Laura Versus the World

I'm 25, working in the Hague, the Netherlands, for the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I also travel and party a lot!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's all Greek to me ...

So, you last left me in Vienna, a city of great beauty, unexpected heat and lovely buildings!! I met up with my friend Christoph, and we had a great night out, partying with Austrian students!! On the Thursday, I wandered around the former Royal Palace, definitely a sight to see!! After the traditional Vienna Schnitzel, I headed to bed very early, as I had foolishly booked a 6am flight to Athens the next day!!

I eventually arrived in Athens later on the Friday, to discover I agreed with most people's assessment - leave ASAP!! The Acropolis is duly impressive, but the rest of the city is rundown and unpleasant feeling. However, I then headed to Santorini on Saturday, which was just beautiful!! Black beaches, high cliffs, volcanoes, and all those lovely little blue and white churches you see in photos - definitely what I wanted from a Greek island!! I was alone, again, as my poor friend Anika has collapsed a disc in her back, but after some periods of loneliness, I met some great American girls, and we went on a volcanoe tour, and saw the sunset in a beautiful location with our Greek guide - photos next week!!

I then headed to Mykonos, for more traditional beaches and Eurotrash - drinks and umbrellas on the beach, very relaxing and very touristy!!

Now I am in Venice, after having to walk for about 2 hours from near the airport, after storms brought down trees, cancelled music festivals and blocked roads!! I love this city, so pretty, so warm, nice people, great water ...

Anyway, Germany, then home soon - yay!!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another reason to hate Dubya ...

So, my crazy 3 weeks of travel has begun!! On Sunday, I got to spend 7 hours at Leeds airport, while they fixed 'technical difficulties' in our plane - this included time when we actually boarded the plane, flew for 20 minutes, then had to return!! So I finally arrived in Prague at 11pm, rather than 3pm as originally planned! After successfully negotiating bus, train and tram to my hostel, I chilled in the bar, chatting to fellow travellers (I love feeling so worldly - 'oh, yeah, you should definitely go to Budapest ... I love Berlin ... Spain is great!).

Monday morning I went bright eyed and bushy tailed to Prague Castle, one of the most beautiful in the world. Well, I wouldn't know, because it was closed for Monday and Tuesday, the 2 days I was in Prague. Why, you ask? Because bloody George W. Bush was visiting!! So, yeah, not happy Jan!!

Anyway, I had a great day - I went to St Nicholas Church, a crazy Baroque thing of gold and beauty, walked across the Charles Bridge, went on a boat tour, read some Czech authors, and finished off the night with a performance in a church by the Prague Brass Ensemble and organ - really great!!

Tuesday was warmer and sunnier - I went back to Charles Bridge and climbed the tower for great views. I then finally chose a Babushka doll (I love those things!!), then went to the Mucha exhibition - such great art!! After a relaxed lunch, I wandered back to the hostel, bought some fruit, then found my way to the correct train station to say farewell to Prague, and head to Vienna!!

That's where I am now - the 30 degree heat has caught me by surprise, but it is pleasant to be warm - although being in a landlocked country means no beach, alas!! I met up with Christoph, who I met in Denmark and is Austrian, and we went to lunch, then out to the cemetary - as one does!!! We saw Beethoven's grave - quite cool!! Then we wandered around Stephensplatz, seeing the great church, and then I saw all the lovely buildings on the Ring road - architecture is lovely here!!

No photos, sorry, no way of uploading them - but I'll bore you all with them in a couple of weeks!!

Athens on Friday - bring on more countries, I say!!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Another day, another country left ...

After a whirlwind few weeks of last Dutch experiences, I have left the Hague!

My flatmate Mike and I had a joint party last Saturday night, (to celebrate his birthday and my leaving) which was well attended and highly enjoyable! And no police were called (a rarity in Dutch parties), so all was well!! This photo is of him in his 'birthday boa and hat' - we convinced him to buy accessories when we spent the day in Rotterdam - it was quite fun to dress him up!!

My last day at the Tribunal was busy but nice - my team took me out for lunch, and gave me a farewell bear and book, and then I left the building - quite sad, after having spent 5 months there, but refreshing to have no responsibilities for the next few weeks!!

A nice canal view on the walk to work

The Tribunal in all its glory!!

Me and the sign!

So after sending 3 boxes of clothes, dvds, books and shoes home to Australia, I have embarked on my final three weeks in Europe. I flew this morning into Liverpool, travelling to Leeds to see Charlotte and her family. On Sunday I will fly to Prague for 2 days, then Tuesday evening train to Vienna. After catching up with my Austrian friend Christoph, I will fly to Athens, where my friend Anika will join me for a week on the Greek islands in the sun!! On the 15th I fly to Venice for the weekend, seeing my friend Diego, then to two parts of Germany, Stuttgart and Hamburg, to catch up with Anna and Marte!

So it will be a busy three weeks, of seeing people I became close to in Denmark, and seeing places I have wanted to see!! On the 21st, I leave Hamburg to fly back to Sydney - yay!! So I'll be home from the 23rd of June.

E-mail is the best way to contact me over the next few weeks, but looking forward to catching up with all you Aussies!!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Canals, Pearls and other Dutch things

So, I haven't been writing much, as I haven't been travelling much, focussing more on enjoying life here in the Hague over the past few weeks.

Queen's Day is a public holiday on 30th April, where the Dutch celebrate the birthday of the previous Queen. Queen's Night, 29th April, is a massive street party everywhere in Holland, with people dressed in bright orange, waving flags, drinking and being generally merry! It was a crazy and enjoyable night, with all the drama usually associated with big nights out - relationship crises, fist fights, and general dancing mayhem!! But great fun!! Amsterdam is the place to be on Queen's Day, if you're on a canal, however after battling the crowds on Queen's Night in the Hague, I decided to opt for a more relaxing beach public holiday experience!

Which was lucky, as the past few weeks have been highly unpleasant weather - cold, rainy, windy to the extreme - lucky I haven't sent my winter clothes home yet!!

Friday night a couple of weekends ago we went on a canal tour - it was great, sailing around the various waterways of the Hague, really seeing lots of the city that you otherwise wouldn't get to! Some of the bridges are quite low, however, so we had to crouch in the bottom of the boat!

I finally found my way to the Turkish fruit markets this weekend, and bought so much cheap fruit and vegetables, it was great!

Saturday night we hosted a Eurovision party at my place - lots of fun, laughing at the various acts - our top votes were Georgia, Greece and Ukraine, however Serbia won the day (very political for us, as we are prosecuting war criminals from there!)

Sunday I went to the Mauritshuis, which is the art gallery here - it houses the famour Vermeer 'Girl with a pearl earring', among other lovely Dutch works, so it was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon!!

So, in other news - I will be home in July!!! I decided that many months of vague travel plans with limited funds didn't sound like as much fun anymore, so I will finish my internship at the end of May, travel around for a month (Prague, Vienna, Venice, Croatia, Greece), and then head home late June/early July, to start work at Allens 11th of July. So, Sydneysiders, prepare yourselves, I'm coming home!!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tiptoeing through the tulips ...

So, in the spirit of experiencing Holland in the best way possible, as I have been spending quite a few weekends relaxing at home in Den Haag, on Saturday we went to Keukenhof, a giant flower exhibition about 45 minutes away. Words really don't describe fully the amazing flowers - lots of tulips, but hundreds of other types of flowers, of all colours and shapes and sizes - so lovely!! So find below some of the many photos I took - it's basically a giant garden, with different beds of flowers scattered around - crowded with people, but well worth the effort!!

Nearby to the actual exhibition are many tulip fields - we were going to hire bikes and bike around (trepidation on my part, considering I cannot actually ride a bike, and have successfully avoided being a cyclist in 2 bike-obsessed countries over the past 10 months!!!!), however all the bikes had been hired, so we settled for wandering in one field nearby, which was quite spectacular in itself, as you can see below!!

I'm a flower faery!!

My flower compatriots - Antonia, Megan and Emily, Megan's US friend

Very Dutch - tulips and windmill!!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bella Roma!

So, my Easter weekend was lovely, warm, full of gelati, and also quite holy - because we went to Rome!!

A long travel to get there (Ryanair cheap flights always seem less appealing after you actually travel from home to train station, train to next city, bus to airport, fly, then bus to city - 9 hours later ...), but so worth it!!

I have been to Rome before, but travelled with 5 other friends - Camilla and Megan from Melbourne, Megan from California, Mike from Montreal (my flatmate) and Bente from Norway - both Megans had also been there before, while everything was new for the others!! We stayed at a great hostel that Megan had been to before, where they gave us little packs of snacks on arrival, and even some wine because they remembered Megan!!

After a lovely Italian meal, we saw some of the sights at night - Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Victor Emmanuel's monstrosity - everything is lit up and lovely!!

Me and the Colosseum

We strike a pose - myself, Megan, Bente, Megan, Camilla

Victor Emmanuel by night

Trevi Fountain by night

Friday dawned sunny and warm - we were so excited not to have to wear our coats!! Europe has done terrible thigns to my thermostat, that I now consider 19 degrees a warm day!! While the others went on a Colosseum tour, Megan and I walked along the lovely river Tiber, lunched at Piazza Navona, did a spot of shopping, then met the others for a relaxing dinner at an authentic Roman restaurant (ie no tourist menus with 5 different languages!!) We then went to a funky wine bar before bed.

Colosseum by day

The lovely Tiber

It's a hard life!

The Pantheon

Saturday was also warm and lovely - both Megans and I wandered around the Vatican while the others went into the Vatican museum, and we lunched and sunned ourselves - ah, it's a hard life!! We then went to the Spanish steps, and after some dinner, we ventured to Trastevere, a funky area of Rome with lots of bars and restaurants. Later that night, after much urging from our Norweigan counterpart, we sampled Rome's nightlife, at an area called Testacchio, where we partied with many Roman men, and realised that Italian men can be a little too friendly sometimes - such obvious groping is not what I am used to!

Green is the theme - Mike, Camilla, Megan, Megan

Fountain at St Peter's - quite close to the front of the square, and where we stood the next day to see Il Papa!

The lovely river Tiber

Ponte St Angelo (bridge of angels - so pretty!)

Laura and Spanish Steps

Sunday morning, I dragged myself out of bed after only 4 hours sleep, and joined Megan and Mike for the Easter Mass at St Peter's, presided over by the Pope, which then leads into his Urbi et Orbi speech, which is his little sermon to the world. He then wishes Happy Easter in about 40 languages - the square was packed with thousands of people, and it was amazing, like the Catholic Olympics, with everyone waving flags, cheering when they heard their language - a great experience!!

The Crowd at the Catholic Olympics ...

Il Papa rocking the crowd!!

We then wandered around, more pizza and gelati, then relaxed in a lovely park - definitely the theme for the weekend, a relaxed tour of Rome!! We then had an enjoyable Easter banquet for dinner, and a relatively early night, before embarking on our journey home on Monday. All in all, a great Easter weekend!!

Holland has finally recognised spring, with 27 degree weather this weekend - so my life resembes a resort, as the beach here sets up bars and sun lounges, with table service - it's a hard life, lying around being served!!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Buda and Pest

Yes, it appears they are separate cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River - who would have guessed!! But I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences in both cities!!

I travelled with two Aussie girls, Antonia and Camilla, and we partied with a variety of international students who study in Holland, where Antonia was last semester.

After an annoying baby/parents combo on the plane to Budapest (crying baby, annoying parents), we made it, later than we expected, so headed to bed to be fresh for the next day. Friday dawned rainy and cold, so after a fortifying Hungarian breakfast (including paprika omelette, the spice of choice in Hungary!), we went to the Museum of Terror, which used to be the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis and Communist bad guys - a great museum, well laid out and good provision of information!! We then decided to go to the ballet, as one does when one can get tickets for $10, so 'Gone with the Wind' the ballet was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, especially as the Opera House is a gorgeous building!!

The lovely opera house

Myself, Antonia and Camilla at the Opera

We then met up with the Nymegan crew, went across to Buda (our hostel was in Pest) to a nightclub at the top of a shopping centre, and danced the night away!!

Saturday also dawned rainy and chilly, so we headed to the Baths, which are awesome - lots of different sized and temperatured baths, from 18 degrees to 38 degrees, and a variety of saunas, including a cinnamon flavoured one!!

Poppies en route to the baths

After a post-bath rest, we went out for a hearty Hungarian meal, which included lots of meat and cabbage!! We then met up with the internationals at a funky garage-type bar, and realised the folly of trying to keep 25 people happy, as we changed locations frequently!!

The funky club in Pest

Sunday was sunny and warm (well, around 12 degrees!!). We walked across to Buda castle, which has amazingly beautiful walls, statues and churches surrounding it, although the castle appears now to be used for offices and an art gallery.

The view across the Danube from Pest to Buda - myself and Antonia

View from the top!

Castle Gates

Castle walls

More castle walls

I really loved the castle walls - so pretty!!

We had a chilled out night of coffee, cake and drinks in Buda.

We also successfully negotiated with taxi drivers - Hungary is still on the Forint, with around 150 to the Aussie dollar, and taxi drivers frequently don't put the meter on, but just estimate how much it will cost - we worked out the best option was to call one with a price, and then bargain down to that price on the return journey, as otherwise most taxi drivers took advantage of tourists by tripling the price!!

Monday was our last day, so we had a relaxing brunch, wandered around the markets and then headed back to the Hague! All in all, a relaxing, cultural and partying weekend - definitely worth a visit!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ay, to be sure ...

Well, I have spent two relaxing but busy weekends in the Hague, and one out of it in the past 3 weeks, so lots to report!!

After a relatively quiet weekend after Berlin, going to the movies (I recommend 'Notes on a Scandal') and celebrating Emily's birthday with a lunar eclipse and some margaritas, I spent the next weekend enjoying the Hague - I went to the Scheveningen beach both days (not to swim, still waaaay too cold!!) It's actually quite nice to walk along, although nothing on the beaches at home! Lots of house parties and dancing meant very late nights (or early mornings, depending on how you look at it!!) Also some time spent at my new place, relaxing on the couch with my new flatmates - I'm settling in well, so nice to have a proper kitchen and living room, although fun getting used to living with boys again!!

I am also still busy at work, helping sort out our witness statements and facts, which can be a bit tedious sometimes, but then when you see what you're doing actually have a direct effect on the trial, it's worth it!!

So, last Friday night my former flatmate Chelsea and I headed to the lovely city of Cork, Ireland, for a St Patrick's Day weekend! We spent 3 days in the company of a number of drunk Irishmen (with lovely accents!). When watching the parade on Saturday, we bought oversized green hats, which seemed the norm.

Our newly purchased hats at the parade

One of the better floats at the parade

However, when we wore them out that night, we realised that as Cork is not that touristy, we were in a dressed-up minority - this was fun, however, as it ensured we got lots of attention, drinks, new friends!
Crazy girls out on the town!

The atmosphere

On Sunday we visited Blarney Castle, and yes, we kissed the famous Blarney Stone (backbend and all!), so now I am even more eloquent than before! It's a lovely spot, actually, and quite relaxing to wander around, although the random hailing did present the need to head indoors every so often!!

Blarney Castle

Me kissing the stone - ah, the backbend!

View from the top

Sunday night found us being serenaded by a random KISS cover band at a local pub - all part of the travel adventure!

Crazy KISS cover band

Monday Chelsea headed off to Belfast with her friend Kelly, and I stayed in Cork, to visit the Butter Museum - who knew Irish dairy was taking over the world!! Then back to Den Haag on Monday evening.

The St Anne Church at Shandon, above where we stayed

The famous Butter Museum - to quote the flyer, 'worth a scone!'

Alas, no rest for the wicked, so I'm heading to Budapest tomorrow for 4 days - yay!! And then a weekend off, and Rome for Easter - it's a hard life!!