think that Venice does canals better than Amsterdam, although I saw quite a few swans swimming elegantly on the canals here giving an added touch of sophistication to the city. The stereotype of Amsterdam as having cyclists everywhere is definitely true and walking around can be somewhat treacherous as the bikes are more dangerous than the cars! To cross a road  you have to check two lanes of traffic and two lanes of cyclists making it a leap of faith to step out onto the road at times. Unlike Venice, vehicles are allowed down the narrow lanes and it was quite funny watching cars squeeze down lanes, mounting the footpath on either side (although we made sure we stood well clear!) 
One of my favourite parts of walking around Amsterdam were the florists everywhere selling beautiful flowers and floral arrangements which are very popular as many people don't have gardens, especially in the city, and in winter gardens don't grow very well anyway so you often see people walking home with their bread in one arm and a bunch of flowers all wrapped up in the other. Poor Marnie has had to put up with me constantly stopping to admire the flowers as I literally stop to smell the roses! 
Apart from wandering the streets and seeing the sights (old churches, the palace, canals, bridges, Rembrandt's House etc.) we did quite a bit of shopping in Amsterdam in some very funky and trendy designer shops (we have both developed a taste for designer clothing and already have some favourite designers-most of which you can't get in Australia at all so I suppose our future salaries are safe!). We enjoyed window shopping and dreaming and also trying on a few things that we especially liked-that is one thing about shopping in winter, you have so many layers on that it takes half an hour to just to try one dress on so we only try on things that are really worth the effort of delayering and relayering! We both walked out of our favourite designer shop with new dresses that we just couldn't resist as they were on sale and we know we can't get them in Australia! I also enjoyed walking through a willow-ware shop and admiring the exquisite china as well as some lovely homeware and antique shops. 
I have discovered that kettles are useful for more than making tea and using just a kettle and two cups, you can cook a decent and edible meal...'tis somewhat of a feat, but I rose to the challenge to make a noodle and vegetable casserole-type concoction using a dry soup mix, frozen vegetables and noodles and a few kettle-fulls of hot water to cook it in! It was quite a palatable dinner and we enjoyed another hotel room picnic before watching a football game on TV (European football, so soccer for those who require the distinction to be made). Next time I travel I'd like to go beyond just Amsterdam and see more of The Netherlands outside of the capital city, but for a stopover, Amsterdam was certainly no letdown and amused us quite delightfully while we were there.