Month: October 2013

Frolicking in Autumn

Last night there was a ton of wind, and when we stepped out this morning most of the golden leaves around our Potsdam haunt had taken their final Fall.


Losing autumn comes with a sense of dread, correlated with and caused by ‘winteriscoming-itis’, has only been accentuated by the loss of our daylight saving hour. Now, when you look outside and the sun is setting, it really is only 4:30.

So let’s have have some photos from the blur of snaps I’ve taken in the last 10 days or so…as a loving tribute to Autumn.

In Memory:

Last weekend we headed to the big city to catch up with friends and climb some rocks.

Andy decided to practice the climbing before we got the Klettern world:

He’s such a filthy communist.

These look a little bit Aussie to me….

How great are those colours?!

There is something so cool about a day when you actually get a (fairly) blue sky, and you have golden light matching and bouncing off golden leaves.

I’m sad to say that the above photo (sunrise), and the photo below (sunset) were taken on the same day. This is a sign that
a) I spend too much time at the Institue
b) Winter is coming!

This is one of the paths we take as a shortcut to the institute. If I get a bit more organized I might try to take photos throughout the year, to show you how amazing the change in surrounding grasses and weeds is over the season.

Winter is coming!

We’re heading to Paris this ((extra) long) weekend, and I’m hoping that the several degrees of latitude of south-ness of the city will mean that we still get a little bit more of that autumn beauty… wish us luck!

The final Budapest

I only took a couple of photos on our final day in Budapest.. partially because it was really only a half day, and partially because the weather finally gave in to Autumn and everything looked a bit like this:

In order to escape the misty drizzle that had descended, we headed to the Great Market Hall.
The building I quite lovely, with a slight air of ‘old British station’ to it, and the ground floor is filled with fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats and all manner of lovely and unpronounceable (in Hungarian) things.

Ellen and I were in search of some Langos, which I had not managed to try yet during our stay, so we headed upstairs.

Which to be perfectly honest, I would not recommend. While the ground floor has a fairly open feel, upstairs is full of narrow, corridors, with too many stalls, too many people and not enough space. While they do have the lovely needlework, the area seemed to mainly be dominated by tourist tack.

We did find some Langos though…

And on that day, I discovered that actually, I don’t really like Langos. The bread is deep fried, so you’re starting with a hefty amount of oil. Then add sour cream, for added fat, cheap cheese, and a sprinkle of ham. Everything you ever needed for the heart attack you never wanted.

We also totally overestimated our appetites (due to a lack of breakfast), and went for one each. After carrying the remaining 2/3s of mine around for about half an hour, I finally chucked it out.

We headed down to the safety of the lower levels, and bought some fresh berries to ‘cleanse our palettes’.

After wandering to Hero’s Square, and agreeing that it was a little uninspiring-in-the-present-weather but nonetheless pleasing-in-its-holding-of-behorsed-figures-that-look-agreeably-like-Ringwraiths.. we journeyed onwards.

There was a random billboard-art installation, one of which could have proven extremely helpful with our pronunciation of Hungarian if only we’d come across it sooner.

Sadly, our destination was closed:

… and we were left to guess what this meant for all the cats who should have been contained within.

So it seemed it was time for our Final Meal in Budapest. Of course we went for something traditional… Israeli cuisine:

That’s all Folks!

Bathing.. in the glory of Budapest

On our third evening in Budapest, after doing our traditional walking tour and then wandering around in the dark, we headed to Szechenyi Baths (as recommended by the lovely Szilvia).

The Baths look something like this:

With the large bath in front being set at a delicious, E. coli incubating, 37 degrees. Inside the buildings out-of-frame to the right, are a whole range of baths of different temperatures, as well as a group of Saunas.

Personally, I have yet to see the peer-reviewed science that tells me that jumping from 18 degrees to 40 and then back to 22 only to then spend 5 minutes in an 80 degree sauna is in any way beneficial to my health.

It certainly isn’t enjoyable.

After kind of adapting to 37 degree- kind of because it felt too warm when I was actually in it-everything else felt amazingly icy, and after a couple of half-hearted attempts I just refused to go in anything that wasn’t plus-or-minus two degrees from 37.

Ell and Andy were a bit more adventurous, and not only played fast and loose with their lives in the pools, but also went in for the sauna option.

I panic when I can’t breathe, which I think is a pretty normal response. But I also believe very strongly that my lung is incapable of proper function above, say, 30 degrees- especially if there’s no air flow.

A sauna, as far as I can understand from my very loose understanding of the Bible, is pretty much the closest thing we have on earth to Hell.

An 80 degree sauna is clearly one of the inner circles, and going inside whatever an ‘aroma’ sauna is, is pretty much the same as asking Satan to poke you in the eyes continuously with that little arrow bit on the end of his tail.

Plus I’m pretty sure that the ‘aroma’ was mostly sweat and sizzling groin.

So Ellen and Andy frolicked around in the hot and the cold and the wet and the smelly, while I sat quietly in the 37 degree pool wondering why our society is so good at making weapons of mass destruction but so crappy when it comes to the invention of the truly waterproof book.

After they were suitably scalded and frozen, we headed back to the grand outside pool, and floated around gossiping about people from Perth, and questioning our futures in science.

The sun began to set, and we began to get wrinkly fingers and rumbly stomachs, so we poured out of the pools, redressed ourselves, and headed for some feasting.

Here’s some photos we took while we were waiting for Andy to blowdry his hair (or whatever takes men so long in the changerooms):

This one made me think a little of my grandmother on my mother’s side.

We ended up stumbling into Gozsdu Court, which is an amazing alleyway or bunch of connected courtyards, filled with different types of food and drink from around the world and- at least when we were there- bustling with people.

Andy spotted coffee shop that had a rather delightful setup, and played the ‘Aussie Hipster Who Knows His Stuff’ to the slightly nervous barista.

Ellen posed on their amazing patchwork floor.

We ended up eating at a slightly chainy but nonetheless delicious Asian place. It was a 1,2,3 sort of place, where you choose the base (noodles, rice, fried, boiled, egg etc..), then the protein, then the sauce, and also a whole lot of extras.

I had something tasty with base of neatly cut up veggies in the place of the traditional carbs, was filled with tender beef, absolutely drenched in a ‘red curry sauce’ and topped with basil, coriander and peanuts.

Then, because it was our last night, we frolicked in the city lights…

Pretty huh?

IMPRSSIV autumn colours

The IMPRS retreat was two days of scientific lectures and discussion. Plus evenings for partying the the third day for froicking in the an autumn awesomeland (like winterwonderand?).

So if you don’t like pretty pictures like this:

(who am I kidding, this is the nicest one)

Or posey pictures like this:

You should just move along now.

We went to Mirow, which is a tiny town somewhere nearly directly north-but-just-a-little-bit-west or Berlin, and nearly-directly-east-but-just-a-little-bit-south of Hamburg.

As mentioned, there was Science, but the only photo I have to track its passing is this one of the lovey Max.

For those of you who are completely unfamiliar with what I do, he’s made a very accurate picture of a plant cell. The big blob is a vacuole (for storage of stuff), and the smaller ones are presumably chloroplasts (for making sugars from the sun and carbon dioxide) and mitochondria (for making energy from the sugars).

We also have mitochondria, and small, unawe-inspiring vacuoles, but because we are not awesome and are too lazy to evolve to fix inorganic carbon, we do not have chloroplasts.

Which are really the only interesting organelles anyway.

These two are from Paulina.

We spent some time trying to get rid of our excess energy (acquired from the consumption of candy, chips, sugary drinks, chocolate etc.), by jumping around like maniacs. Poorly co-ordinated maniacs as it turned out:

 (also from Pau)

Ultimately that just made us hungry again, so we went searching for mushrooms…

 I NEED AMACROLENSINEEDAMACROLENS

This chess set looks very fatalistic or something. Mercedes and I tried to play but I quickly became distracted because… shiny things!:

On the first evening I introduced the group to the concept of croctching- in which a dominant male frames his ‘region of interest’ with his hands in an aggressive downwards motion. It sometimes helps to yell BAM at the same time.

This was a big thing at my old institute, and I felt proud to be an ambassador to The Continent.

We also talked Catapulting (in which alpha male sits with one foot on his knee so his legs form a kind of arrow pointing to… you guessed it, the crotch).. and later in the evening I tried to teach Mercedes to Neg.

It was a roaring success.. my favourite part of the evening being when the male in the room who I suspect thinks he is alpha tried to do the pose, and the whole group told him he was not as alpha as Tegan and Mercedes (I think someone may have suggested he can be beta female, but that might have just been in the glory of my imagination).

No wait, my favourite part might have been when Mercedes and I went home and exited on a synchronised double-crotch.

BAM!

The next night there was dancing:

 Most of which was successful…

We danced to the wee hours, with every third song being that ‘I DON’T CARE’ song that Mercedes had stuck in our head the whole damn camp.

I managed to SPIN (ANdy never lets me spin), and tried-very-hard-but-never-quite-managed to get my hips to move like Pau’s

As they awarded some of us with bubbles (I think for our awesomeness).. the next morning was filled with soap suds in the eye and Arek thinking he was a magician.

Here are some obligatory group shots which are probably not too interesting if you’re not in the group, but if you make it past them I promise there are more pretty leaves and fungi coming up.

Also, some of the shots feature a cat! (Which came when I clicked and only left when Pau pulled me away).

On the way home we stopped in at Rheinsberg Palace.

SWAN! Which also came when I clicked, and apart from the fact that it hissed at me and tried to bite my fingers, I think really liked me. I was such a friggin animal whisperer on this trip.

(From Pau!)

(From Pau)

Bullrushes remind me of home.

I am probably Frodo.

JuanK got really attached to this leaf. We were a bit more liberal with our lovin’:

I know Perth is always a little behind on the trends, but seriously, we should start doing this Autumn thing!

Budapest II: Walking Blind?

Do you know what these are called?

I’m choosing to believe they’re super traditional Hungarian food- because they were in all the bakeries in many different incarnations- but frankly they were tasty enough for me not to care too much about authenticity.

One of the best things about being in an international institute is that it’s fairly likely that someone has either come from or recently been to the city you want to visit. We hit the jackpot in Copenhagen- Joram had just frolicked in the city, and being the perfect Hipster, knew all the (soon-to-be) cool places to visit.

This time we had it one better- and actual Hungarian- Szilvia, who spent her uni studies in Budapest. Szilvia spent time telling us which wines to drink, which of the baths to go to (more on that later), and which places were not worth our time.

But her take home message was that Budapest (especially the inner rings of the Pest side) are really nice to just walk around.

Which coincided neatly with our traditional ‘take a free walking tour around the city’.

After a couple of false starts resulting from a desperate need for caffeine and the apparent absence of any non-Starbucks coffee shops in the central square, after getting scolded a couple of times for being late, and after eventually joining an entirely different tour group than planned, we were on our way.

Apparently she (yep, it’s a girl) represents the new Budapest- a bit of a change from the traditional communist symbol of big strong men.

Love locks. Including one from our tour guide, and one from the PM (or president??) on his marriage day. We did the cheesy thing:

St Stephen’s Basilica, named for the first Hungarian King, and also housing his right hand. We didn’t go to see it, because frankly I feel like my visit at 12 years of age to Italy and its multiple variations on ‘Mary Magdalene’s Eyebrows, St Christopher’s Fingernails and the Pinkie Toe of Saint Andrew’ were enough emotional trauma for one lifetime.

Still, the Basilica looks pretty from the outside, and is beautifully lit up at night (see the previous Budapest post…).

You might recognise this guy from the previous day. Apparently, if you rub his belly, it helps you in finding a good meal. If you rub his moustache, it helps with the growing of fabulous facial hair. Andy tried his luck..

We crossed the bridge to Buda, and headed up the hill to the Fisherman’s Bastion…

Where we came upon a ‘highly traditional’ changing of the guards, which had been introduced the previous year (presumably to garner tourist interest?).

It’s hard to see from my terribly lit photo, but one of these horse-parts is not like the others…

… Perhaps if we go in for a close up?

As with many great statues, luck comes to those who rub (in this case, luck in passing exams). And, as with probably the majority of those great-and-lucky statues, the rubbing place is not the leg, tail, neck or ears.

The tour guide told us that in her grandfather’s time, back when communism was in vogue and all things vaguely sexual where on the ‘What’s Not’ list, the student’s used to stage fights around the corner from the statue, drawing away the guards and allowing the lucky test-takers to get a good testicular rub in while the coast was clear.

Let’s move on to something a little classier:

We headed into a nearby mess hall, where we discovered that Hungarian food may be the only type to truly rival German cuisine for its heaviness.

I had some sort of Bigos/goulash cabbage and meat mixture that tasted like it had 1/2 a L of coconut cream in it. Tasty, but only edible in tiny portions.

Ellen had a pile of ‘noodles’ with egg and cheese that were slightly on the ‘Clagg glue’ side…. I think she got through about 1/8th of them…

(Here she is looking down at them in shear terror)

And Andy managed to eat about 1/6th of his bean stew…

Our next stop was the Invisible Exhibition! Which was a rather awesome experience. You’re taken through a series of rooms, lead by a blind guide (and in our case a translator). The idea is to experience complete blindness in a variety of settings: an apartment, a busy street with stalls, a forest, a bar, and so on.

It’s a pretty unique feeling, because we’re very rarely faced with complete darkness- and I think all three of us waited for several minutes after entering, expecting our eyesight to gradually adjust- but there simply wasn’t any light for it to adjust to.

In the end we all loved it- and personally it made me think more, and feel more positive about the ‘what would I do if…’ question that we all sometimes ask ourselves.

Anyway, the whole experience ended with us trying some Hungarian liquors: Unicum and Palinka, both of which were absolutely potent (and in my taste absolutely horrible).

Obviously I can’t show pictures of the exhibition-so here are a couple of the grounds near the exhibition centre instead.

But really, if you’re ever in Budapest, you should definitely check it out!

Ch-ch-ch-chaaaannges

Winter is Coming and the world is racing through autumn, so I’m assuming that you’re senescing for some pictures of Andy and I frolicking, interspersed with pictures of autumnal leaves (see what I did there- plant humour!)…

 

  

Kurbis time!

Do you know what Kurbis is in English?

Maybe I should give you some guesses…

(photo from Pau).

Last weekend we headed to Klaistow for the pumpkin fest- which rather oddly runs for several weeks (is it just me who thinks that one weekend full of pumpkin is enough for a year). Pau, Andy and I, and Aga and Alicja hopped on the bus and took the 1 hour + ride to the south west with high hopes for pumpkin frivolities.

Apparently, you can also ride from Potsdam. If you take two houseguests who aren’t really regular riders, and get a little lost on the way and accidentally ride 35 instead of 20 km, it only takes about 3.5 hours. So I hear.

I’m going to be honest- I was a bit disappointed by the number of foodstuffs with pumpkin. We all ordered pumpkin soup for lunch- except for Pau, who got some sort of fried pumpkin fritter- but it was generally watery and poorly flavoured.

They had a few biscuits with pumpkin, and some pumpkin seed things, plus pumpkin alcohol (it tasted like rockmelon)- but not much in the range of cakes and scones and so on. Turns out, pumpkin is just not really a thing in German cuisine… but seriously, for a nation who is confused by the concept of a savoury (meat) pie, you would think they could at least embrace pumpkin pie!

Second honesty: my favourite part of the day was finding this little fellow, who- in honour of the festival, we shall call KurbisKitten.

He was chasing bugs through the wilderness, so I grabbed a bit of pussy willow and lured him back to the main area and then spent several of the happiest moments in my life making him run in circles and dart under and over my legs.

(Photos above and below from Pau)

Eventually, I had to give KurbisKitten up to the hundreds of toddlers now surrounding me and clutching at her.

We headed towards more pumpkins…

  (from Pau, and below also)

I did manage to find some pumpkin flavoured icecream (it’s hard to see it under all the frooferies that are obligatory in german Eis culture), but again, I didn’t feel like it was particularly pumkiny- and overall I preferred the chocolate.

 (also from Pau)

They wouldn’t let us go on the bouncy thing, so we spent our time posing with pumkins instead…

(from Pau, plus the next two below)

And the girls managed to find some fairy floss…

Andy pretended to be a spaceman, went head-on with a bull, and danced with a Kraken in the pale moonlight.

Pau and I watched them weight a 672 kg pumkin a giant improvement on last year’s heaviest of just 503.
Watching people use forklifts to move giant vegetables is rather hilarious.

(Pau’s photo, above)
We looked around the nearby ‘wilderness’, and viewed some terrifying looking wild pigs, plus this hulk of manhood.

Before we left we headed into the Maize Maze, which is… exactly as it sounds.

(these two are from Pau again, above and below)

Plus- I managed to buy some more plants (teheehee)!

Budapest I

One of the best things about living away from home is having friends from home come for a visit! El had a conference in England, and was lovely enough to stop by on her way back home… although in this case she got lost a little to the east of Berlin, so Andy and I had to make the trip out to Budapest to help her find her way back.
 
Another great thing about having friends visit is using it as an excuse to get out of Deutschland!
 
Elle and I had never been to anything describable as ‘Eastern Europe’- so we made Andy- who had visited Budapest back in 2009- the official hotel-scout-and-general-tour-guide/directions-man of the group.

We ended up staying in something called ‘Design appartments’ fairly close to all the interesting stuff going down in on the Pest side of the city (I didn’t realize until 1 month ago that ‘Budapest comes from two parts of the city- Buda and (unsurprisingly) Pest, sitting across the Danube from each other).

The place was decked out in the over-the-top kind of brightness that’s nice for a short stay but would look horrible in an actual abode, and seemed to sleep at least 8 people. It was fairly well equipped- complete with mini kitchen and washer- but with a couple of ‘cut corners’ (the wifi was broken while we were there), and a manager who seemed to have better things to do.

I fell in love with the pod chair. Thing felt like a womb!
 
We decided not to do the crazy ‘wake up at 4am to get there by 9’ thing, and instead arrived at the much more civil hour of 4pm (really the only 4 in the day I want to be acquainted with- especially holidays). After settling in, we did a bit of wandering.
 


The city is this gorgeous mixture or water, bridges, and fantastic buildings that seem to take their inspiration from both Europe and something more eastern (there was Turkish occupation somewhere in the history, so maybe that’s it?)

The wandering started to make our stomachs growl, and after realising very rapidly that the Venn overlap of ‘hungarian’ and ‘vegetarian’ was liekly too small to satisfy Elle’s needs, we settled on the lazy option: burgers.

 
 Did I mention that during the pre-dinner wanderings we came across a shop selling ice-cream roses??

And look, I know the connoisseurs among you will note that ‘rose shaped icecream’ is clearly a selling gimmick, and likely guarantees poor quality of the actual Eis, but actually, it turned out pretty well.

The icecream was slightly softer than normal, but the chocolate was rich and tasty, and they had some unusual flavours: the one on the outside of this cone is lavender!

 
 

(The apartment was just across the road from this museum).

 The next morning we set off bright and not-so-early. The plan was to find some markets- heard in legend by myself, and possibly matching up in reality to something in Ellen’s tourist guide called ‘Ecseri Piac’.

I let the others do the map reading.

 

We arrived at the underground station, and after 20 minutes of searching still couldn’t find our bus connection.  A kind bus driver with amazingly good English showed us another travel option, and we hopped on, asking all our co-riders if they knew of this ‘Ecseri Piac’.

As we pulled up past a park, an old lady announced: ‘IT’.
We looked.
There was some sort of fete, but this did not look like ‘one of the biggest flea markets in central Europe’.
‘IT’, said the old lady. ‘It, It, It’.
She pointed.
We got off the bus.

It wasn’t our market, but they did have Langos.

And Kürtőskalács or ‘chimney cakes’!
The yeast dough is wound around wooden sticks/cylinders, and coated in sugar, then baked over open coals (you can see the man turning them in the background). The dough cooks, rises a little, gets deliciously caramalised on the outside, and is then removed from the coals and sprinkled in cinnamon sugar or cocoa or other tasty delights before being wacked off the stick (in this case with a little wooden sword!) and given to the delighted customer.

The dough itself is also slightly spiced or flavoured- in this case it seemed a little lemony or orangy, but I’m not entirely sure..

We got back on the bus and finally- with the help of a very kind old man who mimed our direction of travel and pressing the bell for the right stop- made it to the market.

Which was some kind of wonderful. They had an amazing range of old and interesting stuff.
Do you remember in the film American Beauty, how the neighbour’s dad collects ‘the official table service of the Nazi party’ with the swastika on the back.
Stuff like that.
But also stuff for the purchaser who is not an horrible bigot, including a couple of shops with a crazy collection of old dresses, hats and coats.

Our afternoon saw beautiful weather, which necessitated more aimless wandering.

(Yeah I’m not sure- he seemed to want to pose for us)

In the evening we boarded a boat and floated up and down the river drinking gallons of wine. Elle and Andy got the ‘try all the wine you like’ package, while I got the slightly classier ‘we will bring a couple of our finer wines to the table’ package.

The wines I received were Tokaji, which our Hungarian work friend Szilvia had recommended, but I think Elle and Andy are both more into the red, as perhaps you can see fro this picture:

Parliament!

‘Hmm, I detect an oaky note, with subtle undertones of melon, aardvark and thistle’

 
Later we wandered some more and managed to stumble across a little artsy market.. where Andy and I made our first ever ART PURCHASE for our apartment (unless you include karate chicken, but I’m not sure that he counts).