Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hobart - Australia

Bangkok airport/shopping mall

After 50 hours of travel induced misery, including 10 hours in the Bangkok airport - where I found a documentary on the Yukon playing in one of the electronic shops, I finally arrived in Hobart. Where I struggled onto the hotel bus and was whisked away to my hotel. I had splurged a little on this last stage of the journey and had taken advantage of the conference reduced price for a 4 1/2 star studio apartment hotel. What a place! Fancy decorating, my own kitchen, huge bathroom and a giant vase of lilies and chocolates from Stephen. I quickly fell asleep dreaming of how close I was to home.

Looking back towards my hotel and the conference venue, the University of Tasmania School of Art

The conference started at 8:30am the next morning, which wasn't a problem as I was up and about at 5:30am. By the time I left my room I was well educated in the stock of the mini bar and my 7 channels of television. The Imagining Antarctica conference is the second in a new annual conference that explores the ideas, images, art, literature and dreams that make Antarctica. The conference couldn't have been more different from the Oslo conference - 60 people versus +2200, delicious food, small venue, much more focused area of interest yet with a broader range of perspectives, from academics to visual artists, curators to writers. We had talks about interpreting the Disney movie Eight Below and how it displaces native Antarctic species, about analysing the journals of Heroic Era explorers to try to assess their psychological reaction to being there, papers on artists experiences in the various artists in Antarctica programs, and on the ideas of wilderness associated with change in the southern continent. There was even a talk that served as a survey of "bad" Antarctic literature, mostly self-published sci-fi and such. It was pretty hilarious.
Some kids versions of the Aurora Australis, one of Australia's Antarctic research vessels

The evenings were also well planned, although I found myself collapsing into bed at the ridiculous hour of 7pm most nights. The first evening, after wrapping up our day of talks and presentations, we were taken by bus up to the Governor General's house/mansion/castle for a reception with him and his wife. It was very proper with individual introductions to the queen's representative and a fine selection of wines, liquors and nibbles offered throughout. We even got a tour of the ground floor, which included the ball room with the largest Huon Pine floor in the Southern Hemisphere/World?, a seemingly gilt dinning room to seat up to 30 distinguished guests (which I guess we were not) and halls of portraits and sculptures. We were politely indicated that it was time to leave at 7pm and were bused back downtown. The second afternoon, we were taken on an Antarctic walking tour of town. Past the docks (which our conference and hotels were situated on), through important buildings and into a pub where a particularly important stained glass window was housed. Again, a most civilized way to end a walking tour. That evening was the conference dinner, a few of us had opted out (it was pricey for students) and we started our evening at a Whiskey brewery on the water front where we were given a fine tasting of their whiskeys and other liquors. The barman recommended a certain Alley Cat pub for our dinner ($5 burgers always sounds good) and off we went. He was right, after what seemed a longer than 5 blocks we found the place pulsing with people and music. We squeezed ourselves inside and managed to find ourselves a table just as our burgers arrived. Chicken, avocado, tomato, lettuce, cheese, sauce, delicious. The last night of the conference, we had drinks at the museum, in amongst an interactive climate change display. So with Australian wine, strawberries, cheese and crackers we brought a close to this second conference and talked about the next.

A back corner of Salamanca Place

The museum's Southern Ocean and Antarctic exhibit

When I had booked my trip tickets so many months ago, I had decided to tack an extra day on at the end of the conference to explore Hobart. This was before I had spent 5 weeks away from home, from Stephen and from my bed. The day passed so slowly. I tried my hardest to enjoy my explorations, but it is so hard when all you can think of is where you are not. I lolled at breakfast at the cafe I had come to use each morning, I meandered slowly through the shops at Salamanca Place and bought some old Japanese fabric and a second-hand kimono and obi, and I swear I read every single sign/board/interpretive panel at the museum and art gallery. Yet it was only 4pm by the time I got back to the hotel with my fresh piece of tuna and salad to grill up on my stove. Bed at 7pm and up at 2am, bright eyed and bushy tailed for my flight at 1pm.

1pm did eventually roll around and I was off to Melbourne to catch my last flight back to Christchurch. Only our plane was broken and once we did get off the ground, we discovered it was too foggy in Christchurch to land so we landed in Auckland. Not where I wanted to be. But at least I was in the right country. So Air New Zealand shouted us rooms and breakfast and we had to sort out our flights the following day. I was so lucky to have Stephen taking care of me, because as soon as he found out we were spending the night in Auckland he booked me on the soonest available flight at noon the following day. Which was good because by the time I got through to the flight rescheduling people (at 4am) the soonest flight was 8pm.

Hobart waterfront, looking out from in front of my hotel

The next morning I almost cried when I looked out the window into seemingly impenetrable fog. But I soldiered on, eating my breakfast and dragging my bags down to the lobby to wait for the bus to the airport. Once at the airport, things didn't look much better, in fact more than half the flights were being cancelled due to the fog. With fingers crossed and glistening eyes I walked through security and willed my plane to land and then take off with me in it.

I arrived 2 hours later in Christchurch and collapsed into Stephens arms. How happy I was to be home.
PS I don't know if anyone noticed but as my trip progressed I took fewer and fewer pictures, travel fatigue I guess.

London Town

After a quick hop over the North Sea we landed in London and I struggled down to the underground. For some, as yet undetermined reason, I was not travelling light. In fact, I've always struggled with the concept. Hopefully, this will be an issue of the past. But it was not something I could deal with right then, so I dragged myself and my three heavy bags of various shapes ans sizes onto the subway and collapsed into the seat. After one transfer (with way too many stairways) and a 1km lug, I arrived at Pete and Kim's door. Dinner and a nice bed (and lots of hugs) were waiting. Just what I needed.

My short visit was only 5 days and happened to be from Monday to Friday. With both Pete and Kim working and Alexa at school I had to entertain myself during the day. But this is London, so not too much of a problem there. In fact, the days seemed to whiz by at an amazing rate.

Having been to London on a few occasions already, I feel pretty confident getting myself around and finding my way to where I want to go. So on the first day, I traveled downtown to my favorite place - Covent Garden. An amazing old covered market with shops interspersed throughout. But before I dove into the aisles of antiques, knick-knacks and gizmos I decided to do something I hadn't done before. I went to the Portrait Gallery. Now I know this doesn't necessarily sound like the coolest thing (because that's what I first thought), but once I got in there and explored their various galleries I was impressed. There are the traditional painted portraits, but there are also photographs, sculptures, stamps, videos and so much more. And they're not restricted to the head and shoulders view. All in all, I was impressed and spent far more time in there than I had anticipated. It's a great thing having free entrance to these things, as you tend to try things you may not necessarily normally do. Trolling through the market afterwards was a blast. Old watches, compasses, jewelry of all sorts, books, records and all those things you never knew you needed. I restrained myself (thinking of my already heavy bags) and limited myself to some old watch faces and pearls for crafting. Then it was off for home and dinner out at the favorite italian restaurant.

Tuesday - I went to Harrods. One of the oldest and priciest department stores in London. The first floor is filled with the food halls (and perfume, but really, who finds that interesting) - rooms filled to the brim with glistening, fresh produce, meat, baking, fish and cheese. I can still picture the amazing display in the seafood room - schools of fresh fish swimming across a bed of ice, a giant swordfish leaping above them all, beds of clams, oysters and mussels shining like pearls, obsidians and opals in amongst the sparkling reds and greens and silvers of the fish. In the baking room, placed behind glass stood rows and rows of colourful cupcakes, all jostling for your eye with their bright colours and delicious icing. After very carefully considering my choices, I settled on two balls of mozzerella (di bufala - flown in from Italy that morning) and some fresh cottage cheese (the absolute best I have ever tasted). I decided to check out the rest of the store and took the elevator up to the sixth floor. I wound my way through $200 cat collars and $100 baby sweaters, past $600 hats made of little more than a few feathers and some woven grass, through rooms filled with bedding running at about $200 more than I could afford and in amongst kids toys worth more that our car (not too hard seeing as it's a 1984 Subaru Leone). Finally, worn out from all the gawking I headed back home to make lasagna with Alexa. We were making it from scratch, including the pasta. If you've never made pasta before you should try it (it just literally just eggs and flour). It's really quite easy and it impresses absolutely everyone. So we had fun making sheets of pasta and filling our lasagna the way we wanted, Alexa even cut out some shapes and decorated the dish with some tiny pasta animals. She impressed her mother by then eating the lasagna which was filled with tomatoes, squash, spinach, mushrooms and other things normally out of her dietary regime. Ah the power of making things yourself.

Wednesday, I walked along the Thames, visited the Tate Modern and searched second hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road. It was a lovely day for a walk and I was not alone in my meander. I imagine it's hard to ever feel alone in a city like London, at least physically. The Tate Modern was really neat, I went to one of their visited exhibitions on surveillance and taking pictures of people in public and private places. It was an interesting exhibit that examined voyerism, spying, peeping and the paparazzi. When I emerged back into the daylight I felt the sudden urge to take pictures of people - sneakily. I found I wasn't very good at it. Once I got to Charing Cross Road I switched modes and went into book worm. So many glorious shops filled to the brim with wonderful stories and knowledge. I kept having to remind myself of how far away from home I was and that everything I bought would have to be dragged all the way back around the world. I got one book. Then it was home for dinner.

My last day in London Kim was off. So she took me to Hatfield House an old 15th-century estate where the queen used to live (in the 15th-century) when she was but a princess. We wandered through their early summer gardens filled with foxgloves, poppies, allium, and begonias. We enjoyed our picnic in one of their cultivated 'woods' and watched robins hop amongst the gnarled old oak trees. We explored the amazing house filled with portraits in gilded frames and furniture shipped from the orient on wooden sailing vessels so many hundred years ago. At one point, I glimpsed past an old painted Chinese screen to a pile of tennis rackets, shoes and umbrellas, signs of life, normality, home. It was a curious reminder that this place I saw as a museum someone else saw as home. How easy it is to forget these things when we're visiting places so different from what we know. Once we returned to our home, Kim and I set about packing another picnic for our dinner that night. We were off to Regent's Park for a picnic and a play. After a delicious feast of smoked mackerel, salmon pate, potato salad, garlic tomatoes, baguette, salad and bubbly wine, we sat down and enjoyed The Crucible. Written in 1953 by Arthur Miller, the play uses the Salem witch hunt as allegory for the US McCarthy government and their approach to dealing with communist spies. It was a great performance of a great play.

The next morning, I wished Alexa and Pete goodbye as they headed out the door and was kindly dropped off by Kim at the appropriate tube station to avoid transferring. An hour later I was at Heathrow and soon enough I was starting my long, long, looonnnngggg journey back to the southern hemisphere.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Oslo - International Polar Year

After my health retreat in Tjonnstaul I headed into the big city of Oslo. I was certainly looking forward to an increase in stimulation. I mean spending a week in a cabin in the woods is wonderful, just a little less so when one is sick. So after a three hour bus ride and a wander through the city with my 35 kilos of baggage, I flopped down in my hostel.
Over the next two days I joined a hundred other early career polar researchers and teachers from around the world and we talked about life as an academic, how to find financing, how to manage field projects, how to impact policy, how to do outreach and so much more. From 9am to 5pm we were busy meeting, greeting, chatting, laughing, eating and learning. It was great. On the first night we were all taken out on a cruise in the Oslo harbor where we were fed prawns and salad, and serenaded by two local musicians with their guitar, flute and voice.
The second night was the registration for the IPY (international polar year) conference. With over 2200 people, there were 3 registration venues - City Hall, where it was all fancy dress and champagne with a classical quartet - An old sailing boat, with prawns and traditional music - and two Sami teepees with wild game and cloudberry liquor and Sami music and dance. I ended up in the teepees and thoroughly enjoyed myself there.
The next six days were intense. On Monday morning, all 2200+ people were ushered into the Oslo conference centre (in Lillestrom) and the opening of the conference began. It was like the opening of the Olympics, but with no fireworks. Speakers, singers, dancers, people performing music using instruments made entirely of ice. And after that, the conference began. There were 1800 presentations, in 6 different themes ranging from Human dimensions of change (that's where I was) to Polar ecosystems and biodiversity, from Polar science education, outreach and communication to Past, present and future changes in polar regions. At times there were 15 concurrent sessions to choose from. There were computers throughout the building to help one plan the day. Despite the poor show with regards to the food (unidentified meat wrapped in tortilla shells with cream cheese everyday for lunch), the conference was great. So much knowledge being shared and passed along, if my belly was unhappy at least my brain was celebrating.
Although there was all this lovely brain food floating around, I did reach a saturation point later on in the week. I decided to take an afternoon off and explore the city. Walking the twisting, narrow streets of Oslo reminded me of a medieval city. No street continued on in the same direction it started in and with the tiny, inconspicuous placement of street signs, getting lost was easy. But fun. I found my way to the Viking museum and enjoyed the excavated treasures along with a hundred other eager visitors. Then took the ferry-bus back across to city hall and went into the Nobel Peace Centre to explore their exhibits. I made my way back to the conference centre to meet with some others and off we went for dinner.
Oslo is very, very, very expensive. A bowl of soup, albeit good soup, set me back $50 NZD. A beer - $20 NZD. Not a place I would go out much as a student. But what a place to explore. There was certainly lots to see and enjoy, you just have to have to money to do it. Next time I come here (if indeed I do), I'll see if I can find a friend to stay with.
Next, it was off to London. Family and relaxing.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Tjonnstaul is a small homestead some 4km from the tiny village of Morgedal in the Telemark district in Norway. Morgedal has a population of about 200 people, mostly farmers and seasonal home owners. Before coming to Norway I had looked online for a cheaper place to spend my four days before my conference in Oslo, which is notoriously expensive. I found this "wilderness cabin" on a well developed site for the township of Morgedal ( and sent them a note. It was all set up before I left Christchurch, all I had to do was figure out how to get there from Oslo when I arrived.

After a 16 hour journey, sick as a dog, I arrived in Oslo from Singapore. In fact, with the public transportation system they have established here in Norway, I easily found my way from plane to bus to bus to Morgedal, where I was picked up by the local baker and dropped off at the homestead. What a lovely location. But frankly, after all that travel all I wanted to do was fall into bed. Which I did as soon as Inger-Maria (the baker) left. I didn't wake up until the next morning. Sicker than ever.

Unfortunately, the next four days were spent mostly in a state of recovery from the cold. The lovely sunshine outside and the brilliant wildflowers called me out periodically, but mostly I spent my time in bed. One day, I managed to get out on the little lake below the house and paddle around looking at ducks and tussock islands and watching the sky.

Later still, once I could breath again, I made the 4km hike over the little range of hills between myself and Morgedal, and explored the little ski museum they have set up there for Sondre Norheim, the local ski legend who ended up being the father of modern day skiing. Most importantly, telemark skiing. It was a lovely museum, put together with a lot of thought. I wandered from Sondres' birth place (which is actually one of the other wilderness cabins you can rent here), to his workshops to the South Pole, where another local hero helped Admunsen get to. After that, it was a wax factory, an Olympic exhibit and a roller ski show case. The museum ended with a 10 minute video following two men down a mountain on the traditional telemark ski equipment.

But beyond these two exciting adventures, I spent most of my time in bed, outside on a blanket or hovering over the table finishing up my conference presentation. Various different community members came out each day to check and make sure I was still alive and before too l was being picked up by the famer/bakers husband and dropped off at the bus stop. He very graciously waited with me until 20 minutes after the bus should have been there and then called the bus company. Apparently Saturday is a different schedule than in the little booklet they gave me, there was still another 2 hours to the bus. So we drove back to his house, where his daughter, who speaks english, made us lunch and then drove me on to the neighbouring town with a bus depot. I was very well taken care of at Morgedal and enjoyed myself despite my cold. Hopefully I'll be able to come back some day when I'm feeling better (and maybe when there's snow).

Now I'm in Oslo at the International Polar Year conference, hob nobbing my way with scientists, teachers and researchers from various disciplines (including Bob Sharp). Soon, it will be London to see family and then Hobart for another conference. I am most certainly looking forward to eventually getting home and falling into my own bed, but until then, there is a world to explore and stories to share.