Sunday, July 30, 2006

First day in Buxton

Discoveries for today:

* The B&B managers have heard of soy milk. I can have cereal and ease back on the espressos.
* The B&B managers keep a cat, so they are obviously nice people.

The cat knows a sucker when he sees one, and charms me into letting him in when I get home. Well, he comes up and is all cute and furry, then belts past me before I can juggle my groceries in the door. I then spend about 10 minutes trying to coax the little bugger back outside again, as I wasn't sure if he was out for a reason. Eventually, I fool him into going out by pretending to go outside, then stepping back at the last minute and closing the door. Never fails!!

You will be surprised and astonished to hear that the heat wave has broken (no doubt an act of God in response to me unpacking most of my warmer clothes), so I have spent most of the day shivering in a t-shirt and thin cotton skirt. Seems I will need that pashmina after all!!

We have our first rehearsal at The Old Clubhouse, a pub opposite the Opera House. I find it easily enough, but nobody has opened up. So we sit outside The Old Clubhouse and read through our parts. Those of you who are familiar with Ruddygore will appreciate that reading Mad Margaret's part sitting outside a pub while opera patrons queue up to buy their tickets for the Sunday performances is somewhat embarrassing. Those of you who don't know Ruddygore will have to take my word for it that sitting outside a hotel giggling insanely attracts all manner of attention that I'd rather not have at this early stage.

Rehearsal finishes at 12, we eat at the Clubhouse then go on to the rehearsal hall for a music call. Our cast is superb!! Even at this early stage, everything sounds fantastic. I'm very much looking forward to getting back and having a video night so I can show you all how well it went.

Tonight I have a ticket to see Teatro Della Luna's performance of HMS Pinafore, which has been getting rave reviews, so I'll sign off here and nick back to my B&B to change.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A day in Manchester

I was lucky - no-one else showed up, and I had the whole six-bed dormitory to myself. The north end of Manchester seems to be a bit dodgy - the youth hostel has a security camera and buzzer at the front door - the internet cafe where I made my last post also had a security door, but half way up the stairs. The stairs leading up to the door had a very pungent aroma, suggesting that the patrons have serious continence issues.

I was seriously worried by the time I made my way home, but I actually slept reasonably well. There were a few passing drunks and a bit of loud music, but generally it was pretty quiet.

I am still on Aussie time - for the first time in years, I wake up at 5:30 without feeling ill. In fact, I feel pretty good. Problem - nothing opens here until about 10:00. I lie in bed for a while, then get up and go downstairs to the kitchen for toast and coffee. Back upstairs, it's only 6:00 am. I walk through my moves for Buxton, quietly - I knit - I read my Lonely Planet and try to plan my day. By 8:00, I'm over it and I want to get going.

I start out with the Manchester Cathedral. Luckily, the first service is at 7:45, so it is open and (by the time I get there) empty. On my way there, I notice that Manchester seems to have a fair population of the residentially challenged. In fact, there are so many blokes dossing on the lawn in front of the Cathedral that I'm embarrassed to walk passed - I wander back out of the grounds, pretend to look at the signs, then come around to the entrance through a side gate. I guess that explains the security at the hostel.

The Cathedral was bombed during the war, so there is a mix of lovely old features and interesting 50s add-ons. Quite a lot of the old stuff made it through intact. I spend a lot of time trying to work out dates written in Roman numerals. There seems to be quite a bit of stuff from the 17th century onwards, not so much stuff from earlier - or maybe I have my M's and C's confused. Oddly, that stretch of time is just enough to make me think how short life is - in Australia, we're either talking about 200-odd years of history (which isn't really that much) or we're talking about 400,000 years of history, which is too much to get my head around. Anyway, enough profound thoughts - I am obviously still jetlagged. See for pictures and a short history.

My next stop is the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry ( Anyone who's seen Te Papa - this is the UK equivalent. If you haven't, then all I can say is, I really enjoyed wandering around, there were lots of exhibits that the public were allowed to play with - I'm sure some of you will be intrigued to know that the museum has an exhibit devoted to sewers and toilets in Manchester throughout the ages. The Museum also includes the world's oldest railway station, some cheerful exhibits on the absolutely disgusting working conditions during the Industrial Revolution, and a lot of information about textiles. I spend about four hours there, I see pretty much everything and leave absolutely buggered.

I break for lunch at a pub called The Ox. The Ox has won a number of awards for its food. The food is certainly quite nice, but you can get just as good at the Southbank Food Court. I order a pint of cider, and learn that a pint is approximately twice as large as I thought it was. Luckily, my Thai Chicken sandwich is quite substantial and soaks up most of it. I chase it up with an espresso, Manchester doesn't seem to have discovered soy milk or lactose free products yet. Or maybe I'm just going to the wrong cafes.

On the way home, the heat wave breaks. I have two rain ponchos, they are both with my luggage back at the hostel. Luckily the TIC sells cheap rain ponchos (I contemplate buying a Manchester United umbrella, but refrain). I wait out the rain at the Manchester Art Gallery, which has an excellent collection of Victorian artworks - there is a modern collection, but I need to get to the station and have to leave before I can see it.

I head back to the hostel and wrestle my case down the stairs. The railway station is an easy walk away, except when you are trying to wrangle a giant suitcase through a bunch of leisurely pedestrians. My initial impression of England is that everyone walks painfully slowly, and that they seem to be largely oblivious to people who are trying to get past them, even when that person is audibly invoking the 'Goddess of Frustration' (by muttering "muthaf*a, muthaf*a, muthaf*a" to themselves over and over). Maybe people swearing under their breath is a common occurence around here, certainly the gentlemen whose respose I disturbed this morning seemed the type to mutter to themselves...

I make it to the station in time though, and catch the Buxton train. The Giant Luggage is a bit of a problem, but I manage to wrangle it onto the seat opposite. The trip from Manchester to Buxton is about an hour through very pretty countryside. It makes me realise just how stuffed up the Australian environment is though, I often can't tell the difference between the English vegetation and the sort of things that grow along the railway lines back home. The main difference seems to be loosestrife, which is a very common pink or purple weed that I don't recall seeing in Australia.

When I get to Buxton, I find a map that seems to indicate that my B&B is within walking distance. The map doesn't say anything about the gradient of the journey though, the Giant Luggage and I have to slog up and down some fairly substantial hills to get to my destination. I found this internet cafe when I stopped to ask for directions - I was 99% sure that I had managed to get lost, but it turned out that I was still about 15 minutes walk from my destination. I am going to come back from this holiday with leg muscles like Arnie Schwarzenegger! I have to do this walk twice a day to get to and from rehearsal. My knees want to go home, but I tell them to get over it.

The B&B is at 9 Green Lane, which is a very pretty little street in a quiet area. My room is extremely cute - the whole place is extremely cute! I want one!! I want one!! Unfortunately, buying property in the UK is even more unrealistic than buying property in Australia, the prices are similar, but in pounds not dollars so even a flat is about $500K. Anyway, it's 20:00 and I have to show up at rehearsal tomorrow, so I might end here - I have set up an account at the internet cafe, so I should be able to keep you all posted as I go.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Greetings from Manchester!

Got up at 4:30 Dubai time no worries - by my Aussie time clock, I've had a bit of a sleep in. On the way to the airport, the main street is busy with cars. At 5:00 am? The bus driver kindly explains that this is yet another souk of a rather special kind. In case I miss the point, a number of the girls are between customers, some of them look like they are also between outfits.

The airport has an excellent selection of US franchised food outlets. I get an espresso from a Dunkin' Donuts shop - I drink it, and wish (briefly) that Japan had won the war. The local paper fills in a bit of time - Dubai has a good selection of English language newspapers.

We fly out promptly. The inflight entertainment is cactus, and many of the people on the flight have small children. A recipe for disaster!!! I watch the desert as we fly over - it is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful - at least, when you are sitting in an air-conditioned cabin thousands of feet up it is. I should have tried to get photos. There is nothing I can say (at least, not when I'm this jet-lagged there isn't) that can describe it.

The inflight entertainment comes back on just as we clear Iran - thank God, because we travel above cloud level for most of the flight over Europe, and I would have gone totally spare. We get in at about 12:00 Manchester time, and I manage to get myself into town safely. With a great stroke of good luck, I get myself into town using the same train line I'll need to take tomorrow to go to Buxton! Cool!

I don't have quite so much luck finding the Tourist Information Centre. I eventually ask for directions at a Spanish language school. One of the gentlemen there is on his way out, he takes me most of the way to the TIC, reminiscing about his travels in Australia as he does so. Luckily, everyone was very nice to him when he visited, and he feels moved to repay the kindness.

I am now staying in a youth hostel called the Hilton something-or-other on Oldham St. Lesson for the day - ask TIC staff to book me at hostels with LIFTS from now on. I managed to drag my case up the five flights of stairs, but I didn't enjoy the experience!! Luckily, I was the only one in the dormitory (hopefully when I get back, this will still be the case) so I could lie down and grab a shower to recover.

I've done a bit of souvenir shopping at the Manchester Craft Centre, and scrounged dinner at a local mall. To contrast with the eight dirham kebab, today I paid nearly £3 for a baked potato and beans. No contest - if I'd known, I'd have stocked up on the kebabs!! I'll do some sightseeing tomorrow, and catch the train to Buxton at about 16:30.

Dubai in one easy lesson...

First thing you need to know about Dubai - the whole country stops between twelve and four (or thereabouts) for a siesta. I leave the internet cafe (which didn't actually serve any food or beverages) to find that everything is shut. I am not sure whether I want lunch or dinner, but I am hungry - luckily, there is an Indian grocery just around the corner from the cafe. I end up with two small packets of cashew-nut biscuits, the only things in the shop that don't need to be cooked.

I was intrigued to notice that most people don't actually seem to use the internet cafe for the internet - most of them had mobile phones and headsets, and all of them were shouting. I leave them all to shout and take my biscuits back to the hotel.

When I arrive, there is a phone message - I need to go to the Pearl Residence to join the tour, as they can't get the tour bus up my street. I head off to the Pearl Residence, and a bus arrives at the appointed time - I get on. The tour guide seems surprised, but I have a ticket, so he lets me stay. He gives the tour in English and German. Neither is his first language, but he speaks more slowly in German and I find it easier to follow. Second thing you need to know about Dubai - everyone talks insanely fast and often with pronounced accents.

We do a couple of laps of the city with the tour guide sharing important facts, such as the size of the population, the name of the reigning sheik and that I am actually on the wrong bus - the tour company has two buses operating due to popular demand. When the buses arrive at the next pick-up point, I swap over. The tour guide on this bus speaks more slowly - in beautiful clear English, she explains that only 20% of the local population are native Emiratis. Indians and Sri Lankans make up the majority of the foreign workers, she says, and the Pakistanis also have enormous members.

I am the only one who laughs. I am also the only one who laughs at Lootah Construction and Mansuk Jewellers. My fellow passengers are either elderly, non-English speaking or both.

We start out with a visit to the Jumairah Mosque. The Mosque combines size and grace perfectly. I take a lot of photos, although carefully as the locals sometimes resent being made into a sideshow. Unfortunately, I can't work out how to get the pictures out of my phone and into this computer - you'll have to come around for a slide night. By the time we arrive at the Mosque, the temperature is roughly 40 degrees. Later on, it seems to get hotter, but that might be just my imagination.

From the Mosque, we go on a guided tour of the Al Makhtoum family residences (Dubai royal family). No photos allowed, and all I can say is lucky them. When I fly out, I can see all the residences from the air - they are the ones with massive squares of green around them. Most houses in Dubai are surrounded by sand and/or construction sites.

We also go to a historic homes area, where the locals have preserved some of the earliest houses built in the area (up until the 1800s, the local Bedouin tribes lived in tents). The houses have windtowers, designed to funnel fresh air into the house below while also providing an escape route for heated air. We can all see the wisdom of this, we are on the verge of passing out each time we leave the bus.

Our next stop is the Museum, which is quite small but well thought out with some interesting exhibits - a summary of the area's history, an exhibition of archaelogical finds and some natural history of the desert and its native animals (unfortunately, complete with stuffed specimens!).
The museum also provides the venue for an experiment. Dirham notes have English and Arabic writing - coins only have Arabic. I have quite a stash of coins by now, and no idea what most of them are. On the way out of the museum, I spot a vending machine. I put the most common coin in - success!! I have correctly identified a one dirham coin.

I have also nearly missed the bus to the next attraction - a trip on an abra. Abras are a sort of water taxi, used to ferry people to and fro across the Dubai Creek. The Dubai Creek, I should add, is roughly twice the width of the Yarra and is actually salt water... so go figure. The passengers sit around the cockpit on a bench and hope that the abra doesn't get caught in the wake of a larger boat - there are no rails and there's nothing to hold on to.

We chug along the creek, past a group of dhows - they form a picturesque contrast to the glass and steel skyscrapers along the shore. Then I realise that people actually live in these things. Sometimes it's a bit hard to remember that this is not all a show put on for our benefit.

If you want to see some of the sights, go to - they have some pictures of the various things I saw.

Our last stop is at the souks. This place is where all good touts end up. At every shop, I am accosted by the owner or one of his relatives, inviting me to come in and examine their wares. I get safely through the Spice Souk by explaining that Australian Customs would confiscate anything I dared to purchase. One of the touts is very sympathetic ('Australian Customs - no good'), and everyone is prepared to back off. At the Gold Souk, the touts are more vigorous. Even when I flag out and sit down, touts come up to the bench, offering me gold, jewellery and 'good copies - Prada, Louis Vuitton, anything'. Eventually, I purchase a pashmina for 70 dirhams (about $30) - the stall owner and his neighbour have offered me every conceivable type and quality of garment, ranging from belly dancing outfits to traditional Arabic dress. On reflection, I should have bought the burqa - locals are not the focus of the same attention.

When we leave, the sun is setting, but it seems to be no cooler. I stop off at a kebab shop - eight dirhams (about $4) gets me a chicken kebab with fresh salad and hummus, and a glass of mango juice. I can't get inspired by the thought of going back to the hotel and paying $20 for a sandwich. I eat my dinner? midnight munchie? and crawl straight into bed. My flight out leaves at 7:00, but I need to be in the lobby at 5:05 to catch the transfer bus.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Greetings from Dubai!

Well, I managed to do the dishes, clean the house and unpack most of my luggage. Twenty kilos sounds like a lot, but I ended up with about three t-shirts, two pairs of pants, two skirts and not much else. Apart from the Act I costume, all my makeup, black character shoes and a heap of other stuff I won't need after August 8th, of course... I'd love to know what customs thought of all that gear!

The flight wasn't the nightmare I'd expected. We were fed a massive dinner-type meal soon after I got on the plane, which seriously messed with my head and kept me awake until about 3:00 Aussie time. (As our next meal didn't show until 10:00 Aussie time, I was grateful for it later and wished that I hadn't left some of it over). I can say that Emirates do excellent meals and they have great inflight entertainment. Every seat has its own computer screen that you can use to watch movies, watch television, play music or play games. As it was 23:00 before we got off the ground, I was way too unco to manage any of the games, but managed to get in a couple of movies, the Brandenburg concertos and a few other musical odds and ends. I even slept for about two hours (not all in one hit), curled up around my pillow like a human pretzel.

Finally at about 11:00 (Aussie), I looked down and realised we were flying over a desert. Finally, it felt like I was going somewhere, and I got mildly excited (both about going somewhere and about getting off the wretched plane! The 14 hours we spent in the air was the absolute upper limit of what I can tolerate, good food and entertainment not withstanding).

We got into Dubai at about 6:00 in the morning (their time - 13:00 Aussie time). In a way, it was good timing, because I was bright and chirpy, and quite happy to drop by the cafe for my complimentary breakfast, which felt like lunch. I've booked myself in for a sightseeing tour this afternoon though, which will be interesting - it finishes at about 2:00 (Aussie - 19:00 here), and I'm not sure that I'll be all that coherent by that time. The tour guide assures us that we are welcome to stay back at the souks and shop after the tour finishes, but I very much doubt that I'll do that. Apart from anything else, I've already done some shopping while I waited for the plane to leave - I am now the proud owner of a (cheap) baroque-cum-50s green and silver watch that could double as a lethal weapon if required. What else does a girl need? Well, more than two changes of clothes for a start, but as I don't have any more baggage allowance, I guess I'll have to deal with that.

First impressions of Dubai is that the people are lovely - very courteous and helpful - there are cranes everywhere, ditto new buildings. Most of the shops seem to have housing upstairs, which is cute, you have a spiffy electrical goods store topped by Moorish balconies with drying laundry. I would have loved to get some photos, maybe this afternoon. There are a lot of Western brands about, I'm not sure how I feel about going halfway around the world to drive past a hamburger franchise. I tried to get a dekka at the price of petrol each time we went past a servo, but couldn't see any signs.

I'll put another post up and let you know how the tour went when I got to Manchester.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Setting out...

Hello everyone,

This is a boring first post, just so that you know you have the right blog. It will get more interesting later when I actually go somewhere! At the moment, I am running my a$$ into the ground trying to get everything finished before I leave, and you totally do NOT want to read about that.

So, this blog belongs to Andrea Tappe; while I am travelling in the UK, I will try to post stuff (text, pix, audio, whatever) to it, so that everyone knows I am alive and well and what I'm doing. It may or may not sound like my previous efforts from the Cook Islands, I'm told that goats, pigs, chickens and American travel agents are thin on the ground at Buxton, but you never know, I might find something else that I can write amusingly about.

Now, back to the dishes, the laundry and the slightly undersized first act costume...