Wobbly Bonk sans Brad Pitt

Greetings from Wobbly Bonk! (otherwise known, on saner maps of North Carolina, as Rocky Mount (ok, so we got a bit giggly last night)). Day three of our Great American Road Trip has just dawned, and we’ve ticked almost all the boxes of on our road trip list: we’ve stayed in a seedy motel (ok, so it’s actually a not at all seedy Best Western, but it is a motel), we’ve crossed several state lines (ok, so not while being pursued by the police, but we did get passed by a police car complete with flashing lights and sirens at one point on the road, so we reckon that counts), and we’ve been to a convenience store (ok, so we didn’t actually rob one like you’re supposed to according to all the movies, but Buffra thinks she might have gone over the speed limit once or twice, so we decided that was sufficient law breaking for one trip). All we need now is to pick up Brad Pitt, and we’ve had the perfect movie version of a road trip.

Unfortunately, Wobbly Bonk, despite the promising name, seems sadly lacking in Brad Pitts, and the receptionist at the motel told us she’d never seen him lurking around here, so we might be out of luck on that count. But otherwise a successful trip so far 🙂 And though we might not have met Brad, we did meet CRRCookie, ResQGeek, and LilGrover when we stopped to pick up Otakuu in Manassas yesterday. Actually, I think meeting them was much more fun than meeting Brad would have been 🙂

It rained for almost the entire trip yesterday, so sightseeing was a bit limited, but although we missed out on the grand views and sweeping vistas, there was plenty to see at closer range. We mostly stayed off the interstates, which meant we saw a lot more than we would have otherwise, passing through cute little towns that were exactly as you imagine small town America to be, plus other settlements that were less picture-perfect, but still just as interesting, filled with rundown shacks and “trailers”. Then there were the huge houses with pillared porches (we’re definitely in the South now), proper red brick schools, log cabins tucked among the trees, and a million other “ooh, look at that” moments. We drove across the Appalachians, along roads lined with dogwoods and redbuds, bright splashes of colour amongst the bright green of the new spring growth, and watched the season advance as we came further south, until last night we began to spot swampland on the sides of the road, deep dark pools among the trees floating with weed, that looked just right to be the home of an alligator or two. We’ve seen turkey buzzards, and a heron, and the squashed remains of the odd opossum (no better at avoiding cars than their southern cousins, it seems), but the only sign so far of larger fauna have been the deer lying dead by the side of the road (those warning signs with the outline of a leaping deer are accurate, it seems). We’ve driven through Ohio, West Virginia (three times! It’s a very strangely shaped state), Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and now North Carolina. We’re having fun!

Just a quick update

to say I’m still alive (don’t worry Mum, it was just a cold, I wasn’t actually dying of pneumonia :-)), I’m in Maryland at Buffra’s parents’ place, and we’re about to hit the road on our American Road Trip. Brad Pitt here we come! 😉

Chicago was great, Ottawa was great, and the bits of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania I saw last night as we drove through were really pretty. I’ve smelt a skunk (from a distance), and seen cardinals and oriels, and eaten all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

More later.

27 April: Back in Chicago

Two hours to wait in O’Hare airport between flights, on my way from Ottawa to Columbus. The airport claims to have free wi-fi, but my laptop can’t detect it (I’ve been having pretty bad luck with wi-fi connections anyway – the laptop seems determined not to expose me to the dangers of the internet, so the last time I got it to connect properly was back in Singapore). So I’ll have to upload this if/when I ever get to real internet again.

It’s weird being back in an airport I’ve passed through before. So far this trip (with the exception of London) has been a series of unfamiliar places, so being back somewhere I was a few days ago feels like home – I already know where the toilets are, what food possibilities it offers (not that I feel like eating anyway – my stomach is still a bit delicate from the overloading it got yesterday (more about that anon)), and exactly how often they’re going to play the announcement reminding us about leaving bags unattended. Otherwise, it’s all getting a bit Fight Club, just another anonymous airport in a long line of them.

Anyway, the last time I posted anything I think I was in Vitoria, feeling sick. Since then I’ve been through five airports and three countries, and I’m starting to feel guilty about not having written anything. So, starting with the most recent (because I know I can remember it!), Canada:

Canada is big. Big and flat, and pretty empty. Or at least, Ontario is. As you fly in, all you see is vast areas of farmland, sprinkled little patches of woodland, and an unlikely number of ponds and lakes. Even once we were in Ottawa itself, it kept the rural feel, helped greatly by the vast greenbelts around each suburb of the city, which mean that every few km you’re back in farmland again. Two weeks ago, the city was still covered in snow, and although the snow had melted by the time I arrived, the landscape still looked wintery, with few of the signs of spring I’d seen in Chicago. Trees were bare, or with just the first glimmers of green, and the ground had that dirty look of recently melted snow. All that emptiness gave a very small town feel to the city – a lovely change after the big city pace of Chicago. And despite the bleakness of late winter, the landscape is so pretty – full of wooden fences and proper old red barns just like you imagine North American farms to be (Princess1984 explained that the barns are necessary not just to protect the animals from the severe weather, but also from predators – bears and wolves are common, even close to the city).

The other overwhelming impression Canada leaves on you is the food. There’s so much of it! And Princess1984 and MrPrincess seemed determined to introduce me to all of it in the space of one day. Yesterday began with a visit to the Hersheys factory. It being the weekend, the factory wasn’t actually operating, but we were still able to look around, and see the enormous vats of chocolate waiting for Monday morning. And of course, there’s a factory shop, where Princess1984 stocked up on vast amounts of chocolate at ridiculously low prices for me to sample.

Then it was back into town, to wander around one of the massive malls North America specialises in, and to try more local delicacies: maple syrup candy, and “beaver tails” – not actually made out of beavers, but a type of (very large) flat donut in the shape of a beaver tail, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Then to Tim Hortons for more donuts.

By the time we got to dinner, I could feel my arteries hardening, but they’d said they were taking me to try some French Canadian food, which I stupidly thought might be like French food – you know, small portions. I was wrong. Following my policy on this trip of eating whatever the locals recommend, I ordered the same meal special that Princess1984 and MrPrincess had. I should have read the menu more closely, as it consisted of a bowl of coleslaw (salad comes before the main meal here, not as part of it), then a starter of spring rolls, then vegetable soup with crackers (you’re supposed to crumble up the crackers into your soup to give it more body), and then, just when I was thinking that was more than enough for a substantial meal, came the main course: QUARTER of a chicken each, served with bread, gravy, and a mountain of chips or mashed potato. I did my best, but wasn’t able to manage more than a quarter of my quarter chicken (is there such a thing as a sixteenth chicken?), and a handful of chips before giving up. I always thought I was a big eater, but there’s no way I can compete with Canadians! (And apparently that wasn’t that big a meal – the menu offered half a chicken for people who were feeling really peckish). And then, MrPrincess reminded me that dessert was included, and recommended a very rich sounding (and I’m sure, very large) syrup cake with icecream. I managed to negotiate my way down to a fruit salad, but it was still a challenge getting through it. And they serve you so fast, too – there’s no pause to let one course digest while the next is prepared – the minute you put your cutlery down, the waitress is there by your side with another plate of food. No wonder I’ve got a sore stomach today!

Of course, we didn’t just spend the day eating. We got some culture in too, visiting the Museum of Mankind across the river in Quebec, with its wonderful displays of First Nations culture and history. Fascinating stuff, and I learnt a lot even in a brief visit – like that several of the tribes had written languages, and that the Inuit didn’t live in igloos after all, but in domed shelters made of whalebone and hide (another childhood myth shattered…) Several of the displays reminded me of details from the Clan of the Cave Bear books – I can see now where she did a lot of her research! Another thing I found interesting were the carved figures with eyes made from abalone shell, just as paua (which is a type of abalone) is used in Maori carving. Amazing that people from opposite ends of the Pacific had the same idea.

Battery power is running low, so this will have to do for now. More later.

Vitoria, Spain

I know I should be writing about the convention, but the last few days have been such a blur that I don´t know if I can even remember what I did and who I met. I was going to just write a few highlights, but there´s so many I don´t know where to start: meeting so many famous bookcrossers (I would list them, but I´m sure to forget someone vitally important); partying with the Irish, London, and Anti-podian contingents; getting Scott and Matt to strip in front of a room full of drooling women; seeing a sneak preview of the future of bookcrossing; finally getting to thank Skyring properly for all his work and generosity in getting us to London; learning about a whole load of new authors (whose books I´m going to have to buy now… life is tough! ;-)); our presentation being so warmly received (and so many people saying they´re seriously tempted to come to Christchurch); seeing the streets littered with books after our impromptu release walk on Saturday afternoon… the list goes on.

I will try and write a proper account later, once it´s all had time to sink in.

My cold has not improved, so I´m having a lazy day today, trying to recover a bit before I hit the road again. I came in to work with Atenea-Nike this morning, so I could use her internet connection, and have spent a very productive morning finally catching up on all the journal entries and release notes for the last few days, and even browsing the forums a bit. The plan was to then go for a wander around Vitoria this afternoon and do a bit of sightseeing, but I´m struggling to stay awake, so I think the sensible thing to do will be to go back to their place after lunch and have a sleep for the rest of the afternoon. I´m a bit disappointed I won´t get to explore Vitoria, but I´ve got a lot of travelling ahead of me, so I really do have to be sensible and get some rest.

The plans for tomorrow have changed a bit too. Originally, Atenea-Nike was going to drive me to Bilbao to catch my plane back to London, but the horribly early check-in time would mean we´d have to leave here about 5 am. So she´s instead booked me a room in a hostel in Bilbao for tonight, and I´m going to catch the bus over there after dinner this evening, and then in the morning I can catch another bus to the airport. I´m a wee bit nervous about having to cope on my own and speaking Spanish (I´ve been kind of understanding what people are saying, provided they speak slowly enough, but I can´t remember enough to be able to speak it myself), but I´m sure I´ll survive.

At least I got to look around Bilbao yesterday with A-N. It´s a gorgeous city, full of old buildings with elaborate wrought-iron balconies (photos really will follow sometime soon!), and (most exciting for me, as a linguist), bilingual road signs in Basque and Spanish. We walked round the outside of the Gugenheim, but didn´t go in (I´m not interested enough in modern art to want to pay to see it!) – a very impressive looking building, but I suspect they have similar problems to the Sydney Opera House when it comes to cleaning it.

We also had a meetup with a few of the Bilbao bookcrossers. I was almost asleep on my feet (having been awake for nearly 40 hours by then), but vaguely managed to follow the conversation, and A-N translated for me whenever I started looking too confused. She also did a great job of simultaneous translation when I showed them the 2009 presentation, not only translating the words on the slides, but also converting the pounds into euros!

I´ve also had the chance to sample all sorts of traditional Spanish food – we ate lunch in a tapas bar yesterday (except it´s not called tapas here in the north, it´s got a different name that I can´t remember now), and even tried such delicacies as goose liver (not bad) and octopus (not good). When we got to Vitoria in the evening, A-N´s girlfriend cooked us a meal of fried eggs, red peppers, and a selection of local meats – all very tasty, though I don´t think I could eat very much of the meats, as they all had rich tastes that could become overwhelming pretty easily. And for breakfast we had cake! Apparently that´s the normal breakfast food here. Strange country! 😉

Anyway, it´s almost 2, and time for A-N´s lunch break, so I´d better finish here. Who knows where the next report will be from…

^ ^
A very bunged-up futurecat.

Estoy en Madrid

I´m on a very expensive internet terminal with the worst keyoad in thehistory of the world, so this will be a ery short entry justto say the convention was great, i´m exhauted, and Ithnk i´mgetting a cold (arrrghhhh I hate this keyboard!). Leavng for Bilbao in acouple of hours.

We’re at the convention!!!

Reporting in quickly from London. We’ve been so busy having fun I haven’t found time to write any blog entries, so I’m way behind, but while everyone else is off on the London Eye we’ve retreated to an internet cafe for some much needed on-line time, so I can at least give you a brief update to tide you all over.

Number one bit of news is that Lytteltonwitch and I went to NZ House this morning, and they said that yes I would have to replace my passport. At first they said it would take 7-10 working days, then when I said it was urgent they said if I wanted to pay more they could do it in three, or even same day if it was really urgent. It was £140 for the 3-day service, or £270 for same day. I blanched a bit at that, but then when I thought about it, if I had to stay in London for an extra 3 days it would probably cost at least a hundred pounds anyway, by the time I added up the accommodation and food and stuff, so the £270 super-urgent fee started to sound like the more economic option (plus I wouldn’t have to miss out on Spain!). So I rang my insurance company just to check they’d cover it (answer: probably, but they can’t say for certain until I put in the claim form when I get home), and bit the bullet and paid the £270. Then Lytteltonwitch and I raced around for a bit getting photos taken and forms filled out (I was really lucky she was with me, because she’s known me for more than 5 years, and has a NZ passport, so could act as witness to identify me), and I had a brand new passport in my hands by lunchtime.

An expensive exercise, but I’m so glad I got it sorted out. And yes, I’ve put the new passport safely in a plastic bag!!!

After sorting that out, we went back over to Kensington to the convention venue. The convention doesn’t officially start until tonight, but there were loads of people at the venue getting their goody bags and an early chance at the book buffet. Loads of squeals of excitement as we found friends, and spotted names we recognised. I’ve already forgotten half the people I’ve met! 🙂

Actually, the convention really started for us last night, when we arrived at our hostel, and found Atenea-Nike and ConstantWeader on the steps. They were off to have drinks with Sirroy and Yokospungeon (apologies for any names I’ve got wrong – I’ll go back through these entries and correct them when I’ve got more time to search the BC site for correct spellings and capitalisations), so we joined them. At the hotel bar, we found a happy band of bookcrossers already there – as well as Sirroy and Yoko, there was Elimsabhil (I’ve got no idea how to spell that!), and Wyando and several other German and Austrian bookcrossers. Lots of hugs and laughter, and pretty sparkles on Yoko’s finger.

I seem to be working backwards with this entry, so it must be time to describe our day in Bath yesterday. Miketroll, Otakuu and I caught the train from Cardiff, and met Lytteltonwitch at the station. She’d rented a car for the day, so we left our bags in the boot, and set off on foot to explore Bath (if you’ve ever seen how narrow the streets are in Bath, you’ll know why we didn’t take the car!). First stop had to be the Roman Baths. Totally incredible place – I don’t know if I can describe them, actually. Just the feeling of walking around a place that has been used for thousands of years (it was probably a sacred site even before the Romans got there), standing on the floor the Romans laid, was incredible. And such a mixture of the original Roman bits, and the various structures that have been built on top of it over the years. I could simultaneously imagine toga’d Romans bathing in the hot baths, and elegant 17th-century ladies taking the waters in the Pump Room above.

I could happily have stayed there all day, but time was short, so after a few hours we had to move on.

Next stop was Sally Lunn’s, where of course we ate some buns. In fact, we had a very nice lunch, courtesy of Miketroll, of toasted sandwiches on Sally Lunn buns, followed by apple pie with clotted cream. The buns were great, but I was a bit disappointed by the clotted cream – I’ve never had it before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was weird – almost like butter in texture, and with very little flavour. I think I’ll stick to ordinary whipped cream in future. But at least I can say I’ve tried it.

After lunch, we piled into the car, and drove up to Royal Crescent to have a look at a street so familiar from every costume drama ever produced by the BBC. Very impressive. I released a book in the gardens in front of the houses: Questions Kids Ask About Themselves, one of the books I picked up at the Perth meetup. Such a pity I didn’t have any Jane Austen with me!

Then it was off through the countryside to the Salisbury Plains, passing through picturesque little villages complete with thatched cottages (and even one manor house that we were sure had to be home to a Mr D’Arcy). Lytteltonwitch managed to negotiate the UK road rules without incident, and I managed to navigate us through a maze of A-roads to Stonehenge.

There’s an entrance fee to go into Stonehenge, but it’s actually right by the road, so you don’t have to pay to see it, you can just look through the wire-link fence. And the people who do pay can’t go right up to the stones, they have to stick to the path, so we didn’t feel we were missing any of the experience by being cheapskates 🙂 We left a book about Stonehenge outside the visitor centre.

Stonehenge is… well, it’s Stonehenge. It’s so hard to imagine 5,000 years of history taking place while those stones have stood there. Utterly incredible. It’s smaller than I imagined, though – though that could just be the effect of all the fences around it diminishing it. But I’m so glad I’ve finally seen it.

Avebury, our next stop, I actually found more impressive – it’s a much bigger stone circle (in fact, several concentric stone circles), with a village parked among them. These stones you can walk right up to and touch. Now that was amazing!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long – we had to get back to Bath to return the hire car, and get Miketroll to his train. And of course we hit rush hour as we came into the city… Miketroll missed his train (but was able to catch another an hour later, so it wasn’t too bad), but we did manage to return the car just before the office shut for the night, and then we caught our own train, back to London.

I think that’s all I’ve got time to write for now (we’ve got to find some dinner before we go back to the convention for the official start), but I really will try and add more later, as well as upload some more photos. But rest assured, we’re having a wonderful time!

Singapore Images

We’ve arrived safely in Wales, and have found an internet cafe, but haven’t got much time because the out-laws are waiting to show us around town, so just time to post a few random images of Singapore in no particular order:

A temple in Chinatown:

And almost next door, a Hindu temple (I didn’t take photos inside of this one, because they were charging a fee for bringing a camera in):

Little India:

Arab Quarter:

Huge skyscrapers in the Financial District:

at the foot of which is the Singapore River, with traditional boats, and lined with tiny red-tile roofed buildings – an amazing contrast!

Baby Bally looks a bit concerned about the meal we had on our first night:

but is more impressed by the chrystanthenum tea I had in Chinatown:

Meetup in an Egyptian restaurant in the Arab Quarter (left to right, Otakuu, Derreada, and Meexia):

Air conditioning is Singapore’s life blood:

More when I get time.

Yay for Changi Airport

Finally, free wi-fi access! I can actually use my own computer to access the internet (assuming the batteries hold out… hmm, wonder if there’s any power points around here). Which means I’ve finally managed to upload the photos properly for this entry.

I’m having a minor panic at the moment, because my passport got wet in the rain yesterday, and I didn’t realise just how wet until I checked in, and they had trouble reading the code thingy with their machine, because the paper has warped, and the ink from some of the stamps has run a bit. They let me through passport control though (although they did ask what had happened to it), so maybe it’ll be ok, but I’m a bit concerned about what will happen in the US.

Wonder how quickly NZ House in London could issue me a new passport? (probably not very quickly at all, as from memory they have to send them from NZ)

I’ve emailed my travel agent for advice, so we’ll see what she says.

We did finally get hold of Andy (the organiser of Bookcrossing-SG) yesterday. He hadn’t managed to get a meetup organised for us, but he suggested we meet for supper. Before we agreed we probably should have asked him first what time is considered supper time in Singapore, because we ended up meeting at midnight!!

He took us to a food court where he introduced us to a couple of local specialities: “carrot cake” (which wasn’t cake, nor did it contain carrots – it was an omelette with some kind of seafood tossed through it), and fried oysters, which came with a weird sort of battered omelette (tasted good though!). We had a great time, and chatted for a couple of hours before finally having to admit defeat and get back to the hostel for some sleep.

Oops, power about to run out. Better go and see if they have any power points in this airport.

And we thought the rain in Perth was bad

We discovered this morning what “rainy season” means. We’d gone out in search of breakfast, and were heading back to the hostel, where we were meeting Derreada. As we were going into the MRT station, otakuu commented on the clouds gathering overhead. When travelled the two stops back to Little India, and when we came up the stairs from the station, the world was hidden behind a curtain of incredibly heavy rain (think someone pouring a bucket of water over your head). We waited in the station entrance until it eased off to merely torential, and ran from sheltered shop-front to sheltered shop-front, but were still soaked to the skin by the time we reached the hostel. Good thing it’s so warm!

Derreada arrived, similarly wet despite having the sense to use an umbrella (the rain was falling so hard that it was splashing back up from the road, so umbrellas are really only useful for keeping your head dry – the rest of you gets soaked anyway), and we headed out to explore the city.

First stop was a shop selling umbrellas 🙂

Next we visited Sim Lim Square, the huge electronics market, where I was able to find a tri-band phone that will work in America, for a fraction of the price I’d been quoted in NZ. Not that the prices are that much cheaper here, but the range is so much greater, so I was able to find something very basic that just does calling and text, instead of all the bells and whistles that Vodafone was trying to insist I needed.

Shopping done, we headed out into the rain again, to the Arab Quarter, where Derreada found us a great little Egyptian restaurant with a $10 buffet, and we were joined by Meexia. We settled in for a leisurely lunch, and a most enjoyable chat, until the rain finally stopped and we could head back out to explore some more.

The various Quarters in Singapore are incredible in their variety. As I said in my last post, Little India is like being transported to that continent. Going the two MRT stops from there to Orchard Road this morning was like travelling half way around the world – suddenly we were in the West (but a much cleaner version of the West!). And then going into the Arab Quarter was something different again – if it wasn’t for the rain, we could have been in the souks of Syria. I didn’t take many photos, not for lack of subjects, but because I was so busy looking at everything that I kept forgetting to take photos. I think it will take a few days too before my brain can process all the sights and sounds (and smells!) into some sort of sensible impression of this city. And we haven’t even visited Chinatown yet!

Derreada and Meexia also took us to see the National Library. Fantastic place, but what struck me most were the huge number of people sitting around reading – so many that there weren’t enough seats or desks, and many were just sitting on the floor between the shelves. And what really amazed me was when Derreada told me many of them were high school students, studying. Studying? In a library? On a Saturday? I can’t remember when I last saw any high school students in Christchurch public library!

It was a great afternoon, and Derreada and Meexia were great guides, despite neither of them actually being Singaporian (Derreada is a complicated mix of English, Canadian, Chinese and Guyanan, and Meexia is an Indonesian Australian). And I think we’ve almost convinced them they need a holiday in NZ next year 🙂

We haven’t managed yet to get hold of the other Singapore bookcrossers to find out if we’re having another meetup tonight (which is why we’re in an internet cafe now, to check our emails in case anyone’s been in touch). If there’s no meetup, then I think we’ll be heading over to Chinatown to explore yet another side of Singapore’s multi-culture.


Well, we’ve arrived safely, and have reasonable internet access (although this computer is possibly the slowest I’ve ever encountered, and seems to like crashing at regular intervals).

I wrote up a huge screed about the rest of our day in Perth while sitting in the airport yesterday, so I’ll see if I can upload that shortly, but I thought first I’d just check in and say we’re here, we’re safe, and I do know about the problem with the photos in the previous entry (trying to race through uploading them while very tired, I somehow managed to mess up the file extensions, which Hamipiks got upset about, and now it won’t let me overwrite them. So at some point I’ll have to find the time to go through and rename all the files and try uploading them again, but it won’t be this morning – too many exciting things to see and do!)

So far, I’m loving Singapore. We’re staying in Little India, and when we went out last night to find dinner, it was like being transported back to Delhi. We were adventurous and ate at a little street-corner cafe that was buzzing with locals (my theory on eating when travelling is to avoid the tourist haunts and eat wherever seems popular with locals, because that’s usually the safest food). We had a wonderful (if hot!) meal of various curries and rice, and some savoury doughnut-type things I never did catch the name of, while watching a Bollywood movie on an overhead screen. And best of all, we only paid $6 each for so much food we couldn’t finish it all!

The heat here is amazing. Every time we step out from airconditioning into the open air it’s like opening an oven door (or maybe a steam oven, given the humidity). It’s taking a bit of getting used to, but at least our room has air conditioning, so we were able to sleep comfortably last night. I’ve been in the tropics before, but only when travelling by land, so I was able to gradually acclimatise to the increasing heat. This is the first time I’ve gone straight from a relatively temperate climate to the equator, and it’s a real shock to the system.

Our hostel is, um, interesting. The rooms are fine, but the bathroom leaves a lot to be desired. In our building there are two toilets and three showers, which is fine, except that one toilet opens off the other, so effectively only one can be used at a time, and only one of the showers has a door – the other are open to the corridor, where, thanks to a large picture window, they are overlooked by the building next door. I made sure I got up at 6.30 to have my shower this morning, so I could guarantee getting the stall with a door!

We’re going to go out shortly and find something for breakfast. The hostel does offer free breakfast, but it seems to consist only of fried stuff, which neither of us feel much like. Exploring the city is a more interesting way of getting food anyway.