Life in a city of canals: Venetian infrastructure

One of the things I found most fascinating about Venice was how the day-to-day tasks of those living in the centre of town were changed by the replacement of roads with canals.

Seeing DHL courier boats, police boats, delivery boats the incredibly stylish water taxis (think Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in that awful movie they made in Venice), the Gondola owners sitting back in the shade, eyeing all the young men working for them to ensure they were doing their jobs…

I found the changes to life, as those of us on dry land know it, a constant source of marvel and entertainment, collecting quite a few photos along my way.

Getting Lost in Venice

IMG_6827Unlike many big european cities, Venice not only met expectations but completely blew them out of the water. No pun intended.

Despite being a somewhat awkward place to be a solo traveller – being surrounded by couples and families in a town with zero nightlife makes for a trip with very little social interaction – nothing was more glorious than walking the confusing alleyways, stumbling across beautiful buildings, hidden restaurants, dead ends and quiet waterways. Whilst there were a few nice tourist spots, my favourite activity was walking around with no set destination and discovering all the little squares, churches, and the most luxurious form of taxi I’ve ever seen. And, of course, taking a billion photos. Hopefully some of them capture the magic of wandering the streets of Venice.

Venice By Night

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There’s really no other way to get to central Venice without taking a water taxi. So on arrival at some horrendously late hour (hoorah for budget flights) I had the totally surreal pleasure of my first impression including all the twinkling lights as I cruised through the canals.

There was something particularly magical about this arrival method – allowing me to forget I was on the Venice equivalent of a public bus, but instead feeling like I was on one of the gondolas. If there was one thing I would change about my entrance, it would be having venetian waltzes queued up on my ipod ready to go! But of course if I’d known the entrance would be like this it wouldn’t have been half as magical.

 

Good thing I was in such good spirits after my water taxi ride that the nightmare that is navigating venetian street maps to find your accommodation (especially laden with all my bags) didn’t seem so bad.

Rome

IMG_6141 (640x480)Whilst there were loads of truly fascinating things to see (especially for a history nerd like me), I was really quite glad to only have a few days in Rome. Not just because of the temperature hovering between 40 and 45 degrees, but because I was getting quite sick of enormous cities that you already know a tonne about. By that stage I’d learned that it is the small, unknown places with plenty to discover that I really enjoyed. Nonetheless, the feeling that you have to see all the famous things (almost like you have to tick off the to do list) was not totally unjustified. I was still glad too see the Colosseum  the Trevi Fountain, The Vatican, eat really average, overrated pasta and pizza by the Spanish Steps

One of the parts I most enjoyed was being able to see what (to me, being a kiwi from young little New Zealand) were ludicrously old buildings and structures, in amongst the new and modern. From the weird and unexpected sensation of realising the Colosseum is in fact smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by traffic, to being surprised to turn a corner and be confronted by an aquaduct. I only wish I had the archaeological architectural knowledge to be able to look at neighboring buildings and be able to determine just how far apart they were constructed.IMG_5936

The Pantheon

IMG_6602Not only is the Pantheon a fabulous attraction to see, but hunting it down is a glorious adventure in and of itself. To find it, I made my way through winding alleyways, through the Piazza Novana and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. All of which a beautiful destinations on their own.IMG_6599

After my visit, walking alongside the building I looked down and noticed how far below the current ground level the actual foundations were, which really added to my sense of awe over the age of many of the buildings in the surrounding areas.IMG_6648

The Vatican

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The thing I most enjoyed about the Vatican was the mind boggling array of amazing art, let alone its ludicrously ornate surroundings. One of my favourite pieces, odly enough was Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sfera con Sfera” (Sphere within a sphere). Normally I’m much more a fan of classical art, but I thought it provided a really striking and thought provoking contrast. When I asked the tour guide what it was meant to represent, it became apparent she only knew the script she’d learnt – “it means what you want it to mean” being her cop out answer.” A sly bit of google research suggests the fractured surface of the outer sphere reveals a very complex inner sphere that represents the harsh difficulties that the modern world finds itself in at the end of the second millennium (it was created in 1990).

Getting Deported Ain’t So Bad

IMG_0012After almost 5 glorious months of living and working in Copenhagen, sadly I’ve had to pack my bags and skedaddle out of there. Life in Denmark’s big smoke was hectic, but awesome. Just when I thought I had it all sorted – a job I loved, with awesome workmates and a great collection of friends (no small task in a very introverted culture when compared to the likes of NZ), a fabulous apartment (also a marathon effort with central city housing subject to incredible competition). Unfortunately for me, the government seems to have taken a pretty tough stance on immigration in the last few years, and decided (in the words of the immigration office) I wasn’t “special” enough. After a long discussion I managed to translate the reasoning into something a little less literal. In essence, the government has decided that unless you are super highly skilled (Masters degree minimum) and being paid over 384,000kr (around NZ$84,000) per year, work permits were only being handed out to EU citizens as unemployment is so high. Sadly in a graduate job at a startup, and with a mere bachelors degrees, I fit into neither of those categories. It would have been real nice of them to mention that on the visa application form, or any official website, or when I handed in my application and asked “is this likely to be approved?”

Now this is a view I am most definitely going to miss!

Now this is a view I am most definitely going to miss!

Never mind. Communication has never been the forte of any Danish bureaucratic organisation. Or politician for that matter. I’ve decided to pin the blame squarely on NZ’s favourite Danish politician Marie Krarup, given it was (so I’m told) the disproportionately large influence of the Folkeparti (coalition governments and all that) that contributed to the tightening up of the immigration regulations (but seemingly only behind closed doors).

And so on to Plan B. Go off on an adventure, being sure to catch some sun before heading back to NZ. Plan B involved chilling out on a beach somewhere for a few weeks (maybe Greece? Maybe Spain), using the money I (not without great difficulty) got back from the enormous deposit I paid for my apartment. I still had 3 weeks before the official “fuck off out of our country” date (OK, maybe it wasn’t worded quite that bluntly, but it was close) and in those three weeks my imagination spun wildly out of control. Before I knew it, I’d launched into Plan C and embarked on an adventure with no set plans, no exact date of return home and a whole lot of excitement. Luckily for me there are plenty more letters in the alphabet before I have to resort to the plan that involves selling my body.

Whilst on the one hand, finding myself jobless and homeless on the opposite side of the globe is pretty much the definition of stress, on the other hand it is also very exciting! Fortunately my initial life backup plan, should my job in Copenhagen not work out for any reason (be it the visa, or the fact I started as an intern, or that I was working at a startup), was already in action. I’ve been studying by distance through Massey University, slowly making my way towards a Masters in Economics. So plan C involved heading somewhere I could live off my student loan living costs of NZ$172 per week, that didn’t cost to much to get there. Say hola Spain! My first stop and current destination is Granada, to visit a lovely friend of mine studying on exchange who not only offered me somewhere to sleep but has been giving me a crash course in Spanish and been a wonderful tour guide.

Whilst making my extravagant plans, I’ve also been looking for all sorts of ways to reduce my living costs and increase my income. Step one has been eliminating accommodation costs. After a great tip-off from another friend, I signed up to Workaway, which is sort-of like  Wwoofing only instead of (or as well as) working on organic farms, you can find all kinds of short term work-for-accommodation type arrangements. Given I have worked for the past 4 months in a company specialising in online advertising, I’ve managed to lock in some work opportunities that can help me build those skills and do something somewhat career relevant (as much fun as manual labour or childcare would be). First stop is a Spanish language school in Conil De Frontera who wants some help with office admin, social media, and some ideas to relaunch their website and get a bit more traffic. I think the thing I’m most excited about is that I get Spanish lessons for free. Already in just a few short days in Granada I’ve learned so much, and it has really put in to perspective just how difficult Danish was to learn. Ironically enough, I was proud to realise on my very last day in Denmark as I called up to cancel the power and internet bills, I could finally understand and navigate my way through the customer service menus. Slim chance of me finding that language useful ever again, but at least I know what buttons to press now…

In terms of upping the income, in my short time working for Admazely, I quickly discovered my favourite part of the job was writing the company blog. No surprises, given the amount of content on this here blog that I’ve churned out as a hobby. I had been thinking for a while that it would be great to turn writing in to a full time gig, and getting the boot from Copenhagen has certainly thrown me out of the nest fairly quickly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find there are a number of opportunities out there. From friends with connections, to Elance, an online market place for freelancers of all types to Copify, the site that has thus far been the most lucrative. Whilst many sites (like Elance) require you to bid against the masses for a shot at a somewhat vaguely described job, once you’ve been accepted on Copify it is a first-in-best-served situation, which gives a level of certainty I am much more keen on. While a lot of the jobs are small and low paid, there a quite a few of them, and its not a bad deal if you land one writing a press release or something with a larger word count.

So for anyone else wanting to go adventuring on the cheap, I can definitely recommend a make-your-own-exchange with Massey distance learning, working for free accommodation  and seeing if you have some skills to sell online. And for all those viewing from home, unless I end up on plan D, or E, or F, I’m aiming to be back on the mothership in September.

Well I can think of worse places to study...

Well I can think of worse places to study…

Berenjenas Fritas con Miel

My slightly less glamorous attempt

My slightly less glamorous attempt

The first time I tried this simple yet amazing spanish tapas creation was at Casa Marcos in Villaverde, Fuerteventura, at what is currently still my number one restaurant in all of Europe. The place was pure magic, in so many ways. Great food, decor, service, wine, prices, sizes, oh and did I mention? The food was amazing.IMG_5017 (480x640)

One of the items we ordered, on the recommendation of the waiter (who I think was also the owner) was ‘Berenjenas Fritas Con Miel’ – also known as fried eggplant with honey. More than just a mere “what do you recommend,” the whole service model was for the waiter to bring out a chalk board of their (continually changing) menu items, put it on a chair and talk you through each one. More than just translating what they were, it was a conversation about exactly what we felt like and what each meal was and very nearly a counselling session on our culinary hopes and dreams. You could imagine if it was a concept restaurant somewhere like L.A. he’d be wearing a name badge that said “Food Consultant.” Luckily for us we were on the very definition of a dessert island (there’s actually only sand on the beaches because it gradually blew over from Africa).

That's the look you get when you know you're about to have an amazing feed

That’s the look you get when you know you’re about to have an amazing feed

So we indulged in some delicious, slightly crispy, fried eggplant slices, drizzled with tasty local honey. Having never been the greatest fan of eggplants, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty and yet simple it was.

I was reminded once again of this dish more recently at a tapas restuarant in Copenhagen called “El Porron.” The food was great, and is once again restoring my faith in Spanish food (until that restuarant in Fuerteventura I’d been rather quite disappointed in Spanish Cuisine). Equally tasty (and filling me with nostalgia for the extremely relaxing time I had in the Canary Islands), I decided that now that I have my own kitchen, the budget for experimental cooking and a stocked pantry for what feels like the first time in over a year I’d hunt down a recipe and try them out myself.

Actually my first attempt was “how hard can it be? Fry a slice of eggplant, put honey on it.” But alas, there is more skill required, as I ended up with a pile of eggplant-y mush covered in honey. As it turns out you have to get the moisture out of the eggplant slices, and put a little flour on them first. The trick to removing the moisture is to either just squeeze them out, or to sprinkle some salt over them and leave them for and hour on a paper towel (the salt draws the water out) and then squeeze them. Another recipe also suggested soaking them in milk to ‘remove the bitterness’ and then ringing out the slices.

Lucky for me one eggplant is about 3 portion sizes, so got two more chances to redeem myself. I tried the milk option next, which didn’t really work that much better I thought, and then the salt option. I learnt that you really should be careful to sprinkle as little salt as possible – I overshot the mark on one of the eggplant slices and felt like I’d bitten into the ocean when it was time to eat them. But as far as getting crispy eggplant slices, it was definitely the best method.

Next, dip them in flour (I used buckwheat flour to keep it gluten free, which worked fine) and then fry. I also used coconut oil, which I think works pretty well for the sweet/savoury combination. Finally, place on a paper towel to soak up excess oil, then drizzle with honey when you serve. Apart from waiting for the slices to dry out (which can be hurried along by just skipping the salt and ringing them out) it was quick, easy and super delicious. It seems the flour really is necessary, and perhaps wheat flour would have been more effective, but a gluten free alternative worked perfectly fine.

Verdict: Easy, novel and tasty. Nostalgia made it even more so.IMG_5021 (640x480) IMG_5019 (640x480)

366. The “Mission Acomplished” Post

I wasn’t sure if writing a conclusion-of-the-challenge post was kind-of cheating, but lucky for me 2012 was a leap year, so I guess I get an extra day.

It turned out that the challenge of trying something new every day and writing about it was difficult mostly for reasons I wasn’t expecting. I was thinking the hardest thing would be to get out there and find/do 365 new things, followed by the challenge of actually writing/posting about them every day. Quite the opposite, my biggest problem has been having too many things to write about.

To be fair, it was a slow start in my desk job for the first week or so, and I definitely felt I was clutching at straws for a few posts, but the goal I hoped to get out of this challenge was to ensure I got off my arse and went out and had a whole bunch of new experiences. And that I surely did! Particularly once I stepped off the plane in Denmark. I never imagined just how different the Danish/Scandinavian life and culture would be, let alone all the other places I went, food I tried and experiences I had. In the end the “problem” was that there were just so many new things in a day that I started to get quite the backlog! And so my “rules” adapted, and it became a new thing for every day. Strategies, goals and plans are meant to be flexible, right?

The other challenge, that I absolutely was anticipating, was to physically write a post every day. Most of the time I did OK, but during exams it became quite difficult and I struggled to justify spending lots of time writing posts when I had so much work to do. The spanner in the works was going to a University with some fairly “creative” approaches to administration. For instance, of last semester’s exams, I have completed and received results for three out of four. The fourth I haven’t actually sat yet. So that was way more time spent in exam periods than I anticipated! I managed to catch up eventually, though. Sometimes (generally whilst stressed about exams or really tired) it was really hard to drum up the motivation to log in and spin a yarn. And even worse, sometimes, I really wanted to write the next post but couldn’t get to the internet. I think the thing that made me really stick to it, was just how many people would tell me they enjoyed reading, or thought this post was funny or that photo was great. Without that harrietvstheworld.com would most definitely have died a slow painful death! Instead I was really floored when wordpress.com sent me a 2012 summary email, telling me I’d had over 30,000 views! Crazy! I never imagined my audience would stretch further than Mum, and maybe also Dad.

All in all I think the project has been a fantastic way to really motivate myself to say yes to things I may not have before, to make a constant effort to get out and do new things, to take tonnes more photos than I would have otherwise, to do a lot more research/reading up on places I’ve been too (can’t be printing incorrect facts or anything now, can we) and to provide a wonderful record of my travels so far. It is also going to make Ryan Gosling’s job a whole lot easier if I ever get Alzheimer’s.

However, in my opinion, the biggest impact has been that my perspective on a lot of things that I would have considered mundane or negative has totally shifted. What could have been seen as boring day-to-day chores became “new experiences” to write about. Or stressful experiences like being robbed in France or having transit disasters became a story to tell. It definitely made me appreciate the effect of deliberately having positive outlook and enjoying my surroundings vs seeing something as a drama or a stressful experience and the things around me as mundane.

Some of the highlights definitely were:

  1. 18 new countries
  2. Living with/working for 2 different Danish families
  3. Discovering Sudanese Falafel in Berlin
  4. Learning to surf at a yoga retreat in the Canary Islands
  5. Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  6. Driving on the “right” side of the road
  7. Tito’s hilarious private Island in Pula, Croatia
  8. Seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway
  9. Paddle boating the canals of Amsterdam
  10. Meeting loads of amazing people, especially my fellow exchange students

And of course I’ve eaten a tonne of amazing food and have drunk a tonne of amazing drinks.

As well as focussing on the new and different, there’s a lot to be said for the old and familiar, and I had some exceptional cameo appearances from some wonderful friends, as well as a spectacular few days in Italy with Mum and Dad. Without seeing my friends (plus countless hours of skype, viber, whatsapp, emails and facebook chats), the homesickness definitely would have got the better of me long ago. Being the Chatty Cathy I am, this blog has definitely been a great outlet for me to feel like I’m back home telling stories instead of on the opposite side of the globe. And so instead of finishing up and returning home as planned, one of my favourite achievements of the year has been getting a job in Copenhagen for 2013. Part of my role there is writing the company blog, so that’s definitely been a great outcome of this challenge! I’ve also gotten a lot closer to working out what to do with my studies, and have even become a postgrad student. *Gasp.*

As for the future of the blog, there’s still a tonne of great stories and photos from 2012 (Venice, Croatia, Poland, a white Christmas in Denmark and of course relocating to Copenhagen and working out what Danish workplace culture is all about). I have really enjoyed writing the posts and collecting/uploading all my photos so this definitely isn’t the end of harrietvstheworld.com, but I am rather quite relieved that the daily post challenge is over. Think I’ll try to aim for once or twice a week from now on!

In 2013 I still have plenty of goals and ideas for my “reverse bucket list” (like a normal bucket list, except instead I just make it up as I go along). On the list so far:

  1. Getting a degree. Luckily I’m (hopefully) only one exam away from that
  2. Completing the half marathon I trained for before the blonde took over and I injured myself
  3. Turning my 3 month trial into a permanent contract
  4. The scary task of making new friends in Copenhagen
  5. Seeing more of the UK than Dover and the London Underground
  6. A cycling brewery tour in Belgium and/or the Marathon du Medoc
  7. Seeing more of Croatia/most any Mediterranean Island
  8. Be able to travel around Eastern Europe and not go nuts over how cheap everything is
  9. Less time at the touristy overrated places, more time at the quirky, novel places
  10. Recreating the amazing food I had all over Europe in my own kitchen, most especially the amazing organic/vegetarian/glutenless food I had in the Canary Islands that left me feeling so healthy

So it isn’t over, but thanks to anyone/everyone who read and encouraged and I hope maybe I’ve inspired anyone else that wants to force themselves out of their comfort zone or simply change their perspective on the day-to-day.

 

365. “St Harriet”

IMG_6556 (480x640)My first attempt at the Vatican was a definite failure. As it turns out, one does not simply visit the Vatican on a whim in the middle of summer whilst wearing a summer dress. I got myself a modesty scarf and decided to chance it (the lines weren’t too long by then). But alas, I was still deemed too slutty and denied entrance.

Round two was much more successful, this time I managed to be appropriately covered, but in some kind of divine revenge for even thinking I could enter with my knees bared, it was a 40 degree day. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything more than 38, and even then I was feeling faint. Conveniently, there were enormous crowds on my arrival too. Standing in a gigantic line that went all the way around the courtyard (the line kind of wiggled around so as many people were in the shade as possible) it was going to be at least a few hours of incredibly slow movement. I was not fortunate enough to be one of the ones in the shade either.

About the stage where my vision was getting blurry and I had long since run out of water (tourism in that heat is just exhausting), a nice old woman came along to pitch the “skip the line tour.” I’d already been haggled multiple times for those tours and had written them all off as totally unnecessary expenditure. But by that stage I was already thinking about quitting on the Vatican and finding the nearest establishment that could put ice and water in a glass and give it to me. This woman told me that for €25 I could skip the line, go straight in and have a guided tour and I thought bugger it, I didn’t come on holiday to spend two hours in what felt like an inescapable sauna. I got her down to €20 and off we went. Sadly my feeling of relief was very short lived. First we had to go in to a nearby shop and sign up (they have to register names as a group apparently). Waiting around happened. Then we went back outside (at least we were in the shade) where the tour started with an incredibly long winded explanation of the history of the Vatican and the square out front. More waiting around happened. We did get to sneak round the back and get photos with the Swiss guard in their hilarious Uniforms, which was possibly one of the only perks. Then we were back out front again, more waiting, in to another shop to pay (you guessed it, more waiting), more “history” and explanations and finally we went around to the museum entrance. I would say it was probably almost an hour and a half before we were actually looking at anything inside the Vatican, and it was an enormous ruse so the tour guide could keep adding more and more people. Worst of all, when we got to the Museum entrance there were no lines whatsoever, and by then I was really annoyed at myself for not doing a bit of research.IMG_6553 (480x640)

Like the thousands of people queuing out front, I had no idea that if you just go via the museums there’s almost no line, it spits you out at St Peter’s Basilica, and the museums/Sistine Chapel are where all the good stuff is anyway. The guide was also fairly useless, rushing us through when there were loads of things to see, and she only really knew about the few key things that she stopped to explain, and couldn’t answer basic questions about other things. For instance, when I asked what the enormous and rather out of place modern sculpture smack-bang in the middle of the courtyard above the Sistine Chapel was, she didn’t even have the decency to make something up! It’s quite the noticeable eyesore, looking like a giant, gold poké-ball. You’d think someone going past it twice a day would have some idea. Especially when they are meant to be an expert in the subject.IMG_6431 (480x640) IMG_6430 (640x480)

So I wound up paying some serious 40-degree-heat-induced foreigner/idiot tax. I will never again do one of the “skip the line” tours or turn up at something ridiculously famous in the peak of the tourist season without doing my research!

On the bright side though, whilst waiting for far too long out the front, the guide pointed out the names of the saints around the Colonades that matched those in the group. Apparently the one pictured above is Saint Harriet. Sounds fairly dubious and I haven’t been able to verify if that is actually true (the closest I’ve found is that it could be St Hilarion or St Hyacinth) but I don’t really care, I’m just going to assume that it’s true as it was probably the only interesting thing I learned on the tour. Ignorance is bliss.IMG_6557 (640x480)