Here is the latest from Laura:
Well, I am a bit behind in my fortnightly updates (and unemployed too! I should have no excuses!) Hello to everyone and thanks again for the emails letting me know what you’ve been up to.
In my last email, Simon and I were heading off to look at a couple of prospective London properties. Luckily I had decided at the last minute to set up a viewing for 12.30. Our 2.30 was a nightmarish “two-boy” property and we soon snapped up the flat we’ve been living in for almost a week now. It is a furnished, one-bedroom flat, the biggest we’d looked at, with a lounge room, kitchen, bathroom and balcony (all exciting by London standards.) The flat is in an estate that was dodgy forty years ago, which of course means it’s a bit yuppy now. The estate has a dozen or so 25-apartment blocks set amongst lovely gardens and a children’s playground.
Our neighbourhood is Bayswater (near Paddington) in Westminster, and our new address is 8 Worcester House, Hallfield Estate W2 6EJ (send lots of mail; it comes right through the front door, even on Satrudays!) It feels really cosy and exactly like a place we can make our home for the time we’re here. We absolutely love it. We welcome all visitors; it’s a ten-minute stroll from Hyde Park, close to three tube stops, very central with a vibrant main street and lots of lovely terrace houses to look at (ours isn’t one of those, but it’s great nonetheless.) Bookings are filling up quickly.
Lots and lots of things have happened since my last email. Over the Easter weekend, Simon and I and three other couples went to Germany. We began in Berlin. An English man had recently asked me the most interesting place I’d been to over here. Berlin is now winning. A cycling tour on our first day took us through the city on a lovely sunny day and was the perfect way to see the diversity of the place. The city is not only very honest and upfront about its painful past, but positively thrives on it.
Checkpoint Charlie, the point at which there were military standoffs between East and West Berlin, was truly fascinating. The Berlin wall is just eerie. I have hazy memories of the wall coming down in 1989, and it is extraordinary to see its remains at various points throughout the city. Other really interesting parts were the ‘Topography of Terrors’ which is an outdoor museum built like a trench right alongside the wall, which focuses on Germany’s terrible Nazi history. Also, the ‘Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe’ was, I thought, a beautiful structure.
Our friends had booked a very cool, maroon, nine-seater bus, which we soon dubbed ‘Heidi.’ First up to drive was Ollie, and on his first turn onto a German road we had the unfortunate experience of being on the wrong side of the road. This only happened one more time during the trip. Driving was such a fantastic way to see the country. We drove from Berlin to Hanover and then on to Dusseldorf. Some amazing food was consumed (schnitzels, “Dusseldorfer” steak and, the food of the potato gods, ‘bartkoffen’) as well as Italian, Greek and a dubious Mexican wrap at the airport.
It was then onto Koblenz, in the Rhine Valley. We stood at the point where the swiftly-flowing Mosel and Rhine rivers meet. The valley is just gorgeous, with hamlets, cottages and church steeples seeming to appear out of nowhere. We visited a couple of lovely castles and were delighted when it began to snow. The Autobahns are amazing; they have one of the lowest accidents rates but the highest mortality rate. I’ve chosen not to tell mum the speeds we reached. Or the fact that family sedans with ‘baby on board’ stickers regularly zoomed past.
But a genuine highlight, for seven of us at least, had to have been ‘Simon’s face plant in mud at German ruins.’ I was in the middle of telling the group of the time on a “very similar slope, actually, on a Scottish mountain” when Simon had warned me not to slip and then fell himself. Mid-story, I lost my footing for a moment and thought that would be the funny part of our German trip. Not so. Simon, holding his beloved camera in one hand and a lens in the other, then slipped so heartily and with such face-plantedness, the lens held up triumphantly. The only disappointment for the seven of us is that no one has a photo because we were all too busy wetting ourselves. We spent half an hour wiping, scraping and cleaning poor Simon as well as simply collapsing in fits of laughter all day. To top it off, Simon had to wear a pair of my pants home.
Mum and dad arrived in London the same night and it has been so wonderful having them around. I feel really lucky that they’ve been able to come over so soon and for a good three weeks out of their very busy lives! They spent a few days in Billericay, then helped us move into Bayswater (via trains, and with great difficulty.) Saying goodbye to my colleagues and students at school was hard, and we’ve made plans to catch up throughout the year. The next day, we headed to Paris. I think it was even better the second time around (engagement the first time notwithstanding.) I’ve had a chance to learn a bit more French since last time and it was wonderful to go to such an amazing place with mum and dad. We stayed at the same hotel Simon and I were at last time, which was lovely.
Also very special was having Aunty Pat and Uncle Ken there too on their fourth trip to Paris. We took mum and dad to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a gorgeous afternoon, which made contending with the massive crowds worth it. We went on long walks, ate lovely food, tried to speak French and enjoyed each other’s company. The Louvre was fantastic again, but, like last time, I think I prefer the Musee D’Orsay which is more varied and less ‘overwhelming.’ Pat, mum and I spent a great few hours shopping followed by a walk up the beautiful Champs Elysees. I found dad’s doppelganger at the Arc de Triomphe memorial which was huge fun; a French schoolteacher who was about to get angry at two wayward members of his teenage group. Overall, Paris was very memorable.
Back in London now and had a very, very interesting day on Sunday. We woke up to Dave and Sue’s phone call to inform us of the snow that was falling outside. Although the updates had told us this was going to happen, we were very sceptical. Friday was one of most glorious days I’ve seen in London. Walking with mum and dad through Hyde Park with the sun inches away from actually being warming, was really memorable. But indeed, there was snow, and lots of it too, this morning. It’s the first time we’ve had proper snow falling in London and it’s just so beautiful to see it gather and build up on tree branches and lawns.
Later on, our bus to Carnaby Street was stopped by the Olympic torch relay happening up ahead. We decided to walk ahead and it was a very different torch relay from the one I remember for Sydney 2000. We could vaguely see a torch and a runner in the snow, surrounded by Chinese officials jogging, surrounded by police on bicycles who were preceded and followed by about ten buses filled with police. Londoners have been very vocal in their resentment at being manhandled by foreigners in their own streets. There were clashes all over the city and what we saw was an extraordinary sight that I think will be repeated in cities all over the world.
I’ve started job-hunting in earnest in the last couple of days and will keep you posted. Happy holidays to all my teaching friends! Hope you all had a great week.
Lots of love, Laura and Simon.